Some folktales tell the tales of people we know to have existed, such as Sæmundur the Learned. The following story falls into that category.

Aud The Deep-Minded is one of Iceland’s more interesting and important settler women. She was a queen in Dublin and is mentioned in The Book of Settlement, Njáls saga, Laxdæla saga, Eyrbyggja saga, Eiríks saga Rauða and Grettis saga.

Dagverðarnes í Dölum where Aud the deep minded settled.

Aud the deep minded was the second daughter of Ketill Flatnose, a Norwegian hersir and Yngvid Ketilsdóttir. Aud had married Olaf the White, son of King Ingjald, who had named himself the King of Dublin after going on Viking voyages to Britain and subsequently conquering the shire of Dublin. They had a son called Þorsteinn the Red. After Olaf was killed in battle in Ireland, Aud and Þorsteinn fled to the Hebrides in northern Scotland. Þorsteinn married there and had six daughters and one son. He also became a great warrior king, conquering northern Scotland. However, he was killed in battle after being betrayed by his people. When this happened, Aud fled again.

This time she went to Iceland on a Knarr, a type of Viking-era ship commonly built for Atlantic voyages. Before heading out to the open waters, she stopped in Orkney, where she married off one of her granddaughters, and then Aud captained the ship all the way to Breiðafjörður in West Iceland.

Independent Aud

On her voyage, she had 20 men under her command, proving that she was respected, capable, independent and strong-willed. In addition to her crew, she had prisoners from Viking raids near and around the British Isles. However, when she came to Iceland, she gave them all freedom, making them “freedmen”, a class between slave and free. That is, they were free but did not have all the same rights as free-born men.

Not only did she free them, but she also gave them land to farm, from which they could make a living. One of those men was Vífill, who was given Vífilsdalur, which is part of Hvammur in Skeggjadalur, where Aud settled.

Krosshólaborg, where Aud the deep minded erected crosses. Photo: Bromr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When she arrived, she claimed a large piece of land for herself and her family. All the land in Dalasýsla, between the rivers Dagverðará and Skraumuhlaupsá. Unlike most early Icelandic settlers, Aud had been baptized Christian and is by some credited as having brought Christianity to Iceland. She erected crosses on a nearby hill where she could pray, known as Krosshólar.

However, when you read the folktale below, you will see there might be a different reason for the crosses.

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Gold brow the Goblin

Long ago, Aud The Deep-Minded lived at a farm called Hvammur in the western country. The farm stood on the bank of a river, on the opposite side of which were rich corn fields. Aud had forbidden any seed to be sown on a particular spot where the land happened to be best, nor did she allow her servants to graze any cattle there. If any cows had been there by chance, she forbade them to be milked the next day.

Once, it happened that when Aud was very old, a young and handsome woman came to Hvammur and declared her name Gold brow, but nobody knew when she arrived or who she was. The only person she could find to speak to was the foreman, but she did not see Aud. The woman asked him why a particular spot in the field was neither sown with corn nor grazed. The foreman answered that Aud had forbidden it to be so. At this, Gold brow laughed heartily and asked him to sell her the ground.

“For,” she said, ” I will give more for a single hillock of that land than for all the great farm of Hvammur. I have a certain foreboding that a custom will be introduced on that ground and that sort of house built, of which I have the greatest dread and dislike. Therefore, sell me the ground spot without asking Aud about it.”

With these words, she took out a large purse filled with coins.
When the manager saw the glitter of her gold, he said, “Aud is old and has but little to do with the management,” and immediately sold the land to Gold brow.

But when Aud the deep minded came to know what had been done, she was exceedingly angry and sent her manager away, saying to him, “You will never fatten on this gold. I suspect the woman who paid it to you to be the evilest of witches and knew long ago what would happen to that ground. No harm, however, can come home to Hvammur, for a good spirit watches over it.” Then the foreman thought he would appease the old lady by giving her some of the contents of the purse he had just received. So he undid the strings, and lo, instead of gold, poured a heap of worms that smelt so horrible that the man immediately went mad and died.

After this, the man and his purse were buried in a little hollow in that spot of the ground Gold brow had purchased, which is called to this day “worm-hollow.”

Aud the deep minded takes precautions

Aud did not endeavor to reclaim from Gold brow the ground she had bought. However, she destroyed all the cornfields around it. From the sea to a rocky river gulf in one direction and from the mountain to the river in the other. She also set up three crosses where the gulf joined the mountain. And said, “During my life, Gold brow shall never cross this boundary.” And this came true. During the life of Aud the deep minded, Gold brow neither brought her sheep and cattle to graze anywhere near the crops nor approached them herself.

Gold brow built a farm and a large temple on her ground, where she made great offerings and performed all sorts of witchcraft.

It is told as a curious thing that whenever she was using her incantations and happened to look either towards Hvammur, or the crosses by the mountains, all her spells went wrong. She declared it was because, at each of these points, she always saw a light whose rays were so dazzling as to make her forget all her magic words and signs at once.

