I did not dream the taste of wine could bind with granite,
Nor honey and milk please you; but sweetly
They mingle down the storm-worn cracks among the mosses,
Interpenetrating the silent
Wing-prints of ancient weathers long at peace, and the older
Scars of primal fire, and the stone
Endurance that is waiting millions of years to carry
A corner of the house, this also destined.
--Robinson Jeffers, "To the Rock That Will Be a Cornerstone of the House"
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The site of Maelchon's new house was no short stroll from the hall, tucked into the hollow of the land behind the cliff not far from the river, beside good ground for plough and beasts. Despite the distance, Saelon often found herself there, fascinated by the growth of the dwelling. Only once before had she seen a house built, as a lass in Srathen Brethil. The thatch of Engus's roof had caught fire, taking the sagging wooden walls with it. His neighbors had banded together with axe and maul and wedge to put a roof over his family's heads; her father had sent permission to cut timber and a team to haul the logs. It had taken two days to replace the plank-sided, heather-thatched cott: a hasty affair, rough but serviceable, which grew ever more crooked as the green wood dried.
She was curious to see what the Dwarves, exacting craftsmen that they were, would produce. Seasoned wood, the desirability of a foundation, drylaid or mortared stone, trenails or spikes . . . such snatches she had overheard when Maelchon negotiated with Nordri and Grani, along with a surprisingly heated argument between Fransag and the Dwarves regarding the placement of the hearth.
There was not a whole troop this time; Maelchon did not have Veylin's purse. Grani and Thyrnir went with Maelchon, his manservant, and his horses to the oakwood: the fresh-cut oak was laboriously dragged to the Dwarves' hall, and Nordri and Nyr accompanied them as they brought baulks of long-seasoned timber back to the site. The four Dwarves stayed in her old cave to be near the work, and the men of her household brought meat to the table and tended the herds while the cottars labored beside them, gathering stones and cutting poles and thatch for the roof.
When Saelon first went out, there was little to be seen but heaps of stone and soil, and chips of flying wood, as the masons leveled the ground and the carpenters began shaping the strong curves of the crucks that would carry the roof. Then for two days the walls began to rise—carefully laid stone within and without, clean earth and moss packed into the space between against drafts. Nyr showed her how the inner and outer walls were tied together at intervals by longer stones, and the slots in the inner wall for seating the short-legged crucks, well above any dampness that might rot the wood.
Returning from the upper watermeadows with comfrey and flag roots on the fourth day, Saelon saw roof timbers reared above the riverbank, like the ribs and chine of the monstrous sea creature that had been cast ashore in a northern bay years before and slowly weathered to bone. A dull hammering reached her ears as she climbed from the path to admire their progress, and when she saw Thyrnir clinging where the cross-beams met the high-arched crucks, driving pegs home, she gaped in marveling astonishment.
"You like it, Lady?" Nordri asked, coming over to join her. Grani stood within the walls, craning his neck to watch his prentice's work high above the ground, and Nyr was picking over the stones the cottars had brought up from the riverbed, trying their heft and balance. Airil was perched on a boulder near the other end of the house, his grey beard ruffled by the breeze, gesticulating emphatically as he spoke to Finean, who carefully coiled the long heather ropes they must have used to raise the roof-beams.
"It looks very handsome." There was a pleasant irregularity in the run of variegated stone, some dark and some light grey, with a faint sparkle in the lowering rays of the sun. Already it looked a stout home, proof against whatever gale might howl, though the upper courses of stone were still to be laid. "Maelchon must be pleased—I see you managed four couple after all."
The mason's rust-colored whiskers twitched, though his tone was bland. "So good a husbandman needs ample room for his crop." They stood in silence, watching as Thyrnir clambered carefully down from his perch, only to cross and climb the other cruck of the pair, holding tight with his legs and free hand as he hammered the trenails that secured the other end of the cross-beam. Grani called something up to him, and Thyrnir jammed his small maul into his belt before reaching precariously out with both hands to adjust the angle of the beam.
Saelon found she was holding her breath, and turned to Nordri for distraction. "You Dwarves seem such an earthbound folk," she said. "It looks strange for one of you to be so high in the air."
Nordri chuckled, then cast a discreet glance about them to be sure none of her menfolk were near. "You have been in our hall and seen the height of its vault. Did you think we began at the top, and cut downwards?"
