One thing Kristin is spectacularly bad at is forming friendships with other women. This separation from those who could help her leaves her defenseless when she is most in need. But there is one woman she never meets who does her an incalculable service: Halfrid, the first wife of Kristin’s betrothed, Simon.
Poor Halfrid gets a total of four pages in chapter 5, “Husaby,” from The Wife. We learn she was wealthy and highborn but sickly. She was generous to Simon when he slept with her maid and got the woman pregnant—she even allowed the child to live in their home. She must have been happy to have a son because her first husband beat her so badly that she had trouble bringing a pregnancy to term. Her son with Simon died quickly, as did she, after childbirth.
And then Halfrid disappears from the narrative for more than 100 pages, until she is referred to in chapter 7 of “Erlend Nikulausson,” from The Wife, in a conversation between Simon and Erling Vidkunsson. (Since his name is so similar to Erlend’s, I’ll call him Vito.)
Vito has red hair and blue eyes. He’s a knight, and he’s rich. He and Erlend are the same age and are even distant kinsman. But Erlend dislikes Vito, saving for him his harshest criticism: Vito is boring. Not surprisingly, Vito doesn’t care much for Erlend.
But it is Vito who saves Erlend’s life. Because of Halfrid. Because Simon dares to do a good thing.
The only reason Simon is allowed to see Erlend in prison is because he is friends with the judge, from his Halfrid-days. Eventually Simon realizes only one man might convince the king to free Erlend: That man is Vito.
But Vito has no interest in helping Erlend. Only Simon can change his mind, and the way he does it is by bringing up Halfrid to Vito.
Halfrid loves Vito—she confesses this to Simon shortly before she dies. And Vito loves Halfrid. They love each other when her abusive first husband caused her to miscarry, but Halfrid doesn’t want to leave him and tempt Vito away from his own marriage. They continue to love each other after that man’s death, when she marries some other fellow: She marries Simon.
Vito has no respect for Simon, who betrays his true love by sleeping with her maid. And yet here, at Halfrid’s gravesite, is when Halfrid’s name appears five times in four pages, as this woman “better than the purest gold” turns the fortunes of Kristin and Erlend.
Vito will not intervene for Erlend’s sake. He will not do it for Simon’s sake. He won’t even do it for Kristin’s sake, who he likes even though she has a past.
VITO: “When she met Erlend she was already betrothed, that much I know.”
SIMON: “Yes, she was betrothed to me.”
Vito will do it for Halfrid’s sake—the woman he could never have. So, in effect, Halfrid saves Erlend and Kristin without saying a word. That’s why I wrote a poem for her.
It follows the pattern of a hymn to the Virgin Mary called Hail, Mary, Gentle Woman. (It opens with the Hail Mary, so the hymn doesn’t really start until the words “Gentle Woman”). Rest in peace, dear friend Kristin never knew she had.
Hail, Halfrid, Silent Woman
after “Hail, Mary, Gentle Woman” by Carey Landry
Weak of womb
You chose honor — not to be happy
For your name means stable home
Your first husband stole your beauty
And the next was bound to roam
Steady were you, when he betrayed you
Kindness were you, to his child
Radiant were you, when was born a baby
And in death, full reconciled
All night long you spoke in whispers
From a heart much purer than gold
Never knew you saved a rebel
Only knew the peace of God
Megan Willome is a writer, editor, and author of The Joy of Poetry, and Rainbow Crow, a children’s poetry book forthcoming in April 2022. Her day is incomplete without poetry, tea, and a walk in the dark. Find her on Twitter @meganwillome and Instagram at @meganwillome, or online at meganwillome.com