Fiddle and Fjell

~ ancestors in Telemark, Norway~
1701 through 1843

Dramatized family history

In the remote, mountainous parish of Telemark, Norway,
the folk of Kviteseid parish left a barebones legacy behind.
We know the dates and places of major events,
but not the circumstances surrounding them.
We have no record of personalities and friendships, opinions and beliefs.

Here I have woven story strands
of possible happenings and conversations
onto the framework of real lives lived long ago.


~ inheritance ~

Aslak stood on the stoop of the farmhouse and looked down the slope. All the lands of Moen had passed into his hands this gray, rainy day -- fields of barley and hay, a creek running at the bottom of the dale, and forests climbing the eastern ridge behind him to summer pastures in the high fjells of Telemark. He took one last glance at the buildings ringing the yard -- summer cookhouse, haybarn, cattle byre, storage sheds standing on pillars out of reach of vermin.

His now, all his.

Heart churning with mingled grief and wonder, the young man turned and went inside again, joining the somber gathering of family and neighbors. Yesterday Aslak's 53-year-old father, Åmund, had died. Today, in the early autumn of 1701, Aslak Åmundsson had become master of Moen.

On the other side of the central hearth, Aslak's younger brothers Olav and Steinar spoke in low voices to their friends. Aslak could read the questions in their eyes when they glanced his way. Would he keep them on? Or send them off to find their own way in the world? Their place at Moen had seemed sure while their father lived. Strapping big sons served a landowner well. But younger brothers, now. Would Aslak value their brawn around the estate, or would he rather hire humble laborers who don't dare argue as brothers do?

Near the window sat their widowed mother, Gunnhild. Their three younger sisters nestled beside her, taking comfort in each other. Aslak braced his shoulders under this new weight. He had responsibility for the womenfolk, at least until the girls reached marrying age.

It made a large household for a twenty-five-year-old to rule.

Aslak made his way across the smoky room, nodding to one neighbor, thanking another for his condolences, turning down a cup of ale.

Steinar stood as he approached, and after a moment's pause, so did Olav. Both seemed to brace themselves.

Aslak put one hand on Olav's shoulder, and the other on Steinar's. "It will take three of us to fill our father's boots. I'm counting on you to help preserve his name and reputation as a great landowner, now and into the next generation. Do you stand with me?"

"Ja!" cried Olav, relief flooding his face.

Steinar grinned. "If you make it worth our while."

Aslak put a growl into his voice. "I have no intention of paying you wages."

Steinar's look of merriment melted. Olav elbowed him and muttered, "I told you--"

"I intend," Aslak continued, "to deed you each an outfarm, where you may, on your own time, begin building your own houses, because I certainly do not want you under my roof after I take a bride!" He locked an arm around each neck and butted their heads together.

Perhaps that was a mistake, he mused, as his brothers pummeled and wrestled him to the floor, the neighbors whooping in a ring around them.

From the windowseat came an exasperated sigh. "Boys, boys," said the widow. "Mind the table legs! You'll upset the soup."

MOEN FOLKS in 1701: (Åmund) & Gunnhild: Aslak (25), Olav, Steinar, Aslaug, Liv, Birgit

Moen farm today: photos taken June 2006
Moen Farm today: photos taken June 2006
looking down the slopes of Moen Farm to Dalaåi creek
Dalaåi creek, below Moen Farm
looking down the slopes of Moen Farm to Dalaåi creek

For more about Moen farm, which dates back to viking times, see MOEN in Appendix 3


~ Liv Steinarsdotter ~

Moen to Tveit to Homme

FACTUAL:   named persons and places     * in most cases
FACTUAL*: year of life event (birth, marriage, death)      
FICTION*:  dialogue;  life event month; cause of death    


~ forest trek ~

MOEN FOLKS in 1701: Aslak & Rannei: Gunnhild, Egeleiv (22), Åmund (16)

MOEN FOLKS in 1701: Steinar & Anne: Gunnhild (9), Liv (8), Olav (2)


On a glorious late-spring morning in 1730, Steinar's third daughter Liv roamed the hayfield near the creek, braiding long-stemmed daisies into crowns and wreaths. The eight-year-old took care not to trample the hay so near to mowing time, and not to soil her skirt and apron, though the hems already hung heavy with dew. Arms full of greenery and blossoms, she ran back uphill to the cluster of buildings at the heart of Moen Farm, now crowded with a noisy mob of family and friends.

"Liv!" cried her mother. "Clean those muddy feet and put your slippers on. It's nearly time to go. Olav! Olav Steinarsson, you naughty boy, climb down from that barrel."

Liv decked herself with the brightest wreath and tossed the rest into the pony cart. Feet washed and stuffed into goatskin slippers, she joined the line of merry kin setting out along the track. At the head of the bridal procession, her cousin Egeleiv rode in the cart, a wedding crown on her head, her black dress trimmed with red braid around the hem, and the bodice embroidered in vibrant oranges and reds. Her belt and necklace were both of silver.

Liv paid the groom little notice as he rode behind the cart on a fjord horse. She had eyes only for Egeleiv, glittering with silver and radiant with joy.

Someday it'll be ME wearing the silver crown, Liv told herself as she straightened the wreath on her brow, and riding in a decorated cart at the head of the line. Someone had draped one of her garlands around the cart pony's neck. She grinned in delight.

the Norwegian breed called the fjord horse
the Norwegian breed called the fjord horse

The bridal procession wound its way along the path that cut across the hillside, some distance above the muddy, narrow valley bottom. Liv could hear the ripple of the creek down below, and the jingling music of the silver bangles hanging from the brim of Egeleiv's crown.

The trail broke out of the forest onto the steep sloping fields of Dalen Farm. The groom's relatives came out to join the parade. A young goat pranced along at Liv's heels, its well-chewed tether dragging behind. She frisked with the kid until its owner caught up and snagged the rope.

view from the yard at Dalen farm
view from the yard at Dalen farm down over its sloping fields

DALEN FOLKS in 1730: Knut & Gunnhild: Sigurd, Salve, Vetle, Såmund (28) Tone, Torbjørg

HOMME FOLKS in 1730: Tarald & Gyrid: Margit, Sigrid, Sveinung (25), Tormod, Sigrid

Back into the woods, the path turned away from the creek, following a lesser stream northeast up the ridge. Liv picked wildflowers along the way, violets and blue anemones and a stalk of white-belled lily of the valley. When they came to the swooping hillside meadows of Homme Farm, twenty-five-year-old Sveinung strode out to meet the throng, along with his younger brother and sister.

"There rides the second prettiest maiden in all the dales," Sveinung said to Egeleiv with a fancy bow.

"The second?" she demanded. "What a fine thing to say on my wedding day!"

Liv skipped closer, the better to hear. What bad manners, to spoil a bride's day of glory. Would Egeleiv give him a tongue-lashing? Would she burst into tears at the challenge to her beauty?

"Ah, but there's to be another wedding," Sveinung answered. "And to these eyes, my Åsne is the loveliest creature on the face of the earth!"

Egeleiv put a hand to her mouth, and her eyes widened in delight. "A maiden has captured your heart at last!" She glanced back at her betrothed who had dallied behind in conversation. "I must forgive you, then, but please don't spoil my day by arguing with Såmund over the charms of your beloved. Åsne, you say. What farm is her home?"

Sveinung of Homme walked beside the cart, gossiping with Egeleiv and the other young folk.

No spat. No tears. Liv rolled her eyes at the syrupy talk of sweethearts, and ran back along the line to find her friend Olav Jonsson who lived at Tveit farm, several miles down the long, narrow valley known as Dalane. He was eleven years old, and just as horrified by such conversation as Liv.

"Hey Olav!" Liv called, catching up to her friend. "Your grandfather is a silversmith, isn't he? Did he make Egeleiv's bridal crown? It's so pretty!"

Olav Jonsson shook his head. "He didn't make it. His father did, back when he first came to Dalane."

"Wow, it's old! Did your mother wear it at her wedding?" Liv asked.

"Ja, and all my aunts in turn. Don't tell Egeleiv, but a curl of filigree is missing from the left side! Grandfather tried to fix it but his eyes have gone bad, and he wouldn't let me try."

Liv bobbed to the side to get a good look ahead. "Why's your father just carrying his fiddle in the middle of the troop? He's supposed to lead us, playing all the way!"

"This long a trek? Play the whole time? He'd wear his fingers down to nubbins, or so he says!"

Liv found a branch the size of a fiddle, hunted for a bow-shaped twig, then sawed away and hummed her favorite tune, dancing her idea of a springar step along the path. Olav drummed the uneven beat on his thighs and crooned a drone note.

The high knoll of Homme's Crest crept past on their right, slowly revealing the vista to the southeast where the land dropped away.

view from Homme area down to Kviteseid
view from Homme area down to Kviteseid

"Look!" Liv cried, pointing down at a glimmer in the distant valley. "Must be Lake Kviteseid-vatn!"

It wasn't Olav who answered but his big brother Torjus, coming up from behind. "Not the lake itself but an inlet. Called Sundkilen. Kviteseid-vatn is that glint shining further off. See? The lake runs behind the high ridge there to the right, stretching way up the dale beyond."

Liv stared into the distance. "So the ridge runs down almost into the lake?"

"Ja. Stabs right out into Kviteseid-vatn."

"You told me about that once," Olav said to his brother. "That word I heard you use for a ribbon of land--?"

"An eid. An isthmus. The isthmus of white. Kvite's Eid. What our parish is named for, Witless!" Torjus rumpled Olav's hair then strode off to catch up with his friends.

Liv and Olav lingered, peering into the bright distance. Down, down the ridge from Homme, barely glimpsed between the towering spruce and pines, the waters shone far off in the late morning light. A dock clung to the shore somewhere down there, Liv had heard, alongside a tannery and a general store -- the humble beginnings of the town of Kviteseid.

"Hey, they've gone on without us!" Olav cried. The two of them ran to catch up.

The bridal procession climbed to the next farm, Huvestad, where three housegirls came running out, garbed in fresh aprons, to join the merry troop. Up on the saddle of the ridge just beyond Huvestad they all stopped for a quick lunch of flatbread and cheese, jokes and laughter. The bride and groom hardly ate a crumb, and soon urged everyone back onto the trail. As they came down northward into the little dale of Råmunddalen, someone started singing a love song. Liv and Olav joined in, belting out lyrics of their own about a dwarf courting a troll-hag until the older youths and maidens pelted them with pine cones.

At another hamlet, the path doubled back southward, picking its way through the flat boggy land bordering a small lake where Råmunddalen opened into the valley of Morgedal. At last Olav's father tuned up his fiddle and took the lead. Soon his sprightly melodies brought a spring back to the footsteps of the tiring folk. Liv skipped along to the music, wishing she could dance the springar as nimbly as Torjus was doing.

The fiddler turned to a bouncy melody when they came to Morgedal Creek, where folk hopped from stone to stone across the ford. Laughing at the silliness of it all, Liv took off her slippers, just in case, and hiked her skirts to keep them dry. Some of the stepping-stones shone wet from other people's mishaps, making them slick for those who followed, but she had no trouble until the last slab. She slipped on moss and would have fallen in if Torjus hadn't grabbed her elbow. "Thousand thanks," she gasped as the tall youth helped her up the bank.

"That is my noble quest, to save lovely maidens in distress." He winked and strode off.

Liv gaped after him. Lovely? "Hah!" She stomped off to join Olav.

After fording the creek, the jovial parade set out on the path along the far side, turning right to follow the valley downstream to the southeast. Out in the fields, strangers paused in their work to wave and cheer.

At last the wedding party came to the churchyard at Brunkeberg. The stavechurch pointed skyward in a jagged tower, each steep pitched roof crowned by a smaller one in a diminishing stack. Porches surrounded the one central room which was only big enough for part of the crowd.

As they drew closer, Liv squinted up the shingled silhouette. Part of the roof seemed to be missing. And black trails snaked their way up the shingles. Ah ja, now she remembered. There'd been a fire years ago.

In the churchyard, Uncle Aslak handed his daughter down from the bridal cart, while most of the women took turns leaning over the reflecting pond to check their hair and tuck stray strands into place. Egeleiv didn't have to take a turn. Her mother and sisters fussed over the bride's hair and clothing and jewelry.

Liv watched, wide-eyed. At the last moment she darted between the womenfolk to give her cousin a hug. "I'll miss you so," she mumbled, her face buried in Egeleiv's arms.

"Silly little bird!" Egeleiv laughed. "I'll be just up the dale. You can come visit any time."

The groom's home, Åkre, lay just up the dale from its mother farm Moen where Egeleiv and Liv had grown up together. Liv glanced at him now, standing a few steps away. With shining eyes, Såmund Knutsson Åkre watched his bride-to-be finish preparing to enter the church at his side.

"It won't be the same," Liv told her beautiful cousin. "You'll be a wife, now. You won't run with me in the meadows anymore."

"Nei, not very often," Egeleiv said. "But I'll let you play with my babies when they come. And when they grow old enough, you may take them up the fjell and show them Gygri's Nose."

Liv's eyes brightened. "I'll teach them the proper way to greet old Gygri!"

"Ja, you'll be good at that. You throw like a boy! Now hurry or you won't find a good spy hole."

Liv ran off to jostle with the boys for a perch in one of the porches, peering into the main chamber of the church which was packed with grownups standing shoulder to shoulder. Odd posts stood among them, bracing blackened beams overhead. A bird flew in through a gaping hole off to one side, high up a sooty wall.

Olav pulled one of Liv's braids, so she socked him on the shoulder -- and he fell off his roost. Liv grinned at his big brother Torjus who rolled his eyes at her childishness. She shrugged and turned back to watch Egeleiv take the hand of Såmund Knutsson Åkre.

Liv wrinkled her nose at the thought of holding hands with a boy. What a price to pay, just to get a turn wearing the shiny silver crown.

There is no wedding date listed for Egeleiv, but since her first child was born in 1731, it is likely she married the year before.


~ Gygri's nose ~


All winter, whenever Liv skied up to visit her cousin at Åkre farm, Egeleiv's little son Knut reminded her that she'd promised to take him to see Gygri's Nose. "I'm five now, Aunt Liv. Big and strong and ready to hike up the fjell!"

Egeleiv told him over and over, "Not until after the spring equinox. Winter days are too short for that long a trek."

Every morning he asked, "Are the days long enough yet?"

The day after equinox, fourteen-year-old Liv led the way up the goat path. Knut followed close behind her, and bringing up the rear marched Liv's good friend Olav and his big brother Torjus.

"Why," Knut panted, "does Torjus always tag along with Olav?"

Liv had wondered that herself. Most often it was little brothers tagging along with their big brothers. And nineteen was awfully old to get excited about Knut's first time up the mountain.

She shrugged it off. "We need someone to carry the lunch basket, don't we?"

Clouds flitted across the sun, and Liv wrapped her shawl tighter. She passed pockets of snow still packed deep in the shadow of tree and boulder. This high the air nipped the nose, but it smelled so delicious after the long winter spent in the smoky indoors.

"Look!" Knut cried, pointing to a bright patch of yellow peeking through the snow. "What's that?"

Liv smiled. "Coltsfoot! First flower of spring!"

Knut gathered a bunch, but soon tired of the bouquet and scattered the stems along his path.

"Pick up a stone now," Liv told her little relative. "We're almost there."

Knut hefted a rock as big as his fist.

"Not that big, silly," she giggled. "You'll want to throw it, not dump it just beyond your reach. Ja, that one will do."

The path wound around a bend.

"You see," Liv told Knut, "the giant Gygri was walking along here when she sneezed and her nose fell off. There it is, that great boulder just down the hillside. See how it looks like a nose?"

"A nose with big warts," Knut hooted.

"You should never be rude to a giant," Liv warned.

"Not even to its nose," Olav said with a laugh as he came up to the two of them.

"So whenever you pass by Gygri's nose, you must be polite and call out a greeting," Liv said.

"And just to make sure you get Gygri's attention," Olav added, "be sure and throw a rock at the nose first. Like this!" He lobbed a stone and hit the boulder with a loud clink. "Good day, Mistress Gygri!" he yelled.

It took Knut three tries, but he finally threw far enough to nick the giant's nose. "Good day, Mistress Gygri!" he shouted, then turned to Liv. "Did she hear me?"

Torjus ruffled Knut's hair. "I'm sure she did. You're a good shot, once you get warmed up." He and Liv added their greetings, one after another. Then both threw their stones -- at the same time.

The rocks hit each other in midflight and ricocheted away from the boulder, which set Liv laughing. "We couldn't have done that if we'd tried," she said, and they spent the better part of an hour tossing stones together while Olav and Knut scrambled about the hillside looking for the best snow for snowballs.

On the path homeward again, Torjus had the funniest stories to tell about learning to play his father's Hardanger fiddle. Liv swung the empty basket as she walked by his side, wondering at the fluttery feeling that tickled her ribs whenever he smiled that wide grin of his in her direction. But she was glad he didn't try to hold her hand. That would have spoiled it all.

ÅKRE FOLKS in 1736: Egeleiv & Såmund: Knut (5), Gunnhild (1), Margit (0)

MOEN FOLKS in 1736: Steinar & Anne: Egeleiv (17), Gunnhild (15), Liv (14), Olav (8), Åse (3), Åmund (0)

TVEIT FOLKS in 1736: Jon: Torjus (19?), Olav (17)


~ silver goblet ~


Liv clung to Torjus' hand as they scrambled up boulders beside the waterfall. "How lovely!" Liv cried, above the rush and splash of the falls. Aspens shook their golden leaves overhead in a rustle nearly as loud as the tumbling water. Between their pale trunks she could see the sloping fields of Morgedal below.

a waterfall among the aspens on the way up to Hatveit farm
a waterfall among the aspens on the way up to Håtveit farm

"How did you ever learn about this beautiful place?" she asked.

"Jon, over in Byggland." Torjus pointed across the valley. "He told me Håtveit was the most romantic lookout for miles around. He should know!"

Liv laughed at the tale, for at each dance that year of 1743, she had seen Jon take a swing around the barn floor with every single girl.

"When he told about kissing you behind the barn," Torjus said, "I was ready to toss him from a bridge."

"He never kissed me behind any barn!" Liv broke in, tossing back her blond braids.

Torjus laughed. "It was Liv Talleivsdotter here at Håtveit he meant! But this is what ran through my jealous thoughts." He drew Liv close for a kiss.

The late autumn sun glanced through the dancing boughs to spatter their clothing with ever-changing golden dapples. No thought of silver crowns crowded Liv's mind, for she already wore a shining wreath of a different kind. She was twenty-one years old, and Torjus, older brother of her childhood buddy, was twenty-six, and the light of her life.

"Are you hungry?" Torjus asked when they finally broke their kiss.

"Hungry? Who needs food when they have a free day to spend with their beloved?"

Torjus grinned and tugged on one of her braids. "Well, I am hungry. And look, we're in luck. Someone left a picnic basket behind this tree!"

Liv sniffed. "No one just leaves picnic baskets lying around, especially not at the top of such a climb."

Torjus shrugged. "Maybe it was left by a nisse from a hollow in a magical oak. Or one of the tusse-folk from under the mountain." He leaned close to Liv and whispered, "Who knows what's inside. Perhaps enchanted food that will keep us young forever! Wouldn't that be a fine treat!"

"You planned all this, didn't you?" Liv said, reaching for the basket. "What a sweetheart! Well then, what enchanted dishes have we to sup upon?"

She drew out a cloth-wrapped parcel of kling -- flatbread layered with butter. "Mm!"

"Ja, it's 'mm' all right. I got your cousin Egeleiv to make this batch for us."

"She did? Wonderful! She makes the best flatbread! The envy of all the travelling baker-wives in the parish."

"I told her I needed her best for a special occasion."

"How special?" Liv licked the lightly sugared butter from her fingers.

Torjus drew a silver goblet from the basket.

Liv's eyes widened. "That's your grandpa's best cup! Shame on you for stealing such a treasure for our little outing!"

"I didn't steal it. He loaned it to me, gladly." Torjus scooped a brimming cupful from the waterfall. "Drink me a toast, Liv! Skoal!" He sipped and handed the goblet to Liv.

With a grin she took it. "What a tease. Very well. Skoal!" She drank, and shivered. "Brr! Cold as a glacier. What are we toasting?"

Torjus' ears turned red. "Look in the basket."

Liv did, and found a small wooden box, cleverly jointed at the seams, painted with the swirling bright floral pattern of rosemaling. She took off the lid, and gasped. "Oh Torjus!" was all she said at sight of the plain silver ring inside.

With a squeak to his voice he asked, "Will you marry me?"

MOEN FOLKS in 1743: Steinar & Anne: Egeleiv (24), Gunnhild (22), Liv (21), Olav (15), Åse (10), Åmund (7), Olav (4)

TVEIT FOLKS in 1743: Jon: Torjus (26?), Olav (24)

map of Kviteseid area in the early 1700s
Kviteseid area in the early 1700s
close-up below:
map of farms of Morgedal and Dalane
some farms in Morgedal and Dalane


~ Torjus the Kind ~


Fiddle music wound like ribbons from ahead on the forest path. Liv glanced back for the hundredth time at Torjus, riding behind her pony-cart. Her heart thrilled at how handsome he looked in his fine waistcoat and jacket, breeches, knee stockings and buckled shoes.

A chuckle rose from the pile of cushions beside her. "I declare, Liv," rasped her ninety-year-old grandmother, Gunnhild. "Your eyes sparkle brighter than the sun on your silver crown! Watch out, it's slipping."

Liv straightened the wide-brimmed headpiece, but spared it no more thought in spite of the glittering bangles dancing on all sides. She didn't feel the weight of all that filigree work, her spirits so light and thrumming. Head in a whirl, she didn't recognize her surroundings. "How much further?"

Gunnhild creaked another laugh, patting Liv's knee. "It's not even time for second breakfast. We've a long ride yet to go."

Liv sighed. "Feels like days since we set out. So slow! Makes me want to lash the pony into a gallop."

"And run over the fiddler at the head of the line? What an impression to make on your soon-to-be father-in-law! Hoof prints and tire tracks across poor Jon's back. Look. We're coming to Homme farm now."

Farm owners Sveinung and Åsne joined the bridal procession with glad greetings. Liv grinned back. She'd been just a child when she'd seen such delight and anticipation on Sveinung's face, that day when it had been her cousin's turn to wear the crown. Now the anticipation belonged to her and Torjus.

When Sveinung and Åsne moved on, their sons Halvor and Tarald flung handfuls of barley at Liv, up on her pony-cart perch, then ran away giggling while old Gunnhild sputtered and brushed herself off. "Rogues and rapscallions!"

"It's fine, Grandmother," Liv said, laughing. "That much less grain to pelt me at the proper time."

"Who were those little monsters?"

"Tarald Sveinungsson, same age as Åmund--"

"Åmund who?"

"My little brother, Grandmother!"

"Oh ja, him." Gunnhild nodded as the cart bounced along the trail.

"And his big brother Halvor. They were in and out of Moen all winter, remember? Taking lessons with Åmund."

"What lessons?"

"It was our turn to host the roving teacher--" Liv began.

"That funny-talking fellow with the spectacles who kept inviting himself to our meals?"

"We gave him room and board in exchange for teaching the boys to read."

"They're much too young for all that bother, aren't they?" Gunnhild crossed her arms.

"Åmund and Tarald are eight, Halvor is twelve, and Parliament says all children must learn to read. It's required for confirmation now, remember?"

"I got confirmed without being able to read, and so did you."

Liv cradled her new hymnbook. "Ja, but I can read just fine now, after sitting in on the boys' lessons. I can write, too." She smiled bright as sunshine, remembering one particular birch tree sporting letters she'd carved into the bark: TORJUS and LIV. And before long, to be carved into the lintel of her new home.

The fiddler fiddled, and people laughed, and birds sang in the woods as the cart creaked slowly along the winding mountain path. Farmor Gunnhild dozed against cushions.

A lovely day for an idle wander, but Liv yearned instead for a gallop. If only Brunkeberg church would come into sight!


Hours, days, weeks later, it seemed, the bridal cart rolled into the churchyard. Liv's cousins lifted her grandmother Gunnhild down and along the path to the church.

Liv glanced at Torjus, who was dismounting nearby, but her father reached the cart first.

"Not yet," Steinar teased, offering an arm to the bride. "I'll keep you under my wing just a little longer."

Liv tried to pout at her father as she climbed down, steady under his ever-reliable grip. She slowed near the reflecting pool, her hand trembling where he held it in the crook of his arm.

Torjus came close behind, she could feel him, couldn't keep from twisting for a delighted glance.

He smiled like the summer sun.

"Today, lovely Liv," Steinar murmured, turning her toward the church.

At the doorway stood the pastor, garbed in black, looking grim with his mouth pressed thin in a straight line. But then Liv caught the twinkle in his eye as they approached. He turned his gaze and nodded.

From across the graveyard came the low sweet blare of a lur, the voice of high mountain pastures where herders used the straight woodwind instrument to summon cattle back to shelter.

The pastor led the wedding party inside, wending through the posts that kept the ceiling from collapse, to the head of the chapel, to the place of honor before the altar. Two intricately carved high-back chairs, the only seats in the chamber, waited for bride and groom. Torjus saw Liv settled onto the first, where she smoothed out her brightly-embroidered skirts.

But then he whispered in the pastor's ear. At the man's nod, Torjus scooted his chair to one side and beckoned old Gunnhild to take the seat. Then he returned to stand at Liv's side.

"Torjus the Kind," she murmured up at him.

He winked.

Someone slammed the church door once, twice, thrice for luck, and for banishing evil spirits from this hallowed occasion. On the third slam, something creaked ominously overhead.

The close-packed crowd stirred, studying the charred joists, watching soot drift from between the panels. The damaged stavechurch held its peace. People shrugged it off. The preacher launched into a sermon.

Which went on and on. Liv sighed at this latest delay. She and Torjus had already waited so long. All winter Torjus' uncle had carried messages back and forth between his father and hers until they'd come to an agreement about how much Torjus would pay in a bride-price to Steinar -- which Steinar would then bestow upon Liv as her inheritance. Shrewd bartering finished at last, the menfolk had gathered face to face in a riotous drinking party to celebrate the union between their families.

Liv glanced left at her mother, who smiled back. Anne had brushed Liv's hair that morning into a flowing mane down her back. Liv hadn't worn her hair loose since she ran the meadows with Olav in her childhood, and she wouldn't wear it loose in public ever again. She would knot it up like a proper wife and wear a married woman's kerchief. Married! She grinned again, so wide her cheeks hurt. Would that pastor never finish?

At last-- Pronounced man and wife-- Their hands clenching tight together--

Not the end yet. Liv could feel Torjus groan under his breath as the pastor rambled on in a prayer of intercession, and then a psalm, and then a benediction and blessing, keeping to the proper order of things.

At last, at last! Bride and groom strode out of the dark church and into the glory of a new life together.


The groom finally had the chance to sit beside the bride -- and her grandmother. Liv didn't hear the pony's nicker, nor her grandmother's complaints about the long day, nor the merry voices in the crowd following behind. She didn't see where in the group walked her mother and father. She clasped hands with Torjus and leaned on his shoulder, feeling his heart thrumming as swiftly as her own.

The trail ran down to the new docks on Sundkilen in full view of the peninsula that gave the parish its name: Kvite's Eid, the peninsula of white. Where the eid joined the mainland, a trail split to run up the spine of the peninsula. The path to Liv's new home, the farmstead called Tveit.

Torjus' father Jon and his uncles hurried on ahead to the family settlement. They threw open the barn doors and ushered the troop of guests inside.

Lamps lit the wide chamber. The threshing floor gleamed. Greenery decked the half-walls and partitions, and trestle tables stood to the side, laden with the wedding feast.

Jon cried out, "Welcome to Tveit, the crown of Kviteseid -- which has gained today the brightest of jewels! Skoal to my eldest son and heir, Torjus, and to his lovely Liv! May this union double the shining light of the eid of White!"

Bride and groom raised their cups to his.

"Sveinung Homme, please join me," Jon went on. "Folks say our friend Sveinung from up the Dales has the sharp wit, glib tongue, and firm hand needed to serve as kjøgemester. I leave you to it then. Everyone give him heed, and we'll all have a merry time. Eat! Drink! Dance!"

Fiddles and langeleiks and fipple flutes struck up the dance tunes of the fjells. Liv and Torjus hardly had time to grab a bite of salmon before getting swept into the mad whirl.

The bride danced with any man who would toss a coin into the new couple's pot. Torjus took a turn playing fiddle, and winked at Liv whenever she spun past.

Ale flowed freely, and like always some fools drank more than they should. The owner of Holtan farm got into a fistfight with the heir of Lundevall. When Sveinung Homme hustled the drunks outside, their wives followed, continuing their gossip while rummaging through satchels to find the bandaging they brought to every public occasion. What was a memorable wedding celebration without a good brawl?

Liv's mother Anne pulled bride and groom aside long enough to serve them some wedding kling: cheese, cream, and syrup sandwiched between layers of barley flatbread.

"The evening is growing late," Torjus whispered in Liv's ear, then tapped a shiny bauble dangling from the rim of her silver wedding crown. "Haven't you worn this long enough?"

"I must dance it off, you know that! For luck." She loosened the ribbon holding the crown in place. "One more springar should do."

"Halvor," Torjus called as the two Homme boys ran past. "Tell your father it's time for the halling dance."

Halvor ran to find Sveinung.

Liv and Torjus spun around the barn floor one last time, timing it so they drew near to her mother at the end. Liv tossed her head -- and Anne caught the crown as it tumbled free.

Sveinung's voice pealed over the crowd, calling the young men to compete while the fiddler took up the halling tune. Youths lined up to throw themselves into spinning leaps and cartwheels, trying to kick the highest and tag a rafter.

"I'd challenge them all if I didn't have a better leap to make tonight," Torjus said, grinning. "Come, love. I've shared you long enough."

They slipped out, unnoticed, into the night.

MOEN FOLKS in 1744: Steinar & Anne: Liv (22), Olav (16), Åse (11), Åmund (8), Olav (5)

TVEIT FOLKS in 1744: Jon: Torjus (27?), Olav (25)

HOMME FOLKS in 1744: Sveinung & Åsne: Halvor (12), Tarald (8)

a loft: storage room below, guest chamber above: the bridal suite!
a "loft": storage room below, guest chamber above: the bridal suite!


~ wheat bread and saplings ~


Liv and Torjus spent their "days of wheat bread" -- their first month together as man and wife -- in the upstairs guest chamber of a loft on his father's farm at Tveit. Every day they shared the traditional cup of honey-mead and a small round of wheaten flatbread, an extravagance in this land where the staff of life was cold-tolerant barley or rye.

Liv cooked up the inevitable barley porridge for every meal. Though the bland dish never varied, Torjus would declare, "As delicious as a spring morning," or, "As tasty as kling."

"It's enchanted to keep us young forever," Liv always responded with a grin.

another "loft," on stilts to discourage vermin; grass growing on the roofs for good insulation

One day soon after they moved into the cottage with his parents, curtaining off a corner for themselves, a group of Torjus' friends rode up to the farm, his brother among them. "Luck in your marriage!" called out Olav as he swung to the ground with a bulky bag.

"And many children!" added Jon Åsmundsson from Byggland, who carried another lumpy sack.

"Why, whatever can it be?" Liv asked, feigning surprise.

Torjus drew a small fir tree, complete with root ball, from each bag.

Another friend dismounted with an armful of spades, and the young men set to shoveling a hole on each side of the cottage doorway, throwing jokes with each spadeful of dirt as they carried out the tradition for newlyweds.

"You will all join us for the morning meal, won't you?" Liv asked.

"We've already eaten," Jon admitted, "but my belly would delight in a second helping. What's on your table?"

"Barley mush, of course. But I have a large crock of honey and a pat of fresh butter."

Dirt flew, and before long the two fir seedlings stood rooted in their new home, symbol of the new couple's hope for children soon to bless their marriage.

Every day Torjus and Liv watered the small trees, tending them as lovingly as they would their own children. Whether the firs helped or not, Liv bore their first child the very next year: a sweet little girl they named Sigrid after Torjus' mother. Cousin Egeleiv cooked the childbirth porridge -- the same old barley dish but with extra milk and butter -- and all their relatives celebrated the new arrival.

After the spring barley harvest and again in the autumn, Liv asked her cousin Egeleiv to visit. Liv tried her hardest to master the baker-wife skill of rolling out flatbread as thin and smooth as a sheet of birchbark. She wanted to provide the best for her family, but she just didn't have her cousin's knack.

"You do well enough for everyday flatbread," Egeleiv said. "Just let me know when you want the extra-fine rounds. I'll take some of your fine embroidery in trade!"

During the long winters shut inside their smoky home, Torjus started teaching Liv the fingering on his father's fiddle, and they laughed together at the shrieking sounds she coaxed from the instrument. At such times his parents sought chores outdoors, out of earshot.

"It's clear you'll never lead a wedding procession," Torjus teased with hands clapped over his ears.

Liv grinned. "But you will soon enough, my love."

Just then Sigrid squalled from her cradle. Liv handed Torjus the fiddle. "Play her a lullaby," she said. "She likes your music better than mine. Much, much better!"

TVEIT FOLKS in 1745: Jon: Olav (26); Torjus (28?) & Liv (23): Sigrid (0)


~ squalling flock ~


Liv thrust open the door of her uncle's home at Moen and burst out onto the stoop. "Halvor!" she called to the only person in sight. "Where are the menfolk?"

Halfway across the courtyard, the fifteen-year-old visitor from Homme paused, a sack of grain across his shoulder. "Down by the hayfield, watching the stallion they just brought over from Brekke farm." He glanced at the farmhouse. "Your cousin Egeleiv, has she--?"

A baby wailed

Liv grinned. "Ja, she has! Time to call Såmund."

Halvor turned and bellowed, "Knut! Come take a message to your father!"

Egeleiv's eldest, now sixteen, came running from the threshing barn, another bag whumping on his back.

Liv called out, "Tell your father to finish his horse-haggling and go bid the neighbors to come. I've already set the childbirth porridge to cooking."

Knut whooped, dumped his barley sack, and took off running, Halvor close behind.

Liv grinned again as she went back in to tend the porridge. What a surprise Egeleiv had in store for her husband.

News traveled fast. The courtyard was milling with the folk of Moen and their closest neighbors by the time Såmund arrived from the lower fields. Halvor and Knut were setting up trestle tables and benches. Liv's two-year-old daughter Sigrid climbed around on the forgotten mountain of grain sacks. Egeleiv's three daughters ran a fruitless chase, trying to catch their little brother and the youngster visiting from Brekke, both three years old.

Liv's husband Torjus balanced baby Anne while he argued the merits of certain stallions with Olav of Brekke, who also dandled a bairn. The year 1747 was turning into a bounteous one for babies. A firstborn son had just graced the household of another Olav, Torjus' brother who now lived at Støyle farm.

Olav Brekke's wife came up, out of breath. "I can't grab hold of that boy of ours. He's wild as a colt. Give me the baby, Master Horseman, and you try catching him

"I'll fetch the little ruffians," offered Knut, and he went after the rowdy three-year-olds. He returned with one boy riding piggyback and laughing, and another running behind and clamoring for a turn.

When Såmund at last set foot in the house, he blinked at the sight. Egeleiv reclined against the cushions on their corner bed, a tiny squalling babe nestled in each arm.

"Ah, nei, you'll not trick me!" He grinned. "Whose is the other one, out of all this flock of babes?"

"Both are ours, dearest." Egeleiv laughed. "Twins! We'll get to use both names we'd decided upon."

"A boy and a girl?" Såmund's jaw dropped, and the womenfolk giggled.

"Sweet little Torbjørg," Egeleiv murmured to one babe, then lifted the other. "And to carry on my father's name at last, our precious little Aslak."

"The porridge is ready!" Liv cried. "Who didn't bring a spoon?"

ÅKRE FOLKS in 1747: Såmund & Egeleiv: Knut, Gunnhild, Margit, Rannei, Torbjørn (3), Torbjørg (0), Aslak (0)

MOEN FOLKS in 1747: Aslak; Åmund & Åshild: Aslak, Gro, Rannei (0)

TVEIT FOLKS in 1747: Jon; Torjus (28?) & Liv (25): Sigrid (2), Anne (0)

HOMME FOLKS in 1747: Sveinung & Åsne: Halvor (16), Tarald (11)

BREKKE FOLKS in 1747: Olav & Liv Håtveit: Talleiv (3), Knut (0)

Egeleiv (at Åkre) and Liv (at Tveit) were cousins


~ fiddlers in the fjells ~

TVEIT FOLKS in 1750: Jon; Torjus (31?) & Liv (28): Sigrid (5), Anne (3), Margit (1)


Torjus' bow whipped up and down, and the fiddle notes rippled like aspen leaves fluttering on an autumn wind. Liv danced with her father and younger brothers, wishing another fiddler would show up at the harvest gathering so she could take a whirl around the barn floor with her dearest.

The next dance had hardly started when her brother Olav the Elder handed Liv off to a surprised Halvor of Homme. "Charley horse," Olav explained as he hobbled to a bale of hay.

"I'm not good at the telespringar," Halvor said.

"Just keep the beat and don't worry about your feet," Liv quipped.

Still, the eighteen-year-old blushed with every misstep. Liv took pity on him and broke off when the tune began its repeat. "Don't want to make Torjus jealous!" She grinned at the young man whose face turned even brighter red. "And I'd better go check on the baby."

Her mother Anne held squirming little Margit who wanted to get down and toddle into the throng of dancers. Sigrid, five, and three-year-old Fair Anne dozed on a blanket nearby. Liv's three girls had had a busy day, always underfoot as the womenfolk prepared the harvest feast.

"Do you want to get out and dance, Mor?" Liv asked when she plopped down beside Anne.

"Oh nei," the woman answered as Margit crawled onto Liv's lap. "Just watching you tires me out! I'm glad to sit a spell after such a day on my feet. Look, here comes the fiddler from Høydalsmo."

Liv thrust Margit back into Grandmother Anne's arms. "Now Torjus can dance!" She bounded up and forged a path through the dancers.

Torjus was already talking to the new fiddler. To Liv's surprise, he took the man's fiddle and handed it to her. "Now we can play that duet you've been learning." He grinned.

It was Liv's turn to blush. "I'm not good enough yet!"

"Just follow me!" Torjus leaped into a country air.

Liv laughed and set bow to the strings. After several years' work at the fiddle, she no longer screeched any notes, but she would never match her beloved's nimble fingerwork. She carried along a simple tune, weaving into his frolicking melody. She didn't try any trills or grace notes, glad to let him do the fancy part.

Later they danced together until their feet ached, only stopping when little Margit began to howl. Grandmother Anne had tempted the toddler with a cloth dipped in goat milk, but the child knew the difference and would not be put off any longer.

a Hardanger fiddle
a Hardanger fiddle (and a langeleik and a blokkfløyte)

As they curled up together that night, their children sleeping close by, Liv and Torjus talked in the dark. "Three girls so far, one every two years," Torjus said. "It's time to get a son, don't you think?"

"Three sons, dearest," Liv whispered. "One named Jon for your father, one named Steinar for mine, and the third--"

"Don't be greedy now," Torjus teased, curling one finger in her tresses.

"And the third named after his own father!"

"Hmm," Torjus murmured. "Breaking tradition, now, are we?"

"Why not? It's my favorite name in all the world."

~ ~ ~

The next morning dawned bright and golden, aspen and birch gilding the ridges, sun shining bright over the stubbly fields. Liv's heart swelled with delight. Life was rich, wonderful, all she could ever ask for.

That afternoon, helping a neighbor clear land for next year's tilling, Torjus was crushed to death by a falling pine.

Torjus died sometime before 1752. No cause of death is listed.


~ barley mush ~


Liv packed the silent fiddle with the rest of her belongings, took her three little girls, and moved home to her parents at Moen.

Little Margit had to go through an early weaning. No more mother's milk for her, for the young widow grieved deep as an icy fjord, soul wracked in mourning. She often left the girls with her mother Anne or cousin Egeleiv, and wandered the lonely fjells, weeping in the hushed forest aisles.

When at last she could cry no more, Liv gathered her strength and came back to the living. She found a smile for her children, though a terrible loneliness haunted her gaze for years afterward. Each mealtime, her heart panged with grief as she dipped her spoon into the barley mush. "Enchanted to keep us young forever," Torjus had joked about the bland dish nearly every day their six years together. How she longed for different fare that would not wake such painful memories.

Life went on for the folk at Moen, which overflowed with relations. Cousin Egeleiv's firstborn son Knut, now twenty-one, bought Dalen farm from his father's second cousin, an old man living alone. He rallied his kin to help repair the fences and sheds, then brought his aging grandmother home from the valley where she had lived for several years.

Liv's brother Olav the Elder bought a farm, too.

"What's it called?" asked their 13-year-old brother, Olav the Younger.

"Utsund. Not far from Haukom."

Young Olav planted fists on hips and demanded of Old Olav, "First Gunnhild, now you. What's so great about the valley? Liv, tell him what a fool he is, leaving the dales!"

Liv just shrugged and went on carding wool. If he wanted to live closer to their elder sister Gunnhild, that was his business.

Big Olav wrestled his little brother into the corner and tickled him until he yelped. "A fool, am I? I need to move far enough away that you can't so easily leave toads in my blankets."

Little Olav cackled. "Made you jump, didn't I?"

"Once, I'll admit. Now I halfway expect them. But I'll put up with them no longer because, well--" He drew a deep breath, turned to Steinar, and took a stand. "Father, I wish to marry Guro of Skarprud."

Steinar arched his brows, drawing breath to speak, but Little Olav drowned him out, whooping and prancing around the hearth. "Big Olav for the Big Gamble! Big Olav for the Big Gamble!" he chanted. He tugged on Liv's kerchief. "Olav's getting married! That means another feast, and that means more of Cousin Egeleiv's scrumptious wedding kling!"

Liv shooed him off. "The rest of us are lucky to get a share, the way you gobble it up," she grumbled, tucking her kerchief back into place.

Anne spoke up. "We must write to Egeleiv," she said. "She'll need time to prepare for the journey home."

"I must get started building us a house," Big Olav said. He turned to his younger brother. "You may carve toads on the doorposts, if you wish, but no toads in my wedding bed or I'll toss you into the crack of Serpent-Lair Cliff."

Steinar rose and reached for his heavy winter coat. "I'll go ask Aslak to negotiate the bride-price. If you're sure, that is."

Olav's cheeks turned red. "Ja, Far, I'm sure. Uncle Aslak is just the man."

Little Olav darted to his other sister, nineteen-year-old Åse, who sat spinning in the far corner. "Next it'll be your turn to marry, and we'll get another wedding feast."

Åse snorted. "Not anytime soon."

