Chapter 82 – First Marriages

First Marriages

First marriages are arranged by the men folk usually, though often the wife had some say. A process of assessment and negotiation, weighing out the pros and cons of a good match. ‘What’s in it for me, for my family, for my name’? No real courting in many cases. That is how I married off my own children. I made excellent, valuable matches of all of them, though some less excellent than others, as things turn out.

As for myself, I was ready at nineteen. Time to move into the real world. Fifteen years at Oddi under the most extreme tutelage in all of Iceland. I was ready to strike out and make a name for myself. But I would need backing and resources to have the best start, otherwise I would have to start at the bottom, in common labor and spend years of servitude under a chieftain, who may or may not give me privilege. No, I must be put into an opportune marriage for the best start.

It was my eldest brother Thordur and foster brother Saemunder, Loftsson’s son, that worked together on the negotiation. They were the ones to choose, since Loftsson and my own father were dead and they had a good sense of what would be the most opportune for me and the Sturlunga clan. Bersi Vermundarson was that opportunity. He was a minor chieftain, with solid holdings, a good bank of cattle, sheep and labor and said to have a healthy trove of silver coin, earned through clever dealings, good business, and tithes.

I was brought to meetings with Bersi, during the marriage negotiations. I befriended him, he liked me, I liked him and thought he would make a satisfactory father-in-law, though he clearly was not the stripe of Loftsson. The girl was okay, for what that mattered. Bersi was most drawn to me because of my roots at Oddi. It was well known that those raised and educated there would have strong character and good prospects. I believe that even then, at our first meetings, that Bersi saw in me a good home for his wealth and power to pass to when his time came to go to Valhalla, or Heaven if the case may be, since he held a priesthood.

I made friendly with the girl of course, but there was no spark for me. No matter it was a simple thing to do if it would make me an estate holder. Herdis, the only daughter of Father Bersi the Wealthy of Borg in Mýrar.

I took residence at Borg, married Herdis and we began to make a family right off. It wasn’t long after that Bersi took ill and it was clear that his life spirits were quickly departing him. I sat with him, cajoled him and in my way showed that I was caring for him, though this was a weak pretense. I confess that I was numb of any true feeling for Bersi; a strange thing to admit, I know, but watching him be slowly consumed into death meant little more to me than watching a witless sheep get sucked into the bog mire and disappear. I felt nothing and also confess that there were times during his dying that I wished him to hurry along so I could carry on with my life, take management of the estate that would be mine and grow my fortune and power.

Herdis often annoyed me with her vain attempts to nurse and comfort the old man and I often had to raise my voice in anger and send her away so Bersi could die in peace. He wheezed and coughed, lost his water and excrement and raised a stench that often made me leave his presence until he could be washed clean. He withered and shrunk as the death color came over him; the skin of his face a cold milky pallor, his lips bluish against his brown teeth, that were either loud with annoying chatter or clenched so tight that I thought they might shatter in his mouth. Still Herdis came to try to tend him, waddling in with her fat belly heavy with our first child. She wailed like a spoiled child every time I sent her away from him. It was then that any tolerance I had for her left me. I was not cruel to her but had little more use for her other than to bear my children.

I didn’t have to wait long; Bersi came to his end very shortly. Until that moment I was a man of prospects but when Bersi finally died I became a man of substance. I had already collected the documents and papers of inheritance and agreement to prove I was then the Godi and any need for Herdis was now departed for me. She was a decent enough wife, even though plain looking, slow in her thinking and dull in her interaction. She was a good mother to Hallbera and Jón. But I was desirous of much more and had already begun to make my plans.

After all, like most marriages, ours was contrived. Saemunder and Thordur talked more of the properties and wealth of Father Bersi than the compatibility of his daughter. This perhaps is where I learned my disregard for women. I viewed them akin to a dog or a goat or maybe a cow. Such was the way, until Hallveig.

It had been four years of marriage when I could no longer restrain my ambition for more than what I possessed at Borg. I admit that I had a wandering eye and I philandered now and then, and finally seized an opportunity to relocate myself to Reykholt to manage the estate there. The move was made without Herdís. She remained at Borg and was probably just as happy that I departed.

I soon acquired more property and chieftainships and I made significant improvements to the estate at Reykholt, especially my hot outdoor bath which I called Snorralaug. It was and remained my real home, after I left Borg. It was the place I came back to for refuge, after my many journeys in my country and travels across the sea. It was where I fathered and raised most of my children. Of course there were those that did not survive long after their birth but five of my children grew to be fine persons.

There were women after Herdis and I was quite fond of them, for a time. Gudrún, Thurídur and Oddný gave me children, and some others that gave none. But it was Hallveig that finally found me and I found her. It was clear right from our first meeting that we were meant to be together. Like magnets drawn together bound by the laws of nature. We were older then, there would be no more children that lived for either of us but that did not matter because we were finally together, as it should be, mates of the soul finding each other in the dark of life, so we could illuminate our lives going forward.

I still think about her often. I think of her when I am in that place we go to when we sleep, when we dream, even when dreaming in the bright sunlight and warm breeze of the day. Maybe especially then.

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