|"I fear now that the dead stir here, rise up again and fight against us, and hard will it prove to fight with fetches; and for all so many limbs as here are cloven, shields split, and helms and corslets hewn in pieces, and many a chieftain cut asunder, these the dead are now the grimmest to contend with, nor have we the strength to cope with them."|
- Bothvar Bjarki in The Saga of Hrolf Kraki
Note: Ok guys, I seriously screwed something up today, and thanks to a bunch of emo crap that I don't really want to get in to right now, I am finding myself in very serious danger of not being able to get a story posted to the website this week. So, in order to make sure that I continue my streak where I have never missed a week since April of 2004, today I'm running one of my favorite articles from my book Badass: Birth of a Legend in place of your regularly-scheduled programming. I think you will dig it. The artwork above is the copyrighted creation of the amazing James Ryman.
Viking sagas are easily some of the most badass pieces of writing ever recorded. Produced by a bloodthirsty assortment of ridiculously violent warrior-poets who spent just as much time slinging spears as spinning tales, these merciless legends feature heroic quests, magical spells, endless battle, withering trash-talking, and fearsome monsters, with a lusty maiden busting out of her blouse every five pages thrown in just for good measure. By the time the story is through, you can be pretty damn sure that nearly every single character is heroically lying face down on top of a pile of corpses with a gaping slash wound prominently displayed on some vital portion of their bodies, and their blade lodged in the head of their most hated nemesis. These sagas are the blockbuster action movies and ultra-flaming guitar solos of medieval literature – and while the endless parade of proper nouns can make it a little difficult to read at times, it's really hard to argue with the badass cred of any short story in which a humorless ass-whomper avenges his murdered brother by using a battle axe the size of a Lexus to slaughter an entire city full of warriors.
The Saga of Hrolf Kraki is no exception to this time-honored tradition of literary blood-bathing. The epic story of a couple generations of semi-legendary Danish Kings who asserted their dominance by plowing peoples' skulls to bone dust with a bulldozer, Hrolf's saga is about as subtle and delicate as a game of beer pong played with live grenades. But while Hrolf himself is a hugely-powerful ass-wrecker, no one can assert a better claim to badassitude than his vengeful sister, the pitiless necromancer sorceress known as Skuld.
Skuld's story begins with a Danish King named Helgi. One year, around Yule time, some rough-looking homeless chick knocked on Helgi's door in the middle of the night, begging for shelter from the rain and maybe a little bit of food. When Helgi found it in his heart to let her in, he was rewarded for his kindness by quickly realizing that underneath her tattered rags this beggar was actually a super-hot Elf babe. Being a typical Viking hero, Helgi celebrated by snatching her up and having his way with her. The next morning, after he was done ravishing this strange Elf woman he just met, she informed him that she was carrying his kid, and that he should stop by this boat house near his home in nine months to pick up his daughter. Helgi, being the sort of dude who probably fathered a lot of kids in his days pillaging and plundering every single European settlement that was accessible by Viking longship, of course completely forgot about this kid and went back to the business of burning people alive and dousing out the smoldering ashes with a steady stream of urine. But he wasn't going to get off the hook that easily this time – three years later, a group of Elves showed up in the middle of the night, dropped a young girl off on Helgi's doorstep, and placed a totally gnarly curse on the King and his family forever.
That curse was Skuld.
The sagas say that Skuld was, "by evil norns ill created," and as such she grew up learning all the bastardly dark arts you might expect from a woman whose primary goal in life was to hone her magic to the point where she could obliterate entire civilizations just by thinking really mean things about people until their heads caught on fire. She went on to marry a mighty Swedish king named Hjorvarth, who was known for being super-strong, well-endowed, and not averse to women who could conjure apparitions through their knowledge of the dark arts, and together they ruled a vast kingdom of Gauts, which are like Swedish Goths. Helgi, meanwhile, inaugurated his newfound curse by accidentally marrying his own daughter, producing a son named Hrolf Kraki, and then dying in a fire.
Skuld and Hrolf Kraki got along well enough, I suppose, but things started to take a turn for the worse one day when Hrolf tricked Skuld's husband Hjorvarth into accidentally becoming a vassal of Denmark. You see, Hrolf had given Hjorvarth a magical sword, and the Swedish ruler accepted the gift without realizing that taking a sword from the King was a symbolic Viking way of publically declaring that you were officially his bitch. Bound by bro honor, Hjorvarth had no choice but to accept Hrolf as his master and pay him a yearly tribute, even though this was total crap.
Hrolf Kraki went on to become super famous and powerful, kicking ass all over the world in his quest for plunder and glory and alcohol and amassing all of the greatest heroes in the land to serve as retainers and lords in his empire. This guy was so popular that he's even mentioned in Beowulf, a story that wasn't even written by Vikings. Skuld and Hjorvarth, meanwhile, looked off at Kraki and his champions living it up with games, mistresses, swimming pools, and diamond-encrusted toilet seats while they had to cough up tribute every year like chumps, and they quickly used deductive reasoning to come to the conclusion that this sucked their asses on fire. Skuld told her husband to sack up and tell Hrolf to shove that tribute up his vas deferens, but Hjorvarth apparently didn't have the balls to stand up to the Danish hero. So Skuld did it herself. She asked her half-brother for a three-year break in tribute-paying, as long as she agreed to pay the full amount at the end of the three year cycle. Hrolf didn't really give a crap, and basically just said, "whatever".
