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A Brief Look Inside Reykdæla Saga

This month's newsletter is about Suður Þingeyjarsýsla and there is no better saga to represent this region than Reykdæla saga ok Víga-Skútu, “The Saga of the People of Reykjadal and Killer-Skuta”. We will only touch on a small part of this saga to highlight a couple of key places in Suður Þingeyjarsýsla.

Going to the Icelandic Roots website, to the left is a menu with a “Special Collections” link, and by clicking “Sagas Alphabetically” I was able to learn something about the saga.

A picture of a menu on an screen. menu

First, the saga chronicles the period between 970 and 1000 A.D. The first time this saga was written down was between 1200 and 1280 A.D. Finally, the oldest existing manuscript was written sometime between 1390 and 1410 A.D.

Reykdæla saga ok Víga-Skútu takes place mostly in two areas in Suður Þingeyjarsýsla: the valley of Reykjadalur and Lake Mývatn. In the first part of the saga, the focus is not on Víga-Skúta, but on his father, the chieftain Áskell goði. Áskell is a good man, one of the high standards, and who tries to be ethical in his dealings.

Áskell lived at a place called Hvammr by the river Laxá. Laxá means “salmon” in Old Norse. Áskell was facing some trouble. He had gotten into a local feud and believed he would soon be killed. He made a journey out to a different part of Suður Þingeyjarsýsla called “Leyningsbakki”. Here he was very impressed by the land and thought it was exceptionally beautiful. Áskell tells his followers his burial preferences, liking a certain location very much. The saga reads:

And now they go, until they come to a place called Leyningsbakki. And then Áskell said that he wanted to be buried there, when he died, and thought there was a good landsleg, and said, he did not want to have money with him.

Although there is some debate about the meaning of the word "landsleg", most agree it acknowledges the natural aesthetic beauty of an area of land.[1]

Most suspect that Leyningsbakki referred to a raised bank of gravel located on Áskell's farm, from where there is a beautiful view of the canyon up the Laxá river toward Lake Mývatn and, looking downstream, verdant grass-covered riverbanks.

In a strange way, Áskell's love for this place and his belief that he would be buried there became intertwined with his own death. The saga explains that he visits Leyningsbakki often, but describes that each day when he arrives there, he receives an injury. These injuries would accumulate until he died.

Leyningsbakki means ‘bank of hiding.’ The saga tells us that Áskell's murderer would hide under the bank of a river before attacking him. Before his death, Áskell struggled to return to Reykjadalur. Later he would be buried according to his wishes.