According to the Book of Settlements (Landnámabók), a man named Sigmund Ketilsson lived on the southwestern end of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Iceland. He lived during the Age of Settlement (approximately 860-930) and claimed for himself the land between what the Landnámabók calls Hellishraun and Beruvikurhraun. Within his territory, he chose Laugarbrekka as his seat of power and built a farm there, where he lived with his wife, Hildigunn, and three sons, Einar, Breid and Thorkell. The eldest son was Einar and, as he inherited control of his father’s farm, he became known as Einar of Laugarbrekka. Unfortunately, little is known about the lives of Einar’s brothers, Breid and Thorkell. Besides his family and his farmhands, Sigmund was fairly isolated in his section of Snæfellsnes. Yet, he did sell some land to a neighbor named Lon-Einar, who lived nearby. Sigmund and Lon-Einar both had sizable parties of loyal farmhands, but there seemed to be peace between the neighbors while Sigmund was alive.
When Sigmund died, however, Lon-Einar began to encroach on his neighbor’s territory. At some point after Sigmund’s death, Lon-Einar gathered a crew of six henchmen and traveled to Laugarbrekka, where the widow Hildigunn was still living. What Lon-Einar did there is vague, but perhaps he made some sort of pass at Hildigunn, or as the Landnámabók curiously stated, he “summoned Hildigunn for sorcery” (Landnámabók, Stulubók manuscript, chapter 75). Whether or not he genuinely needed her help with magic, or if he wanted to make a different kind of passionate magic with her, Hildigunn was stricken with disgust by his proposal. When she later told her sons of Lon-Einar’s request, they, too, were outraged. The new head of the late Sigmund’s household, Einar of Laugarbrekka, promptly rounded together a warband of farmhands and slaves and set out with his well-armed party to hunt down Lon-Einar.
Lon-Einar was still accompanied by his six companions when he was confronted by the group from Laugarbrekka. The meeting between the two parties did not go well and words quickly turned to blows. Soon, there was a full-blown battle between the sides of the two Einars. Yet, the fight was apparently one-sided. After four of Lon-Einar’s companions were slain, his last two henchmen fled from the scene. Yet, Lon-Einar, himself, reportedly stood his ground and dueled Einar of Laugarbrekka. The two were evenly matched, but Lon-Einar was wearing loose pants that day and, while trying to pull up his falling breeches, he received a fatal blow from Einar of Laugarbrekka. Meanwhile, the two men who had fled the scene of the battle were hunted down and killed.
Einar of Laugarbrekka returned home with a complete victory. The Landnámabók, unfortunately, did not record Hildigunn’s reaction or what her life was like after the battle. The book did, however, claim that a slave named Hreidar distinguished himself during the Battle of the Einars, and that Einar of Laugarbrekka gave Hreidar freedom, as well as ownership over however much land the freedman could fence off in three days.
As for Einar of Laugarbrekka, he married a woman called Unn, and they had two daughters, named Hallveg and Arnora. When he eventually died, Einar of Laugarbrekka was buried in a grave near the burial mound of his father, Sigmund. Plant life around Einar’s grave, the Landnámabók insisted, always remained green in both summer and winter.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (A scene from Njal’s Saga, by the artist Andreas Bloch (1860–1917), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.