According to Icelandic folklore and legend, a man named Olaf Split-Brow was one of the early settlers who arrived in Iceland during the island’s first major waves of settlement, which occurred approximately between 860 and 930. His arrival and settlement was described by the medieval Icelandic Book of Settlements, which claimed, “There was a man called Olaf Split-Brow, who went from the Lofoten Islands to Iceland. He took possession of the whole of Skeid, between Thjors River, Hvit River and Sand Brook” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 377). He built an estate called Olafsvellir, where he married a woman named Ashild and raised a family, including three sons named Helgi the Trusty, Thorir Drift and Vadi.
Olaf Split-Brow died at a relatively young age, which consequently left his wife, Ashild, widowed while she was still a youthful woman. Unfortunately, Ashild’s own wants and desires for her future (such as if she wanted to remarry) were not recorded, but other single settlers in Iceland were interested in courting her. Of the gentleman callers, the most prominent was a man named Thorgrim, who lavished great affection on Ashild. Again, Ashild’s own reaction to Thorgrim’s advances is unknown, but the attempted courtship was not at all appreciated by Ashild’s children. Helgi the Trusty became particularly enraged when his mother began to be courted by Thorgrim. Helgi decided to confront Thorgrim and demand that the man end his courtship campaign and stop seeing Ashild. This ultimatum was described by the Book of Settlements, which claimed, “After Olaf died, Thorgrim fell in love with Ashild, but Helgi objected and ambushed him at the crossroads below Ashildarmyri. Helgi told him to stop coming there” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 377). The tense standoff between Helgi and Thorgrim turned violent, and in the scuffle that ensued, Helgi ended up killing Thorgrim.
When Ashild heard of the news, she became worried over the safety of her son, Helgi, who had committed murder. Thorgrim, like Ashild, had previously been married and had children who would want to avenge their slain father. Fearing a feud with Thorgrim’s angered clan, Ashild advised Helgi to flee abroad. Her son, however, was too slow to escape a posse that was mobilized by Thorgrim’s son, Hæring, in conjunction with a man named Teit Gizurarson. On the final showdown between Helgi the Trusty and his pursuers, the Book of Settlements told, “They met up with him and two others coming from Eyrar at Helgahill above Mork in Merkurhraun. Helgi and one of his men were killed there, and one of Teit’s” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 377).
Ashild and her family reacted peacefully after the news of Helgi’s death, and did not escalate the feud with Thorgrim’s relatives. Similarly, Hæring and Teit Gizurarson ended their campaign of vengeance after the death of Helgi and did not pursue any violence against Helgi’s brothers, Thorir and Vadi. Although bitter feelings likely never healed between the immediate people involved, the two families managed to co-exist with peace after the death of Helgi the Trusty.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (19th-century illustration by Knut Ekwall for Frithjof’s saga, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version), translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.