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Medieval and Classical Library


It Rains Blood At Frodis-Water.
Of Thorgunna, And How She Died
And Was Buried At Skalaholt.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

The summer was something wet, but nigh autumn befell good drying weather, and the haymaking at Frodis-water was by then come so far that all the home-mead was mown, and nigh half thereof was fully dry. Then befell a good drying day, calm and clear, so that no cloud was seen in the heavens.

Goodman Thorod got up early in the morning and set folk awork, and some fell to carrying the hay, while others ricked it. But Thorod set the women to spreading it, and the work was shared betwixt them, and Thorgunna set to work at as much as a neat's winter-fodder. (1)

So the work went on well the day long, but when it had well-nigh worn three hours from noon, a black cloud-fleck came across the heaven from the north above Skor, and swiftly drew over the heavens, and thitherward straight over the stead. Folk deemed they saw rain in that cloud, and Thorod bade men rake up the hay. But Thorgunna brought hers into ridges, nor would she fall to rake it up though she were so bidden.

The cloud-fleck came up swiftly, and when it stood over the homestead of Frodis-water, there followed therewith so great a darkness, that men might not see out of the home-field, or scarce their hands before them. Then fell so great a rain from the cloud that all the hay that was spread was wetted; but the cloud drew off swiftly and the weather cleared. Then men saw that it had rained blood in that shower. But that evening good drying weather set in again, and the blood dried off all the hay but that which Thorgunna had spread; that dried not, or the rake either which she had handled. Thurid asked Thorgunna what she thought that wonder might forbode. She said that she wotted not. "But that seems to me most like," says she, "that it will be the weird of some one of those that are here."

Thorgunna went home in the evening and into her berth, and put off her bloodied clothes, and then lay down in her bed and sighed heavily, and men deemed that she had fallen sick.

Now that shower had come nowhere else but to Frodis-water.

But Thorgunna might eat no meat that evening, but in the morning goodman Thorod came to her and asked her what end she looked to have of her ailing. She said that she was minded to think that she would not fall sick again.

Then she said: "I deem thee the wisest man of the homestead, therefore will I tell thee all my will as to what I would have made of the goods I leave behind me and of myself. For things will go," says she, "even as I say, though ye think there is little to be noted in me, and I deem it will avail but little to turn away from my behests; for things have begun in such wise, that to no narrow ends deem I they will come, if strong stays be not raised thereagainst."

Thorod answered and said: "Methinks there is no little likelihood that thou wilt have deemed aright about this; yet I will promise thee," says he, "to turn not from thy behests."

Then said Thorgunna: "This would I have done: I would be borne to Skalaholt if I die of this sickness, (2) because my mind tells me that that stead will be for one while the most worshipped stead in the land; and I wot also," says she, "that there will be priests to do the singing over me; so I pray thee to bring me there, and of my goods shalt thou have so much as that thou wilt have no loss thereby; but from my undivided goods shall Thurid have the scarlet cloak that I own; and this I do to the end that she may be content that I see to my other goods in such wise as I will; but I will that thou take for the cost thou hast for me that which thou wilt, or that pleases her, from such things alone as I leave thereto. A gold ring I have which shall go to church with me, but I will that my bed and my bed-hangings be burned up with fire, for that they will be of no good to any man; and I say this not because I grudge anyone to enjoy those good things, if I knew that they would be of good avail to any; but now I say so much thereover," says she, "because I deem it ill that folk should have so much heavy trouble from me, as well I wot will be, if ye turn away from that which I now ordain."

Thorod promised to do after her bidding; and so the sickness grew on her after that, and Thorgunna lay there not many days before she died.

The corpse was first borne into the church there, and Thorod let make a chest for the corpse, and the next day he had the bed-gear borne out into the air, and brought faggots together, and let pile up a bonfire there beside. Then goodwife Thurid went to him and asked what he was minded to do with the bed-gear. He said that he would burn it up with fire, even as Thorgunna had charged.

She answered: "It mislikes me that such precious things should be burned."

Thorod said: "She spake much thereon, and how it would not do to turn aside from that she had laid down."

Thurid said: "Such words were of nought but her envious mind; she grudged that any should enjoy these, therefore did she lay such charge on thee; but nought ill-omened will come of it, in whatsoever way such things are departed from."

