More Njála neepery

Back to thinking about Njál’s Saga while I wait for my copy of Völsunga Saga to show up at the library. 🙂

One day it happened that Gunnar came from the Law-Mount and went down past the booth of the men of Mosfell. Then he saw some women approaching him and they were all beautifully attired, but the one at the head of them most beautifully of all. As they met she greeted Gunnar at once. He responded politely to her greeting and asked who she might be. She said her name was Hallgerd and that she was the daughter of Hoskuld Dalakollsson. She spoke to him without any shyness and asked him to tell her about his travels, and he answered that he would be glad to do so. So they sat down and conversed. She was dressed in a red gown adorned with much finery. She had a scarlet cloak thrown about her which was trimmed with lace down to her skirt. Her hair, which was both fair and full, came down to her bosom. Gunnar on his part was dressed in the robe of honor which King Harald Gormsson had given him and wore on his arm the gold ring which Earl Hakon had given him. They talked together aloud for a long time, and finally he asked whether she was married. She answered that she was not — ‘and there are many who would not risk that.’

‘Is it because you cannot find a suitable match?” he asked.

‘It’s not exactly that,’ she said, ‘but I am said to be hard to please in the matter of husbands.’

‘What would you say if I were to ask you?’ he continued.

‘You wouldn’t be thinking of doing that,’ she answered.

‘But I am,’ said Gunnar.

‘If you are of a mind to, then speak with my father,’ she replied.

With that they ended their talk.


Every time I reread that passage, I find myself asking, was Hallgerður in love with Gunnar, or was she simply going after his riches? The saga doesn’t say–one of the fascinating things about the sagas is that they don’t tell you what anyone is thinking, but leave that to the reader. The first time I read this, I assumed Hallgerður was after Gunnar’s money–he’d just returned from Norway a rich man, after all–and that asking about his travels was just a line to get him talking to her.

But three readings later–I think Hallgerður loved him. Whatever happened later, I think the affection shared during their first meeting was real.

And Hallgerður’s uncle Hrút, who’s one of those (remarkably frequent) saga characters with a way of seeing what’s going to happen before it does, seems to have thought so, too (at least in the Hollander translation–there’s some variation here)–he says, ‘Yes, I realise that both of you are foolishly in love. To be sure, it is you two who risk the most [if you take such a leap in the dark].’

Indeed. But don’t we all?

(Of course, for most of us the risks don’t generally involve blood feud. But even so.)

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