When I received the letter from the young King Hakon I had a mixed state of mind. On one hand I felt as if I had won an unexpected prize. In the next moment I felt elevated, being recognized by the monarch of our homeland that I was worthy of receiving a letter, a summons to attend him at his court. In the moment after, I felt it was my just due yet I was humbled and honored. I resolved in that moment that I would pen a magnificent poem for King Hakon. I knew it would be received well because of the honor of having words written about you that can make you immortal.
I would go there. So much to learn, especially about the blood links I might have with all the Kings of Norway, like Loftsson did. Should I feel that I betrayed my Iceland for want of Norway? I felt this for just a moment, and then the decision was made. I had all things made ready for travel with great haste.
Before I made my departure I received another letter, from the King’s regent the Earl Skuli, uncle to the King, entreating me to house with him while preparing for my audience with the King. A double honor. Was I pleased to be recognized. Of course. Though I had no way of knowing the ulterior motives for Hakon desiring my visit. Just as I did not suspect that Skuli had motives of his own.
Was this invite because of my notoriety as a renowned poet, lawyer, lawspeaker? Perhaps Hakon had learned that I had earned the great respect of my people of Iceland and that I carried their voice, could make alliances for good and trade and things of benefit for both our lands. I wondered if I had risen to the par of King. Did King Hakon and Earl Skuli see me as the King of Iceland, as their contemporary, their equal?
In the earliest days, when Harald Fairhair was King of Norway, Iceland was settled. At the court of King Harald there were skalds, and men still remember their poems and the poems about all the Kings who have since his time ruled in Norway. We gathered much of our knowledge about our history and lineage from what we’re told in those poems. We regard all that to be true which is found in those poems about their expeditions and battles. It is the habit of poets to give highest praise to those Princes in whose presence they are. No one would have dared to tell them to their faces about deeds which all who listened, as well as the Prince himself, knew were only falsehoods and fabrications. That would have been mockery, not praise. My poem to Hakon had to be careful.
I expected to be received by the King and be promoted with great honor, possibly as ‘King’s Skald’. But instead I arrived in time to attend Hakon’s wedding to Margret, Earl Skuli’s daughter. Hakon was young, fifteen, but to my eye he appeared no more than just past puberty. I was not awarded the title of Kings Skald, instead made a Skutilsveinn, a trencher bearer, almost an insult for a man of my renown. This position was called a King’s Knight, but any high positioned man could be a Skutilsveinn, one not even need be a chieftain.
I spent the winter with the Earl, they showered gifts upon me to the point that I was inebriated by my own importance. I wrote magnificent poems for Skuli and Hakon and more gifts were showered upon me, including a ship to call my own. It was my feeling that I had a voice with Hakon and Skuli and that my words were taken seriously and thoughtfully at court.
I know now that Hakon recognized my influence and power in Iceland and it was for this reason I was befriended, with the idea of convincing me to be his delegate in Iceland and bring Iceland under Norwegian rule. At the time I did not see the scheme that was being born to utilize me and usurp my position. There was dissent enough in my Iceland and I was not the only one that petitioned alliance with Norway. I was gullible in my belief that there was a partnership to be had, that I was the one considered to represent all of Iceland to the best favor of everyone.
Things got worse. I found consolation only with my secret voice and this is the time I began to speak with him more often. Speak with him as if he were an apparition with substance. He had always been there with me, since I was a child born away to Oddi on the back of Loftsson’s cart, but it was when I was housed at Trondheim that I felt we became partnered, joined as if my thoughts and his thoughts were one. There is comfort in having your other self.
At first the sounds and images were deep in my head. Just fleeting thoughts. But then they became more articulate as if someone was actually speaking to me. At first I thought that I had been blessed to hear the voice of God and be in communion with the almighty. But it was even closer to me than God, or any of the Gods, except perhaps Odin. It was me. It was him, and it gave me comfort to have someone to share my troubles with who would not mock me or betray me.
Something else was going on at the King’s court. There was animosity between Hakon and Skuli. Both were angered that I had received a letter from the other. Both vied for my attention, both presented emissaries to befriend me to their cause, but I could see easily they were all disingenuous. I was caught in the middle of their dispute, just as I was also caught in disputes between my Chieftains of Iceland and it seemed all might turn against me, even though I was not the cause. There were murders. Assassinations disguised as family disputes, but there was much more sinister and nefarious plotting at hand.
Even my own brother Sighvat, and other powerful chieftains had it in mind to sit upon the law rock and make Iceland theirs. I was caught in the middle of it all. Seen as a pariah by all sides, except for a few of my own kin. There was rage and violence and even murder. It was a dangerous time and though I tried to be a broker of peace and diplomacy, it seemed my voice was mute to them all. Though Gissur Thorvaldson was still a boy at the time and not a politician or chieftain, and even though he would come to wed my daughter Ingibjorg and be my son-in-law, there was no family love to be had between us. Even back then I should have seen that he would be against me too.
We are all brothers and cousins, sons and daughters or some relation to each other. I found it curious and distressing that we should be so cruel and self-serving. Myself as well, I suppose. It was a sad time and I was thankful to have my skills as a distraction. It was a dangerous time to live in and I was thankful to have my other self to commune with. Had I known then what would come to me at my end I would have had a very different treatment of Gissur Thorvaldson and others too perhaps.
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