Snæbjorn Eyvindsson was a 9th-century Icelander who was said to have lived at Vatnsfjord. He was close friends with Tongue-Odd, a cousin of his who lived not too far away, somewhere between the Hvit and Reykjadale rivers. The two kinsmen visited each other often and worked closely together on issues that threatened their livelihood and families. Snæbjorn was on one such visit at Tongue-Odd’s estate, when a man named Hallbjorn arrived on the property. This Hallbjorn came from a wealthy, landholding family on Iceland, and his purpose for visiting Odd’s estate was evidently to search for a wife.
Tongue-Odd had a beautiful daughter named Hallgerd, who was said to have possessed the finest head of hair in all of Iceland. Upon arriving at the estate, Hallbjorn liked what he saw and quickly began negotiating with Tongue-Odd on a possible marriage between himself and Hallgerd. Tongue-Odd, impressed by Hallbjorn’s wealthy kinsmen, apparently agreed to the proposal without paying much heed to Hallgerd’s own wishes, and the marriage took place immediately. Thankfully for the surprised bride, Hallbjorn decided to spend the rest of that winter at Tongue-Odd’s estate, allowing Hallgerd to get to know her new husband in a more familiar setting, with her father, Odd, and her kinsman, Snæbjorn, both nearby.
Unfortunately, as the winter progressed, everyone present on the tense estate could tell that there was no chemistry between the bride and groom. Hallgerd showed no interest in her husband, at all, and mainly stayed secluded in a room, spending the days brushing and combing her renowned hair. Hallbjorn, on the other hand, looked on his unhappy wife with only the longing of lust, but with none of the care and affection of love. Tongue-Odd tried in every way he could imagine to make his daughter and son-in-law grow closer together, yet all of his efforts failed. As the winter came to a close, both Tongue-Odd and his cousin Snæbjorn knew that the marriage was an utter disaster. The two kinsmen, however, likely could not have imagined just how horribly the rushed marriage would turn out.
When spring arrived, Snæbjorn departed from Odd’s estate and went to Kjalvararstead. Before long, Tongue-Odd, too, was drawn away from the homestead by business that needed tending to in Reykholt. Hallbjorn, left alone with his wife and the estate’s farmhands, became eager to leave for his own family lands. By May, Hallbjorn was ready to depart from the place, regardless of what his wife wanted.
On a fateful day late in May, while Snæbjorn and Tongue-Odd were still away, Hallbjorn gathered his gear and saddled a set of horses for himself and his wife, determined to leave the homestead at all costs. When all was prepared, Hallbjorn went into the house and found Hallgerd in her usual spot—secluded in a room and brushing her hair. As the story goes, Hallbjorn burst into Hallgerd’s reclusive haven and demanded that she come along. According to the Book of Settlements, Hallgerd not only refused to budge from the spot, but also refrained from gracing Hallbjorn with even a single word of answer. At this point, the situation became violent. Hallbjorn, infuriated, grabbed hold of Hallgerd’s arm or clothing, and tried to drag her to the horses. Hallgerd, however, was a match for her husband in strength and she remained firmly seated, despite all of the pulling. When Hallbjorn realized his muscles were not enough to dislodge his wife, he resorted to the lowly move of hairpulling. Yet, even while yanking at handfuls of his wife’s famous hair, Hallbjorn could not make Hallgerd budge from the room. Hallbjorn’s final move, unfortunately, was one that Hallgerd could not thwart. Enraged by his wife’s resistance and formidable strength, Hallbjorn grabbed a sword and murdered his wife, where she sat, in Tongue-Odd’s home. After the attack, Hallbjorn fled for friendly territory with two loyal companions.
Even though Hallbjorn had committed the gruesome crime while Tongue-Odd and Snæbjorn were away, the murder did not go unwitnessed. Farmhands had been at the homestead when the assault occurred, and they quickly pieced together what happened. The farmhands then sent an account of the dark events to Tongue-Odd in Reykholt and Snæbjorn in Kjalvararstead. As soon as the two kinsmen received the horrible news, they were immediately bent upon revenge. Tongue-Odd, too distraught, old or conflicted to lead the manhunt, decided to leave the task of seeking revenge in the capable hands of his cousin. Snæbjorn, given control of the operation, gathered eleven men and set out to confront Hallbjorn.
Snæbjorn and his party quickly intercepted Hallbjorn in a hilly region, and they intended to show no mercy. The murderer and his two companions took the defensible high ground on one of the hills as the pursuers approached. A costly skirmish ensued, in which the place of battle moved from hill to hill. Although highly outnumbered, Hallbjorn and his companions fought well, and the murderer continued to battle on long after his two friends had been cut down. According to the Book of Settlements, five of Snæbjorn’s followers fell before Hallbjorn was finally killed, avenging the death of the murdered Hallgerd.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribute: (illustration for the Saga of Olaf Tryggvason drawn by Christian Krohg (1852–1925), [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.