Things were different than what I had always believed. Like a fog slowly lifting after many years until it was clear. It is true that in my younger days I could only see my life in pursuit of wealth and once wealth was plentiful then power. I had only the belief that it was destiny for me to lead all others, at least in my Iceland. But once the fog cleared it became evident to me that there was so much more; more than wealth, more than power, more than life itself. I don’t know why this enlightenment came to me at that time and confused me, made me wonder if I was in a dream or had become possessed. I could see bits of lives around me, other lives. People were murdered around me. I could see it clearly, as if I were there, witnessing the killing, witnessing the killer. But I could not see his face, he was like the fog, moving swiftly, troll-like. Stabbing, mixing poison, suffocating and other manners of murder. There was no glory in it, no pride from vanquishing an enemy in battle or the justly taking of revenge. It was like a flood of blood streaming out of control that I had to stop. I reached out to shield those people but it was like shielding against the fog.
I was there, in that place. I was in myself and then outside myself, observing the man that was me, though I looked nothing like myself, as if I were another person, grey and bent and old. I was shielding a friend from the troll who was raising a magic blade, long and thin as a hair. The magic blade plunged into his heart, my friend who I did not recognize fell silent, as if falling into sleep. He fell upon the ground with a look of peace upon his face, as if he welcomed fate and he began his slow journey into death. The blade was cast away, never to be used again. I had a sense that I could step backwards in time and call out to my friend to step away from the danger before it happened, but my voice was mute.
“Stop, do not strike,” was all I could say. But the troll looked at me, did the deed and then fled into the fog.
It’s true that I saw my daughters and son’s too as a means of forming alliances and consolidating power. It was effective and I was better at it than any other man in my Iceland. But I did not see the degree of loyalty from my sons-in-law that was necessary or comfortable. There are times when I wish it had never been this way.
It was an unsightly age when brother fought brother, father betrayed son and axe and sword ruled as wolves howled on the cold wind. I was among the guilty. I even denied my son Jon a bride-price for him to put up so he could marry Helga, Solveig’s sister. He asked for Stafholt, as an estate to begin a chieftaincy with his bride and I spurned him and told him to remain at Borg and assume the management away from his mother, Herdis, who I had held no use for these many years. But he left me, left my Iceland in disappointment and fury, against me, his own father, calling me selfish and greedy. He was right and after a while I reversed my decision and bade him to take Stafholt with my blessing but it was too late. I never saw my first born son after that day and this pained my heart to the time of my own demise and past.
I went back to Norway. My second and last trip. I didn’t want to go yet I did. Does that make any sense. My petty narcissism told me that I was the one with the most expedient solution to our political problems. I hated the strife yet strangely I was drawn to it, attracted like an insect into the flame.
A sea voyage always made me sick for the first couple of days. I was a pathetic vision no doubt. But I knew that once ashore I would make my way with determined confidence and present myself before King Hakon as assured and expert in my promotions.
Things were out of hand, especially with Sturla, Sighvat’s boy and Gissur. My poor Iceland was in a perpetual state of conflict. I often wondered what we had done to ourselves, what we had become. But we had always been this way since I could remember. I learned it from my father. It was the values of our time; we knew no other way.
The sea roiled, the wind blew ice like sharp knives, stinging spray upon my face. I felt as though I suffered in that boat. Though I also felt weak and pitiful, when I looked at the men pulling the oars, only able to take rest when the wind was at our back. The boy Haukur, fell overboard and Jon white beard died at his oar, so there were two less to pull us to our destination. On that small boat for so long in a troubled sea, nothing to do except wonder about the worth of power and to keep the ocean from tainting the water jars and sucking us into its maw.
We arrived weak and wet only to find the same chaos in Norway as in my Iceland. Hakon had grown old enough to know his power. Earl Skuli resented it and curried my favor, perhaps to make me take his side and bring the strength of my chieftains into his cause. Yet they pretended to be aligned, united for their Norway and I could see conspiracy in both of them. Skuli, as before, bade me stay with him and showered hospitality and gifts upon me. There was little time for me at Hakon’s court anyway. So I took the time to continue my Heimskringla and put the quill to skillful verses that praised both Skuli and Hakon. All the while I could smell the conspiracy and when Hakon summoned all the chieftains to come to Norway, so he could honor them, he said, I knew our danger grew and that Norway was not our friend. I knew that my position as the possible bond between our countries was threatened and that Hakon would seek another conspirator to bring Iceland under him if I did not satisfy his ambition. He did not call my chieftains to honor and praise them but rather to coerce them into his fold or if they refused to join him then to see the end of them as Harald Fairhair had done when he united all of Norway under him three hundred years before this time. Sighvat and Sturla were not tricked by this enticement, nor was I.
Black days indeed. I felt separated, could not contain my self-doubt and was deeply troubled by the brutish selfishness of my chieftains, turning from me for their own power and pleasure, especially my brother Sighvat and nephew Sturla, who should have been on my side, yet were not. The only consolation I felt came from that other side, the one in dream that opened my mind to broader thinking so I could see this conflict as just a blink in time, an event that would pass quickly and never be known, unless I wrote it, captured its happening, as Ari the Learned had done with the histories of our past.
I spoke to myself, in my dream, as if I could see the future and put it on the page before it happened. I could see that all things in life had a beginning and an end, as did life itself. I felt that Hallveig was the only person I could share my thoughts with, that would understand completely. But she was not there, I was alone in the land far away from our Reykholt. Alone, except for the boisterous throng gathered at Skuli’s lodge, partaking of food and drink, telling stories, boasting of exploits and raids and tales of ogres and wenches. No stories fit for my Heimskringla, not even the recounting of a true saga, and we had so many. Just drunkards and fools and not a brain to share amongst them. Except for Earl Skuli. He knew his mind well enough and he had more than a well thought plan, of which I was to be a part. Yet he continued to pretend that he had Hakon’s interests at heart, and perhaps he did, in a way, though in truth it was his own power he sought to extend.
I was alone in my chamber, writing as I often did by the sallow light of the oil lamp, when I imagined the words that Hallveig would speak, had she been there with me.
‘Take care, do not be deceived by false praise and gifts, motives are not as they appear and friends may not be friends in truth. This is a time when men are more grim, treacherous, deceitful, and savage. They have become like half trolls with abandoned morals and will break faith with any and all, even those dearest to them.’
A thousand years from now nobody will even know all this took place. At best it will be a line or footnote in a history ledger, a simple chronicle summarizing years of struggle and turmoil into a few words, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does. I know this though; nobody knows for certain what becomes of us if anything becomes of us at all.
It was my own son-in-law Gissur Thorvaldson, husband to my lovely daughter Ingibjorg, that was of greatest concern. He had grown powerful in his chieftaincy, was strong and persuasive in ways of the law and consumed by his own ambition. He held an unspoken resentment of me, I don’t know why. We should have been close; we were family but I do not believe Gissur thought of us this way. He wanted what I had, what I had earned and he thought of himself as better at the play of power than I. He answered Hakon’s summons and it was clear to me the plan that was afoot. Both of those sides knew they could well use the other to achieve their ends and make me nothing more than an inconvenient relic.
It was clear to me that danger brewed.
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