Given a three-year break, Skuld took all the money she was supposed to give to Hrolf and instead went to work building a huge-ass army of Vikings, criminals, summoned monsters, Elves, norns, and other ridiculous monstrosities from the bowels of the underworld. She used her magic to conceal her actions from Hrolf, silently building up a mindless horde suitable for her purposes.
Now, while Hrolf Kraki was pretty cool back his prime, by this point in his lifespan he was kind of a total d-bag. He and his men had grown fat, arrogant, and pretentious, and instead of questing and warring they spent their time throwing half-eaten chicken bones at innocent people, drinking themselves into oblivion, disrespecting the gods, and biting off the noses of prostitutes for some strange reason. These guys were so confident in their awesomeness that they didn't even notice Skuld marching a damned massive army right up to the gates of their castle in a situation that can best be described as being sneak-attacked by the Pacific Ocean.
Even when he noticed that he was completely surrounded by a force several times larger than his own, Hrolf didn't give a crap. He just ordered a messenger to go to Skuld's camp and tell her that he and his champions were going to have one more drink of ale, then come out and beat her ass into submission.
Hrolf in his glory days.
That was it. Skuld ordered her army to set their phasers to decapitate and the two armies met in a huge-ass beat-down that quickly littered the entire battlefield in a thick layer of corpses. Guys were exploding apart all over the place, Elves were fistfighting Vikings, everything larger than a cantaloupe was being sliced in half, and bodies were stacking up so high that warriors had to climb over mountains of dead bodies just to propoerly kill each other. One of Hrolf's berserkers, the mighty hero Bothvar Bjarki, awesomely responded to the carnage fest by transforming himself into a huge ass bear, and the Viking Grizzly monstrosity started swatting men apart with his gigantic paws and biting horses in half with one chomp of his ferocious iron-like jaws. I picture it wearing a hilarious horned helmet while doing so, though the legend isn't specific about this.
Skuld, commanding her army from an ominous black-flagged witch's tent, responded to the Norse bear massacre of her army by summoning a fearsome demonic ox-sized wild boar into the fray. The wild boar is one of the most ill-tempered and murderous land animals to ever exist, and when they're summoned from a super-evil dimension beyond the mortal realm, you may as well just kiss your ass sayonara. In addition to flinging people around with its tusks and shredding armor like it was made out of Fruit Roll-Ups, this thing had a super-tough hide that was impervious to sword blows, and it shot arrow-like quills out of its back that hit dudes so hard it tore them in half.
Here's a wild boar fucking up a leopard IRL.
The bloodbath raged on. Hrolf's berserkers and champions raged against the armies of Skuld, fighting for their very survival. Those warriors fortunate enough to still be in one piece now found themselves covered from sword-hilt to shoulder in the blood of their enemies. Hrolf's men fought a desperate stand and against all odds started to push Skuld's forces back, but this is when things somehow get even more crazy. Skuld, seeing her army's resolve falter in the face of this army of human-sized bandsaws, knew it was time to break out her secret weapon – her command over the forces of life and death itself. She furiously stormed out of her tent, entered the battlefield, and began rezzing dead warriors – reviving the slain and sending them right back out there to continue the fight. That's right, folks, we are talking about goddamned VIKING ZOMBIES here.
This has to be one of the most epic, insane showdowns of all time. Let's picture this for a second. It's the middle of winter. The towering spires of a huge-ass Viking fortress are engulfed in flames, and the stench of smoke and corpses mix with the bitter cold and heavy winds of a snowy Scandinavian December to whip around the combatants. With no hope of survival, the half-drunk King of Denmark bravely defends his throne room in what he knows to be a triumphant last stand worthy of Valhalla. His personal champions, the twelve greatest and most accomplished warriors in the realm, fight for their lives Helm's Deep-style alongside a giant killer ghost-bear, while the ultra-powerful sorceress Skuld leads her mish-mashed army of Dark Elves, Viking Zombies, and a house-sized angry pig that shoots arrows out of its ass.
Friggin' Anarchy at Hrolf's last stand.
For every man Hrolf's warriors cut down, another half-dead walking corpse was there to take his place. Bothvar even engaged the Swedish king Hjorvarth in single combat, cut off both of the guy's arms, slice off a leg, and cleaved the dude in half through the torso, but Skuld reanimated her husband's corpse within minutes and hurled his cobbled-together body back into the fray anew. I can only assume this was pretty demoralizing to everybody involved.
With Hrolf's champions on the defensive, slowly being bashed into submission by the never-ending stream of undead, Skuld charged up to the fray, burst into the throne room, and personally oversaw the final destruction of her half-brother and his precious douche champions. The woman who was once unwanted by her own father had now single-handedly destroyed thirteen of the most feared and deadliest warriors in the world, and triumphantly took her place on the bloody throne as the new Queen of the Viking world.
(I don't remember all the sources off the top of my head at the moment, and I don't have a copy of my book or my bibliography handy, but I'm pretty sure everything came from The Saga of Hrolf Kraki, an ancient Norse text from the 9th or 10th century that is probably one of the most awesome things that has ever been written. I'll confirm this and update the site accordingly once I'm able.)
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