My mom is really into genealogy, and when I was a kid, we always had to stop at old graveyards to look for our ancestors. Even when we were traveling in places where our family had never lived, she liked to stop and take a look. Something about the old fashioned names and the words people choose to carve in stone, I guess. It’s a wonder I didn’t grow up more Goth than I did, but I do seem to have inherited her penchant for graveyards.
“Once during winter, there was a ball game at Borg. Egil and Thord played against Skallagrim, who grew tired and they came off better. But that night, after sunset, Egil and Thord began losing. Skallagrim was filled with such strength that he seized Thord and dashed him to the ground so fiercely that he was crushed by the blow and died on the spot. Then he seized Egil.
Skallagrim had a servant-woman called Thorgerd Brák, who had fostered Egil when he was a child. She was an imposing woman, as strong as a man and well versed in magic arts.
Brák said, “You’re attacking your own son like a mad beast, Skallagrim.” Skallagrim let Egil go, but went for her instead. She ran off to the end of Digranes, off the end of the cliff and swam away. Skallagrim threw a large boulder after her which struck her between the shoulder blades. Neither the woman nor the boulder ever came up afterwards.”
I have always been fascinated with the character of Thorgerd Brák. Although she only appears in the story to die, the incident implies so much. She would be such an interesting character to explore. She is the source of Egil’s knowledge of magic, and may have been the only person who ever treated him kindly in his childhood (his parents refused to take an interest even when he committed murder). So much of his character throughout the saga can be traced back to these few lines related to his tough old nanny.
When I drove across the bridge, I was so busy looking for oncoming traffic I almost missed the sign:
On the other side, I pulled the car off the side of the road like you’re not supposed to do and jumped out with my camera. I had laryngitis, so my squeals were more like squeaks, barely visible even to my own ears over the icy wind:
Hvitá! Hvitá! Hvitá! It’s the Hvitá!
I was on a pilgrimage to visit the sites of Egil’s Saga, and here was the salmon-filled river that marked so many boundaries, the site of Egil’s first murder, where the timber was stored that his son Bodvar drowned retrieving. If I had meandered into Lantern Waste I could not have been more excited.
You can’t tell from this photo – or any of the dozen others I took at this spot – but the fish are jumping here. I don’t even fish, but walking around Thingvellir, where democracy was reinvented, and seeing fish jump right out of the water as you walk by… well, it just makes you feel like anything is possible.