I keep returning to the story of Gudrun, from Laxdaela Saga.
Gudrun is treated thoughtlessly by two foster-brothers, who both love her nonetheless. In her rage she chooses to destroy them both. Afterwards, she’s asked which one of the two men she truly loved, and she replies enigmatically, ‘I was worst to the one I loved the most.’
Today her grave, at the foot of a mountain in Iceland, is a pilgrimage site for saga lovers.
It’s Njál’s Saga, and especially the story that it contains of Gunnar and Hallgerd. Towards the end of his life, Gunnar is exiled from Iceland. But as he’s riding down to his ship, his horse trips and he’d forced to dismount. He turns around, sees the farm he’s leaving, and says: “Fögur er hlíðin svo að mér hefir hún aldrei jafnfögur sýnst, bleikir akrar en slegin tún, og mun eg ríða heim aftur og fara hvergi”. It means, “The slopes are beautiful, golden fields and freshly mown hay. More beautiful than I’ve ever seen them before. I’m going back; I’m not leaving.”
Everyone in Iceland knows this speech and the story of how Gunnar comes to stay in Iceland — how he breaks the terms of his exile. But I first read the story in Australia, and I found something very moving in his desire to be in Iceland. Across a thousand years and the many differences in our lives, I felt I’d discovered an ancient echo of my own desire to be there again.