"Uff da, you'll never marry." He sighed in disgust. "Spending all spring and summer up at the seter, every single year. Who'd want to marry an old, wrinkled dairy-maid?"

"I'm not wrinkled." Åse turned back to the wool, picking at a matted clump.

Olav tried to steal her distaff, but she whacked him over the head with it. He laughed and danced away. "Where's Åmund? He's the only one hasn't heard yet."

"He's off hunting with Tarald from Homme again," Big Olav said. "And he was the first to hear. Unlike you, Rattle Tongue, he knows how to keep his mouth shut."

MOEN FOLKS in 1750: Steinar & Anne: Olav (22), Åse (17), Åmund (14), Olav (11)

also:: Liv (28): Sigrid (5), Anne (3), Margit (1)


~ dawn ~


Åmund rolled his eyes at all the marriage negotiations and threw himself into farmwork to avoid the topic of weddings. Tarald of Homme, also sixteen like Åmund, often appeared at Moen when his own summer chores were done, and in the winter, the two went hunting together. It was six miles from Moen to Homme, with only the farm of Dalen in between -- practically next door neighbors in this mountainous terrain.

Sometimes Tarald's brother Halvor came along. He was a year older than the reclusive Åse, so the family puzzled why he never gave her more than a polite greeting. She seemed content to ignore him as well.

Olav the Younger teased everyone mercilessly and found the cleverest excuses to avoid his work. He was the first one to make the thirty-year-young widow smile again. Liv had avoided the neighborhood dances for a year and a half, but finally found the strength of will to mingle. It was especially painful to watch the fiddler from Høydalsmo. In her vision, the ghost of Torjus took the man's place. She had to duck her head to hide the tears.

Midway through that first barn dance, Young Olav grabbed her hand in spite of Liv's protests. "Let someone else hold up the wall for a while, Sister," he told her with a grin as he hauled her to her feet. "The girls my age scream and run when I ask them to dance, and I really need more practice."

She scowled at him. "I don't blame them. I'm scared to dance with you, too, Lead-Feet. Ask me again next year."

"Please? You know the steps so well. Help me get the feel."

Liv rolled her eyes. "Once around the floor, then. But watch my toes."

He pranced around with merry abandon, laughing in a mock apology each time he stepped on her foot. With one joke after another, he charmed Liv into partnering that whole dance number, not just once around.

By the end of the evening, her pulse thrumming and chest heaving from the energetic steps, the midnight shadows in her heart had lightened to mere twilight.

At the next barn dance, Olav coaxed Liv to be his partner before she could stake out a seat to the side. At the second song, her brother Åmund took her for a whirl. His buddy Tarald from Homme asked her next, followed by his brother Halvor.

Unlike the younger boys, twenty-year-old Halvor -- much improved over the last two years -- knew the steps well, and Liv could throw herself into the gaiety of the dance. "Tell me," she said breathlessly when the fiddler took a break and the folk milled in jovial conversation. "Did Olav plan all this? He asked you all to keep me from brooding on the sidelines, didn't he?"

Halvor's eyes widened. "Not so! We're all glad to take a turn. Your feet trip as lightly as a goat on the crags. People say you must have been touched by the magic of a fossegrim, the way you whirl and never miss a step."

Liv blushed. Ever since she was Halvor's age, she had delighted in dance, charmed not by a fossegrim, but by the joy of prancing at Torjus' side.

The magic still lingered. And twilight turned to dawn.


~ oats and rye ~


Liv was carrying a basket of yarn out to the sleigh when Halvor of Homme skied up the path to Moen. His breath steamed in the chill air, and his cheeks flushed as red as the clouds overhead. The twenty-three-year-old leaned on his pole as he paused to catch his wind.

"Good day!" Liv said as she settled the basket.

"It's true, then," Halvor panted. "You're leaving."

"I'm part of my father's household. He's leaving, and so must I."

Halvor seemed at a loss for words. "Where?" was all he said.

"He bought the farm at Utbøen, close to Kviteseid. My sister Gunnhild at Haukom sent him word the land was for sale."

"But why would he want to leave?"

Liv shrugged. "Moen properly belongs to my uncle Aslak, and my cousins will inherit. There are too many kin here now. The fields can't support us all."

"Barley fields," Halvor murmured. He looked out across the sloping white landscape, tinted rose with the glow from the early afternoon sky. A red sunset meant Steinar's clan should have fair weather ahead for their journey on the frozen streambed, and plenty of moonlight to see their way once the long hours of night settled in. "Do you want to leave?" he asked, his voice cracking.

"What choice do I have? My three daughters need a home, and there's none here for us, not any longer."

"Oats and rye," Halvor blurted.


"I'll plant oats and rye. I know how you hate barley mush. Marry me, and come live at Homme, and I'll plant oats and rye, and whenever we have a good year I'll buy wheat."

Tears sprang to Liv's eyes, and she turned away to wipe at them. The mountain wind scraped like ice at her damp cheeks.

"I know I'm not half the man Torjus was," Halvor said. "I'm not even half his age, that is, if he'd lived." He stammered a moment, stumbling over his poor choice of words. "B-but when Tarald told me what Åmund said, I thought my heart would stop. I can't bear the thought of these dales without you."

Liv caught her breath in a muffled sob.

"I wouldn't blame you if you said no," Halvor stammered. "Perhaps these fjells and dales bring too painful a memory for you. Perhaps you need to go away, to find new surroundings where you can start a new life. Perhaps you need to forget."

"I can never forget," Liv breathed, too low for him to hear.

"But please, just think it over. I'm the heir of Homme. I'll give all my labor and love to you."

Liv turned halfway towards Halvor, her gaze on a star that winked in the north. "I would want to name my first son Torjus," she whispered.

"Done. My word. His memory will always be welcome in my home. In our home."

Sigrid came out of the farmhouse, a large bag in her arms. Her footsteps crunched on the courtyard icepack.

"Siri dear," Liv said, her voice high. "Take that back inside. I don't know when we'll leave, but not today. There's something I must think about."

"Ja, Mor," the girl answered. "Good day, Halvor. Aren't you cold without a cap?"

Liv glanced at him then, and saw his woolen hat wrung tight in his hands. His light brown hair danced in the stiff breeze, flecked with ice crystals. "Come inside for a hot drink, Halvor. Your ears are turning blue."

"I'm afraid what your father will think of my offer. I can afford a good bride-price, but my age--"

Liv put a hand on his arm. "I'm a widow, Halvor, not a young maiden. To remarry is my decision, and mine alone. Come have a seat by the fire, and a drink." Her voice turned wry. "And I'll make you some hearty barley mush to warm you for your trek home."

Moen folks in 1755: patriarch Aslak
    Åmund & Åshild: Aslak, Gro, Rannei, Tarjei
    Steinar & Anne: Olav, Åse, Åmund, Olav
    Liv (33): Sigrid (10), Anne (8), Margit (6)

Homme folks in 1755: Sveinung (50) & Åsne (46): Halvor (18), Tarald (14)


Steinar delayed the moving of his household for a month while Liv and Halvor carried on a quick courtship. In the end she agreed. "I have always liked you, Halvor, and the generosity of your heart brings a warm glow to my own. I will be your wife, whether you plant barley or rye."

He hugged her close, and she could feel a tremble in his arms. "I never knew how dark was my night, not until you rose like the sun on this glorious morning."

"Why Halvor," Liv murmured, resting her head on his shoulder. "You're a skald!"

The bridal procession was much simpler an affair than eleven years before. Sleighs carried the children and womenfolk, while the men skiffed along on skis. Their route followed frozen Dalaåi creek down to Sundkilen inlet, bypassing Brunkeberg altogether. The fire-damaged roof had caved in after a heavy snowfall a few years back, so they headed for Old Kviteseid church instead, a longer journey.

They skimmed along Sundkilen's nearly three-mile stretch of smooth ice-road, passing the dock of Kviteseid village -- if you could call the two buildings a village.

"Whenever I walked on the trail past Homme," Liv called back to Halvor, "I gazed down, down, down to see Sundkilen shining in the distance. What a thrill to sail across its waters at last!"

"Can you see Homme's Crest?" Halvor halted and pointed back up the dale.

Liv laughed as her sleigh sped on, leaving him behind. "You'll have to teach me which peak it is!" she shouted.

She waved to the following sleigh where her daughters rode, and they waved back, delighted grins on their faces. She could hear their voices piping the words to a silly song about animals wandering out on the ice: "Then out there ran A grumpy man With staff in hand And drove them back to land!"

The procession squeezed through a narrow passage where a great hunk of granite choked the waterway. Sleighs and skiers broke out onto Lake Kvitseidvatn, rounding the tip of the snow-decked isthmus which shone blazing bright in the low noontime sunlight. "Beware the sea serpent!" Halvor called out as he skimmed along beside the sleigh.

Liv put a mittened hand to her mouth, hiding a smile. "The Worm of Kvitseidvatn -- have you actually seen the monster? It couldn't rise through the ice, could it?"

Halvor laughed. "We must go boating here in the summer. Then we'll see."

They crossed to Kvitseidvatn's south shore and up a shallow embankment. There under a dragon-etched archway stood the same priest as eleven years ago, wearing the same solemn set to his mouth, with the same merry twinkle in his eyes. He welcomed bride and groom into the church. The walls gave blessed relief from the biting north wind.

ancient arch preserved in Old Kviteseid church
ancient arch preserved in Old Kviteseid church

dragon design etched in the ancient carving

chairs in Old Kviteseid church
chairs in Old Kviteseid church

Liv and Halvor took their chairs before the altar. Liv thought wistfully back to her first wedding, and the presence of her frail grandmother Gunnhild. The old woman had died in the intervening years.

"We must come back some day," Halvor whispered after the invocation, "and see if Father will let us touch the old stone." He nodded at the small wooden door set waist high like a cupboard in the wall to their left.

"Shh!" Liv whispered back. "We can be pagan later, but this is a sacred time."

"Ja, my love. I will keep my thoughts holy and pure until the moment we step outside. But you know what I'll be thinking of all the way home!"

Liv stifled a giggle. "Patience, husband!"

the Norwegian breed called the fjord horse
the Norwegian breed called the fjord horse


The new family sleighed home to Homme Farm. Liv's daughters Sigrid, Fair Anne, and Margit got their own box-bed, a new father, an uncle, and new grandparents, all under one roof.

Twice a day Anne and Margit bundled up and helped Halvor feed the cattle, goats, and sheep in the byre. With the aid of her stepfather, Margit brushed the two fjord horses. Sigrid preferred to stay in the cottage, helping her grandmother weave and cook. Liv and Halvor spent most of their days inside as well, spinning and carving in the dim, smoky light from the central hearth, trading old tales with extended family.

Papa Halvor and Uncle Tarald often took the girls tobogganing down the sloping fields and into the woods below, along a path beside the creek that ran to the southwest. Tarald told the girls a ridiculous story about the stream and the bear that gave it its name: Bjønnflatin. They saw hoofprints of elk and deer on their trudge back uphill. Twice they spotted badger tracks, and once, the pawprints of a lynx.

"The deeps of winter," shivering Liv told her mother-in-law. "I haven't seen the sun for a whole week. Look how blue with shadow the courtyard is!"

"You had better get used to it." Åsne laughed wryly. "Homme's Crest will block even the noontime sun from now until well past Yule!"

In the evenings, the newlyweds bade their good-nights, took a hot brick from the hearth, slipped out the cottage door, and dashed across the ice-packed courtyard to the upstairs guest chamber in one of Homme's two lofts.

The last night of their honeymoon month, Halvor slid the rag-wrapped hot brick between the sheets as usual to warm their bed while they changed to nightclothes. Outside, the pines rustled and roared in the winter wind.

Liv's breath misted the air as she hurried to pull on her gown and warm woolen kerchief. "After the thick air in the cottage, the air out here tastes so delicious," Liv said, "clean and crisp and pure, but how it nips my throat all the way down to my lungs!"

"Climb in, dearest," Halvor said, hopping on one stockinged foot while he stripped off his breeches. "I'll snuff the candle and join you."

"That's the last honeymoon candle, isn't it?"

"Ja. If we wished to keep our lodgings out here, we'd have to make some rushlights to beat back the gloom, just like they did in olden days."

"Well," Liv admitted, "I do like the privacy of the loft, but I look forward to a warmer room at night, crowded though it'll be. Uff da! Hands off until they thaw out a little!"

Halvor chuckled as he nestled in beside Liv in the dark. "Bring the brick up here and the fingers will warm up faster."

"Nei, my feet won't give it up. We should have brought two bricks. With another brick and more candles -- it wouldn't be so bad out here. Do you know how to make a rushlight, my Viking warrior?"

"Sure. Strip a reed down to its pith and dip one end in fat. That's how we do it out on hunting trips, if needed."

"Hmm," Liv murmured as she snuggled closer. "We may need a few rushlights before the spring thaw."

skald: a masterful poet/musician (see Appendix 10)


~ Homme's crest ~

Homme folks in 1756: Sveinung (51) & Åsne (47): Tarald (20)
    Halvor (24) & Liv (34): Sigrid (11), Anne (9), Margit (7), Åsne (0)


"We're ready, Pappa Halvor," called seven-year-old Margit from the courtyard. She bounced on her toes, swinging her mother's hand.

Liv smiled down at her daughter's eagerness.

"Coming, coming, Miss Moppet." Halvor came out the cottage door with an old blanket rolled up on his shoulder. "Give Farmor a kiss and off we'll go."

Margit ran to her grandmother for a quick kiss and darted off to join her older sisters who waited up the trail.

"Start off towards Huvestad," Halvor told the girls. "But don't get too far ahead or you'll miss the turnoff."

"So what surprise awaits us at the top of Homme's Crest?" Liv asked as they strode along the cart track.

"You have to wait and see." Halvor grinned. "Otherwise it's no surprise."

"Is there a story to go along with it?"

"Of course!"

"Tell me the tale again," Liv said, "about your grandfather the peddler."

"My great-grandfather. He often passed through here, coming from Setesdal in the west on his route eastward with his load of wares. He brought salt and wheat and packets of cinnamon to sell to folks like you who were going mad with the same old barley day after day."

Liv made a face.

"I believe you'd trade your grandmother's brooch for a loaf of wheat bread," Halvor teased.

"Would not, though I'd be awfully tempted."

"Great-grandfather found Homme a welcoming spot to overnight. Back then it belonged to Gunnar up at Huvestad. One year when he and Gunnar were sharing a mug of mead, old Gunnar said, 'Since you like my lands so well, you must buy my outfarm Homme. I'll set you a fair price.' My great-grandfather took another swig, thought a moment, then said, 'When I come from the east again, I'll do just that.' He paid 300 daler for Homme and its two subfarms, and my folk have dwelled here ever since."

"Did he quit his traveling?"

"Nei, the roaming was in his blood."

"In yours, as well?" Liv asked.

Halvor shrugged. "I do like to see new places and hear the old tales, but my heart stays here. Especially now." He shifted his bundle of blanket and food bag, and tucked an arm lightly around Liv's waist.

She leaned into his comforting hold.

"So, what old stories do they tell in your family?" Halvor asked.

"Seven generations back, I'm descended from the bonde at Holtan. He owned almost all the farmland on the shores of Sundkilen. There are still many large oaks just uphill from the bonde's main dwelling, old and huge around as a giant's leg."

"Hmm," hummed Halvor. "Any of them hollow?"

"Ja, sure! There's supposed to be a treasure of silver spoons hidden somewhere in that grove. And a nisse lives in the biggest tree's hollow."

He laughed.

Liv pouted her lips. "There is, so all the stories say. There's even an ancient stone table sitting nearby where they used to put out offerings for him."

"Truly? Hmm--" Halvor strode along, his head cocked. "We have three hallowed ash trees at Homme, but not a single holy oak. Maybe we should plant an oak sapling, and by the time Baby is grown," he patted her belly, "we can see about luring a nisse to move in."

"It'll take a lot longer than that to grow a respectably gnarly old oak!"

Hommesnip, seen from Homme farmyard
Hommesnip, seen from Homme farmyard

Half an hour later, on the side path to Homme's Crest, Margit called from up the trail. "Which way do we turn, Pappa Halvor?"

"Go left around the gray rock slab!"

The three girls clambered up the steep hillside while the two grownups followed at a slower pace. Halvor held saplings aside for Liv to pass, the white birch twigs fluttering with the bright green leaves of late spring, and boosted her over a fallen trunk.

"I'm not a frail old grandmother," Liv teased. "You don't need to go to such pains to help me along."

"You look neither old nor frail, my slim and beautiful princess," Halvor said, steadying her by the arm as they climbed a rocky slope. "Nor do you look like you're carrying a child."

"So it wasn't me you're thinking of with such concern. Do you hear that, little one?" she crooned to her still-flat belly. "Your Pappa already wants to spoil you!"

Halvor laughed. "You can't blame me, can you? I've never before had a babe to coddle!"

"Which way now?" rang a young voice from higher up the path.

"Wait for us by the broken-topped spruce!" Halvor called. "We're almost to the top."

Eleven-year-old Sigrid came into sight under an evergreen canopy. "They ran on ahead. I told them not to, but they won't do what I say."

"Anne! Margit!" Liv called. "Didn't you hear?"

The two girls appeared around a bend, bouncing on their toes. "I see blue sky through the trees," nine-year-old Fair Anne sang.

"All around!" Margit whirled in a circle, pointing every direction.

"We turn here," Halvor said, leading the way through a birch thicket. "Don't run ahead. There's a cliff."

His step-daughters fell in line behind the grown-ups, and Margit trod on Liv's heels more than once.

"Hold hands now," Halvor said. "Are you ready?"

"Ja!" chorused the girls.

He stepped ahead another few paces, out onto a rocky shelf ablaze with sunshine. Liv and her daughters gasped at the sight.

The forest dropped before them down the steep slopes of Homme's Crest, spreading out in rumpled folds to the southeast, and sweeping up to spruce-clad ridges to right and left. Down in the valley glimmered the waters of Sundkilen.

view from Homme area down to Kviteseid
zoomed view from Homme area down to Kviteseid
view from Homme area down to Kviteseid

"There's the island we sleighed around, going to your wedding!" Fair Anne cried, pointing at the clump of firs that broke the shiny surface of the inlet.

"And there's the rocky island we had to squeeze past to get out to the lake," said Sigrid, squinting into the glare.

"Where?" demanded Margit.

The eleven-year-old hunkered beside her sister and used a twig to point it out. "And if you look past it, you can see just a glimpse of Lake Kviteseidvatn beyond the hills at the end of Sundkilen," she explained.

"That tiny lump?" Margit scoffed.

"Bigger than our cottage," Halvor said. "And you know how it got there?"

"How?" the girls chorused.

"Sit with your mother and share out the flatbread, and I'll tell you the tale. There was, one time, a great hairy troll living on the heights over there." Halvor pointed to the ridge on the left. "Just inland from the island and up above Utsund farm. Two trolls, in fact. Their names were Jøron and Svånaug. They had lived there in peace and quiet for several hundred years, but when our forefathers built the Kviteseid church--"

"Where you got married!" Margit said, proud to make the connection.

"Ja, that's the one. Trolls can't stand the sound of church bells ringing, you know. Weddings and christenings and funerals and all day long on Sundays. The old woman troll, Svånaug, just hated all that clanging. One day she'd had enough. She stamped and growled and grumped and howled, then hoisted a great huge stone and threw it at the church, but didn't throw far enough, and the stone splashed into Sundkilen down there."

Margit and Anne stared with mouths open in astonishment, but Sigrid smiled. She didn't much believe in trolls anymore, at least not the giant variety, and not under the blazing noontime sun. In the dark of night it was another matter.

"'You throw like a miserable wretch!' says her husband Jøron, and to show her up, he took a tremendous slab of rock--" Halvor wrestled with an imaginary boulder--"and hurled it at the church. But that slab missed the mark, too, and landed plunk! in the waters of Sundkilen. And there it sits to this very day. Snipp, snapp, snoo, now my tale is through."

"What about the trolls?" Margit asked.

"Well, since they couldn't silence the bells, they packed their bags and moved to the high, high fjells where we puny people don't bother them with steeples and bells."

Liv sighed with eyes closed and face turned to the warm rays of the sun. "I'm glad they're gone," she murmured. "I wouldn't want to share this peaceful mountainside with trolls. Just me and my dear family. Listen to the birds sing!"

"I hear a wagtail," said Sigrid.

"I hear a lark," Anne added.

"A woodpecker! Bonk, bonk, bonk!" cried Margit.

"I know where a waterfall-fellow lives," Halvor said. "Want to see?"

"A fossegrim?" Margit asked, eyes wide with fear.

"No, silly," Sigrid said. "Waterfall-fellows are birds that fly underwater! And you should be able to guess where it lives."

"Yes please, Pappa Halvor!" Fair Anne cried. "Let's go see!"

Liv groaned in mock dismay. "I was just getting comfortable."

"Come, Mor, come," Margit begged, pulling on Liv's arm. "I want to see a waterfall-fellow. Does he really fly underwater?"

"I guess we'll soon see. Lead the way, Pappa Halvor." Liv gave her husband a smile as radiant as the spring sun, and the little troupe scrambled down from Homme's Crest on a hunt for dippers flitting around woodland streams.

~ psalms and dragons ~


As twilight fell, the first snow of autumn snifted over the stubbly fields of Homme. Indoors, Liv gingerly seated herself beside her mother-in-law who cuddled the newest member of the family. "What is that sweet song you sing, Mother Åsne?" Liv asked.

"An evening psalm I learned from my grandmother--
    In the west the sun is setting.
        God our Fader, thanks for blessings.
            Keep us safe the whole night long.
    Thanks for food, and thanks for healthiness,
        Thanks for clothes and thanks for happiness.
            Bless our hearts with peace and calm!"

Liv watched, smiling, as her newborn quieted and fell asleep in her farmor's arms. They had named Halvor's first child -- Liv's fourth daughter -- after the grandmother who now rocked her. Little Åsne. "She likes the psalm, and so do I," Liv said. "Sing it again, be so kind!"

"Bless our hearts with peace and calm," Liv sighed at the end. "Let's hope this moment's blessed peace and calm lasts long enough for a little sleep!"

Her mother stood from the fireside where she'd been spreading birthing cloths to dry after a good scrubbing. "We'll shoo the menfolk out to the byre for the night," Anne declared. "With them out from underfoot, we'll do just fine. Plenty of loving arms to rock the babe."

"The grandmother brigade." Liv grinned. "And listen, isn't that Egeleiv's voice?"

"Yes, that's her," Tarald said from the doorway. "A troop of giggling cousins, with Egeleiv in the lead. She makes the best kling! I can't wait." He licked his lips.

"Out!" his mother Åsne ordered.

"Off to the byre with you -- unless you want laundry duty." Anne held up a diaper in need of rinsing.

"Just lost my appetite." Tarald pinched his nose and backed out.


When the creeks had frozen solid and snow lay several inches deep, Halvor and Liv took the four girls on a sleigh ride down from the shadow of Homme's Crest to Kviteseid church for Little Åsne's christening. Tarald raced them on skis and tossed snowballs at his nieces whenever the company took a rest stop along the way.

They arrived early enough at the churchgrounds to satisfy a little pagan curiosity. The priest opened a hatch in the chapel wall to show them a relic from ages past. "Our heathen ancestors revered this stone," he told them. "It has sat on this site since the days of spears and war axes. When Saint Olav converted our lands to Christianity, he felt it wise that we continue to meet on ground our kin had long seen as holy."

Liv handed Åsne to Halvor, then leaned in and stroked one finger across the smooth surface of the dark green stone. "Where did it come from?" she asked.

"Some say it fell from the sky." The priest chuckled. "Perhaps Thor dropped it."

"Maybe it's a dragon egg," Sigrid said.

"Let's put the dragon youngling back to bed," the priest said, "so we can pay your own babe proper attention."

The girls each took one last rub of the stone polished slick by thousands of touches over the centuries. Then the priest closed the hatch.

The church soon overflowed with aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. Halvor's brother Tarald lifted little Margit so she could see better. At the sprinkle of water, Halvor's firstborn protested. "She's mewing like a kitten!" Margit whispered. "What's the priest doing now, Uncle Tarald?"

"Writing your sister's name in the parish records."

"Åsne Halvorsdotter Homme," the girl proudly pronounced. "Is my name in there, too? Margit Torjussdotter Tveit, that's me."

After the ceremony Tarald asked the priest for a look in the massive hand-written ledger. "There you are," Tarald told his niece, pointing at a looped scrawl and the date 1749. He leafed back a few pages. "And here am I. See? 1736."

Margit frowned a moment, then declared, "You're thirteen years older than me! And -- hmm -- nine years older than Sigrid."

"Very good! Your farfar should let you look over the farm books. He can never get his figures to add up right. Clever girl!"

Beaming, Margit ran to tell Grandfather Sveinung she would be glad to lend him her adding skills.

Halvor's great-grandfather Sveinung was a traveling peddler and trader. The account of Gunnar selling Homme to Sveinung is one of the few actual anecdotes from family history. The conversation related near the start of this section comes straight out of the records!

The account doesn't mention his wares, but items most likely to bring him a profit would be supplies that the nearly self-sufficient farms couldn't produce on their own.

map of Kviteseid area in the mid-1700s
Kviteseid area in the mid-1700s


~ gloom and sunshine ~


"Hurry up, girls," Liv called from the courtyard. "I want this stew to arrive while it's still hot!"

Fourteen-year-old Sigrid was last to come out, her hair carefully braided and not a wrinkle in her Sunday smock. "I've got another huge pock on my chin," she moaned.

"That's no excuse to miss Knut's wedding feast," Liv said. "Besides, everyone will be gazing at lovely Hæge in her bridal gown, not at you."

"Lovely, lovely Hæge -- and ugly me!" Sigrid wailed and ran ahead, out of sight.

Liv sighed as she followed, the stewpot nestled in a basket. What had happened to sweet, happy Siri? She was blossoming into a young woman with curves and an occasional teeny-tiny pimple and moods more turbulent than a winter gale.

"We're ready!" Liv called to Halvor at the haybarn, unloading the hay cart.

Her husband strode across the courtyard to join her, dusting himself off. "Where's Åsne?" he asked.

"Anne and Margit have her." Liv nodded ahead towards the path. "She'll scamper along fine for a while, so Pappa Horsey has a short break from giving rides. How's your back?"

Halvor groaned as he stretched kinks out. "I must see if I can tempt Tarald to come back and work for me. The whole farm is a bit much for just one man to handle."

"That's what you get for marrying a woman with three daughters and no sons!" Liv smiled. "Regretting it?"

"Nei, nei!" He shook his head, and gestured at his clothing. "The farmwork tires me out, but who else can brag about such fine attire as my womenfolk make for me? Not to mention the delicious meals." He circled Liv to sniff at her basket.

She laughed. "Would Tarald come work for us?"

"He might. He says the Uddedalen area has a frightful shortage of young women to go around. I wonder if he'd work for us if I promised him the hand of our eldest daughter in marriage?"

Liv chuckled. "Don't offer that today. She's in a mood dark as midnight. How are your parents faring at Uddedalen?"

"Mor loves the sunlight. No great hulking fjell blocking the warmth and brightness, like Homme's Crest does here. Far says the fields he leases bring in a bountiful crop. He thinks being so near Lake Bandak makes the winters less cruel. Maybe we should sell Homme and move near him and try to grow wheat."

"Nei, I won't hear of it," Liv said. "You love Homme as much as I crave wheat bread. And surely I'll bear you a son one of these years."


An hour later, at Dalen farm's barn, Liv and Halvor joined the crowd of merry-makers celebrating the marriage of cousin Egeleiv's oldest, Knut, to a bride from across Lake Bandak. Sigrid sulked on the sidelines, averting her face when any young man came near. Anne and Margit took turns dancing with their stepfather. Three-year-old Åsne clambered over hay bales and half-wall partitions.

Two drunken guests got into a fistfight, and when the kjogemester ushered them outside, half the gathering trooped after for some fresh air entertainment. In spite of the clamor, Åsne fell asleep on Liv's lap, setting her mother free to catch up on gossip with cousin Egeleiv.

"My Gunnhild was just as moody at that age," Egeleiv said, watching Sigrid. "But she's long outgrown it. At twenty-five, she's a hard-working young woman, cheerful and helpful. We can't imagine why she turns down every handsome young suitor who comes courting."

Liv nudged her cousin. "Perhaps 'young' isn't what she's looking for."

Egeleiv turned to follow Liv's glance through the thinning crowd, and sucked in a breath of surprise. "Not Knut's new father-in-law! Why, he must be seventy years old! And his wife in her grave barely a year." The mother of the groom pursed her lips and watched her eldest daughter flirting with the older man. "Well, it wouldn't be the first time a woman chose substance over youth."


~ ghosts and grief ~


A year after Egeleiv's son Knut married Hæge of Naper Farm, his little sister Gunnhild married his 73-three-year-old father-in-law, Torbjørn Jakobsson.

"Let me get this straight," Halvor's brother Tarald said to Egeleiv's youngest son Aslak who had hired on at Homme for the season. "Your sister is now the mother-in-law of your brother Knut, who is older than her?"

Thirteen-year-old Aslak grinned. "Ja, you got it! But he refuses to call her Mor."

"What does Hæge think of her father marrying a girl her own age?"

"She told Knut if he does that after her death, she'll come back and haunt him!"

Tarald belted a laugh.

"Gunnhild says she hasn't yet seen the ghost of Torbjørg's first wife." Aslak dropped his voice. "But they keep finding their door standing wide open, even though they latch it whenever they leave!"

"Tell them to sweep the house with seven brooms," Tarald said. "And to plant flax seed all around the doorway.* If there really is a ghost, she'll get distracted and spend all her time counting seeds. Or so they say."

~ ~ ~

Åkre folks in 1760s: Såmund & Egeleiv: Knut*, Gunnhild*, Margit, Rannei*, Torbjørn, Torbjørg, Aslak     *: married and gone

Dalen folks in 1760s: Knut Dalen & Hæge

Naper folks in 1760s: Torbjøn & Gunnhild; Jakob & Rannei

Homme folks in 1760s: Sveinung & Åsne: Tarald 
    Halvor & Liv: Anne, Margit, Åsne, Anne

In 1761 Liv bore her fifth daughter. With his friends, Halvor joked about his sonless state, but never around his wife. He knew what pain that would cause her, and she had enough grief already. Her mother Anne had just died after a long illness.

Halvor would wonder years later if such sorrow in the mother harmed the babe in some way, tainting the mother's milk or planting seeds of woe to weaken the life so new to this world, so fragile and vulnerable.

They named the girl after the mormor she would never know -- Little Anne, fourteen years younger than her sister Fair Anne, both named after the same grandmother who helped bring children into the world, who rocked them and sang to them and counted their toes.

Liv found some comfort in the second verse of her mother-in-law's evening psalm.

  "God our Fader, while we sleep now,
      Let thine angels their watch keep now.
          Thru' the night, shine from thy throne!
  When the sun sets on my last day,
      Up to heaven help me find my way.
          Over the starbridge, lead me home."


The next year, Hæge, the lovely wife at Dalen, gave birth to Knut's firstborn son. They named the boy Såmund after his farfar. Egeleiv was delighted to hold her first grandchild. She had been so busy at the bedside that it fell to Liv to make the childbirth pudding for all the friends who came to celebrate.

Egeleiv's second grandchild came late in 1763. Liv couldn't go help since Little Anne was sick again, coughing and wheezing all hours of the day and night.

"Are the drafts causing it?" Halvor wondered one chilly evening, examining the chinking between logs in the walls. "We could make her a bed beside the fire, keep her warmer."

Liv eyed the central hearth, jagged with firewood. Low flames breathed out swirls of smoke. "I think it's the bad air as much as it is the cold." Gray spirals writhed up to the smokehole in the roof, dimly seen through the haze.

Halvor and Tarald put on heavy coats and caps and went out into the night.

Liv cradled poor little Anne, soothed her through another coughing fit, listened to the scrape of a ladder and the tread of feet upon the roof.

As Halvor chopped at the layers of roofing material, widening the smokehole, clumps of snow and sodden turf tumbled tumbled to the hearth, sizzling in the embers until steam mingled with smoke.

"Five months of winter still to come," Liv murmured. "Five long months until snow-melt and sunshine and fresh air."

While Halvor and Tarald scraped and thumped down the ladder, fresh snow sifted into the room.

"Oh Lord," Liv prayed, "let thine angels keep watch this cold night and the many to come!"

Oh, the surprises we find when we trace our ancestry! A brother and two sisters at Dalen married a sister, a brother, and their father at Naper.

Little Anne never married. Chronic illness is one possible explanation.


~ silver and ribbons ~


At a rustle deep in the forest, Sigrid looked up from her knitting. "Found the rascal at last, did you?" she called, but her sister didn't answer.

Goats broke from grazing and stared into the woods.

"Fair Anne?" Sigrid tried again.

A twig cracked. The lead nanny bleated unease.

The eighteen-year-old took up her staff and scurried into the clearing, calling her flock by name. The goats would have paid no heed to Anne or the stray. Now they clustered close, flicking ears.

If not Anne, then who? Or what?

Gripping staff in one hand, knitting needles in the other, Sigrid braced herself. She rarely felt threatened though it was just the two of them up here in the heights all summer. She and Anne slept in the seter hut, herded, milked goats, made cheese. She hadn't seen anyone else for weeks.

Half a day's walk downhill to reach the fields at Homme. No one would hear her cry for help.

A figure larger than Anne leaped out of the shadows, cackling, scattering the goats, startling a scream out of Sigrid. She planted hands on hips. "Tarald! I thought you were a bear! I was ready to clobber you on the nose!"

Her stepfather's brother bent over, laughing.

"It's not funny!" Sigrid stormed. "You made me drop my stitches. Anne's out chasing old Wanderfoot, and now I've lost the rest of the flock!"

Still grinning, Tarald dumped a bag to the ground. "I'll help you round up your goats. Look, they haven't gone far."

Sigrid scowled. "What are you doing up here anyway? Isn't there barley to reap?"

He kicked the bag. "Among other provisions, I brought you some fresh-baked wheat bread."

Sigrid brightened. "Forget the goats! Come along to the seter. I churned butter just this morning." The flock came trotting along behind.

Tarald took a seat on a stool outside the hut's door. Sigrid rejoined him with a crock of butter. Before long they'd eaten half the stack of flatbread rounds.

"Where did my mother get the wheat?" Sigrid asked. "I know she's been craving it."

"A trader came through last evening, like my great-grandfather used to do. Too bad you missed him."

Fair Anne's voice called from the direction of the clearing.

"Did you find Wanderfoot?" Sigrid yelled back.

Anne came along the trail, tugging on a rope. A wiry-haired goat skittered along behind, digging its hooves into the dirt. "You said you'd be at that clearing until tusmørke," she complained.

"Fresh flatbread," Sigrid mumbled through a mouthful. "We saved you some."

"When I got back to the clearing, and no sign of you or the goats," Anne said as she tied up Wanderfoot, "I thought a tusse-lad must have stolen you away."

"Aslak told me about a girl named Signe who had a tusse-suitor come calling." Tarald said. "He pleaded for her to be his woman, no matter how she turned him away. Finally she went to the priest for help. He told her to buy a brooch with seven pieces of old silver. When the tusse-man came again, he couldn't get near her. He turned and left, calling out, 'You shall come to sorrow and hardship, and live in poverty all your days.'"

"In the stories where the girl runs away with the tusse," Anne said, "she wins a life of riches and plenty. Buckles on her shoes, fur-lined cloaks, ribbons in her hair."

Sigrid sniffed. "I'd rather be poor all my days than get dragged down inside the mountain, never to see my family again!"

"The trader last night had a casket full of ribbons," Tarald said as he finished his buttered flatbread.

"Ribbons?" Sigrid asked, perking up.

"What's your favorite color?"

"Blue like the sky."

Tarald gave Sigrid a long look, and she cocked her head at him. He shrugged. "Blue. Like your eyes. Come to think of it, he did have a few sky-blue ribbons."

"Uff da!" Fair Anne cried. "Wanderfoot chewed through his tether again!"

The three leaped up to chase the truant goat.

goat grazing by roadside in Norway
goat grazing by roadside in Norway


~ tribute ~


Liv's sixth pregnancy went hard for her. She had just turned forty-three, after all -- nearly twice the age she'd been at her first babe's birth. The older girls, from Sigrid at twenty to Åsne at nine, took good care of Little Anne, four years old, and the rest of the household chores.

Cousin Egeleiv showed up not long after Liv's labor started.

"You must have heard me praying for your speedy arrival," Liv said weakly.

"My prayers, too." Sigrid took Egeleiv's cloak and bag. "The thought of being the sole midwife made me uneasy."

"More like terrified," Liv drawled.

Egeleiv came to Liv's bedside. "Are the pains close together?"

Liv shook her head.

"Good. I'm worn out from hurrying." Egeleiv climbed onto the bed, rearranged a cushion, and sank back with a sigh. "Be so kind as to have your next birthing in winter so travel isn't so arduous!" She wiped sweat from her brow.

"Next birthing?!" Liv grimaced. "We're too old for this."

"It took me two days to get here from Naper," Egeleiv went on. "Down the long, twisting path to Bandak, rowing across the lake, a night spent at Uddedalen, then crossing the ridge today and sharing the midday meal at Moen with my brother Åmund."

Sigrid brought Cousin Egeleiv a mug of ale. "Neither fjord so deep nor ridge so high can daunt a woman of the Dales."

"Naper, you say?" Liv asked.

"Ja, my fourth grandchild," Egeleiv said with a dreamy smile. "Nei, not Gunnhild," she said, catching Liv's startled look. "Her bairns are one and two years old. How would she cope with another? This was Rannei's first child."

Egeleiv's third daughter Rannei had married last summer, continuing the tangled web with the folks at Naper farm.

"Poor Knut!" Egeleiv shook her head. "No sooner does he marry Hæge than his sister Gunnhild weds his father-in-law, followed by his sister Rannei marrying his brother-in-law who is three years older than him. Suddenly his younger sisters both outrank him among the Naper household!"

"Good thing he lives at Dalen, far from Naper," Liv murmured, wincing at another contraction.

"And don't be surprised if Knut sends for me while I'm still here. Hæge's second child will come any day now." Egeleiv flopped her head back on the cushion. "At least it's only a short three-mile hike from here to Dalen."

Late that evening, after a difficult labor, the exhausted mother bore a strong, healthy babe. Mingled with the angry infant's squalling came laughter and shouts of delight. The five sisters finally had a brother.

"His name," Halvor said, taking the swaddled baby on his lap and giving his wife a wide, splendid grin, "will be Torjus."

Liv, welling with gratitude at her husband's faithfulness to his promise, burst into tears. Her dear Torjus, gone these past fifteen years, received his tribute at last.

Before dawn the next morning, Egeleiv's eighteen-year-old son Aslak showed up on the doorstep, bringing word from Dalen. "Mor," he said once he caught his breath, "Knut asks you to come. Hæge's labor has begun."

"Ja, Liv, we are too old for this!" Egeleiv groaned as she hauled herself to her feet. "But, as the old saying goes, 'Though frail the body, old and feeble, we are blest in our bairns!'" *

weddings chart in 1765

* part of an ancient Norse saying, among many in "the Håvamål"


~ under the ash ~


Little Anne sat cross-legged in the shade of the ash tree that stood beside the barn, a sheet of birch bark in her lap and a piece of charcoal in her hand. The six-year-old artist sketched the outline of Homme's Crest against the sky, prickling with the tops of spruce and firs. She shaded the north side of the looming knoll and added a bird in the sky.

A movement caught her eye, and she squinted into the afternoon sun. It was just Sigrid, walking up the path from the creek, and Tarald striding alongside.

Little Anne turned back to her birch-bark canvas. She sighed in satisfaction. What better way to spend a lazy summer Sunday than drawing under the guardian ash tree? The ash sighed its pure air down around Anne, who breathed deep, free from the wheezing and coughing caused by the chill and smoke of winter.

Two more ash trees stood on the other side of the house, their branches never cut, their bark never scored. In ages past the norse folk had revered the ash as a holy tree, and the respect lingered to this day.

Sigrid and Tarald came closer, and though they kept their voices low, Anne could easily hear from her nest in the shade. She realized they must not have seen her.

"Who will you ask?" twenty-two-year old Sigrid said.

Tarald laughed. "Not my brother. He can hardly be a go-between for my family and yours, since for Halvor those are one and the same."

"Better get a friend to do it, then. How about Aslak?" Sigrid said as they walked past.

Little Anne's mouth dropped open. She stared for a moment, then bent over her drawing, adding two figures in the foreground. The summer breeze rustling through the ash leaves muffled the sound of charcoal scritching across the bark. She wasn't very good at drawing people yet, especially the hands, but she managed a good enough silhouette.

Little Anne smiled as she gazed at her work. "Someday," she told herself, "I'll draw Siri and Uncle Tarald looking at each other the way they did just now, and holding hands with the sun shining bright all around." She leapt up, the vision bright in her mind, and chased after her sister and her stepfather's brother.

"Aslak!" Tarald was calling to his fellow hireling in the cattle barn. "I need to talk to you."

~ ~ ~

Aslak teased Tarald and Siri from that day clear up until the wedding. "Let me get this straight," he would start, echoing Tarald's astonishment not so long ago at the interweaving relationships at Naper. "You're going to be your own nephew? Your children won't know whether to call Liv tante or mormor!"

Eighteen-year-old Margit joined in. "Uncle Tarald, now I can call you brother!"

weddings chart in 1767

ash tree at Homme farm
ash tree at Homme farm

Åkre folks in 1767: Såmund (65) & Egeleiv (59): Margit (31), Torbjørn (23), Torbjørg (20), Aslak (20)

Dalen folks in 1767: Knut (36) & Hæge (34): Såmund (5), Ingebjørg  (2), Hæge (0)

Homme folks in 1767: Halvor (35) & Liv (45): Anne (20), Margit (18), Åsne (11), Anne (6), Torjus (2)

Uddedalen folks in 1767: Sveinung (62) & Åsne (58); Tarald (31) & Sigrid (21)

Brekke folks in 1767: Talleiv (23), Knut (20)

map of farms
more farms in Morgedal and Dalane

~ thundering hooves ~


The wedding procession needed an extra wagon to carry the young Dalen and Homme children all the way to Brunkeberg stavechurch. Little Anne and two-year-old Torjus of Homme rode along with Såmund Knutsson Dalen, at five already tall for his age, and his two little sisters. Cousin Egeleiv walked behind the wagon, keeping an eye on her grandchildren. The parents of Halvor and Tarald, visiting from their farm above Lake Bandak, strode along beside her.

"Farfar! Mormor!" little Torjus babbled.