"I must confess that I do not even have a proper idea of how you cut our hall, so distracted was I at the time." Saelon gave him an abashed smile. "You used scaffolding, did you not?"
"So, Lady," Maelchon called, coming over to join them and gazing on the half-built house with the same slightly anxious pride he had given his youngest when Saelon first set her in his arms, "do you think it will suit?"
"What does Fransag say? That is more to the point." Looking back at the house, she sighed. "I envy you the windows already."
"She has not seen it yet."
Frowning at him, but not severely, Saelon declared, "Maelchon, that black ploughhorse of yours is placid enough—it will do her and the babe no harm to sit him this far." A short ride, but a long way for a woman eight moons gone with child to walk. "I do not see how she can be displeased, but it would be better to hear any complaints now, when there is less to alter."
The Dwarf gave him a significant look, one husband to another. "Your Lady is wise."
The black-bearded husbandman grunted. "You speak," he observed, brow cocked questioningly, "as if a woman gave you your sons, instead of stone."
"I have seen how set your spouse is in her desires," Nordri replied, his gaze going thoughtfully to Saelon. "Work is rarely improved by being redone later."
"I am only thinking of Fransag," she asserted. If Maelchon doubted the old tales of the Dwarves, it was none of her doing; she respected their reticence about their womenfolk. Dírmaen, though, may have spoken of what he learned from Gwinnor. "So fine a house will surely settle her mind." The woman had enough to worry her, without wondering where she would lay when she was brought to childbed.
"Oh, she has heard of everything. The children tell her of it neverendingly." Maelchon glanced over to where Maon sat by Nyr, watching him sort the stones the boy had helped lug up from the riverbed.
"It is not the same as seeing it for herself," Saelon insisted.
And so the next day, after Maelchon had set her sideways on the broad-backed black, Saelon kept Fransag company, hiding her smiles at the woman's carping disparagement of the still unseen house, knowing she was merely keeping her hopes low, not trusting the judgment of husband or children. But when they came up from the river, Fransag fell silent; and when she walked through the unlinteled doorway into the roofless walls of her new home, she was weeping for joy, the easy tears of a bearing woman, exclaiming over the size of it, the loftiness of the roof, the partition setting off a private chamber at one end, and the paving of the floor. She kissed Maelchon so many times that he went as red as Gaernath when Murdag gazed on him, and the Dwarves—already amply thanked and praised—quickly found work that need doing outside the walls.
Nordri and his son finished the stonework the next morning, which allowed Grani and Thyrnir to hang the stout doors and shutters they had hewn from sea-seasoned oak, so tough it dulled their adzes almost as fast as they could whet them. They also made a louver for the smoke-hole, which they left for the cottars to set in place once the roof was done.
"Two days, if the weather holds," Maelchon told the Dwarves as they loaded tools onto their ponies for the amble home, while Finean and Fokel showed Airil's grandsons the proper way to bundle heather for thatching. "Then we will bless the house with a feast. Come back, and bring such of your fellows who would drink a cup and wish us well!"
"We will," Nordri assured him.
Even as the turves were laid between the hazel-poles and the first bundles of heather lashed down along the eaves, Fransag was there to oversee the installation of her goods. Of all those who had fled Srathen Brethil, Maelchon had brought the most away. Little enough, still—Fransag sorely wanted beds, especially—but kists had overflowed their crowded chamber. Now the boxes and barrels that held their clothing and foodstuffs looked sparse in that spacious house, though Saelon had no doubt that before long they would be joined by more than a simple board and a share of the benches from the hall. For her part, she planted a young rowan by their door to ward off ill, and made Fransag a present of two newly mated pairs of geese and a skep of bees.
An excellent woman, Fransag; a good mother and shrewd manager, the kind no community could prosper without. Yet all the same, Saelon was glad she need not face her across the hearth first thing every morning any longer. The departure of Maelchon's family from the hall did not give her back the solitude she craved, but eleven fewer in those close confines was a relief to all who remained. Saelon moved her kinsmen into the emptied chamber, and Dírmaen joined them, so that he no longer slept in the hall itself, as if he were no more than a servant, an indignity that had troubled her for some time now.
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Dírmaen was buckling on his freshly polished belt when Halpan asked Gaernath, "You are wearing that to the feast?" Tugging at the shoulder of the dark tunic, which the lad had nearly outgrown, he suggested, "The green one suits you better."
