The Saga of the Murdered Bedfellow
by Bertil Falk
|part 2 of 3|
Gardar was introduced to Gute and Gudrun. Gute wore tightly fitting brown woollen trousers with puttees. His tunic was gray, and a sword dangled from his leather belt. He was a seriously inclined man, who hardly ever seemed to smile.
The girl had flaxen hair. Her height and color as well as her dress were the same as those of Brynhild. Like Brynhild, she wore a brace shift with short sleeves, but her tube-sewn cloth was green. Though she used color around her eyes, she did not look as good as her rival. She seemed to be cheerful and she used her hands when she talked.
“Are you a merchant?” she asked.
Gardar explained that he above all was a person who knew the old lays and songs by heart, that he was quick at galdering and a runic master who had become a problem-solver and riddle-solver by using the combination of his different knowledges as well as he could.
“Thus you’re a thul, a Runic master and a magician in one person,” Gute said, and Gardar nodded.
“What brought you here?”
“I’m on my way home after a visit to Birka, The merchant-knarr I’m going with has stopped over here to pick up some brooches. We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“The seahorse bound for Miklagård will also leave tomorrow,” Gudrun said.
“Have you been there?”
“No,” Gardar said, “but I’ve been to Hauthabu and to Jorvik a few years ago.” He paused. “By the way,” he said, “I’ve heard you toss the log, Gudrun. It seems as if women here are good at that.”
Gudrun laughed. “When we don’t try out each other’s brace shifts, we go in for sports. Otherwise saucy brats like Gute would get the wrong idea that he’s king. And that would be a mistake.”
She smiled at Gute and Gardar understood that she was teasing her lover. And she added, “Truthfully, Brynhild is better than I at tossing the caber.”
At that moment, Halvdan Svensson turned up together with a woman by the name of Bödvild. She was dressed like the other women, but her long hair was black and her dress yellow.
“That woman is dangerous,” Gute said to Gardar.
“Is she? Why?”
“Ask Sigurd. She had him in her power many a sun-year. She is the daughter of Völva, the mightiest sorcery-woman on this island. Bödvild and her mother Völva are both extraordinarily efficient when it comes to carving spellbinding, love-making runes and they’re second to none when it comes to brewing love potions. Take care.”
“How did Sigurd succeed in getting away from her?”
“He did not succeed at all.”
“She let him go. She became tired of him.” Gute turned thoughtful. “And who knows?” he added. “He was perhaps not at all glad that she let him go. Come let us take a house-bath.”
* * *
The heat of the sauna was strong in the bathing-house. Gudrun, Gute and Gardar undressed and sat naked on the wooden seats around a group of scalding hot stones, that had been heated by a fire. Now and then Gute poured water upon the stones, filling the room with hot steam. Gardar admired Gudrun’s naked arms. Like her face they were white, according to prevailing fashion.
After some time they poured a decoction of bark upon themselves and whipped each other with birch twigs. Afterwards, they rushed out and plunged into the pond.
Somewhat later, Gardar was introduced to Bödvild and he introduced Halvdan to Gute and Gudrun. Together they sat down by the temporarily pitched mead-tent outside the bathing-house near the pond. Brynhild joined them, but even though she sat talking with Gudrun far away from Gardar, it was obvious that she cast covetous glances in his direction, not once but many times.
Two women mixed blood and milk with barley meal. Of the dough they formed small lumps they dropped into a vessel with boiling pig-broth. When the lumps came to the surface, they were ready to be eaten. Gardar liked the lumps and he was also treated with fried pork. Drinking-horns went the round.
Delighted, Gardar downed the honey-mead. He met many people. Among them Siv, who turned out to be the girl who had taken over Sigurd. In Siv, Gardar saw yet another of those proud women good at tossing the caber. Evidently the women of Visby mixed their vanity with a great zest to compete with each other as well as with their male friends. Bödvild showed herself to be the only one in the mead-tent, who did not drink a lot.
