Bersi died between the births of my first children. Hallbera was taking her first steps and Jon was still large in his mother’s belly. It was a blessing for all. Dark thoughts had come to me, I was impatient to take hold of the inheritance that was promised to me at Bersi’s demise. I wished him to rush along and make way. I even thought of making it happen myself.
It was the herdsman drawing his knife across the old ram’s neck that first gave me the idea. Straddle over the animal from behind, loop an arm under the chin, pull the head back and with the other hand, firmly grasping a newly sharpened knife, slice the blade across the exposed neck in one quick stroke. It is not even necessary to exert strong pressure if the blade is sharp. The animal will jerk back suddenly, but only once, and as its life blood flows quickly out it will sink from your grasp into its final long sleep. Be sure to have a vessel at the ready to catch the blood so it is not wasted. Of course I wouldn’t catch Bersi’s blood, there would be no need, but I thought I might perform the deed near a flowing brook so that his blood might mingle with the clear fresh melt water of Vatnajokull. I had seen this many times of course, but it was that occasion at Borg, that the thought came to me to hasten Bersi’s end in the same manner as the butchery. It would be quick, Bersi would not suspect what was about to happen and it would be a merciful conclusion for him so he wouldn’t have to suffer the decrepitude of old age.
The herdsman’s blade was long and rusted except along the sharpened edge. I watched him prepare it before he used it to slaughter the ram. Perhaps the animal was old, impotent, and grown useless except for the meat it could provide. The herdsman pulled the steel along the stone until it was a foot long razor along one edge. When he was done the deed on the ram’s throat he did not wash the blood away, just wiped it clean along the belly skin. I asked the herdsman to lend me his blade but he scoffed, refused, and told me to get my own blade. Had I not a nefarious deed in mind I may have punished him for his insolence. Such disrespect, but he was a large man and I had no weapon, otherwise I might have challenged him.
The fault doesn’t lay with Herdis. She was a decent woman and a good mother. It’s true that I had a wandering eye and was something of a philanderer. But that was a most common thing for men of means in that time. If I wanted to be like them then I had to think the way they think and do the things they did. And I did. Who didn’t have a mistress or concubine or perhaps more than one, even at the same time. There was the fun of it, the sport, the new faces and bodies and there was genuine affection and honest love, for a while. But of course those things all have their day and then they fade away and one love becomes like the next or like the last. I declare that there was not a great deal of joy being hounded by two or three women in the same day, trying to keep them all happy. Why would anyone of experience choose that.
Besides, there was much more pleasure and sport in the pursuit of personal greatness, not just the frivolity of women. I was firstly struck by the admiration and acclaim heaped on me because of my excellent poetry, my knowledge of the law and our history. Not only did I find myself good at business but gained acclaim and fame for many aspects of my work. Wealth was so easy to come by once you had acquired a start on it. As my esteem grew I even had small chieftains submit their holdings to me so long as I would afford them protection. I had so many estates in my possession, my words were so respected, my company so sought after that I often felt as a king must feel.
This is the thing I needed to know for myself. This is why I was enamored at the thought of making acquaintance of the young King Hakon in our native Norway. He was a boy, at that early time, still under the regency of his uncle the Earl Skuli, a man who held nearly the same acclaim and power as the true King. They had heard of my renown in Iceland and invited me to be with them for a time.
It’s no secret that there was unrest in Norway, conflict between chieftains, some had conflict with the royal house. It was much the same in my Iceland; brutal and vicious fighting between clans and kinsmen was ongoing. It was my belief that there could be peace for Iceland in an alignment with our native home. Our chieftains would have a common King and could be united instead of divided. My brother Sighvat told me not to interfere but I was long past having him treat me as a child. I didn’t have an idea how an alignment might be arranged but was certain it would be for the good of all, and myself as well.
I can say now that I grew weary of Borg because of women and power and when the opportunity came to manage the estate at Reykholt, it seemed for the common best that I take that engagement, while Herdis and the children remained at Borg. It was best. I would have space to do my work properly and expand my ventures without hindrance. I could comport myself as a man of knowledge and means. Yes, my eye wandered and I was a slave to various pleasures. Such be the case for good or ill. Does that make me a bad man? No, just a man, resigned to a life of wealth and power, with more than one woman. Loftsson had five wives in his lifetime, and look what a great man he was. Just like many of our royal ancestors, the Kings of Norway. Harold Fairhair had seven or eight wives, though not all at once like Arab Chieftains.
