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Main > Scandinavian folktales > Fairy tale "The Icelandic sorceresses"

The Icelandic sorceresses

"Tell me," said Katla, a handsome and lively widow, to Gunlaugar, an accomplished and gallant young warrior, "tell me why thou goest so oft to Mahfahlida? Is it to caress an old woman?"

"Thine own age, Katla," answered the youth inconsiderately, "might prevent thy making that of Geirrida a subject of reproach."

"I little deemed," replied the offended matron, "that we were on an equality in that particular—but thou, who supposest that Geirrida is the sole source of knowledge, mayst find that there are others who equal her in science."

It happened in the course of the following winter that Gunlaugar, in company with Oddo, the son of Katla, had renewed one of those visits to Geirrida with which Katla had upbraided him.

"Thou shalt not depart to-night," said the sage matron; "evil spirits are abroad, and thy bad destiny predominates."

"We are two in company," answered Gunlaugar, "and have therefore nothing to fear."

"Oddo," replied Geirrida, "will be of no aid to thee; but go, since thou wilt go, and pay the penalty of thy own rashness."

In their way they visited the rival matron, and Gunlaugar was invited to remain in her house that night. This he declined, and, passing forward alone, was next morning found lying before the gate of his father Thorbiorn, severely wounded and deprived of his judgment. Various causes were assigned for this disaster; but Oddo, asserting that they had parted in anger that evening from Geirrida, insisted that his companion must have sustained the injury through her sorcery. Geirrida was accordingly cited to the popular assembly and accused of witchcraft. But twelve witnesses, or compurgators, having asserted upon their oath the innocence of the accused party, Geirrida was honourably freed from the accusation brought against her. Her acquittal did not terminate the rivalry between the two sorceresses, for, Geirrida belonging to the family of Kiliakan, and Katla to that of the pontiff Snorro, the animosity which still subsisted between these septs became awakened by the quarrel.

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