Chapter 4 - Grimhilda Svartslange
Grimhilda continued to look intently at Marja and smiled. In a few minutes, another young girl, trembling with fear, came with a bucket of water and allowed Marja to wash herself, but she said nothing. Marja then began to notice her surroundings. Grimhilda sat gazing into a huge black cauldron sitting over a fire in the middle of the longhouse. She seemed somehow delighted as she stirred the great kettle. Marja shuddered when she saw Grimhilda reach in a basket and pull out two writhing blacksnakes and sink them into her boiling pot. As she stirred, she began to sing in a language Marja did not recognize.
Grimhilda was about the age of her mother and surprisingly beautiful. In fact, she was sometimes flatteringly compared to the Norse goddess Freyja, who was often associated with magic, witchcraft, secret knowledge, and fortune-telling. Grimhilda had long dark tresses, haunting green eyes, and pale skin with no blemishes except a necklace of bluish spirals tattooed just below her neck. She was rather tall and linear with exquisitely refined features. Her nose was slightly prominent but perfectly straight. Her teeth were nearly perfect and white. Her voice, generally harsh and commanding, was soft and musical in singing. But when she smiled or spoke, you somehow had the feeling of being abused.
“Would you like something warm to drink, my little darling?” she inquired in a rather deceptive tone. Marja could hardly look at her but shook her head in refusal. She feared that she now knew why Gort’s teeth were black and why Grimhilda was called “blacksnake.” She could also see why few people came into the longhouse except when bidden by Grimhilda. Except for Gort, those who did come usually came trembling in fear. For the next hour, Grimhilda sat sharpening a huge knife. Marja feared for her life, but Grimhilda was only toying with her. She needed a good slave, an obedient slave. Slaves were also a valuable commodity. Gold and silver were scarce and slaves represented a prestigious accumulation of wealth and power. Grimhilda loved to have power over people. She especially enjoyed toying with people and having them grovel at her feet. Deception and lies gave her a sense of power over other people. Sometimes she told her slaves unbelievable lies and then badgered them with “you do believe me, don’t you?” while they stood there trembling and agreeing.
Before retiring for the night, Grimhilda offered Marja one piece of advice in a most sinister way. “I do hope you enjoy it here,” she told her. “You must adjust to the situation. You are such a lovely girl, with such a pretty face. I hope you can stay that way.”
The chain that fastened Marja to the wall was about six feet long, so she was able to rest on the floor of the longhouse. Grimhilda’s bed was at the far end of the longhouse away from her. In a few hours, the girl that had come to wash her quietly slipped into the longhouse and crept up to Marja, offering her a cup of water, bread, and cheese. These she received gratefully but was afraid to speak. She knew the girl did not have Grimhilda’s permission to give her food and drink. The girl, who was about Marja’s size and age but obviously not well fed, then whispered to her. “My name is Gudrid. My mother and sister and I were taken captive in Hordaland. There are seven other women and children held captive here, some Norse, some Irish. We will try to help you.” She poured a little extra water in her cup and left a bucket for waste. She bid farewell and silently slipped out of the building. Near dawn, Gort staggered in roaring drunk but quickly passed out at the other end of the longhouse away from Grimhilda.
The next morning, Grimhilda summoned a grimy looking man who released Marja from her chain and took her to a work detail cleaning buckets and washing clothes. There she saw Gudrid again and met her older sister, Anja. She saw their mother, Astrid, from a distance. Gudrid and Anja were only two years apart and looked much alike except that Gudrid had flaxen hair and Anja was slightly taller with brown hair. Marja was glad to be doing anything besides being in the same big room with Grimhilda, and she was extremely grateful to have the friendship and help of Gudrid and Anja.
Toward dusk, the grimy man, who she noticed had only half a left ear, returned Marja to Grimhilda. But Grimhilda was busy arguing with Gort and needling him with slights and subtle insults to make him feel as low as possible. Whenever Gort began to win an argument, Grimhilda responded by becoming completely unreasonable. This tactic quickly frustrated Gort who sought friendlier diversions elsewhere. Such confrontations between Gort and Grimhilda were a welcome relief to Marja. It gave her a few minutes rest from constant anxiety. Sometimes Grimhilda focused her attention on Anja or Gudrid, and from these mutually painful experiences they learned to help and encourage each other. Marja’s life at Linge seemed grim and hopeless, but it was filled with unexpected little blessings and reprieves. Slowly but surely, Marja’s spirited courage began to return even though Grimhilda tried her best to belittle and intimidate her several times a day. She was determined not to let the meanness and pathology of her captors change her for the worse or to abide their evil one more moment than necessary. She would hope and resist and plan a course for freedom. She would stand fast against discouragement, intimidation, and bad luck. Whatever happened she would rise to her feet and try again. And she would help the others. She would not abandon them.
Meanwhile, Ketel Flatnose, Ivar, and important new allies were nearby and planning her rescue. But things were getting complicated and would require unprecedented courage and extraordinary resourcefulness.