Fighting Among Kin

Kristin Lavransdatter – pgs. 780-797:

Erlend and Simon are talking to a bunch of guys, and Erlend leaves to get their horses ready to go home. So it’s just these guys and Simon, and they start talking about Lavrans. One guy, Holmgeir, says to Simon: “If I had lived as blameless and Christian a life as Lavrans Bjorgulfson, and been married to a mournful woman like Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter, I think I would have wept for the sins that I hadn’t committed.”

Like 15 seconds later, Holmgeir is dead. Simon thrust his sword in Holmgeir’s chest, and Holmgeir “slipped from the sword,” and fell into the fire.

More fighting, everyone is trying to kill each other, spears and daggers and swords are everywhere and there’s even an axe, and at one point someone named Vidar drags Holmgeir’s body from the fire. “They were cousins, those two,” Undset tells us.

All this happens in less than a page and then Erlend comes in flashing his sword and telling Simon to get the heck out of there. Simon is annoyed because he thinks Erlend means to finish the fight without him, but that’s not what Erlend means to do. He’s saying we BOTH need to get out, GO, GO, GO!

OK so they’re alone and I imagine the two of them standing next to their horses outside of some tavern, but I think it was someone’s house, and they’re going over the events of what had to be 90 seconds – three minutes, tops.

Erlend is the one who relays the facts and they are startling and somber, but at one point, Erlend erupts into laughter as he’s describing Holmegeir’s hair that had been singed off his head. “Now it certainly smells like a damn roasted thrush in there, you’d better believe me! How the Devil could all of you get into a quarrel in such a short time?”

I think I am a horrible person for loving Erlend – specifically in this scene – as much as I do. I’m also concerned about myself because I laughed – HARD – at Holmgeir’s comment about Lavrans weeping for the sins he didn’t commit.

I think Undset might be in on the joke, though. Her choice to write an aside to us about Vidar and Holmgeir being cousins comes in the midst of a bloody, ferocious scene and harkens to many memories of my girlfriends and I summarizing (and trying to make sense of) the brawls that would sometimes break out between some of our fellow teenagers over the weekends.

No kidding, once, in Geology class my Junior Year of high school, my friends Marissa and Celena and I were discussing a fight that had occurred on a Saturday night in a place called, “the woods,” a forest along the Des Plaines River where teenagers were known to party and Satan worshippers were known to congregate and I don’t know which group was more dangerous.

The day we were discussing a fight, we had a sub who was doing her best to get us to focus on plate tectonics and also probably rocks or mountains? I don’t know, but we weren’t interested in that drama.

There was a fire in the woods that night. Someone built it to keep us warm while we sipped Milwaukee’s Best. That’s where the fight broke out, and one guy, Nick, ended up in the fire. I know that sounds awful. He’s fine. He came to my wedding, as a matter of fact. Has kids and a wife of his own, but what Celena, Marissa, and I were trying to figure out back in 1993 was whether Nick fell or was pushed into the fire.

We were invested, the three of us. We had drawn diagrams, gone over the subtext of what had been said. We were putting together backstories. We would get to the bottom of this mystery.

Meanwhile, the sub was taking notes on our behavior on a yellow legal pad. I nudged Celena, who nudged Marissa, who looked across the room at the sub who was smirking at us – her #2 pencil at the ready.

Marissa tapped a pink polished nail on the lab table, pointing to our diagram, and said, loudly, because we were in the back of the room, and she wanted to make it clear that the sub should write this down, “Nick fell in the fire.”

The three of us, we are all mothers of teenagers now. We are married. We have jobs. We are nearing 50. But I know – without a doubt – if I were to see them tomorrow and say nothing but, “Nick fell in the fire,” we would crumple into laughter. And I’m confident that if Sigrid Undset were part of our crew, she’d be laughing, too.

I do not believe this scene is promoting or glorifying violence, nor do I think Undset is trying to make light of a horrifying situation. Just as if anyone had asked the three of us back in Geology class, if we were making fun of, or even happy that we’d seen a fight break out, we’d would’ve said that no, none of this is good; we’re taking the situation we were in and trying to make sense of it.

I think this scene with Simon and Erlend and the cousins shows how intimately Undset knows – and loves – each character she’s created.

Writing well doesn’t mean creating a tidy story. Writing well means having the capability to communicate the chaos, to order it in a way that the reader is drawn into it, that they might say, “This is insane! What is happening right now?” And Undset says, “I know, right? Follow me, it gets even crazier.”

And we do.

Callie Feyen (Project Redux founder) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is a writer for Coffee+Crumbs, TS Poetry Press, and The Banner. She is the author of two books: The Teacher Diaries, and Twirl, and is working on her third –a book about JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Callie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Jesse, and their two daughters, Hadley and Harper. Follow her on Instagram at @calliefeyen or online at

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