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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Book Of Dreams And Ghosts - Chapter XIII - MARVELS AT FROD.
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The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts - Chapter XIII - MARVELS AT FROD. Post by :equalizer Category :Long Stories Author :Andrew Lang Date :July 2011 Read :3450

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The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts - Chapter XIII - MARVELS AT FROD.


The Marvels at Froda

The following tale has all the direct simplicity and truth to human nature which mark the ancient literature of Iceland. Defoe might have envied the profusion of detail; "The large chest with a lock, and the small box," and so on. Some of the minor portents, such as the disturbances among inanimate objects, and the appearance of a glow of mysterious light, "the Fate Moon," recur in modern tales of haunted houses. The combination of Christian exorcism, then a novelty in Iceland, with legal proceedings against the ghosts, is especially characteristic.


During that summer in which Christianity was adopted by law in Iceland (1000 A.D.), it happened that a ship came to land at Snowfell Ness. It was a Dublin vessel, manned by Irish and Hebrideans, with few Norsemen on board. They lay there for a long time during the summer, waiting for a favourable wind to sail into the firth, and many people from the Ness went down to trade with them. There was on board a Hebridean woman named Thorgunna, of whom her shipmates said that she owned some costly things, the like of which would be difficult to find in Iceland. When Thurid, the housewife at Froda, heard of this she was very curious to see the articles, for she was a woman that was fond of show and finery. She went to the ship and asked Thorgunna whether she had any woman's apparel that was finer than the common. Thorgunna said that she had nothing of the kind to sell, but had some good things of her own, that she might not be affronted at feasts or other gatherings. Thurid begged a sight of these, and Thorgunna showed her treasures. Thurid was much pleased with them, and thought them very becoming, though not of high value. She offered to buy them, but Thorgunna would not sell. Thurid then invited her to come and stay with her, because she knew that Thorgunna was well provided, and thought that she would get the things from her in course of time.

Thorgunna answered, "I am well pleased to go to stay with you, but you must know that I have little mind to pay for myself, because I am well able to work, and have no dislike to it, though I will not do any dirty work. I must be allowed to settle what I shall pay for myself out of such property as I have."

Although Thorgunna spoke in this fashion, yet Thurid would have her to go with her, and her things were taken out of the ship; these were in a large chest with a lock and a small box, and both were taken home to Froda. When Thorgunna arrived there she asked for her bed to be shown her, and was given one in the inner part of the hall. Then she opened up the chest, and took bed-clothes out of it: they were all very beautiful, and over the bed she spread English coverlets and a silken quilt. Out of the chest she also brought a bed-curtain and all the hangings that belonged to it, and the whole outfit was so fine that folk thought they had never seen the like of it.

Then said Thurid the housewife: "Name the price of all your bed- clothes and hangings".

Thorgunna answered, "I will not lie among straw for you, although you are so stately, and bear yourself so proudly".

Thurid was ill pleased at this, and offered no more to buy the things.

Thorgunna worked at cloth-making every day when there was no hay- making, but when the weather was dry she worked among the dry hay in the home field, and had a rake made for herself which she alone was to use. Thorgunna was a big woman, both broad and tall, and very stout; she had dark eyebrows, and her eyes were close set; her hair brown and in great abundance. She was well-mannered in her daily life, and went to church every day before beginning her work, but she was not of a light disposition nor of many words. Most people thought that Thorgunna must be in the sixties, yet she was a very active woman.

At this time one Thorir "wooden-leg" and his wife Thorgrima "charm- cheek" were being maintained at Froda, and there was little love between them and Thorgunna. The person that she had most ado with was Kjartan, the son of the house; him she loved much, but he was rather cold towards her, and this often vexed her. Kjartan was then fifteen years old, and was both big of body and manly in appearance.

The summer that year was very wet, but in the autumn there came dry days. By this time the hay-work at Froda was so far advanced that all the home field was mown, and nearly the half of it was quite dry. There came then a fine dry day, clear and bright, with not a cloud to be seen in all the sky. Thorodd, the yeoman, rose early in the morning and arranged the work of each one; some began to cart off the hay, and some to put it into stalks, while the women were set to toss and dry it. Thorgunna also had her share assigned to her, and the work went on well during the day. When it drew near to three in the afternoon, a mass of dark clouds was seen rising in the north which came rapidly across the sky and took its course right above the farm. They thought it certain that there was rain in the cloud and Thorodd bade his people rake the hay together; but Thorgunna continued to scatter hers, in spite of the orders that were given. The clouds came on quickly, and when they were above the homestead at Froda there came such darkness with them that the people could see nothing beyond the home field; indeed, they could scarcely distinguish their own hands. Out of the cloud came so much rain that all the hay which was lying flat was quite soaked. When the cloud had passed over and the sky cleared again, it was seen that blood had fallen amid the rain. In the evening there was a good draught, and the blood soon dried off all the hay except that which Thorgunna had been working at; it did not dry, nor did the rake that she had been using.

Thurid asked Thorgunna what she supposed this marvel might portend. She said that she did not know, "but it seems to me most likely that it is an evil omen for some person who is present here". In the evening Thorgunna went home and took off her clothes, which had been stained with the blood; then she lay down in her bed and breathed heavily, and it was found that she was taken with sickness. The shower had not fallen anywhere else than at Froda.__

All that evening Thorgunna would taste no food. In the morning Thorodd came to her and asked about her sickness, and what end she thought it would have. She answered that she did not expect to have any more illnesses. Then she said: "I consider you the wisest person in the homestead here, and so I shall tell you what arrangements I wish to make about the property that I leave behind me, and about myself, for things will go as I tell you, though you think there is nothing very remarkable about me. It will do you little good to depart from my instructions, for this affair has so begun that it will not pass smoothly off, unless strong measures are taken in dealing with it."

Thorodd answered: "There seems to me great likelihood that your forebodings will come true; and therefore," said he, "I shall promise to you not to depart from your instructions".

"These are my arrangements," said Thorgunna, "that I will have myself taken to Skalholt if I die of this sickness, for my mind forbodes me that that place will some time or other be the most glorious spot in this land. I know also that by now there are priests there to sing the funeral service over me. So I ask you to have me carried thither, and for that you shall take so much of my property that you suffer no loss in the matter. Of my other effects, Thurid shall have the scarlet cloak that I own, and I give it her so that she may readily consent to my disposing of all the rest as I please. I have a gold ring, and it shall go to the church with me; but as for my bed and bed-hangings, I will have them burned with fire, because they will be of service to no one. I do not say this because I grudge that any one should possess these treasures, if I knew that they would be of use to them; rather am I so earnest in the matter, because I should be sorry for folk to fall into such trouble for me, as I know will be the case if my words are not heeded."

Thorodd promised to do as she asked him, and after this Thorgunna's sickness increased, so that she lay but few days before she died. The body was first taken to the church, and Thorodd had a coffin made for it. On the following day Thorodd had all the bed-clothes carried out into the open air, and made a pile of wood beside them. Then Thurid the housewife came up, and asked what he was going to do with the bed- clothes. He answered that he was to burn them with fire, as Thorgunna had directed him. "I will not have such treasures burned," said Thurid. Thorodd answered: "She declared strongly that it would not do to depart from what she said". "That was mere jealousy," said Thurid; "she grudged any other person the use of them, and that was why she gave these orders; but nothing terrible will happen though her words are set aside." "I doubt," said he, "whether it will be well to do otherwise than as she charged me."

Then Thurid laid her arms round his neck, and besought him not to burn the furnishings of the bed, and so much did she press him in this that his heart gave way to her, and she managed it so that Thorodd burned the mattresses and pillows, while she took for herself the quilt and coverlets and all the hangings. Yet neither of them was well pleased.

After this the funeral was made ready; trustworthy men were sent with the body, and good horses which Thorodd owned. The body was wrapped in linen, but not sewed up in it, and then laid in the coffin. After this they held south over the heath as the paths go, and went on until they came to a farm called Lower Ness, which lies in the Tongues of Staf-holt. There they asked leave to stay over night, but the farmer would give them no hospitality. However, as it was close on nightfall, they did not see how they could go on, for they thought it would be dangerous to deal with the White River by night. They therefore unloaded their horses, and carried the body into an out- house, after which they went into the sitting-room and took off their outer clothes, intending to stay there over night without food.

The people of the house were going to bed by daylight, and after they were in bed a great noise was heard in the kitchen. Some went to see whether thieves had not broken in, and when they reached the kitchen they saw there a tall woman. She was quite naked, with no clothes whatever upon her, and was busy preparing food. Those who saw her were so terrified that they dared not go near her at all. When the funeral party heard of this they went thither, and saw what the matter was--Thorgunna had come there, and it seemed advisable to them all not to meddle with her. When she had done all that she wanted, she brought the food into the room, set the tables and laid the food upon them. Then the funeral party said to the farmer: "It may happen in the end, before we part, that you will think it dearly bought that you would show us no hospitality". Both the farmer and the housewife answered: "We will willingly give you food, and do you all other services that you require".

As soon as the farmer had offered them this, Thorgunna passed out of the room into the kitchen, and then went outside, nor did she show herself again. Then a light was kindled in the room, and the wet clothes of the guests were taken off, and dry ones given them in their place. After this they sat down at table, and blessed their food, while the farmer had holy water sprinkled over all the house. The guests ate their food, and it harmed no man, although Thorgunna had prepared it. They slept there that night, and were treated with great hospitality.

In the morning they continued their journey, and things went very smoothly with them; wherever this affair was heard of, most people thought it best to do them all the service that they required, and of their journey no more is to be told. When they came to Skalholt, they handed over the precious things which Thorgunna had sent thither: the ring and other articles, all of which the priests gladly received. Thorgunna was buried there, while the funeral party returned home, which they all reached in safety.

At Froda there was a large hall with a fireplace in the midde, and a bed-closet at the inner end of it, as was then the custom. At the outer end were two store-closets, one on each side; dried fish were piled in one of these, and there was meal in the other. In this hall fires were kindled every evening, as was the custom, and folk sat round these fires for a long while before they went to supper. On that evening on which the funeral party came home, while the folk at Froda were sitting round the fires, they saw a half-moon appear on the panelling of the hall, and it was visible to all those who were present. It went round the room backwards and against the sun's course, nor did it disappear so long as they sat by the fires. Thorodd asked Thorir Wooden-leg what this might portend. "It is the Moon of Fate," said Thorir, "and deaths will come after it." This went on all that week that the Fate-Moon came in every evening.

The next tidings that happened at Froda were that the shepherd came in and was very silent; he spoke little, and that in a frenzied manner. Folk were most inclined to believe that he had been bewitched, because he went about by himself, and talked to himself. This went on for some time, but one evening, when two weeks of winter had passed, the shepherd came home, went to his bed, and lay down there. When they went to him in the morning he was dead, and was buried at the church.__

Soon after this there began great hauntings. One night Thorir Wooden- leg went outside and was at some distance from the door. When he was about to go in again, he saw that the shepherd had come between him and the door. Thorir tried to get in, but the shepherd would not allow him. Then Thorir tried to get away from him, but the shepherd followed him, caught hold of him, and threw him down at the door. He received great hurt from this, but was able to reach his bed; there he turned black as coal, took sickness and died. He was also buried at the church there, and after this both the shepherd and Thorir were seen in company, at which all the folk became full of fear, as was to be expected.

This also followed upon the burial of Thorir, that one of Thorodd's men grew ill, and lay three nights before he died; then one died after another, until six of them were gone. By this time the Christmas fast had come, although the fast was not then kept in Iceland. The store- closet, in which the dried fish were kept, was packed so full that the door could not be opened; the pile reached nigh up to the rafters, and a ladder was required to get the fish off the top of it. One evening while the folk were sitting round the fires, the fish were torn, but when search was made no living thing could be found there.

During the winter, a little before Christmas, Thorodd went out to Ness for the fish he had there; there were six men in all in a ten-oared boat, and they stayed out there all night. The same evening that Thorodd went from home, it happened at Froda, when folk went to sit by the fires that had been made, that they saw a seal's head rise up out of the fireplace. A maid-servant was the first who came forward and saw this marvel; she took a washing-bat which lay beside the door, and struck the seal's head with this, but it rose up at the blow and gazed at Thorgunna's bed-hangings. Then one of the men went up and beat the seal, but it rose higher at every blow until it had come up above the fins; then the man fell into a swoon, and all those who were present were filled with fear. Then the lad Kjartan sprang forward, took up a large iron sledge-hammer and struck at the seal's head; it was a heavy blow, but it only shook its head, and looked round. Then Kjartan gave it stroke after stroke, and the seal went down as though he were driving in a stake. Kjartan hammered away till the seal went down so far that he beat the floor close again above its head, and during the rest of the winter all the portents were most afraid of Kjartan.

Next morning, while Thorodd and the others were coming in from Ness with the fish, they were all lost out from Enni; the boat and the fish drove on shore there, but the bodies were never found. When the news of this reached Froda, Kjartan and Thurid invited their neighbours to the funeral banquet, and the ale prepared for Christmas was used for this purpose. The first evening of the feast, however, after the folk had taken their seats, there came into the hall Thorodd and his companions, all dripping wet. The folk greeted Thorodd well, thinking this a good omen, for at that time it was firmly believed that drowned men, who came to their own funeral feast, were well received by Ran, the sea-goddess; and the old beliefs had as yet suffered little, though folk were baptised and called Christians.

