Katla’s Dream is a typical and fun elf-tale. It is written from a very old narrative poem in the meter style used in Eddaic poetry. It is believed the poem is from before the Black Death plague in the 14h century. However, the oldest manuscripts that include the poem are from the 17th century. It must have been very popular all over Iceland as it can be found in 80 different manuscripts.

Folklorists love tales like these because they can be easily explained. For us today, it seems obvious that the wife cheated on her husband while he was away at Alþingi. But, it could be a handy excuse to be abducted by the hidden people. That could also explain the gold, which in reality, she possibly either stole or was given to her by the lover. Maybe he was a foreign sailor or a traveller!

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Katla’s Dream

Reykhólahreppur in the West Fjords where Reykhólar is. Photo: Zairon, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A certain chief named Már lived, long ago, at Reykhólar. His wife, who was of a noble family, was called Katla. Once, as was his custom, Már had ridden to the Diet, leaving his wife at home.

One morning, during his absence, Katla, feeling tired and heavy, went to bed, not very long after she had risen from it, and fell into a deep sleep. At noon her attendants went to her to call her but, try as they would, could not wake her; so, fearing that she was dead, they called her foster-father, who lived in the house, and told him of her state. He went to the side of her bed and endeavoured to rouse her in vain. Then, looking attentively at her, he said, “She is not dead. The flame of life is still flickering in her bosom, but I am no more able to wake her than you were.”

And with these words, he sat beside her couch. He watched her closely for four whole days and nights.

On the fifth day, Katla awoke and seemed to be overcome with sorrow; but no one dared to ask her what the cause of it was.

Soon after this, her husband returned home from the Diet; but his wife was no longer the same that he had left behind him. She was changed. She neither went to meet him, as she was wont to do, nor when he came, did she say “Welcome” to him, salute him with her usual love, or show a joy to see him safe.

Wondering and grieved at her strange manner, he asked her attendants what had befallen her and why she behaved thus. Still, they could only tell him she had slept constantly for four days and nights. On awaking, she had shown this sorrow without telling anybody the reason for it or what ailed her.
On hearing this, Már took Katla to the side and urged her to tell him what ailed her. If it had occurred to her in her long sleep, assuring her that she would lighten her load of sorrow in thus giving him half of it. At last, yielding to her husband’s prayers, she spoke as follows: —

“As you know, my husband, I fell into a deep sleep early one morning while you were away. I had not slept long when a beautiful lady came to my bedside. She was richly dressed and spoke sweetly to me. She lived at the farm Þverá, not far hence and begged me to return with her some part of the way. As soon as I rose to comply with her wish, she placed her gloves on my bed, saying, ‘These shall take your place while you are away.’

Then we went out and soon came to a large lake. It was as clear and as smooth as glass, upon which, near the shore, a gaily painted boat was moored. Here I would part from the lady and wished her God-speed. But she, thanking me for having come so far with her, held out her hand as if to bid me farewell, crying, ‘Will you not say farewell to Alvör?’

“No sooner had I stretched forth mine in return than she grasped it tightly and, leaping from the shore into the boat with me, rowed it swiftly to a small island which stood in the lake. I felt too well that she had all power over me and that I could not resist her. She saw that I was filled with dread, and tried to calm my fears, showing me every kindness and courtesy and assuring me that it was Fate alone that had compelled her to treat me thus. ‘I will,’ she said, ‘soon take you safely home again.’

“When we had come to the island, I saw that there stood upon it a castle, more beautiful than anything I had ever seen or heard of before. ‘This is mine,’ said Alvör. She led me into it by the hand and took me to her room, where many ladies were sitting.

There she made me enter a bath of sweet water. After I had bathed, she took me to a beautiful bed in the room. It was covered with curtains of the richest stuff and filled with soft down. In this, I fell asleep after having drunk a cup of some rare wine handed to me. When I awoke, I found on a couch near me a mantle worked richly in gold. The lady who sat by my side bade me put on, together with an embroidered dress she gave me. When I was dressed, she also threw over me her mantle, which was daintily wrought in gold and lined with fur.