"Nei, that's not mormor," Little Anne corrected. "It's farmor. Remember? I'm named for our mormor who died before I was born."

"Morfar?" Torjus said.

"There's morfar." Little Anne pointed to Steinar who walked with Liv a few paces back.

"Mor, Mor! Hungry!" Torjus cried out to his mother.

Little Anne gave up and turned to call out to the decorated cart ahead. "Are you still going to live with us, Siri? You and Uncle Tarald can set up house in the stabbur loft!"

"Nei, sweet one." The bride's face glowed with excitement. "We're going to live with Farfar and Farmor at Uddedalen. But we'll come see you as often as we may."

The fiddler from Høydalsmo joined the procession when they came down into Morgedal. Halvor and Liv danced the telespringar where the path was wide enough. Tarald tried to get Egeleiv to partner him, but she waved him off. "To tell the truth, I may need to join the children in the cart. I've got quite a pain in my side. I'm fifty-nine years old, remember!"

The children's wagon soon grew crowded. Jon from Byggland joined the troupe, and nestled his two boys in the hay. His wife carried their newborn daughter Tone.

"Hand her to me, if you'd like," Egeleiv said as she rode with the young ones. "I've got two arms, after all." She already cradled Knut's baby against one shoulder.

As Tone got hoisted over the cart's side, Torjus tumbled out, but Jon caught him by one leg. "Where are you going, little man?" Jon asked as he dangled the boy upside-down.

"Mor! Mor! Hungry!" Torjus waved his arms and kicked his free leg.

Liv ran up laughing and rescued her son. "Very well, I have a snack in my bag for you." She sighed in contentment as she walked along with Torjus on her hip. The boy happily munched a hunk of flatbread. A glorious day, indeed!

But she reined in her delight, remembering the last time she had felt so full, so complete, so immersed in love -- and the pit of despair that followed at the sudden loss of her beloved. If she kept her guard up, perhaps disaster would not have the chance to sneak up again and lay waste to her life.

A rogue cloud darkened the sun, and Liv glanced up at the sky. The breeze stiffened for a gust or two, snapping at her skirts and kerchief.

A thundering of hooves broke into the light-hearted clamor of folk in the procession. A black-clad horseman appeared around a bend in the path, tearing along at a gallop. He lashed his lathered horse down the middle of the trail, scowling at folk dodging aside.

Halvor pulled Liv onto the grassy bank. Torjus dropped his crust and hid his face on her shoulder as the dark figure pounded past. Hoofsteps echoed up the dale behind them, then fell silent. "Who was that?" Liv asked as other folk began muttering about the disturbance.

"Knut from Brekke, I think," Halvor said. "They call him Hard Knut. I've heard about his temper. Let's hope that's the last we see of him during our joyous day in Morgedal!"

My portrayal of Knut Olavsson Brekke as bad-tempered is pure fiction. (Sorry, Knut!)


~ skis and tow rope ~


Sigrid at Uddedalen farm sent word to her mother Liv at Homme. She had gone to childbed with her first baby.

Halvor debated whether to harness up the sleigh or the cart. Snow had fallen overnight. If more fell during their journey down the dale and up the far ridge, cartwheels would jar in unseen holes in the trail. But if it melted away, they'd have to abandon a sleigh and take to foot. "What do you think about going by ski?" he asked Liv with doubt in his voice.

"I'm forty-six, dearest, not eighty-six. Bring out the skis! Fair Anne, Margit," Liv said, "anything else you need before we leave?"

"The four of us can manage one three-year-old, even one like ours, as frisky as a goat," said Fair Anne. At twenty-one, she felt herself ready to handle a household.

Margit, two years younger, also nodded confidence.

"Don't let the fire get smoky," Liv added as she fastened her ski bindings. "Remember, only use the driest wood."

"I'll be fine, Mor," Little Anne said. The seven-year-old had taken to wearing a linen shawl around nose and mouth in cold weather to warm the air she breathed and to filter out smoke.

"Take me, too, Mor!" Torjus begged, jumping up and down and pulling on Liv's skirts.

"Nei," Liv said, crouching to give him a hug. "Homme farm needs a man about the place, and that must be you until Far comes back. He'll only be gone a night or two, though I'll be staying away longer."

Åsne took her brother's hand. "Come on, Torjus," said the twelve-year-old. "I've started a snowman. You help me finish!"

"Don't let him get frostbite!" Liv called back as she and Halvor set off on their trek.

"We can cut miles off the journey if we take the steep fjell path," Halvor said. "Up the ridge there." He stopped and pointed at the skyline across the dale. "Once we finish the climb, the rest will be easy, just skimming along the heights and then downhill to Uddedalen."

"Easy for a young man like you, perhaps."

Halvor grinned and held out a rope. "I'll tow you."

Liv blew out a puff of vapor. "Very well. Let's get going."

A crow would have flown five miles from Homme to Uddedalen, but Halvor and Liv had to zigzag up the mountainside, following a path to the high peat bogs. Liv laughed in gasps as she struggled along, finally taking one end of the rope and letting her younger husband haul her up the steepest stretches.

Skiing along the ridge top, though, proved as easy as skating on a pond. The bogs had iced over and the snow had fallen deeper here. They made such good time they overshot their goal and came down to Breidalen farm, too far along the ridge. Halvor recognized his mistake once he caught sight of the intricately painted door. Young Søren Breidalen was already gaining a name for himself as a rosemÅler.

Liv heaved a sigh of relief when Uddedalen finally came in sight. "Thank goodness for the level path between the farms," she told her brother-in-law Tarald and father-in-law Sveinung who greeted them in the farmyard. The skiers quickly shucked their skis and cloaks. "Halvor would have had to carry me on his back if we'd had any more climbing to do!"

Tarald's and Halvor's mother Åsne met them at the door with a brief smile. "Not that long ago, I sat at your birthing bedside, Liv! Come on in. She's doing as well as may be expected."

The men excused themselves and retreated to the barn.

"Siri, my dear, sweet daughter!" Liv cried as Åsne led her inside. "Oh, you look so pale and scared! Let me hold your hand. Tell me how it goes."

Liv felt her insides tighten with fear at each contraction poor Siri suffered, but like her mother before her, she wore a face of calm assurance and spoke with soothing words to support the laboring young wife. All through the night she and Åsne snuggled up on either side of Sigrid, keeping her warm and rousing to help through contractions, while the menfolk slept out in a loft's upper chamber.

Near dawn, after wrenching labor and one last upheaval, the baby found its way into the world. Sigrid sagged limp with weariness and relief, eyes round with wonder and red with lack of sleep, while mother and mother-in-law cleaned the babe and changed the bedding.

"A fine young son," Åsne said as she swaddled the tiny boy.

Liv wiped tears from her cheeks and took a turn holding the babe for a moment. "Ja, a fine little bairn, my own little barnebarn." She could hardly keep from crying at the thrill, then tenderly placed the wailing infant in Sigrid's arms.

The young mother grinned wide as the breaking day as she cuddled the babe.

Liv wiped Siri's face, and combed her hair smooth again, and fluffed the pillows.

"My own, my sweet, my dearest," Siri cooed to her son. She looked up. "Call Tarald, please, call him now!"

Åsne barely cracked the door, and there was the anxious father. "I hear him! Her, him, whatever, I hear that crying!" He brushed past his smiling mother and went straight to Siri's bedside.

"A boy," Siri said, her eyes shining.

Tarald gazed wordless a long moment, and his breath sighing in the silence said it all. "Shall we?" Tarald asked his wife at last, in a voice that cracked with emotion.

"Ja, ja, let's do!"

Tarald turned and waved his father near, with brother Halvor close behind. "Far, you have a grandson, and we now give him your name. Stop crying, little Sveinung! See your family gathered all around!"

Liv put the knuckle of her little finger to the baby's cheek, and he turned, feeling with his lips and making little sniffly sobs. Her own cheeks ached with smiling as she whispered to her daughter, "He's hungry, poor little man! And you must be, as well, after your long labors. I'll start the childbirth porridge."


A few days after their return home to Homme, Halvor and Liv made another trip on skis. They went up the dale past Dalen farm, past Moen, and further up to Åkre, the home of Liv's beloved cousin. Old Såmund met them in the courtyard, shaking his head. "Still no better," Egeleiv's sixty-six-year-old husband said.

"Is she asleep?" Liv asked.

"Nei, come on in, but better not stay long. She tires so easily."

"I'll wait out here," Halvor said. "Give her greetings from me."

Liv nodded, unfastened her skis, and went inside to see Egeleiv. The pain in her cousin's side had gotten worse, and now there was a lump in her belly larger than a turnip.

"How is Sigrid?" Egeleiv asked in a faint voice. "And the babe?"

"Doing well, both of them," Liv said, smiling her affection as she sat beside the bed.

Egeleiv squeezed Liv's hand and returned the smile. "You will enjoy being a grandmother. Your own children grow up so quickly, and then comes the chance to go back again, a little wiser, a little freer with love and kind words."

"You had fifteen years between your last child and your first grandchild," Liv said with a laugh. "My Torjus still wets the bed some nights! But ja, it is a delight. I just wish we lived closer. Åsne is so lucky to have grandchildren there in the same household."

"I have seven grandchildren, you know. You must do your best to pass me up."

Liv gazed down at her dear cousin. "That's out of my hands. But now we must take our leave before we wear you out. Halvor gives you his greetings."

"Ah, Halvor!" Egeleiv's eyes crinkled. "My Knut is a year older than your Halvor, you cradle robber! Halvor is young enough to be my son." Her head sank back and she closed her eyes. "A good man," she said, her voice dropping to a whisper.

"Farewell," Liv said from the doorway, then turned and left, wiping a tear.


Jul and the winter solstice went by and the new year had just begun when Egeleiv passed away. Liv wept when she got the news. "I can't imagine life without her," she told Halvor, leaning on his shoulder. "She's always been there for me."

He hugged her tight, then after her sobs ebbed, rubbed her back. "I know it's late, but come outdoors for a moment with me," he murmured, reaching for their heavy coats. "The clouds have cleared. We can see beyond this world."

He led her out into the dark. Together they gazed at stars that blinked back serenely from the immensity of space.

Liv heaved a long sigh, a cloudy breath of parting, then murmured, "Over the starbridge, dear God, lead her home!"


~ oak and stone ~


Liv kissed her third grandchild. "Farewell, little Margit. I'll return when I may."

"There will always be a welcome for you here at Loupedalen," said her new son-in-law, Vetle. "Many thanks for helping at the birth! I had no idea what to do."

Halvor grinned. "By your third or fourth it'll be as easy as lambing season."

"Pappa Halvor!" Fair Anne chided, then gave him a parting hug. "Better hurry home. You know what mischief a six-year-old can cause when Mor and Far are gone."

Liv handed little Margit back to the young parents. "Åsne and Little Anne will indeed be glad to leave off tending Torjus. Yes, we'd better get back to Homme."

Halvor and Liv set off on the long walk. "One grandchild here," he said, "and two at Uddedalen, off in the opposite direction -- we'll need more shoes for all the tramping!"

"Make our own, or trade with a shoemaker?"

Halvor launched into a ditty about a shoemaker sitting in the barn, making shoes too small to use.

Liv laughed, and quoted an ancient folk saying. "Be not a shoemaker, nor yet a shaft maker save for thyself alone -- lest the shoe be misshapen, or crooked the shaft, and a curse on thy head will be called."

As they came down through the Brunkeberg area, Halvor took Liv's arm. "Isn't this near Holtan farm, land of your famous bonde ancestor?"

"Ja, it's around here somewhere."

"Let's make a short side trip and see that hollow oak," he said. "Vetle was talking about it."

Liv laughed. "He's probably a fifth or sixth cousin of mine." She gazed all around as they walked along the side trail. "My great-great, five times great-grandfather ruled over a dozen farmyards and all their fields. He employed so many people that they had to hire a whole troupe of baker-wives to make their flatbread every spring and fall."

Halvor asked directions of a boy herding goats, and soon they arrived at a trampled area under a huge, spreading oak tree. Behind the oak a cliff reared, steep as the wall of a house.

"There's the stone table!" Liv cried, stepping closer to the cliff face. "Not nearly as big as I'd imagined from all they say about it, but look how old and weathered!"

"Three legs," Halvor said, bending over for a closer look. "All just smaller chunks of rock. But set nicely flat and even."

"Wouldn't want to spill the nisse's porridge," Liv said, looking all prim and proper.

"Nisse!" Halvor laughed. "Notice how low the table is. Low enough for a fox's feast!" He circled the tree, studying the trunk. "Aha!" he said from the other side.

Liv joined him. There was a great gap in the trunk, a hollow about waist-high.

"Hello!" Halvor called into the hollow. "Are you home?"

"Hush!" she hissed in mock alarm. "Don't be rude, or you'll bring us bad luck."

"You, dearest, fill my life with so much good luck that a grumpy nisse couldn't make a dent."

the renowned holy oak of Holtan farm
the ancient stone table of Holtan farm
the renowned holy oak and ancient stone table of Holtan farm


~ namesake ~


Other boys delighted in mischief along the bridal procession, but not Torjus, not this time. He trailed along right behind the fiddler from Høydalsmo, fascinated by the skirling melody that enlivened the spirits of the merry troop. "How do you make it squeal so high?" the seven-year-old asked. "Doesn't that hurt your fingers, pinching down on the strings? How many songs do you know? Why does it make my feet want to march faster? Do you ever wear right through a bowstring? What sound would that make?"

The fiddler just grinned and sawed away at his tune.

Torjus ran back to tell his mother about how the fiddler could still fiddle while walking backward. His oldest half-sister Sigrid strode along beside Liv, carrying her one-year-old son, telling about plans to move from Uddedalen with Tarald's parents to a vacant farm at Byggland.

"You named him after me, right?" Torjus piped up, breaking into their conversation. "Baby Torjus. Torjus the Whiner. Torjus Thumb-sucker. What should we call him? And should I call him my cousin or my nephew?"

"He's both," Sigrid said. "You can choose which to use. And no, he's not named after you. You're both named after my father."

"I'm going to tell everyone he's named after me." Torjus ran off to find the fiddler again.

Eleven-year-old Anne thrilled not so much at the fiddle music along the way but at her new brother-in-law's collection of paint jars, once they arrived at the groom's home. Her half-sister Margit had married Søren, the talented rosemÅler at Breidalen farm. She nearly shrieked with delight when Søren promised her three half-full jars, a brush, and an art lesson the following morning after breakfast.

When the three days of festivities ended and the guests prepared to leave, Liv told her newlywed daughter, "No one can deny you have the loveliest home in all Kviteseid parish."

"Yours may soon rival ours." Margit grinned and nodded at Little Anne, who was touching up a colorful design on the side of a cart in the yard.

Søren joined the women. He took a glance, laughed, hugged his wife. "What do you say, dearest? Visit your parents once a week? It looks like more art lessons are in order."

"Me, too, me, too!" Torjus yelled.

"You'll need a larger brush than Margit's," Halvor said. "I've got one in the barn just the right size. And a bucket of ox-blood paint. And the whole side of the barn to practice on."

Torjus stared up at his father, scrunching his brow, churning the offer.

"The whole side of the barn!" Halvor repeated.

"Ah, who wants to paint." Torjus took off to chase Sigrid's three-year-old around the courtyard.


~ setting sun~


Early in 1773, an influenza epidemic ripped through the mountains of Telemark.

Folk retreated to their homesteads, the only way to escape the contagion. Wrung with anxiety, Liv waited word from her kin. Her three married daughters bore through, and their husbands. None of the precious little ones fell ill, to her great relief.

Tragedy struck her cousin's family, though. At Åkre farm, widower Såmund caught the flu, as did his four single adult children, still living at home. Margit and Aslak survived, but Torbjørn and Aslak's twin Torbjørg and their father succumbed to influenza's dreaded companion, pneumonia.

At twenty-six, Aslak was left with a lease on a rather unproductive farm. He hired himself out as a laborer, and lived in the outbuilding of whichever farm hired him on.


Fair Anne had her second child that year, a girl she named Liv. Mormor Liv braved the journey to help at the birthing. She felt a giddy catch in her heart just to hold that babe and know they shared names, a link between generations. It gave an added sparkle to her love for the fuzzy-headed little girl. But Little Liv caught the influenza, too, and within the week the helpless newborn died.

"Dear God," Liv wept, "can't your angels keep watch better than this? 'When the sun sets on my last day--' But my poor babe hardly had a first day before the sun set on her!"

~ ~ ~

Little Liv would have been one year old when Fair Anne, still grieving, bore her first son, and named him Torjus, honoring her father, just as Sigrid had done. Liv's son, now nine years old, made his nephews call him Big Torjus. He called Sigrid's son Torjus the Middle, and Fair Anne's, Torjus the Bald.


In 1775, Margit had her first child, and named him after her father-in-law Olav. A year later, Sigrid bore her first daughter whom she named for her mother-in-law Åsne.


After a visit to Fair Anne at Loupedalen, Liv stopped in at the Brunkeberg churchyard. She stood a long silent moment beside Torjus' grave, then moved on. "I have seven grandchildren now, sweet Egeleiv," she told the gravestone of her cousin. "But I won't soon pass you up. Your Knut has five children. Gunnhild's third and last child was stillborn, but Rannei has three now. I'm still three behind you."

She rubbed a hand along the stone. "Tell me, Egeleiv, is there more to existence? I know your body crumbles beneath this dirt before me, but somehow I feel you live on. Did Torbjørn and Torbjørg return to your side when they died? In some realm do you rock my own dear little Liv? Or Gunnhild's poor babe? Do you mingle with my mother Anne, with my grandmother Gunnhild, with my dear Torjus?"

The memory of Torjus still rang in her heart, but like an echo from far away. Halvor's presence loomed solid and warm and of infinite comfort.

Liv sighed and rose to her feet. At the age of fifty-four, she felt slung between two worlds -- the one filled with folk still here, living, breathing, laughing, working late into the evening, and the misty realm of those who had gone ahead on a path she would follow as surely as night follows day. With a tremor in her voice she sang, "When the sun sets on my last day, Up to heaven help me find my way. Over the starbridge, lead me home."

No cause is reported for the deaths at Åkre in 1773, but there was an influenza epidemic that year. The records don't say where Aslak lived after the tragedy.


~ trading with the fiddler ~


When Halvor, Liv, and Åsne arrived home from Breidalen, Little Anne, now sixteen, and twelve-year-old Torjus wondered at their parents' smiles.

"Did Margit have a girl or a boy?" Little Anne asked.

"A boy," Halvor said.

"And you'll never guess his name," Liv said, grinning at Torjus.

"Not another one!" he cried.

Halvor and Liv just grinned the wider.

"You'll have to think up better nicknames," Little Anne told him. Bald has more hair than you, and Middle is too skinny for that name. Maybe if he were fat, now--"

"While on the road home, we happened across the fiddler from Høydalsmo, who is looking for a good saddle horse," Halvor said in an offhand manner. "I mentioned the colt. We're thinking about making a trade."

Torjus knit his brow. "What does he have we'd want?"

"Trading with the wedding fiddler-- No one's getting married, is she?" Little Anne said, directing a look at Åsne, who rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"Torjus, dig down in my old chest," Liv said, pointing to the far wall. "Bring me the bundle at the bottom."

The boy obeyed, hefting the packet as he returned to his mother.

"Your father is a generous, kind man," she said as she began to unwrap the bundle. "He made me a promise before we married. You know the story why we didn't name you Sveinung for your farfar. Well, I've never spoken much about my first husband for whom you're named, but my Torjus," Liv paused as she opened the final wrapping, "was a fine fiddler." She held up the fiddle, her most treasured keepsake.

Torjus' eyes grew round.

"We've seen you hovering around the fiddler from Høydalsmo at every barn dance the last few years," Halvor said. "He has agreed to give you lessons in exchange for the colt."

Torjus whooped in exultation and reached for the instrument.

Liv pulled it back. "Rule number one: Clean hands."

Torjus dashed for the water pail.

"I have clean hands already," Little Anne declared, holding them out.

"And no interest in music," Liv said. "However, Margit's husband gave me something for you. I wonder how clean your hands will stay." She handed over a small wooden box with swirling floral designs painted on the lid.

Little Anne's eyes flashed excitement when she opened the box to find half-full jars of paint and two paintbrushes, one large and one finely tipped. "I have a stack of birchbark drying in the loft. I'll be right back."

"You may want to stay there while you paint!" Liv called after her. She turned a wry smile on Halvor. "And you may want to go tend that colt in the nice quiet barn," she told him. "This fiddle hasn't been tuned for twenty-five years!"

~ laws and taxes ~

When thirty-year-old Aslak arrived to help with the fall harvest, he brought a newspaper that had come all the way from Kristiania. "Look at this," he told Halvor without even shucking his rucksack. "The colonies in Amerika have decided to break free of the British crown!"

The article was a year old, which in these remote mountain dales counted as current news.

"They want to establish their own country, make their own decisions, not leave it all to the King or Parliament across the sea," Aslak explained while Halvor read, Liv peering over his shoulder.

"Our king is across the sea, too," Little Anne said.

Åsne shook her head. "Not across the sea. Just across the strait to Denmark."

"Still, we don't have our own king in our own country," Little Anne said. "Haven't had a true Norwegian king for four hundred years."

"You want to rebel against King Christian?" Åsne asked with a sniff.

"Taxation without representation," Liv read. "That's what they're rebelling against."

"What does 'representation' mean?" Torjus asked.

"In England," Aslak said, "folk can choose who to send to Parliament where they decide the laws of the land, including how much tax to levy. People in Amerika don't get to send anyone to Parliament to speak up for their needs, but Parliament makes laws for Amerika and decides what taxes the colonists must pay to the crown."

"Not very fair," Åsne said.

"The colonists have been trying for years to get King George and Parliament to listen to them," Aslak said, "but it never does any good."

"Do we have a Parliament?" Torjus asked.

"That's what Ting is," Little Anne said.

Halvor looked up from skimming the article again. "Not quite the same. Ting is for local disputes."

"Iceland has a country-wide Ting," Liv said. "I suppose that's like Britain's Parliament."

"Then, don't we have taxation without representation, too?" Torjus wondered.

The adults looked at each other, considering. "Ja, we have it much the same as the colonists in Amerika," Aslak said, drawling out the words. "We pay taxes to the king, however much he says we owe. We don't get any say in the matter, either."

"This will lead to ruin, I'll wager," Halvor said, "this declaration of independence. King George is sure to beat them into the ground." He shrugged his shoulders. "Our king is reasonable. He doesn't milk us dry."

"He hasn't yet," said Aslak as he folded up the well-worn paper.


~ fiddling and feasting ~


Liv heard the knocking of boots and skis in the porchway. She kept on with her weaving, expecting Halvor and Åsne to come in after their visit to Dalen farm.

It was Torjus who stomped in, trailing snow across the plank flooring.

"Boots off, young man!" Liv ordered over her shoulder. "I wasn't expecting you back until tomorrow."

The fourteen-year-old grimaced, slung down his rucksack, sat and unlaced his boots. "Ended early," he muttered.

"I hope you didn't wear that face at the wedding feast. You'd curdle the milk. What happened, did you snap your bow?"

"No. It's fine."

Liv treadled the loom, and the wooden parts squeaked.

"Screeched some sour notes and got laughed at?" Little Anne asked from the corner where she was carding wool.

"No. I never screech anymore."

"Indeed. Two years of lessons are truly paying off," Liv said, tossing the shuttle, banging the beater. "Nils says you're the quickest apprentice he's had."

"He made you play one of those bridal marches you don't like?" his sister asked.

"It isn't that." Torjus sounded pained.

Liv glanced. "What is it then?"

After a long breath, he said, "This was the marriage of Hard Knut at Brekke."

"Yes, I know."

"Well, did you know his new wife Guro is younger than me, not even thirteen yet, and--" Torjus drew the fiddle case from his rucksack and hugged it to himself.

"And what?"

His voice came pinched. "And already with child."

Little Anne gasped.

Liv's fingers stilled on her loom. She twisted on her stool.

Torjus sat there with eyes scrunched shut. "It took two kjøgemesters just to keep Hard Knut from fighting with his guests. He insulted anyone in hearing. Little Guro looked terrified."

Liv rose, stepped to the central hearth, and dished him up a bowl of stew. "Eat. I'll put your things away."

"I'm glad we didn't go. What a dreadful plight," Little Anne said, then broke into a spate of coughing. These days the eighteen-year-old had to stay back from the smoky hearth, and muffle her face from drafts. "I wish--" she rasped out, "there was something -- we could do -- for poor Guro."

"Not much you can do, stuck here at home," Torjus said as he cleaned his bowl. "Not much anyone can do."

"Any other news to tell?" Liv hunted through the crate of firewood for a well-seasoned log. She nestled it among embers in the hearth, trying not to stir up the ashes, then went back to weaving.

"They say the British keep losing battles in the northern colonies in Amerika. The French have been secretly sending weapons and clothing to the revolutionaries, and now they have come out in open support. Maybe Amerika has a chance after all."

But Little Anne didn't. The room grew smoky, and her coughing grew worse. She wrapped her shawl around mouth and nose, gathered up her wool basket, distaff, and spindle, and headed outside, wheezing all the way.

"Take her a brick from the hearth, Torjus," Liv said. "I've chinked every crack I can find but drafts still slip in and swirl the smoke around."

Torjus wrapped a hot brick in a rag and went after his sister. "Up to the loft to spin, hmm?" he said, catching up with Little Anne. "I bet it's a paintbrush you'll be spinning!"

Homme folks in 1779: Halvor (47) & Liv (57): Åsne (23), Anne (18), Torjus (14)

Dalen folks in 1779: Knut (48) & Hæge: Såmund (17), Ingebjørg (14), Hæge (12), Egeleiv (9), Anne (4)

Byggland folks in 1779: Tarald (43) & Sigrid (33): Sveinung (11), Torjus (8), Åsne (3)
    Jon (54) & Birgit (56): Åsmund (17), Halvor (16), Tone (12), Talleiv (9)

~ a wheat year ~


When Liv heard sleighbells, she wrapped up warm and hurried outdoors. Halvor came from the barn as the sleigh rounded into sight, the horse blowing steamy clouds in the chill.

"Morfar!" squealed one little grandson, and leaped from the sleigh before it stopped, followed by his brother. They darted straight to Halvor, each grabbing their grandfather by a leg. Grinning, he tromped around the courtyard like a giant troll with a little nisse on each foot.

Liv met Margit with a joyful hug. "Happy Jul! And welcome home!"

"So glad we could come. Is that Torjus I hear? Serenading the cows, is he?"

"Practicing. It's the first dance where he'll be the only fiddler, and he's a little nervous." Liv greeted her son-in-law, unharnessing the horse, and helped her daughter carry bundles into the house for their stay.

"What's that heavenly smell?" Margit asked, following the aroma to the table and a tray of kling. "That's not barley bread."

"We had a bountiful year. Halvor coaxed that lowest field to yield a crop of wheat."

"I keep my promises," Halvor said as he brought the grandsons indoors. "Wheat for my sweet, whenever I can swing it."

Liv snuggled close and kissed his cheek, then bent to hug the youngsters. "My turn with the troll, boys. Warm up by the hearth or play in the barn?"

"Barn!" they shouted and ran out again.

Knut and Hæge from Dalen farm came by ski. Even the youngest daughter, only four, could handle the three-mile trek, aided by a tow from her big brother Såmund -- Egeleiv's eldest grandchild.

Three years older than Torjus, Såmund often found an excuse to escape his four sisters and pal around with the only son at Homme. They traded tales about the woes of living in households full of women. When not needed at Dalen, Såmund sometimes helped with the Homme farmwork alongside Torjus, who'd return the favor at Dalen.

a typical Norse barn
a typical Norse barn

Now at the Jul festivities in Homme's barn, Såmund of Dalen asked Little Anne to dance.

She sadly shook her head. "I start wheezing after once around the floor," she told him.

Såmund's bachelor uncle Aslak took turns dancing with all the girls in the crowd -- nieces and neighbors -- but most often with Åsne.

Liv and Halvor trailed right behind Aslak and Åsne in one round of telespringar. "I see that look in your eyes," Halvor teased the younger couple. "Will it be a spring wedding?"

Aslak's laughter twisted into anguish. "What life would I offer your lovely daughter?" he asked, drawing aside. "Roaming from place to place, working the fields, living in barns. I need to save up enough to buy a farm before I can even think about marriage."

Halvor clucked his tongue. "Well, there is that."

"It's wise to set priorities in order," Liv said, "but for these few days put them aside. Be merry!" She took their hands and whirled them back into step.

Tarald and Sigrid arrived halfway through the festivities. "Our horse went lame coming over the ridge from Byggland," Tarald explained. "Good thing we talked Jon into bringing his family, too. We piled all the young ones in their sleigh, and the rest of us walked."

"No skis, no snowshoes," Sigrid said, plopping on a hay bale.

The seven children from Byggland straggled in, laughing at their adventure. Jon's twelve-year-old daughter Tone carried in Sigrid's youngest, three-year-old Åsne. "She fell asleep just before we arrived," Tone said.

Soon the skreeling tune of the fiddle roused the child. Off she darted to join the other youngsters.

Liv waved Torjus quiet when the night grew late, calling all the children around her. "Time for the julenek! Who wants to come?" She held up a pole topped with a wheat-sheaf.

Everyone filed outdoors to the courtyard. Halvor brought the pole down with a strong thrust to plant it in the crusted snowpack. "Now the birds can have a Christmas feast, too!"

"Join hands, one and all!" Liv called.

They circled the pole and sang a Juletide hymn, then set out a bowl of porridge for the jul nisse.

"Mor," Margit whispered to Liv as they readied for bed. "Guess what? I'm with child again! And if it's a girl, I'm going to name her for you!"

Liv hugged her daughter tight. "You know how to light up my life!"

pedigree chart in 1779

Human error sometimes crops up in the old records. Was Guro really only 12 when she got married? Her birth year appears as 1767. Could it actually have been 1757, just one slip of a digit?


~ charcoal ~


With a stomping of snowy boots in the entryway, Torjus carried in an armful of firewood.

Liv glanced up from rolling flatbread. "Where's your cap? You're covered in snow!"

He shook his head like a hound. "I worked up a sweat. Last thing I need is a cap." He dumped the seasoned wood in a box by the hearth. The smell of freshly cut spruce wafted through the smoky cabin.

"Don't leave the axe in the yard."

"I'll get it, don't worry." Torjus looked around. "Where's Little Anne?"

Liv paused, scanning the room. "I thought she was sketching in her corner."

"Her coat isn't on its hook. I'll bet she's out in the loft again. Take her a hot brick?"

Liv nodded and went back to rolling.

Torjus prodded a brick from its warming spot in the embers, wrapped it in rags, and strode out.

"Don't forget the axe!" Liv called after him.

The 17-year-old sized up his afternoon's work, piled under the eaves. A whole sledge-load of firewood, split and stacked, and not a blister to show for it. He swung his arms to limber the muscles after all that labor. Not an ache. His fingers? Still nimble enough to dance on the violin.

Whiffles of snow already coated the wood chips around the chopping block where the axe leaned, waiting to retire indoors. Torjus nodded. "I'll be back for you in a minute."

He climbed the ladder to the guest room above the loft and poked his head in.

Sure enough, there stood Little Anne, all bundled up -- and drawing on the flat planked walls with a piece of charcoal.

Torjus stood staring, his gaze traveling over the life-size figures. "Hmph," he sniffed.

Little Anne turned with a start. "Don't tell," she begged him. "Not until I'm finished. It's my Jul gift to Far and Mor."

"That's Sigrid," Torjus said, amazed at the likeness, though it was still only roughly sketched in.

Piles of birchbark sat in one corner -- the sketchpad of the 21-year-old artist. Brushes and pots of paint stood ready.

Torjus watched as she moved to start on the next figure. He recognized it as Tarald almost at once. But before long he began to laugh. "They're naked!"

"It's Adam and Eve," Anne said gravely. "They're supposed to be naked."

"Sigrid will be most annoyed." Torjus laughed and handed Little Anne the warm brick. "I can't wait to see her face!"

He was still grinning when he went back to the cabin.

"The axe?" Liv said.

Torjus whooped at himself and went back out once more.

~ ~ ~

By Christmas of 1782 the painting was finished. Liv and Halvor were astonished at the elegance of the artwork, and word of the mural spread.

Tarald had a good laugh when he saw it, and Sigrid blushed, then commented, "I love the way you painted the apple tree. How about putting in the old currant and raspberry bushes, too -- in the foreground?"

One source mentions a painting of Adam and Eve in the loft at Homme, dating from 1782; another mentions a painted carving. Neither say who the artist was.

map of farms
more farms in Morgedal and Dalane


~ flatbread and newspapers ~


As Liv and Åsne came down the last stretch of trail, their packhorse whinneyed greeting. Åsne shaded her eyes against the westering sun. Someone else had just ridden into Homme's yard and was dismounting near the barn. "Aslak!" she cried, and broke into a run.

After they broke from a hug, she asked, "Well?"

Aslak grinned and patted his jacket pocket. "All set."

Liv cocked an eye as she led the packhorse past. "Surprise, surprise," she murmured, then raised her voice. "A little help here, perhaps?"

The three of them unloaded parcel after parcel of flatbread. "I don't have to ask what you've been doing," Aslak said, sniffing at the aroma. "But where?"

"At Byggland," Åsne said. "Flatbread-baking for the past five days, Mor and Sigrid and I -- and Guro."

"From Brekke?"

"Ja. Four mouths to feed at Brekke, but she's only seventeen and not very skilled with the roller yet. It goes much faster for everyone when many hands join in." Åsne's lips stretched thin. "And she needs a break from that husband of hers."

"Hard Knut."

"Hard indeed," Liv said. "Poor girl. She has bruises on her arms. Finger marks. Someone needs to straighten that man out."

Aslak grimaced. "I just saw the priest today. If I'd known, I could have told him."

"You'll be seeing him again soon, if I'm guessing right," Liv said.

The sweethearts both grinned. "I'll tell him then," Aslak said.

Halvor called down from the hayloft. "Øy, wanderer, what's the news from town?"

Aslak waved a sheaf of yellowing paper. "War and peace and the price of wheat."

After horses were stabled, brushed, and fed, the folk at Homme supped and pored over Aslak's newspapers. The three-year-old paper told more about that war in Amerika. At the battle of Yorktown, French troops had joined George Washington's forces in attacking the British general's base in Virginia. A French fleet provided sea support and fended off the reinforcements answering General Cornwallis' call. The British surrendered that battle, but both sides were so exhausted that war efforts sputtered out.

The other paper, only twelve months past printing, announced Amerika's independence, won in 1783's Treaty of Paris. "Great Britain gave the United States all the land from the mountains of--" Aslak stumbled over the pronunciation as he read from his crumpled newspaper, "Appalachia to the river of, hmm, Missi-pissi. "

"Missi-pissi?" Åsne laughed. "'Squint and pee'!"

"Indian words, I think," Aslak said.

"Let me see," Liv said. "Nei, nei, it's Missi-sippi."

"Then it means, 'Squint and whine'!"

"The Indians don't speak Norse," Aslak growled. "It means something else entirely."

"Now you are missig-sippig," Åsne said with a giggle.

"Better than missig-pissig," Aslak said. He grabbed Åsne's hand. "Here comes my brother at last. Let's go hide in the Garden of Eden while he talks with your father."

Halvor strode to the door to see Knut of Dalen riding into the courtyard. "Now what would your brother need to consult me about?" he asked with a grin as he slapped Aslak on the back. "Think you've finally saved up enough money, have you? What if I've raised my price?"

"Far!" Åsne chided. "Don't make it sound as if you're selling another colt." The two took off in the other direction, heading for the loft.

Liv smiled. Halvor had no intention of making things difficult for the couple. He had even offered to let them take one of Homme's two outfarms and forget about the traditional bride-price, but Aslak insisted on staying independent, even if it meant just scraping along.

Many Norwegian adjectives end with -ig, and the g is silent. "Mississippi" could have sounded like doubled adjectives... with just a little stretch of the imagination!


~ ASS & AHD ~


So Liv's daughter Åsne married Egeleiv's son Aslak. Nineteen-year-old Torjus played the fiddle for their wedding procession on the long trek to Kviteseid church, and back again to Homme farm. Feast tables overflowed with creamy porridge and cinnamon kling, trout and wild game and fresh meat from the autumn slaughter. The barn rang with fiddle-song, and the skip and thump of feet dancing the telespringar, and a cacophony of merry voices.

The guests included Aslak's brother Knut from Dalen farm, just up the dale, his sisters who had married into the family at Naper, beyond high ridge and deep fjord to the west, and his spinster sister Margit, who kept company with Åsne's sister, Little Anne.

Åsne's married half-sisters Fair Anne and Margit came from Breidalen and Loupedalen, while Sigrid and Tarald came from Byggland, just over the ridge to the northeast.

Liv's ten grandchildren, and Egeleiv's twelve, danced and gossiped, giggled in the corners or climbed in the rafters. They ranged in age from twenty-two down to a babe in arms, Fair Anne's fourth child who shared Liv's name.

Along with Tarald came his good friend Jon, who worked the other farm at Byggland, and added four more children to the crowd: three sons and a 17-year-old daughter. Tone lingered near the fiddler's platform, gaze misty and adoring. The love of Torjus' life, though, was still his fiddle.


Aslak and Åsne worked as tenant farmers for a year, across the western ridge at Uddedalen farm where their first child Egeleiv was born. In 1786 they took a year's service on the lands of Aslak's childhood, Åkre farm, though it now belonged to a wealthy widow. There, Åsne gave birth to their first son, Såmund.

On a bright spring day in 1787, on one of Liv's visits to Åkre, she scooped up her grandbaby for a cuddle.

Åsne settled beside her mother, a grin near to bursting. "We've saved up enough at last, Mor!" she announced. "No more leasing, no more working for others. We've bought a farm of our very own!"

"Wonderful!" Liv said. "Which one?"


Liv blinked. "I've never heard of it."

"No surprise. It's not in Kviteseid parish." Åsne giggled at her mother's horrified look. "Don't fret. It's not far -- this side of Høydalsmo, in fact. Just across the boundary into Lårdal parish. In fact, I could throw a note in the stream and it would float right down the Dales to your doorstep."

"It would float right on past. Can't even see Dalaåi creek from Homme, up on the mountainside," Liv sniffed, then smiled. "I'm glad for you. So glad!"

the view down Aae fields to the creek
the view down Åe fields to the creek


Later that summer Halvor and Liv trekked up the Dales and across the parish line to Åe, perched on a hillside. Åsne proudly showed her parents the patched old cottage and the new loft. "See what Aslak spent all winter working on." She pointed to the lintel over the door into the loft's upper chamber.

"Beautiful!" Liv said, tracing the intricate carving. "ASS-AHD-1787. Aslak Såmund's Son, Åsne Halvor's Daughter. May it look out over your fields until the end of time!"

the "loft" at Åe farm, carved with Aslak's and Åsne's initials


~ hinterlands ~


"When I agreed to take Old Ole's run this summer," the new tinker said, chugging a swig of ale, "he warned me about the twisting trails. But I declare, these mountain paths are as crooked as the alleyways in Bergen."

Liv had bought three spools of thread and a bolt of linen from the traveler and invited him to supper. The man had talked nonstop since he arrived, but no one minded. News didn't come to Homme farm as often as before, now that Aslak and Åsne had settled fourteen miles away, up Dalaåi creek, so the family hung on every word from afar.

"Not that it matters much up here in the fjells, eh?" the traveling trader grinned as he pushed back from the dinner table. "Too busy with lambing and planting to bother with the doings of more civilized folk across Europe."

Halvor arched a brow, then glanced at Torjus. "Bring out the fiddle, son, and give us some music while we chat. That new piece, perhaps."

Torjus' eyes gleamed. He nodded, then went to tune his instrument.

"What does a barley farmer care about the troubles beyond the North Sea?" the trader went on. "The world's a small place for you dalesmen, what with the fjells walling off the rest of humanity. The quaint style of your clothing, the twang to your speech--" He chuckled. "You seem to have just stepped out of the medieval age."

Halvor leaned forward and propped his arms on the table. "Go ahead anyway," he said, exaggerating the slur of words so characteristic of inland Telemark. "Tell what you've heard. I'll listen hard and maybe get the drift of your tale."

Liv hid a smile as she cleared away the porridge bowls and dusted crumbs off the embroidered linen tablecloth. Lacework like this was one item traders looked for on their journey through the hinterlands.

"The royal ministry in France has declared heavy new taxes on all landowners regardless of rank and privilege," the trader said. "France lies across the North Sea, you know, beyond Denmark and Germany."

"And that little wedge made by the Netherlands," Halvor put in.

The trader blinked. "Ja, the Netherlands, too. Anyway, the aristocrats are challenging the new taxes in courts of law and in their provincial assemblies. The ministers of King Louis the Sixteenth are hard put to come up with funds from other sources."

In the background, Torjus ran through a telespringar tune, with its syncopated beat and sympathetic strings set a-droning, the signature style of this backwater province.

Then he launched into a sonata.

Liv took a seat, fixing her gaze on their visitor. She didn't want to miss his reaction.

"I've heard how hard hit the French have it," Halvor drawled, hitting his H's hard, playing with old-style alliteration. "The aid they gave to Amerika's fight for independence drained their coffers down to the last dregs."

The trader narrowed his eyes at his host. This backwoods dolt wasn't as ignorant as he'd supposed.

Torjus drew a sweeping melody from his strings, far different from the quaint flavor of country tunes. The lowlander glanced at the twenty-three-year-old heir of Homme.

"Won't be surprised if the French imitate their protegés, the Amerikaners, and revolt against their oppressive govern-ment," Halvor said, slipping into the speech patterns of folk from Kristiania that he'd picked up over the years.

"What's that he's playing?" the trader asked.

"A piece the Harmonic Society at Bergen performed last summer," Liv said, her lips twitching, ready to break into a grin. "By Mozart, wasn't it?"

"Haydn," Torjus murmured over the base of the fiddle as he wound down to his final, pure note.

"Hmmph," the trader snorted. "Well, I thank you for the fine meal, fine conversation, fine music. Must be on my way if I'm to make the next farm before sundown."

When he was out of earshot, the family burst into laughter.

"Just stepped out of the medieval age!" Halvor chortled as he clapped Torjus on the back. "And what a flair you gave it with your performance, you fossegrim!"

"How I would love," Torjus said with a grin, "to visit Bergen some day and hear what Haydn really sounds like!"

~ knotty pine ~


"Not much lumber we can haul in such a small cart," Liv said on the way to Dalen farm.

Torjus slapped reins, urging the horse up the rocky path. "We'll just get the first load today. Come back after snowfall with the sledge for the rest."