It’s not that I disliked Herdis, nor did I have ill feelings about Hallbera and Jon, though perhaps I could have shown more patience and tolerance. I often flirted if the woman was young and pretty. The thing I believed was love in most cases was just infatuation that drew me in and had me make shameless advances with compliments and sly teasing. Even though I was married to Herdis, we had become quite absent from each other. Just the same, it was best for all that Herdis divorced me and though I visited many places in my life, Reykholt became and remained my true home.
At Reykholt I came to understand the great difference between lust and love. The thing that made my final decision about moving to Reykholt was learning that the priest Magnus Pallsson was chieftain there. The very son of the man that my father had argued the case against at Thingvellir, whose wife had meant to put out Sturla’s eye. What could be better revenge than to remind all that Iceland no longer allowed clergy to be chieftain of an estate, could not be a Godi. I was generous and offered an allowance and protection to Magnus Pallsson and his family and Reykholt was mine.
Then there was Oddny, exotic with her dark hair, olive skin and eyes that could turn you weak. I knew her from Oddi and suspected she might have been a spawn of Loftsson himself, perhaps from a liaison with a labor woman or slave. I had to bring her to Reykholt. But she was a servant woman, perhaps sold to the Oddaverjar at one time, perhaps from a foreign land, she never said and she was never known to carry a father’s name. She was not liked, though tolerated, by Thuridur and Gudrun after her.
I feel guilty now. I feel ashamed of the thoughts I had, the plans that formed in my head around actions I could take to advance my own greed for power and wealth. Afterall, I liked Bersi. Borg was my first real home after Oddi. I feel as though I may have unintentionally caused his death by my greedy thoughts. Coaxed him unwittingly into the trap of my ambition and made his life end by the wicked avarice of my mind alone.
When I think of Bersi dead it makes me think of my own end, how one moment I will exist and then I will be no longer. I have hope that the next world exists but as I age, doubts form. How do I know that the stories I have always known to be true, the stories and assurances of the priests are founded in fact, that there even is an afterlife. Blasphemy to think this, I know. All this time the promise of paradise has never been questioned, but when you come face to face with the dimming of the light, the question is right there. What does that even mean? I don’t want to not exist.
I found a sickle, a reaping hook like a crescent moon of iron mounted on a hemlock shaft. A perfect bringer of death. I imagined myself striking Bersi, him trying to defend himself, arms slashed, bloody shredded garments, his neck and face cut open. I imagined my little Hallbera watching as I savaged her Afi. The horror of it, the selfishness, the violence, and gruesomeness. The thought of it made me vomit on the ground. It would be too obvious that I killed him; I would certainly be banished. But then I realized that I simply had to bide my time and make my preparations as if Bersi had already come to the end of his days. I felt relief, like clean new air entering my lungs, I could breathe free and in due time everything I desired would come to me. I didn’t even have to pray for it or entreat Odin to act for me. Had I been more like my great ancestor Egil, the poet-warrior, I would have easily fulfilled the task without hesitation or remorse. But I was a child of my times then and I held the same beliefs and superstitions that were held true in the day and I knew that if I intentionally brought harm to Bersi, that God, or perhaps the Gods, would treat me in the same manner in the afterlife. Our knowing of things grows larger generation after generation.
I was in my garret, writing by the light of a candle. Great care must be taken before putting ink to the parchment, there is no respite should a thought not be clear or a word be misspelled. I insisted on quiet as making proper verse requires great concentration. I was deep in thought; the ink was drying on the tip of my quill when Herdis rushed in weeping.
“My father is dead,” she wailed.
I was in disbelief of course, at first, but instead of shock and dismay and feeling I must comfort her in her grief, I felt relief that I didn’t have to kill Bersi and that simply my desire that his life come to an end had made it come to pass, sooner than I even expected, as if the simple thought of Bersi leaving this life had made it happen. Everything that was his was now mine. It was that moment, or the moments just following, that the epiphany befell me that I could just leave now, I was not a prisoner to Bersi’s oversight. I didn’t have to worry that he might know that I didn’t really care for Herdis. Am I a bastard for that? Yes I guess so, but I had bigger things to concern myself with. I liked Herdis but I didn’t love her and I had only modest affection for my children. I could tolerate them for short periods of time, but I didn’t really find them that interesting. And it is true that I had grown weary of Herdis’ constant complaints about my wandering eye and philandering.
That is how Borg gave me Reykholt and Herdis gave me leave to take my Oddny and our child little Thordis away, in the same manner I brought them.
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