"The green one is torn," Gaernath muttered. "What does it matter?"
"Do not tell me you have given up on Murdag!"
"She hardly speaks to me any more."
"Why should she, when you are such a surly dog?" Partalan declared bluntly, putting his harp-case over his shoulder.
"Rian would have mended your tunic, if you had asked," Halpan said, belated helpfulness, as they passed through the deserted hall, last to set out for the feast.
Gaernath shrugged and looked sullenly on the swordsman. "I should like it, when she favors Leod?"
Partalan gave him a short glance of scornful pity. "Does a stag sulk because a hind gazes on his rival? Put the cottar-lad in his place and take her, if you want her. What?" the Dunlending demanded when Dírmaen scowled at him, offended by so base a view of women. "She is not one of your chilly, willful gentlewomen. The lad," he clouted Gaernath bracingly, "is a freeman and the Lady's cousin . . . and Leod only a cottar. The chit cannot prefer the strawhead. He is no more than her stalking horse," he assured Gaernath, coarsely jaded, "to ensnare you through jealousy. Do not be so foolish as to wed the first you fancy—you must ride many mounts to know which suits you best."
Halpan shook his head disapprovingly and gave the smirking swordsman a quelling look. "Certainly you would do well to woo her more ardently," he advised, "but if she prefers Leod, you must accept her choice. What kind of wife would she make if she does not love you?"
"No wonder you Dúnedain are so few," Partalan derided. "Is it the Elvish taint in your blood that unmans you?"
"Unmans us?" Halpan scoffed.
The swordsman snorted. "When was the last time you tumbled a wench? Either of you?" he added, including Dírmaen in his challenge.
"We do not take our responsibilities lightly," Dírmaen answered coldly, as the younger Dúnadan hung, awkwardly caught between retaining the respect of them both. All men had their times of weakness; but they were not something to boast of. A woman could not boast of her part in it, nor a child of such a heedless getting.
"Too proud to make mongrels . . . or admit to them," Partalan came back, undaunted. Cutting his sardonic eyes to Halpan, he drawled, "I pity you, lad," then looked to Gaernath. "And you wish you were one of them."
This only seemed to sink the lad deeper into gloom.
Such vulgar talk was, thankfully, ended by their arrival at Maelchon's house: a well-looking place, much like the flint-walled steadings of the Downs, the heather of its roof still green. Dírmaen wondered what he had promised the Dwarves for it; a portion of several years' harvests, surely.
Yet since they were to stay, it seemed, what else were they to do? They could not remain crowded in the high cliff hall: an excellent refuge for desperate, frighted folk, but no place for growing families. In a few years, Artan would most likely build his own cottage nearby, imitating the work of the Dwarves since he could not afford to pay them.
"Welcome, welcome!" Maelchon greeted them jovially, already ruddy with the ale his goodwife was serving out from her seat beside the fire while keeping an eye on their serving woman's touch on the cooking pots. "Thank you for coming to bless our house. Please, go and get yourself some ale!"
The ale was very good, milder than Saelon's, not unlike the brew at the Pony. The Lady sat in the place of honor, on a bench near the door, Dírmaen noticed, looking about him before draining his horn. Hanadan was perched beside her, prattling to an indulgent-looking Veylin, who leaned casually on his blackthorn stick. The Dwarves had not come in great numbers: aside from those who had built the house and Veylin, he could see only Vitnir and Thyrnir's brother.
Halpan had gone over to join them, and Dírmaen caught Veylin's reply to the younger Dúnadan's question. "Rekk would have come, but he is in Stock. The Shire had much rain this spring, and the mill-dam there gave way. He will have his hands full, putting all in order before harvest."
So the Dwarves, too, were turning back to their more usual roads. Dírmaen gazed on Saelon and Veylin with ill-defined dissatisfaction, then went back to have his horn refilled. Perhaps time would do what he could not. Now that the raugs and Lindon no longer gave them common cause for alliance, it was to be expected that their differences would separate them. So large a colony of Dwarves could not be supported on the little Saelon's people could spare, and no one was more self-sufficient than Saelon herself.
Tomorrow, Halpan and Partalan would ride east to seek the scattered folk of Srathen Brethil, hoping to bring them back to their ancestral homes and reestablish the lordship for Halmir, the young heir. If they were successful, how many would remain here, paying rent to Elves and looking to Dwarves for company, when their own kin and kind dwelt just across the mountains? Not the young folk and unmatched men, wanting mates and starved for choice.
