He didn’t look for Detective Klugman and decided he could ‘hold it’ and make his toilet visit after the morning story.
“When he went to Norway to visit the boy King, Hakon, he was made a Skutilsveinn. That is like being a knight or a land baron. Not quite an Earl and certainly well short of being a Duke, but still a position with great prestige attached.”
The chairs and couches in the Sunroom were all occupied. The residents sat quietly, unspeaking, each in their own solitude listening to the bits of Jon’s Snorri tale, thoughts drifting to their own past times when a word or a phrase prompted a memory. Some were able to imagine themselves observing this ancient man Snorri, on the rocky volcanic island surrounded by his thirteenth century people. How different they would have been, strange people in a harsh land, relying on those with wisdom to guide and lead them. They would have been so vulnerable to all things, weather, food shortage, disease. No wonder they all held deeply to religions and gave their trust to leaders that promised them survival.
“Some even grew old, like us,” Jon said. “Though not many. Life was hard in those times. Many didn’t live past thirty or forty, more than half the babies born never saw a first birthday, let alone a hundred and eight, like our dear departed Mrs. Branbury.”
He told the story of Snorri’s seventeen year old son Jon, offered up as a hostage to the King and Earl, as commitment of his promise to aid in the establishment of the Norway Iceland alliance and the resolution of the conflicts between their people.
Jon read out the oath that Snorri Sturluson recited to King Hakon that made him a Skutilsveinn.
“Snorri was ambiguous in his commitment to deliver Iceland under the King of Norway, as first he had to deliver it unto himself. The chieftains were not easily subjugated.”
The gurney with the black body bag was parked in the hallway by the nurses hub. The attendant from the medical examiner’s office visited with Big Bruce while he completed paperwork. Jon watched them through the Sunroom hallway window while his audience waited for him to resume his story.
Greta’s frail body was imprisoned inside that bag. Jon wondered if her essence could escape the confinement and release itself, join with the other imaginary remnants of those that departed from this building.
‘There must have been thousands of them over the years. Were they still here? Did they continue to exist as long as there was someone to remember them? No, they were just gone. Done.’
“As long as someone remembers you,” Jon continued, “then I imagine that you continue to exist.”
Karl came into the Sunroom just as Jon spoke those words.
“Nobody will remember me,” Karl said. “Just as if I never existed at all.”
“I’ll remember you,” Jon said.
“No you won’t,” Karl replied. “You won’t even be here. I’ll still be kicking up a fuss long after you’ve departed this planet.”
“That’s an awful thing to say Mr. Homesman,” Mrs. Remple said.
Karl shrugged. “No offense intended, just stating the truth. I’ll still be here long after you too.” He pointed at Mrs. Remple. “And her and him and certainly her.” He gestured at Mrs. Krantz, who had dozed off.
“It is said that he was small in childhood and was therefore called Jón murtur Snorrason,” Jon looked down and continued to read from his book.
The audience turned their attention back to the story.
“He returned from Norway three years later and then his father, Snorri, put him in charge of various matters and seems to have had confidence in him, and Jón was considered a good chieftain. But when Jón wanted to marry Helgi, the daughter of Saemunder, Snorri’s dead foster brother, and asked his father for money for a bride price and for the Stafholt estate, Snorri did not want to do it. Jón was very unhappy with this and decided to go back to Norway instead. Snorri gave in but it was too late, Jón went back and was well received by Earl Skuli and Skuli made him a Skutilsveinn in his own right.”
“Good for him,” Karl said.
Jon continued the story, telling how Jon and Helgi moved to Bergen and took a room with his brother-in-law Gissur Thorvaldsson. A fellow known as Olaf the Black Poet also lived in the same house. Jon and Helgi were poor but considered a class above the servants. One day Jon was beating one of the servants with a stick and Olaf intervened. Jon beat Olaf with the stick. This angered Gissur and he restrained Jon. With Jon’s arms held fast, Olaf struck Jon in the head with a hand axe and then fled from the house. At first it didn’t appear that Jon’s wound was too serious so he took a bath and sat down to drink, but a short time later he clutched his head screaming in agony and then died. When Gissur returned to Iceland the next summer, he swore to his father-in-law Snorri that he had not been with Olaf.
“Remember that Gissur was married to Snorri’s daughter Ingibjorg,” Jon ended.
“That’s awful,” Mrs. Remple said. “They lived in constant violence.”
“What a family,” Karl chortled.
Jon looked back at the attendant and Big Bruce. He wondered if Greta’s brain returned to normal now that her body was dead. He thought about the blood that had pooled from her head onto the grey concrete in the stairwell and if she might have an axe wound in her skull. He wondered if the sticky blood from her head had pasted it to the cold concrete of the stairwell landing.
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