The Christian Aud died shortly after all this. She was buried in some ground she had caused to be consecrated by the sea, not far from the land of Gold brow. She now found herself in a sort of prison. With the sacred remains of Aud on one side and the crosses on the other. So she sold her piece of ground to the heathen successor of Aud at Hvammur and purchased another in a dark and dismal valley. The sun seldom shone in summer and never in winter, and in the darkest and gloomiest recess, intended to take up her abode.

Gold brow Leaves

When it came to passing out of her old property to go to her new one, by the road which led near the crosses, she found herself nearly powerless. And going into her temple was compelled to use the strongest charms to strengthen herself. Then ordering her servant to bind her eyes so that she would not see, she took a large chest of gold from the temple. She had fastened a ring from the temple door and mounted her horse, holding the chest in front of her; she had the horse to be led quickly along the path. She notably commanded her servants to avoid looking toward the crosses. But when they came to the Cross-gulf, one of them looked in the forbidden direction and, frightened, caused the horse to stumble so that the chest of gold burst away from its ring and fell to the ground.

Gold brow, astonished at this, tore the bandage from her eyes. She looked to see what had become of it, but in so doing, she saw the crosses not far off. She shrieked aloud, declaring their brightness was greater than she could bear, and bade her servants hurry on as quickly as possible and bring the chest after her. Then looking at her hand, she saw the ring from which the box had fallen. She flung it away in a rage, saying, ” All my life will I repent of having brought you with me. Different, indeed, to the purpose for which I intended you, and most hateful to me will be the use to which you will be put.”

As soon as she had passed the gulf, a fierce and burning pain seized her eyes so that before she had reached her new abode, she was perfectly blind. In this gloomy valley, she lived no long time, suffering perpetual torture till she died.

On her deathbed, she told her servants to bury her in a deep and steep gulf, where neither was the sun ever seen nor church bells ever heard. In the bay, she pointed out; there was a vast waterfall. Under it was a cave, and the water at the foot of the fall was very deep and eddying awful. Gold brow was carried and buried in this cave, with her head upon the chest of gold. Long afterward, her ghost haunted all the mountains around so that neither man nor beast was safe after twilight, and much mischief was made.

Skeggur at Hvammur

At this time, a farmer named Skeggur lived at Hvammur. He was a heathen and addicted to witchcraft. This man suffered much from the persecutions of the goblin Gold brow, who killed his herders and sheep for him one after the other.

Skeggi became more wroth with her every day. In proportion to his anger, his desire increased to become possessed of her golden treasures under the waterfall. He considered that her gold would be of infinitely more use to a living man than a dead witch. With this idea in his head, he one day started for the waterfall. But so long was the way that it was evening before he arrived there. He commanded the two servants he had brought with him to let him down into the gulf with a rope. They did so, and he disappeared into the cave under the waterfall. The two men who held the end of the rope heard, after a little while, the sound of heavy blows and loud shrieks beneath the water, and it was plain that some fearful struggle was going on there.

At last, they became so horrified as to be on the point of taking flight. Then Skeggi gave them the sign to pull up the rope. When they did so, they found the chest full of gold fastened to the end of it. They had scarcely pulled it up to the gulf’s edge before they saw the whole valley filled with a strange and spectral fire. Those flames flared higher than the very mountains. In their fright, they let and took to their heels. At the same time, the chest fell again into the abyss.

Skeggi comes home

Skeggi came home afterward, very weary and covered with bruises and blood. He had a kettle full of gold on one of his arms, which he had managed to take out of the chest of Gold brow and climb with up the rope. But though he had fought hard with the ghost of the troll, he had been unable to subdue her. She became more dangerous than ever, killing his sheep and herders till he could finally get no servants. Skeggi, from this time, became a changed man. He was so affected by the constant loss of his servants that he fell ill and went to bed for a long while.

At last, one day after his recovery, without any herdsman, he went out as if to watch the flocks. But he did not return either that night or the next. On the third day, however, he came back, more dead than alive, bearing Gold brow’s treasure chest on his back.

He said, “You will not see much more either of the troll or of me.”

And after these words took to his bed, from where he never rose again.

Before he died, he ordered that the gold contained in the kettle should be used to buy timber for building a church at Hvanunur.

He continued, “the first time I went to the waterfall and struggled with the ghost of Gold brow, I called upon Thor to aid me. But he deceived me and played me jealous. The last time I fought with her, in my despair and anguish, I called upon Christ, the God of the Christians, to aid me. I promised to build a church for him. Suddenly a bright gleam of light struck full into the eyes of the phantom troll. And she became a stone amid the gulf.”

But despite all this, Skeggi died a heathen and refused to be buried in the consecrated ground of the church which he had commanded to be built. So they buried him in the open country, and under his head placed the chest of Gold-brow.

Whether he slept more calmly upon this pillow than the troll had done, this tale saith not.

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