"How much is Knut giving you? All those months of work for no pay--"

"Enough to mend that hole in the floor." Torjus grinned to see his mother sputter.

"Surely you deserve--"

"And enough more to plank all the walls indoors. Cleanly-cut boards of pale knotty pine." He spoke with the same relish as Liv felt in a new bolt of cloth.

She settled back, appeased. "Jon and Birgit hiked over from Byggland the other day. They hadn't heard of the Dalen sawmill. Hasn't Knut told anyone?"

"He thinks people will flock without him bothering to spreading the word. I said he should change his name. Knut Sawyer." Torjus drove straight through the yard at Dalen and kept going up the slope.

"Isn't this the path to the holy spring? He didn't build the sawmill there, did he? That would be a sure way to ruin his venture."

Torjus shook his head. "A good ways downstream from Dalaspai. You need rushing water to turn the mill wheel. See, there? That building perched over the gully. The wheel is below, right in the current."

Liv clucked her tongue. "A ramshackle sight like that -- most people will turn right around and go home. If he wants business, Knut had better replace that jumbled siding with good straight boards that show his best work."

Torjus reared back and stared at the mill. "It took many tries to master the saw. Those were the first planks we cut. We couldn't just toss them out."

"Isn't there a pig sty on the farm that needs new planking?"

Torjus grumbled a moment. The unseen creek rumbled in harmony. "I'll suggest redoing the broadside, but I can tell you now he'll just scoff. He's full of grand ideas, and doesn't like hearing their flaws." He helped his mother out of the cart and led her inside.

The fragrance of new-cut wood filled the dusty air. Motes pirouetted in the light streaming in the open door, and sawdust shushed underfoot. Liv gawked at the great circular saw-toothed blade, motionless at the moment, mounted on a platform in the center of the long room. Beyond the contraption, Knut worked with block and tackle to maneuver a log into place.

"Ah Torjus, just in time," the 57-year-old sawyer said. "I don't know where Såmund went to. Give me a hand here."

"Good afternoon, Knut Sawyer," Liv said, trying out the moniker.

"Fru Liv." He nodded. "Did you hear about Brunkeberg? They're set to rebuild the church at last. What timing! Dalen lumber for Brunkeberg church!"

Liv recalled hearing of other new sawmills in the parish, some much closer to the church.

"Hello?" A young woman stepped into the mill, a baby on her shoulder.

"Guro!" Liv smiled. "Good afternoon. What brings you over the ridge?" Too late she noticed the young mother's red-rimmed eyes.

"Looking for planks." Guro sniffled. "For a coffin."

Liv gaped. "Who--?"

Guro's lip quivered. "Ingebjørg. My sweet little Ingebjørg." Her first child, the daughter her brute of a husband so despised.

Liv hurried across, wrapped her in a hug. "How horrible! What happened?"

The young woman choked on a reply. "He says, he says she fell. Out herding. A cliff. He says. I'm not to say anything else." She broke into tears, sagging into Liv's embrace.

Liv glanced at Torjus. "Take the finest of what's due you. For her. Our floor can come later. Come, Guro, sit a bit. We'll take you home."

The baby started crying. Liv took little Olav, crooned him a lullaby while Guro wept on her other shoulder. "Sulli, lulli, little one..."


~ tally ~


The crumbling, fire-damaged ruins of Brunkeberg stavechurch came down in 1790. The parish had finally scraped together funds to rebuild. The new cruciform church had a cross-shaped floor plan. At one end stood the altar, at the other, a baptismal font.

Liv walked through the building shortly after it was completed, marveling at the modern architecture. And the pews! After lifetimes of standing during services, now all the congregation could sit in comfort. Hard wooden pews, what a luxury.

Within a year, Liv took one of those pews during a wedding. Her cousin Egeleiv's oldest grandson, Såmund Knutsson Dalen, married Aslaug Thimble, a young woman from Haugland farm, a neighbor of Fair Anne's and well known for her fine embroidery work.

The Dalen sawmill had provided planking for the church floors. Liv could hear Såmund's father, Knut Sawyer, still grumbling that they hadn't chosen his mill for wall planking as well.

She glanced at Halvor sitting beside her on that marvelous new pew. He dandled his newborn grandson from Åe, who had been named after him. The proud grandpa grinned, his teeth glimmering in the light of the candles on the altar.

Twenty-six-year-old Torjus played the fiddle to and from Brunkeberg, and for the dancing that evening at the Dalen farm. Of Såmund's two sisters, one still lived at home. At the barn dance, she lingered close to Torjus, trying to catch his eye, but his own gaze followed Tone from Byggland, the only daughter of his Uncle Tarald's farming partner.

Liv reminisced about the days when she wished for a second fiddler to free up her beloved for dancing. "Whatever happened to the fiddler from Høydalsmo?" she asked Halvor, who shouldered his little namesake again. "Does he still play for weddings?"

"See if Aslak and Åsne know." Two-year-old Sweet Anne clung to Halvor's leg, begging for another bounce on the horsey.

"They always speed past in the dance so their little angels won't see and howl for mama." Liv laughed. "How will I catch them?" She rose and worked her way through the throng.

"Mormor Liv!" cried Åsne's older two, ages five and six, who left their play in the corner, trailing her to the dance floor.

Liv couldn't catch up with her daughter, and instead ended up chatting with the young wife from Brekke. Three-year-old Olav clung to Guro's skirts while she rocked one-year-old Ingebjørg, named in memory of her older sister. Their chat cut short when Hard Knut punched the father of the bride. The kjøgemeister rallied a brawny troop to haul him out of the barn. Guro heaved a sigh and followed her hot-tempered husband.

~ ~ ~

A few months later the church bells tolled slow and solemn for the funerals of two of Liv's grandchildren: Anne's firstborn, age twenty, and Margit's firstborn, sixteen, struck down by another wave of flu.

In 1792, the bells made a joyful clamoring for several christenings -- for Såmund the Sawyer's firstborn son, and for two more of Liv's grandchildren. Fair Anne and Margit had given birth within days of each other, the fifth time for Anne, the sixth for Margit.

Sigrid and Åsne each had four children, as well, so Liv's tally of grandchildren came to nineteen. Not so long ago, it seemed, her cousin Egeleiv, with seven grandchildren at the time, had murmured, "You must do your best to pass me up."

Liv cuddled little Halvor, grandson to both herself and to Egeleiv. "I did, after all, cousin," she whispered to the memory. "I've surpassed you by three now. But what a delight to share four of them with you."


~ one-eyed trolls ~

Åe folks in 1797: Aslak (50) & Åsne (41): Egeleiv, Tall Såmund (11), Anne (8), Halvor (6), Egeleiv (2)

Dalen folks in 1797: Knut (66); Såmund (35) & Aslaug (30): Knut (5), Gunnhild (3), Hæge (0)

Byggland folks in 1797: Tarald (61) & Sigrid (51): Sveinung (29), Torjus (26), Åsne (21), Olav (12)
    Jon (72): Åsmund (35), Halvor (34), Tone (30), Talleiv (27)


War and tumult raged on the continent, but Liv paid it no mind. Across the North Sea in France, the revolting middle class pulled down the monarchy (executing the king), demolished all Catholic institutions (slaughtering priests), even tore apart the calendar (mandating 10-day weeks and resetting the year to 1). But in Kviteseid parish, Liv's only son was getting married.

Sixty-five-year-old Halvor walked alongside the children's cart where the path was wide enough. Liv, seventy-five, rode with the little ones. Her knees wouldn't last the day-long trek by foot. She told the youngsters stories to while away the time.

Also in the wagon rode Aslaug Thimble, the young mother from Dalen -- Såmund the Sawyer's wife -- who was expecting her third child.

"I've got two mormors," three-year-old Gunnhild jabbered from her mother's side. "Mormor Liv who lives close by, and Mormor Gunnhild who lives in the valley. We got the same name."

Liv laughed. "I'm proud to be like a grandmother to you, Gunnhild. Let's see, what is the actual connection? Your farfar Knut the Sawyer is the brother of my son-in-law Aslak. Plus, your oldemar Egeleiv was my cousin."

Gunnhild thought a moment, then declared, "That's too confusing, Mormor Liv. May I please have more flatbread?"

"Ja, you may. What good manners you have." Liv fished out another crust for the child. "Your oldemar Egeleiv made the best wedding kling from flatbread and butter. I wish mine turned out half as well."

Aslaug Thimble shifted position, one hand on her heavy belly. "On the way home, I think I'll get out and walk and see if my babe will come the sooner. I'm ready to put this load aside."

"An evening of dancing will certainly help," Liv said.

"Hah! Like this, I can't whirl without spinning off balance!"

A boy came running along the wedding procession. "Morfar, Mormor, there you are!" called out eleven-year-old Tall Såmund from Åe. Aslak and Åsne's older son wore his best vest with shiny brass buttons. "Why didn't you wait for us?"

Morfar Halvor slapped a hand on his grandson's shoulder. "We knew you'd catch up. Where's my namesake?"

Tall Såmund rolled his eyes. "Little Halvor found a frog."

Halvor's and Liv's daughter Åsne had borne Aslak five children, though their firstborn, Egeleiv, had not survived to her tenth year. They gave their youngest daughter her sister's name to carry on her memory.

"Hey, isn't there a fiddler?" Tall Såmund demanded. "Far said there'd be a fiddler playing all along the way to Brunkeberg."

Gunnhild spoke up, eager to repeat what she'd heard. "The fiddler is waiting for us in Borkedal."

"Borkedal?" Tall Såmund guffawed. "Morgedal, silly!" He ran back along the path.

Gunnhild crossed her arms and scowled. "I don't like Tall Såmund. He doesn't have good manners like me."

"Tell us another story, Fru Såmundsdotter," Gunnhild's big brother begged Liv.

"How about the tale of a boat that sails over mountains and dales?" Liv suggested. "Imagine if we had the magical ship that folds up small enough to go in your apron pocket, Gunnhild. We'd skim over the ridge and down to the churchyard before you could say Shortshanks!"

Gunnhild grinned and nestled in close, forgetting all about Tall Såmund's insult. Nothing Gunnhild liked better than storytime.

~ ~ ~

Shortshanks was less than an hour old when he set out on his first adventure. "You're too young to seek your fortune!" his poor mother cried, but the baby insisted.

"If my brother Pippin can seek his, I can just as well seek mine," Shortshanks piped in his baby voice. "I must hurry and catch up with him."

The twins toddled along together, then decided to go their separate ways. Pippin headed west, and Shortshanks, east.

East was the land of the one-eyed trolls. When Shortshanks came across an ugly old hag, he snatched her eye.

"Who did that?" the she-troll squealed. "Give it back!" She clawed at the air all around, not realizing the thief was only knee-high.

Shortshanks stood on tiptoe. "What will you give me for your eye?" Then he ducked.

For all her scrabbling around, the blind hag couldn't find the thief. Growling in anger and defeat, she drew a packet from her pocket. "Take this, but give me back my eye."

"What is it?"

"A ship that travels over land and sea. It's folded up."

"Folded? A ship?"

"Put your foot in, and it grows big enough to carry a troop. Now give me my eye!"

Shortshanks dropped the eyeball in her pocket, then stuck one bare toe into the folded packet.

Sure enough, it burst into a deck beneath his feet and lurched up higher than the troll's head. By the time the hag got her eye back into its socket, Shortshanks had untied knots, dropped the sail, and grasped the steer-board. The sail caught the wind, and the ship sped away, over field and meadow, over brook and gully, over ridge and dale.

~ ~ ~

Huvestad farm, on the way east over the ridge from Homme
Huvestad farm, on the way east over the ridge from Homme

"Over a ridge as big as this?" Gunnhild asked as the procession crossed over the height east of Homme Farm.

"Ja, and bigger still."

"How did Shortshanks snatch the troll's eye?" Gunnhild's brother asked. "Eyes don't pop out like that."

"Maybe she had it out to polish it up," Liv said with a laugh. "Or maybe she used it to play marbles."

"Mormor!" both children chided.

~ ~ ~

Shortshanks played the same trick on two more one-eyed trolls. He ransomed the eyeballs for a magic sword and a knack for brewing many barrels of ale at one time.

When at last he came back into the realm of mankind, he toddled along the shore of a fjord until he saw a castle on a hill. There he went to work for the kitchen maid, fetching firewood and buckets of water.

~ ~ ~

view from the Brekke area toward Bjaaland farm
view from the Brekke area toward Bjåland farm, a "lofty hall": the oldest steading in Morgedal valley where the wealthiest landowner dwelled

"I see a castle!" Gunnhild cried, and pointed. The travelers had just broken out of the forest into the dale of Morgedal. Up the rise to the northwest sat a lofty hall.

"I hear a fiddle," her brother said.

Halvor brought the cart pony to a halt. "We've got a few minutes before the fiddler joins us. Who wants out to run around a bit?"



He hoisted out the children.

"And me," Liv said. "These creaky bones need a stretch."

~ ~ ~

Torjus fidgeted impatiently on the path, dashing in his groom's finery. His gaze fixed on the far bend as fiddle music skirled on the morning breeze.

The fiddler rounded the bed, and a brightly-dressed, merry crowd followed right behind him. Liv grinned to watch Torjus lope to meet them.

Everyone from Homme and Dalen farms cheered as Tone from Byggland rode past in her bridal cart, all smiles. Torjus strode along behind, his cheeks as red as the embroidery on his vest.

Heart near bursting with gladness, Liv climbed back into the children's cart. The youngsters piled in, and the cart joined the procession. Halvor took a turn story-telling, regaling the youngsters with the ancient tale of Skidbladnir, a magic ship forged by dwarves.

Liv remembered how her own first wedding procession seemed to last for weeks, yet today the sun practically skimmed across the sky. Before she knew it, they arrived at Brunkeberg church, and the fiddler led everyone inside.

Liv didn't recognize the priest. She wondered if he truly was new to the parish, or if her memory was failing her again. She gave a warm greeting in case they'd already been introduced, and hobbled along inside.

How pleasant to take a seat right up front. Liv settled, glancing around -- and realized she was the oldest one there. Halvor's mother Åsne had died in her sleep just three years ago, having reached the age of eighty-five.

Her daughter Margit arrived just before the invocation. Her other daughters had saved Margit a whole row, and gave their nephews and nieces hugs as they filed in. Not yet fifty, the widow still looked in shock from the death of her husband earlier that year. Margit's three strapping sons had taken on the whole load of farmwork, supporting their mother and sisters.

Little Anne left the congregation partway through the wedding rites. Her wheezing was growing worse, even in the warm summer weather, but she soon had her coughing under control.

The ceremony seemed short to Liv. So did the homeward procession.

Liv sat out the dancing. The feast passed in a flash, though she knew the day must seem unending to bride and groom.

Liv rested and watched as her daughter Sigrid shepherded folk into the clean-up. Neighbors packed up their children and went home.

Såmund the Sawyer lingered, swigging at another stein of wedding ale.

Tone's silver bridal crown gleamed in the guttering candlelight at the feasting table where she murmured with her father in a last heart-to-heart.

Torjus thrummed with impatience, Liv could see. Halvor beckoned him to her side, then cleared his throat. "What a date this is, son. The greatest turning point in your life so far. It seems fitting to add another major turn." He drew out a folded parchment. "I've had documents drawn up. With Jon Byggland and Såmund Sawyer as witnesses, your mother and I are signing over to you the farm deed. It's time you inherit."

Torjus stood speechless.

"Of course," Halvor said with a grin, "this means the responsibility for all the farmwork falls on your shoulders. I'll help as long as I've strength, but in the end it will all be up to you."

"Far, Mor," Torjus said, his voice high with emotion. "I didn't expect--"

Liv patted his arm. "Nothing has changed, not really. We'll still be eating at the same table."

Halvor called his witnesses, the deal was done, the date signed.

Torjus took his bride to the honeymoon suite in the loft, watched over by the gentle smiles of Adam and Eve.

Torjus' bride Tone came from one of the families farming at Byggland. Another Byggland couple was Tarald and Sigrid, Liv's daughter and son-in-law/brother-in-law. See Appendix 3.

Legal transfer of deed to Homme farm from Halvor to Torjus actually took place in 1794.


~ bonfire ~


"In the west the sun is setting," Liv sang as she rocked the baby. "God our Fader, thanks for blessings. Keep us safe the whole night long." Had it truly been 43 years since she learned the evening song from her mother-in-law? Right here in this little cottage.

Baby Liv gurgled.

"Thanks for food, and thanks for healthiness, Thanks for clothes and thanks for happiness. Bless our hearts with peace and calm!"

"Calm," babbled one-year-old Halvor, nestling by her side.

"Aren't you a little echo!" Liv snuggled him closer, heart thrumming with delight. Her son Torjus had named his first two children after his parents.

At the central hearth, Tone pulled heating bricks from the coals then set aside the poker. "Isn't there a second verse?"

"All about end of life." Farmor Liv laid baby Liv in the cradle. "Your sweet babe is right at the start. Why sing about her last day?"

"Goodnight then." Tone kissed her cheek.

Farfar Halvor pulled Liv into a long hug. "To keep you warm," he murmured in her ear.

She squeezed him tight, laughing. "That's what the bricks are for." Liv wrapped them, bundled up, and scurried across a wind-blasted courtyard to join Little Anne.

Upstairs in a loft, the 38-year-old huddled under a pile of woolen blankets in a chamber that lacked heat, but also lacked smoke. One lungful inside the smoky cabin set her to coughing so hard she gagged.

Liv crawled in beside her daughter, keeping her warm the whole frigid night long.

~ ~ ~

Homme folks in 1799: Halvor (67) & Liv (77); Torjus (34) & Tone (32): Halvor (1)

Dalen folks in 1799: Knut (68); Såmund (37) & Aslaug (32): Knut (7), Gunnhild (5), Hæge (2), Bjørgulv (0)

Liv's worry eased when June's long sunny days brought balmy weather. Fresh air to soothe Anne's wheezing lungs.

On midsummer's eve, Little Anne stayed far back from the bonfire. Her four married sisters and their families had gathered at Homme to celebrate the shortest night of the year. Liv reveled in delight to be surrounded by all 18 of her grandchildren, ranging from six months to 28 years old.

Four others had not survived their childhood. Their deaths still brought heartache, a shadow on tonight's delight.

Tone's father Jon from Byggland joined the gathering. So did Aslak's brother Knut Sawyer from Dalen and his son's family. Stories and jokes and laughter flew around the bonfire.

Gloaming still shone in the sky at midnight when Liv and Tone brought out platters of kling. The menfolk tapped a keg of ale.

Little Anne joined the crowd to get her share -- at just the wrong moment. The fitful breeze blew a cloud of smoke into her face, and she backed off, shaking her head. "I'll be fine," she choked out between racking coughs. She headed for the cabin.

Liv chatted a while more with her 13-year-old grandson Tall Såmund from Åe, then went inside to check on Anne.

the typical corner bed of old Norse tradition
the typical corner bed of old Norse tradition

She found her daughter sprawled on the corner bed, unable even to gasp, lips turning blue. Liv screamed for Halvor.

Before the untended bonfire flames flickered down to mere coals, Little Anne lay dead, her head in Liv's lap. "Nei, nei, nei," Liv sobbed, stroking her daughter's hair. "Not you, too! Why must death take so many of my dear ones?"

Halvor wrapped arms around his wife, weeping along with her. Sigrid, Fair Anne, Margit, Åsne, and Torjus leaned on each other for comfort. The grandchildren milled around, speaking in whispers.

"It comes too late, I know," Aslak said later that night. "But if only I'd heard earlier--" His voice trailed off.

Liv wiped her eyes. "Heard what?"

"A different way of building hearths that funnels smoke away." He gazed at the central hearth with a neglected stewpot hanging on its chain from a roof beam. Wisps of smoke spiraled from the embers, wending their lazy way to the smokehole beside the central ridgepole of the roof. "I saw a house up in Høydalsmo built this new way. The hearth is in the corner, and a tunnel built of bricks runs up through the roof. It's called a chimney. It keeps the air clean indoors."

In her cradle, Little Liv coughed, then fell silent. All the adults caught their breaths, but then the babe gurgled. One plump fist worked free of her swaddling.

"It's not too late," Torjus said, his face grim. Shortly after the funeral he visited Høydalsmo, studying the techniques for building a chimney. Then he and his brothers-in-law set about hauling stone.

the corner fireplace in a cabin
the corner fireplace in a cabin

~ headstones ~


In early autumn, Halvor's younger brother Tarald collapsed while chopping wood. "I told him to leave it to the boys," Sigrid said, wiping tears from her cheeks. "He's sixty-three years old, after all. Hasn't felt well all week."

Liv sat with her eldest daughter by Tarald's bedside while Halvor paced. One of Tarald's sons had dashed to Homme to fetch Halvor and Liv to Byggland farm. Another had ridden for the doctor. Halvor kept going to the door and gazing down the winding path that led to Morgedal.

The doctor arrived too late. Tarald's lips turned as blue as Anne's did just before her death. With one last cry, his body wrenched -- and then lay still.

The world shrank, narrowed to one small room. Liv, Halvor, Sigrid and her four grown children huddled in grief.


"I'm wearing my own path of tears through Brunkeberg graveyard," Liv told Halvor after Tarald's funeral, the last of several in a row. She gazed around at the too-familiar gravestones. "There was a christening in the spring for the baby at Dalen, I know there was, but I don't remember that joyous day. I only remember the weeping and all the farewells."

She trailed one finger over a neighboring headstone. Freshly carved letters spelled out "Hæge Torbjørnsdotter," grandmother of the new baby at Dalen.

Torjus' little boy came romping between the markers, peeking at his farmor and farfar with an untroubled grin. He trotted over to Liv and raised his arms. "Up, up!" he cried.

"Handsome Little Halvor," Liv said as she scooped him up and tried to smooth her grief away for the little one's sake.

"Sing song, Farmor," the toddler begged. His stable of words grew larger every day.

Silly songs and ditties had slipped from memory, banished by grief. Liv hummed a note, waiting for her tongue to come up with something. Before she knew it, the evening psalm spilled out. She went all the way to the end of the first verse, her voice petering out after the phrase, "Bless our hearts with peace and calm."

Oh ja, she prayed silently. How I need peace and calm!

"More!" Little Halvor demanded.

Liv cleared her throat. "No more of that one."

"More!" The boy put one hand on each of her cheeks and looked her solemnly in the eyes. "God our Fader," he sang, each word coming clear as a lark's spring call, "while we sleep now, Let thine angels their watch keep now. Through the night, shine from thy throne! When the sun sets on my last day, Up to heaven help me find my way. Over the starbridge lead me home!"

Liv trembled. "How do you know those words?" she whispered. "I never sang them to you!"

"God Fader says peace, Farmor!" He planted a kiss on her cheek, then wriggled out of her grasp and ran off between the headstones.

Liv's knees wobbled. Her husband threw an arm around to steady her. She touched her cheek where the child's wet lips had smacked. "Out of the mouths of babes." Her brows arched in wonder, and the knot of grief vanished.

"His angels," Halvor said, "do indeed still keep watch."

Brunkeberg churchyard in 2006
Brunkeberg churchyard in 2006

By this time Liv had 22 grandchildren; 18 still living. Two of Liv's daughters were widows, but they had strapping big sons to keep their farms going.


~ boiled potato ~


"What on earth is this thing?" Liv asked as she squinted through the haze of her fading eyesight at a bulbous tuber, heavy in her hands.

The traveling trader grinned. "It's called a potato. It comes from Amerika."

She sniffed the pale lump. "Not very fresh, then, is it?"

He laughed. "This particular potato didn't come all the way across the sea, but that's where the first ones came from. Indians grow them in South Amerika."

"Indian food?" asked Gunnhild. The six-year-old had hiked the three miles from Dalen with her father to return a tool he had borrowed for repairs to his sawmill. "I thought they just ate buffalo!" She drew an imaginary bow and shot several arrows at the closest bison. The woolly beast blinked, bleated, and went back to nibbling weeds near the fence.

"If I were an Indian," Liv told Gunnhild, "I'd get tired of the same old meat every day." She turned back to the trader.

"This one I got from a farmer on the coast," the man said, "who got his first tubers from a man in Kristiania. Country folk in England and Ireland have been growing them for nigh on fifty years now."

"What does it taste like?" Liv wanted to know, forever looking for alternatives to bland barley porridge. Their wheat crop never thrived, especially in years with cool rainy summers which happened more and more often of late.

"Let me join you for dinner, and I'll show you how to boil it up. Simple, really. Then, if you want more, I'll give you a good price on a whole bag."

"I doubt I'd like it so well I'd want that many all at once."

He waved a hand. "Not to eat. To plant! They're easy to grow, don't mind the cold or the damp. See these little dimples? They're called 'eyes.' Just cut the tuber in chunks so each chunk has an eye and plant them a couple inches deep."

"It can't be that easy."

"Lots of babies being born in Ireland, and none of 'em going hungry! Feed 'em on potatoes and milk, and they grow up strong and healthy. A proven fact. Here, I've got testimonials about the quality of this miracle tuber." He produced a sheaf of dog-eared papers.

"Nearly as magical as Frigg's golden apples, from what these folks say," Liv mused as she peered at one leaflet after another. She shrugged. "Stay for midday meal, then, and we'll give it a try."

"We're having Frigg's magic po-teh-toes for dinner!" chanted Gunnhild. "May I help cook them?"

"I believe your father is nearly ready to leave, Gunna." Liv gave the child a hug. "But if they turn out as tasty as the trader says," she whispered in Gunnhild's ear, "I'll buy a few extra and cook them up next time you visit."

The trader left happy that evening, his pocket a little heavier with coins and his wagon a little lighter. Torjus enthused about the new crop in spite of Halvor's misgivings. "You said the farm is mine now, Far," Torjus said, putting his foot down. "I want to give this a try."

"Ja, give it a chance, dearest," Liv said, looking forward to adding potatoes to the menu in the fall. The trader had hinted she could add cooked potatoes to flatbread dough to give the large, thin wafers a softer texture. She couldn't wait to taste the results.

Homme folks in 1800: Halvor (68) & Liv (78); Torjus (35) & Tone (33): Halvor (2), Liv (0)

Dalen folks in 1800: Knut (69); Såmund (38) & Aslaug (33):Knut (8), Gunnhild (6), Hæge (3), Bjørgulv (1)


~ closing doors ~


Little Halvor burst into the cabin. "We're done, Farmor! Come see!"

Liv blinked at him. "So soon? Hmm-- I need to rest here a little longer--" Her eyes drifted shut.

Halvor giggled. "You'll make the rocking chair too heavy. Papa says it's the last thing to--"

"I'll help you up, Mor," Torjus said.

"My word, where did you come from?" Liv allowed her son to hoist her to her feet. "Did I drowse off again?"

"Of course you did. You're enjoying the life of ease you've earned. And the new house will make it even easier." Torjus steadied Liv over the threshold and across the yard.

"What about the rocker?" little Halvor called.

"We'll fetch it."

Liv had to think a moment before recognizing the voices of the brothers-in-law from Byggland farm. She peered up at the new house Torjus had built over the last two years. "With glass pane windows, both high and low!"

"Yes, Mor. There's a window in your room, too. They're all standing open to air out the smell of sawdust, but we can close them tight against the evening chill. Now, two steps up into the mudroom entryway."

"My word, a railing and everything." One hand on the rail, Liv lurched up and inside.

a two-story farmhouse
a two-story farmhouse, with grassy roof and mudroom entry

The entryway opened onto a living area with wooden floorboards, flat and even from wall to wall. No central hearth. Liv's eyes teared up to see the stonework in the corner. A fireplace and chimney. "You did it," she whispered.

"Yes. No more smoky rooms in the middle of winter. Nor in summer. We'll use the old cabin for a summer kitchen."

Liv marveled at the wrought ironwork set into the fireplace. Swinging arms for pots to hang from. Grates below.

"Over here," Torjus said, "the doorway into your downstairs bedroom."

Little Halvor grabbed Liv's hand. "Our rooms are upstairs, Farmor. Come see!"

Liv eyed the stairway, wishing she could. She could hear Farfar Halvor up there, talking with their daughter-in-law. "If I take these steps, my knees won't forgive me."

Åsmund and Talleiv from Byggland brought in the rocking chair and placed it near the corner hearth.

Liv settled into it with a sigh. She looked over the stonework. "You didn't haul all these from the creek bank, did you?

"I raided the old gravemounds."


Torjus laughed. "I dug into one as a boy. There's nothing buried there, just stones cleared from the fields long ago. No graves. Not even any viking swords and hammers like my father-in-law dug up at Byggland."

an ancient 'gravemound' at Homme farm
an ancient "gravemound" at Homme farm

From upstairs came a thump and a wail. Tone came downstairs with the baby shrieking in her arms, and three-year-old Liv hopping down behind her, jabbering about snowflakes and trolls and bent nails.

Farmor Liv eyed her bedroom door, and smiled. Come evening she and Halvor could close the door on childish mayhem.

Close the door on grown-up talk about a French general named Bonaparte. Close the door on word of King Christian's decline. Close the door on news of a British sea attack on Copenhagen.

Close the door on trouble and woe. Open her heart to peace.


~ glittering stars ~


1803 began with delightful news. "You're going to be an oldemor," Liv's daughter Sigrid announced.

"A great-grandmother?" Liv puzzled over the thought for a moment. "One of my grandchildren is expecting? Wonder of wonders! Who is it?"

"The oldest of the mob."

"Little Sveinung?"

Sigrid laughed. "He's not so little, Mor. He has 35 years, a wife, and a cabin of his own."

"When did he get married?"

"Last year. Remember? You embroidered pillowcases for the newlyweds."

"I thought those were for Margit's daughter."

"You just finished those -- your second set. Next month is her wedding. I won't be surprised if they soon present you and Far with a second oldebarn."

"Two great-grandchildren? Well, I have two arms, just right for two babes, and we three can nestle together in the rocker. I'll sing them the evening psalm and put us all to sleep."

~ ~ ~

One snowy evening near the end of the year, Liv's daughter-in-law Tone cleared away the supper tray from the bedside. From the other room came the murmur of voices, the giggling of children, the laugh of Oldefar Halvor, still hearty at the young age of seventy-one.

"The potatoes were delicious," Liv said, her voice feeble with her eighty-one years. "Though I couldn't finish my portion. And the fish soup, mmm! I'm so glad Torjus bought that barrel of salted cod. It won't last the winter, it tastes so good. Nei, nei, don't try to fluff my pillows. You can hardly bend that far, and you with two more months to go."

Tone laughed and patted her round belly. "Grandchild number twenty-four is going to be a big one."

"Now now, don't call the poor babe by a number," Liv said with mock sternness. "What names did you choose? I can never remember."

"Gyri after my farmor, or Jon after my father."

"Ja, now I remember. Little Jon." Liv's eyes sank closed. It seemed like she was always missing parts of conversations lately, and forgetting details. "Young Halvor needs a little brother."

Soon after Tone carried the dishes away -- or perhaps hours later, Liv couldn't be sure -- five-year-old Halvor tromped down the stairway and marched right into his farmor's room. "I have a song for you," he said as he climbed up on the cushions beside the old woman.

Liv smiled. "Sing away, little angel," she whispered.

In his high, pure voice, Little Halvor sang the evening psalm, both verses -- the first time since that day in Brunkeberg graveyard three years before.

Tears came to Liv's eyes. Weakly she lifted one hand to ruffle the boy's hair as the words floated like doves in the air around her. "When the sun sets on my last day," he sang at the end, "Up to heaven help me find my way. Over the starbridge lead me home!"

"Over the starbridge," Liv murmured, and she closed her eyes once more, drifting off to a silver path that led up, up, over a span of glittering stars.

Homme folks in 1803:Halvor (71) & Liv (81); Torjus (38) & Tone (36): Halvor (5), Liv (3), Birgit (2)

Byggland folks in 1803:matriarch Sigrid (57) (Liv's daughter): Torjus (32), Åsne (27), Olav (18)
    Sveinung (35) & Gunnhild (32): "Sweet" Sigrid (0)

other Byggland folks in 1803: Jon (78): Åsmund (41), Halvor (40), Talleiv (33)

map of Kviteseid area in the early 1800s
Kviteseid area in the early 1800s


~ Four Farms ~

Åe, Dalen, Homme, & Brekke


Dalen folks in 1807: Såmund (45) & Aslaug (40): Knut (15), Gunnhild (13), Hæge (10), Bjørgulv (8), Tarjei (6), Såmund (3)

Åe folks in 1807: Aslak (60) & Åsne (51): Såmund (21), Anne (18), Halvor (16), Egeleiv (12)

Homme folks in 1807: Old Halvor (75); Torjus (42) & Tone (40): Halvor (9), Liv (8), Birgit (6), Jon (3), Sveinung (0)

Brekke folks in 1807: Knut (69) & Guro (40): Olav (19), Ingebjørg (17), Andres (14), Halvor (12), Sveinung (9), Birgit (3)

~ Nordic fleets ~


The bonfire snapped and crackled, spitting sparks skyward to mingle with the stars. Friends and family had gathered at Homme for the harvest celebration, though no one felt festive, other than the trio of three-year-olds chasing each other around the dark, stubbly field.

Aslak from Åe had just brought word of the second British bombardment of Copenhagen. "With the French and Spanish navy destroyed at Trafalgar two years ago," he said, "the Danish and Norwegian fleets are the only possible threat to Britain's rule of the seas. King George worries that Napoleon is planning to take over the Nordic fleets. He wants to pressure our King Frederik the Sixth into an alliance before Napoleon makes a move.'"

"Pressure?" Old Halvor said. "Whatever happened to courtesy? Couldn't England have sent ambassadors to talk first?"

Aslak waved that question aside with a flap of his hand. "Talk alone won't end a century-old policy of neutrality. After a hundred years of peaceful existence alongside the rest of squabbling Europe, Denmark won't go to war simply at another nation's request."

"And if they don't go," Torjus said, "they can't drag us into it, either."

Aslak's lanky son Tall Såmund sat leaning forward, forearms on his knees, staring into the flames. "Will we end up fighting, do you think?" he asked, his voice low. At twenty-one, he was old enough to become a soldier, but he had never been the fighting type. When his cousin ambushed him with a wrestling hold, Tall Såmund's response was simply wriggling free.

"Pray not," his mother Åsne said as she gazed with worried eyes at her eldest son.

"I doubt it'll come to war," said Såmund the Sawyer -- now the only sawyer at Dalen since his father Knut died two years earlier.

Nineteen-year-old Olav Brekke, visiting from Morgedal beyond the ridge, got up and paced around at the edge of the firelight. "We should start drilling, prepare for the worst. Some of us are better shots than others, but we could all use the practice." He sounded eager, a thrum of battle-fever in his voice.

Åsne glanced at Aslak. He met her gaze, and the same question hung in his eyes. Would war reach so far up The Dales as to snatch their son from Åe farm?

A resinous pine-bough in the bonfire cracked like rifleshot.

Gunnhild jumped. All that talk of war set the thirteen-year-old's nerves on edge. Power struggles on the continent and at sea? The news rattled the peace of the mountain farms. When her family had trekked over from Dalen, she'd expected a merry evening, not such a glum one.

the sloping fields at Homme farm
the sloping fields at Homme farm

Out in the dark sloping fields of Homme, one of the romping three-year-olds shrieked in pain. Not the voice of Gunnhild's little brother nor of the Homme boy. Must be the little girl visiting from Brekke.

Gunnhild strode down the gloomy hillside. "Are you two picking on Birgit?" she asked the boys as she scooped up the sobbing child.

"Nei," Jon Homme said.

Gunnhild's little brother piped up. "Clumsy picked on herself. Clumsy tripped."

"Don't call names, Mundi. Birgit isn't clumsy. It's too dark to see tree roots. Come on, sweet thing. Your brother Olav will hold you until you feel better."

"Not Olav!" Birgit wailed.

"Well, nei, boys aren't much good at comforting," Gunnhild agreed. "Why didn't your big sister come along, too? She'd have known how to make you feel better."

Birgit snuffled. "Ingebjørg got a black eye. "

"Ooh," Gunnhild said, wincing. "How did that happen?" She expected to hear about a nanny goat too rambunctious during milking.

"Far hit her," Birgit said and sniffled again. "Far is in a big, bad mood. Sveinung took Ingebjørg to the seter to get away, and Olav brought me--" The child sucked in a shuddering breath, threw her arms around Gunnhild's neck, and bawled.

Gunnhild tightened her arms around Birgit. "What now?"

"Bad, I'm bad! Not supposed to tell!" Birgit sobbed.

"Hush! You're not bad." Gunnhild stood still in the deep shadows of the night, out of earshot of the gathering around the bonfire. The flames blazed angry against the black backdrop. Her own father had his share of dark moods, too, and arguments with her mother about his debts.

"Now he'll hit me," Birgit cried, "and I'll have a black eye, too."

"Your far doesn't need to know."

"Not Far." Birgit shuddered again. "Olav."

"Hush! I won't tell Ornery Olav either. Say now, what's your favorite bedtime story?"

"Kari Woodencloak."

"Would you like me to tell it now?"

Sniffling, Birgit nodded against Gunnhild's shoulder.

"Very well. There was one time a king who had a dear wife and a lovely, clever daughter."

"Named Kari."

"The queen died. The king and princess Kari cried and cried, but one day the king was done crying. Soon he married again -- a beautiful woman, a widow queen, who already had a daughter of her own. Now Kari had a stepsister."

"A mean stepsister," Birgit said.

Gunnhild headed back towards the gathering at the bonfire. "The stepsister and stepmother were jealous of Kari because she was so lovely and clever, but as long as the king was at home, they didn't dare do her any harm."

Birgit sighed. Gunnhild wished this sweet child had a father as devoted as the fairytale king. No wonder this story was Birgit's favorite. Poor little girl.

"But the king had to go off to war," Gunnhild went on as she settled Birgit on a log bench near the bonfire and inspected the fresh scrape on the child's leg. "The wicked stepmother wasted no time in beating poor Kari, and made her go hungry." As she blotted the bleeding, Gunnhild noticed older scabs and bruises. She took a sidelong glance at Olav of Brekke, who was still bragging to Tall Såmund of Åe about his rifle skills and readiness to answer any call to arms.

"I don't like evil stepmothers," Birgit murmured.

"Me neither." Gunnhild went on with the tale of the powerful dun bull that helped Kari escape the evil stepmother's clutches and find a safe home in a faraway land.

Birgit fell asleep snuggled against Gunnhild, while the grownups all around talked about Emperor Napoleon and his iron fist. Europe had its dictator, Gunnhild thought, and so did Morgedal valley.

~ budstikk ~


A month later, Åsne was carrying buckets of washwater to the butcher shed when Ornery Olav Brekke rode into the farmyard at Åe.

"Where are your menfolk?" he asked as he drew in his lathered horse.

She nodded at the shed. "Butchering the pig. They can't break off in the middle, now. Will you lend a hand, or just watch?"

Shaking his head, he swung down and strode ahead of her. "No time to dally. I've got far to ride, carrying the budstikk, spreading the news." He planted himself in the doorway of the shed. "We're at war," he announced to Aslak and his two sons.

"Rumors again," Aslak grunted. "Watch it, Tall Såmund -- you nearly sliced my thumb!"

"No rumor!" Ornery Olav brandished a tattered newspaper. "Our King Frederik just proclaimed alliance with Napoleon, and for good cause. Listen to what those arrogant Brits did! When Frederik refused to align with Great Britain, the admiral of the fleet beseiging Copenhagen commandeered all the ships in port. 'Seventeen large warships,'" he read, "'seventeen frigates, sixteen smaller warships, twenty-six cannon boats, and nearly a hundred transport ships loaded with all kinds of war supplies.' He manned them with his own sailors and sailed off with them to England's shores. The Rape of the Fleet, they're calling it in Kristiania."

Aslak stepped into the light streaming through the doorway and took the paper, leaving bloody fingerprints. Såmund came up beside him, his butcher knife still in hand.

"Frederik is committing his Danish troops," Aslak said, glancing over the column. "No mention of Norse."

"It's coming, you can be sure of that," Ornery Olav said with a fierce glint in his eyes. He took back the newspaper. "I've spread the word all up The Dales. Heading to Høydalsmo now, seeing who I can rally together. You want to join us?" he asked Tall Såmund.

"Haven't finished this battle yet." The twenty-one-year-old flicked his blade, drops of pig blood hitting the ground in dark splotches between the first snowflakes of the season. The autumn butchering was enough bloodshed for him. He shook his head and brought his gaze back to Olav. "Nei, I'm not running off to drill. Not until the king sends out a call. That'll be soon enough for me."

Åsne's shoulders sagged in relief.

With a look of disgust, Ornery Olav turned on his heel. "Can't be bothered to drill. Lazy!" he snarled as he remounted. "And spineless. A coward thinks he will live forever, if only he can shun warfare," he barked, misquoting an old saying. He set spurs to his horse and galloped out of the farmyard.

Aslak growled low in his chest while Åsne planted hands on hips and glared after the brash young man. "It's an evil-minded man who meets all with mockery," she said, drawing on another maxim, then she turned to Tall Såmund with a third quote. "And you, my son, are thoughtful and thorough as a king's son. Pay him no mind."

The recounting of military maneuvers as related above comes from the viewpoint of Scandinavian history, not from the British version! (See Appendix 5: history)

The last paragraph echoes ancient sayings from the Håvamål, which dates back to Viking times. (See Appendix 10: speech and wisdom)


~ ambush in the stubble ~


"Why do we have to be the Swedes?" five-year-old Jon asked his big brother Halvor Lamefoot out in the fields of Homme farm.

"Because we say so," said the older boy.

Halvor Lamefoot's friend from Brekke nodded at the decree. "It was our idea to play war," Sveinung said.

"And we chose to be the Russians," added ten-year-old Bjørgulv of Dalen.

Jon stomped away with Mundi Dalen, a friend his own age, kicking at stones and roots.

"At least we're not the Finns," Mundi said. He shouldered his birch-branch rifle and marched through the newly-scythed hayfield. "They don't even get to fight."

"Where did they go, anyway?" Jon asked.

"Over in the patch of wildflowers." Mundi pointed to the edge of the field where the unsuspecting Finns -- Jon's sisters, and Birgit from Brekke -- were making daisy chains.

The ten- and eleven-year-old boys whooped and charged across the field. "Bang!" "Bang!" "Bang!"they shouted, shooting at Jon and Mundi. "We're taking Finnland, and you can't stop us!"

Birgit shrieked as her older brother swooped her up and carried her away, but Jon's two big sisters slapped at the other boys until they left them alone and ran off after Sveinung.

Mundi laughed until he dropped his rifle. "The Finns fought, after all!"

"Russia only got part of Finnland!" Jon yelled after the older boys. He ran up to his sisters. "You still belong to Sweden!"