"I know not," said he, "that things will go well but if we do as she has bidden."

Then Thurid put her arms round his neck, and prayed him not to burn the bed-gear, and pressed him so eagerly that he changed his mind and she brought matters about in such wise that Thorod burned the bolster and the mattress, but she took to her the quilt and sheets, and all the hangings; and yet withal it misliked them both.

Thereafter was the burial journey got ready, and trusty men got to go with the corpse, and good horses that Thorod owned. The body was swathed in linen, but not sewn up, and then laid in the chest. So then they went south over the heath as the road lies, and nought is told of their journey till they came south past Valbiorns-vales. There they got amongst flows exceeding soft, and the corpse was often upset. Then they went south to Northwater, and crossed it by Isleford. Deep was the river, and a storm befell with much rain; but they came at last to a stead that was within Staffholts-tongue and is called Nether-ness, and there asked for guesting, but the bonder would give them no cheer; so whereas the night was at hand, they deemed they might go no further, for belike it was nought easy to deal with Whitewater by night; so they unloaded their horses, and bore the corpse into a house over against the outer door, and then went into the hall and did off their clothes, and deemed they would abide there unfed that night. But the home-men went to bed by daylight, and when they were abed, they heard a great clatter in the buttery, and so they went to see what was toward, if perchance thieves had not broken in there, and when they came to the buttery there was to behold a tall woman, naked, with nothing on her, busied at bringing out victuals. So when they saw her, they were so afeard they durst go nowhere anigh.

But when the corpse-bearers knew thereof they went there, and saw what was toward, that thither was Thorgunna come, and good it seemed to all not to meddle with her. So when she had wrought such things there as she would, she bore meat into the hall, and laid the table and set out meat thereon. Then spake the corpse-bearers to the bonder: "Maybe things will end so or ever we part that thou wilt deem that thou hast paid dear enough for not giving us any cheer."

Then said the goodman and goodwife: "We will surely give you meat, and do for you all other things that ye may need."

And forthwith, when the goodman had bidden them good cheer, Thorgunna went out of the hall and out adoors, and was not seen after. And after that, light was brought into the hall, and the wet clothes pulled off from the guests and dry clothes got them in their stead, and they went to table and crossed the meat, while the goodman had all the house besprinkled with holy water.

So the guests eat the meat, and none had harm therefrom, though Thorgunna had set it out.

There they slept through the night, and were in a most hospitable place belike; but in the morning they got them ready for their journey, and right well it sped with them; but wheresoever these haps were known, there it seemed best rede to most folk to give them all the cheer they stood in need of.

So after this nought befell to tell of in their journey. And when they came to Skalaholt, the good things were yielded up which Thorgunna had given thereto, and the priests took them, corpse and all, gladly enow, and there was Thorgunna laid in earth, but the corpse-bearers fared home, and all went well with their journey, and they all came home in good case.

(1)  "Thorgunna (was) set to work at as much as a neat's
     winter-fodder" -- "nauts-fothr".  Here, apparently,
     "nauts-fothr" means the same as the more common term,
     "kyr-fothr", the amount of hay deemed sufficient to feed a
     cow through the winter, from the time she goes "off" grass
     in autumn, till the time she is turned on to pasture in
     spring.  There can be no doubt that it must in the old days
     have amounted to very much the same as at present, namely,
     about thirty horse-loads, each of which should weigh about
     240 lbs.

(2)  "I would be borne to Skalaholt if I die of this sickness,"
     etc.  At this time dwelt at Skalaholt Gizur the White,
     according to some records at least (Hungrvaka, ch. ii., Saga
     Olafs Tryggvasonar, Fornm. s. ch. 216); but according to
     others, he lived at Mossfell as late as 1O12 (Njala, ch.
     135), and was the first man that built a house at Skalaholt,
     which Kristni Saga (ch. 12) clearly indicates to have taken
     place some years after Christianity was made law in Iceland.
     Both these latter records are older than the two former.
     Thorgunna's prophecy concerning the worship the place would
     be held in refers to its being made the see of the bishop of
     Iceland, which did not come about till fifty-six years after
     the date at which our saga supposes her death to have
     occurred (1000), technically even a good deal later.