Our land was cold and bleak for much of the year. Thick grey blankets often hanging so low you could almost reach up and touch them. The winter grew dark early and remained long, hiding the clouds but also hiding the millions of sparkling stars that blessed us with their hope, when the nights were clear. But the height of summer made up for the endless dark of winter. Days of bright light and sun that lasted so long they nearly ran into each other. It was the difference between purgatory and Valhalla. The high summer was the time of the Althing.
I was a man of renown already when I won my seat as lawspeaker. Not yet forty. Perhaps it was my poetry or perhaps my wealth that drew men to me, made them wish to associate with me, with my power and brilliance. Perhaps it is for these reasons that I was elected as lawspeaker. Though I may have been the richest and most powerful man in my Iceland by the time I was elected, I was not as a King might be.
Before the commencement of my first Althing as lawspeaker, a man by the name of Olafr Thordarson, a minor skald from the north, died from a stomach ailment while setting up his booth. He had no horse so he was to be buried with a snow fox caught in the crags to the east of Thingvellir. His lips were black, shrunk back, exposing his large teeth and eyes bulging like swollen orbs about to burst. Olafr looked as though he had been fed a poison from the depths of Helheim and had begun to rot from the inside out before a day had even passed.
I spoke words for him, though I did not know the man or know of him. But as a man of most reckoning I felt it my duty to speak the words that would open the door for Olafr’s life spirit to pass to Valhalla or to heaven if that were to be the case. As I spoke the words, I had the thought that Olafr spoke back to me; ‘people die from love’ he said. ‘Love for themselves, love for another or because of love for a thing’. I thought, as a skald myself, that I should write this down, but I forgot his words until now.
It was the bleakness in Olafr’s face that stayed with me since that day. Like a night horror that can never be erased. I saw that crippled face often, in the pitch darkness of night when there is no sound, in those moments just before sleep comes to you. The face of death; the face of my own mortality. It brought me grave doubt about the afterlife. Would there even be an afterlife or would my own death take me to that same place and time where I was before I was born into the world. That null place that holds no thought or memory, that place that exists before time. A soulless, empty place. This is the thing that gave me the greatest fear, until I grew old enough to know that the fear itself would pass, regardless of how I felt.
Once my words were spoken for Olafr I did not remain to see if he was burned or buried. I returned to my own booth, which I fondly named Gryla, after the mythical giantess that often appeared as a fox with fifteen tails. After many years, once I grew into myself, with my own blind power, for there was no man greater than me in all of Iceland, I renamed my booth at the Althing, Valhalla, as Odin might have done.
It was after Olafr that I had my first suspicion that there were some, perhaps many, that did not favor me as their lawspeaker and did not see me as the uniter of the clans of Iceland. It was then that I got word that Olafr was not a mere skald, that he was a chieftain like most of us, and that he was to bring a dispute before the law rock to have a kinsman banished for outlawry. Perhaps he did not die natural or from tainted meat. Perhaps there was a sinister undertaking afoot to prevent Olafr from pleading his case before me. It was a time of sad departure and difference among my Icelanders.
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