Besides all this, she gave me five rings of red gold, a golden band for my hair, and a costly belt, begging me to keep them all as gifts. After I had thus attired myself, she bade me follow her to the dining hall, and we went there with her, eight ladies in all.

“All the walls of the room were hung with cloth of woven gold. The tables were crowded with silver vessels and bottles and gold inlaid horns. Around the table sat many handsome men, splendidly attired. At the high table stood a throne, and near this, I saw a man, dressed in rich silk, lying asleep on a couch. Alvör went up to him and woke him, and I heard she called him Kári.

“He rose from his slumber and said to her, ‘Why have you broken my rest? Have you aught of good tidings to tell me? Or, perchance, have you brought Katla hither?’

“As soon as he saw that I was in the hall, he came to me and, taking me by the hand, led me to the throne, where he made me sit and sat beside me. Then the Lady Alvör pointed to us and cried to the guests, ‘See! the bride and bridegroom!’ After that, they shouted, as with one voice, and drank and made merry till nightfall. And through all this din of revel, Alvör told me that for that night I was to share the couch of Kári; but I, full wroth, withdrawing myself from her side, said:

“‘Never will I do this thing! Far too dearly do I love my husband to share the love of any other.’
“The lady answered, ‘If you say nay, bale and bane will cling to you forever: be wise, therefore, and consent.’

“Wretched that I was, I knew not what to do or whither to turn myself. Neither comfort nor aid was near, and I was as a lamb amid a herd of wolves. They led me to the couch on which I had slept before. Then Kári came to me and offered me all he had if I would only love him. I told him his love was hopeless, but he would not hear me. Then he brought me a horn of wine; and after he had tasted it himself first, made me drink of it, saying:

“‘Rather would I struggle with Helja than see the sorrow in your eyes. Be comforted; you shall soon return to your home.’

“With these words, he lay beside me. And whether it was the force of his requests, the beauty of his presence, or the weight of the wine upon my soul, I cannot tell, but I no longer opposed his love, though my heart was filled with grief.

“And so, in sorrow passed two days and nights; nor could all the kindness of the attendants and all around me comfort me. At last, Kári said to me:

‘Call the son whom you shall bear to me by my name. Give him from his father, whom he shall never see, this belt of wrought gold, and this knife with the haft of cunning quality. Let them be heirlooms in his family.’ And he bade me place the belt and knife together with the embroidered garments and costly ornaments I had worn while with him in a sack and take them home with me.
“‘Show them,’ he said, ‘to your husband, Már. Tell him the whole truth, though it is a grief and woe to your heart to do so. It is but just and your duty. Let him aid you in building a farm at Þverá. There you shall see two small hillocks, which shall be your money mounds. In that place, you shall find a great and noble family. Now I must leave you, and you will never see me again,’ said he sadly. ‘Because the hours of my life are numbered.’
“When he had finished speaking, Alvör the lady took my hand and led me out. As I left the hall, I heard a loud and echoing sound. I turned my head to see whence it came; behold, Kári lay dead, for his heartstrings had broken with exceeding love and sorrow. So, the lady rowed me again in the boat across the lake, brought me home, and took the gloves out of my bed.
“As she left me, she said: ‘May it fare well with you, though you have caused sorrow to me in breaking my son’s heart for love and anguish. Enjoy all the wealth you have and be happy.’ So saying, she was no more with me.
“This is the end of my dream. Therefore, my husband, as you are a just and true man, weigh my fault against its causes, and forgive me. Truly my love for you has not one whit departed.”

So, she showed Már all the beautiful and costly things she had brought from Alvör’s castle.

She gave birth to a lovely son in the summer, exceeding all other children in mind and form. She called, as she had promised his father, — Kári. But she never loved the boy with a true mother’s love. On the other hand, Már doted upon him as if he had been his son. Soon after, they built a new farm at Þverá. There they found the two money mounds, as Kári had promised. And like Katla’s dream, dwelt there happy and prosperous to a ripe old age.

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