"Bring Birgit back," the Homme girls demanded.

"We didn't take her. Russia did."

"Stupid boys' games." His sisters gathered their garlands and went back uphill to the courtyard.

Dalen youngsters in 1809: Gunnhild (15), Hæge (12), Bjørgulv (10), Tarjei (8), Såmund "Mundi" (5)

Homme youngsters in 1809: Halvor "Lamefoot" (11), Liv (10), Birgit (8), Jon (5), Sveinung (0)

Brekke youngsters in 1809: Andres (16), Halvor (14), Sveinung (11), Birgit (5), Talleiv (0)

"What do we do now?" Mundi asked.

Jon knit his brows and tried to remember the war plans. "Now we have to go attack Norway."


"Because that's what happened for real. We Swedes get mad because we lost Finnland, so we go try to make Norway part of Sweden."

"Who's Norway?"

"They are." Jon pointed at Halvor Lamefoot and his friends circling around the lower end of the hayfield.

the sloping fields of Homme farm
the sloping fields of Homme farm in 2006

"I thought they were Russia."

"Now they're Norway, and we gotta go fight them."

"Bang, bang, bang!" yelled Mundi as he ran across the stubble toward the older boys. "I got you!"

"No, you didn't!" shouted Halvor Lamefoot. "We're the fighting Norse! No one takes our land from us!"

Sveinung leaped up from ambush and tackled both five-year-olds. "We win! Go home, you swindling Swedes, and don't you dare come back!"

Jon wriggled free, jumped up with a clod of dirt in each hand, and lobbed them at Halvor Lamefoot. "Now I'm the British fleet, and you're King Frederik in Copenhagen! Boom, boom!"

"That didn't come after Russia and Sweden, you slow-wit, that came before." Halvor Lamefoot pounced on Jon and turned him upside-down.

Mundi's big sister Gunnhild came to the rescue. "For all we know, it's still going on. Stop tormenting the little ones, you scoundrels, and come in to dinner. Where's Birgit?"

Sveinung grinned. "We left her sitting on a branch in the apple tree."

Gunnhild waved her hands at him. "Go get her down, or no potatoes for you."

Little Mundi took her hand. "When will the real fighting stop, Gunna?"

The fifteen-year-old shook her head. "Not until Napoleon wins or loses. Just be glad King Frederik let Norway split off from Denmark in the meantime. We don't have to fight, and Britain lets us keep shipping so the lowlanders don't starve. Too bad we can't stay independent after all the fighting is done."


~ water and wood ~


When she heard hooves clopping the dirt path, Birgit rose from her weeding and peered over the bushy potato plants.

Her father spurred his horse up the slope from Brekke farm, bear gun slung at his back. He vanished into the forest.

Birgit glanced at her big brother Sveinung, who met her gaze with a grin. "I'm ahead on my row. How about you?"

The six-year-old nodded.

"Let's go!" he said. They dropped their hoes and buckets and raced up the dale to another small farm

the buildings at Brekke farm in 2006
the buildings at Brekke farm in 2006

Birgit knocked on the door, and Sveinung called their names.

"Come in then," the farmwife answered.

The two youngsters from Brekke farm made polite greeting then turned to the cradle. Their little brother Talleiv goggled up at them, then broke into a toothless smile.

"And how's your mother?" the woman asked.

"She got up and made porridge this morning," Sveinung said.

"Andres and Halvor cheered," Birgit added. "They're tired of doing woman's work."

"Where's your sister? Why isn't she doing the cooking?"

"Ingebjørg can't do everything," Sveinung said. "She does the washing and mending and spinning and sewing."

"And nursing when Mor has a bad day," Birgit said. At Talleiv's birth, Guro had nearly died from blood loss, then came down with a raging fever that sapped her strength for months. Hard Knut had ranted and fumed about the inconvenience her frailty had caused. "I fetch water and sweep," Birgit chirped, "and Sveinung chops our firewood."

"Does he?" The farmwife studied the twelve-year-old. "If your father doesn't send the goat he promised, I'll take my pay in kindling."

Sveinung's eyes widened. "I would if I could, but Far doesn't give us much free time."

"Why is he never home when I come asking about the goat? He can't expect me to nurse a whole year for nothing. I might do so for a pauper, but he's not that bad off."

Little Talleiv gurgled and held arms up. Birgit hoisted him. "Uff da! He's getting heavy!"

"And has a big appetite," the farmwife growled. "Tell your father I'd better see that goat in my yard or I'll take him before the sheriff."

"We can't!" Birgit cried. "He doesn't know we come to cuddle."

Sveinung snugged his sister close to his side, folding the baby, too, into his comforting arms. "He'd forbid, if he found out."

Or worse. All the children at Brekke knew his belt better than they wished.

"Well, Ting it is then. Sheriff and judge and all. Don't look so scared. Just him, not you. Buck up now. I won't mention your visits."


At Ting, Hard Knut of Brekke swore up and down he'd made no promise of pay, and the farmwife could produce no witnesses to support her claim. The disgruntled woman went home with neither goat nor baby, and little Talleiv, back in his invalid mother's arms, had a quick weaning from wetnurse to goat's milk.

FACT: Talleiv was Guro's last child
FICTION: it was a hard birth


~ lament ~


Torjus cut off the reaping song he'd been chanting while swinging the scythe. Hoofsteps thudded on the forest path beyond the hayfield at Homme farm. He shaded his eyes and watched the opening amid the wall of spruce trees.

A rider burst into the open. The sturdy little fjord horse carried a long-legged rider Torjus recognized at a glance. "Såmund!" he called, waving an arm.

"Uncle Torjus!" yelled his nephew from Åe farm. "Where is Morfar?"

"In the house."

"Come. Quick." Såmund dismounted, let the reins fall free, ran to the cabin.

Torjus dropped the rake and ran. Something in his nephew's voice dragged shivers down his spine. He leaped over the step to the threshold, ducking the lintel, skidded to a halt.

Såmund was leading Old Halvor by the arm to his chair. "Sit, sit." The young man's face looked haggard, lips drawn tight, cheekbones etched sharp, eyes wide and raw.

"What--" Torjus began.

Såmund took his elbow, drew him to chair-side, gripped Halvor's weathered hand. "Mor and Egeleiv, up at the seter, the summer farm, tending the cattle. Mor was milking. Like she's done a thousand times. The cow must have had a sore teat. She kicked." Såmund gulped, couldn't go on.

Old Halvor gazed up at his grandson, eyes beginning to glisten.

"She's dead."

"The cow?" Halvor asked.

Såmund shook his head. His voice croaked. "Mor. She's dead. Kicked in the head. Egeleiv saw it all. She was still screaming when I left. Far was holding Mor when I left."

"Åsne," Halvor breathed. "My dear sweet Åsne."

Torjus shook. He dragged over another chair, sank into it. "My dear sweet sister," he whispered. The world spun.

"Please come," Såmund begged. "We need you. We need you both. You'll know what to do."

Halvor shook his head as if stunned by the kick of a temperamental beast. "I will come, but I don't know how to help. It doesn't matter how many times you live through this. It never gets any easier."

~ ~ ~

After Åsne's funeral at Brunkeberg Church, Old Halvor took a tender parting from his stepdaughters Anne and Margit who lived that side of the parish. Sigrid traveled part of the road home with him, then split off to Byggland.

Halvor and Torjus insisted that Aslak, silent in his grief, should stay overnight and leave the rest of their trek home until morning. Tone sent the Homme children to bed early. The older girls read stories to the young ones, their voices murmuring from the other room. Jon's face peered around the door jamb several times until Tone gave the seven-year-old a warning glare.

Tall Såmund and his sister Egeleiv sat on either side of their father near the corner fire, not touching, not speaking, each leaning on the others' presence. Halvor rested in his chair and stared at the flames. Torjus got out his fiddle, polished the wood, tuned the strings, played a lullaby and then a lament, wrapping all their sorrow in that thin keening wail to wind into the night.

Dalen folks in 1811: Såmund (49) & Aslaug (44): Knut, Gunnhild (17), Hæge (14), Bjørgulv (12), Tarjei (10), Såmund (7)

Åe folks in 1811: Aslak (64) & Åsne (46): Såmund (25), Anne (22), Halvor (20), Egeleiv (16)

Homme folks in 1811: Old Halvor (79); Torjus (46) & Tone (44): Halvor (13), Liv (12), Birgit (10), Jon (7), Sveinung (4), Steinar (1)

Brekke folks in 1811: Knut (64) & Guro (44): Olav (23), Ingebjørg (21), Andres (18), Halvor (16), Sveinung (13), Birgit (7), Talleiv (2)

~ tyranny and refuge ~


Torjus of Homme played the fiddle for a wedding procession from Morgedal to Brunkeberg church and back, and then for the dance held later that evening in the barn at Brekke farm. Birgit's big sister Ingebjørg had found a way to escape their father's tyranny: marriage to a decent man from a farm another dale away.

Three kjøgemesters worked the festivities -- two to handle surly Hard Knut and his oldest son Ornery Olav, and one for the rest of the crowd.

Gunnhild of Dalen tried to avoid the crude menfolk of Brekke, but her dance partner fell out to banter with those very fellows. She wished she hadn't promised him the next dance.

"We ought to do like Sweden and replace our king," one man said.

"Not a wise move of King Frederik to join forces with Napoleon," someone else agreed. "Look at all the trouble it's caused."

"Trouble?" Olav growled. "What other choice did he have? You want our kin the Danes to grovel at the feet of those snooty Brits?"

"Looks to me," came a light-hearted reply, "like it was a choice of bowing either before Britain or Napoleon, one or the other. Which foot smells worse?" The kjøgemester removed a shoe, and his comrade gagged and fell over, to the amusement of all.

Gunnhild eased closer to the cluster of men.

"What were the Swedes thinking, though," someone said, "to put a childless, elderly relative on the throne?"

"He's just a puppet, a placeholder."

"A token of good old Swedish flavor and respectability," the conversation swirled on, "as they ease into the new French regime."

"French what?"

"Haven't you heard? The new king's heir apparent is a general from Napoleon's army!"

"Not Swedish?"

"No northern blood at all."

"Not a commoner, is he?"

"Jo, he's of royal blood."

"Royal French blood."

"Uff da, you're not saying the French liberated themselves, only to shift their old aristocracy onto Sweden? What's his name? Louis the Twentieth or some such?"

"Jean something, by birth, but now he has taken the name Karl Johan."

"A toast to good prince Karl Johan," the kjøgemester said. "May all Frenchmen adopt honest Scandinavian names!"

"Good?" Ornery Olav spat on the floor in disgust. "I hear he inherited a greedy heart. He has his eye set on Norway. But let him try, just let him try. We'll throw him off, just like we did the king before him."

The music started up again, and Gunnhild's beau showed no sign of abandoning the grousing bunch. The seventeen-year-old sighed and wandered off, looking for a cup of ale to quench her thirst. She came across Birgit tending her two-year-old brother, the youngest of five boys.

"Now that Ingebjørg is married and moving away," Gunnhild said with a wry smile, "how will you fare in a household of men?"

"I'm not the only woman," seven-year-old Birgit replied. "There's my mor, too."

"Ja, but she can't always keep you safe, not when she can hardly leave her sickbed." Gunnhild brushed at a bruise on the girl's arm.

"Far is going to take in an orphan to cook for us, so then there'll be three women. She'll work for her food and a place to sleep. Mor wanted to hire her friend Fru Hansdotter to make our flatbread, but Far says he won't pay a cent." Birgit glanced around, then pointed at another young girl. "Sometimes when Far is drunk, Mor sends me to stay overnight at Øvrebø farm with my friend Hæge. Hæge and Jon Homme and I are all the same age. She lives up the north slope of Morgedal. It's close to home, but not too close. And Jon's cousin Sweet Siri at Byggland is even closer. She's two years older than us three."

"Good." Gunnhild sighed with relief. She'd love to do more to shelter her young friend, but the ridge and a long walk lay between their farms.

"Would you tell my brother the story of Kari Woodencloak?" Birgit asked. "I like the way you make the bull sound so big and gruff, but kind as a bestefar!"

So Gunnhild sat with the two and told of poor Kari and the dun bull that saved the princess from her evil stepmother.

~ over-reaching ~


A week after Ingebjørg's wedding, Gunnhild's mother came down with a nasty stomach ailment, but the illness didn't stop the arguing at Dalen.

"What are you thinking?" Aslaug Thimble cried. "We can't afford to buy up all the outfarms!"

"They'll pay for themselves within a year or two," said Såmund the Sawyer.

"You're not accounting for the chance of a poor crop."

"Your embroidery still sells, and you yourself said Gunnhild's skill at the needle will soon match your own."

"Lacework won't pay for an estate this size! You must back out of this purchase."

"Too late. It's all set. My word of honor."

"You'll impoverish us!"

"We have the sawmill to fall back on, once I get it repaired."

"Repairs cost money. And then there are the fees for running the mill, and the taxes on all those fields that may not produce."

"Stop your fretting, woman. No wonder your guts run to water."

"Your pride will be the ruin of us."

"Pride? Don't be ridiculous."

"You can't become a great bonde like your ancestors by going into debt overnight."

"Who says I'm trying to become a bonde?"

"What else do you call it? Owning all the farmland within a dale, leasing out fields, hiring laborers and baker-wives--"

As their mother worsened, Gunnhild and her fourteen-year-old sister put aside their genteel embroidery and took over all the women's chores at Dalen farm, cooking and cleaning and mending for their father and four brothers. The arguments wound down, replaced by the moans of a sickroom, the hush of a death watch -- and at last the weeping of grief.

They could not spare much time on the funeral, for it fell too close to harvest time and Såmund the Sawyer needed every riksdaler he could get from the crops to pay that year's debts.

The next year, 1812, he and everyone else fared even worse. The summer was colder than anyone could remember. In some places the crops even froze in the fields.

The traders carried no wheat because of a new blockade by the British, and no salted cod, for the fishermen up north had just had a terrible season, too. Såmund the Sawyer spent long hours negotiating with his creditors, trying to salvage his expanded estate -- while on the continent, Napoleon lost most of his army in his failed attempt to extend his empire into Russia.

embroidery by the 2006 resident at Dalen farm
embroidery by the 2006 resident at Dalen farm

"jo" answers yes when a question is in the negative

map of farms
farms of Morgedal and Dalane


~ kings and tings~


Gunnhild shouldn't have been surprised that her father would want to remarry. She just hadn't considered the ramifications. The new wife at Dalen would be, for the twenty-year-old and her siblings, a stepmother.

Not an evil, widowed-queen stepmother like in the tales, the young folk at Dalen were glad to discover, but a never-married maiden only nine years older than Gunnhild.

The new wife proved to have a kind heart. Merry Margit came from RÅmunddalen, the last farm before the trail from Homme's Crest to Brunkeberg drops down into Morgedal.

"Could you teach me this technique?" Merry Margit asked Gunnhild as she examined a white linen tablecloth. "I know how to do the satin stitch border squares, but not this open lacework inside."

"It takes a lightweight thread." Gunnhild threaded a needle, and the two bent their heads over the unfinished area.


Såmund Sawyer of Dalen was not the only grandson of Egeleiv to marry that year. His cousin Tall Såmund Aslaksson of Åe wedded for the first time. The bride, Aslaug Siskin, was born at Åkre, the farm of Tall Såmund's own birth. Her father had bought Åkre from Aslak not long after Tall Såmund's family moved to Åe.

Both wedding feasts took place at Åkre, not in the barn but in the huge new loft built just two years before.

While the grownups and teenagers danced in the spacious loft to the music of fiddle and drum, Jon Homme and Mundi Dalen, both age ten, bossed younger boys in war games around the twilit farmyard down below.

"You get to be Napoleon, in charge of the French army," Jon told his seven-year-old brother, waving at the five- and six-year-olds. "You lead them up the hill, and we Russians will meet you in battle. Ready?"

"Wait a minute," the reluctant Napoleon argued. "Didn't the French lose that one?"

"Ja, but they lost it grandly! And besides, you get to be the emperor!"

"Come on," Mundi Dalen said. "It'll be 'un massacre.'"

"What's a 'massacre'?"

"Lot's of fun. You'll see!"

Jon and Mundi and their army of older boys stampeded down the hill and demolished Napoleon's troops, with far fewer casualties than the real Russians suffered two years earlier.

Next in Jon's plans came a reenactment of last year's attack by Swedish crown prince Karl Johan, prevailing against the French in German territories. But Napoleon mutinied against his marching orders, and the rest of the French army ran off to see a litter of puppies.

Jon and Mundi plopped down on the stairs up to the loft. "Those spoilsports," Jon said in disgust. "I was gonna be a great Karl Johan and crush the whole French empire."

"Nei, I was gonna be Karl Johan," Mundi said.

"It was my idea. That meant I got first choice."

"Well, if you got to be the one attacking Napoleon in Germany," Mundi declared, "then I should get a turn and be Karl Johan attacking Frederik in Copenhagen."

"Next time, maybe. Hey, look at that!" Jon pointed at two figures taking the path down to the creek. "My sister and your brother! Let's go spy on them!"

"This way!" Mundi pointed into the woods uphill from the path. "We'll circle around and creep up on them like wild Indians!"

The two set off through the brisk night breezes of early spring, stalking the unsuspecting fifteen-year-olds, plotting mischief.

Up in the loft, few dancers took to the floor. Talk churned on serious topics in every corner.

"Which do we believe," Aslak of Åe wondered, "the story King Frederik tells the world from his palace in Denmark, or what his cousin Kristian whispers in our ears?"

"Prince Kristian says he has the king's secret support," said the father of the bride, the current owner of Åkre farm.

"It's hard to believe," Tall Såmund Aslaksson murmured to his young wife, "that I'm older than the crown prince! I'm glad I don't have his task."

Aslaug Siskin smiled up at her husband. "I'm glad, too. I don't know when Kristian has a chance to sleep, the way he travels from place to place around Norway, speaking with every influential man. I couldn't bear having you gone all the time."

"And I couldn't bear talking with graybeards all day long, not when there's you waiting at home for my return. It'll be hard enough leaving you for the morning's farmwork, once our days of wheatbread are over."

"I'll come out and help you mow the hay," she sang in the soft lilt that had earned her the birdsong nickname.

Tall Såmund grinned. "If you come out to the hayfield, no hay will get mowed!" he whispered, and kissed her.

"But according to the treaty," Aslak's voice went on in the background, "Norway now belongs to Sweden. King Frederik signed the document after surrendering to Karl Johan. How can there be any legal dispute?"

"Because Frederik had already delivered Norway to his heir Kristian, so the story goes, and Kristian never signed the treaty." The father of the bride leaned back, thumbs hooked in his vest pockets. "If Kristian can get us Norse to declare him their king, then the treaty of Kiel will be of no effect."

"He's asking too much, though," Tone of Homme said. "Prince Kristian wants to be an absolute monarch, but look at the way the world is going. Amerika declared independence, then so did France. Why, in these enlightened times, would we want a dictator? We may as well just roll out of the quilt and into the straw!"

Her husband Torjus agreed. "We need a constitution, not a king."

"You think Norway should become a republic?" Aslak asked.

People looked at each other, a feeling of discomfort rippling around the group like a wintry draft intruding on this March evening. The very word "konge" came from the Old Norse word "konungr." How could the country discard such an ancient tradition as the rule of a king over the beloved kingdom?

"Not a republic," Tall Såmund spoke up for the first time, his arm around his bride. "A constitutional monarchy, like Great Britain with its Parliament."

"There should be a balance between the people and their ruler," Aslaug Siskin said. "A balance of power and responsibility." She glanced up at her husband. She loved how he pondered over a dilemma, then simply stated his well-thought-out conclusion without swagger or boasting.

"Well," said Aslak, leaning back on his stool, "now that we have decided the fate of our country, perhaps we could get back to our celebration."


"There are two parties in the Kingdom Assembly," Torjus read aloud from the latest leaflet to reach Homme farm. "The Independence Party, who support Prince Kristian and want Norway to separate completely from Sweden, and the Union Party. The Union men don't believe we can survive on our own without imported grain. They say we need to ally ourselves with Sweden, but have our own constitution."

"Our own?" asked his father Halvor, now eighty-two and nearly blind. "Like the Amerikaners and French. Hmm--"

"How old is the news?" Tone asked.

Torjus glanced at the leaflet's mast. "A couple months is all. They met in April at Eidsvoll, 112 men. Some from business, some from government."

"City folk," Halvor said, and snorted.

"Also thirty-seven good honest country bonder." Torjus flipped to another article. "Ah. News from the wars. Listen to this! The Sixth Coalition against France took Paris on the thirty-first of March!"

"Took Paris?" Tone echoed. "Napoleon is defeated at last!"

"The little fellow had quite a run there," Halvor drawled, "but this is not an age for empire."

~ vote and veto ~

A few weeks later, Torjus read the latest draft of the constitutional document. "Power shall be divided between the king, the judicial seat, and the parliament which they'll call the Stor-Ting."

"A 'big ting,'" Tone said as she kneaded flatbread dough. "Will it work like the local tings?"

"I think so. This says that members of Storting will pass laws and mint coins. The king enforces the laws enacted by Storting, has the power of veto, and is the chief military leader. The judicial seat will judge according to the laws passed by Storting, without any meddling from the king or from the Storting."

"What's a 'veto'?" asked ten-year-old Jon, looking up from his schoolwork.

Torjus studied the leaflet a while. "The king can throw out a law passed by Storting one time, two times, but not three times. If Storting passes the same law in three votes, then it goes into effect in spite of the king's opposition."

"Ah, good," Tone said. "None of that divine right nonsense they had on the continent. Look at all the trouble that caused."

Halvor chuckled. "We Norse have always known how to keep our kings in line."

"We have?" Jon asked.

"Ever since the old days, if the jarls decide they don't like their king's leadership, they simply choose someone else to hold the throne." Halvor said.

"So our new Storting is a bunch of jarls?"

"No, they're regular everyday Norwegians." Torjus skimmed, then read aloud. "Members of Storting will be elected by men over the age of twenty-five who own land."

Old Halvor nodded. "That sounds good. That sounds very good. The true voice of Norway." He smiled. "Too late for me, isn't it, son? I signed all my property over to you. Well, you must take care and vote wisely."

~ ~ ~

When the next leaflet arrived at Homme farm, Torjus sent a budstikk to family, friends, and neighbors. They arrived to find him stoking a huge bonfire in the closest field.

When they had all gathered, Torjus waved the flyer. "Listen to this! A milepost for the north. 'On May 17, 1814, The Kingdom Assembly, having ratified the newly drafted national constitution, today voted unanimously in favor of Kristian Frederik as king of an independent Norway.'"

Whoops and cheers echoed on the evening breeze. "Long live King Kristian!" Old Halvor lifted a stein in toast to his beloved country while Torjus fired off his hunting rifle in salute.

~ ~ ~

The next leaflet carried a grim headline. At Norway's declaration of sovereignty, Sweden and Great Britain realized that Frederik the Sixth, Danish ally of Napoleon, had deliberately deceived them with his signature on the treaty of Kiel. Evidence surfaced of his support of newly-crowned King Kristian, and of secret shipments of grain from Denmark to Norway. In retaliation, Great Britain once more set up a blockade of merchant vessels.

Torjus read this latest news to the family.

Old Halvor shook his head. "Not going to be an easy run for King Kristian."

"Any chance he'll run the blockade for us?" Tone asked. "Otherwise there'll be no wheat bread on our table for a good long while. But it's a bountiful year for potatoes, and we've never had a finer herd of milk goats!"


At July's end, Ornery Olav Brekke again rode up The Dales, carrying a budstikk, recruiting volunteers for Norway's defense. "That Swedish tyrant Karl Johan brought his troops home from France. Forty thousand of them, fresh from victory over Napoleon. They're preparing to march on our border!" Next day he led a band of riflemen toward Brunkeberg and the winding forest trails that led eastward out of the mountains.

Tall Såmund of Åe farm did not ride with them. His young bride was already expecting a child, and having a hard time of it. He was ready to take rifle or axe to protect his wife and family, but something felt wrong about marching off in a mob that hungered for battle. "I have no thirst for war," he told his father. "Does that make me a coward?"

Old Aslak gripped his son's shoulder. "It makes you a wise man. Remember, only some vikings went raiding and warring. Many others went trading and settling. We need a few fierce men in our defense, but we need more like you -- hard workers not afraid to shirk their everyday duty."

Tall Såmund hefted his axe and went back to chopping firewood. He had no time for idleness. Those who slacked in the summer, froze in the winter.

He wrapped his hands when blisters started to form, and kept up the attack on his woody foe. He meant to lay up three times the normal store of winter fuel, and come cold season, trade for food. The worth of Åe's forest tracts now surpassed its fields.

Dalen folks in 1814: Såmund (52) & Margit (29):
    Såmund's older children: Knut (22), Gunnhild (20), Hæge (17), Bjørgulv (15), Tarjei (13), Såmund (10)

Åkre folks in 1814: Aslak (67): Halvor (23), Egeleiv (19)
    Såmund (28) & Aslaug

Homme folks in 1814: Old Halvor (82); Torjus (49) & Tone (47): Halvor (16), Liv (15), Birgit (13), Jon (10), Sveinung (7), Steinar (4)

Brekke folks in 1814: Knut (67) & Guro (47): Olav (26), Andres (21), Halvor (19), Sveinung (16), Birgit (10), Talleiv (5)

~ nest in the hay ~


At Brekke farm, Birgit tiptoed to her mother's bedside, keeping an eye on the door for her father's return. "Mor," she whispered.

Guro blinked awake from her doze. "What?" she grumbled.

"Far beat the new housegirl," the ten-year-old said. "She's crying in the hayloft, bleeding from a scrape on her shoulder where she hit the wall, and her smock is torn and bloody. Can I take her my nightshirt to wear while she cleans up?" The orphan girl was a couple years older than Birgit, and a couple inches taller, but the nightshirt would do. A hand-me-down from one of her brothers, it was plenty roomy.

Guro hunched higher on the cushions, frowning. "The monster," she muttered. "Ja, take her the shirt, and some clean linen as well for a bandage. Where's your father now?"

"Down at the creek, drowning the runt puppy."

"Hurry then."

Birgit dug in a chest for a strip of linen, then slipped out the door and darted to the summer cookhouse, glanced around the corner, dashed to the barn. She heaved a sigh as she ran up the ramp to the uphill-side door into the hayloft.

"It's just me," she called out. She helped clean the housegirl's wound and clumsily tied the bandage in place. "Wrap up in your shawl," she told the orphan, "so my father can't see what you're wearing. Don't mind what he said about going hungry. I'll save you a piece of flatbread."

"Thousand thanks," the girl sniffled. "I should have stayed at the seter instead of coming here. But I was so lonely up there all by myself."

Birgit glanced at the nest in the hay where the orphan spent her nights. Now, with the sickly puppy snatched from her care and most of the livestock gone to summer pastures, she didn't even have any animals for company. "Can you go back?"

The housegirl's eyes widened in fright. "And gain the name of a shirker? Nei! I must stay and work hard so folk know I honor my word. But I'll move on as soon as it's decent, if I can find another farm that will have me." She threw her ragged shawl over the borrowed shirt. "I'd best haul that water now." She straightened her back, drew a deep breath, and strode out to her labors.

Birgit peeked out the door, glanced in all directions, and sneaked back to the house.

the buildings at Brekke farm
the buildings at Brekke farm

~ starting over ~


Ornery Olav returned a month later with only half of his followers. Surlier than ever, he barked out the news to passersby on Brunkeberg road. "There were only thirty thousand of us, no food or ammunition, and idiots for captains. The Swedes wiped us out. We might have had a chance with more manpower." He glared at his dumbstruck questioners, then headed home to Brekke.

Others in his company filled in more details. "On August 14 they declared a ceasefire. Karl Johan demands that King Kristian leave his throne and the country as well, and in return promises to give our constitution full consideration. He wants a new Storting assembled to work out the compromises."


The parade of leaflets began again. A new Storting gathered in Kristiania on October 8, Torjus read to Old Halvor. The representatives chose to keep most of the earlier Constitution, but to unite with Sweden. "Our foreign policy will be directed from Stockholm, but we get our own bank and our own flag," Torjus said. "Hmm, this is interesting. The king of Sweden will actually have less power that what we had granted King Kristian Frederik. He can't declare war on our behalf without first consulting the Storting, and he can't appoint Swedes to any official positions in Norway."

"Well," said Old Halvor, chewing on a birch twig. "It isn't like we've had time enough to grow inordinately fond of our old constitution and our old king, now is it?"

~ ~ ~

The last publication of the year, dated November 4, arrived by ski from the coast. The Storting acknowledged Karl the Thirteenth of Sweden as King of Norway, and Karl Johan as crown prince. "Long live King Karl!" Old Halvor said from the head of the dinner table at Homme farm, then glanced at his grandson. "Jon, pass the potatoes."


~ Year Without a Summer ~

Homme folks in 1816: Old Halvor (84); Torjus (51) & Tone (49): Halvor (18), Liv (17), Birgit (15), Jon (12), Sveinung (9), Steinar (6)


Jon slid to the edge of the slope and set his ski pole for a good shove.

On the hillside behind the twelve-year-old, his brothers readied a sledge-load of birch twigs for skidding down the mountain. One younger brother sat atop the twig pile, the other perched on the draft horse's back drumming his heels.

Their older brother hauled on the sledge's drag line, ready to brake as needed. "Tell Far," Halvor Lamefoot called, "that I think the critter's only half-grown!"

Jon nodded, then launched into a long glide down the slopes of Homme's Crest, carrying glum news. The brothers had just found a trail of pawprints across a high mountain pasture, heading in the direction of the one lower meadow thawed out enough for the flocks to find grazing. Now more than ever the folks at Homme farm needed to protect every single lamb and kid. Their future already looked bleak. They didn't need this newest peril.

Jon took a switchback too fast and ran smack into a young fir. He dusted himself off and set out again, chafing at his slow progress. He wished it was easier to make turns. "What good is flying like an otter over the snow," he muttered, "if you can only go in a straight line? No straight lines coming down from Homme's Crest!" The flexible leather straps of the boot bindings made it difficult to angle the skis off in a new direction.

The snow thinned as Jon approached the farmyard, and he had to watch out for the stony gravemounds beside the path. He sailed right past the buildings and down to the lowest field. Farfar Halvor often said he once grew wheat there on the most wind-sheltered, sun-exposed plot on their lands. Jon found his father Torjus working the farm's other horse, dragging the harrow, trying to scrape an untimely blanket of snow from the middle of the barley field.

"Far!" Jon called. "A lynx! We found tracks. It's heading for the lower pasture!"

Torjus dropped the lead rope and threw his hands toward the sludge-gray skies. "What next? Fire and brimstone?"

"Well, that would melt the snow!" Jon said with a grin, then added, "A half-grown lynx, Lamefoot thinks."

"Get on up to the house," Torjus said as he unharnessed the horse, "and bring out my rifle while I try to trigger that brimstone with a round of cursing. Snow in July!" Muttering a string of oaths, the fifty-one-year-old farmer led the plowhorse toward the barn.

Jon slogged toward the house. Snowflakes still whirled on the chilly breeze. He caught one on his tongue -- and hoped that wouldn't be his only fare for the day. The storage lofts were nearly empty, and it looked like there might not be an autumn crop to refill the shelves. No harvest to tide Homme farm over another year.

Birch twigs might keep the livestock alive, but what would the family eat when the food ran out?

At the farmyard Jon stripped off his mittens and tugged at the leather ski straps to free his feet, then tromped into the house. "Far wants his rifle," he explained to his mother and two older sisters as he went about the task. "A lynx is after the lambs."

"Did I tell you," Old Halvor said from his seat near the corner fireplace, "about the lynx that chased a goat right into the smithy at Bergdal? That's one of Dalen's outfarms, you know."

Jon set about loading the rifle.

"The cotter's wife ran right in on the lynx's heels," Halvor went on. "She slammed the door shut, and took up the sledgehammer, and killed the lynx with one blow. Knut the Sawyer showed me its pelt."

"Ja, dear, you told us," Jon's mother Tone said. "I'm glad it didn't run into one of our outbuildings. I wouldn't have had the courage to go in after it!"

"I would have," said Jon's fifteen-year-old sister Bright Birgit from her seat at the spinning wheel. "Just think how much money we'd get from a lynx hide! One blow from a hammer, rather than hours at the wheel or the knitting needles. Ow, my fingers are getting sore!"

"One blow?" seventeen-year-old Liv asked. "You can't even lift that sledgehammer to shoulder height, and you think you could swing a death blow? You'd only bruise the poor cat."

Jon left his two sisters bickering as they worked, and carried the rifle out to his father at the byre. Torjus finished saddling the horse, mounted, and took the old firepiece. "Well, I cussed and cussed," he grumbled, "but it didn't bring down any firestorm."

"You're not supposed to cuss down a storm, Far. You cuss up a storm."

"Ha, ha. Hear me laugh." Torjus headed off toward the imperiled flock, his gaze dark and his lips pressed thin. "After you unload the fodder," he called back over his shoulder, "get to shoveling in the field, you and your brothers. There they come now."

"Ja, Far." Jon rubbed his upper arms. They'd be aching like mad before nightfall, too sore to hold fiddle and bow.

Torjus crossed paths with his other sons and the sledge, finally down from the top of Homme's Crest, and vanished into the woods.

Jon's footfalls crunched through the top crust of refrozen slush as he crossed the farmyard. In the byre he swept out the mangers, though the hungry horses and cattle hadn't left much but the woodiest twigs. How much longer could Homme's livestock survive on nothing but birch sprigs?

~ memorial stone ~

Dalen folks in 1816: Såmund (54) & Margit (31): Aslaug (1)
Såmund's older children: Knut (24), Gunnhild (22), Hæge (19), Bjørgulv (17), Tarjei (15), Såmund (12)

Huvestad folks in 1816: Halvor (55) & Ingebjørg (48): Ingebjørg (14)


The farming at Dalen fared no better than at Homme. Såmund the Sawyer had a trickle of income from the sawmill and more from Gunnhild's fine lacework and embroidery, but with nine mouths to feed, including a newborn daughter, he just kept diving further into debt. The tenants leasing his outfarms had no crops with which to pay their rent, though Såmund threatened them with eviction.

"You can't squeeze blood from a stone," said his firstborn, Burly Knut. "Let them be, or you'll have no tenants -- and no income -- when the weather turns favorable."

"Don't tell me how to manage my farm," Såmund the Sawyer snarled at the twenty-four-year-old. "You haven't inherited yet, and won't until the day I die."

"Your farm? You can keep it. Who'd want to inherit such a load of debt?"

The next day Burly Knut packed up his few belongings and moved into an outbuilding at Huvestad farm, having hired on as a common laborer.

"One less hungry body at the table," Såmund the Sawyer grumbled, though Gunnhild could see the pain of rejection in his haggard face.

She knew Huvestad had few enough bodies at their table. Fourteen-year-old Ingebjørg was the only child to survive past infancy. Nine years ago a baby daughter had died, and the year before that, so had the middle child Olav.

Gossip had run all up and down The Dales at Olav's birth, for the baby was born with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, and he already had six teeth. An ill omen, superstitious folk said, for six-six-six was the devil's number.

Twenty-two-year-old Gunnhild sneaked off to see Burly Knut, along with her next younger sister and brother. They found him hauling stones from a steeply sloping field. "I finished mending your stockings," Gunnhild told him, handing them over.

"Your knife I borrowed." Bjørgulv returned it.

"A kiss for luck." Hæge stood on tiptoe and pecked him on the cheek.

He laughed. "Excuses! Come look around Huvestad and sate your curiosity."

The farmstead nestled between a wall of mountainside and hayfields dropping steeply toward a streambed below. Cattle barn, haybarn, summer cookhouse, two classic storage sheds: bur and loft. The cabin door creaked. Ingebjørg danced out to join the visitors. "Gunnhild!" she greeted. "And the twins!"

"I'm two years older than him," Hæge protested, nudging Bjørgulv in the ribs.

Ingebjørg giggled. "Did you show them the minnestein?" she asked Burly Knut.

"I didn't know Huvestad had an ancient monument!" Bjørgulv said.

She laughed. "Far had it carved not long ago, memorializing himself since he has no son to carry on his name. Over here." She pointed out a flagstone before the loft. At the edge of an inscribed compass rose appeared the letters H, O, and S, and the year 1810.

"He paid a stonecutter to do that. But there's more. Come up to the loft's balcony." On the door was a decorative carving of the same three letters, and another date. "Halvor Olav's Son, 1815," Ingebjørg interpreted.

"That should keep his memory alive a good long while," Bjørgulv said.

Ingebjørg grinned as she led them to the neighboring shack. "One more! This little bur has stood here for two hundred years, with twenty tar-blackened crosses someone carved who knows how long ago. Look here, by the inner door."

"H. O. S. 1780," read the carving in the pine panel.

"Far was nineteen when he carved that one, and not even married yet. He's not called Haughty Halvor for nothing!"

"Hmm," mused seventeen-year-old Bjørgulv. "Since you've turned your back on Dalen, Burly Knut, I'm next in line to inherit. Maybe I should carve my initials on our stabbur."

"On the back wall behind a bush," Gunnhild said, "if you want a long life."

~ bachelor farmer ~

Åe folks in 1816: Aslak (69): Halvor (25), Egeleiv (21)
Såmund (30) & Aslaug: Aslak (0)


At Åe farm, Aslaug Siskin leaned back on her cushions with a sweat-soaked brow. Through a daze of fatigue and joy she watched as her husband took his firstborn son in his lap to give him a name the way Norse fathers have done since time out of mind. With a hitch in his voice, Tall Såmund Aslaksson said, "Like your farfar, and his farfar before him, you will bear an honorable old name. You shall be called Aslak." He handed the babe into his own father's arms.

"Little Laki," Old Aslak murmured, cradling the well-swaddled bairn. "You bring a bright light of gladness into a year of trial and sorrow. Your coming is like a harbinger of better times. May every year from now on prove warmer and more bountiful than the one before."

Old Aslak left that future for his namesake to discover without him. He died a few weeks later at the age of sixty-nine.

A christening, a funeral, and then a wedding for the family at Åe. Tall Såmund's sister, Egeleiv, married the heir at Åkre farm -- the brother of Aslaug Siskin, Såmund's wife! The families hosted a wedding dance in the huge loft at Åkre, scraping cupboards and barrels to lay out a scanty spread of dishes.

Egeleiv dragged her other brother, Longlegs Halvor, onto the dance floor. "Once around with me, then you will take five more partners," she ordered. "If we can't feast, at least our feet can make merry."

He shook his head as he loped clumsily through the steps. "Two more partners. I don't want to flatten so many dainty feet."

"Four, or I'll tell Såmund to remove you from his will."

"Three, for I know Såmund would just laugh at you."

"Very well. Three." Egeleiv spun him toward the nearest waiting young woman, calling out, "Bachelor farmer, looking for a bride of his own! Catch him before some other hussy snatches him up!"

"Egeleiv!" His protest drowned in the stamp and whirl of the next springar dance.

~ strife and a feast ~


Meals were just as meager at Brekke, across the ridge in Morgedal valley. Tough times did not bring out Hard Knut's better side, if indeed he had any.

Twelve-year-old Birgit slipped away as often as she could to spend time with her friend at Øvrebø farm, or with Jon's cousin, up the side valley of Byggland. Anywhere was better than home where reigned the bad tempers of Hard Knut and his eldest son Ornery Olav.

His next oldest son, Andres, was often gone a-courting to the home of the young woman he intended to marry, if only he could save up the bride-price.

"You're barely twenty-three," Hard Knut raged. "Too young to take a wife. How do you expect to support her? You're not bringing another hungry mouth to my table."

Andres meekly acknowledged his father's point, but secretly worked any odd job he could find. If he waited for Hard Knut's approval, he'd remain a bachelor farmer until his beard turned gray.

~ ~ ~

Brekke folks in 1816: Knut (69) & Guro (49): Olav (28), Andres (23), Halvor (21), Sveinung (18), Birgit (12), Talleiv (2)

Øvrebø folks in 1816: Eivind & Sigrid: Kari, Olav, Auver*, Ingebjørg, Hæge (12), Tone, Talleiv
    * Auver would have a son Sondre who would later become famous: Sondre Norheim

Byggland folks in 1816: Sveinung & Gunnhild: "Sweet" Sigrid (14), Tarald, Ånund, Talleiv, Anne

Birgit heard her father's angry footsteps long before he burst through the door. She scurried for the shadows. Her brothers looked up from their leather-working tasks at the table.

Hard Knut stomped into the room, flung his coat toward the wall, then glared around. "Where is Andres?"

"Carrying a message for the folks at Donstad," Ornery Olav answered while Birgit quietly plucked the coat from the floor and hung it proper.

"What fool reason--?"

"They're paying five kroner," Sveinung put in.

Halvor the Silent nodded.

Knut dropped onto a bench to pull off his boots. "Where to?"

"Seljord," Olav said.

"Since he had to travel so far anyway," Sveinung said, gaze fixed nonchalantly on the saddle he was tooling, "I suggested Andres keep an ear out for who's about to slaughter another cow."

"What for, you idiot?" Hard Knut demanded. "He's not up to bartering!"

"I know, I know," Sveinung said. "I warned him not to be so brash as to seal a deal. Just to bring you word of what the man will take in trade for its hide. Yesterday one fellow in Ordal set his price at a pound of wheat!"

"What was he doing in Ordal? He's way behind on his rack of harness."

"He's got the parts all tooled and cut out and punched. I told him I'd do the stitching. He's so uneven in his needlework, I figured--"

"Since when is it your job to do the figuring?"

Halvor the Silent held out a sample of Andres' stitching.

Hard Knut grunted and dropped the subject.

Halvor, Sveinung, and Andres had worked long and hard on that strap, doing the worst job they possibly could, to give Andres a chance to go courting today. "If you pull this off," Halvor had muttered to Sveinung the evening before, "you ought to think about becoming a kjøgemester."

Now, their older brother Ornery Olav narrowed his eyes as he looked back and forth between the two of them. Did he detect their plot?

Furious at the lack of respect given him by his grown brothers, Olav picked on the easier targets of Birgit or seven-year-old Talleiv. The youngsters often slipped away to Byggland farm to escape the tyranny at home. It was there that Birgit first heard about the likely cause for the year's horrid weather. Harvest time had passed, but the fields stood barren. Not even the hardy potato had managed to produce. Folk were living off wild game and culls from their shrinking herds.

"A volcano in the Dutch East Indies," a traveling trader said as he shared the meager meal at Byggland. "A year ago, the folk of Sumatra, more than a thousand miles away, heard it explode. Clouds of ash have been spreading around the world ever since. The worst of it hadn't reached northern airs last summer, so we didn't notice much of a difference except for the glorious sunsets."

