Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Random Viking Story: Talking Heads and Blood-Stained Hair

In place of all the poetry I've posted recently, here's a dose of Viking bravado, from Jómsvíkinga saga. Members of the legendary Jomsviking brotherhood have been captured after a battle, and now, going to their deaths, want to show off how brave they are:

'The fifth one was brought forward and Thorkell asked him what he thought about dying. He said: 'I would forget the laws of the Jomsvikings if I was afraid of my death or spoke words of fear. No one can escape death.' Thorkell cut off his head. They thought then to pose the same question to each one of them before he was killed to see whether these men were as brave as they were reputed to be. They thought it a sufficient proof if none of them spoke words of fear.

A sixth man was led forward and a stick was twisted in his hair. Thorkell put the same question to him. He said he thought it was best to die with a good reputation, 'but you, Thorkell, shall live with shame'. Thorkell cut off his head.

Then the seventh one was led forward and Thorkell asked him as usual. 'I’m very content to die.' [he said.] 'But deal me out a speedy blow. I have here a dagger. We Jomsvikings have often discussed whether a man was conscious of anything after he had lost his head if it was cut off speedily. Let's do it this way: I'll hold the dagger up if I am conscious of anything; otherwise it will fall down.' Thorkell struck him and his head flew off, but the dagger fell down.

Then a young man was led forward whose long hair was as golden as silk. Thorkell posed his usual question. He said, 'I have had the best part of my life; and I am not interested in living longer than those who have just fallen… Let [the executioner] hold the hair away from the head and pull the head sharply so that the hair doesn't get blood-stained.' A man came forward, took hold of the hair and twisted it round his hands. Thorkell made a blow with a sword. At that very moment [the Jomsviking] pulled his head away sharply so that the blow fell on the man who was holding the hair and cut off both his arms at the elbows. [The Jomsviking] sprang up and said: 'Whose hands are in my hair?'

Earl Hakon [leader of the other side] said: ‘Things are turning out very badly – kill him and all those who are left without delay. These men are much too difficult for us to handle.’

Earl Eirikr said: 'We want to know who they are first. What is your name, young man?'

He said: 'I am known as Sveinn.'

The earl asked: 'Who is your father?'

He said: 'I am reported to be Bui’s son.'

The earl asked: 'How old are you?'

He replied: 'If I survive this year then I shall be eighteen.'

Earl Eirikr said: 'You shall survive it,' and made him a member of his own following.'

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