Elfstones

13. October, 2016

Mumbling rain wakes me on Thursday, Thor’s Day. The mead-maddened Storm God hammered at my cabin walls all through the roaring night, but now he seems to have collapsed into some quiet corner of this little town of Hella. Wrapped in fog, he will snore off his thundering hangover.

Within tripping distance of my front porch, a salmon river runs like a sleepy flood of quicksilver. In the shadow-world of Dawn, a skein of geese billows by. With an untuned bluster of trumpet-song, they urge petulant Morning from her dark bower.

After breakfast, our guide Eyrun finds me scribbling down Dawn and her geese. ‘I love your little notebook,’ she begins. ‘Because you seem so interested in all this, I thought you might like to look at these books.’ And with that, she hands me three slender volumes of Icelandic lore, English translations of Snorri Sturluson, a son of Iceland whose pen dripped with the sweet mead of poetry. By bedtime I will have devoured all three volumes whole.

As the bus splashes out along the Ring Road—the two-lane ramble-way that girds the island’s coastline—we meet the mountains. Chains of sterling-silver waterfalls hang suspended in the mountain clefts, but thieving winds snatch the glittering links, flinging them across the cliffs where they shatter in sprays of silver smoke. From the mountains spill glacial rivers, storm-swollen into small seas. Cobwebbed in veils of rain, a crag emerges from the mists of legend: Hekla, the restless volcano whose cratered dome was known to be the front door to Hell.

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‘And here we have a typical Elfstone,’ announces Eyrun. A cottage-sized volcanic rock looms over the road. Out of respect for this proud and willful people, the Icelanders have been known to divert roads around Elfstones rather than disturb the boulders and their beguiling inhabitants. If I ever go missing, it will likely be because I followed an elf with eyes yellow as October birch leaves into his stone.

Farmsteads cluster in the flatlands at the mountains’ feet. Like red and white penny-candy, they are sprinkled across Iceland’s sweetest green fields, the fertile autumn pasturelands of the southern coast. What if we had words for the way two colors braid together, two distinct strands intertwined? The pasturelands are a tapestry woven of green-gold silk, unfolding from the mountain foothills. The green-gold embroidery fringes even the turf cottages that huddle between ogreish boulders. Could these be elf-homes too, these tidy dwellings camouflaged in a delicate lacework of gilded grass?

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The cloth-of-gold tapestry unfolds across the pasturelands all the way to the black-stone beaches. Like the ashes of a torched seaside city, black sand gives way under my boots. Rank upon rank of waves batter the ravaged beach. A perpetual siege, an Atlantic cavalry, the waves gallop over the beach, troops of white horses pounding the sand, their foaming manes tossing in the wind. Only the basalt towers withstand the onslaught, a stony skyline of angular lava formations overlooking the charred sands. Stand tall over the rubble, you basalt towers, stand windowless witnesses to the tidal violence.

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