"Now you speak of it," Old Sigrid said, "they were magnificent." At seventy-one, Liv Steinarsdotter's eldest daughter couldn't thread a needle but saw well enough to appreciate a blazing sky.

Her granddaughter Sweet Siri passed the soup pot.

Birgit ladled out a bowlful for herself and another for Talleiv. She dipped her spoon for a slurp. The broth held a fleck or two of grouse meat and shavings of a pine tree's tender inner bark.

She gulped down the thin soup, willing her stomach to be content. "Better a half-filled bowl and peace," she told Talleiv, "than strife and a feast."


~ wisemouth ~


"Remind me again," Old Halvor Homme whispered loudly to his grandson. "Whose wedding feast is this?"

"Bjørgulv Såmundsson of Dalen just married Ingebjørg, the only child of Haughty Halvor Huvestad," Jon said. "That's where we are now, in the Huvestad barn."

Old Halvor waved his hand. "I know where we are. Been here countless times. Just can't remember who's growing up and starting new families."

Fifteen-year-old Jon grinned. "What's my name, Farfar?"

"Probably Halvor, like me. Far too many Halvors running around for my liking, and half of 'em my own grandsons."


Old Halvor socked his grandson's shoulder. "I'd really be a doddering old fool if I didn't know my own Jon the Wisemouth."

"Leave off the 'mouth' part and I'll be happy with the name."

"Go fetch me a platter and a mug. Can't dance, so I may as well feast."

Jon skirted the dancers, barely sidestepping in time when his cousin Sigrid Sørensdotter of Breidalen came whirling past on the arm of Longlegs Halvor Aslaksson of Åe, brother of Tall Såmund. Beyond that couple lumbered Haughty Halvor himself, the father of the bride. Was that Halvor the Silent from Brekke, next in line? And he knew his own big brother Halvor Lamefoot was here somewhere. Too many Halvors, indeed.

A great bowl of barley porridge sat in the middle of the table, surrounded by pitchers of cream and bricks of butter. The mother of the bride guarded a small plate of wedding kling, and shook her head when Jon gave her a questioning look.

"It's for my farfar, Old Halvor," he explained.

"And this is for the bride and groom. If they can't have wheatbread for their honeymoon, they'll at least get the first slice of kling at their wedding feast. Do I have to lock it up?"

"I'll come back later." Jon grinned. "For Old Halvor, not for me." He took his grandfather a bowl of mush and a mug of weak ale.

"That's all you can find?" the old man asked, and snorted. "Your farmor, now, she'd dump this mush and go hungry, if that's all the more fare they offered."

"You know how bad the harvest has been, three years in a row." Jon's voice turned sober.

Old Halvor patted Jon's shoulder. "Wasn't complaining. Glad to have a full stomach most days. Just thinking about your farmor. She had such a dislike for barley mush. Did you know I had to promise her oats and rye before she'd marry me?"

"May I sit here?" Gunnhild of Dalen asked, plopping down on a haybale beside the two. "Ooh, Jon, why do they call your brother Lamefoot? He prances like a goat on a hot stove!"

"He limped a year and a day after a horse stepped on his foot. Must've broken something, but he's fine now."

"We were just talking about my Liv," Old Halvor said. "Do you remember back when you called her 'Mormor'?"

"Ja, I do."

"Twenty-seven grandchildren, she had. Twenty-one still walking this earth."

"Twenty-one?" Gunnhild hummed. "Amazing!"

"No wonder the dales are so chockful of people there isn't enough land to go around," Jon said. "We'll blame it on you and Mormor."

"Good thing I hear that grin in your voice," Old Halvor growled. "You know how they handled over-population in the old days? Sent the second and third sons off a-viking. If they came back with loot, well, fine and good. They could pay for their upkeep. If they fell in battle far from home--" He shrugged. "Problem solved."

"Jon, you're a second son, aren't you?" Gunnhild said. "Going a-viking soon?"

"Either that or blow up Homme's Crest to get more sunlight on our fields."

"Some of the nordmenn," Old Halvor went on, "didn't come back because they settled elsewhere. England. Scotland. Ireland. Normandy."

"I don't think Europe would look very favorably," Gunnhild said wryly, "on a new wave of Viking invaders. Where should we send Jon if we need to get rid of him?"

"Hey," Jon protested. "There are too many women in the dales, too."

"Ja, but I'm a firstborn daughter," Gunnhild said. "I'll probably marry a firstborn son who inherits all his father's land."

"So why aren't you married yet?"

"I'm only twenty-five. No hurry."

"My Liv was ten years older than me," Old Halvor said. "We wed when she was thirty-three, and I was twenty-three. In eight years, you two willll be right where we were."

Jon and Gunnhild sprang up and left in opposite directions.

pedigree chart in 1819


~ stutter and screech ~

Birgit beat in the last strand of weft with several soft knocks, instead of one loud slam of the loom's beater bar. She knew no fancy weaving designs, nor was she much good at elaborate embroidery, like her friend Gunnhild at Dalen.

Across the room, slumped in her corner bed, Guro snugged tighter around her hunched shoulders the shawl knitted by her good friend Fru Hansdotter.

Fru Hansdotter the baker-wife.

Birgit perked up. Baker-wives never lacked for work. Baker-wives held a respected position in society. A baker-wife didn't need a husband to support her. Ja, Birgit decided as she set back to weaving. I will learn the craft of making flatbread thin as a sheet of flannel, like Fru Hansdotter. Then I can leave home and live on my own.


Early the following year, Jon Homme's cousin Sigrid Soapmaker from Breidalen married their cousin Longlegs Halvor from Åe. At the wedding festivities, kjøgemester Sveinung Saddlemaker called his young friend Jon to take the stage, to fiddle for one round of dancing.

Jon's strings screeched only once. Sveinung heaped praise on the fifteen-year-old's first public performance, and rallied laughter and merriment all evening.

No lack of humor. A good thing, for ale was still in short supply.


~ blame ~


Gunnhild and little Aslaug were hanging out diapers to dry when Mundi came loping down the trail from the sawmill. "You're home early," she called.

Stony-faced, he charged on past.

"What's wrong?"

He just shook his head and stormed into the house.

Gunnhild followed. She found him stuffing belongings into a bag.

Their stepmother, Merry Margit, had turned from the laundry vat and was drying her hands, a question on her face. Hæge rose from the loom.

"The sawblade broke," he snapped. "He blamed me. I had nothing to do with it."

"Mundi," Margit began.

"Yesterday he blamed me for the rain. The rain!"

"He's fretting over debts. Don't mind him."

Heated, Mundi rounded on Margit. "He said there are too many mouths at his table, and mine the biggest, and my blunders are driving us all to ruin. So I'll follow Burly Knut's footsteps and take my big mouth over to Huvestad where honest work gets a nod of approval and a meal."

Red-faced baby Knut wailed in his cradle.

Mundi clenched fists and lowered his voice. "He's the one who forgot to lock the blade, and he knows it. Not me. Tarjei saw it, too." He gave them each a pained glance of farewell. "I'm sorry I woke the baby." He threw the bag over his shoulder and hurtled out the door.

As Gunnhild and Hæge traded worried glances and Margit stepped to the cradle, Mundi appeared again in the doorway. "Another creditor coming," he warned, and vanished once more.

"Brace yourself, girls," Margit said, grimacing. She handed the squalling red-faced newborn to Gunnhild and headed out to try to placate the man.

Huvestad farm in 2006
Huvestad farm in 2006

Dalen folks in 1820: Såmund & Margit: Aslaug, Knut
Såmund's older children: Knut, Gunnhild, Hæge, Bjørgulv, Tarjei, Såmund

Åe folks in 1820: Aslak: Egeleiv
Såmund & Aslaug: Aslak, Knut,Åsne
Halvor & Sigrid: Aslak

Homme folks in 1820: Torjus & Tone: Halvor, Liv, Birgit, Jon, Sveinung, Steinar

Brekke folks in 1820: Knut & Guro: Olav, Halvor, Sveinung, Birgit, Talleiv
Andres & Kari: Knut, Bjørn

~ too few ~


One evening that fall, Old Halvor sat humming dreamily in his chair near the hearth at Homme. Jon perched on a bench nearby, carving the outside of a bowl. The house buzzed with chat and laughter after their simple supper. The fields and herds provided enough to keep the nine people in the household from hunger pangs, even though the fare was usually barley, barley, and more barley. Jon had shot a couple grouse that morning, and his younger brothers were still scraping their bowls for the last flecks of tasty flesh.

"Little Halvor," the old man called out from the fireside, and his six-foot grandson came to kneel by his side. "Do you remember the song you sang your farmor once long ago?"

Jon listened while he whittled.

Halvor Lamefoot knit his brow. Two decades had passed since that day in the graveyard. "What song is that?"

"About the sun going down, and a bridge of stars."

"Nei, Farfar, I don't remember."

Old Halvor patted his grandson's hand which lay upon the armrest. "You were so small. That's what was amazing. Only two years old, after all. Never mind. I'll ask her to sing it to me. I'll see her soon, anyway."


"Liv. My lovely Liv. Her voice is so beautiful, and you should see her dance. As if she were enchanted by a fossegrim."

Jon and Halvor Lamefoot exchanged puzzled glances.

~ ~ ~

A few days later, Old Halvor Homme died in his favorite chair, a smile on his face, at the age of eighty-eight. Jon wept and wept and could not be consoled. Torjus finally put an arm around the young man. "You weren't expecting your farfar to live forever, were you?"

Jon shook his head and took a ragged breath. "But now there are too few Halvors in the world."


Brekke folks in 1823: Guro (56): Olav (35), Halvor (28), Sveinung (25), Birgit (19), Talleiv (14)
Andres (30) & Kari (26): Knut (5), Bjørn (3)

~ over the brink ~


"Skulking off, are you?" roared Hard Knut, leaping up from his seat by the corner hearth.

Birgit halted, cringing, her hand on the latch of the door. Talleiv froze right behind her.

"Leaving your work undone again, you miserable shirkers! You think I don't notice? You think I don't know where you go?" Hard Knut rounded the table, eyes narrowed in rage. "Slinking off to Øvrebø or Byggland like whipped hounds, spouting lies behind my--" His voice choked off, eyes bulging, face purpling. He staggered, teetered, crumpled to the floor.

Birgit and Talleiv straightened from their crouches, wary, unnerved more by his silence than by his railing. But their father didn't move.

"Struck down at last," whispered Guro from her sickbed. "Smitten for all his smitings. Pick me up, Talleiv. Bring me close, let me feel for his heartbeat. Birgit, go fetch-- Nei, don't fetch anyone yet."

Nineteen-year-old Birgit stood at the door while Talleiv helped their mother down beside the still body. Though less than sixty years old, Guro looked closer to seventy.

"Ja, he's dead." Guro took a long breath. "For this one minute, let us savor the peace and quiet, this fleeting moment free from oppression."

A dozen breaths later, Ornery Olav stepped right into his father's shoes, working up a glower and a boom that would do Hard Knut proud. "Why did you rile up the old man?" he demanded of Birgit and Talleiv. "I could hear him all the way out in the barn. You should be laboring as hard as the rest of us to keep the farm going. But nei, you shirkers dash off and-- Can't you keep those brats quiet?" Olav demanded of his sister-in-law, then turned to Sveinung. "Where do you think you're going?"

Sveinung Saddlemaker threw a scarf around his neck and pulled on his knit cap. "I haven't had a break for two weeks. I'm going to go ski jumping."

"With your aged father dead at your feet, you take a lark?" Olav roared.

"I'd sit and mourn with you, but someone has to go tell the priest. There are some great slopes along the way, and the snow lies fresh and blinking in the sun." Sveinung flashed his older brother a blinding smile and left the house.

Olav sputtered. "I'm the one to make the decisions now!" he shouted out the open door. "It's not your choice, whether to run off or stay. You'll go if I tell you to!"

"Go where?" came Andres' voice from outside. "What's all the--"

"The worthless wretches have done it now." Olav dragged Andres and Halvor indoors. "The two miserable brats-- Just look. They drove him over the brink at last. He's dead. Dead! And now they just sit and gawk, the ingrates. Help me lift him to his bed." Still snarling, Olav bent to Hard Knut's shoulders.

Andres tore his shocked gaze from his father's body, glanced at his young wife and two sons clustered with Birgit by Guro's bedside, out of Olav's reach for the moment, then caught Halvor's eye. "Someone ought to tell Ingebjørg," he said against the background torrent of Olav's wrathful fuming.

Halvor and Talleiv slipped out the door behind Olav's back. Birgit longed to make that dash, too, but her mother clung to her arm, pulse racing, fingers trembling. Birgit wondered at the wild mix of emotions coursing past -- exhilaration, grief, and a gnawing guilt. Were Talleiv and she really to blame for their father's death? In a small, fearful way she loved him. But in a great, swooping way she was glad he would never beat her again.

But Hard Knut wasn't the only one with a heavy hand. Olav let fists fly at any annoyance, even small ones. Andres' wife kept a wary eye on her brother-in-law as she gathered her two little sons and went to refuge upstairs.

"Where is he?" Olav barked, jerking Birgit's gaze from the stairs. "Where did Stuttering Talleiv disappear to? You both have some answering to do."

Andres put a hand on Olav's shoulder, but Olav shook it off.

"Olav--" Guro began.

"Mor," Ornery Olav broke in sternly, "your wretch of a daughter doesn't even have the courtesy to weep for that great man, her own father, who has fed and sheltered her all her life!"

"She's shaken with the shock," Andres said mildly, and stepped close to give his mother and sister a hug. "Where's that kjøgemester Sveinung when we need him?" he whispered.

"Gone for the priest," Birgit mouthed back.

Olav pushed Andres aside and grabbed Birgit's wrist. "You'll come with me to the barn," he snarled. "I'll give you what you deserve for your callous disrespect toward our beloved father. You won't set foot off Brekke land from now on unless I say--"

"Take your hands off her," Guro said, rising in her bed. Her voice, weak and reedy, pierced Olav's bluster like an arrow. "If you ever touch her in anger again, I will strike your name out of my estate."

Andres stood ready to block Olav, but the older brother turned a disbelieving stare at his petite mother.

"I had no power over Hard Knut," Guro spat. "But I'll not let you carry on his vile ways. Not in my house." She sank back onto her pile of pillows, sapped in body but fierce in gaze. Flames of determination burned in her eyes where before only embers had smoldered, half smothered in the ashes of oppression.

Birgit twisted her hand loose and stepped back by her mother's bedside. "Do you really want to tread down Far's path?" she asked quietly, looking him straight in the eye. "Don't you see where it ends?" She pointed at the still body in the corner bed.

Olav's face turned as dark as Hard Knut's ever had, but then he whirled and stalked from the room.

Birgit collapsed on the edge of her mother's bed and wept.

Homme folks in 1823: Torjus (58) & Tone (56): Halvor (25), Liv (24), Jon (19), Sveinung (16), Steinar (13)

~ more mourning ~


Jon brushed snow from the marker of his grandfather's grave. Even after the passage of three years, he missed Old Halvor as deeply as ever. "Are you here, Farfar?" the nineteen-year-old murmured. "Are you waiting to take Bright Birgit home?"

The thought gave him some comfort. He heaved a long breath that misted on the air, turned away, went to join his family around a new grave.

Death had struck once more at Homme farm. His sister, three years his elder, had passed away after a long mysterious illness. Purplish spots dappled her legs, her gums bled, her eyes had grown sunken. Her bowels couldn't seem to hold her food, and her muscles ached all the time. Bright Birgit had kept up her spirits until the morning her first fingernail fell off. "What is the matter with me?" she had wept.

The doctor didn't know. Many other folks in the parish had died over the last decade with similar symptoms, most of them babes or elderly, but far too many young women as well. The doctor had sent a query off to Kristiania, but no answer had yet arrived.

"Farewell, dear Bitte," Jon whispered.

His older sister Liv squeezed his hand. Their parents, Torjus and Tone, ringed the grave, along with big brother Halvor Lamefoot and their teenage brothers Sveinung and Steinar.

The priest intoned his final blessing. Jon hardly heard a word.

The wind whisked up a flurry of ground snow and sprinkled it over the the dark splotch of dirt, like the ashes of grief that settled over Homme lands.

~ due in full ~


When Gunnhild heard hoofbeats thudding on the track up to Dalen, she welcomed the excuse to put down her lacework and stretch. Long bright summer days meant so many hours of work at the needle that her fingers cramped.

And like most people up and down the Dales, she delighted in visitors who often carried entertaining news and gossip.

Not today, though. She soon wished she'd stayed indoors.

It was the sheriff, looking grim. He reined in. "Your father?" he asked gruffly.

Gunnhild took a step back. "At the sawmill," she admitted, and watched the lensmann head up the trail toward the mill.

"Who was it?" her sister Hæge asked from where she was warping the loom, a task not suited for interruptions.

"The lensmann."

Hæge's face paled. "Øy."

the main house at Dalen farm in 2006
the main house at Dalen farm (in 2006)

Their stepmother returned from berry-picking with the three- and eight-year-olds. "I saw the sheriff on the mill path," Merry Margit said, looking not merry in the least.

Tension simmered like stew in a pot until Såmund came home, much earlier than normal. He stomped in the door, halted, glared around at all the pinched faces. "I've been summoned," Såmund snarled. "Court of appeals. In Seljord. Next month." He strode to the table and thunked down to pore over his ledgers.

"Aslaug, Red Knut," Gunnhild called to her young step-siblings. "Let's go outside."

Hæge put yarn aside and followed along. "Feels like the roof is going to come crashing down!" the 26-year-old moaned. "I wonder if Johannes would agree to moving our wedding date sooner?"

"At least you have a wedding all negotiated," Gunnhild said. "I don't even have a serious suitor. At twenty-nine!"

"Old maid," Hæge teased. "I'll see if Johannes has a brother or cousin. There might be a bachelor farmer uncle, for all I know."

"I'm not that old." In spite of her words, Gunnhild felt her youth seeping away, and dreary middle age lurking just ahead.

Jusureid (Dalen) folks in 1823: Såmund (61) & Margit (38): Gunnhild (29), Hæge (26), Tarjei (22) & Sigrid (31), Aslaug (8), Knut (3)

Huvestad folks in 1823: Halvor (62) & Ingebjørg (52);
Bjørgulv Dalen (24) & Ingebjørg (21);
laborers from Dalen: Knut (31), Såmund (19)

Åe folks in 1823: Aslak (76); Såmund (37) & Aslaug: Aslak (7), Knut (6), Åsne (4), Talleiv "Toli" (0)


At the court of appeals, the ruling came down against Såmund. No more delays, no more deals. His debts were due in full.

The sixty-one-year-old sawyer had no choice but to sell Dalen. The main farm, perched midway up the side dale. The tenant farms close by. The summer farms and seter lands high up the ridge. The forest tracts and timber rights. The mill. All had to go.

All but one plot just across Dalaåi creek. Gunnhild helped move basic household possessions down to the tenant farm named Jusureid. The run-down cottage barely had room to sleep the eight members of the family.

Tarjei had brought a bride home the year before, and had a pallet in one corner. Gunnhild's halfsister Aslaug slept in the attic, and soon halfbrother Red Knut would be old enough to join her.

Hæge sent most of her belongings to the home of her betrothed. "I hate to leave you in this bind," she muttered to Gunnhild, "but I can't wait to get out of here. The shrinking walls. The everlasting gloom."

The gloom, Gunnhild knew, spread by their father, who chafed over the loss of all his dreams. "I'll make do," she said, her heart feeling bleak.


Tarjei and Sigrid squeezed a cradle beside their pallet, ready for the child that would soon enter the world. "Burly Knut was right to leave when he did," Tarjei muttered as he sidled between the loom and the churn, trying to get to the dinner table. "He saw what path his inheritance was taking. And Mundi, lucky fellow to get the last bunk in the laborers' hut. I'd move there, too, if Bjørgulv could get the old man to make room for another family."

"Quit your complaining," Såmund the Sawyer grumbled. "You have a roof over your head."

"A leaky roof. As soon as my child is born and wife recovered, I'm going to start hunting for a tenant farm down the dale."

Såmund scowled. "So you'll abandon me, too?"

Red Knut's face crumpled at the arguing. Gunnhild scooped up the three-year-old and his bowl of mush and took him outside. "Do you want to hear the story of the Three Hoppity Hares?" she asked him.

He nodded.

"There was one time a family of hoppity hares: Little Hoppity Hare, Big Hoppity Hare, and Great Big Hoppity Hare. The three hoppity hares loved to nibble on grass. Nibble, nibble, nibble!" Gunnhild wiggled a spoonful of mush in front of Red Knut's mouth.

He giggled and took a bite.

"Did you know that's why our new home is called Jusureid? Jusur is an old word for hares. But anyway, they ate up all the grass on their mountainside. Little Hoppity Hare looked across the dale at the green, grassy slopes beyond the creek. Then he went hippity! hoppity! halfway across the bridge. But he didn't know there was a troll lurking underneath."

"Hey!" said Red Knut. "That's the story of the Billy Goats Gruff!"

"I can't fool you, you little smarty!" Gunnhild ruffled her halfbrother's hair.

"Go on! I wanna hear about the Hoppity Hares hopping over Dalaåi's bridge."

"We do indeed need to build a bridge over the creek, right here at Jusureid," Gunnhild agreed, watching a horse and rider leave the far trail and splash across the ford.

Tall Såmund from Åe rode up to the hut. "Good day, Gunnhild," he told his cousin's daughter. "Your father inside?"

"Just finishing his dinner. Would you like to join him in a bowlful of porridge? "

Såmund shook his head and dismounted. "I'd rather not bathe in mush, with or without the butter, thank you."

Gunnhild laughed. "That's something your cousin Jon would say!"

"Hoppity Hares!" Red Knut reminded her as Tall Såmund stepped inside.

"Good day, Cousin," came his voice just before the door closed behind him.

She went on with her tale, catching snatches of conversation from indoors.

"...had no idea it was so bad..."

"...not have gossips' tongues wagging over my finances..."

"...could have loaned..."

"...drop in the bucket...don't want your pity..."

Hæge came out and joined Gunnhild on the stoop, her face red. "So embarrassing," she muttered.

Tall Såmund said something Gunnhild couldn't make out, and her father's voice rose in answer. "Help you haul your lumber to the sawmill that's no longer mine? You must be out of your mind!"

"It's the only help I can offer," Tall Såmund said from right inside the door. "My timber is my only wealth. If you change your mind, let me know." He stepped outside and drew a long breath, then in a low voice said to Hæge, "I'll arrange for the big loft at Åkre for your wedding feast, if you'd like."

She blinked back tears and nodded. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Dalaåi creek washed that big bad troll all the way to Skagerrak," Gunnhild told Red Knut, nodding her thanks to Tall Såmund as well. "And snipp, snapp, snoo, now my tale is through."

Her father's tall cousin put his hat on, mounted his horse, and splashed back across the creek.

a rustic cabin
a small rustic cabin

We know cause of death for several at Brekke, but not for Knut, the one I've been painting in such a poor light.

map of farms
farms of Morgedal and Dalane


~ hardship ~


Tarjei named his firstborn Tor. The little boy died within the year. Tarjei remained in his father's household for several years longer as the whole family scrimped by.

What they would have done without Gunnhild's earnings from embroidery, she didn't know. Far too often her father spent what little they had on liquor, to drown the pains of an unjust world.

Acting on information sent from Kristiania, the doctor ordered a shipment of limes and lemons, the British navy's front line against scurvy. But the mysteriously helpful fruit arrived too late to save Liv Torjusson at Homme. She died in 1824, a year after her sister. Her brother Jon neglected his fiddle practice, too grief-stricken for either music or humor. For months the Homme farmhouse sorrowed in silence.

Over the next two years, three babies died shortly after birth: a halfbrother of Gunnhild's at Jusureid cottage, her nephew at Huvestad, and at Breidalen in 1826, Longlegs Halvor Aslaksson's third child. Tall Såmund Aslaksson put an arm around his brother's shoulders as they grieved, and the words of an old song trickled into memory. "Up to heaven, Lord, help her find her way. Do you remember Mormor Liv singing those words, Halvor?"

Longlegs Halvor took a ragged breath, and after a few moments nodded. "She sang it to me when my puppy died. I must have been only seven or eight years old. I do remember bits and pieces of that song. Her face looked so sad, and yet calm and full of peace, and her voice -- like an angel." He sighed. "Tell me the lyrics, if you remember them all. Don't try singing. You didn't inherit her ear for music."

Tall Såmund gave half a chuckle, and gathered the flitting remnants of song from the corners of his memory. "In the west, the sun is setting..."


~ big feet ~


Thirty-eight-year-old Olav never could figure out why the rest of the family hadn't transferred to him all the respect and fear they'd shown his father. Guro simply ignored her eldest son. Halvor the Silent never spoke to him. "I'm the heir!" he often muttered in barely bridled outrage. Each orphan in a long string of unlucky housegirls quickly learned to give him a wide berth.

These days, Talleiv's stutter rarely interrupted his speech, flaring up only when he and Olav were alone together. Ornery Olav assigned the seventeen-year-old more than his share of drudgery, venting his frustration on the slightly built young man.

Olav's voice was always the loudest around the dinner table, where the family ate according to his timetable and where, in the winter, he often spread out his leather tooling projects, crowding out everyone else. He snarled at his nephews, scowled at his infant niece, criticized Talleiv at every turn.

When twenty-eight-year-old Sveinung Saddlemaker brought home a wife, Olav's welcome was a surly, "Keep your children out from underfoot."

"An impossible task, with such big feet you have," Sveinung cheerfully countered. "You'll have to watch where you step."

"Be glad I need your stitching skills, or I'd turn you out homeless in the world," Olav growled.

"Don't mind him," Sveinung Saddlemaker whispered to his flustered bride as they headed to their honeymoon lodging in a loft. "He's actually very well-mannered, for a troll. And we won't be living here long. Sveinung Byggland says we can move onto his tenant farm within a month or two."

Birgit despaired of ever wedding, for Olav insulted every young man who tried to come courting.

"You're needed here to care for our mother, you ungrateful wretch," Olav snarled. "First you aggravate our father to his death, and now you want to abandon our beloved mother. For shame!"

"I'm not the invalid I was," Guro said as she hobbled in, leaning on her cane. "If you'd leave off terrifying the housegirls, we might find one who'd stay on. That'd be all the help I need."

"She's not marrying without my approval!" he snarled at his "beloved" mother. "And I'll not be quick to give it. Silly girls, like sheep. One does it, the others all want to follow suit." He stomped out.

Birgit's friend Hæge at Øvrebø had married the previous year and gone to live at a farm high above Håtveit, right on the ridge path between Øvrebø and the farm her husband came from in the dale of Ordal.

"You go to that dance Saturday evening," Guro told Birgit. "Never mind him."

Birgit puffed out her cheeks in despair. "He'll be at the dance, too, hounding my footsteps. He'd rather ruin other people's happiness than seek any out for himself." She still clung to her dream of escaping home by becoming a baker-wife. Only then would come time to hope for a husband.

Guro's friend, the wrinkle-faced Fru Hansdotter, often came for a visit, now that Hard Knut no longer ruled his wife's affairs. The childless widow earned her living as a baker-wife in the busy spring and fall flatbread-baking season. Birgit gathered up her courage one evening when Olav was out in the fields, and asked the crotchety woman for lessons in rolling dough.

"What, and lose paying customers in Morgedal?" The old kjerring glared. "You want to steal my livelihood, drive me into poverty?"

"Nei, nei!"

Guro sniffed at her friend's theatrics and went on peeling potatoes.

"I already have an assistant," Fru Hansdotter sniped. "After I die, you ask her to take you on, if you want to wait that long. I don't plan on dying any time soon." She turned back to Guro and launched into a piece of gossip from Ordal.

Birgit had to content herself with watching everyday farmwives making their humble version of flatbread at neighboring farms. She practiced rolling thinly with a lump of dough over and over until it grew tough. Always too stiff to stretch, or so sticky it gummed to rolling pin and breadboard. What was the secret to springy dough?

If she couldn't master the knack, how else could she support herself away from home? She'd have to hire out as a housegirl -- working for little more than room and board and a yearly pair of shoes, sleeping in an outbuilding with other servants. No guarantee the master would be any more human than Olav. No status, no future.

She knit her brows and mixed up another batch of dough. She would figure it out. She must.

baking flatbread over coals
baking flatbread over coals

~ silent evermore ~


One frigid evening while the family worked around the dinner table, Birgit broke into Sveinung's rambling anecdote about ski jumping off a fifteen-foot cliff. "Where's Halvor?"

Andres looked up from his whetstone. "Didn't he go out to check on the livestock?"

"That's been hours ago."

Andres' eight-year-old son Knut dashed room to room, upstairs and down, and came back shrugging his shoulders.

Andres sighed. "The Silent is so silent we don't even notice he's gone. I'll go check the privy and make sure he didn't fall in." Two years older than thirty-one-year-old Halvor, Andres had always looked out for his "little" brother, who for several years had towered over him. He bundled up and went outside.

The rest went back to their leatherwork, though a tight note now wove through their talk. No jesting while they waited. In the mountains of Norway, a deep-winter blizzard was no joke.

Andres returned, his eyes sharp with worry and a thick frosting of wind-driven snow spackling every inch of hood and coat. "Not in the privy, nor the cowbarn, nor the haybarn. Not in the stabbur nor the loft. Can't find him anywhere. One of the horses is gone, but not its saddle or bridle. Can't see five feet out there."

Guro drew in a raspy breath.

"Did he go chasing a stray?" Birgit asked, voicing the thought that leaped from brother to brother. She dashed to the cupboard and got out two oil lanterns, while Sveinung, Talleiv, and yes, even Ornery Olav went to put on their heaviest winter wear.

The wait stretched for hours. Birgit kept the fire stoked and hung blankets to warm by the hearth while her mother started a big pot of stew.

No sound heralded the brothers' return but the thumping of their boots in the entryway. No boisterous voices called greetings. They entered with grim faces, bringing Halvor the Silent home for the last time.

Olav swept his toolings off the table, and they laid the stiff body there.

Sveinung covered him with his own quilt, though there was no hope of reviving him.

Andres caught Guro who swayed in shock, and eased her to her corner bed.

Talleiv hunkered by the fire, shivering with shock and cold. Birgit draped him with one of the heated blankets, then took another to their mother.

No one wanted the stew.

Birgit sat with Guro through the long sleepless night, holding her close as she wept for her tall strong son, silent evermore.

Halvor Knutsson Brekke, born in 1795, died in 1826: "found frozen to death in the fields." [Ættesoge, Brekke 7.]


~ berries and sympathy ~


On her way home from a hot day of berry-picking, Gunnhild found her stepmother pacing the path, out of sight of the cabin. Merry Margit's eyes brightened when she saw Gunnhild's pail filled to brimming with cloudberries. "Give me half, quick," Margit said, voice low, holding out a bowl.

Gunnhild poured berries. "Do you have a buyer?" she asked.

Margit shook her head. "To send up to Åe farm. Don't tell your father. You know how he'd fume that every gift means money lost, even at a time like this."

"Like this?"

"Bad news came this morning. Longlegs Halvor on his way up to Åe. He said his sister-in-law took to childbed, but it went badly. Neither she nor the baby survived."

Gunnhild clutched her berry pail to her chest. Her knees went weak. She had seen Aslaug Siskin a few days past at Homme farm when kin had gathered for a bonfire. Tall Såmund had leaned over to murmur in his wife's ear, placing one hand gently on her rounded belly. Smiles had passed between them. Their eight-year-old daughter Åsne had snuggled up and added her hand, giggling to feel the baby move.

How quickly joy can turn to dust and grief.

"Who will care for the little ones?" Gunnhild whispered.

"Såmund's sister, Egeleiv, I hear, though she has her own family to tend."

Gunnhild flinched at the thought of the empty cradle at Åe farm. At the thought of five motherless children, learning to shoulder all the household tasks once their aunt had to go home again. At the thought of Tall Såmund's grief.


Tired of his acquaintances calling him an old bachelor farmer, Ornery Olav surprised everyone by deciding to marry. Even more astounding, the object of his stiff affections agreed. The barren widow, Fru Hansdotter -- twenty years his senior and good friend of his mother Guro -- became the wife of the heir of Brekke. The match ensured Olav years of good cooking, and no whining, sniveling, disobedient children underfoot.

The first time old Fru Hansdotter set to making flatbread in the cabin at Brekke, the crone shot accusing glances at Birgit, who was trying to look uninterested, carding wool near the door. "Fetch a pot of butter," the bakstekjerring snapped.

Birgit dutifully went out to a storage loft, but soon returned. "The shelf is empty. I could have sworn--"

"I'll need butter later. Go to the seter and fetch a fresh pot."

Birgit blinked at her new sister-in-law. "All the way up to the summer farm?"

"You heard me. Off with you." Olav's wife crossed her arms and glared, eyes hot as coals, until Birgit obeyed.

Of course, the baking was done by the time Birgit returned. And so it happened every flatbread-baking day. The miserly woman kept all her skills to herself.

Jusureid folks in 1827: Såmund (65) & Margit (42): Gunnhild (33), Aslaug (11), Knut (6), Åshild (1)

Åe folks in 1827: Såmund (41) & Aslaug: Aslak (11), Knut (10), Åsne (8), Talleiv "Toli" (4), Birgit "Bibbi" (2)

Olav was 39 when he married Aslaug Hansdotter, a childless widow twenty years his senior -- a year younger than his own mother. More on bachelor farmers in Appendix 2


~ pins and peels ~


"It's as if I have an evil stepmother while my own mother still lives," Birgit told Sweet Siri at Byggland. "Olav took over the father role after Far died, and that old kjerring he married thinks she's the queen of the realm."

"Can't your mother do anything? It's her household!"

"She's still weak, and Olav's wife runs right over her. Especially in the kitchen. Living under the same roof, they're not such good friends anymore. They hardly speak to each other." Birgit huffed in exasperation. "The old kjerring won't let me watch her make flatbread because she knows it would free me from Olav's control."

"I'd ask my father to pay you a small amount to do our baking next week," Sweet Siri said, "but he says he doesn't have two coins to clink together, not after the trader yesterday refused to lower his ridiculous prices."

"I'll help anyway, for free. I can use the practice."

"And the trader only offered half the amount we usually get for our good wool cloth. He says city factories make it cheap now, so why should he overpay us?" Sweet Siri shook her head. "Well, we'll use up all the woolens ourselves. Can't afford to pay for cotton cloth now." She put a hand on Birgit's arm. "I'm sorry to ramble so. We're all upset. We'll appreciate your help with the baking. Thousand thanks for the offer!"

view from road to Byggland farm, looking back at Brekke farm
view from road to Byggland farm, looking back at Brekke farm where Birgit lived

A few days later, when Byggland's spring harvest of barley and rye came back from the flour mill, Sweet Siri sent for Birgit. Out in the farmyard the menfolk were chopping a stack of well-seasoned spruce to keep the baking fire going all day. Jon from Homme joined his father's cousins and Birgit's brother Sveinung at the axe-work. She gave him a wave before stepping into the cookhouse -- which roiled with smoke.

"I think there's a jackdaw nest blocking the airway," Sweet Siri said as she probed up the chimney with a long pole. She had already put out the first fire she'd lit.

A mass of twigs dropped onto the embers and fanned up a choking cloud of ashes.

Coughing and giggling, the young women dashed outside and dusted off their skirts.

"Just look at the ash-maids," Jon teased as he whomped away at his round of spruce log. "Sprung straight out of a fairy tale!"

"Ja, sure," Sweet Siri answered. "Are you the handsome prince who will sweep in and save us from the villainous jackdaw?"

"Handsome, maybe," Birgit said, nudging her friend and grinning. "But prince? Of what realm?"

"If you'd climb to the top of Homme's Crest with me," Jon said, "you'd see how wide a kingdom I rule!"

The young women chuckled and went back inside, flapping their aprons to drive the smoke out the windows. Sweet Siri's mother and two aunts came over from the main house carrying mixing bowls and other utensils for the day-long baking event. By the time they were all set up at the work table, Sweet Siri had a new fire going, drawing well up the chimney.

"With six of us, we'll be able to work in shifts," Siri's mother said. "You know, don't you, Birgit, that if you manage to find work as a baker-wife you'll not have a moment's rest all day?"

Birgit grinned. "I'm not afraid of hard work!"

"Six of us?" Sweet Siri asked. "Anne's only twelve years old. Can she keep up with us?"

At the doorway, her little sister stuck her tongue out.

"She can take a turn," her mother said. "Only way to learn."

"You can work with me," Birgit told young Anne. "I'm not very quick yet, either."

Sweet Siri's aunts tested the heat of the coals and set the big flat griddle to heating on the grate, while her mother measured and mixed the first batch of dough. Birgit watched and asked questions, but words couldn't convey the knack of mixing the consistency just right. She felt the dough when too stiff, and again after each addition of water, but when it came her turn, she dribbled in too much liquid. It stuck to the table, tearing gaps and holes as she tried to roll it thin. She had to pause a while to clean the mess off her hands.

"Ooh, making mud pies," Jon said from the doorway.

Birgit rolled her eyes.

"Mud pie is what you'll get in the face," Sweet Siri said, "if you bring us nothing but wisecracks."

He hauled in an armful of spruce kindling. "Would that be mud pie with or without a good sprinkling of ashes on top?"

Sweet Siri groaned and turned to her mother. "He's not staying for dinner again, is he?"

"I don't work here for my meals," Jon said in a tone of mock injury. "I come for the stimulating conversation provided by the busiest of festive workdays."

"Out with you!" said an aunt, snapping her apron at him. "What do you want with women's talk?"

He laughed and slipped out the door. Every now and then he popped in again with more firewood and a joke.

When the older women finished the next stack of flatbread, they stood at Birgit's side while she gave the dough another try. This time it was too dry, and refused to roll thinner than a fingerwidth.

"That's all right," Siri's mother said. "It's still edible. This batch will be good for crumbling into milk for brødsoll."

By evening, Birgit had given up on mixing and rolling, and sat glumly on a stool by the hearth, tending the iron griddle and the rounds of flatbread a-baking.

Jon perched on a bench nearby. "I know how you feel. I practice every evening on the fiddle, but I never seem to get any better. My father can make it sing like a lark, but when I take up the bow, all you hear is a screech owl."

Birgit huffed. "I've heard you play. You're not so bad as you think."

"And you've improved already. No mud pies the last few hours."

She gave half a laugh. "At this rate I might master the craft before I die of old age."

"What's the hurry?"

She grimaced. "I want to leave home, that's all. But this isn't going to work. I don't even have my own baking peels or rolling pin. How could I hope to become a real baker-wife without a rolling pin?" She jabbed her poker at a coal, and it burst in sparks.

"That's easy. I could whittle you one in an evening."

"With the diamond pattern? It's not real baker-wife flatbread without the diamond pattern pressed in." She heaved a sigh. "Øy sure, I'll come back again tomorrow. I promised to help do the baking, and I'll stick it out to the end. But it's all going to come to naught. I should just give up and turn my efforts to mastering hardanger embroidery, or -- or leather-tooling."

Jon hummed a note. His gaze wandered.

~ ~ ~

building at Byggland farm, in 2006
building at Byggland farm, in 2006
buildings at Byggland farm, in 2006

The next day Jon's eyes looked a little puffy, but he wore a wide grin. "I have something for you, Birgit," he said. He handed her a burlap-wrapped object.

She drew the covering aside -- and gasped. A rolling pin, scored with criss-cross lines to form a diamond pattern all around the shaft. "Where did you get this?" she asked in amazement.

"Told you I could whittle one in an evening. Though when you add in the diamonds, it takes all night."

Birgit laughed and wrapped him in a hug.

"Whoo!" he cried. "I'm gonna go start carving you a baking peel this very moment, if it'll earn me another one of those!"

"Two!" she said. "A big one and a little one!"

"A big hug and a little hug?"

"Nei!" She laughed again. "A big peel and a little peel, and hugs for both!"

Åe folks in 1823: Såmund (42): Aslak (12), Knut (11),Åsne (9), Talleiv "Toli" (5), Birgit "Bibbi" (3)

~ filling a hole ~


Gunnhild of Dalen had better luck than Birgit with flatbread, but then, she had ten years' more practice. Last year she had done the fall flatbread-baking for her father's cousin, the widower Tall Såmund at Åe.

Now she had just finished his spring baking. Såmund couldn't afford to pay her much for her work. When he offered to give her an heirloom chest inherited from his great-grandmother, she shook her head. "Far would sell it, then spend the money on drink. This old treasure deserves to be cherished, not thrown away. It should go to one of your girls." She smiled at Såmund's youngest, Bibbi, nearly four, busily wiping flour off the bread board -- her clothes getting dustier by the moment.

Tall Såmund followed her glance. "Ja, you're right," he said. He sighed. "Bibbi truly enjoys your visits. All winter she talked about helping with the baking. It was kind of you to involve her, even if it was only sprinkling water on the baking rounds."

"Oh, she did much more than that. She tended the fire, raked the coals, even learned how to use the peels to shift the rounds off the griddle. Didn't drop a one. She's careful, and steady of hand."

Tall Såmund felt around in his pockets as if searching for something. "My wife's death left such a hole in our lives here. For me. For Bibbi and the older children. Even Laki, though with his stubborn twelve-year-old pride he would never say anything." He paused a moment, then looked up. "Would you consider--" His voice trailed off.

Gunnhild beamed at him. "I would love to come once or twice a month, give the girls a hand at tidying up, cook you a good meal."

Tall Såmund's mouth hung open as he shook his head. "Nei, nei," he finally got out. "What I mean to say is, well, would you come and -- stay?"

She blinked at him.

"Would you marry me, Gunnhild?"

Now it was her turn to gape and stutter.

Bibbi's big sister Åsne scampered through the room and called out the door to her brothers. "Guess what Far just asked Gunnhild!"

"Marry?" cried Bibbi. "Oh Gunna, please do! You can be my new Mor!"

Two of her brothers crowded into the doorway, eyes sparkling with glee.

"But Bibbi," Gunnhild said, looking only briefly at the girl. "Getting married is more than replacing what's missing. It's more than just filling a hole."

"Marriage is building something new," Såmund said. "Marriage is--" He stood there with hands opened, as if they held what he wanted to say, though he couldn't find the words.

"Marriage is like a team of oxen in the fields," Gunnhild murmured. "It doesn't matter what they look like, as long as they pull together."

"Marriage is like a two-wheeled cart," Såmund said, brightening. "It might bump around a lot, but if it has strong wheels, it gets where it's going."

"Marriage is like baking flatbread!" Bibbi cried. "Yummy!"

