Chapter 98 – Norway

My second visit to Norway was to the safety of Hakon’s shield, I hoped. I fled to Hakon and Skuli, though now I see there was little value in that adventure.

I was 59 when I arrived in Norway. Fat around the middle, gouty, hair falling from my head, beard gone grey and I had a constant rash upon my skin with itching and burning that never quit me. Dreams of that other place became more constant, began to possess me even in the light of day until that was the only thing I could think of. Those dreams were filled with violence. Gentle violence, like the unsuspecting smothering of a malformed infant; the right thing to do yet still gave no peace to the soul.

I left my Hallveig to tend to Reykholt. We made such strong partners, with her wealth and my many estates and chieftaincies. I should have been invincible. Perhaps I should have had her come with me to Norway, but her health was not good and a voyage in strong seas would be reckless. When I bade her goodbye I felt like a coward fleeing from that which I should protect, but if I didn’t save myself then I could not save my Iceland or Hallveig. I fled to Norway not just for the sake of my own skin, but there remained the hope of alliance that would place me in irrefutable leadership over Iceland. It meant that I would need the support of Hakon at my back and the willingness of the chieftains of Iceland to agree to align with each other under the shield of Norway and my leadership. Perhaps I was just a coward convincing myself of more altruistic intention.

If you wish to have my opinion now, I say that it were best for the people of my Iceland not to subject themselves, to pay tribute to the King of Norway. We would impose that bondage not only on ourselves but on our sons and all the people of Iceland; and that bondage we would never be rid of. I believed young Hakon to be a good King, but when succession comes, there will be some Kings who are good and some who are bad. For my country men to preserve their freedom, such as they have had ever since they settled here, it would be best not to let the King of Norway get any hold, whether it be a piece of land or promises to pay taxes or tribute. That value of those things must remain in my Iceland if my people are to remain free. That is why I believed it my duty to be the bridge between Norway and my Iceland. Would that I could, look at them a thousand years hence and see if that were true.

I spent the winter in Trondheim with Petur, son of Earl Skuli, though by then Skuli had secured a Dukedom as he moved to entrench his own power more deeply. It was clear to me that Skuli was not satisfied to relinquish the power of regency as Hakon grew from a boy in need of a Regent to a man worthy of taking his full place upon his throne with no need of a guardian. Still, they seem to remain on good terms for that time being and were together in the south all that winter.

When Skuli came north to Trondheim he greeted me as an old friend. We talked and told each other stories, ate and drank to content, Skuli gave me gifts and I wrote poems for him, praising his leadership and benevolence. We mocked his enemies and deepened our friendship, I believed. Though he did not speak directly ill of Hakon, there were words that hinted contention between them.

I was with Skuli when word came to me from Iceland that Battle Sturla had now taken my son-in-law Gissur as a hostage. Of course this would not stand and Gissur’s clansmen and friends soon rallied to his defense. Sturla had no choice but to release Gissur and what had been a clan feud very soon became a full out civil conflict. I knew this would happen, I could see my Iceland crumbling and crashing in the way great splinters crumble from the glaciers and fall into the sea.

My other son-in-law, Kolbein ungi, allied with Gissur; they amassed their men and followers into armies and rode to confront Battle Sturla. Sturla got word of their coming and fled, all the while gathering together his own forces to make a stand. Do you see how we had lost all sense of peaceful discourse and negotiation? It was Sturla’s plan to make ready for battle but he was caught unawares and unprepared late that August. He bivouacked near a farm at Orlygsstadir, still organizing his force, but the call to battle came too soon and caught them unprepared. One side ready to do battle, the other not.

There was no particular closeness between Gissur and Kolbein even though they were my sons-in law. They were useful allies for each other but both ambitious. This was the way of things. I expected they would pursue their own prominence, as I did, though I had no idea that either could usurp my position. Alliances shift beneath your feet like quaking ground. For that time at least, in late August, my two sons-in-law joined their forces and made the Sturlunga their common enemy. Gissur and Kolbein rode on Battle Sturla and my brother Sighvat and their men.

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