My country is not gentle. My country is violent, turbulent, and wild — it's where the earth was born. The moors paved with lava, the waterfalls and rivers of giants, the volcanoes, geysers, and great steaming glaciers — that is the nature of my country. And under the stormy sky, wisps of acrid smoke climb from the hot springs of Gunnhuver and are scattered by the wind above the ground tinted yellow, red, and blue. Our little horses with their spiky manes are hot as lava and hard as ice. And we are like them, my father always said.
I live in Reykjavik. Almost all of us live in Reykjavik now.
My name is Bjargar, son of Ragnar and Audur.
My parents don't believe in the hidden folk. They know. They know that trolls, elves, and the huldufolk exist. Just like the Vikings did.
And I know it too, because I've seen them. But "see" isn't the right word. For I didn't see the huldufolk with my eyes; I knew they were there. You only need to concentrate a little and listen to the sounds of nature. Seeing is listening to nature. My mother explained this to me: only children see them because they are still on the fringes, like these underground beings.
I only needed to go into an álagablettur or enchanted place to make contact. It wasn't always very enjoyable, for some of the hidden folk have difficult personalities. My father always told me that the huldufolk are "dark." They can do good or evil — it depends on the humans. And he advised me to be careful and respectful in all circumstances. I listened to my father because he was a great astrophysicist.
I saw them for the first time in Reykjavik. I was ten years old. That evening, I was coming home just before nightfall, after going to listen to music in the city streets. It was the big arts festival. It was cold, and a light rain fell and made the street lights gleam. The wide Mýrargata Avenue was almost deserted, with just a few cars making hissing sounds as they passed by. I turned down the small street that led to our house. Between two small buildings, there was an empty space, a kind of wasteland that had always both frightened and attracted me. I had never dared to enter.
As I started to walk by it, I felt my the hair on my arms stand on end and some sort of presence rushing around me, agitated. I recognized them right away. I already knew them from my grandmother's stories. Whispers came and went, anarchic and alarming. A slight laugh abruptly faded near my left ear. I clearly heard "Go away." Then something grazed the top of my head, like an immaterial tap.
Silence and calm returned. At that moment, a moan made me turn my head toward the back of the empty lot. I made out a big stocky shape with a gigantic arm sticking out. Curiosity dispelled some of the sacred fear that had taken hold of me. Stepping forward, I saw that it was a yellow backhoe, silent and immobile. The shovel was on the ground and in front of it was a big rock. The moan was coming from the other side of the machine. I walked around it and saw a man sitting against one of its tires. He was holding his ankle and wincing in pain.
"Kid, go get help — I can't walk. Please, hurry!" he said in English.
In a few minutes, I reached the nearest police station. I brought the police officers to the site of the accident, and while the ambulance that they had called left for the hospital, I quietly slipped away.
The next day the newspaper, Vísir, reported on the misadventure of John Unbeliever, a British land developer who lived in our city. The fellow had requested a construction permit for the empty lot, but Reykjavik's city hall was taking its time to respond. The reason for this administrative slowness was that on this lot there had always been a rock which, in the collective memory of neighborhood residents, was a shelter for huldufolk. So it was appropriate to take precautions and leave some time for these invisible beings to deign to move. But according to the clairvoyant, Emma Jónsdóttir, the inhabitants of the rock were still there and didn't seem to have decided to clear out. John, in a hurry and exasperated, had decided to take matters into his own hands. The night I had found him, he had come with his backhoe to move the rock and take it to a lot that he had discovered just outside the city. However, when he was getting ready to lift it, the motor sputtered and then stalled. Still in a rush, he abruptly jumped from his seat to the ground and twisted his ankle. In any case, that was the story he told.
I knew it wasn't an accident. I knew that the anger of the invisible beings was responsible for his sprained ankle and I think that John, however rational he was, suspected it too. It was declared an accident. Yet everyone — police officers, paramedics, city hall employees, journalists, residents of Reykjiavik, my parents — was convinced that the huldufolk had simply protected their environment from the developer's greed.
I don't know why I didn't say anything to my parents. They would have been proud of their clairvoyant son. I think I wanted to keep this gift of seeing the invisible beings to myself. My secret with Iceland.
Then, a bit older, I spent several years roaming through the moors, fjords, and mountains of my country. I saw the elves on the round hills that were hazy and airy, I felt the sadness of the petrified troll Hvítserkur caught unawares by the rising sun, I saw the troll Kerlingar go back into his rock in the middle of the Kerlingarfjöll Mountains, I heard the stone silhouettes on the black beach of Vik send out desperate calls, and I glimpsed in the blue reflections of bottomless crevasses the furtive movements of the spirits of the ground. And every volcanic eruption, every earthquake, reminded me that this earth, so young and spirited, on which little horses gallop and shaggy sheep graze, belonged to the invisible ones and the tectonic powers that move the riverbeds and change the pastures into expanses of ash.
At age twenty I didn't see them anymore. Since then, I see these wondrous beings in my memory. Some people consider me a poor, somewhat strange outsider, living deep in a fjord that is covered with snow most of the year, but that is where I can still sense, distantly, the rustling of the huldufolk.
Translated by Kate Deimling