Chapter 106 – The Reader

I knew this voice. It was him. He touched my face, his fingers slid through my skin as if absorbed like bread into broth. A dream I thought. Strange in its texture; a sensation of real yet not real, like that place between wakening and dream where you exist in another reality, where the life is as real as it can be, yet the moment you wake, it vanishes, as if it never existed at all. I have had those dreams, been in that place many times, especially when my mind is troubled or consumed by a life event that needs my thoughts for resolution.

The tips of his fingers were cold and hard, like forged iron spikes finding their way into the soft flesh of my face. Yet there was no pain, I was not afraid as might have been had it been the hard cold steel of an enemies blade. He withdrew his hand. His eyes widened, surprised, amazed. The blue of his eyes had such depth, like an ocean, full of wonder and curiosity. Filled with exhilaration and joy and the sensation of coming together with a long lost companion, a forgotten friend from days of youth. The sensation he felt also filled me, covered me like sweet thick oil, like a membrane encapsulating the two of us together, like the membrane that covers the just born lamb.

A sound slowly formed to words strung singularly then into sentences, like thoughts strung together to make a saga. I heard my name. He touched my hand with his hand and our hands melted together as two burning candles might melt together to bond at the point of touch. I heard a different voice, speaking, reading.

‘In 1237 Snorri Sturluson went to Norway to meet his friend Earl Skuli. When Snorri had been in Norway for some time news came from Iceland. The news was about The Battle at Orlygsstadir. When King Hakon heard about the battle he decided to ground all the Icelandic courtiers who were in Norway, including Snorri. He was going to keep them until he could decide if he should let them return to Iceland.’

The voice, speaking from a nether place, was telling a story about me. This story was true of course, though his reading was not from any writing of mine. Perhaps something from the quill of my nephew Saga Sturla.

‘At that time Snorri was with Earl Skuli, and he knew that Skuli was planning a revolt against the king and was going to take the king’s throne himself. Snorri, however, went home in the spring of 1239, without the king’s permission. He thought that it was not necessary to obey him, because the king would soon be dethroned.’

Yes, it is true that I thought Skuli would take the crown from Hakon. I was deluded, of course, because of my friendship and alliance with Skuli. I knew that I should not take sides in their conflict, that no good could come from it, but I had my own ambitions. My path to be King of my Iceland could only come with the support of Norway. It was the only way I believed available to quell all the civil conflicts in my land. Chieftains against chieftains, many against me, many stood with me, but not enough. I see now that I chose the wrong side to align with. I should have known better, but Skuli was experienced, shrewd, and had many behind him. But I underestimated the vast support that young Hakon had, because of the legitimacy of his claim, his birthright.

‘One year later Skuli’s revolt proved to be unsuccessful and he got killed by the king’s men. Then it was time for the king to punish Snorri, who had left the country and probably been Skuli’s co-conspirator. The king wrote to Gissur Thorvaldsson who was his courtier and told him that Snorri had betrayed him and asked Gissur to kill Snorri.’

Kill me? Gissur, my own son-in-law? Whose voice was telling this story. A small square of parchment appeared in my hand. It was inscribed with runes. They made little sense to me, though I felt a spear of ice in my belly at seeing the runes for danger and death. All a mysterious dream, what did it mean?

***

The face of the troll appeared before me, as clear as if the beast were in my presence. Eyes blinked slowly, looked past me, and were filled with a malevolence that didn’t belong to it, as if it were possessed, under the spell of a malignant force from beyond. Loki perhaps.

I reached out, touched his hand, and saw his future.

“It comes for you,” I said. “The troll. Do not be deceived by the sweet nectar, it is a poison potion.”

I pointed to the troll’s face.

“Can’t be,” he said. “It is not time.”

The darkness that surrounded he and I in this place dissolved like clouds clearing in the sky. I saw him as clear as if he were right before me, as if a play upon a stage was acting out right before my eyes. He lay upon a strange bed. The troll came to him bearing a bowl of brown drink. The troll spoke. I could not tell if the creature was male or female. It’s eyes were red, they spun in circles.

‘Drink this, it will help you sleep,’ the troll said. It handed the bowl of sweet brown nectar to him.

‘What is that?’ he asked.

‘It is your medicine,’ the troll said.

It struck me that this was poison medicine.

‘I do not take medicine,’ he said. ‘I am not sick.’

He did not look like an ill man to me.

‘It will help you sleep,’ the troll said. ‘Your last sleep.’

‘My birthday,’ he said.

‘God asked me to help you sleep, so your pain and suffering can be eased.’

‘It’s not time yet,’ he said.

The troll smiled, sharp pointed teeth from a mouth as wide as its face. Its red eyes turned to deep black pools; its breathing slowed as if the troll calmed. It sat beside him taking his hand in its hand, which was not a hand but the paw of a beast, covered in bulbous warts and long spiked claws protruding from its thick fingers. It smiled and spoke so quietly that I could not hear the words, telling a story as a parent might tell a story to a child to send it into sleep.

He lifted his arm to cover his head and said twice ‘do not strike, do not strike.’

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