|View towards Grímsstaðamúli (and Ytri Hraundalur), Borgarfjörður|
'Þat var helzt gaman Helgu, at hon rekði skikkjuna Gunnlaugsnaut ok horfði þar á löngum. Ok eitt sinn kom þar sótt mikil á bæ þeirra Þorkels ok Helgu, ok krömðusk margir lengi. Helga tók þá ok þyngð ok lá þó eigi. Ok einn laugaraptan sat Helga í eldaskála ok hneigði höfuð í kné Þorkatli, bónda sínum, ok lét senda eptir skikkjunni Gunnlaugsnaut. Ok er skikkjan kom til hennar, þá settisk hon upp ok rakði skikkjuna fyrir sér ok horfði á um stund. Ok síðan hná hon aptr í fang bónda sínum ok var þá örend' ('Helga's greatest joy was to spread out the cloak 'Gunnlaugr's gift' and gaze on it for a long time. At one time, a great sickness came to Þorkell's and Helga's farm, and many succumbed to this wasting disease for a long time. Helga became ill but couldn't stay in bed. One evening Helga sat in the hall and her head sunk onto her husband Þorkell's lap, and she had the cloak 'Gunnlaugr's gift' sent for. And when the cloak was brought to her, she sat up and spread out the cloak in front of her and gazed on it for a while. And then she sunk back again into her husband's arms and breathed her last'; Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu, ed. Sigurður Nordal and Guðni Jónsson, in Íslenzk fornrit 3 (Reykjavík, 1938), ch. 13, pp. 106-107).
Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu ('The Saga of Gunnlaugr Serpent-tongue')-- is one of the most romantic and tragic of the Íslendingasögur. It was one of the most popular and well-known sagas in Britain in the 19th century on account of its subject-matter, comparatively short and simple plot, and small cast of characters; William Morris's 1875 translation of the saga into English made it widely available to the British and American public. The story is, in essence, one of doomed love: Gunnlaugr ormstunga Illugason falls in love with Helga in fagra ('the beautiful') Þorsteinsdóttir and she is promised to Gunnlaugr for three years while he travels abroad to acquire honour and wealth. Another Icelander, Hrafn Önundarson, also loves Helga and asks her father for her hand. When Gunnlaugr doesn't return, Helga is -- unwillingly -- betrothed to Hrafn; Gunnlaugr finally arrives back in Iceland on the night of Helga's and Hrafn's wedding, too late. Gunnlaugr and Hrafn fight a public duel at the National Assembly (the Alþingi) the following summer; the result is disputed and duelling is subsequently banned in Iceland.
|Helga dies in Þorkell's lap; from a Danish|
translation of the saga (1900)
|The 'gil' or gully at Gilsbakki, looking south|
There are no place-names on the Gilsbakki land that commemorate Gunnlaugr; the one place-name there that is associated with Gunnlaugr and his story rather commemorates his brother Hermundr, who according to tradition -- not the saga -- was buried in the so-called Hermundarhóll ('Hermundr's hill'). Directly to the west of Gilsbakki, however, in Hraundalur in Borgarfjörður, there is a striking hill called Helguhóll ('Helga's hill'). This place is not named in Gunnlaugs saga -- but it is not far from the farm to which Helga moved (Hraun(s)dalr, now Ytri-Hraundalur, a summer-house rather than a working farm) after marrying Þorkell, and on which she died. Local tradition there, at some point in time, for some reason, connected Helga with this hill...a short article by Bjarni V. Guðjónsson about the hill that I was pointed towards suggests that perhaps it was a place where Helga found refuge, where she sat on summer evenings looking out over the plains below and over to Borg (where she was born -- being the daughter of Egill Skalla-Grímsson's son Þorsteinn; see posts of 20th March, 25th March, 2nd April on Egill, Egils saga, and Borg), where she might have found some peace from the trials of love she suffered in her life...
A slightly lighter-relief rendering of the saga (Gunnlaugr's and Hrafn's final duel) can be found here...you've got to love these saga re-enactments on YouTube...