Iceland: Into the fog

June 18, Part 2

(Pictures here.)
(June 18, Part 1 here.)
(Previous Iceland posts here.)
(lnhammer´s Iceland report here.)

The Hótel Laugarhóll is run by Matthias, a French chef who originally came to Iceland to work for the French embassy. lnhammer had what he claimed was the best meal of his entire trip the last time we were in Iceland, and had suggested we stay there this time. It was the only hotel (rather than hostel or tent) we stayed in during our trip; and unlike most of our trip, this night, at least, we had no intention of doing our own cooking.

As we checked in, Matthias asked whether we wanted the lamb or the haddock for dinner. He recommended the haddock, and we readily agreed.

In the dining room, we looked out into a valley where strange, low fog hung beneath a clear blue sky. The edges of that fog were oddly well defined. The fog seemed at times to be retreating into the valley, and at times to be reaching out, clawlike, toward us. We thought, of course, of Svanur’s fog, the fog that had blocked a mountain pass, as we watched it. Even from a distance, it did not seem like ordinary fog.

The haddock was doused in brandy; set aflame from the candle on our table, wafted beneath our noses. A lovely smell. And lovely fish, perfectly flaking, melting in the mouth. The lake-caught trout earlier in our trip had been nice; but this was a whole other level of nice. A lovely meal.

After dinner, the sun still hours from setting, we headed out in search of Kaldbakshorn — in search of the mountain where Svanur had disappeared. In doing so, we headed out into the fog.

The fog thickened as we drove. It muted the near ground, turned the more distant hills to shapes without color or texture. It seemed to the land, turning everything soft and silver-gray, caressing the rocks as it rolled close over them. The fog moved in close around us and our car, and it seemed almost a solid thing, something one could reach out and touch.

This was the fog of fantasy novels. The fog that lures people away from home, that leads them to unknown lands from which they do not return.

I opened the car window. Stuck out a hand. The fog wasn’t soft; it was cold and sharp as ice.

The fog deepened the further in we drove. I felt a sort of wide-eyed wonder as watched it thickening around us.

Because we weren’t in a fantasy novel, eventually we decided to follow the course of wisdom and turn back. To accept that tonight, at least, the sorcerer did not want us to see his mountain.

Almost, we didn’t mind. Even as we drove back, I think we knew that failing to find Svanur’s mountain was more interesting–and made a better story–than finding it would have.

Besides, we could always try again in the morning.

Once we turned around and started back toward Laugarhóll, the air quickly cleared, making it hard to believe the fog had really been so thick. Yet we still could see it, when we looked back down the valley, for all that the air around us was clear.

We were not quite done with magic yet, though.

It must have been around 10 by then, but there was still plenty light left, so we changed into our bathing suits and headed out for a pool fed by a hot spring that was once blessed by the displaced bishop Guðmund the Good.

The water felt incredibly … well, good. Lightweight. Easy to move through, silky on the skin. I felt, almost, like I was swimming through liquid light.

Steam rose from the pool as we swam. A child’s colored beach ball drifted in and out of that steam.

lnhammer retrieved the ball, tossed it around a bit. There was something about that water that made one laugh as one splashed about, and even the splashing had a joyous sound to it.

After a while, we realized we were not only seeing steam on the water. The fog had moved in again while we swam, surrounding us, hemming us in.

Later still–at twilight, nearly midnight–I went for a walk in that fog.

Only the very peaks of the mountains were visible. A cairn stood out, muted, ghostly through the fog, and I could see how that marker would have been a welcome sign, to someone who had lost their way.

Some sheep followed a road through the mist, heading toward an unknown destination, their movements eerie and strangely dignified at once.

Yet by midnight proper, the fog was nearly gone again, just a low band, leaving the upper slopes of the mountains clear and detailed once more.

I finally headed in to bed, and went to sleep still feeling the touch of the bishop’s blessed water on my skin.

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