“The brightest of nights is squeezing sensations out of human beings,” Bödvild said to Gardar as he downed a big gulp from the drink of Odin. Halvdan staggered away and disappeared behind the bathing-house.
“I can tell you that this Midsummer night is fateful,” Bödvild continued. “You’ll sleep with Brynhild, but even though she’ll make you happy as if you were the only man in this world, her thoughts will be somewhere else.”
Gardar listened to her words. And yes, it was his intention to make love to Brynhild since she had shown him such marked attention, which in his experience meant willingness to the same extent.
“So what?” he said.
“I just want to draw your attention to the reality, that she still loves that man. Furthermore, you may have seen how friendly Brynhild and Gudrun treat each other. But if you listen carefully to what they say to each other, then you’ll find that their ingratiating words drip poison.”
“And what did you put in the mead that Halvdan had downed this whole day?” Gardar asked. “He seems to have fallen for you.”
She laughed. “Good,” she replied. “They’ve already told you the fairy tale that I catch men with love potions. Since you belong to the same kind as I do and my mother does, you should know better than that. Of course, we possess a secret love potion, but we don’t use it. Why not? As far as I’m concerned, I want to be sure that the man wants me for my own sake and not because I’ve given him a love-potion.”
Bödvild smiled. “Halvdan has not been love-drugged by me. He likes me for what I am. As you surely know, those drinks and potions work only when the victim believes in them; then their minds are affected. Look at me. Perhaps not the fairest woman in this neighborhood, but nevertheless not really bad too look at either.”
Gardar nodded. “You’re a cunning woman,” he said. “And I agree with you that you probably could’ve been much uglier.”
“Than what? Than I am?” she replied scornfully.
“What about Siv?”
“You’ve heard that too? Well, she hates me. Of course she does. She was always in love with Sigurd and could hardly bear that he preferred me. When I let him go, she got all of him, but she knows that had I kept him, he would never have gone to her.
“Thus, as you can see, there is a lot of antagonism here, since this is a small place and we’re few people with a limited amount of people to fall in love with. Our oppositions are magnified every Midsummer night.”
“It’s not only about love and love-making. There are many other contrasts. Did you know that Brynhild and her brother Sigurd are involved in a dispute about inheritance? They both want a big piece of amber, bigger than a hen’s egg. There’s something inside it that looks like a butterfly, but I’m not sure if it is a butterfly.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“It was found somewhere along the shores of the mainland in the south many years ago and was given to their father as an indemnification for something, I don’t know what. Ever since their father died, they’ve quarreled. Not in public, but we all know what happens when they’re alone.”
“Why don’t they bring their quarrel to the Guta Thing?”
“And the answer?”
“If they can’t settle their dispute, the bickering will certainly end up at the Thing, whether it will be through Brynhild or Sigurd.”
Halvdan, who had been peeing and vomiting behind the sauna-house, came back to them. The bleeding of butchered and sacrificed pigs was long since over and had given way to more individual rites of fertility. Bödvild took Halvdan down the steep hill towards the harbor. Gute had already disappeared with Gudrun. After the night with him, she would return to her village.
Sigurd, Siv and Brynhild were still drinking and skåling, but when Gardar made a motion to Brynhild, she immediately left the party and guided Gardar behind the mead-tent. During the short period when the sun disappeared under the horizon Gardar embraced the beautiful girl. He caressed her arms and felt the solid bracelet around the soft flesh of her brownish right arm.
He played with her lips and he parted them with his own. She met him in a warm wave and her heavy breasts rested friendly on his chest. As Bödvild had told him, Brynhild made love as if he were the only man in the world.
And he wondered.
As the first rays of sunshine returned and birds began to chirp, Gardar got to his feet, contemplated the sleeping beauty whose long yellow hair partly covered her face. He put on his cap and his cloak and went down to the harbor. He woke up the ferryman, who sculled him out to the merchant-knarr outside the reef.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk