Now men ride home from the Thing; and when Gunnar came home, he said to Sigmund, "Thou art a more unlucky man than I thought, and turnest thy good gifts to thine own ill. But still I have made peace for thee with Njal and his sons; and now, take care that thou dost not let another fly come into thy mouth. Thou art not at all after my mind, thou goest about with jibes and jeers, with scorn and mocking; but that is not my turn of mind. That is why thou gettest on so well with Hallgerda, because ye two have your minds more alike."
Gunnar scolded him a long time, and he answered him well, and said he would follow his counsel more for the time to come than he had followed it hitherto. Gunnar told him then they might get on together. Gunnar and Njal kept up their friendship though the rest of their people saw little of one another. It happened once that some gangrel women came to Lithend from Bergthorsknoll; they were great gossips and rather spiteful tongued. Hallgerda had a bower, and sate often in it, and there sate with her her daughter Thorgerda, and there too were Thrain and Sigmund, and a crowd of women. Gunnar was not there, nor Kolskegg. These gangrel women went into the bower, and Hallgerda greeted them, and made room for them; then she asked them for news, but they had none to tell. Hallgerda asked where they had been overnight; they said at Bergthorsknoll.
"What was Njal doing?" she says.
"He was hard at work sitting still," they said.
"What were Njal's sons doing?" she says; "they think themselves men at any rate."
"Tall men they are in growth," they say, "but as yet they are all untried; Skarphedinn whetted an axe, Gim fitted a spearhead to the shaft, Helgi riveted a hilt on a sword, Hauskuld strengthened the handle of a shield."
"They must be bent on some great deed," says Hallgerda.
"We do not know that," they say.
"What were Njal's house-carles doing?" she asks.
"We don't know what some of them were doing, but one was carting dung up the hill-side."
"What good was there in doing that?" she asks.
"He said it made the swathe better there than anywhere else," they reply. "Witless now is Njal," says Hallgerda, "though he knows how to give counsel on everything."
"How so?" they ask.
"I will only bring forward what is true to prove it," says she; "why doesn't he make them cart dung over his beard that he may be like other men? Let us call him 'the Beardless Carle': but his sons we will call 'Dung-beardlings'; and now do pray give some stave about them, Sigmund, and let us get some good by thy gift of song."
"I am quite ready to do that," says he, and sang these verses:
"Lady proud with hawk in hand,
Prithee why should dungbeard boys,
Reft of reason, dare to hammer
Handle fast on battle shield?
For these lads of loathly feature--
Lady scattering swanbath's beams (1)--
Shaft not shun this ditty shameful
Which I shape upon them now.
He the beardless carle shall listen
While I lash him with abuse,
Loon at whom our stomachs sicken,
Soon shall bear these words of scorn;
Far too nice for such base fellows
Is the name my bounty gives,
Een my muse her help refuses,
Making mirth of dungbeard boys.
Here I find a nickname fitting
For those noisome dungbeard boys,--
Loath am I to break my bargain
Linked with such a noble man--
Knit we all our taunts together--
Known to me is mind of man--
Call we now with outburst common,
Him, that churl, the beardless carle."
Thou art a jewel indeed," says Hallgerda; " how yielding thou art to what I ask!"
Just then Gunnar came in. He had been standing outside the door of the bower, and heard all the words that had passed. They were in a great fright when they saw him come in, and then all held their peace, but before there had been bursts of laughter.
Gunnar was very wroth, and said to Sigmund, "Thou art a foolish man, and one that cannot keep to good advice, and thou revilest Njal's sons, and Njal himself who is most worth of all; and this thou doest in spite of what thou hast already done. Mind, this will be thy death. But if any man repeats these words that thou hast spoken, or these verses that thou hast made, that man shall be sent away at once, and have my wrath beside."
But they were all so sore afraid of him, that no one dared to repeat those words. After that he went away, but the gangrel women talked among themselves, and said that they would get a reward from Bergthora if they told her all this.
They went then away afterwards down thither, and took Bergthora aside and told her the whole story of their own free will.
Bergthora spoke and said, when men sate down to the board, "Gifts have been given to all of you, father and sons, and ye will be no true men unless ye repay them somehow."
"What gifts are these? " asks Skarphedinn.
"You, my sons," says Bergthora, "have got one gift between you all. Ye are nicknamed 'Dungbeardlings,' but my husband 'the Beardless Carle.'"
"Ours is no woman's nature," says Skarphedinn, "that we should fly into a rage at every little thing."
"And yet Gunnar was wroth for your sakes," says she, "and he is thought to be good-tempered. But if ye do not take vengeance for this wrong, ye will avenge no shame."
"The carline, our mother, thinks this fine sport," says Skarphedinn, and smiled scornfully as he spoke, but still the sweat burst out upon his brow, and red flecks came over his checks, but that was not his wont. Grim was silent and bit his lip. Helgi made no sign, and he said never a word. Hauskuld went off with Bergthora; she came into the room again, and fretted and foamed much.
Njal spoke and said, "'Slow and sure,' says the proverb, mistress! and so it is with many things, though they try men's tempers, that there are always two sides to a story, even when vengeance is taken."
But at even when Njal was come into his bed, he heard that an axe came against the panel and rang loudly, but there was another shut bed, and there the shields were hung up, and he sees that they are away. He said, "Who have taken down our shields?"
"Thy sons went out with them," says Bergthora.
Njal pulled his shoes on his feet, and went out at once, and round to the other side of the house, and sees that they were taking their course right up the slope; he said, "Whither away, Skarphedinn?"
"To look after thy sheep," he answers.
"You would not then be armed," said Njal, "if you meant that, and your errand must be something else."
Then Skarphedinn sang a song,
"Squanderer of hoarded wealth,
Some there are that own rich treasure,
Ore of sea that clasps the earth,
And yet care to count their sheep;
Those who forge sharp songs of mocking,
Death songs, scarcely can possess
Sense of sheep that crop the grass;
Such as these I seek in fight;"
and said afterwards, "We shall fish for salmon, father."
"'Twould be well then if it turned out so that the prey does not get away from you."
They went their way, but Njal went to his bed, and he said to Bergthora, "Thy sons were out of doors all of them, with arms, and now thou must have egged them on to something."
"I will give them my heartfelt thanks," said Bergthora, "if they tell me the slaying of Sigmund."
(1) "Swanbath's beams"--periphrasis for gold.