I was confused. I thought it must be a dream or a vision that I was having. There was no explanation but the experience was so real, so perfect, as if I had two lives, lived in two places at different times. It was me but it was not me. I was the person in those experiences, yet it was not me. But the things I saw and felt were so vivid, they were me, my life, but then I woke and realized it must have been a dream, even though I had not been asleep. I was troubled yet at the same time elated by this feeling that I was more than myself.
I scribed a long verse about this experience, but I cannot find it now, though I searched high and low and the more I searched the more I tried to remember the words so that I could duplicate them if I could not find the parchment, but even as I searched, the words themselves escaped me. I was troubled because my skill with this art was renowned, even then I was considered to be among the greatest poets of my time and times before.
I was left only with the memory of saying to myself, in my vision, that it did not matter, that if I were diligent in my work, that eventually I would remember the words and would share them in the Edda and that the sharing would make me immortal because the words cannot die once they are written down. I said to myself ‘I will remember every word, every detail and for this I will be respected and admired’. I committed that all things I learned would become recorded and part of the body of all things written. It was my duty to compile the oral histories, the stories, the sagas, the life of our people so that they would be known and not forgotten, so we would exist always.
Reykholt can be cold at night, especially in the long darkness of winter. The wind can be warm when it comes through the valley, out of the south, but when it flies in from the east, like a whip cracking from across the northern sea, it is brutal and savage. But there is a comfort to the rumble and roar of the wind as it pushes on the boards of my house, and the walls bend and sway and speak to me in their own voice. I absorb these moments, sitting alone in my garret with the sallow yellow flicker of the flame off the oil pot, a bowl of hard wine and my quill. There is a terrible beauty in the singleness; I am not alone but I am alone. I am of myself but I am one with all the land and sea and sky and stars in the heaven over us, those twinkling eyes that look down on us, that we can only see in the deepest cloudless night. I wonder who they are.
It is those times when I commune with myself. My other self. The old man who seems like my father, though not a father harsh like Sturla, a man as old as dust, with cloudy eyes and a voice so quiet it is almost silent. It is that old old man that is me, yet is not me. He is wise beyond me, yet does not know things that I know, as I know them. I ask him things and he speaks to me with the wisdom that only comes from a life lived long. We talk at length, without words, sound advice and after a while I think it must be that I am talking to myself, my inner self, but he tells me things I could not have known, so how can he be me. I can see him, as if he were a person. No ghost or spirit, no troll or goblin, not a vision of huddlefolk. We are like one, me young and me old. Who better to talk to than myself, to ask for and receive advice from. Is he me from another time. Am I seeing an ancient long dead king, an ancestor? A man from the sagas. I have always known him, since I was a boy, a small child. He is among my first thoughts, the first memories I have in life, he has always been there with me. But he is not just a guide and guardian, he begs advice from me as well. He is the one that said I must go to Norway, to Hakon and Skuli. That I must see the places of my ancestors for myself and know the truth of the sagas, the kings and memorable folk of my past. This is the only way I could understand what the future must be. This is the only way I could write it down with truth.
I don’t know if someone murdered Olafr Thordarson. It seems suspect that he would have died just before the time he was to bring his case forward. There was talk, rumors, inferences of a conspiracy. False talkers formed themselves into groups, bands of theorists prompting each other with the same wild stories, making enemies of those that are innocent. I had seen this many times. Clan against clan, kinsman against kinsman. This had been the way of our Iceland since the days of Queen Aud the Deep Minded. It was clear there was a need for a uniter before animosity broke into civil war. Why not me?
The problem, and there were many, but the main problem I saw was that many of the chieftains did not support me and only reluctantly agreed to abide my decisions as lawspeaker. There was conspiracy talk, theories rife in powerlessness, social isolation, and disengagement from the norms we all agreed to accept and follow. It was this disengagement from our social order that caused this conspiratorial thinking. Many of my countrymen felt alienated and consequently rejected the legitimacy of my authority. Alienated from their peers, they turned to conspiracist factions for a sense of belonging, the avoidance of individual blame, for a sense of meaning, security, and control over our unpredictable and dangerous world. I know many were against me, with their made up prejudices and invented truths, that they viewed me as a tyrant without fixed morality. Yet there were those that recognized my genius and altruism and were thankful for my leadership and the renowned I brought to our Iceland.
I was invited to Norway, by Hakon himself, the young king. He recognized my position, my leadership. Like the division we had in my land, the same had been taking place in Norway, our birth home. Solidarity was needed. Brothers with the same pains.
I was confronted by my chieftains at the Althing. Challenged to resolve the death of Olafr, to the benefit of one side or the other. The loudest voice against my authority was made by Gissur, my son-in-law, ambitious, devious, preening over power under the guise of right and fairness. It was apparent to me that he was intent on stoking the fire of division, usurping my position to take it for himself. The letter from Hakon was my chance to prove I could unite my people of Iceland the same way Harald Fairhair united Norway hundreds of years before.
It was the old man, my inner voice that said to me ‘We must go to Norway, so that we will know. We cannot stop or change what will be, but we must know it for ourselves, see it with our own eyes and live it in the time it is meant to live in. Go,’ he spoke to me. ‘Go now.’
I felt confused yet compelled to follow this direction without question, as if walking a path in the dark, assured that if I maintained the path that I would reach the end I sought. I did not need to see where I was going, just have faith that I would get there in the end. A true leap into the darkness.
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