Gudrid and the Weird-Song

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If you wanted to know what happened to Gudrid, once the salesman was out of her hair: here’s the second part. It will require patience, but it’s worth the read. For Maddie, on her travels in Iceland xx

When days were young and magic was strong, there were such things known in our tongue as weird-songs.

They were sung by the enchantresses of the far north, in Iceland and Greenland, where dark is ensconced and snow covers the ground for so very long each yearly cycle.

Witches and wise women were revered then, when they seemed the only ones with any answers to the vast puzzles of the Nordic landscape. And when Gudrid was a little girl and sat by a fireplace watching the flames flicker, she would listen to her foster-mother, Halldis, singing weird-songs to bind the darkness and harness the light, to heal fevers and loose amours, to bow to Nature and wheedle her goodwill, and bring forth harvests which would feed the villagers.

All this Halldis did quietly, without fuss. The business of nature ran smoothly, and men thereabouts were comparatively prosperous, and the children grew up healthy and happy.

And all the while, little Gudrid took the wild, beautiful tunes and winding words to her heart and spirit.

It was not until she was grown into a beautiful young woman that she found herself back in her true father’s household. He was a Christian, a mystic and a great intellect, and he had always been tolerably prosperous because he married well.

But after a winter in his household, Thorbjorn Vifilsson called a great banquet. And after they had eaten, he addressed all his friends and neighbours.

“I have lived here a long time, ” he told them all, “And the people here have been good to me. I have made so many great friends.  But I am beginning to feel uneasy. I have been losing money for some time now, and I don’t see an end to it. So: I have decided to break up my household before I lose my honour; to leave the country before I disgrace my family. I have decided to leave for Greenland to join my friend, Eirik the Red.”

Everyone was flabbergasted. Thorbjorn? Leave? His kindly nature and great wisdom were the mainstay of the community, and his sense of humour helped men to see things as they really were. But he had made a public announcement; he must be serious.

That Summer, he and his friends and household sailed for Greenland, and Gudrid with him. The journey was a grim one, and hampered at every turn; and they did not arrive in Greenland until the beginning of Winter.

But his new home was experiencing its own problems.

Famine. The same storms which hampered Thorbjorn had stopped fishermen from fishing; and at any rate, the fish seemed to have taken themselves elsewhere. There was little food and the ribs of the children were beginning to show.

There was a prophetess in the area. She was revered by everyone, and dressed most splendidly; in the Greenland’s words she was called a spae-queen. They called her in when the famine became severe, and she surveyed all the community’s goods, and its situation, and then sat solemnly with its leader, a hard-working merchant and chief franklin, Thorkell.

“I can solve this,” she told the franklin. “But I’m going to need some help.”

Thorkell waited. He dared hardly breathe. The fate of his people lay on this one exchange.

“I shall need someone who can sing weird songs, the enchantments of our people,” she told him.

Immediately, the cry went out around the villages: is there a woman who can sing weird-songs for the prophetess? But there was not one person who had the skills.

Sewing in her room, Gudrid heard the fuss outside. The air was biting as she put away her things, and took a great deep draught of frost, and took herself to knock on the chief franklin’s door.

“I know the weird-songs,” she explained to the Prophetess, once ushered inside. “I am not skilled in deep learning, nor am I a wise-woman, although Halldis, my foster-mother, taught me, in Iceland, the lore which she called Weird-songs. But I am a Christian – I can’t sing the songs myself.”

Desperation is a strange thing in a man. It can make him a small child once again. And the Chief Franklin, whose son gazed at him with wide, hungry eyes each mealtime, could not restrain himself.

He fell at Gudrid’s feet. “You could help the people here and be none the worse a woman for it afterwards! I implore you: take Christian pity on us.”

She could not deny him. Neither compassion nor reason would brook refusal.  And so the people gathered, and made a great circle about Gudrid and the prophetess, who had climbed onto a seat on a scaffold prepared for her. And Gudrid began to sing.

You need to know the shores of Greenland. To have felt the biting fingers of the cold, and the shock of the air on your lungs, whilst you listen to the clear tones of a beautiful young woman’s voice, lilting and enchanting, singing words as old as man himself to entice the fish back into the seas at the foot of those great craggy cliffs. The people could not have moved if they tried: they were in thrall, in slavery to the silver voice of the woman singing the weird-songs. No-one there had ever heard a song sung in so bewitching a way before.

And she drew the song to a close.

The Prophetess’s eyes were shining.

“Young woman, I saw the spirits who have turned away from us listen to your song and draw near once again,” she said.  “And now are many things clear to me which before were hidden both from me and others.”

“Rejoice. Your famine is over; your spring will bring prosperity and plenty. The epidemic of fever which has long oppressed us will disappear quicker than we could have hoped. And you, Gudrid, will make a match here in Greenland, a most honourable one, though it will not be a long-lived one for thee, because your way lies out to Iceland.

“And there, you shall have a long line of descendants both strong and good. And so: fare thee now well and happily, my daughter.”


23 thoughts on “Gudrid and the Weird-Song

  1. Oh Kate, this was splendid, a well-told quick read and enchanting. I could almost hear the weird-song echoing. If the fish start swimming up my duvet, I’ll send you the cleaning bill. 😉

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