Partalan's uncouth words had lodged in his brain, and Dírmaen found his thoughts turned that way. This feast was a celebration of satisfaction, a prosperous family established in a fitting home. Looking at their host, that black bull of a man, who had abandoned his place at the head of the company when the mutton had been reduced to a heap of bones so that he might set his arm about his big-bellied wife, there was no doubting his contentment. Further down the board, Muirne had snugged into her husband's side, and his mouth was in her hair, whispering or simply breathing her scent.
With such fulfillment daily before them, was it any wonder Gaernath and Leod burned for Murdag, or that Canand brought Tearlag small presents made while he tended the beasts on the moor? Among the Edain, taking a wife, keeping her and the children she bore, made one a man. Yet the Dúnedain reckoned differently: one must be a man first, must earn the right to care for the only treasure remaining to them. They asked so much of their women, more than the common wifely cares; they must bring more themselves . . . and what did they have except honor and nobility, the keeping of their ancient trusts? How could these men, their short lives giving them scant time for other duties if they would see their grandchildren, understand that?
Certainly the Dunlending, the Easterling taint plain in his sallow skin, could not. Gaernath, with enough Dúnedain blood to feel there ought to be more to mating than the slaking of lust, was at a grave disadvantage in his courting of Murdag. The urgency of Edain blood—the girl's, his rival's, and his own—and the scarcity of women gave him no leisure to reconcile his contradictory desires. Dírmaen thought the lad could be better matched than with that simple, black-haired lass, but there was no arguing with the fever of a first love. It would run its course, or take him.
"Your music is good, masters," Leod called when Vitnir and Thyrnir came to the end of a one of their strangely sweet dwarven airs, the fiddle and the pipes crooning like voices, "but give us something we can dance to, as you did at the harvest feast!" Murdag looked conscious but nothing loathe; Teig eyed his dead brother's sweetheart; and Rian cried out in agreement, bounding up and darting towards where Gaernath sat a little apart, glumly scouring clean the bowl that had held the sloes and cream.
Partalan, who had set his harp aside long enough to quench his thirst, hastened to empty his horn. "Wait!" he bellowed, as Thyrnir smiled and took a better hold on his bow. "None of your outlandish tunes yet! 'Gaffer and Gammer' must come first."
"Aye!" Maelchon agreed heartily, drawing Fransag to her feet and grinning at Artan, who laughed and swept Muirne up as well, despite her half-hearted protests. "Something slow, that we old folks can tread. Come, Airil, Gràinne—do not lose your chance! The youngsters can have their lively tunes after."
Sitting unceremoniously down on the board, the Dunlending began to play the bright yet stately matron's dance. Maelchon led his wife through the steps before their threshold, children cluttered about their feet and clamouring for attention. The cottar couple joined in at the refrain, Muirne's head on her husband's shoulder so that their golden hair mingled, lighter and darker. The fiddle came in partway through the second round, the plaintive counterpoint an echo of the faded but not yet quenched joy of Artan's grandfather and Fransag's mother as they moved, slow but steady, through the measure.
When Partalan brought the tune to its satisfying close, everyone cheered and called out their good wishes—and then the swordsman broke into the rollicking prelude to one of the quickest Dúnedain dances. Rian cried out in joy and yanked Gaernath bodily to his feet, dragging him to a part of the yard that would make a passable dance floor. Unable to resist her gleeful goading, he began to match her already dancing steps. For the first few measures, Murdag watched their flying feet with queerly intent hostility, then gave Leod a glance that was both promise and threat. Dírmaen was surprised by the lad's hesitation until he finally led her out, when it became clear that he did not know the dance, or not well. Glancing at the harper, the Ranger saw he wore a look of smug satisfaction.
Spurred on by the bewitching tune—and now the fiddle and pipes added their nimble notes—Halpan offered his hand to Unagh. Though equally unsure, she clearly longed to dance, and with Halpan's guidance, acquitted herself well enough. But none could match the poised surety of their lord's daughter, who even contrived to make her reluctant partner appear sprightly. A beautiful girl, keen and kind of heart; she reminded Dírmaen of a young otter, with her sleek dark hair and lithe grace.
