Brothers: As Equals Share The Earth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Loosely based on the fateful feud between Kjartan and Bolli as documented in the Icelandic legend of Salmon River Valley (Laxdaelasaga) this story centers around two brothers whose lives take unexpected turns around the time when Christianity came to Iceland.

Submitted: August 06, 2013

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Submitted: August 06, 2013

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The raw and salty tongue of the ocean laps at the black shores of Iceland. Deep in the valley of my people a wild blueberry patch grows on the very spot where once steel met bone. Where once brother killed brother. Children often play in the valley, picking the wild berries. When they put them to their lips they only taste the sweetness of fruit. Not the bitterness of regret or salt of tears spilt when brother kills brother. For the children know not of the horrible crime once committed and the berries bear no memory of past tragedies. So the fruit tastes sweet and legacy of regretful deeds fades with the passing of time. As the raw and salty tongue of the ocean laps at the black shores of Iceland, licking and tasting the stories and myths on which a country is built.

My story begins, as so many others, with a birth. In this case, mine.

My brother was already tall and handsome then. A beautiful and strong boy. Our father, a powerful chieftain, doted on him immensely, teaching him the wisdom of our forefathers and the glory of our gods. From the day I was born we were inseparable. I would never be as tall and handsome as my brother but I would rival him in strength and he always held me as his equal in every way.

Although I was forever in his shadow I never once felt the sting of jealousy during our childhood. So strong was my love for him. So real our devotion to each other.

Days and years passed in glorious light. The rough playfulness of childhood. No foreboding was there. No ghosts howled in despair at the many tragedies our lives would bring. No ominous black ravens circled us. Flowers withered not at our presence. How come no dark winds raged with accusation under their breath? No, I remember our childhood in glorious light. The rough playfulness of brothers.

And how we dreamed. Some days we could spend hours just gazing at the ocean as it stretched to the horizon and forever beyond. We’d fantasize of future adventures in faraway lands. For in us dwelt the legacy of Vikings. Our blood ran in time with the ocean. Our sweat and tears as salty. Our hearts and minds as deep. Together we would raid and trade. No pirate, king nor monster would stand in our way. We would tame the sea as brothers and as equals share the earth.

Treacherous and willful heart. Why do you beat with such glee when the promises you keep are of such hateful villainy, wrapped in the red glowing fabrics of passion? A channel from the chest to the loins is all that you are, poisonous and willful heart.

Everyone could see that the beautiful and generous Gudrun was meant for my brother. Both handcrafted by the gods with the bound destiny to be together. Inescapable it seemed that the two should fall in love. Never such a pair before and after in the history of love. Never such a suitable and obvious match. I had no feelings of passion for Gudrun. Not then.

Never would anyone, me amongst them, suspect that their union was not to be. But with such urgency boiled my brothers Viking blood that when it came time to arrange the marriage he took to the seas and sought adventure abroad to still his wild soul. Bewildered and confused he left us all on the black shores of Iceland.

What would follow was a time of great turmoil. Around the world our glorious gods were swept away by the religion of the king of kings. The roman god eventually took the whole north. Only Iceland stood alone. Pagan and proud. Unwilling to give up our old ways. Harder and harder Christendom tightened its grip on our island. Soon pagans were not welcome in Christian lands, which left Iceland with none to barter and trade with.

As the son of a powerful chieftain my brother became a treasured hostage in the court of Olaf of Norway. He was not maltreated and soon struck up a friendship with the king’s sister. The young princess took him to her bed and for years he did not seem to miss his old life in Iceland. After a long time of negotiation I was finally granted a visit to him. I begged him to return to us. To flee his imprisonment. His life as a prize to Norwegian royalty.  I reminded him of the love he’d left behind. The green and mighty mountains of Iceland, the black sands and ragged shores. I spoke to his heart. Of loyalty and friendship. Of family and blood. But he refused to listen. Grew stubborn and dark at my words.

“Are you so happy in the company of your princess that you forget the woman who was to be yours?”

With these words I left him and returned home. Across the grey ocean that spat its tears at me. Its depth and size a bitter reminder of the vast chasm that had formed between us brothers. I would fill that chasm with a woman’s love. But had I known what horrors that love would bring I would have chosen to die unmarried.

When I returned to Iceland it was into the arms of Gudrun. We consoled each other and grew to nurture a precious love. I successfully put out of my mind that I suspected that she still held a passionate love for my brother. A love stronger than any I could ever make her feel. For still it remained with me, that notion that my brother and Gudrun were made for each other. But we married and settled to form a family.

Now the years passed. The winds blew through the valley as ever. Never bearing a foreboding wail. No black shroud cast a shadow over our lives. No demon pointed its bony finger in accusation. No black ravens circled my head. My sword did not hum with delight at the promise of blood.

How could the world go on so easily, time fly with such ease towards a point of such agony? Such heartbreak and tragedy to befall so innocently upon cursed creatures? Like worms are we. Like the very worms that eat our flesh. As no one do we live and as no one shall we be remembered. Ragged ghosts upon the tapestry of time. As cinders in fire we flutter and fade on the hearth of history. So feeble our endeavors to become anymore than what we’re destined to be. Land does not care for us. Neither does the sea. The heavens look on in ignorance and bliss as we scurry to our graves.

And with the passing of time Iceland fell under Christendom and my brother was set free in Norway. And like the prodigal son, in the scriptures of the king of kings, he returned to us.

