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Friday Night Folklore: The Eight Gentleman’s Daughters

Gandreið (gand-ride) is a common occurrence in Icelandic fairy tales about magic. See the story for one definition of the phenomenon.

This tale is clearly related to the German fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but with important and dark differences.

There was once upon a time a gentleman who had eight daughters. He also had eight men in service. They often discussed between themselves how tired and depressed they always felt when going about their daily chores.

One of them had a good friend at a farm near the gentleman’s estate. Once, when visiting his friend he told him how tired he always felt and that he had to force himself to do his work every day, and that all of his fellow servants were the same, being hardly able to move for fatigue. He found it really strange because the work was not that hard.
“Well, if you can’t guess why, then I’m sure I don’t,” said his friend, “unless someone is using you for gand-riding while you sleep so that you don’t get any rest at night.”
“Gand-riding?” said the other. “What is that?”
“That” said his friend, “is when someone flays a bridle from a dead man’s skin and any thing, living or dead, that it fits and it is put on becomes a mount, not matter if it’s just a horse’s head or a leg-bone or something else. It can be ridden like a horse once the bridle is on it and can go anywhere. If it is used on a sleeping man, he can be ridden without knowing it because he is unable to wake up while the bridle is on him. A waking man can also be ridden in this way, but he can easily take the bridle off himself when he so pleases.”

The man thought this was a very interesting story. His friend suggested that he should tell no-one about this, but stay awake some night and see what would happen. He took the advice and stayed awake the very next night.
All the male servants slept in the same room. In the evening when they were all fast asleep, except our friend, he saw the gentleman’s daughters creep into the room, each of them holding a bridle made of human skin. They each chose a bed and gently slipped the bridles on the sleeping men. He pretended to be asleep and didn’t resist when one of the girls put a bridle on him.
Each girl now mounted her man’s back and then they rode like the wind for a while until they came to another grand estate. There they dismounted at a fine big doorway and left their steeds there with the bridles on and entered the house. Our friend slipped off the bridle and crept after the girls. He saw them enter a large, well-furnished room. In the room were eight beds and a man in each bed and the girls and men greeted each other in a friendly and familiar manner. Each of the girls slipped into bed with a man of her choice.

Our friend now went back to his mates and removed the bridles from all of them and woke them up and told them everything that had happened. They were all greatly surprised and thanked him for freeing them. He told them that it was time for payback and that they should go into the house and put the bridles on the girls when they were asleep. They agreed that this was an excellent plan and that the girls deserved it. When all the people inside were asleep the eight men crept into the bed-chamber and put the bridles on the girls, led them out and mounted them like horses. On the way home they took a little detour to the nearest farm, where they woke up the farmer and asked him to sell them special horse-shoes meant for riding on ice to shoe their nags, because they had a long way to go.

The farmer immediately found them some horseshoes and they quickly shoed the ‘horses’ and then slowly rode to the farm where our friend’s friend lived. He told his friend all that had happened and as he was beginning to be a little worried, he asked if he thought that they would be punished for the way they had treated the girls, but he thought not, because of the shameful way the girls had previously treated the men, but advised him to tell their master everything truthfully. Our friend replied that he’d had no intention of keeping quiet about the girls’ behaviour.

They now rode home and took the girls and put them back in their beds and removed the bridles before going to their own beds. In the morning the story flew from servant to servant that all the gentleman’s daughters had been shoed with horseshoes, but no-one knew how it had happened.
The gentleman called in his male servants and asked them if they knew aught of this matter. They replied that it was their doing and told him the whole story.

The gentleman was mightily surprised to hear this story, but was inclined to think they were lying, so he went to his daughters and told them what the servants had told him and asked them if it was true. The girls replied that it was all a damned lie, but as he saw that they were uneasy he questioned them further until they broke down and confessed everything. This so angered their father that he drove them all from the house and considered it a suitable punishment for their whorish behaviour and witchcraft. But after this the servants did their work without feeling tired.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

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