Beautiful . . . yet little more than a child, years from the age when the women of the Dúnedain were accustomed to marry, and of high lineage, for all the fallen fortunes of her house. He gave his head a short shake, and considered the ale remaining in his horn. It was less innocent than it seemed, or the Dunlending's words had roused something best left slumbering, or both. Or perhaps the time had finally come to ask leave to return home. He had not seen his parents for three years, nor his brother and sisters. He was of an age to wed, and his sisters would delight in putting forward suitable young women for his consideration. His gaze strayed to Artan, his wife on his lap, lean bronzed arms cradling her and their unborn child as he laughed at his younger brother's furious frustration.
His loneliness was almost more than Dírmaen could bear.
The next dance was a country air the cottars knew well, and Finean whisked Tearlag from clearing the board as Fokel and Canand looked on enviously. Moving quickly, Rian claimed Leod, an honor he could not well refuse; clearly, the lass had taken her cousin's affairs in hand. Yet Gaernath gazed on his love like a stricken moon-calf rather than stepping forward, and as the dance began, Halpan swept Murdag up, leaving her sister to rescue the red-headed lad. As the four couples formed the set, Maelchon considered those standing about with a vague air of longing and snagged Hanadan as he dashed by in the children's mad game of tig. He crouched to speak with the boy, who grinned and wove through the set towards Saelon.
Pertly he asked her to dance, and she protested; but Hanadan would not give over until she relented, allowing him to lead her to the bottom of the set. Even more than the cottar lasses in the Dúnedain dance, Saelon put many a foot wrong—as did her diminutive partner—yet she was as ready to laugh as the others at her mistakes, and picked up the pattern after a few turns.
Once on the floor, she could not readily escape. Halpan took her hand for the next dance with a mischievous smile, and Gaernath, seemingly braced up by Unagh, finally seized the opportunity to claim Murdag. Before Leod could interfere, Unagh clasped his hands and whirled him into the forming circle. Fokel took Tearlag. Rian, looking desperately about, fixed on Dírmaen. "Come!" she commanded, snatching at his hand. "You must dance, too!"
And so he was drawn into the gaiety. To have Rian's slim, light hand in his as she flew through the pattern of the dance stirred his blood as much as the demanding steps . . . but her bright eyes were more often turned to Gaernath than to him, judging how her cousin fared with Murdag. Awkwardly, at first; Murdag began stiffly, and Gaernath's steps went astray unusually often: a gawky lad plagued by self-consciousness, too much of his heart in what he was doing to do it well.
At the close of the dance, Leod strode towards the pair with his clean-shaven jaw fixed, only to be forestalled by Finean, who took his daughter's hand himself and saw the lad off with a lift of a grey eyebrow. Canand managed to snare Tearlag, and Unagh gave herself to Leod in consolation, as Saelon gently captured Gaernath and took him to the other end of the set. With an air of disbelief, Rian watched Halpan make for the ale-tub, then looked back at Dírmaen. "Well! I suppose you are stuck with me again. Do you mind?"
"Not at all," he assured her. If only she were ten years older, and had the faintest interest in him!
Sure enough, no sooner had the tune finished then she was off to claim Leod again. Tearlag dropped out, proclaiming herself breathless and in dire need of a cup of ale, which Canand hastened to fetch. Unagh literally thrust Gaernath towards her younger sister before besetting the refreshed Halpan. Turning to see if he were free, Dírmaen found himself facing Saelon. "Would you care to rest, Lady?" he asked, so that she might have a ready excuse for refusing his hand.
"No, not at all," she assured him; and in truth, though her cheeks were a ruddier shade of brown, she was no more breathless than Rian. "Do not tell me that a Ranger is weary after only two dances!"
"Your niece is a lively girl," he told her, smiling back, "but not so lively as that."
His eye on Gaernath and Murdag, Partalan struck up the tune for one of the more boisterous circle dances, and fiddle and pipes soon joined in the glee. Round and round they went, the women passed from hand to hand, then the couples came together to spin around their joined hands. The youths delighted in whirling dizzyingly fast, and the bystanders chaffed the pair of them for their more sedate pace. With a glint in her eye, Saelon let go his fingers and took his wrists in her slim, strong hands, ready to take up the challenge. Yet they only had time for a few spins before they must break off and go around the circle again, Rian and Unagh weaving and giggling over their unsteadiness.