Everyone broke out laughing. Åsne swooped up the two wooden bread paddles. "You're right, Bibbi. Marriage is like baking flatbread. Sometimes you need a little peel, and sometimes you need a big one. If one won't work, the other one does."

Then Laki stomped into the room and scowled. "You're all done with the baking, and didn't call me to share one hot off the griddle?"

Gunnhild glanced at Såmund, a smile tweaking her lips, then whirled on Laki with wide eyes and arms raised. "That's because I'm turning into an evil stepmother, going to beat you and make you go hungry!" She cackled and took one step closer.

Laki backed off, wrinkling his nose in distaste and alarm.

Gunnhild dropped arms back to her sides and smiled. "I have a sweet, kind stepmother, so don't believe the old stories. But marriage," she said, turning back to Tall Såmund, "that's something to think over. To think long and deep."

"I have," he murmured.

"What?" demanded Laki. "What are you talking about?"

"I could never replace your mother, Laki, but your father is very lonely. He wants to know if I'll marry him."

"Marry?" Laki scowled at his father.

"Nothing is decided," Gunnhild told the young man, "but I promise you: If I marry your father, I will never, ever forget to call you as soon as the flatbread is finished."


Gunnhild clung tighter to new husband's arm. "Are you sure about this?" she whispered. "I feel like an intruder. Like a usurper."

Tall Såmund patted her hand as they walked through the twilight. "My in-laws loved their daughter dearly and miss her terribly -- ja, it is true. But you see, now all they have left of her is her children. Our children. Their grandchildren. And the young ones suffer even more than their elders from grief."

Silver dangles jingled around the brim of the bridal hat as Gunnhild looked around the courtyard at Åkre farm -- the home of Såmund's first wife. How many times she had come to the Åkre's spacious loft for dances and wedding festivities, but it all looked different now that it was her own wedding to celebrate.

He squeezed her hand. "My in-laws are glad you've come into their grandchildren's lives. You'll see. They're open-hearted folk."

Before the doors of the large loft, Gunnhild took a deep breath, drew upright, and nodded, setting the dangles to tinkling again.

They stepped inside.

From the rafters overhead came children's giggles and a shower of summer flowers -- snow-like daisies and the little purple pansies called Stepmother Blossom.

Gunnhild broke away from Såmund and whirled in the flurry, laughing up at the youngsters. When she swung back to her husband, there stood his mother-in-law, waiting with a wide smile to greet his new bride.

Two fiddlers took turns at the bow that night. Besides the more accomplished musician, Jon from Homme played a few of the even-paced telegangar dances. Birgit's brother Sveinung Saddlemaker of Brekke, now employed at Byggland, served as kjøgemester while his wife tended their one-year-old son and gossiped with the other young mothers.

"So you got your firstborn son, heir of an estate, just like you foretold," Jon of Homme said at Gunnhild's elbow, grinning wide.

She turned, surprised, then bit her lip, blushing. "I'm ashamed I was so flip back then," she whispered. "Såmund is a wonderful man, and I'd marry him even if he was only a seventh son leasing a subfarm." She raised her voice a notch. "And look at the fine brood of children I get, five of them, without even having to go through the pains of childbirth!"

Såmund beamed.

Gunnhild's three brothers from Huvestad took turns dancing her around the loft. She was glad to see her brother Bjørgulv looking fit and happy in spite of his troubles. The farm was doing well enough, but over the last decade only one of his seven children had survived infancy -- a boy named after his morfar Halvor the Haughty.

She partnered another number with her halfbrother Red Knut, at eight just a year older than his nephew at Huvestad. Then she took a spin with Tarjei, the only full sibling still living under their father's leaky roof.

Såmund the Former Sawyer waved her away when she gave him an inquiring glance. Nothing but doom and gloom fell from his mouth these days, and Gunnhild had made him promise not to say a word during the celebration. She knew he was already mourning the further blow to his lifestyle from the loss of the profits from her needlework.

"Pay him no heed," said her stepmother. Worry lines now creased deeper than laugh lines on Merry Margit's face. "He has only himself to blame. Go on. Enjoy yourself!" She gave Gunnhild a gentle push back in Tall Såmund's direction.

"Too late," Gunnhild said with a smile. "I've already lost him to another woman!"

Her husband had swooped up her two-year-old halfsister and now whirled her around the room, the little girl shrieking with laughter. Her thirteen-year-old halfsister Aslaug stood with arms folded and toe tapping the floor. "I was supposed to be next."

~ Dan the Magnificent ~


That fall, Gunnhild called Laki as soon as the first round of flatbread came off the skillet. She spread it with butter, sprinkled on a precious pinch of sugar, and was just folding it in quarters when Laki appeared at the summer cookhouse door.

He fixed his stepmother with a wary gaze. "What?" he asked rudely.

"Like I promised," she said, handing him the treat. "Would you like a story while you eat?"

He shrugged, but perched on a stool nearby while he wolfed down the first bite.

She flipped the second round of flatbread on the skillet, then started rolling the next one. "In the old times, say they, on earth-paths green--" she began.

Laki glanced up at the archaic beginning.

"There wended his way a wise god -- ancient, rugged, and mighty. Rig was his name."

No simple folk tale, this. Laki's brows knit as Gunnhild went on with one of the ancient sagas, telling of the origins of three castes of man: thralls, craftsmen, and warriors. Earl, the first of the warriors, had many sons, including Kon the youngest. Kon Ungr mastered not only the skills of warriors like his brothers, but also the most elusive secrets of all, the runes, gaining in knowledge and lore until soon he rivaled even Rig himself.

"Kon Ungr?" broke in Laki. "That's the old word for king!"

"That's right," Gunnhild said. "Do you know who was the first konungr of all?"

"Nei," Laki said. Kling devoured, he sat there still, licking his buttery fingers.

"It was Dan the Magnificent, grandson of Kon Ungr. Before Dan, the rulers of men were called chieftains or warlords. King Dan the Magnificent was the first king of Danmark -- which was named after him, as were his followers who were called Danes. Dan had a sister named Drott, who married into the Yngling dynasty ruling in Sweden."

"I've heard of the Ynglings!"

"I should hope so." Gunnhild kept the flatbread going: flouring, rolling, sliding by peel from breadboard to skillet to stack of crisp barley rounds. "Their realm may have centered in Sweden, but it spread far abroad, even to our own dales."

"Here?" Laki cocked his head and hunched forward, hands clasped and elbows on knees.

Gunnhild nodded. "You've heard of Sigurd Ring? He was king of Sweden in the eighth century, a descendant of Queen Drott, fifteen generations later in the Yngling dynasty. He challenged his father's half brother to see who was boldest and mightiest. Sigurd won, and added part of Norway to his realm. Sigurd's son Ragnar Hairy Breeches ruled after him, then his son Bjørn Ironsides. Bjørn split his kingdom between his two sons, the brothers Eirik and Ånund. Eirik got Sweden, and Ånund, Telemark. Ånund had three royal dwellings: one over in Numedal parish, one up in Setesdal parish, and one at Donstad."

"I've been to Donstad -- down Morgedal way, the next side valley up from Byggland." Glee shone in his eyes. "A king's dwelling? Øy!"

Gunnhild went on with her tale. "The folk here in the Dales loved their Prince, for he was a kind and gracious ruler, though hard of hearing. He yelled whenever he spoke, so they called him Prins Dond, Prince Roar. That's where Donstad got it's name, the steading of Dond, if the tales are true. Ånund Bjørnsson of the Yngling dynasty, our Prins Dond, had a son by the name of--" she took a dramatic pause. "Aslak."

Laki straightened, unable to hold back a wide grin. "That's my name!"

"And not by coincidence," his stepmother said with a tone of mystery while she rolled out another round. "Would you tend the skillet for me, please?"

Laki scooted a low stool into place by the hearth.

"Aslak's sons Roald Rygg and Hadd the Hard joined the rebels against Harald Fairhair who went about battling all the minor kings and uniting our country into one nation. Roald and Hadd lost, of course, but kept their lives. Harald didn't bother to pursue them so far inland when they fled home. There was nothing in the mountains he wanted, just control of the coasts.

"Now skip ahead six hundred years. Down near Brunkeberg is a large estate called Holtan. In the Middle Ages it took in all the surrounding fields and forests, creeks and ridgetops. A great bonde dwelled there in the 1500's, ruling like a king. And perhaps he had descended from royalty, from that same Aslak Ånundsson, son of Prins Dond. For according to the parish register, down the male line of firstborn sons at Holtan came those same names: Aslak, Ånund, Aslak, Ånund.

"Did you know, by the way, that Aslak Guttormsson, who married the daughter of the great bonde up the Dales at Moen, land of our ancestors -- did you know he came from the family line of Holtan?"

Laki leaped to his feet, knocking his stool over. "You mean my great-great-six times great-grandfather?"

"Ja, I do."

"You mean I'm descended from great bondes? From Prins Dond? From Sigurd Ring?!"

Gunnhild grinned. "That's the way it looks, Your Highness. But so are most of our kin, so it's nothing to brag about. Uff da, look sharp! The flatbread is scorching!"

Laki swaggered with pride the rest of that day.

Come nightfall, Tall Såmund nuzzled his wife's flour-dusted cheek. "Enough baking! Off with the apron, and tell me. What potion did you brew into your magic loaves today? I've never seen such a charm as you've cast on my sulky son."

She giggled. "I told him a long tale with his name woven throughout. And the most powerful magic in the story was, simply, the truth."


~ sunflower in the weeds ~


As Tall Såmund helped Gunnhild into their sleigh, she gave a sheepish laugh, embarrassed to need a steadying hand. She settled her awkward weight into the seat and smiled him her gratitude. Her step-daughters nestled in on either side, drawing up lap rugs for warmth and chattering about what to name the baby soon to come.

Laki, thirteen now, and his twelve-year-old brother Knut brought heated bricks for their feet, then ran off to strap on skis before Gunnhild could give them her thanks.

Tall Såmund tucked his youngest son beside him in front, whipped up the horse, and set off for Morgedal. Snow lay heavy on the hills and dales, and more flurries drifted down as they made their way to Brekke farm.

Over the last several months, Jon of Homme had braved the spiteful tongue of Ornery Olav Brekke, sidestepping the older man's barbs by using a few kjøgemester tricks he'd picked up at earlier wedding celebrations. What had started with a rolling pin and two bread peels had progressed to bride-price negotiations.

Jon had enlisted Sveinung Saddlemaker and his glib tongue to talk Olav down to a reasonable amount, with witnesses present. Once the amount was stated, Olav couldn't back out, no matter how he fumed at the conniving of his brother, Sveinung, and now he was losing yet another peasant from his dwindling realm.

Only Andres with his young family, now including two sons and two daughters, still helped farm at Brekke. Twenty-year-old Talleiv hired out wherever he could find work and rarely returned home, but he hadn't escaped his brother's tyranny. The name Stutterer stuck, and folk tended to treat him with indifference if not contempt. Some prattling tongue started up a rumor that he must have been berg-taken -- abducted for a time by the tussar folk into their magical mountain realm and leaving him with addled wits.

Birgit glanced all around the crowd of folk in the farmyard, worry niggling at her until there, on the fringes of the jostling group of young men surrounding the groom, she spotted Talleiv. She grinned and waved. When his haunted gaze met hers, a brief smile touched his lips.

Then Olav blustered past with his well-bundled wife on his arm. He was already muttering and snarling.

As she mounted her bridal sleigh, Birgit shook her head and hoped that two kjøgemesters would be enough. She settled in beside her mother.

Sweet Siri from Byggland and her little sister Anne arrived in a sleigh followed by their three brothers on skis. Jon greeted his cousins as the last of the menfolk strapped their footgear and hefted their poles.

Guro shook the reins, and the sleigh lurched into motion.

"Wait, Mor," Birgit said. "Hæge isn't here yet." She peered through the flurries uphill toward the outfarm where her good friend now lived. The three of them -- Hæge, Jon, and Birgit -- were all twenty-five years old, as was Gunnhild's younger brother Mundi. A quarter century of friendship and family ties knitted together the folk of the Telemark dales.

"Where are you, Hæge?" she called into the gentle snow. "Don't keep me waiting, not today!"

A small figure appeared through the drifting veils of snow and skimmed down the slope toward Birgit. It was a small child, so bundled she could see no more of his face than his eyes, but from his speed and eager leaps off every low hummock of snow, she knew at once who it was. "Sondre!" Birgit greeted him. "Is your aunt on her way yet?"

"Ja!" the four-year-old answered. "Aunt Hæge is right behind me."

"I doubt that," Old Guro said, looking up the steep hillside.

Birgit grinned at her mother. No pony and sleigh would come straight down such an incline.

Jon slid across the courtyard, a dashing figure in his wedding finery, and skis polished to a shine. "How is the snowpack?" he asked the boy in all seriousness. "Will we make good time?"

"Ja, good and powdery," Sondre said, and he zipped in and out of the crowd to prove it.

Soon Hæge's family arrived from a roundabout trail. In spite of Sondre's protests his aunt made him shuck his skis.

"The menfolk can ski all the way to Brunkeberg," Birgit called across, "but it's too far for even the best dwarf skier."

"I'm not a dwarf," the boy replied.

"I promised your father I'd keep you with me the whole time," Hæge said. "Now get in."

Sondre sulked but did as ordered, joining his three cousins in his aunt's two-horse sleigh just as Birgit's brother Sveinung came slicing down the trail from Høydalsmo, his skis throwing up a rooster-tail as he pulled to a halt.

"You made it!" Birgit called. "Where's your wife? Is little Knut ailing again?"

Sveinung Saddlemaker shook his head. "She's been throwing up all morning," he said cheerfully.

"Is she with child?" Birgit cried in delight, then turned. "Jon! My brother had to go and shoulder his way ahead in line. We'll have to hurry and catch up!"

"You never told me you were baby-hungry, woman!" Jon said with mock severity. "Off we go, then. The sooner we get this day over with, the sooner we can join the ranks."

"Brats!" Ornery Olav snorted in disgust. "Noisy, smelly creatures." He whipped his sleigh-pony into a canter.

"Indeed," muttered his prune-faced wife.

The wedding procession left Brekke lands and skimmed the long track toward Brunkeberg church. Jon and Sveinung challenged each other to leaps off the road bank, all the way to Brunkeberg. Sondre whooped at the show, while Birgit cringed. "I don't want to spend my month of wheat bread playing nurse for a broken leg!"

Near the end of the trek, Guro broke her silence. "Birgit," she said, then paused.

"Ja, Mor?"

Guro pursed her lips, her gaze on the horse's head bobbing in time with its trot. "Birgit, my dearest Birgit -- I will miss you."

Birgit put a hand on her mother's arm. It had never been the habit at Brekke to show affection. Tears welled.

"You're a sunflower in my field of weeds. You have pluck, girl." Guro's hand patted Birgit's, then went back to a double-grip on the reins. She muttered, "I do not look forward to riding home again with Olav."

Birgit rested her head on her mother's shoulder.

Guro stiffened a moment, then relaxed.

"I'll ask Jon if you can come live with us," Birgit murmured.

Guro snorted. "Two mothers-in-law under one roof? Sure recipe for disaster. Nei, I'll stay in my own home, though I have to share it with trolls."

~ a wide and wondrous realm ~


Birgit got along fine with Tone, her mother-in-law at Brekke farm, but even so she was glad to steal away often with Jon during their first month as man and wife. They spent many hours of their "days of wheat bread" in the loft, upstairs in the guest chamber, watched over by the painted mural of Adam and Eve.

"My Aunt Anne did that," Jon told Birgit on their wedding night. "Almost fifty years ago. Looks like the paint needs touching up in a few spots."

Birgit giggled. "Looks like Eve is blushing. If someone's going to touch up the mural, maybe they could add an armful of flowers."

"She's not blushing! She's flirting. See how she's glancing at Adam? Those are my Uncle Tarald and Aunt Sigrid, by the way." He fell silent. Sigrid's funeral had taken place less than a year earlier.

Birgit studied the likeness. "Ja, that's her smile, all right."

Jon grinned. "When she first saw the mural, her smile looked rather tight, but in time she grew to like it."

"Adam, now," Birgit scrutinized the image.

"He died before we were born."

"A fine-looking man, but he's smirking at us."

"He'll go away once I blow out the candle."

Birgit turned to Jon. "You're a fine-looking man, too, husband!"

~ ~ ~

On the first warm day after spring thaw, Jon led Birgit up Homme's Crest to the highest viewpoint. She gasped in delight at the unexpected sight. "How glorious!" she cried.

"Homme used to include three farmyards," Jon told her. "One farm over there," he pointed to the south, "and one down there in the west."

"You are prince of a wide and wondrous realm after all," Birgit said, remembering his joke from that day at Byggland. She snuggled close to his side.

"Well, the subfarms belong to others now, so we only hold the main dwelling place. But our lands extend from the ridge behind us in the north, down to the Dalaåi creek at the bottom of the dale -- there! Do you see it glinting? And, of course, all the flanks of rock-solid old Homme's Crest." He stomped on the granite outcropping that formed their viewpoint.

A small chunk broke off and tumbled down, down, down the steep cliff of the mountain. Two wood pigeons burst from their woodsy perch below, clapping up in a frantic spiral, then peeling off to the west.

Birgit giggled. "I think we disturbed them from their honeymoon nest."

"They'll soon come back," Jon said.

But the birds dwindled to mere specks, still flying westward, and a shiver of foreboding swept across Birgit's skin.

She shook off the fleeting impression. Jon's family had dwelled here for six generations. Surely their own children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren would nest at Homme, as safe and contented as their forefathers. She had no reason to expect their fate might include a flight far into the west.

Jusureid folks in 1829: Såmund (67) & Margit (44): Knut (37), Aslaug (14), Åshild (3)

Huvestad folks in 1829: Bjørgulv (30) & Ingebjøg (27): Halvor (8), Leidulv (0)
Såmund Dalen (25)

Åe folks in 1829: Såmund (43) & Gunnhild (35): Såmund (0)
Såmund's older children: Aslak (13), Knut (12),Åsne (10), Talleiv "Toli" (6), Birgit "Bibbi" (4)

Homme folks in 1829: Jon (25) & Birgit (25)
Torjus (64) & Tone (62) (Jon's parents): Halvor (31), Sveinung (22), Steinar (19)

(Brekke) folks in 1829: Andres (36) & Kari (32): Knut (11), Bjørn (9), Guro (4), Anne (2)
Sveinung (31) & Tjodvor (25): & 2 kids
matriarch Guro (62)


~ black wings ~


Gunnhild's firstborn, Little Såmund, was three years old in 1832 when her stepmother Merry Margit and seventeen-year-old halfsister Aslaug came to stay a few weeks at Åe. Little Såmund danced around when they first arrived, chanting, "Soon I get a baby brother!" He had to frown and reconsider when it turned out to be a sister, but before long he was loudly proclaiming, "Now I'm a big brother!"

"Do you have a story for the baby's name, Mor Gunna?" Åsne asked.

Aslaug cocked her head at the younger girl.

"Every name has a story," Åsne explained, "and Mor Gunna knows them all."

Gunnhild laughed as she cuddled her newborn. "I don't know all of them."

Nine-year-old Toli ran partway up the stairs and called down, "My name 'Talleiv' comes from Thorleifr, and that means Thor's heir! Boom, boom crash!" He threw imaginary lightning bolts at his brothers and sisters.

"Are you going to name the baby after your mother?" halfsister Aslaug asked with a mischievous smile.

Gunnhild grinned back. "Ja, sure. We could never have too many Aslaugs."

"So what does my name mean?" The teenager scooted her stool closer to the bedside. "Mine, and my niece's!"

"Dedicated to God."

"Oh, the priest will like that, come christening day."

"Maybe, maybe not. The 'god' part of the name, As-, refers to the Æsir of old mythology, like Odin and Thor!"

"So do you have a story?" Åsne repeated.

Gunnhild smiled. "Have you ever heard the tale of Aslaug Kråke?"

"Aslaug Crow?" her halfsister asked, frowning. "Some ugly old witch?"

"Nei. Quite the opposite. You see, there was one time a sweet young princess named Aslaug Sigurdsdotter. After the death of her royal parents, her fosterfather took her on a journey, stopping overnight at a farm named Spangereid. The smallholder at Spangereid was a devious and cruel man by the name of Åke, and he killed his guest and stole all his wealth. He and his wife Grima set little Aslaug to the hardest work around the farm in the winter, and by summer, to herding goats up in the heights. Years passed, and in spite of her hardships the girl grew more and more lovely. Envious Grima didn't want anyone to see how beautiful Aslaug was, so she forbade the girl ever to wash herself or comb out her hair.

"One summer the weather was terribly hot and dry. Herding goats all alone in the pastures above the treeline, Aslaug longed for relief from the blistering heat. A scattering of crows flew past, and she called out to them, 'Come back! Come back, and give me shade!'

"To her surprise, the flock wheeled around and returned, and set to cawing. More crows came in answer to their calls, and more and more, until the sky was covered with the sweep of black wings, blocking out the sun and bringing a blessed coolness to the air."

"That's why they called her Kråke," Gunnhild's halfsister said, leaning back.

"At last the tremendous congregation of crows that had come at her command, broke apart and flew away," Gunnhild went on. "From that day on, Aslaug knew she was of royal lineage. She dreamed of rising free from the poverty at Spangereid and her slavery under Åke and Grima.

"One day while she tended the flocks on the heights above the fjord, she saw many great ships coming to land not far from Spangereid farm. From the banners flying from the largest longship, she knew this was the fleet of Ragnar Hairy Breeches, King of Denmark, one of the mightiest kings in all Europe. He was on his way to England, but had turned aside along the way to visit relatives in Agder."

"Where's that?" Bibbi asked.

"The very southern tip of Norway," Åsne said. "You'd better pay more attention to your studies!"

"Well, Aslaug hurried home," Gunnhild said. "In spite of Grima's decree, she bathed, then combed the snarls out of her hair. With golden tresses floating about her like a cape, she walked toward the house.

"While Aslaug was on her way down from the high pastures, King Ragnar sent his cooks ashore to bake bread. They had approached Grima at Spangereid farm and asked to use her cookhouse. Grima told them she had a daughter who could help them with the baking.

"But the cooks were so stunned at the sight of the lovely girl who came to Grima's call that they forgot their baking and all the bread got burned. When they returned to the ships, the king asked why all the bread was so black, and they made the excuse that they had been so enchanted by the beauty of the farmgirl that they couldn't take their eyes off her.

"The king, who was a widower, was intrigued and wished to get a look at the lovely maiden. If she was as ravishing as the cooks said, he thought he might take her to be his queen. He summoned the noblest of his men and sent them to the farm with a message for the girl. But he wanted to find out if she was as clever as she was beautiful, and so the message contained a riddle."

"A riddle, a riddle!" Toli yelled. "Tell us, and let us guess!"

"King Ragnar said, 'She shall come to me neither naked nor clothed, neither fasting nor full, and neither alone nor accompanied by a single other person.' While you're thinking," Gunnhild said to children, "someone get me a cup of water, please."

"How can you be not alone and not with anybody, all at the same time?" Bibbi asked.

"I think I know the answer to the not-naked-not-clothed one," halfsister Aslaug said as she watched Gunnhild rewrap the newborn babe.

"I know for sure about not-fasting-not-full," complained Toli. "That's how I feel after every meal."

Gunnhild sighed. When was the last time anyone at Åe had been able to kick back from the table with a full belly?

"What's the answer?" the children begged. "Tell us, tell us!"

"The messengers went up to the farm," Gunnhild said, laying newborn Aslaug in teenage Aslaug's eager arms. "They delivered the message to Aslaug Kråke. She solved the riddle at once, and bade them take her answer back to King Ragnar. The next morning, she told them, she would come to the king's ship in just the manner he wished.

"Early next morning," Gunnhild continued, "Aslaug rose and got herself ready. She took a fishnet and wound it round and round herself, then combed out her golden hair to fall over the netting like a veil. Thus she was neither naked nor clothed.

"She took one bite out of an onion. Thus she was neither fasting nor full."

"I was right," Toli crowed.

"Aslaug Kråke lured the big billy goat from the herd to follow her down to the beach. Thus she was neither alone nor accompanied by a single other person."

The younger children laughed.

"When Aslaug neared the ships, the king called to her to come aboard at once. But before she would set foot in the ship's boat, she waited for him to promise her complete safety. Remember that, girls! Don't let any man's flattery lead you to foolishness.

"Once aboard the king's ship, Aslaug spoke at length with Ragnar. He marveled at her courteous speech and wise answers, became enamored by her, and asked her to travel with him to England.

"But Aslaug said no. She told the king that he must go to England without her, since he might have second thoughts. But when he returned, if he hadn't changed his mind after that journey, he could send for her."

"Ooh, bossy!" said Tall Såmund from his seat near the door where he worked at repairing a piece of harness that broke that day out in the fields. "A sassy girl, to give counsel to a king."

"As if you don't listen to my counsel from time to time," Gunnhild said with a toss of her head. She returned her husband's grin. "King Ragnar sailed out from Spangereid then and set his course for England, but he couldn't forget the girl robed in fishnets. He raided and he looted, but his heart wasn't in it. With the viking season only half past, he upped anchor and set course for the Norse coast and the little harbor near Spangereid.

"Aslaug had been watching every day from her lookout in the summer pastures. Watching all summer, never knowing if he would return." Gunnhild glanced at Tall Såmund, sitting in the open doorway hunched over his leatherwork in the low light of evening. She couldn't bear the thought of so many months apart, and an ocean between.

"She saw the fleet coming up the sound, banners flying, and Ragnar standing in the prow of the leading ship. That evening the king sent greetings to her and bade her come join him for now and always. Before she left, she told Åke and Grima that she knew they had killed her foster father, but that she would not claim vengeance upon them.

"At the ships Aslaug told King Ragnar for the first time who she really was. The same day the Danish fleet sailed out of Spangereid's harbor and with a good wind in their sails, the dragonships skimmed southwards over the Skagerrak toward Ragnar's realm of Denmark."

While the girls sighed over the romantic ending, Toli piped up. "Is that when they met the sea serpent? I thought there was supposed to be a Kraken in this tale."

"Not Krake," Gunnhild told him. "Kråke."

Toli frowned. "Well, didn't they at least have to sail through a whirlpool or a m&Ælig;lstrom or something? How big is a dragonship, anyway? Does it really have a carved dragon head on the front?"

"I don't know how big a dragonship is." Gunnhild shrugged. "I've never seen one. Never even seen the sea."

Toli turned to his father. "Have you, Far?"

Tall Såmund shook his head. "I'm a dalesman. Never been further seaward than Kvitseidvatn, though I hear it has a sea serpent lurking near the far end."

Toli set his shoulders. "Someday I'm going to go to sea."

~ in the same boat ~


Not long after Gunnhild gave birth to little Aslaug at Åe farm, Birgit went to childbed at Homme farm and labored all through the night. When day broke, she cradled a snuffling newborn who mewed like a tiny kitten.

Jon Torjusson gently took his swaddled son into his arms. "For too many years," he murmured, "there have been too few Halvors in the world."

"You don't want to name him Torjus?" Birgit asked. "Won't your father feel slighted?"

Jon shook his head as he gazed down at red-faced infant Halvor. "He knew how close I was to my farfar. He'll understand."


Birgit's brother Sveinung Saddlemaker also had a son that year, while he continued to work as laborer at Byggland. His home-crafted leatherwork no longer attracted good prices from the traders. Factory innovations abroad were making a big dent in rural livelihoods.

Sveinung jumped at the chance to apprentice to Olav the Smith of Byggland, uncle of Sweet Siri and Anne. After a childless fifteen years of marriage, Olav the Smith finally had to give up on getting an heir to carry on his blacksmith trade, and Sveinung made a good pupil.

In spite of all the clattering and hammering in the smithy, Byggland proved calmer a steading than Sveinung's home farm. Ornery Olav flew into a rage whenever any of his siblings asked how Brekke farm was faring in these hard times. They hadn't seen such thunderstorms since the day their father died.


One morning while her mother-in-law Tone rocked baby Halvor, and Birgit was cleaning up from breakfast, Andres knocked at the door. She asked him in and warmed him a bowlful while he told a strange tale. "Two times now I've caught Olav weeping," he said, shaking his head.

"Weeping?" Birgit echoed, astounded.

"The first time he never knew I was there, but the second, he about knocked a tooth out when he caught me watching." He gingerly touched a fat lip. "He won't let me see the books. Says the farm is his, and I'm just the 'help.' But he never even speaks to the traveling traders, won't even buy salt for the table, and he's always riding off, in different directions, and coming home late at night, cursing his 'faithless friends' and ranting about how worthless it all is. I don't know who he goes to see. I'm afraid he's going to lose the farm."

"Is there anything we can do?" Birgit asked.

Andres gave a humorless laugh and shrugged his shoulders. "Do you have a thousand riksdalers you can loan him? Nei, we're all in the same boat. All fighting just to stay afloat. What I was wondering is--" He drew a deep breath. "Could Kari and the children come stay with you for a week or two? I'm not sure they're safe at home, not with his temper so explosive, and poor Anniken gets all a-tremble whenever he's near. Even my oldest two turn quiet as owls."

"Ja, I'm sure Jon will agree, and Halvor Lamefoot will be glad to give them his room."

But when Andres arrived home, he found there was no longer any danger of violence. A neighbor had discovered Olav's silent, lifeless body floating in Morgedal Tarn.

And the farm books showed Brekke drowning in a sea of debt.

from heights above Bjaaland farm, looking southeast across Morgedal valley, with Brekke farm in the distance
from the heights above Bjåland farm, looking southeast across Morgedal valley, with Brekke farm in the distance beyond Morgedal Tarn

Morgedal Tarn
Morgedal Tarn, cradled in the lap of Morgedal valley; Brekke farm up the distant bank

Jusureid folks in 1832: Såmund (70) & Margit (47): Knut (40), Aslaug (17), Åshild (6)

Huvestad folks in 1832: Bjørgulv (33) & Ingebjøg (30): Halvor (11), Leidulv (3)
Såmund Dalen (28)

Åe folks in 1832: Såmund (46) & Gunnhild (38): Såmund (3), Aslaug (0)
Såmund's older children: Aslak (16), Knut (15),Åsne (14), Talleiv "Toli" (9), Birgit "Bibbi" (7)

Homme folks in 1832: Jon (28) & Birgit (28): Halvor (0)
Torjus (67) & Tone (65) (Jon's parents): Halvor (34), Sveinung (25), Steinar (22)

(Brekke) folks in 1832: Andres (39) & Kari (35): Knut (14), Bjørn (12), Guro (7), Anne (5), Jon (1)
Sveinung (34) & Tjodvor (28): & 3 kids
matriarch Guro (65)

In 1832, Olav Knutsson Brekke was "found on the 22nd of July in Morgedal Lake where he himself, so far as it can be determined, has shortened his days."

map of Kviteseid area in the mid-1800s
Kviteseid area in the mid-1800s


~ Two Farms ~

Homme & Åe


~ cracking down ~

(Brekke) folks in 1834: Andres (41) & Kari (37): Knut (16), Bjørn (14), Guro (9), Anne (7), Jon (3)


Brekke farm fell into the hands of creditors. Shocked by her eldest son's suicide and dazed at the sudden change in her situation, Guro moved in with her son Sveinung's family at Byggland.

Andres found a place at a neighboring farm for himself, Kari, and their five children. At the ages of sixteen and fourteen, his two oldest, Knut the firstborn and Bjørn the second, had finished their schooling, passed confirmation, and now worked all day in the fields like other grown men. Their sisters Golden Guro and Anniken helped with housework and tending their toddler brother.


At Homme, Jon's parents Torjus and Tone cracked down on expenses, determined not even to start the downward slide into debt. When their next-youngest son Sveinung got married to a young woman from Håtveit, the celebration was a simple one, with only an hour of music and dancing. Torjus played the first number then handed the fiddle over to Jon despite his protests. "I just can't handle the fretting any more," Torjus said, rubbing his swollen knuckles. They cracked like dice rattling. "It's about time you took my place."

Jon and his brother Halvor Lamefoot worked long hours in the fields. Birgit took toddler Halvor along while she herded the sheep or wandered through the forest gathering nuts and berries.

Whenever he got caught up on tasks at home, Jon helped out with the unending toil at the farms of neighbors and kin. He spent a week at his cousins' farm at Breidalen during harvest season of 1834. His eighty-five-year-old widowed Aunt Margit was doing poorly, aching from several recent sprains and falls, including a cracked tailbone. Then one morning she didn't wake up.

Jon returned home to Homme, somber with loss. His father Torjus, the youngest of Liv Steinarsdotter's children, had only one sibling left, Fair Anne at Loupedalen. The nearly constant work and worry was taking its toll on Torjus, now just short of seventy years old. Tone fretted over his health.

But then it was Tone who took ill. Jon's mother, only sixty-seven, caught pneumonia, and despite the vigilant care of her family, died a few weeks after Margit's funeral. Torjus' graying hair turned completely white, and the fiddle hung silent on the wall until spring.

Åe folks in 1834: Såmund (48) & Gunnhild (40): Såmund (5), Aslaug (2)
Såmund's older children: Aslak (18), Knut (17), Åsne (15), Talleiv "Toli" (11), Birgit "Bibbi" (9)

Homme folks in 1834: Jon (30) & Birgit (30): Halvor (2)
Torjus (69) & Tone (67) (Jon's parents): Halvor (36), Sveinung (27), Steinar (24)


~ two Halvors ~


The next year, twenty-five-year-old Steinar, youngest of the Homme clan, married the sister of Sveinung's bride, and occupied the outfarm Hosum.

"This nut didn't fall far from the tree," Jon teased him. The two youngest Homme brothers, wedded to the two Håtveit sisters, took plenty more ribbing from the wedding guests. Jon played the fiddle all evening, and was surprised no one made his bowing the butt of any jokes.

"Because you didn't screech a single note," Birgit told him. "You're turning into a fine fiddler, beloved!"

Tall Såmund had brought his family from Åe to Homme to celebrate his cousin's wedding. "Dance with one of my halfsisters," Gunnhild told him, laughing, after only one turn around the loft floor. "That's all I can handle, in this state." She settled her very pregnant self onto a bale of hay and watched six-year-old Little Såmund shepherd three-year-old Aslaug among the other children.

By the end of the evening she wasn't laughing any more. She sent Little Såmund to find his father. "I don't think we'll make it home," she told Tall Såmund when he arrived.

Her husband knit his brows and sat down beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders. "Not now, is it?"

She bit her lip through a contraction, then nodded. "I'm sorry, I didn't think I was that near--"

"Don't apologize! It was me who hauled you here in a jolting cart then danced you around like a newlywed! Sit tight, and I'll go speak with Jon. Good thing they held the dance here rather than at Håtveit!"

Early the next morning, young Halvor Jonsson was delighted to find a tiny Halvor Såmundsson occupying his old cradle. "Two Halvors!" he kept saying. "Can we keep him?"

Little Såmund Såmundsson puffed out his chest at that. "Nei, he's ours!"

"Ours," Aslaug Såmundsdotter agreed.

Later that day, Laki, Knut, and Toli arrived by horseback to collect Little Såmund and Aslaug and take them home again. "Åsne and Bibbi are mad they missed all the fun," Laki said.

"Fun?!" Gunnhild sank back against her pillows and blew a stray strand of hair out of her eyes. "I have something to tell them when we get home!"

Åe folks in 1835: Såmund (49) & Gunnhild (41): Såmund (6), Aslaug (3), Halvor (0)
Såmund's older children: Aslak (19), Knut (18), Åsne (16), Talleiv "Toli" (12), Birgit "Bibbi" (10)

Homme folks in 1835: Jon (31) & Birgit (31): Halvor (3)
Torjus (70) & Tone (68) (Jon's parents): Halvor (37), Sveinung (26), Steinar (25)

~ pranks and promises ~


Halvor had lots to say, himself. He came with healthy lungs and a strong will, and soon had nine-year-old Åsne wrapped around his finger. Seven-year-old Bibbi and little Aslaug brought him daisy crowns, and the girls argued over whose turn it was to rock the cradle. Little Såmund got tired of waiting for the baby to grow up big enough to play and spent his time following his idols, nineteen-year-old Laki, eighteen-year-old Knut and twelve-year-old Toli, all around Åe farm, trying to do everything they did.

"If we have any more children," Gunnhild told Tall Såmund one day as she worked over the cookstove, "we'll need a bigger porridge pot!" She dished up bowlfuls of barley mush. "Who wants to help me scrub the pot where it boiled over?" she asked when the meal was over. "I have a new tale to tell while we work!"

As the children clamored to join in, Tall Såmund laughed. "I don't know where you get all your stories. You must have a magic mill somewhere that churns them out endlessly."

"It churned salt, not stories," Bibbi said. "Go on, Mor Gunna, tell us the new tale!"

Gunnhild gave each of her eager helpers a task since they couldn't all scrub the porridge pot at once. She settled with her knitting on a stool nearby. "My cousin at Moen," she began, "told me what she heard last time she went to Seljord town.

"There was one time a farm-wife named Egeleiv who went out haying on the high slopes of Utgarden farm. Like everyone does, she sang while she scythed. What do your big brothers sing at haying time?"

"Sei-dama dei-dama dei dam då!" Toli and Åsne chanted, rocking the porridge pot with their scrubbing.

"Egeleiv scythed near the creek and she scythed near the brambles. Last of all she went to scythe the high end of the field, which lay in the shadow of Tusse Knoll. But as she cut the tall grass, a great fat toad leaped down from the stony mound and plopped in her path."

Toli croaked, which set the little ones laughing.

"'Do you like my singing?' Egeleiv asked. What do you think the toad said?"

Little Såmund made a cackling croak.

"That's right!" Gunnhild said. "The toad hopped closer, right into Egeleiv's way. She laughed at the ugly little thing and turned to scythe to the left, then turned to the right, but that toad kept hopping into her path. She set to raking instead, but what did that toad do?"

"Hop, hop, hop!" yelled three-year-old Aslaug.

"Ja, it kept getting in her way, no matter which way she turned. At last Egeleiv put a hand on her hip like this -- hah! -- and stared down at that toad. 'You're in my way,' she told it. But the toad just cackled a loud croaking laugh.

"'It's not so funny as that,' she told it. 'Look how much more I have to do! I'm already late to my haying.'"

"The toad winked one bulgy eye, and stuck out its tongue.

"'Nei, I'm not lazy,' she told it. 'I'm a midwife, and I've had to go tend three births already this week. Please move so I can finish my work.'

"The toad winked its other bulgy eye and grinned, like this." Gunnhild pulled her mouth wide.

Bibbi giggled.

"Egeleiv was getting annoyed. 'Go on home now,' she told the toad, 'and if ever you take to childbed, I'll come and help with the birth!'

"To her surprise, the toad leaped right around and hopped back up to the stony mound of Tusse Knoll. At last Egeleiv could finish her haying.

"Well, a month later there came a knock at her door. A funny little fellow stood on her doorstep. A tusse-man from under Tusse Knoll! 'Time to tend my wife now,' he said. 'She's gone to childbed.'

"Egeleiv gasped. 'What? Nei, I don't dare!' She was scared of the elven folk.

"'Oh, but you vowed to help,' he said.

"'Nei, I never did!' Egeleiv said

"'A toad teased you in the hayfield, remember? That was my wife, having a bit of fun. You promised you'd tend her at childbed.'

"A promise is a promise, so Egeleiv had to go and help. But when she got home again, she made another promise. To herself. To sell the hayfield below Tusse Knoll."


~ abyss of despair ~


In 1836, Birgit bore her second child, a little girl. "Since we've already played havoc with the traditional naming scheme," she told Jon, "why don't we name her after your mother instead of mine? I know how much you miss her. I do, too." And so, two years after the passing of Farmor Tone, the Homme household gained another Tone, with a twist of flaxen curl on her crown and dimples in her cheeks.

Four-year-old big brother Halvor had gained the nickname Varder, or "guard," from the way he loved expeditions up Homme's Crest. "You'd make a great watchman," Jon told him many times, with the boy perched on his shoulders at the highest point on the knoll.

"I see Kvitseidvatn," Varder said. "I see Uncle Halvor Lamefoot riding a horse way down low. I see an eagle way up high. I see a bald spot on your head, Far."

Jon laughed. "Do you see a fire burning on any other mountaintop?" he asked.

Varder swiveled and peered. "Nei, no fire."

"Then all is well," Jon said. "A fire on a mountaintop is a way of warning folk that there's danger."

"All is well," the boy repeated, satisfied with his watch duty.


Birgit's younger brother Talleiv also had a daughter that year, and named her after their mother Guro. He had gotten married the year before, and farmed at Midtbø near their older sister Ingebjørg's home.

Talleiv had taken Olav's death four years earlier especially hard. Instead of relief from the relentless verbal attacks, he felt a void, for his whole purpose until then had been defending himself -- always battling destruction, with no time or energy for construction. He had built nothing of himself, found no active role in life, forever reacting to others. Now he bemoaned to Birgit that his life yawned empty as a cavernous pit.

"You have a loving wife and the sweetest little daughter," Birgit said, but her words fell into his abyss of despair and vanished in the dark.


Seventeen years earlier, Gunnhild's brother Bjørgulv had married the Huvestad heiress, Ingebjørg. Now Bjørgulv was developing a peculiar theory. "The world turned cold and hard after Ingebjørg's deformed brother was born, all tangled and twisted, with six fingers to a hand and six toes to a foot. Cold and hard." He shuddered."Nonsense," Gunnhild told him. "I've heard tell of many frigid, hungry years before his birth."

"They said it was a bad omen. And look where we've come since then."

"You can hardly blame the Napoleonic Wars on poor little Olav!"

Bjørgulv shook his head. "Local tragedies aplenty. Crops failing. Forest fires. Untimely deaths."

Gunnhild put an arm around his shoulder. Just a few months before, their big brother Burly Knut had died from some mysterious stomach ailment. And Bjørgulv's wife had just had another stillbirth. Out of their many children, only two had survived infancy.

"Ever since Olav's birth." He wouldn't be swayed.


~ birch bindings ~


Birgit skied back home to Homme after a quick visit to Byggland. She found Jon pacing with colicky little Tone, and Halvor watching the porridge pot steaming on the hearth. "I got the water boiling all by myself," he declared proudly.

"Well done!" Birgit told the boy. She hung up her coat and scarf to dry. "Your cousin Anne sends her love," she told Jon as she measured out barley meal for their midday porridge. "She's just begun as school teacher, did you know? It doesn't pay much, but they need every kroner."

"Don't we all." Jon handed the wailing baby back to her mother for her own lunch. "So -- what's the story with your brother Sveinung?"

"Anne's father can't afford to pay him anymore for help at the smithy, so they're leaving. They're nearly done packing."

"What about your mother?"