Thorodd and his fellows went right along the hall where the folk sat, and passed into the one where the fires were, answering no man's greeting. Those of the household who were in the hall ran out, and Thorodd and his men sat down beside the fires, where they remained till they had fallen into ashes; then they went away again. This befel every evening while the banquet lasted, and there was much talk about it among those who were present. Some thought that it would stop when the feast was ended. When the banquet was over the guests went home, leaving the place very dull and dismal.

On the evening after they had gone, the fires were kindled as usual, and after they had burned up, there came in Thorodd with his company, all of them wet. They sat down by the fire and began to wring their clothes; and after they had sat down there came in Thorir Wooden-leg and his five companions, all covered with earth. They shook their clothes and scattered the earth on Thorodd and his fellows. The folk of the household rushed out of the hall, as might be expected, and all that evening they had no light nor any warmth from the fire.

Next evening the fires were made in the other hall, as the dead men would be less likely to come there; but this was not so, for everything happened just as it had done on the previous evening, and both parties came to sit by the fires.

On the third evening Kjartan advised that a large fire should be made in the hall, and a little fire in another and smaller room. This was done, and things then went on in this fashion, that Thorodd and the others sat beside the big fire, while the household contented themselves with the little one, and this lasted right through Christmas-tide.

By this time there was more and more noise in the pile of fish, and the sound of them being torn was heard both by night and day. Some time after this it was necessary to take down some of the fish, and the man who went up on the pile saw this strange thing, that up out of the pile there came a tail, in appearance like a singed ox-tail. It was black and covered with hair like a seal. The man laid hold of it and pulled, and called on the others to come and help him. Others then got up on the heap, both men and women, and pulled at the tail, but all to no purpose. It seemed to them that the tail was dead, but while they tugged at it, it flew out of their hands taking the skin off the palms of those who had been holding it hardest, and no more was ever seen of the tail. The fish were then taken up and every one was found to be torn out of the skin, yet no living thing was to be found in the pile.

Following upon this, Thorgrima Charm-cheek, the wife of Thorir Wooden- leg, fell ill, and lay only a little while before she died, and the same evening that she was buried she was seen in company with her husband Thorir. The sickness then began a second time after the tail had been seen, and now the women died more than the men. Another six persons died in this attack, and some fled away on account of the ghosts and the hauntings. In the autumn there had been thirty in the household, of whom eighteen were dead, and five had run away, leaving only seven behind in the spring.

When these marvels had reached this pitch, it happened one day that Kjartan went to Helga-fell to see his uncle Snorri, and asked his advice as to what should be done. There had then come to Helga-fell a priest whom Gizurr the white had sent to Snorri, and this priest Snorri sent to Froda along with Kjartan, his son Thord, and six other men. He also gave them this advice, that they should burn all Thorgunna's bed-hangings and hold a law court at the door, and there prosecute all those men who were walking after death. He also bade the priest hold service there, consecrate water, and confess the people. They summoned men from the nearest farms to accompany them, and arrived at Froda on the evening before Candlemas, just at the time when the fires were being kindled. Thurid the housewife had then taken the sickness after the same fashion as those who had died. Kjartan went in at once, and saw that Thorodd and the others were sitting by the fire as usual. He took down Thorgunna's bed-hangings, went into the hall, and carried out a live coal from the fire: then all the bed-gear that Thorgunna had owned was burned.

After this Kjartan summoned Thorir Wooden-leg, and Thord summoned Thorodd, on the charge of going about the homestead without leave, and depriving men of both health and life; all those who sat beside the fire were summoned in the same way. Then a court was held at the door, in which the charges were declared, and everything done as in a regular law court; opinions were given, the case summed up, and judgment passed. After sentence had been pronounced on Thorir Wooden- leg, he rose up and said: "Now we have sat as long as we can bear". After this he went out by the other door from that at which the court was held. Then sentence was passed on the shepherd, and when he heard it he stood up and said: "Now I shall go, and I think it would have been better before". When Thorgrima heard sentence pronounced on her, she rose up and said: "Now we have stayed while it could be borne". Then one after another was summoned, and each stood up as judgment was given upon him; all of them said something as they went out, and showed that they were loath to part. Finally sentence was passed on Thorodd himself, and when he heard it, he rose and said: "Little peace I find here, and let us all flee now," and went out after that. Then Kjartan and the others entered and the priest carried holy water and sacred relics over all the house. Later on in the day he held solemn service, and after this all the hauntings and ghost-walkings at Froda ceased, while Thurid recovered from her sickness and became well again.

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