Though she did not have her niece's light grace, Saelon had an assurance—this wild dance she apparently knew very well—that became her better. In and out they wove the chain, the two brown-tressed Dúnedain women and the two black-maned cottar lasses. Dírmaen recognized Saelon's touch the moment her hand came back to his: more slender than those of the cottars', rougher than Rian's. She was no douce Dúnedain maiden, plying nothing harsher than spindle and shuttle, needle and cup. When they closed around his sinewy wrists for the swinging spin, he grinned at the look of fierce determination on her handsome, hawk-proud face. There was no need to hold back; what this woman grasped would never be let fall.
When they and the music finally came to a halt in the enchanting Lothron twilight, Saelon was breathless—and laughing regardless, her hair as windblown as if she had just come from the shore. Her bronzed face was flushed, and her sea-grey eyes shining . . . simply joyful, as he had never seen her before. The beauty of her was like that of a grim land under rain, struck to sudden radiance when the sun broke through the cloud and struck all the drops to glittering jewels, unsuspected color flaming to vivid life.
"Kiss 'em good and hearty!" Partalan roared, the traditional end to this wild dance.
Dírmaen turned his head as if to look at Gaernath and his love, just enough so Saelon's blithe buss fell on his cheek; and barely there, her standing a tip-toe to reach so high. If Saelon's lips had met his, he did not think he would have relinquished them as he ought.
How Gaernath fared, he could not later tell, aware of naught but the warm strength that lay in his hands, weightless and soft as a trusting falcon.
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Maul: a two-handed hammer with a wooden head, used for driving posts or wedges. Until the later medieval period, planks were usually radially split or cloven rather than sawn.
Seasoned wood: timber should be set aside to dry and harden before it is used, to reduce warping and shrinkage. The traditional rule was one year for each inch of thickness.
Drylaid or mortared stone: in drystone construction, no mortar is used to bind the stones together. In wet, cold climates like that of the Scottish Highlands, mortar often deteriorates rapidly due to leaching and/or frost heaving, while some skillfully build drystone structures from the Iron Age (and earlier) remain substantially intact today.
Trenails or spikes: a trenail is a wooden peg used to join timbers, while a spike is an oversized nail. Again, it is a question of durability: in such a humid climate, iron rusts more quickly than protected wood rots.
Baulk: a roughly squared timber beam.
"carefully laid stone within and without, clean earth and moss packed in the space between": the construction described here is essentially that of a blackhouse, the dominant house form in Highland Scotland from soon after Vikings brought the longhouse to the region until the late 18th- and 19th-century Clearances destroyed traditional settlement patterns.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale or tuberosum): a medicinal herb used to stop bleeding and knit bones.
"slowly weathered to bone": in August 1995, at the end of what was then the hottest summer in British meteorological history, I saw the carcass of a sperm whale that had been beached on the West Highland coast by a gale the preceding December. Bone could only be seen where someone had taken a chainsaw to it to remove teeth and several tail vertebrae. Contrary to expectations, dead whales do not decompose quickly.
Adze:a woodworking tool similar to an axe, except that the cutting edge is horizontal instead of vertical.
"louver for the smoke-hole": in traditional longhouses, the hearth was in the center of the principal room for efficiency of heating; obviously, a chimney wasn't feasible. In the meanest, a hole would simply be left in the roof to allow smoke to escape—although this would also let the weather in. Most had some kind of panel which could be opened and adjusted to suit the wind, though this might also leak a bit in foul weather. (Here's one on a Northwest Coast house model.) Maelchon's house has a similar louver. Traditional West Highland blackhouses had no smoke-hole at all, due to the ferocity of winter gales, and were notoriously smoky: you simply hung your fish in the rafters to smoke them, and after a year or two the soot-impregnated thatch made excellent fertilizer for the fields.
Turves: the plural of turf; pieces of sod. These were used as the underlayer of the roof.
Stalking horse: a hunting technique, where the hunter approaches game under the cover provided by a tame herbivore (usually horse, cattle, or deer), which reassures or distracts the prey.
"fiddle and pipes": Thyrnir plays the crowd, an early form of fiddle, and Vitnir plays the small pipes, a less martial form of bagpipes held in the lap.
Moon-calf: a simpleton, someone with a congenital mental defect; originally, a calf deformed or aborted due to the ill influence of the moon.