"She's going, too. Sveinung knows someone up in Lårdal parish who needs a leatherworker. He is a saddle-maker, after all. A good one."

"Why so far away?" Jon stirred the porridge, shaking his head. "Surely he could find work closer to the Dales!"

"It's not that far. Up the valley past your cousin Såmund at Åe farm and then a little further past Høydalsmo. Besides, they hold ski jumping competitions up there at Ofte." Birgit gave a wry grin. "It may be a tiny hamlet, but it hosts the biggest contests in Upper Telemark!"

~ ~ ~

Eidsborg stavechurch
Eidsborg stavechurch

Eidsborg folks in 1837: Sveinung (39) & Tjodvor (33): Knut (10), Signe (8), Vetle (5), Guro (3), Talleiv (?)

Sveinung Saddle-Maker bought an outfarm just a stone's throw from Eidsborg stavechurch. After his next child was born and christening day arrived, he had only to tromp across his back field to reach the church grounds.

Sveinung skied back to Morgedal to visit several times that winter, for he had many friends in the Dales and Morgedal who shared his love of ski jumping. Twelve-year-old Sondre Auversson, nephew of Birgit's friend Hæge, kept up with the spryest of the adults in Sveinung's circle.

"That boy is going to be better than all of us," Sveinung told Birgit one day while he shared a meal with his sister's family at Homme. "They say he took a ladder, leaned it against the back of his family cottage, which sits on a steep slope, then piled snow over the ladder to form a ski jump off the roof! His stepmother heard the swoosh overhead and looked out the door just in time to see him land, twenty feet downhill from the doorway. They say you could hear her scolding clear across the dale!"

Birgit laughed. "She calls him a mad hare, the way he dashes over the slopes."

Sondre's childhood cabin on the steep slopes of Morgedal valley
Sondre's childhood cabin on the steep slopes of Morgedal valley

"Sondre calls it snow dancing," Sveinung said. "Did you know he's carved his skis much more narrow than usual near the toe straps? And he's added rigid birch binding loops to fit around back of the boot. No more loose fits and lost skis, and it lets him twist and turn when he speeds down the slope. I'll have to try it myself."

Jon looked up from his bowl. "Twist and turn?"

Sveinung nodded. "He has great control. Very agile. Giving me a run for my money."

Jon arched his brows. "Twist and turn. Narrow near the foot. Rigid birch bark heel bindings. Ja, that makes sense." He got up from the table and grabbed his coat.

"You're not halfway done with your mush," Birgit said.

"I'll be in the barn," Jon said as he went out the door, "whittling at that old pair of skis."

"Fah?" queried one-year-old Tone, kicking her legs while she watched the door shut. "Toe-toe?"

"Far will be back before bedtime, Sweet Tone." Birgit twisted a wry grin. "I hope. And then he'll tickle your toes. But now, open your mouth for another spoonful."

"Pthhh!" said Tone, spraying barley mush.

the steep northwestern slopes of Morgedal valley
the steep northwestern slopes of Morgedal valley: the first slalom slopes!

The listing for Brekke farm in 1826 mentioned Sveinung and ski jumping


~ alone in the wilds ~


A frantic message came to Gunnhild about her brother from her sister-in-law at Huvestad. Ingebjørg had heard no word from Bjørgulv for three days. He had gone out hunting one crisp autumn dawn in 1839, and when he came across bear tracks leading up into Morgedal heights, he had sent his eighteen-year-old son home with the message that he would continue tracking through the starlit night. Bear pelts brought good money, and he wasn't going to let this gold mine get away.

An early snowstorm blew in the next morning.

Gunnhild was so distraught with worry over her missing brother that Tall Såmund joined the search party.

Several days later they found Bjørgulv's broken body at the foot of a cliff.


A few weeks later, Birgit's younger brother Talleiv also met an untimely death, all alone out in the wilds. He had withdrawn even further from friends and family in the last couple years and hardly spoke to a single soul, working dawn to dusk to support his wife and daughter. Then one day he turned his hunting rifle on himself.


After Talleiv's funeral, folk milled around in the churchyard. Not an hour earlier, the priest had preached against succumbing to despair, but that wind of woe blew through every heart in the mountains.

"I couldn't pull the trigger, myself," said Jon's brother Halvor Lamefoot, shaking his head, "but I've had the same dark thought gnaw at my soul when I count the bushels at harvest, and look into the hungry eyes of my nieces and nephews. Desperate times." He sighed. "If I were to quietly disappear, there'd be more food for the young ones."

"These dales have supported our folk for time out of reckoning, before traders came hawking their cotton and spice," said Birgit's older brother Andres. "If our ancestors made a living totally cut off from the world, why can't we?"

"Because we're not cut off. We have to pay taxes and fees. With hard coin." Jon's father Torjus spat on the ground. "And we have to earn that hard coin in trade. But the traders want nothing we produce, if we can't price it as low as those blasted slave-labor factories."

"There has to be something still of value to trade," Andres insisted.

"Bear pelts," Bjørgulv's widow said, her voice low and somber.

"Wolverine," someone else chipped in. "Fox. Mink."

"So we trap in the forests until there's no game left. What then?" Halvor Lamefoot asked.

"What can we make that a factory can't?" His younger brother Sveinung looked at his father and brothers.

Silence fell.

"It's hopeless," Gunnhild's father, Såmund the Former Sawyer, barked at last. "No way out but poverty and death."

Birgit glanced at Jon, who took her hand. They gazed at each other a moment. Birgit squared her shoulders. "There's always hope," she said, with a bleak ache in her heart for her brothers, three of them, who could see no other way out but suicide.

"Fiddles," Jon said, then louder. "Fiddles. It takes a real craftsman, doing each part carefully, with love. You'll never find that in a factory."

"So who here can make a hardanger fiddle?"

Jon shrugged. "I'm not much good at playing one. Maybe I'll have more luck making one."

"My embroidery still sells," Gunnhild said.

embroidery by the resident at Dalen farm in 2006
embroidery by the resident at Dalen farm in 2006

"If all else fails," Jon's brother Steinar said, kicking at a rock, "We can all just trek down to Kristiania and work in the factories that are stealing our lives away anyway."

"The land would support us," Tall Såmund said, and his mild voice, falling into a lull in conversation, rang clear. "If only there weren't so many of us." The breeze blew a swirl of leaves past the group, then scattered the dry foliage to right and left.

"Ja, it would," agreed Old Torjus.

"Time to go a-viking," Tall Såmund said.

"Go raiding and plundering?" asked Birgit's brother Andres with a laugh. "That's one way to scrape up the coin for taxes!"

Tall Såmund raised his voice to reach all in the gathering."You've heard of the Nattestad brothers up in Numedal parish," he waved to the northeast, "who sailed to Amerika a year ago? Well, Laki says Ansten Nattestad has returned home. He left his brother Ole there, after staking a claim to good forest land in the north. The north lands in Amerika. Ole stayed behind to prepare the way."

"Prepare the way for what?" someone asked.

"For a new colony. A colony of Norse emigrants. Of folk like us. Numedal parish has been feeling the squeeze just as tight as we have. I hear Ansten has rallied several score of his kith and kin to join the expedition. He plans to sail in late spring."

Some scowled at the outrageous thought of abandoning their beloved homeland. Others tightened their belts over grumbling stomachs and looked thoughtful.

Gunnhild gazed up at her husband, suddenly alarmed. He hadn't shown much interest earlier when Laki and Knut had first relayed the news from Numedal. But now, from the glint in his eyes, she realized he must have been gnawing at the idea, hacking at it from every side the way he tackled a giant spruce in the forest until he could see clearly which way the timber would fall.

Laki and Knut stepped closer to their father, faces eager. At twenty-two and twenty-three years of age, they already matched him in height, and sometimes managed to win against him in a wrestling match. Give them each a shield and a spear, Gunnhild thought, and they'd make fearsome warriors aboard a viking ship, sailing off to distant shores. It was in their blood.

In her blood. Something woke in her heart, the ancient Norse spirit, a fierce determination to survive, even if it meant weighing anchor from familiar shores. She squared her shoulders and gave Såmund a tight smile.

He met her gaze, read her slight nod of approval, and glanced around the group. "My sons and I will see what fortune awaits in Amerika. Nattestad paints with glowing words, but I must scout the prospects for myself."

His sixteen-year-old son Toli whooped with exhilaration and leaped to join his big brothers, but Såmund put a hand on his shoulder. "You will stay and bring in the crops."

Toli's face curdled with dismay, while friends and neighbors swarmed, asking questions Laki and Knut were glad to answer. Andres still frowned in deep thought, but his older sons' eyes shone with excitement. Knut Andresson was twenty-one, Bjørn nineteen, and they would make their own decisions. Even twelve-year-old Anniken Andresdotter had a gleam in her gaze.

Såmund saw Toli slump, and took him aside. "This isn't a lark, like some of your hunting trips. This is survival. We'll be gone a full year, and your brothers and sisters will starve without your hard work. Starve. Do you understand?"

Toli wrestled visibly with his emotions, throwing a longing glance toward his elder brothers.

"I'm leaving you the whole farm. All the farmwork but the herding and dairy. Can you handle that? It's a grown man's job."

Toli swallowed, nodded, finally found words. "Ja, Far. We won't starve."

Såmund put his other arm around Gunnhild and leaned towards her ear. "You're not with child, are you?"

She laughed. "Fine time to ask, but nei, I'm not."

"Will this work?"

"You'll be back in a year?"

He nodded.

Gunnhild set her shoulders. "Toli and I will manage the farm and fields. The girls and Little Såmund can handle the flocks. But you'd better finish patching the roof before you go!"

Jusureid folks in 1839: Såmund (77) & Margit (54): Aslaug (24), Åshild (13)

Huvestad folks in 1839: Bjørgulv (40) & Ingebjøg (37): Halvor (18), Leidulv (10)
Såmund Dalen (35)

Åe folks in 1839: Såmund (53) & Gunnhild (45): Såmund (10), Aslaug (7), Halvor (4), Aslaug (2)
Såmund's older children: Åsne (20), Talleiv "Toli" (16), Birgit "Bibbi" (14)

Homme folks in 1839: Jon (35) & Birgit (35): Halvor (7), Tone (3), Knut (1)
Guro (72) (Birgit's mom)
Torjus (74) (Jon's dad): Halvor (41), Sveinung (32) + wife & 2 kids, Steinar (29) + wife & 1 kid

(Brekke) folks in 1839: Andres (46) & Kari (42): Knut (21), Bjørn (19), Guro (14), Anne (12), Jon (8), Olav (4), Sveinung (1)
Sveinung (41) & Tjodvor (35) & 5 kids

~ the longest year ~


Åe Farm's three menfolk patched the roof, caulked every chink in the walls, and laid in an awesome pile of firewood, while Toli threw himself into every task about the farm, proving his worth before his father's gaze. The whole family worked hard from dawn to dusk getting the barley planted.

Then came the day of departure.

Laki gave his stepmother an awkward embrace. "When you finish making flatbread, you'll have to call awfully loud for me to hear your voice, way over there." He waved an arm in a general westward direction.

Gunnhild blinked back tears. "I will call every time. Here. Should be enough to last you the trip, though it's not soft and fragrant and fresh." She gave him a bundle of well-wrapped flatbread, crisp and dry, and another to Knut.

Tall Såmund hugged each of the little ones in turn, then his oldest daughter Åsne. "Now don't you get married while I'm gone." He pulled one of her braids.

"Far!" She huffed at him.

"A golden-haired beauty like you? I want to import you to Amerika next year and sell you to the Indians!"

She laughed.

Last of all, Tall Såmund held Gunnhild close. "It will be the longest year of my life," he whispered.

"Fare thee well, and keep thee safe," she murmured back. "Write to me!"

"I will." He kissed her, then drew a long breath and turned away.

Laki and Knut waved, and fell in step behind their father.

Gunnhild watched their figures diminish eastward down the trail beside Dalaåi creek until her vision grew blurry. Into her mind glimmered a scene from an old saga -- of Aslaug Kråke, standing high on the bluffs, watching the sea for the return of King Ragnar. She swiped at her cheeks, gathered the little ones and went inside.

view from Aae farm down to Dalaai creek
view from Åe farm down to Dalaåi creek

~ ~ ~

Tall Såmund's letters arrived long after he posted them, and some, no doubt, went astray. "We stayed overnight with Longlegs Halvor at Breidalen, then the next day headed off on the long journey," read the first one. "Over the ridges on the old high tracks to Kongsberg in Numedal. But when we arrived at the gathering place Nattestad had spoken of, we found the emigrants had left the day before. 'Next dale over,' folk told us, 'Follow the river downstream. You may catch them up.' And we did, within a day or two. They hadn't gotten our last message that we wanted to join them. Nattestad questioned us closely on the funds we had with us. 'Ship captains don't extend credit,' he says, but we had sufficient for our passage. After traveling a week, today we reached the seaside at a town called Drammen. I've never seen so many buildings crowded up next to each other! There must be fifteen or twenty. Can you imagine?"

The next letter came a week later. "Nattestad had arranged passage aboard an old bark named Emilie, but Captain Anchersen told us at the dock that he could carry no more than one hundred passengers, and there were too many of us. Almost everyone else in Nattestad's group is from Numedal, so we, as outsiders, are among the ones trimmed from the expedition. Some of the others are heading home again, but me and the boys are going to wait for the next ship to Amerika. Word is that there's one setting sail a month from now. We're looking to hire out on nearby farms to earn our keep, though in the meantime, the tavern keeper is trying his hardest to persuade us to stay on at his lodgings. He keeps a decent table. Some of the food is rather outlandish, but you should taste the fresh cod!"

That envelope included several scraps of paper, one for each of the children. Little Såmund proudly read his aloud to his teacher. Anne of Byggland helped seven-year-old Aslaug sound out her words. Asla, as everyone called her, had just started her schooling that year. Four-year-old Halvor carried his note around wherever he went until it became so grubby no one could read it for him. By that time, though, he, and everyone else in the family, had the short message memorized.

Several weeks passed, then Gunnhild received another letter, hastily scrawled by Laki. "Far says to send you word. A fellow I met here by the name of Søren Bache helped us get passage on the Skogsmand, and we will sail on the next tide. He and his friend Johannes Johansen say they're going to chronicle the whole journey. They've already arranged for the printing press Tiden at Drammen to put out the account they send home, and distribute it up and down the coast. Should help people make up their minds about emigrating! Oh, the bell's clanging. Must run for the dock. Far sends his love! Laki the Rover."

Gunnhild folded the letter slowly and set it in her trunk, letting her fingers linger for a moment before closing the lid. She knew she would hear nothing now for several months -- but with all the never-ending farm chores ahead, the time would speed past.

map of points along Norway's southeast coast
from Kviteseid to the coast

~ parts unknown ~


That autumn snow came early, and after the first serious storm had blown itself out, a fine white blanket lay across the dales and ridges. Near dusk one day at Homme, Birgit heard nine-year-old Varder whooping it up out in the farmyard. She cracked the door and peered out.

"Uncle Sveinung's here!" Varder yelled, ducking behind a barrel.

A snowball splatted against the stabbur wall just above the hiding place.

Varder leaped up and lobbed his own well-packed missile towards a shape that dodged behind the barn.

Birgit grinned, closed the door, and added more barley meal to the porridge, wishing she had anything actually appetizing to offer the welcome guest.

Sveinung Saddlemaker stayed several days, regaling the family with his tales of ski-jumping at the competitions organized by the folk of Ofte.

When Birgit asked about her mother Old Guro, and about Kari and the children, he told story after funny story of the adventures at Eidborg farm. Five-year-old Little Guro supposedly followed a nisse only she could see to a hollow log where she found a pile of shiny, new coins. Sveinung produced one, flipped it in the air, and passed it around.

"I would think a nisse might guard a trove of old coins, not new," Jon said with a laugh. "How is the farm faring?"

Sveinung shrugged. "No better than any others in Upper Telemark. We're getting by." Then he changed the topic.

On their guest's last day, Jon pushed back from the breakfast table. "Ever since you told me of Sondre Auversson's ski innovations, I've been trying out his new techniques. I even tampered with Birgit's skis, for which I got a tongue-lashing when she found out."

Birgit rolled her eyes. "He should have asked me first."

"But she's forgiven me, hasn't she?" Jon cocked a brow at Birgit.

She leaned over and gave him a peck on the cheek.

"Especially after her first time down the run I've been grooming on Homme's Crest."

Sveinung's eyes gleamed, and he leaned forward. "That giant's throne looming over your fields?"

Jon grinned and nodded. "Want to try it out?"

Sveinung leaped to his feet. "Just point me in the right direction."

"I'll come along. There are a few perilous dropoffs I ought to warn you about. Coming, Birgit?"

"You're going all the way to the top?" she asked warily.

"For sure!" Jon took her hand. "You've tried the lower half, and you know the lay of the trail above. You've mastered the braking turn, and no one has better balance than you."

"And there's two of us to carry you home if you take a tumble," Sveinung said cheerfully as he bundled up.

Jon groaned at him. "You're a big help."

Birgit glanced at the cradle where their one-year-old had just gone down for a nap. "Varder," she called. "Watch Tone and the baby for me. Your father and uncle want me to join them in a bit of folly."

"Can't I go, too?"

"I'll only make one run, then relieve you of your watch. I'm sure Uncle Sveinung will be crawling the slope all day." She drew a deep breath and went for her winter wear. Not much good with an embroidery needle, nor a shuttle at the loom, nor a rolling pin at the breadboard, but at least she could make healthy babies and keep her balance skimming down a hill, though not both at once.

Climbing the steep slope of Homme's Crest, none of the three had much breath for talk. At the midway resting point, Sveinung turned his smile on Birgit. The play of light from the low sun picked out a worry line on his brow that she hadn't noticed before. "Are things holding together for you, Sveinung?" she asked. "For true? You can tell me, you know."

Jon had already started ahead when Sveinung's smile slipped. He shrugged. "Times are hard for everyone. I'm no exception. I'm coping." His grin brightened again. "You know me. Aways another trick up my sleeve. The coins, for instance." His chuckle had an odd pitch. "Don't worry," he said as he started the trek uphill again, and called back over his shoulder, "What with farming and saddle-making and blacksmithing and all, I can piece things together. I've even earned a bit of prize money at ski-jumping! Just watch, and you'll see why."

By then he had pulled so far ahead, Birgit couldn't very well keep up the conversation. She caught up just as Jon led Sveinung to the brink of his run.

"Uffda!" Sveinung cried. "You can see forever! And what a slalom slope!" He gave a belly laugh of delight, then launched over the edge.

"Stay to the right!" Jon yelled after him. "Every fork, stay to the right! Come on, my love, let's keep him in sight."

Birgit blew out a misty cloud of determination and followed Jon down the steep course, dodging the turns like a swallow dipping out of the sky.

~ ~ ~

A few weeks later, Old Guro showed up on the doorstep at Homme. Behind her stood a slender young woman who carried a large pack. "Sveinung went and minted himself a bag of brass coins," Guro grumbled. "One of his creditors wasn't as dull as the rest, and reported him to the sheriff."

Birgit gasped.

"Not to worry." Guro snorted. "He had notice, strapped on his skis, took off to parts unknown. Kari and the children have enough set by to tide them over the winter, but I've had enough of that foolishness."

Birgit peered around her mother. "Did you come by sleigh? Oh!" She caught sight of two pairs of skis leaning against the barn. At seventy-two, her mother was in finer shape that Birgit had ever seen her -- more fit and spry in the freedom of old age than she'd ever been in her oppressed youth.

"This is Signe, my housegirl," Guro grumbled. "You don't want her here, say so, and she'll go back to Sveinung's service. Supposing, that is, that Sveinung ever comes home. Where am I to sleep?"

"Farmor!" cried Tone, running to her grandmother. "You come for a visit?"

"I'm coming to stay." She maintained her usual gruff expression, to which Tone gave no heed.

The three-year-old took her grandmother's hand and beamed. "We have lots of fun, Farmor!"

Jon and Birgit passed each other amused looks behind the elderly woman's back. "This way, Mor," Birgit said. "We'll give you Halvor Lamefoot's room, and he can take the loft."

map of east coast of the USA
some areas on east coast of the USA

~ buffalo ~


Gunnhild finally got her first letter from across the sea. Tall Såmund, Laki, and Knut had arrived at New York harbor -- "hundreds and hundreds of buildings, like a starling rookery!" -- and then took passage on a steamship with the other Norwegians along the inland waterways to the western frontier. "We sailed along the Hudson River," Såmund wrote, "up the Erie Canal, and then across the Great Lakes. Like freshwater seas, those were! For much of that crossing, no land to be seen on the horizon. Found timber work in Wisconsin territory. Should soon have enough money to buy a small plot of farmland. Many lakes here, but the land is too lazy to make mountains. Small hills and low ridges, but the soil is rich. We saw a herd of buffalo in the distance, when we crossed the lowland plains. Tell Åsne I've found her a husband from the Kickapoo tribe. Nei, I'm joking, at least about the husband. The tribe really is named Kickapoo."

Laki sent one short letter. "Was that you I heard calling, Mor Gunna? Did you save me a piece of fresh flatbread?"

Bjørgulv Såmundsson, from the Dalen lineage but farming at Huvestad, was "found dead on Morgedal's heights which he'd been traveling over by night." No reason is given for his nighttime journey. (Gardssoge: Dalen)

"Talleiv Knutsson Midtbø, farm owner and farm laborer. Took his own life while out in the fields by shooting himself in the chest with a rifle." (Ættesoga: Brekke in 1839)


~ one leg shorter ~

Lårdal PARISH:

In the late summer of 1840, Sveinung Saddlemaker quietly resurfaced in Lårdal and went back to tooling harness. When questioned about where he had disappeared to, he would only smile and say, "North Norway."


One harvest day that autumn, Gunnhild saw a familiar form trekking up the path from Brunkeberg. She gasped, threw aside her scythe, and weeping with joy ran to meet Tall Såmund. "Your last letter said nothing about you coming home again so soon!" she sobbed into her husband's shoulder as he hugged her close.

"I wrote," he murmured back, "but good news always travels slower than ill tidings."

Gunnhild craned around his arm to look down the trail. "Where are Laki and Knut?" Then, seeing no one, gazed up at her husband in alarm. "Did they come to harm?"

"Nei, nei!" Tall Såmund said with a laugh and a shake of the head. "I left them behind. The farm at Muskego looks promising. Someone needs to hold our claim until it proves out. I left them enough funds for passage home, if the farm should fail. We should hear in a few months how they're faring." He gazed over the steep sloping fields of barley and laughed again. "Sometimes I think mountain folk ought to be born with one leg shorter than the other, to suit us for a life on the slant. There are hills in Wisconsin, but none like ours! I'll have to reacquaint my legs with the lay of the land." He stomped sideways up the hill toward the farm buildings, drawing Gunnhild after him. "The reaping can wait until tomorrow, Gunna. I long for the taste of your own hearty barley mush topped with cream from the mountain flocks of home!"

"A quick bite of flatbread and sugared butter, a bowl of mush, and if we're lucky a trout or two caught by Small Såmund, who, by the way, has shot up a good handspan while you've been gone! Children!" she called as they swept into the farmyard, arm in arm. "Your father is home!"


~ lumberjacks and fairytales ~


In early 1842, Åkre's loft held the wedding festivities for Gunnhild's halfsister Aslaug. The old folks at Åkre had passed away, and Tall Såmund's former brother-in-law Såvi now ran the farm.

Jon Homme played merry tunes on his father's fiddle, but the feast table looked sad and forlorn. A large bowl of barley porridge sat there all alone. Three Aslaugs had done their best to decorate with sprigs of holly and evergreen: the bride, at age twenty-seven, and Gunnhild's two daughters, nicknamed Asla, age ten, and Asi, age five.

Few people danced. They hadn't the energy. Even the children sought quieter diversions than their usual boistrous games. Seven-year-old Halvor from Åe had found a piece of charcoal and was showing six-year-old Tone from Homme how to spell her name on the plank floor.

His schoolteacher tiptoed near and smiled as she watched over the shoulder of her first-year student. Jon's youngest second-cousin at Byggland, Anne was a year younger than the bride. She was good friends with Halvor Lamefoot, and people often asked them why they didn't wed.

"I want a husband who isn't related to me," she would explain. "Too much chance of inbreeding."

"That's never hindered the royal families all across Europe."

Anne smirked. "My point exactly."

Guro's housegirl Signe nodded in agreement. "That's why I sought employment beyond my own dale. All my suitors back home were cousins and second cousins!"

Little Halvor's far and surly morfar bumped into each other nearby. "No word from those sons of yours, I suppose," muttered Gunnhild's father, Såmund the Former Sawyer.

Tall Såmund arched his brows. "The last letter arrived a year after they sent it. After all, I beat my own last letter home, a year and a half ago. Mail from Amerika travels at a glacier crawl."

"Never hear from them again. Lost in the wilderness and scalped by Indians by now, no doubt."

Tall Såmund shook his head. "No Indians left in Wisconsin but the Kickapoo. Mostly just farmers and lumberjacks."

"Lumber whats?"

"Timber men, like me. You ought to come, too. They need good sawyers."

Såmund the Former Sawyer snorted and turned his back.

"Laki and Knut will return on the summer's sailing if last year's crops failed. But the soil is rich, not worn out like our overworked fields. I'm getting the farm ready to sell the moment they send word."

"No one'll buy!" Gunnhild's father stomped off to the next cluster of folk where Jon Homme, taking a break from fiddling, was telling about the wares he'd seen in the last trader's cart.

"Of course, I bought nothing but salt, but how I lingered over that pamphlet." Jon shook his head. "Norse Fairytales. Printed just last year. You've seen Grimm's book of tales, haven't you? From Denmark? Well, Asbjørnsen and Moe did the same collecting from our own countrymen." He sighed. "I couldn't even afford a leaflet on doings in Kristiania. Just salt. Oh, Cousin, I nearly forgot. The trader carried this." He passed a packet to Tall Såmund.

"You're lucky to have salt," Såmund the Former Sawyer grumbled. "Nothing but barrel scrapings at Jusureid. No thanks to the ungrateful wretches I raised. You'd think they'd lend a hand once in a while."

Gunnhild looked away as people rolled their eyes and grimaced behind the old man's back. She bounced her baby boy on her knee -- little Bjørgulv, named for his bear-hunting uncle.

Birgit stood nearby, rocking tiny Torjus. In a year when crops still stubbornly refused to flourish, there'd been a thriving harvest of babies. Såvi, their host, also had a child born within the last few months, as did Jon's youngest brother Steinar and her own brother Andres. She shook her head. Andres had eight children now. And they all looked so skinny.

"It's starvation we're facing," said Jon's father Torjus, a frail seventy-seven-year-old. "We've trimmed extras and trimmed and trimmed until there's nothing left."

"My efforts at fiddle-making have proved even worse than my fiddle-playing," Jon said glumly.

"I haven't had time for embroidery," Gunnhild said as she wiped spit from little Bjørgo's mouth.

"Any word on timber sales?" Birgit asked Tall Såmund.

But Gunnhild's husband was rapt in reading.

"What is it?" Gunnhild asked.

"A bumper crop," Tall Såmund said quietly.

"What? Where?" Jon asked.

"In Muskego, Wisconsin." A smile spread wide across Tall Såmund's face, and he looked up and around the group. "We're going to Amerika. Såvi, brother-in-law, staunch friend, would you like to buy Åe for half its worth?"

"Half?" asked the brother of Såmund's first wife, the uncle of Laki and his grown siblings. "Sure! With that much land I could let some of it go fallow and hope for a better crop down the road."

"And could you harbor my family for a year on one of your outfarms?"

Såvi nodded.

Tall Såmund turned to Gunnhild. "They have winters in Wisconsin like ours, but those Amerikans don't know how to build a decent haybarn, let alone a snug dwelling. Øy, the leaks and drafts! I'll go ahead, get a house built. The cabin we put up three years ago wouldn't shelter us all. Then, next summer, you follow."

"Without you?" Panic rose. "I have no idea how to--"

"I'll write down every detail and leave you plenty of money."

Jon stood and gripped his cousin's shoulders. "Make me a copy, too. I'll see if Halvor Lamefoot will buy me out for half-price as well."

"Jon!" Birgit protested.

"I'm too old to make such a journey," Jon's father Torjus said, sitting back down.

Birgit's mother Guro stood. "I'm not."

"Of course not. You're two years younger than me. Still just a lass."

Guro put hands on hips and waggled her head at him, eyes exasperated.

Birgit gaped at her mother.

"Well, we'll talk about it," Jon said to Birgit. He repressed a grin at his mother-in-law's spunk.

Andres' twenty-two-year-old son Bjørn pushed through the throng. "I want a copy, too. I've always dreamed of travelling!"

"Me, also!" said his teenage sister Anniken. She glared when people laughed at her.

Bjørn put an arm around her shoulders and whispered in her ear. She grinned.

Their big brother Knut stood and stretched. "This has been such fun. I love a wedding party. Let's do it again. What do you think, Ingebjørg?" the twenty-four-year-old asked Bjørgulv's widow. "Let's get married, have another party, and emigrate."

Some in the group laughed, but the forty-year-old widow met the young man's gaze and held it a long moment. He offered his hand as the music started up again. She took it, and together they wove and spun around the room, the bounce of the telespringar making their feet light.

Gunnhild looked on wistfully, remembering Ingebjørg in her brother's arms. "A widow's grief is like knocking a funnybone," she murmured. "It hurts, but soon passes away."

"The young don't have the sense to give up," Såmund the former Sawyer grumped, and took another swig of water, the strongest drink in the house.

~ harsh north wind ~


"How could you bear to leave your beloved Homme?" Birgit asked Jon the next evening as the boys trooped out to the barn for after-supper chores. "So many generations it's been in your family! I know how deeply you care for the old farm."

"I care for Homme, ja, and deeply. But even more I care for you, and for sweet Tone and her brothers." Jon grabbed his daughter as she passed with a stack of well-scraped supper bowls, kissing her on the ear. She squealed at his raspy cheek and tickling fingers, and squirmed away, giggling.

"I will always carry Homme in my heart," he said. "How can I forget the glorious view down from Homme's Crest? But it's our survival at stake. Our fortunes here in the dales are withering away, like barley in a blight. I won't cling to old hopes and watch our children starve."

~ scrawled in Norse ~


Up The Dales from Homme, at Åkre farm, Såvi managed five subfarms. In one dwelled Tall Såmund's sister Egeleiv Aslaksdotter with her husband and children. Into another, Tall Såmund Aslaksson settled Gunnhild and their five young ones, from one-year-old Bjørgo to thirteen-year-old Little Såmund Såmundsson, as well as three of his older children.

Parting this second time came no easier than the first. Gunnhild bade her husband farewell, pressed a hand over her aching heart, and watched his dear figure stride down the trail to Brunkeberg. He wasn't coming back. He wasn't coming back! She must go to find him, next year at this season -- a voyage upon the wide, rolling sea, tossed at the whim of the harsh north wind, skimming over the haunts of the devilish Kraken.

Åkre folks (from Åe) in 1842: Gunnhild (48): Såmund (13), Aslaug (10), Halvor (7), Aslaug (5), Bjørgulv (1)

Gunnhild's older stepchildren: Åsne (23), Talleiv "Toli" (19), Birgit "Bibbi" (17)

A couple of weeks later the first letter came. "I made my way to the port at Langesund," Tall Såmund wrote. "How do you find Langesund, you might ask? Just follow Dalaåi creek to Sundkilen and keep going downstream. When the fresh water meets the salt, you're at Langesund. A lot closer to Kviteseid than the docks at Drammen where the boys and I set out three years ago..."

A few weeks passed before the next account of his journey. "At Langesund we took passage on the ketch 'Prøven' and sailed across the Skagerrak, the North Sea, and into the English Channel, and put in at Le Havre in the French kingdom. Twenty-four days that took, June 18 to July 12. I'm sending this letter on 'Prøven's' return trip. I would recommend finding direct passage on a ship that doesn't stop in Belgium and France! What a delay this is proving to be."

Months later came the next missive. "Thirty-eight days from France to Amerika. We left Europe on July 23 on board the American ship 'Tuskina.' There were sixty-eight of us nordmenn down in steerage, and nearly a dozen other passengers shut in with us. How sick we got at the stench! During storms, the hatches stayed closed, and our waste buckets overflowed worse than a cowbarn in midwinter. Bring your own buckets when you come. Large ones, with lids! And bring plenty of flatbread. The biscuits the sailors eat are hard as rocks."

Shortly before jul a package arrived, scuffed and worn from travel. It contained a book that seemed to bulge thicker than its binding was meant to handle. Gunnhild flipped it open. There was a note from her husband, and a packet filled with paper money. Gunnhild riffled through the unfamiliar currency, then locked it away in her old heirloom trunk. She trailed her fingers along the carvings in the wood. Her breath caught with the frightening knowledge that she would soon, far too soon, pack that trunk for travel, discarding many precious keepsakes and cutting roots to the only world she had ever known.

She glanced at the pages of the book. Unfamiliar words were printed beneath woodcut illustrations. Beside them scrawled Tall Såmund's handwriting in good old Norse.

Gunnhild delved deep and found a viking woman's staunch smile. "Come, children," she told the young ones as she sat and leafed back to the first page in the primer. "It's time for our first lesson in English. See the picture of a hound? The English word, Far says, is 'dahg.'"

map of points along Norway's southeast coast
from Kviteseid to the coast

map of countries around the North Sea
around the North Sea


~ package deal ~


The snow piled deep around farmhouses filled with folks counting their assets. Most valuables got sold to raise money for travel.

At Homme, as Jon and Birgit hammered out their plans to emigrate, their traveling party began to snowball. Old Guro, though seventy-six years old, still insisted on coming along, and produced three antique silver spoons to pay her passage. Her housegirl, Signe, had been guarding a bagful of coins, her life's savings. One evening she counted them out, and beamed at the tally. Enough for a one-way ticket.

Halvor Lamefoot decided that rather than buy Jon out of his stake in Homme, he'd go along on the adventure, as well. Younger brothers Sveinung and Steinar pitched in together to purchase the farm at half price. Their father declared he was included in Homme's package deal. "I'm staying put," Torjus said, and pounded his fist on the table. "You get Homme's Crest and its shadow, and you get me."

Birgit's twenty-five-year-old nephew Knut Andresson looked crestfallen. "We'd hoped to accompany you," he told Birgit, an arm around his bride, the widow from Huvestad. "I think we have found a buyer for Huvestad, but the purchase won't close anytime soon. We'll have to follow next year."

Knut's two-year-younger brother Bjørn came up with enough money to buy passage for himself and his sixteen-year-old sister Anniken. When they broke the news to their parents, Andres grudgingly admitted, "If you prosper there in Amerika, we may come join you. Watch out for your sister," he told Bjørn.

Anniken crossed her arms and scowled.

Andres wrapped her in a hug. "And you, my strong-willed Valkyrie, watch out for your brother. Keep him in line!"

Homme folks in 1843: Jon (39) & Birgit (39): Halvor (11), Tone (7), Knut (5), Torjus (2)
Guro (76) (Birgit's mom)
Torjus (78) (Jon's dad): Halvor (45), Sveinung (36), Steinar (33)

(Brekke) folks in 1843: Andres (40) & Kari (36): Knut (25), Bjørn (23), Guro (18), Anne (16), Jon (12), Olav (8), Sveinung (5), Kari (2)

Jusureid folks in 1843: Såmund & Margit: Hæge (46), Tarjei (42), Såmund (39), Aslaug (28), Knut (23), Åshild (17)

Åkre folks (from Åe) in 1843: Gunnhild (49): Såmund (14), Aslaug (11), Halvor (8), Aslaug (6), Bjørgulv (2)

~ down from Homme's crest ~


The day before departure, a sleigh pulled up in Homme's courtyard carrying two well-bundled women. Anne Sveinungsdotter of Byggland leaned over the side to greet her second cousin Jon. "Teaching geography for nearly a decade, it's woken the wanderlust in me. May I join your party? And my friend Ingebjørg, too? We can pay our own way, but we'd feel safer with friends and family."

He threw his arms wide and laughed. "You make it lucky thirteen! Come in and we'll see if we can find you a corner for the night. Don't take it amiss if Varder groans at sight of you. He looks at our journey as a grand adventure without such trappings from civilization as -- horror of horrors -- reading classes."

Anne debarked from the sleigh with a carpet bag and a wicker basket and a grin. "He doesn't have to worry. I'm bringing no schoolbooks. Too heavy!"

~ ~ ~

The next morning, Old Torjus hugged each warmly-clad traveller. Last of all he came to Jon. "This is my legacy to you, lad." He handed over a rucksack. "I'll not see you again in this life, but whenever you take this out, well then, perhaps it will bring us closer in spirit."

Jon knit his brows as he took the bag. Through the leather he felt the familiar shape of the Hardanger fiddle case. "Far!" he exclaimed, and wrapped his arms around his father. "Shouldn't it stay here with you, with the farm? It's so much a part of Homme!"

His younger brothers Sveinung and Steinar punched him from either side. "And who would play it then?" Sveinung asked. "Not me!"

"Take it away, please!" Steinar's wife said. "Don't let him touch it! I've never heard anything worse!"

Jon laughed, and gathered them all in one huge embrace. "Well, then, a piece of Homme travels with me!"

Sveinung Saddlemaker-and-reformed-counterfeiter appeared, shuffling ski-footed up the track from the valley below. "Jon," he puffed, "your cousin's family is waiting at the creek down there." He nodded downhill.

Birgit leaped out of the sleigh to give her brother a hug. "I'm so glad you came to see us off. Are you sure you won't change your mind?"

Sveinung snorted. "What Såmund says about the puny hills of Amerika -- nei, I'm not leaving my crags and towering ridges! You may as well clip a falcon's wings."

"Well, behave yourself then! Stay out of trouble."

"Hah!" He grinned, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "Worry about yourself! Better get on your way before the ice-roads thaw out."

Birgit hitched up on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek, then climbed back in the sleigh with her four young ones, and Jon at the reins.

"Come part of the way with us, Uncle Sveinung," eleven-year-old Varder called. "Do the road banks!"

Seven-year-old Tone clapped her hands. "Jump! Jump!"

~ five clever children ~


Gunnhild held the reins with one hand and brushed at her eyes with the other, sparkling her mitten with freezing tears. She had just tried to bid farewell to her father at Jusureid, a short way up the dale, but he had only growled and stomped back inside the cottage. A small group had huddled there by the creek in a last goodbye: her stepmother, Merry Margit; her teenage halfsister Åshild; and her younger brother Mundi, still single and working at Huvestad. Burly Knut and Bjørgulv lay in their graves; Hæge and Aslaug had written farewells from their husbands' farms; Tarjei and Red Knut had moved away and fallen out of contact.

Merry Margit pressed a small packet into Gunnhild's hand. "Seeds from the mountains, friendly blossoms to bring you comfort in a faraway land."

Gunnhild turned the packet over to see the word written neatly on the front. "Stemorsblom," it said. She laughed through her pain. "Stepmother's flower! Pansies! That is so thoughtful, so thoughtful." She hugged her stepmother tight. "Thank you," she whispered, then stumbled back to the sleigh.

And now she waited, two miles and three bends of the creek downstream from Jusureid, waited for her husband's cousin to come down Bjørnflatin creek from Homme farm.

Stepmother's flower. What a good stepmother Merry Margit had been for her those many years ago. What a good stepmother Gunnhild had tried to be for Åsne, Toli, and Bibbi. In the end, her stepchildren had decided to remain at Åkre with their cousins. Did that mean she had failed in her efforts?

Nei, the three were adults now, and had made their own choices. Tall Såmund had written to each of them, and they had chosen not to follow his lead. So it was just Gunnhild and her own five children. Little Såmund not so little any more at fourteen years old, Asla, Halvor, Asi, and two-year-old Bjørgo.

Gunnhild rummaged through her winter garb to place the packet of seeds in an inside pocket, and drew out the list Tall Såmund had sent. Follow Dalaåi to Sundkilen, take the ice-road out onto Lake Kvitseidvatn, follow it to the narrow, fjord-like sound at the far end. Just keep going downstream, he had written. Downstream to Langesund, then contact the innkeeper who had promised to buy the horses and sleigh.

"Your new home is waiting," he had scrawled at the bottom, "and my heart yearns to see you again."

A skidding, slithering sound came from uphill to the left. Folding the letter and returning it to its place near her heart, Gunnhild glanced up to see a lone skier sailing down the path from Homme farm. Birgit's brother again, she saw as he deliberately swung off the trail and over a hump edging the creek.

He landed with a thump and a swish, spun around to face her, and bowed. "On their way down now, my lady."

Gunnhild had to smile. The man's spirits were contagious.

"Amazing!" eight-year-old Halvor said. "Wish I could do that."

"Not where you're going, more's the pity," said Sveinung. "The sad, low hills of America. But now, as the French say, bon voyage!"

"Thank you, good sir," Gunnhild replied, like a queen greeting her knight. "Look, children, here come your cousins."

"Second cousins," Halvor explained to Sveinung Saddlemaker.

Two sleighs came slowly down the incline along Bjørnflatin creek, braking against the steep slope. Jon and Birgit rode in one with their four children and Uncle Halvor Lamefoot. Birgit's nephew Bjørn drove the other with the two Annes, Ingebjørg, and Old Guro and her housegirl Signy. Seven-year-old Tone waved and called, "Guess what, Halvor? I get to start my schooling, after all! Teacher Anne is coming with us all the way to Amerika!"

"Ready?" Jon asked Gunnhild when his sleigh reached the frozen creek.

"Ja. We've said farewell to Åe and Åkre and Dalen and Jusureid. It's time to be on our way."

Jon turned in his seat to gaze a last time on the looming knoll of home. "Farewell, Homme! Keep watch, Homme's Crest! We won't forget."

A low ray of sun gilded the highest point of Homme's Crest, catching in its blink a white owl disturbed from its perch. The silent bird sailed down, down, down from Homme's Crest until it vanished in the woods like a ghost, like the spirit of an ancient ancestor bidding farewell.

Gunnhild drew a long breath and shook the reins. "Off we go, then. Shall we make a new tale on the way? About the father of five children--"

"Stolen away by trolls," Little Såmund said.

"And the children go seeking him over hill and dale," said Halvor.

Asla piped up. "And over the sea!"

"There was one time," Gunnhild said as the horses clopped along the frozen creekbed and the sleigh runners hissed and the cold north wind blew down from Homme's Crest. "There was one time a handsome, hard-working woodcutter who was carried off by trolls to a far, far land, but missing him dearly, his five clever children set out on a quest..."

Leaving behind their ancient homeland of fjells and fjords
Leaving behind their ancient homeland of fjells and fjords.
(View of Lake Bandak: to the southwest of Morgedal and The Dales)