It was an interesting and fruitful time for me, in Norway, but it was also when the mess started. I thought I was more important than I really was, and when I took it upon myself to act like I had importance, I allowed myself to be duped, inebriated by my own self-indulgence.
Earl Skuli showered me with many gifts, for which I was grateful and I believed I was well received by both Earl and King. But there was trouble. We had a long established trade practice and goods flowed between Iceland and Norway, to the benefit of all, for the most part. I traveled with King Hakon to Bergen whereupon I learned that everything was not well between our countries as far as trade. I learned that my foster brother Saemunder had exercised his chieftains right to set prices on imported goods, no matter what the trader might think his goods were worth. This was not taken well by some visiting traders from Bergen who felt as they had been cheated.
Later, when Saemunder’s son Pall came to Bergen on his own trade mission, he was not treated well. He left the town and when sailing towards Trondheim, his ship sank while rounding the treacherous waters off Stad point. Saemunder accused the men of Bergen of plotting his son’s death. He gathered six hundred men and rode on the trading station at Eyr, in the south of Iceland. He demanded the Norwegian traders pay him the value of three hundred cows, which they had to do because they were so badly outnumbered. Saemunder imposed a similar exorbitant tax on other Norwegian goods and when his half-brother Orm tried to make amends by buying wood from them, the Norwegians killed Orm and his son. That is how it all began. I only learned of this after I had been in Norway two years. By then the conflict was festering. By then the Norwegians had already decided that Iceland must come under their authority. I thought I could fix it but I was wrong, I know that now. Orm was also my foster brother and I felt deep sorrow about his murder and his son.
This is when I learned that Earl Skuli had already made ready his own force to sail to my Iceland and take it over. We would have no defense against a Norwegian army. We had no real weapons or martial training. My people would have nothing but sticks, stones, and our crude weapons against a fully armored and battle hardened force. My people would be slaughtered. I made an appeal to the Norwegian Lawspeaker, Dagfinn. I begged him to convince Earl Skuli to halt his invasion, which most certainly also had the support of King Hakon. I begged that I be allowed to leave Norway for my Iceland, to mollify and settle the dispute so conflict could be avoided.
I could not summon my voice then. Perhaps it was my frantic disconcertion, my compulsion to calm the waters and make all sides friendly with each other. I thought we could be good partners with Norway; I thought I could make it happen, be the arbiter of good relations and trade and all would be winners. I was wrong. Wrong because I hadn’t yet understood that power desires more power, just as wealth is deeply compelled to acquire more wealth, even though it is well beyond need. Such a pointless thing, to the benefit of so few. It made me look inward, it made me understand that I suffered the same human weakness. With all my genius and well meanings I was also a man that lusted for power and hungered for wealth beyond my needs.
Hakon and Skuli saw this in me as well. To my surprise and great pleasure, instead of being scorned and subjugated I was made a Landed Man by the King. A Baron, with a fief and the task to return to Iceland and represent my position to my kinsmen and pronounce that we had achieved a good partnership with Norway. They had taken us in and we would be equal in trade and voice. I was naïve. I had doubts about the true intensions of Hakon and Skuli but I pushed them aside, denied to recognize their true motives. I waffled, took their gifts and praise, knowing I could be used as the master of betrayal against my own homeland. Earl Skuli bade me off on the quay at Bergen. He showered me with magnificent gifts and I penned a poem to honor him.
My voyage home was hard and unpleasant. With my entourage we made our way to Stafholt to convene with my fellow chieftains. Word of my appointment and of warding off a Norwegian invasion had already reached my homeland. I expected to be greeted with congratulations and thanks for my skillful diplomacy, to be welcomed as the savior for warding off calamity and delivering a favorable alliance instead. But I was not. My arrangement with Hakon and Skuli had preceded me. Discussion among my kinsmen had taken place. They had questions.
‘Was I now the Baron of Iceland? Was Iceland the fief King Hakon had bestowed upon me? Had I delivered our Iceland to the feet of King Hakon and Earl Skuli?’
Instead of praise and thanks there was confrontation and threats. I began to have doubts about my actions and allegiance to Hakon.
“Why am I like this?” I asked my voice.
“Because we are,” he said.
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