Today is sumardagurinn fyrsti – the first day of summer in Iceland. Since 1971 the first day of summer is a national holiday, complete with celebrations, parades, sporting events. At +13 Celsius (55.4 Fahrenheit) it’s a really warm summer day as well. I am not joking.

When we first came to Iceland in June 2017, the temperature on the day of our arrival was +14 Celsius. We saw boys on skateboards, having fun on the street, wearing tiny tank tops. I was dressed in full leather from head to toe and wouldn’t say that I was in danger of overheating. We asked our landlady whether it was normal for kids to dress like this in sub-Arctic temperatures. She explained that +14 in June was, in fact, a heatwave. She wasn’t lying. On the day of our departure it was +7 at the Keflavík airport and +29 when we arrived in Amsterdam (40 degrees Fahrenheit difference). This was how I discovered that I was now old enough not to cope with heat well and realised with a startle that I preferred the cold.

 

First day of summer in April? Sounds legit

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll probably guess: I’m going to go a thousand (and a bit) years ago, then talk about the Norsemen.

Continue reading

My first forge welding class with Casper Prager.

 

Part 1Part 2Part 3

Karl stopped travelling. He also stopped paying much attention to Gunnar, focusing entirely on Sóley. Gunnar was now free to work at the forge whenever he felt like it, unnoticed, alone, happy. He found a machine grinder operated with a pedal and figured out how to sharpen his knife with it – his third knife, and the first that was almost completely straight. Once he was done, he threw it into a corner, ready to start on the next one, determined to get it right, before realising he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast many hours ago.

They took turns on the “bed” downstairs. Gunnar couldn’t decide which one he preferred. He felt oddly uncomfortable when sleeping upstairs with his mother, filled with a dreadful feeling that even her snoring expressed anger about something he had either done or not done. The night after, though, he would change his mind and decide that it was nothing compared to the physical discomfort of the new “bed”, which was a mostly flat pile of turf covered with a sheepskin. Also, when he stayed downstairs, his parents fought incessantly, quieter than before, but loud enough to be heard through the wooden ceiling.

“Your nerves,” Karl would say again and again. “Have you been drinking the herbs?”

“Like I’m a fool! I know they are poison! You want to get rid of me, so nothing stops you from seeing the others!”

“There are no others. How am I supposed to prove it to you? I don’t go anywhere anymore, except when I have to go to town…”

“Do you think I don’t know what happens in town?!”

“Nothing, I buy food, other necessities, then come back home as fast as I can.” Karl’s voice was becoming lower and quieter. Gunnar knew what that meant and shivered in his cold bed.

“I don’t believe you! She, they buy it all, then give it to you so you have an excuse!”

“Sóley, you’re being unreasonable. Please try the herbs. Your nerves…”

Gunnar finally dozed off, only to wake up with pain in his neck, his whole body stiff, cold. His left hand, which he slept on, was asleep and the pricks of pain started a moment later when blood found its way back. It was May, but the walls would only become warm for about two days at the end of August. They seemed to always be covered with a thin layer of frozen mold. Tonight he would be sleeping upstairs, where the wooden walls, cold as they were, didn’t feel so… slippery. But that meant he would be sleeping next to his mother…

*

In the morning, Gunnar grabbed a piece of bread and a mug of coffee, then retreated into the forge as quickly as possible. It was becoming his favourite place on Earth. Here nobody ever interrup–

Someone knocked on the front door and the boy nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Is Karl there? I need that axe.”

“Ah, it’s… it’s almost ready, I…”

“He didn’t do it,” said the man flatly. “Tell him I’ll be back tomorrow and it better be ready.” He departed, shaking his head, and Gunnar stared behind him before returning inside and picking up the axe. Its blade was cracked, and when Gunnar squinted he could see the crack was deeper than it looked, becoming thin as a hairline, but still present. Maybe it would be possible to simply remove some of the metal using the grinder…? It would be a bit smaller, but perfectly good…

A few minutes later he had to interrupt his parents.

“Good God!” exclaimed Karl. “You could have lost an eye! What have you done?”

“I was just trying– this man came, and he was asking–“

“Of course he was,” interrupted Sóley. “Your father makes a lot of promises, but never delivers on them. Come here. You’ve got a piece of metal in your forehead, how did you even do that, fool?”

“You can’t sharpen a broken axe,” said Karl, as Sóley huffed, puffed, and put iodine on the wound. Gunnar tried and failed not to hiss in pain. “The edge is made of hardened steel. It’s much harder, hence the name, but it breaks. As you can see.”

“It’s a miracle he can see at all! A bit lower, and he would never see anything again. Because someone doesn’t even–”

“We’re going to do it now,” announced Karl. “Sóley… please try the herbs, at least one time, just to see whether they help a bit. Gunnar and I are going to fix that axe right now.”

Continue reading

Icelandic model horseshoe, decorated. If you bought one of the (sold out) super deluxe boxed set editions of Storytellersthis is what you’re going to get.

 

Read Part 1

This time, to Gunnar’s relief, Karl was away only for two days. Mother always got upset when father left, but this time she seemed to be upset with Gunnar for some reason. He didn’t like his mother very much and it seemed that she felt the same towards him, even though both maintained the facade of politeness that came with clenched teeth and white knuckles. It was her own fault, decided Gunnar. If she didn’t start fights with father, he wouldn’t have to go away to get some peace and quiet.

When Karl came back home, all smiles, he handed her a book. Sóley threw it on the table without even looking. Gunnar knew what would happen next. He’d be sent upstairs, to bed, and his parents would fight again. Why did mother have to be like this? Father brought her a present. At least they were quiet enough for their voices to become background noise and Gunnar fell asleep, the unfinished nail under his pillow.

*

“How are your hands? Still hurting?”

“Nay. They’re perfect,” said Gunnar and immediately began sweating at the thought he’d be forbidden from working at the forge ever again. “Never better. Excellent,” he said, avoiding his father’s doubtful gaze, hiding his shaky hands behind his back.

“Good! We can make your first horseshoe then.”

The boy relaxed at first before grasping the full sentence. “A gleaming horseshoe,” he mumbled, trying to sound happy.

Karl looked at him oddly. “Gleaming? Where did you get that from?”

“Eh… a story?”

“What story?”

“The one with the gleaming horseshoes, clearly,” snapped Sóley. Karl winced, but kept smiling. Gunnar turned his eyes away, staring at the forge door. It was locked, like always, but maybe he could somehow get his hands on the key, then work at night… no, they would hear that, maybe when father was away… but then, mother hardly ever left the house…

“Good,” said Karl. “We’ll make a gleaming horseshoe.” He chuckled and Gunnar blushed, although he didn’t know why.

Continue reading