Gunnar rode away to the Thing, but before he rode from home he said to Hallgerda, "Be good now while I am away, and show none of thine ill temper in anything with which my friends have to do."
"The trolls take thy friends," says Hallgerda.
So Gunnar rode to the Thing, and saw it was not good to come to words with her. Njal rode to the Thing too, and all his sons with him.
Now it must be told of what tidings happened at home. Njal and Gunnar owned a wood in common at Redslip; they had not shared the wood, but each was wont to hew in it as he needed, and neither said a word to the other about that. Hallgerda's grieve's (1) name was Kol; he had been with her long, and was one of the worst of men. There was a man named Swart; he was Njal's and Bergthora's housecarle; they were very fond of him. Now Bergthora told him that he must go up into Redslip and hew wood; but she said, "I will get men to draw home the wood."
He said he would do the work she set him to win; and so he went up into Redslip, and was to be there a week.
Some gangrel men came to Lithend from the east across Markfleet, and said that Swart had been in Redslip, and hewn wood, and done a deal of work.
"So," says Hallgerda, "Bergthora must mean to rob me in many things, but I'll take care that he does not hew again."
Rannveig, Gunnar's mother, heard that, and said, "There have been good housewives before now, though they never set their hearts on manslaughter."
Now the night wore away, and early next morning Hallgerda came to speak to Kol, and said, "I have thought of some work for thee;" and with that she put weapons into his hands, and went on to say--"Fare thou to Redslip; there wilt thou find Swart."
"What shall I do to him?" he says.
"Askest thou that, when thou art the worst of men?" she says. "Thou shalt kill him."
"I can get that done," he says, "but 'tis more likely that I shall lose my own life for it."
"Everything grows big in thy eyes," she says, "and thou behavest ill to say this after I have spoken up for thee in everything. I must get another man to do this if thou darest not."
He took the axe, and was very wroth, and takes a horse that Gunnar owned, and rides now till he comes east of Markfleet. There he got off and bided in the wood, till they had carried down the firewood, and Swart was left alone behind. Then Kol sprang on him, and said, "More folk can hew great strokes than thou alone;" and so he laid the axe on his head, and smote him his death-blow, and rides home afterwards, and tells Hallgerda of the slaying.
She said, "I shall take such good care of thee, that no harm shall come to thee."
"May be so," says he, "but I dreamt all the other way as I slept ere I did the deed."
Now they come up into the wood, and find Swart slain, and bear him home. Hallgerda sent a man to Gunnar at the Thing to tell him of the slaying. Gunnar said no hard words at first of Hallgerda to the messenger, and men knew not at first whether he thought well or ill of it. A little after he stood up, and bade his men go with him: they did so, and fared to Njal's booth. Gunnar sent a man to fetch Njal, and begged him to come out. Njal went out at once, and he and Gunnar fell a-talking, and Gunnar said, "I have to tell thee of the slaying of a man, and my wife and my grieve Kol were those who did it; but Swart, thy housecarle, fell before them."
Njal held his peace while he told him the whole story. Then Njal spoke, "Thou must take heed not to let her have her way in everything."
Gunnar said, "Thou thyself shalt settle the terms."
Njal spoke again, "'Twill be hard work for thee to atone for all Hallgerda's mischief; and somewhere else there will be a broader trail to follow than this which we two now have a share in, and yet, even here there will be much awanting before all be well; and herein we shall need to bear in mind the friendly words that passed between us of old; and something tells me that thou wilt come well out of it, but still thou wilt be sore tried."
Then Njal took the award into his own hands from Gunnar, and said, "I will not push this matter to the uttermost; thou shalt pay twelve ounces of silver; but I will add this to my award, that if anything happens from our homestead about which thou hast to utter an award, thou wilt not be less easy in thy terms."
Gunnar paid up the money out of hand, and rode home afterwards. Njal, too, came home from the Thing, and his sons. Bergthora saw the money, and said, "This is very justly settled; but even as much money shall be paid for Kol as time goes on."
Gunnar came home from the Thing and blamed Hallgerda. She said, better men lay unatoned in many places. Gunnar said, she might have her way in beginning a quarrel, "but how the matter is to be settled rests with me."
Hallgerda was for ever chattering of Swart's slaying, but Bergthora liked that ill. Once Njal and her sons went up to Thorolfsfell to see about the house-keeping there, but that selfsame day this thing happened when Bergthora was out of doors: she sees a man ride up to the house on a black horse. She stayed there and did not go in, for she did not know the man. That man had a spear in his hand, and was girded with a short sword. She asked this man his name.
"Atli is my name," says he.
She asked whence he came.
"I am an Eastfirther," he says.
"Whither shalt thou go?" she says.
"I am a homeless man," says he, "and I thought to see Njal and Skarphedinn, and know if they would take me in."
"What work is handiest to thee?" says she.
"I am a man used to field-work," he says, "and many things else come very handy to me; but I will not hide from thee that I am a man of hard temper, and it has been many a man's lot before now to bind up wounds at my hand."
"I do not blame thee," she says, "though thou art no milksop."
Atli said, "Hast thou any voice in things here?"
"I am Njal's wife," she says, "and I have as much to say to our housefolk as he."
"Wilt thou take me in then?" says he.
"I will give thee thy choice of that," says she. "If thou wilt do all the work that I set before thee, and that, though I wish to send thee where a man's life is at stake."
"Thou must have so many men at thy beck," says he, "that thou wilt not need me for such work."
"That I will settle as I please," she says.
"We will strike a bargain on these terms," says he.
Then she took him into the household. Njal and his sons came home and asked Bergthora what man that might be?
"He is thy house-carle," she says, "and I took him in." Then she went on to say he was no sluggard at work.
"He will be a great worker enough, I daresay," says Njal, "but I do not know whether he will be such a good worker."
Skarphedinn was good to Atli.
Njal and his sons ride to the Thing in the course of the summer; Gunnar was also at the Thing.
Njal took out a purse of money.
"What money is that, father?"
"Here is the money that Gunnar paid me for our housecarle last summer."
"That will come to stand thee in some stead," says Skarphedinn, and smiled as he spoke.
(1) Grieve, i.e., bailiff, head workman.