Chapter 94 – Truths

They’ve always been against me. They would have killed me if they could. Jealous of me. But I knew how to consolidate power over them. It’s done by marriage; women are the pawns that bind families and clans. You shouldn’t have to resort to warring. I was set to take Solveig as my next woman but that traitorous nephew, Sighvat’s boy Sturla, stepped in and took her, with his father’s help of course. My own brother siding against me. He wanted power for himself. Just as well I suppose or I might never have gotten with my dear Hallveig, the richest woman in all of Iceland. Serves them right. She tried to strike my face that first time we met but that animosity quickly passed because fate meant us to be joined.

The chieftains should all have felt compelled to follow me; after all, I was a Skutilsveinn to the King of Norway. It was made clear to me that I should consolidate power on our little island so I could deliver it to Hakon while maintaining the appearance of independence. It all started when my foster brother, Loftsson’s son Saemunder, died. All of his father’s wealth and legacy had passed to him and now it was up for grabs through his progeny. See how it works? But all these things, which are of great import to us, are really just the distractions of life. In the end what does it really mean, how does it really matter how much wealth and power you possess? You can only live in one house, only ride one horse, eat one roasted shank or drink one cup of mead. I deluded myself. We all deluded ourselves with these distractions of life. If I had only known.

Our own greed and stupidity brought us to our period of clan feuding. Family against family, even though our bloodlines were all connected through common ancestors just a few generations before. We were all cousins to each other, yet had no reluctance to raise a sword and strike a blow. I knew that only resolute ‘saga-like’ actions could achieve my objective, but I could not carry them out without help. I raised an armed party under my nephew, Bodvar, Thordur’s son and another under my son, Órækja, with the intent of executing a first strike against Sighvat and Sturla. On the eve of battle I dismissed my forces and offered terms to Sighvat, instead of sacrificing lives. But Sighvat and Sturla had amassed a force of a thousand men and were in no mood to negotiate a truce and instead drove my forces into the countryside, where I sought refuge among other chieftains. Órækja took to ambushing our foes in the fjords of western Iceland and the war was on; how quickly things escalate and get out of hand.

I had a plan. To consolidate. I knew what was best for them. Bring our Iceland under Norway, just as Hakon wanted. It would make us stronger and with me as the royal office holder, I could still retain authority over my people.

But people died needlessly. When I look back on that time now I see myself as the pawn, naive and witless, inebriated by my own brilliance and skill. It was my belief that only I could lead my people to greatness and liberty, we would be independent people even under the guise of being vassals to Norway. I was a pompous self-absorbed fool. It troubled me so greatly that my own mind did everything it could to escape my reality. I imagined that I was in another place, a strange place, surrounded by people that I didn’t know, that looked the same as us but different, that spoke in a foreign tongue, that had such unusual dress and were not harsh with each other. Foreigners of some sort, from the land of the Saxons perhaps or maybe from the home of the Greeks or Chinese. Even though they spoke so strangely and I didn’t understand their language I understood completely what they were saying. But like many dreams, once you wake, most of the dream is lost, washed clean from your mind.

Hallveig understood completely, as if we thought from the same mind. I imagined us like two stars coming together out of the dark distant night heaven joining to make a single brilliant starlight. She told me that she had the same dream, with the foreign people, and that meant we shared the same heart. But there was trouble.

As I read and wrote from the writings of Ari the Learned, bringing forward our histories, our settlement in our Iceland, our tribulations, conflict over our religion, properties, loyalties, it became clear to me that there was very little that had changed in our Iceland from the time when Ingolfur Arnason brought the first settlers here to make this land our own. Though we had divided ourselves into our own chieftaincies and though we all wished to show ourselves as civilized, we could not help ourselves. We were the way all people are when posturing for power. I was the very same, just did not admit it to myself. After all, what did they know, none of them knew the laws as I did, none of them could make a verse with as much skill as I, none of them had the same vision for our Iceland as I did.

I can see now that Hakon and Skuli were skilled in manipulation and that we were just  a means to the end they sought. They used me. They turned us upon each other by using our own internal strife against us and encouraging our civil conflict, even though they had their own severe civil dispute, brother against brother, regent against king.

My chieftains weren’t about to give their power and property over to Hakon. Why should they, there was nothing in return for them. There was dissent and feuding among us and Hakon encouraged us to go clan against clan. We were too naïve to see what he was doing. We were so brilliant in our own stupidity.

It was all these feuds and petty tyrannies that made me travel to Norway the second time. It was even clearer to me then that the only sustainable solution was to have my Iceland come under the domination of the King, young Hakon, and though there would be tributes and taxes, and even though there might be some advantage to me, for the sake of my Iceland I made this sacrifice.

But there were murders, assassinations, disguised as accidents, the perpetrators hiding or lying about events. Times were bad, not just in Iceland, the same was going on in Norway. I didn’t know at the time that even Skuli and Hakon had fallen out. Earl Skuli found himself with less influence as young Hakon became no longer young and saw his politics and privileges from his own eyes.

But at least I had my Hallveig. She encouraged me, bade me to seek resolution and she waited for me.

She was twenty years my junior. She was lovely to look at, quick witted and almost as brilliant as me; she spoke with the same thought and mind as me and she was rich. I was rich as well and I had power and respect, I was adored, and when I came into the presence of any crowd my fame preceded me and I was always greeted with reverence and anticipation, fawned over, given the seat on the highest bench. Hallveig was right there with me, for twenty years, the perfect couple, like a king and his queen.

I brought her to Reykholt, where we lived together except when I traveled to Norway, which I now regret having gone to. I thought I was doing good. I believed myself to be a strong negotiator and a good judge of men and circumstance.

My visits to Norway were not just to assuage the unrest in my Iceland but also to research and record the histories of my people. We came from Norway; it was our home before our home, someone had to ensure our stories were written down.

When consumed by those moments in time, when it is the life you are living, you don’t recognize the discontinuity, the separation from the reality you would prefer. I did not seek violence and death, subterfuge, and deceit, but it just came to me that way. I thought I was the diplomat but no, I see that just like everyone else, a victim of the times and circumstance. It was not until now that I understood that power lusts for more power.

I am grateful that I had Hallveig and that she was willing to have me.

I told her that I had deep trepidation about that voyage to Norway, to see Hakon again. The journey was so long and could be quite unpleasant and dangerous in bad weather. How many had been lost in that deep dark water. I seldom looked over the side of the boat in case I spied a leviathan emerging from the deep to consume us. The Kracken with long spiny tentacles, a giant maw with pulverizing beak, perhaps a singular giant eye to witness our terror as it took us into its belly. How many sailors had crossed those waters or west to Greenland and were lost, consumed by that sea monster. Norway with all its rocky shoals and turbulent shores, disputations and internal treacheries was like the Kracken, consuming those of us who simply wished for calm and perhaps a small taste of power.

This was my truth. Hallveig, being of the same mind, encouraged my pursuit of it. She told me nobody could defeat my verisimilitude or my intention but that I must be careful of that swine Hakon and his puppet master Skuli.

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