I was drawn like a spear to a small farm at Orlygsstadir. Word came that my nephew Battle Sturla had overstepped. In his lust for dominance he had taken my son-in-law Gissur as a captive. On threat of death, Sturla’s men released Gissur, now blinded with the anger of a sea monster. Gissur assembled a mighty force and bade alliance with Kolbein, my other son-in-law, who also gathered an armed force. Kolbein, commanding a force of more than seven hundred, rode on Orlygsstadir from the north while Gissur and his men numbering more than a thousand, rode from the south, up through the hard highlands between the glaciers, descending upon the plain where the bivouacs of Battle Sturla were set.
Sturla knew to expect a fight and had assembled his own force from the men of the Sturlunga. His father, my brother Sighvat, came to Orlygsstadir with five hundred men and together they made a force of a thousand.
Orlygsstadir – August
It was late in the third week of August. The warm winds had left for the south, leaves from the few trees had turned brown and fallen to the sparse grass and the salt smell from the distant sea lingered in the fog like a specter of doom. No birds sang, nor sheep bleated nor fowl screeched their morning cacophony to wake the world. Sturla slept. My brother Sighvat slept.
They were unprepared and unaware of the arrival of Gissur and Kolbein. Sturla was still in asleep when the war cry came up. Thundering hooves pounded on the ground like a quake coming from north and south.
Men kicked away their sleeping blankets, fumbled in the cold morning for their clothing and weapons. Even more rumble of horses hooves filled the air as the assailants loosed Battle Sturla’s horses and set them fleeing away. Sturla’s men were unable to catch and mount their horses to make ready for battle. Their shields were all bound together, no time to untie them, the battle had begun. Sighvat came rushing onto the battlefield swinging his axe. He was struck down, and Kolbein speared him through the meat of his belly as he lay flat. Sighvat’s men tried to protect him, one threw his shield over him, another even lay on top of him, to no avail. My brother was hacked to death there on the ground in his sixty-eighth year. His enemy stripped his corpse of all but his underwear. I felt the humiliation he could not feel because he no longer lived. I wondered if Sighvat’s soul would rise to heaven or journey to Valhalla, or perhaps worse.
Sturla was pressed back into a sheep pen. The only weapon he was able to gather was his ancient spear, Grasida, inlaid and decorated but not strong enough to be a battle weapon. It had once belonged to the saga hero Gisli the outlaw, and Sturla carried it for the prestige it lent him. But fame and romance did not make up for poor quality steel. The spear bent, several times he had to straighten it out under his foot and it quickly became useless as a means of defense.
He was pushed back, struck on his arm with the flat side of a sword blade, he felt the bone crack sending a flame of pain from the tips of his fingers to the nape of his neck. Struck again behind his knee so that he collapsed into the sheep dung. Struck again from the side of a spear on his neck and pierced through the lower part of his back so the spear point penetrated his mail vest. His skin split open, flesh tore, causing a rent in his back past his spine, severing a kidney. Weak from loss of blood, Battle Sturla fell. Gissur ran to Sturla, tore off Sturla’s helmet, raising his broadaxe and leaping so high that the sky could be seen beneath his feet, he struck his fallen adversary mightily on the head, from the dome and down past the eye, a deep narrow wound splitting Sturla’s skull wide. Gissur spit on Sturla’s corpse, took the purse full of money from his enemies belt, cut the ring from his finger and took Sturla’s flimsy spear as a souvenir of his conquest.
The end came quickly. They had not only been surprised but also greatly outnumbered. The early morning raid was like an ambush out of the depths of Hades. Horse mounted warriors pushing the horseless foot bound men of Sturla’s command into the open field of Orlygsstadir. The slaughter was great, the field strewn with near fifty Sturlungar bloody dismembered corpses. Gissur had lost perhaps a half dozen and Kolbein none. It was not just my brother Sighvat and nephew Sturla that received no mercy. Seeing the gruesome slaughter of their companions and their imminent defeat, many fled to sanctuary at the church at nearby Miklabaejarkirkja. Gissur knew the names of those inside. He called them out but they refused. Rather than burn them inside, Gissur waited long. He waited until they begged to come out to relieve themselves in the outhouse rather than foul the holy sanctuary. Gissur allowed them to take their relief but once done he seized them, bound them, forced them to their knees and severed their heads from their bodies. Two of the executed were Sighvat’s sons, my nephews. Another of the sons did not survive the battlefield, but the youngest, Tumi, fled to the mountains from the midst of the battle, escaping with his life and later to the refuge of Norway.
My nephew Saga Sturla, Thordur’s son, had sided with Battle Sturla by family obligation. But he was liked by Gissur and given quarter along with a few others.
The news of it was a horror to my soul. My brother and four of his sons, slain in one brief decisive battle. The quest for power gone so terribly wrong and such a calamity for the Sturlunga and my Iceland. I wailed at news of such a catastrophe as loud and long as I had wailed at the news of the murder of my own son Jon. What was left of my brother Sighvat and his sons are buried beneath the rocky ground at Munkathverá.
I learned from Skuli that Gissur had the support of our young King Hakon. Gissur was promised to be made Earl of all of my Iceland through a bond of fealty to Hakon. I could see my own dream of being King of Iceland dissolving. Skuli had his own plans for the monarchy of Norway. It was clear that the civil disputes were not confined to my Iceland. I begged Hakon for permission to return to my home, to mourn the deaths of my brother and nephews, but he refused. He had Gissur in his pocket, he had Gissur to deliver Iceland to him and I would be an obstacle if I showed up in Iceland at that time. Skuli was my only prospect, should he usurp Hakon’s crown. He encouraged my return; I would be his proxy. He gave me a ship in defiance of Hakon’s command that I remain in Norway.
Hakon was furious at my departure.
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