GROA HEARD A VOICE OUTSIDE CALL GREETINGS. She wiped soapy hands on her apron and went to the door of Haugstogo’s summer kitchen for a look.
A stranger had just dismounted and spoke with the errand boy, who put down his water pails and dashed into the main house.
Groa went back to washing up. She’d fixed soup and pudding for dinner, enough for family and houseservants and fieldworkers, dirtying all the pots. Her back ached. “Too old for this,” she grumbled. “Move in with the grandson? Soon.”
The stranger spoke again. Something about his voice chimed in Groa’s memory. When had she heard it before?
A haughty voice answered. “What is it? Do you have business with Olav? No? Well, tramps are not welcome here. On your way.”
“Not a tramp, please. Just a dusty traveler wondering if you might offer a bite to eat.”
“Flatdal church is just down the road. Charity is their business.”
Groa cringed at the woman’s stinginess. There’d been plenty of leftovers.
“I tried there. No one answered.” The stranger’s tones still tugged at the washwoman’s memory. “I thought surely some kind soul in the parish—”
“You thought wrong. Proper folk don’t encourage drifters.”
Proper! Groa huffed at that. Proper folk here in the mountains of Telemark always offered hospitality to foot-weary travelers, even if they had nothing to share but flatbread.
Aslaug’s voice clamored on, piling abuse upon the poor man. How that woman had put on airs since her husband Olav had come into wealth.
And a charmed fortune it was, Groa knew. She’d overheard Olav brag about the magic five-dalar coin that never failed to return to its master’s pocket. Spend it how he would, Olav always got it back, leaving many mystified tradesmen in his wake. A few canny transactions led to small profit after small profit, building up at last to prosperity.
You couldn’t spend that coin away, but you could give it, Olav had confided that drunken night. That’s how he’d gotten it in the first place, when a wiseman had taken pity on Olav’s penniless plight.
A wiseman. The wiseman of Kongsberg. Konungen. Groa had seen him there, the one time she had traveled fifty miles to town. And she had heard his voice. She darted to the doorway.
“So off with you!” Aslaug concluded her rant, slapping her hands in finality.
Konungen heaved a sigh, shaking his head. “I helped you to wealth and well-being within seven years.* Now I see you do no good with your wealth and are so hard-hearted as to deny a hungry wanderer a bite of food.* Therefore within seven years you will be so poor that you yourself must roam around the parish, begging for your meals.*” The wiseman turned to his horse, mounted, and rode out of the farmstead.
Groa took off her apron. Time to move in with her grandson. No use staying at this doomed place.
Just as Konungen had declared, so it came to be.*
* dialogue and line straight from the folktale, coming from Haugstogo, Flatdal, Telemark
text: © 2022 Joyce Holt
artwork: 19th century and early 20th century paintings. Public domain info here.