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Ancient Writings from Vopnafjörður

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Do you enjoy the Icelandic Sagas? Do you know how you are related to the people and the places of these stories? I have been sharing short Saga stories on the private IR Membership Facebook page each week along with the IR#s so our members can discover how they are related to these famous people. Here are a few of the latest short stories.


A prophetic dream at Vopnafjörður

Last week I posted about Brodd-Helgi at Hof (IR# I136068). Vopnfirðinga saga describes him as: "a tall, strong man of early maturity, handsome and imposing, not very talkative in his youth, stubborn ... tough from an early age [and] cunning." His fate is foretold in a dream. As Brodd-Helgi prepares to leave for the Althing one year, his foster mother has this prophetic dream. She dreams a white ox (Brodd-Helgi) arose at Hof and was killed at the entrance of Sunnudal valley by a red-flecked ox (Geitir Lýtingsson (IR# I136086)). Then a red ox (Brodd-Helgi's son Bjarni Brodd-Helgason (IR# I136073)) arose at Hof and killed the red-flecked ox. Next, a bull the color of "sea-cattle" (Geitir's son, Thorkel (IR# I136119)) arose at Krossavik and sought the red ox.

Brodd-Helgi interprets this as prophesizing his death at the hands of Geitir but believes the red ox, which avenges him, will be his friend Lyting, when in actuality it turns out to be his son Bjarni.

What led to the feud with Geitir? How did this carry on for generations? I will post more on this in the future.


Sunnudal Valley in Vopnafjörður
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sunnudal_Valley.jpg

A blood-feud in Vopnafjörður

Last week I posted on a prophetic dream foretelling the death of Brodd-Helgi. This week I want to mention the feud, leading up to his death. The feud started with his brother-in-law, Geitir Lýtingsson (IR# I136086) a Viking chieftain who was goði of Krossavík (see map).


Brodd-Helgi and Geitir were friends since childhood. Brodd-Helgi married Geitir's sister Halla (IR# I136071). Their son Bjarni (IR# I136073) was fostered at Krossavík. But Brodd-Helgi and Geitir's involvement in a dispute over the fate and property of another man, Hrafn Austmann, led to the cooling of their friendship. Brodd-Helgi divorced Halla, and married Þorgerður "silfra" (#IR I136074) from Fljótsdalur.


Brodd-Helgi and Geitir both began a process of seeking alliances with local farmers developing and maintaining the necessary friendships to influence the decisions of the Althing over the dispute. The saga contrasts Brodd-Helgi's violent approach to problem-solving with Geitir's non-violent one.


The story reaches a turning point when Brodd-Helgi seeks payment from one of his closest allies after resolving a land dispute. From this point on, farmers and other goði view Brodd-Helgi as more of a threat than an ally. Eventually, Brodd-Helgi's overambition turns many against him including Gudmundur Eyjólfsson (IR# I128253) a powerful goði in the North. The saga teaches the importance of kindness and generosity when dealing with others less powerful than yourself, especially when complex alliances are at play. Next week I will say more of Brodd-Helgi's son.


Bjarn son of Brodd-Helgi

Let's continue our discussion of Vápnfirðinga saga. Blood feuds often go on for generations and the Saga of the People of Vopnafjorður is no exception. Bjarni Brodd-Helgason also Víga-Björn Brodd-Helgason (nicknamed "The Assassin" , b. 948; IR# I136073) was a bóndi (farmer) and Viking from Hof ​​í Vopnafirði, Norður-Múlasýsla , Iceland.


He was the son of Brodd-Helgi Þorgilsson (IR# I136068). The death of his father during the litigation he had with Geitir Lýtingsson (IR# I136086), who lived at Krossavik (see map), kept the conflict alive between Bjarni and Þorkell Geitirsson (IR# I136119). These two were first cousins; Þorkell being Geitir's son and Halla's nephew. Halla is Bjarni's mother. In an act of revenge, Bjarni killed Geitir in response to Brodd-Helgi's death. Bjarni also appears as an ally of Flosi Þórðarson (a villain) in the Njál saga, accompanying him and seeking support during the Althing after the burning of Njáll Þorgeirsson's estate.


Interestingly, Bjarni converted to Christianity at an advanced age and was very devout. One source reports that he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, died during the trip, and is buried in the Italian town of Sutri, Italy.


Three close calls for Bjarni

In the Saga of the People of Vopnafjörður, the blood feud continues after Bjarni (IR# I136073) kills Geitir Lýtingsson (IR# I136086) to avenge his father's death. Geitir's son Þorkell Geitirsson (IR# I136119) now seeks revenge in this cycle of violence. Þorkell and his men stage three attempts on Bjarni’s life.


This part of the saga reads much like a spy novel as each time Bjarni narrowly escapes death often employing creative responses to threats on his life. In winter Þorkell sets spies on Hof to discover how many men are there. Bjarni sends "double-agents" to sow disinformation that foils any attempt. Then in spring, Bjarni is walking down to the sea with 3 men when he sees 8 men approaching; Bjarni's men seize a chopping block, cover it with Bjarni's cloak, and put it on Bjarni’s horse while he hides in a nearby hut. Þorkell follows the three horses only to learn that Bjarni was not underneath the cloak.


Finally, Þorkell sends for the sons of Droplaug and recruits them to go burn Bjarni. However next morning Þorkell feels ill and can’t go. The sons of Droplaug want to go and kill Bjarni, yet Þorkell insists they can’t because only he can lead the expedition. These close calls build the drama that follows in the battle of Böðvarsdal for next time.


The Battle of Böðvarsdal

As you can imagine, at some point the feud between Bjarni and Þorkell, which started between their fathers, would come to a head. The two sides eventually fight at Bodvarsdal. Blæng (Geitir’s brother) kills one of Bjarni´s men then cracks Bjarni over the neck but Bjarni is protected by the metal of his lucky necklace. Blæng strikes again but Bjarni counters and kills him; then Þorkell attacks him but gets an arm wound, and several others are killed until Eyvind and several women come out to break up the fight.


Þorkell and his men go home to Krossavik but Eyvind accompanies Bjarni and his men back to Hof where they receive treatment for their wounds. Bjarni then decides to compensate the kinsmen of his supporters who were killed. Not labeled on the map Bodvarsdal is North East of Krossavik along the North facing coast.


A Reconciliation and Lasting Peace

The Saga of the People of Vopnafjörður ends well. When Bjarni recovers from his wounds, he asks his healer, Þorvarður to go cure Þorkell of his wounds. Later Þorkell’s fields lay fallow with his men ill. Bjarni learns of this and tells a passing farmer to invite Þorkell’s whole household to come and stay at Hof, and offers to supply hay to feed Þorkell´s livestock. Þorkel’s wife encourages this peace and is pleased with these offers.


Þorkell then rides to Hof with 12 followers. There Bjarni greets him and offers him full reparation and both sides are fully reconciled and keep the peace till their last days of life. Bjarni becomes known as a brave and fair man. Þorkell becomes a successful lawyer, winning many cases. In his old age, the farm at Krossavik is difficult for Þorkell to tend and Bjarni invites him to stay at Hof where he does until he is an old man. So ends the saga.


 

IR Team Leader of the Saga Project and the Social Media Team, Jason Doctor, has been working within the IR Genealogy Database to connect the Sagas, the people, and the places. Along with the IT Team, new technologies will be released soon for Database Members. Jason Doctor. If you would like to see how you are connected to these stories, come and join us as a member and take advantage of all the features, events, and membership-only offerings.


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