Chapter 97 – Sons

My son Jon trout was murdered. ‘Murder’. Such a black word. When it is spoken about one of your own, it cloaks you like an icy shroud. Stuns you with disbelief and drives you to your knees with grief. It is so sudden, not like the slow gentle death of an old man drifting into his long sleep in the comfort of his own bed or even the bleeding out of a young woman after giving still birth. Such an unexpected thing cannot happen in your life; it happens only to others. I say this having made judgement over a great many murders. Judgements that required me to award sums of man geld or to banish the perpetrator for three or even more years if the murder was heinous or unjustified. When the word came about Jon, it drove a stake into my heart; I howled like a dog howls at the moon. All memory of the deliberate deaths that I had caused, been complicit in, were gone from me; there was just my Jon trout.

I know his death was murder even though it was said that he did not die from the axe blow to his head. That he was fine and ate meat and drank more after the argument, after the poet that struck him in revenge for the beating Jon put on him ran from the hall. He died later they said, mysteriously. Fell ill and died suddenly. My son Jon could be a slave to drink. I have little doubt that he caused his own demise in some way. Hot headed. That is why he ran to Norway when I refused to give him Stafholt for the bride price. It pains me to my belly that we have such disregard for life, our own and others as well. We have such little time it is a shame to waste it so frivolously. Perhaps in a future age we will learn to satisfy ourselves with less violence. Perhaps not. I understand the brevity of our mortal existence more as I aged, like clouds thinning until the brilliance of the sun is revealed in all its miraculous glory.

My poor Jon deserved better from me. Even though he was begat from a woman I did not love, he was still my son. Even Hallbera his sister, should have meant more to me than her arranged betrothal to Kolbein, who became my enemy after all. She took ill and died in the same year as her brother’s murder. I went to her grave before I returned to Norway. Fled to Norway, where I tried to look upon Jon’s grave but there was no trace of it. I cursed my Christian God. He did not strike me down for my curse so I asked Odin for his solace, but no answer good or bad came from that place either. It was that moment when I questioned God, when I doubted God, doubted my Christian life. This secret I keep to myself.

I didn’t consider Herdis’ grief, until now, because she is just a woman.

It was not that way with my second born son Oraekja. My loyal soldier, a chieftain who enjoyed my enemies as his own enemies. My own fault I suppose. Alliances I sought to manage by marriages turned against me and Oraekja. How could I have known then that Kolbein would turn against me after the death of my daughter, his wife, and worse, Gissur would turn against me too, even though he was my own son-in-law by Ingibjorg.

Yet my daughter Thordis, despite her youth and that I married her to a man decades her elder, had the wits of a man and was as cunning as Aud the Deep Minded. In many ways she rather than my own sons was most like me of all my children. She took power, despite the assertions of all the men around her. I mused how she so easily manipulated them and grabbed power right from under their noses. Had she and Oraekja been the same person, combined of their skills, then Iceland may have been Sturlunga forever, or at least Oraekja would not have suffered as he was made to suffer in Surt’s cave.

Oraekja tried to make peace with Battle Sturla at Reykholt, but that peace failed and Oraekja found himself in Sturla’s power. Sturla did not fail to exploit this situation. He disarmed Oraekja and his men and took my son captive. They rode to the glacier at Arnavatn Heath until they came to Hellisfitjar, the sky deep grey with heavy clouds, the wind like stinging nettles flinging shards and points of ice carried all the way from Greenland. They went into Surt’s cave and up to the stronghold. Sturla ordered Thorsteinn langabein to maim Oraekja, to put out his eye with a peg made from a sharpened spear. Thorsteinn did not want to do that but Sturla was firm in his order so Thorsteinn made the attempt. He was then ordered to castrate Oraekja. One of his testicles was cut from his body and they left him in that cave to bleed and suffer and die. But Oraekja did not die and his anger toward Sturla grew to fury with a desperation for revenge. Like so many he fell slave to his anger and lusted for retribution.

But Battle Sturla, my own nephew, wanted it all. He wanted my power and property, my influence and authority. He was a smart man and made smart strategy and tactics, but he was not a wise man. He had it in his mind to take my place as head of the Sturlunga. His father, my own brother Sighvat, gave him support in this venture. I could see, as others could see, that Battle Sturla intended to take all of my Iceland under him and any that opposed him, did not ally with him, could face their own downfall. He was a brutal man, not favorable to honest negotiation.

Gissur was a smart man as well. He wanted the same power and authority. You can see that despite my good and bold intentions those things that were just disputes between clans grew into war between the civil factions of my Iceland. Sides were taken, lines were drawn. All my good aims and alliances went for naught, in fact they went against me. Had I been able to see time unfolding perhaps I would have made different choices. Instead there was just deception, cruel torture and murder, without adherence to law or penalty.

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