It was not to be a happy reunion. To make penance for his abrupt departure my brother had, in the Norwegian court, acquired a priceless head dress which he had planned to give Gudrun as a gift at their wedding. But by now Gudrun had been my wife for years and she had bore me children. But as I had been a devoted and faithful husband Gudrun would remain a devoted and faithful wife. My brother stood mute at the realization of what he considered a double betrayal. And with a gaze he disowned me. And his heart grew cold as flint.

Eventually he would take another wife, and when he did so he gave her the priceless head dress.

We were driven asunder. But we were still family, still neighbors in the valley, sons of a chieftain. And we would have to meet on social functions and family matters. And he would be cold. And his words would be few. But every little word he spoke at us was to be laced with the deadliest poison. Like a venomous snake he snapped at us. Belittling us and degrading us. His love for both of us had turned to bitter hate and his tongue wove webs of malice.

It’s where you carry your heart that fate will plunge its dagger. At a local wedding feast the darkness would strike. The deed that sealed our fates and made us killers. By some dark force the priceless head dress went missing and after a frantic search it was found flickering on the hearth. What powers were at work then? Was it Gudrun that in a fit of jealousy, knowing the head dress had originally been intended for her, threw it on the hearth so that it would serve purpose to no one? Was it my brother’s wife, not being able to bear the knowledge that the head dress had been meant for another, that destroyed the cursed garment? Was it my brother himself that burned the wretched thing to excuse executing a violent vengeance upon us? Was it the gods, maddened to furious rage by our betrayal of them that cursed us all to die by steel? I do not know. I only know that my brother vowed to avenge the insult that he accused us of having made.

We took refuge in our home. My brother and his men besieged our grounds and cut us off from the world. He trapped us as animals. Driving the insult into my heart as a dagger forged from ice.

It was then, in that moment of darkness, when my brother held me as a prisoner of my own home that I for the first time started to hate him back. Gudrun begged me to ride out and kill him. I did not know what to do. I did not know if she could be trusted. Was she the dark power behind all this? Had she driven my brother from me and made us mortal enemies? Gudrun’s brother, who had taken refuge with us, was sharpening the swords. He was young, younger than I, and overcome with the urge to protect his sister and parched from thirst for my brother’s blood. Eventually I caved. Neither my brother nor I had ever been warriors, but my sword was old and reliant. Sharp and light. And I could wield it quite excellently. Not even then, when it weighed in my hand, did it slobber at the promise of blood. It just shone in the light of dusk. A dead thing.

When day turned to night, Gudrun’s brother and I saddled two horses and rode out. We rode to where the valley is as most narrow, where no escape is possible. There we hid in a crevice and waited. Like cowards. Eventually my brother came. On horseback he rode into sight, flanked by only a single companion. It was as if fate served him upon a platter. It struck me how ugly I found him now, this man I had always deemed so beautiful. Through the eyes of hatred I saw him now, and knew that it was in this grim light he saw me as well.

When Gudrun’s brother leapt from our hiding place I did not hesitate to follow. With swords drawn we charged down the hillside, startling their horses. My brother’s companion fell from his horse and was swiftly put to death by Gudrun’s brother. I lunged straight at my target. He swung at me with his sword and I jumped out of the way. He scrambled off his horse and turned to me. There we stood. Brother against brother. We only saw each other through the haze of hate as we went for each other. We had always been equal in strength and had trained together as boys. This made us equal in battle. Had not his sword been heavy and blunt. Had not my sword been sharp and light. Had not hate and rage clouded our senses and blinded our eyes. Had we been warned. Had we known what sorrow this one night would bring, we’d have stayed away from each other forever. Had he not left Norway. Had I not married Gudrun. Had I never been born. Had we just tamed the sea as brothers and as equals shared the earth.

I plunged my sword so deep into him that I killed all the hatred in his heart, and suddenly he seemed to me so beautiful again. And in his eyes, I swear, I looked just as the darling little brother he had always protected. The runt that he had always loved and held as equal in every way. My sword slipped from my numb fingers as he fell to his knees, the look of fear on both our faces. In both our eyes the salty tears of regret. I too fell to my knees, for my legs would not bear the weight of all that sorrow and guilt. He toppled towards me and I took him in my arms. I cried so hard I screamed. What had these hands done? The hands that now clutched my brother’s corpse, desperately hoping to somehow spirit him back to life. I damned the gods. I cursed the blind destiny that had made me kill my own brother. The evil fate that had brought me to this very moment, when all that I had ever found dear was reduced to nothing more than a lifeless corpse. Where was now my glorious light? For hours I wept, thinking that my weeping would never stop. For how could it?

 

I isolated myself from the world. I could not bear to feel eyes upon me. I swore that my sword was cursed. How else could such a wretched device have made its way into my possession? How, if not by some evil magic, did an instrument of such a terrible deed fall into the hands of someone as innocent as me?

Innocent no more.

Eventually they came for me. As I knew they would. I expected vengeance and I did nothing to prepare for it, more than send Gudrun away. I met them alone, and fought weakly, for all my lust for life had vanished. As if I’d died together with my brother. How I wished fate had allowed that. That we’d have perished at the same time. That my regret and sorrow had killed me. My cursed sword was swift no more and I was killed mercilessly and justly. And the land did not care, and the ocean didn’t stop, the heavens looked on in ignorance and bliss as I was put to death. As no one I lived and as no one I will be remembered. And the memory of my terrible deed fades with the passing of time. And the raw and salty tongue of the ocean laps at the black shores of Iceland. A wild blueberry patch now grows on the very spot where brother killed brother. And the fruit it bears is sweet. 


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