Chapter 96 – The Apparition

I felt bad about my eldest boy. It had not occurred to me at first, to satisfy his request for a bride price. I simply thought that Borg was the better opportunity for him and me, it was a complex holding with many intricacies and Herdis had not done an efficient job of managing it. Stafholt was already in good hands. I should have just agreed and given it to him. He left angry. It made me wonder if I was so rash and quick to rage when I was his age. We are all different. I miss him just the same.

***

I saw him clearly. Every turn of cloth in his unusual dress, the cleft of his beardless chin, greying hair pushed backwards over his head, nose even longer than mine. He stood taller than me, wearing the strangest foreign clothing, speaking in a commanding voice, making confident gestures with his hands, explaining the words of my Heimskringla. Words that I already knew that I had written that he was repeating, almost reciting verbatim. He spoke in a foreign tongue, yet I understood every word completely.

“Who are you?” I asked him.

At first he didn’t hear me, didn’t notice me. He spoke as I would have spoken, addressing a crowd gathered beneath the Law Rock to hear my own recitation of old laws and new ones. But there was no Law Rock, he did not stand above a gathered mass. There was no summer sun behind him or the blue of the June sky, he stood in darkness though he was illuminated.

“Who are you?”

He didn’t hear me or at least did not respond.

“Why are you speaking from my Heimskringla?”

He stopped speaking. He listened to the heavens as if that is where my voice came from.

“Who are you?” I asked again.

“Jon,” he said.

He was no Jon that I knew. Not Jon Loftsson, my foster father, nor Jon trout, my first born boy, estranged from me because of my own hubris and disregard.

“I do not know you. What Jon are you? What clan? Who is your Godi?”

He said nothing for a long while, just looked into the blank air.

“Why do you speak from my Heimskringla?” I asked again.

“Who is that?” he asked. “I can hear you speaking. Where are you?”

I didn’t know what to make of this. ‘Where am I?’ What kind of question is that, as if he could not see me standing right here beside him, so close I could have reached out and touched his hem. Speaking to each other as if we weren’t in each other’s presence, such an odd thing. I waved my hand before his eyes, like a banner waving in the wind. As I waved, the darkness surrounding him rippled like the waves upon a pond. Such a strange thing, I’m certain it was a dream, yet he was so real.

I brushed my hand in front of his face but he did not see it, did not blink his eyes, or turn  his head. I placed my hand on his shoulder but it passed right through him as if he were an apparition. I was not frightened because it must be a dream. Even more than that I was not afraid because when I looked into his eyes, they were mine.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“I am here, in Earl Skuli’s house, waiting for my audience with the King, to the displeasure of my own chieftains most likely. You read from my Heimskringla. You speak from it as if you are a bishop scholar reciting to the novices. I do not know you.”

The book he held was not vellum or any parchment that I knew. It was strangely bound, sharply cut, and filled with the thinnest flat parchment I had ever seen.

“You tell stories from my Heimskringla, why?”

“This is not the Heimskringla, though I know that book nearly by heart; I have taught from it so often. This is my book about my ancestor Snorri Sturluson from Iceland from long ago. I speak from it because the stories are interesting and important.”

“Ancestor? Snorri Sturluson? That is my name, though there could be others with the same name.”

A dream most certainly. To have a vivid conversation with a dream character who claims me as his ancestor, as if I were born to the past and he were a future progeny.

“I must be sleeping, dreaming,” he said.

To dream about a dreaming man. Strange indeed, fanciful, and most interesting. It was as though I was conversing with myself from another time.

“If you are dreaming and I am dreaming,” I said, “then which of us is the master of this dream?”

“I am not dreaming,” he said. “I’m lecturing my class. We’re talking about the Battle of Orlygsstadir.”

“Orlygsstadir? I know this place. There has been no battle there. Surely I would have heard of such a thing.”

“Yes of course there has been a battle,” he said. “It’s well known. At least if you know Icelandic history.”

“I know all there is to know about my home. Since Ingólfur came, since Aud the Deep Minded and even before from when the place was inhabited by nothing more than the Irish Monks. There has been no battle or dispute of any note at Orlygsstadir.”

“Nonsense,” he said, “it’s right here in my book, the full account.”

He turned his open book to me but the words and etching on the pages were indecipherable to me. They might as well have been puffin scratching. I wanted to hear his tale about this famous battle that never occurred, his false saga.

“Tell me the story of this battle,” I said.

He frowned.

“I have no time for that, I have a class,” he said. “Who are you? Where are you?”

“I am Snorri of course,” I said.

His mask of consternation changed before my eyes to a veil of confusion. He turned away from me and spoke to an invisible audience. He described a conflict between my kinsmen, as if he knew them by name and body. A very interesting tale, entertaining and saga-like, delightful to listen to until he came to a prediction of the slaying of my brother Sighvat and nephew Sturla, who had come to be known as Battle Sturla.

It was nothing more than a dream, but disturbing none the less.

***

I believed deep in my heart that I was doing the right thing, on the right path but I see now that my aims were conflicted. How could I have been so blind. Each small internal doubt I felt was a signal of the truth trying to rise to the surface and make me see. I was not friendly with Sighvat, had not been for some time, but he was my brother. I had no deep love for my nephew Sturla. No love, the way an uncle should love his own nephew, a boy that should be near as a son as could be. Sturla was not a nice man, grown brutish and ambitious, more like our father than either Sighvat or me. Certainly not like Thordur. With all these civil conflicts taking place, where did that leave me but to choose a side, Norway on one and my Iceland on the other.

Perhaps I could have been king, had I not harbored doubts about myself and about my deeds. I made mistakes, made wrong judgements, though at the time I made them I did not realize they were wrong. I was taken over sometimes by strange thoughts about conflicting morality. Certainly taking the life of a man in anger or drunkenness could result in serious wergild or even banishment, but it did not ever leave me in a state of guilt.

My dilemma weighed heavy. Being in Norway at the beck and call of Hakon made it no easier. I am no fool, I could see that both Hakon and Skuli were trying to win my favor. I resented them both and I’m certain that both saw me as a fool that could be easily played and swayed to their cause.

“I could have been a King,” I said to the walls in my empty room, wondering if the ‘Jon’ of my dream could hear me.

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