Chapter 88 – Ofafr Gudbranson

There was a case brought before me at the Althing. A woman was dead. Bludgeoned to death. I didn’t see the body myself but I’m told she was beaten into a pulp, so that her face wasn’t even recognizable. It sounded quite horrid. I’m not a stranger to grisly sights. Battles between the clans often resulted in gruesome dismemberments. A combatant captured from the losing side might have a limb severed as punishment for his opposition. Or he might even lose his head, that was not uncommon. This is the way disputes are often settled.

I don’t know why we are savage creatures. From our past I suppose, how would we know anything different. Yet I had a sense within me that it was possible for me to make our lives calm. That we could emerge from our natural way of violence and resistance. But in the case brought before me, at the law rock, there was evidence of unjustified murder. The weapon was not a cudgel or a mallet or a rock that crushed the poor woman’s head. It was the hoof of a goat. Still attached to the animals leg bone. The murder was made to look as though the poor woman had been trampled in an unfortunate accident in the goat pen. An angry beast not wanting to be milked, perhaps. But it was not a goat brought before me at the law rock, it was the farmer Olafr Gudbranson.

“She was a nag and a hag filled with constant complaints,” Olafr claimed.

She accused him of infidelity with a worker woman and other malodorous deeds. None of which were true he claimed. He claimed the illegitimate child born by the worker woman was not his, even though the fatherless child bore the name Olafr Olafsson. He could not take any more of his wife’s continuous heckling and blaming, even in the presence of his own children.

So it was the goat that gave him the idea. His wife was in the pen, screeching as usual, when the goat struck her in the side and knocked her to the mud. Olafr was butchering a carcass for the upcoming Thoroblot feast. With the haunch in hand and inspiration of the goat, he became a man obsessed, as if Hofdabrekka-Joka herself had possessed him.

The gruesome details need not be shared. Though his rage was understandable and perhaps justifiable, being civilized people, I could not let this murder go without address, so I banished Olafr Gudbranson for three years, his farm was forfeit to the bishop and his children sent as orphans to be fostered among the good people of the parish.

It came to pass that Olafr left the land with the worker woman, who went by the name of Solveig, and with them went the infant child Olafr Olafsson. After three years had passed Olafr and Solveig returned to our company, now with two children and they became married. So for the time being all things worked out and all were happy, except for the dead woman, killed by a goat hoof.

***

I had a dream. I think it was a dream. It might have been an old memory surfaced from the depths of my brain or perhaps a story I heard when inquiring about the histories of my people, from very old times, before the words were put to parchment. There was a woman lying dead upon a rock, her head resting in a pond of blood, or perhaps red water. But the thing that struck me most was her eye. One dead eye staring up at me or staring up at the heavens. One eye, like Odin’s one eye, left alone. She spoke to me even though her lips were cold and blue, her mouth held tightly shut in the bonds of her rigor mortice. She spoke to me through her mind or maybe through her eye.

I thought, ‘Is this the dead wife of Olafr the farmer?’ Nay, this woman was from far away, dressed in foreign skirts, apron-less and with no shoes or coverings upon her feet.

“I am coming,” she said to me. “Make room for me, give me drink from your wineskin.”

“Who are you?” I asked, though the question did not come from my lips.

“I am killed from life,” she said. “I am free.”

***

Olafr and Solveig returned with their two children and took a croft and work as farm laborers. He made inquiries to retrieve his other children from fosterage and found his eldest son living with his dead wife’s brother and family. The boy, nearly grown, did not want to return to his father’s house. They argued, exchanged curses and Olafr struck the boy on his face. In a rage the boy threw Olafr to the ground and smashed his head with a rock. The boy and his uncle threw Olafr’s body into the fast waters of the river Ranga where it was carried to the ocean to become food for the fishes. They claimed to have not seen Olafr and had no knowledge of his whereabouts when questioned by the Sheriff of the Parish.

Solveig was sent to the parish workhouse and her children were fostered out, as was the custom.

I’m not certain why I remembered Olafr at the same time I had the dream of the woman with the dead eye, but they seemed connected.

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