My trips to Norway were the turning points of my life. The first trip I was on my way up and my last trip was my doing in. I should have sided with Earl Inge, Skuli’s brother. He was the first Regent to Hakon, until illness took him and Skuli took his place; he could have brought me into the right fold. I chose the wrong brother to take as a friend and confident. He played at being the King, but now as I Iook back, I see how obvious it was that I became the dupe. One quick persuasive speech to young Hakon, along with one colorful poem spoken on the quay at Bergen, sealed my fate forever. I was doomed from then on, I knew better but I went against my own good judgement. When I first sailed to Norway I was, by most calculations, the uncrowned King of Iceland. When I returned after two years I was a suspected traitor.
My first return voyage did not go well. It was late in the year to sail, and the weather in the northern sea was raging. The ship that Skuli had gifted me lost its mast within sight of Iceland; it wrecked on the Vestmannaeyjar islands off the southern coast. I hired a boat to take me and my men to the mainland with our gifts and treasures brought with us from Norway. I hired horses, we donned the finest garments from the kings court and bedecked with jewelry and golden chains and trinkets and brightly painted shields, we rode inland.
We made camp at Stafholt, at the displeasure of the bishop. I told of my naming as Skutilsveinn, a Baron of Norway, and though I expected this title to bring me esteem among my countrymen and chieftains, it brought disdain and mockery. I was ridiculed beyond my earshot and some suggested treason, that I had sold Iceland to King Hakon.
Things were already askew, the second time I was in Norway. Certainly Hakon knew of my allegiance to Skuli and certainly he knew, through his spies, that Skuli was bent on sedition and usurpation of his crown and I was in league, that I was being positioned to deliver Iceland into Skuli’s hands once he had taken the throne from Hakon. That is why Hakon sought alliance with Gissur, husband to my daughter and that is why Gissur took so eagerly against the Sturlunga.
But how could I not defy Hakon’s order to remain in Norway when word came that my own brother Sighvat, even though estranged, and my nephew Battle Sturla had been slain at Orlygsstadir. How very clear it was; their death was my excuse to flee back to my home. I was not so naive to think that Skuli would not escape his treason, and he didn’t.
From that time onwards I fought one battle after another, at the Althing, in the courts, on the field, to see who if anyone would be Earl of Iceland, deputy to Norway’s king or even if my Iceland could remain independent, against the constant bickering and infighting of the chieftains, priests and estate holders. I went to Reykholt, my lifelong sanctuary, to keep vigil.
Why do we do such things to ourselves, for such pointless and low benefit. It is like putting the blade to our own throat and pulling it across. Power and wealth are so transitory and shallow. The epiphany came at the moment of Hallveig’s death. The real wealth of this life is the love of another person and the genuine human connection we make with another soul. It is that bond alone that is worth more than all the gold.
My last vision was of the chair where Hallveig sat when we spent evenings in discussion and musings. It had been empty these several months, occupied with nothing but my memory of her. Her presence remained, the smell of her lavender scented hair, the feel of the soft skin of her face.
“Hallveig,” I whispered her name.
“Harriet,” the voice said.
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