As told by the Icelandic Book of Settlements (the Landnámabók), a man named Thorir Dove-Nose was among the first waves of Nordic settlers to inhabit Iceland during the so-called Age of Settlement (approximately c. 860-930). He settled down in northern Iceland, setting up an inland homestead called Flugumyri, which was situated along the river systems that eventually fed into Skagafjord.
Thorir Dove-Nose reportedly was an unassuming and peaceful man. No records or stories ever place him in any violent situations—he never went on Viking raids, he did not feud with any of his neighbors, and he apparently never ran afoul of the law. Whereas too many other Icelandic settlers became embroiled in the violent frontier lifestyle of the Age of Settlement, Thorir Dove-Nose instead calmly saw to his businesses. In particular, Thorir comes across in the records as an accomplished horse breeder, cultivating at least two horses that would become legends.
Thorir reportedly came across the matriarch of his prize-winning breed of horses by chance. As the story goes, a cargo ship carrying livestock had an accident in the region, and due to the crew’s ungraceful sailing and herding abilities, a mare managed to escape from the cargo ship and fled into a nearby forest. Thorir Dove-Nose heard about this runaway steed, tracked down the ship, and purchased the rights to the runaway horse from them, presumably at a discount price, as the animal was still missing. On this business gamble, the Book of Settlements stated, “Thorir Dove-Nose bought the chance of finding the mare, and find her he did. She was an exceptionally fast horse and her name was Fluga” (Landnámabók, Stulubók manuscript, chapter 202). Fluga thrived under Thorir’s care, and he conditioned the mare to be the speediest racehorse Iceland had ever seen.
A legend emerged about Fluga, which insinuated that not even a magic-wielding sorcerer with his own supernaturally-enhanced horse could beat Thorir and Fluga in a race. According to the legend, this sorcerer’s name was Orn, and he was so confident in his enchanted steed that he bet a hundred marks of silver on the race. This was the old Norse/Germanic sense of the ‘hundred,’ so it was really 120 marks that he put on the line. As each ‘mark’ of silver was eight ounces of the precious metal, that means he was betting 960 ounces (about 60 modern pounds in weight) of silver on the race. Thorir Dove-Nose, for his part, accepted the pricy bet and agreed to the race. Both horses were talented, but only one was a living legend. Fluga beat her magical opponent by a landslide, winning the bet for Thorir. The race and its unfortunate aftermath was recorded in the Book of Settlements:
“They rode together south across Kjol until they came to the level stretch of land known nowadays as Dufunefsskeid. Orn was only half way up the course by the time Thorir met him on his way back, so great was the difference between the two horses. Orn took the loss of his money so badly he just didn’t want to live any more. He went up to the mountain known nowadays as Arnarfell, and there he killed himself” (Landnámabók, Stulubók manuscript, chapter 202).
When Fluga’s racing days were over, she was eventually paired up with a grey stallion with a black mane, and from this equine couple came Thorir Dove-Nose’s most prized line of animals. Unfortunately, Fluga did not oversee this dynasty of horses for long, as she reportedly somehow lost her life in a nearby swamp. Yet, Thorir Dove-Nose continued to cultivate her descendants, and eventually another legendary horse was born from Fluga’s special stock. This later horse’s name was Eidfaxi, and he became famous for going on a man-killing rampage. This bizarre incident, too, was recorded in the Book of Settlements, which stated, “[from the line of Fluga and the grey stallion] sprang the horse Eidfaxi, the one that was taken abroad and killed seven men at Mjors in a single day before he was killed himself” (Landnámabók, Stulubók manuscript, chapter 202). Thorir Dove-Nose seemed to have some unique horses, indeed.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration for an 1899 edition of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, artwork designed by Christian Krohg (c. 1852–1925), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons.jpg).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.