The action of the trilogy novel Halldor Laxness unfolds in the late 16th – early 17th century. in Iceland and Denmark, as well as in Holland and Germany, where one of the main characters – poor peasant Youn Hreggvidsson – falls during his wanderings.
The meaning of the title of the trilogy is revealed in the first chapter, when, on the orders of the royal executioner, the arrested Joun Hreggwissson throws to the ground and smashes into pieces the ancient bell, the ancient sanctuary of Iceland. The Danish crown, which at that time owned Iceland and waged a protracted war, required copper and bronze.
In the center of the narrative are the figures of three people whose fates have fancifully interwoven against the background of real historical events. In addition
Youn Hreggvidsson, who lives in hopeless poverty and who leases his plot of land from Jesus Christ, does not disdain and additional “earnings”, such as: he can snatch a piece of rope for repairing fishing tackles or a fishing hook. For these crimes, Youna is periodically imprisoned and subjected to other punishments, such as flogging.
In the end, he is accused of murdering the royal executioner and sentenced to death.
However, according to the unknown whim of fate, it is in the poor hut of this poor peasant that a priceless treasure is kept – several pieces of parchment from the 13th century. with a fragment of the text “Skaldi” written on them – an Icelandic story about the heroes of antiquity. Just the day after the corpse of the executioner was found in the swamp, but before Youn Hreggvessson was tried for murder, Arnaus Arneus comes to the hut accompanied by his beloved Snyafriedur and buys from Mother Youna these priceless parchment leaflets that are unfit
Later this episode was destined to become decisive for the fate of both Yoon and other heroes.
Youna is tried and sentenced to death.
On the eve of execution, Snayfriedur bribes the guard and rescues Yoon from death.
Only one person can get the case reviewed – this is Arnas Arnaus, who by that time had left for Denmark. SniFridur gives Youna his ring and helps him escape from the country. Through Holland and Germany, having endured numerous adversities, several times miraculously escaped death, but still retaining the ring of Jomphra Snaifridur, Youn finally arrives in Copenhagen and meets with Arneus, who by that time spent almost all his fortune on buying Icelandic antiquities and was forced to marry on a rich, but ugly hunchback.
In the end, Arneus manages to ensure that the murder case will be reviewed. Yone Hreggvidsson receives a letter of protection from which he returns to his homeland, where his case must be reconsidered. Judge Aydalin, Father Yomfru Sneifridur, apparently fearing the publicity of the old story of how his daughter helped run the convicted criminal, enters into a conspiracy with the peasant: no one will touch it, but he, in turn, must keep quiet about his business.
Between the events of the first and second books of the trilogy is fifteen or sixteen years. During this time, Jomfru Sneifridur, desperate to wait for his lover, marries a drunkard and a rough man, Magnus Sigurdsson, who during his long drinking-bout squeezes the whole fortune, and eventually even sells his two spies to his own wife for a barrel of vodka.
Snayfridur steadfastly bears his cross, refusing to respond to all attempts to persuade her to divorce her husband and find a more worthy spouse, what could be her “patient fiancé” pastor Sigurdur Sveinsson. Since she can not have the best and most desired share, she is ready to tolerate humiliation and deprivation, but she does not agree to something average.
Meanwhile, Iceland from Denmark returns to Arnas Arnaus, who has extensive powers given to him by the king. He seeks to alleviate as much as possible the fate of the Icelanders suffering from both adversities caused by the harsh conditions of life on the island and from the merciless exploitation of the metropolis, which has exclusive rights to all foreign relations of Iceland. In particular, Arnaus orders to destroy all the flour brought by the Danish merchants, since it is unfit for food – ticks and worms are in it.
Arnaus starts and revises some of the old cases, according to which, as it seems to him, in the past unfair sentences have been handed down.
The case of Yoon Hreggwisson also comes up. It becomes an excuse for instituting proceedings against Judge Eydalin himself, who entered into a secret conspiracy with the convict and dared to violate the injunction contained in the royal charter.
At the same time, Snejfridur’s husband, Magnus Sigurdsson, lodges a complaint against Arnaus Arneus himself, accusing him of a criminal relationship with his wife. Magnusa is supported also by pastor Sigurdur Sveinsson, not when he highly esteemed highly educated husband Arnas Arneus, but now sees in his activities a threat to the ruling elite of Icelandic society and personally to the father of his “bride.” After much trial, Arnaus managed to win both cases. Judge Eydalin is deprived of honor and all posts, and his property goes to the ownership of the Danish crown.
