Gudrid and the Travelling Salesman

Picture from

Picture from

This is long: it is a snatch of an Icelandic saga. Some stories demand to be told, and are no respecters of the modern tendency towards 300 words or less. I write it today in case my daughter, Maddie, happens upon it on her travels round the land in which it was made. She will have the patience to read.

I suppose one might call Gudrid a bluestocking.

Her father was an extraordinary character, both in fortune and in his intellectual and spiritual abilities. Thorgeir Vifilsson married into the landed gentry. He wedded Arnora, the daughter of Einar of Laugarbrekka who owned the land and the Slope Of The Hot Spring. And so he was given a fat dowry: the land at the Cave-Hill – and never wanted for much. Thus, he had the time and liberty to concentrate on the life of the mind.

I often wonder how his wife took to the occupation he chose and the life-choices he made for those closest to him.

Thorgier became what they call worshipful. A temple-priest. And Arnora must have been the equivalent of a well-off vicar’s wife, a widow to the life beyond. Is that why they chose to send Gudrid to live with some one else?

Whatever the reason, their choice of babysitter was not a nobleman, but a freeman: a franklin, they called him. Orm was a straightforward man, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get sort of chap, and he was the perfect foster father for Gudrid. Where her fate was enigmatic and mercurial, Orm was solid and dependable, unchanging like the great craggy outcrops of Eagle-Rock, where he lived with Gudrid and his kindly, homespun wife Halldis. Orm and Thorgier were great friends, and the foster arrangement worked well for many years.

As Gudrid grew from a small child into a tall, willowy woman, it became clear she would be a woman of uncommon beauty. She had all her father’s wisdom and intelligence, and a great measure of Orm’s pragmatism: the perfect wedding of nature and nurture.

But she did not see herself as a prize to be bought by some thug with meathooks for hands.

So many a warrior came to stay at Orm’s house and eat his wife’s food, and knew love for the first time. They would gaze helplessly over the food bowls at Gudrid, and scramble to ask for her hand with often indecent haste after dinner: and always, Gudrid would turn them down flat.

Until one day, a handsome dandy of a man appeared on the horizon, bringing his wares down the track to the homestead at the Cave-Hill.

His name was also Einar, and his background was in equal measures precarious and solid as a rock; for his father had been a thrall. A slave, if you like: though he had been made a freeman and done outrageously well for himself. He was the cattle king, so to speak, and was mighty rich. He had a son, and as the sons of the nouveau riche are wont to be, he was a dandy; a handsome man with a slightly foolish side and an inflated sense of worth.

So: Einar sauntered into sight and Gudrid’s eyes flickered with idle interest. Here, at least, was a diversion. A well dressed young man who might provide diverting conversation.

Einar arrived and unpacked all his wares. His people knew Orm’s people, so he stayed the night, and other nights. But as he was showing Orm the fine woven cloths  he had to sell, Gudrid glided past the door, and like all the others, the salesman was smitten.

His eyes remained on the doorframe which of late had held the most gorgeous picture. “May I ask,” he began carefully, “who that woman was?”

“That was Gudrid, my foster-daughter, daughter of Thorgeir Vifilsson,” Orm replied.

“She is ravishing,” Einar replied, attempting fruitlessly to keep his voice steady. “But surely she must have had many proposals”

Orm answered, “Proposals have certainly been made, friend, but this treasure is not to be had for the picking up; she is choosy, as is her father.”

From that moment on, Einar would give Orm no peace. He showered him with gifts and regaled him with tales of his father’s riches; he badgered him with infinite charm: would Orm ask Thorgeir if Einar could have Gudrid’s hand in marriage?

Gudrid listened, in the corridors, at the dinner table, walking in the gardens, and gave that small quiet smile which maddened men. Einar preened, for he knew Thorgeir had fallen on hard times, and lost much money. A lucrative marriage must surely be an advantage. It was only a matter of time, thought the travelling salesman lavisciously, before Gudrid was his.

Orm caved in, eventually. At Thorgeir’s Harvest Feast, he sat next to him at the table, and asked him whether he might entertain Einar’s suit.

But Thorgeir was a proud man. And he knew Einar and his type. He would not treasure a jewel like Gudrid, nor give her the intellectual life she would need to be happy. The gall of the man!

He turned to Orm, “I did not expect ever that you would suggest that I should give my daughter in marriage to the son of a thrall,” he said, in a low, dangerous voice. “You have watched my wealth dwindling;  well, then, my daughter shall not go home with you, since you think her worthy of so poor a match.”

They told Gudrid that her things were being moved into rooms upstairs, and she would not go home with Orm, the father she would have chosen.

And so it was that it was not because she was forbidden from marrying a travelling salesman that Gudrid’s heart was broken.

That night, she shed bitter tears because she would never share a house with her beloved foster-father again.

To be continued……


22 thoughts on “Gudrid and the Travelling Salesman

  1. I love stories such as these Kate. For some reason, the part about Einar’s father being made a freeman resonated with me, it conjured images in my mind of the event. Can’t wait for the next part.

    1. I have no idea how Mad is doing, Penny – the school has a policy that no-one calls home. For the best, I suppose. But if Maddie gets to a computer or internet cafe, she will know I am thinking of her 🙂

  2. I love Gudrid. (She is the subject of the book I recommended a few days ago.) A woman I would dearly love to have met. History imparts so little about the lives of women, but the sagas that mention her are riveting.

  3. Another intriguing tale…it sometimes pays to run a little behind in the reading because I can move right on. How you keep all your characters and the complex names straight is a true testament to your skill, Kate. I do hope Maddie is reading along. 🙂

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