However, the judicial victory is costly to Arnas Arneus. He not only did not gain popularity among the people, but, on the contrary, everyone, even pardoned criminals, began to curse him for destroying the everlasting foundations of society and insulting respectable, respected people, including Judge Eydalin. Arneus is also blamed for the fact that, destroying worm-eaten flour, he actually deprived Icelanders of food and doomed to starvation, because, except Denmark, Icelanders do not have other food sources.
For a year or two, between the events of the second and third books, dramatic changes are taking place in the fate of the heroes, and above all Jomfru Sneifridur and Arnas Arneus. The epidemic of plague in Iceland takes away the lives of the sister of Yomphra and the husband of her sister, the Bishop of Scalcholt. Died and father yomfru – Judge Aydalin. In Denmark, the former king dies, encouraging Arnaus’ occupation of Icelandic antiquities. The interests of the new king lie entirely in a different field – it is only occupied by hunting, balls and other amusements. Arnas Arnaus falls into disgrace at the court and loses his former strength and might than his enemies, in particular the passer-bye Youn Marteynsson, stealing books from the Arnaus library and secretly selling them to the Swedes did not fail to take advantage of. Among the books he stole – and the priceless “Skald”.
The same Joon Martheisson does everything possible to help Arnauses’ opponents seek to reconsider the old sentences passed in the past on the cases that Arnaus considered, having the authority of the former King of Denmark. In particular, he manages to achieve that the husband of yomfru Sneifridur Magnus Sigurdsson wins the old case of insulting his dignity by Arnaus. However, on the same evening, when the case was won, Youn Marteynsson kills Magnus.
Yomfru Snyafriedur himself begins a lawsuit against Arnaus to restore his father’s good name and return his possessions. Again the case of Yoon Hreggwissson, who is again arrested and brought under escort to Denmark, where they imprisoned, but then released, becomes a servant in the house of Arnas Arneus. The king’s displeasure, lack of support at the court – everything indicates that this time the fate turned away from Arneus and he is destined to lose the trial.
Meanwhile, the King of Denmark, whose treasury is emptied as a result of a lavish lifestyle, decides to sell Iceland, whose content is too expensive. Already in the past, the Danish crown was negotiating the sale of the island, making such offers of England, but then the deal did not take place. This time it was seriously interested in Hanseatic merchants from Germany. Business for small – it is necessary to find such person who could become the governor of island. It certainly must be Icelandic – history has already shown that any outsiders in this position do not stay alive for long, coming to Iceland. It should be a person who is respected in his homeland. The natural choice of merchants is Arnas Arnaus.
Having received such an offer, Arnaus faces a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, the monopoly right of the Danish crown to own an island and the merciless exploitation of its inhabitants lead to incalculable suffering for Icelanders, which means that the transition of Iceland to the power of the German emperor can ease the fate of the people. On the other hand, Arnaus understands that this is only a transition to a new, albeit more satiated slavery, the way out of which will not be. “The Icelanders will at best become fat servants in the German vassal state,” he says, “but a fat servant can not be a great man.” The battered slave is a great man, for freedom lives in his heart. ” Arneus does not want such a fate for the people who made the greatest legends, and therefore rejects the offer of German merchants, although for him the newest post promised the greatest blessings,
Striking changes occur in the very characters of the main characters. At the end of the narrative, Arnaus Arneus is no longer that brilliant nobleman and highly educated husband, full of great plans for saving the national heritage of his homeland. This is an endlessly tired person, he was not even too upset by the loss of the main treasure of his life – the Skald. Moreover, when the fire that erupts in Copenhagen destroys his entire library, Arnaus Arneus watches the riot of fire with some kind of detached indifference.
The character of Jomfru Sneifridur also changes. Despite the fact that she manages to defend the good name of her father in court and recover all his estates, this brings her little joy. Once a proud and independent woman in her thoughts and deeds, dreaming about the time when she will travel on white horses with her lover, accepts her fate and agrees to marry the “patient bridegroom” of pastor Sveinsson, who was appointed bishop in Scalcholta instead of the deceased husband of Snejfridur sister.
In the final scene of the novel, the very old Yone Hreggvidsson, who this time, obviously received a final forgiveness in his case, watches the couple march off to their home, Skalkolt. Black horses shine in the rays of the morning sun.