Wednesday, November 30, 2016

He Aint Heavy, He's My Hunnish Brother, or All In the (Berserker) Family, Part IV

.......and now comes the blood-drenched conclusion......

We last found Heidrek fleeing, after having murdered his brother, Angantyr, with the cursed sword, Tyrfing, in a Berserker fit. Good times.

Heidrek had escaped justice for his brother's slaughter, at least for a while. Armed with his ancestral sword, he recapitulated the earlier success of his forebears, and attracted the notice of Harald, King of the Goths. Heidrek did the king a series of unsavory favors, most of which involved doing away with rebellious subjects. Impressed with the young man's ruthlessness and efficiency, King Harald gave him his daughter, Helga, as a wife. Within a short time, Helga bore her husband a son. Heidrek named him Angantyr, in memory of his beloved brother whom he had murdered. The boy gave every indication of being as fierce and warlike as his father and grandmother, and Heidrek loved him as much as his stunted heart allowed.

Some years later, the land of the Goths was stricken with crop failure and famine. Instructed by his priests to sacrifice a prince of his blood to Odin, King Harald determined to offer up his young grandson, Angantyr. If he imagined that his son-in-law would be compliant with this plan, he soon found that he had sorely misjudged the man. Heidrek rose up in rebellion against his father-in-law, and slew him with Tyrfing. When Helga heard that her husband had killed her father, she hung herself in despair.

Little disposed to mourn his wife and her family, Heidrek quickly assumed the Gothic kinship and used Tyrfing to forcibly consolidate and then expand his territory. He set his sights on the land of the Huns, who defended their land as best they could, whereupon he kidnapped the daughter of the Hunnish king, and raped her. After impregnating her, he sent the Hunnish princess home, where she gave birth to a son named Hlöd. Subsequently, Heidrek married and divorced a succession of Scandinavian princesses; not surprisingly, each marriage was more loveless than the last. However, his fourth wife bore him a daughter, whom he named Hervor, for his mother. Heidrek wasn't much of a husband, but he does seem to have been attached to his children, or at least interested in the welfare. From the time of his daughter's birth, he seems to have curtailed his raiding activity and stayed close to him. At least for a while.

However, the urge to go a-viking, and the lure of wielding Tyrfing to grasp more land and plunder eventually won out over whatever family feeling Heidrek possessed. Having subdued the Goths and the Huns and made alliances with the Scandinavian princes to the north, Heidrek decided to invade the people of the untamed Carpathian mountain range. He raised an army and brought his son, Angantyr, as bloodthirsty and ambitious a warrior as his father. But while Heidrek was secure in the allegiance of his son and heir, his army bore him little love, and less loyalty. Surrounded as he was by men whom he had defeated and brought forcibly under his domination, he did not perceive his own peril until it was too late.

One night, while asleep in the Carpathian wilds and surrounded by his supposedly loyal army, eight bondsmen crept stealthily into his tent. Perhaps they only intended to rob the king, although they may easily have had a score to settle. Regardless, one of them drew Tyrfing from its scabbard, with the result that Heidrek died, fittingly, upon the blade of his own sword. But the unlucky thralls were caught in the act by the murdered king's son, Angantyr, who slew all eight men with his father's blade. Armed with Tyrfing, Angantyr, the third of his name and proud scion of the violent House of Arngrim, wasted no time in seizing his father's crown and taking control of his army. He was rather surprised to discover that he was not unopposed in his claim to his father's lands and title.

It turns out that Hlöd, Angantyr's long-neglected younger half-brother and son of the Hunnish princess whom Heidrek had ill-used, felt that he was entitled to half of their father's territory. He even went so far as to name boundary points between the lands that he and Angantyr would divide (one of these was a forest called Mirkwood). Hlöd's efforts were wasted. Self-assured and comfortably in possession of the Gothic kingship, Angantyr publicly named Hlöd a bastard, thereby implying that the Hunnish prince was ineligible to inherit any portion of their father's patrimony. This turned out to have been a dangerous move, for Hlöd was fully prepared to fight his half-brother for what he considered his rightful inheritance.


According to the early saga sources, Hlöd brought an improbably enormous force of 343,200 mounted Huns to invade his brother’s lands. Even more improbably, Angantyr and his Goths defeated the Hunnish horde; Angantyr struck down his brother Hlöd on the field of battle with Tyrfing. The deed was done swiftly and without remorse, yet Angantyr lingered for a moment over Hlöd's body. As he held the gore-spattered blade over the bloodied carcass of his only brother, he spoke:
Bölvat es okkr, bróðir,
bani em ek þinn orðinn;
þat mun æ uppi;
illr er dómr norna.
 
We are cursed, brother,
I am become your slayer
it is yet again true
cruel is the decree of the Norns (Fates).
These words are ascribed to Angantyr in the Hlöðskviða or The Battle of the Goths and Huns.

It is also written there that the slaughter was such that the bodies of numerous warriors choked the rivers and flooded the valleys with dead men and horses. Walking among the dead, Angantyr found his half-sister, Hervor, who had fought the Huns bravely as a shieldmaiden, just as her grandmother and namesake had.

Óbróðurliga vartu leikin, in ágæta systir.
"Unbrotherly the bloody game they played with you, excellent sister."

With the defeat of Hlöd and his Hunnish horde, Angantyr was left as sole heir to the kingship and patrimony of his father, Heidrek. And here, the story of Tyrfing, the dwarf-cursed sword which brought glory and devastation to the House of Arngrim in equal measure, comes to an end.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Honey I Cursed the Kids, or All in the (Berserker) Family, Part III

Part III, in the ongoing saga of the House of Arngrim the Berserker.......

Hervor, daughter of Angantyr, thought that she had bought herself a Happily Ever After when she claimed and took her dead father's sword, the dwarf-forged Tyrfing. But she reckoned without the curse laid on the blade by its vengeful makers. When she retired from the Viking lifestyle to become a full time homemaker, she laid the sword aside. And there it waited, silently thirsting for blood and destruction.

In peace, she and her princely husband raised their two sons, Angantyr and Heidrek, to manhood. Her elder son was much loved among his father's people, but Heidrek was quarrelsome and violent, and made few friends. Did Hervor tell her boys stories of their grandfather, or of his twelve berserker sons, buried in a haunted mound on the island of Samsø? It is certain that they at least knew about the valuable sword which she kept, but never wielded in their presence.

At some point, Heidrek committed some act of brutality which resulted in his permanent estrangement from his father. We do not know what crime he committed, but it must have been serious, for Hervor's husband banished their younger son, and sent him away, never to return. The sentence was pronounced and enacted without delay, and Heidrek was forced to leave his home with little more than the clothes on his back. As he turned to go, his mother impulsively ran to her chamber and then returned with a wrapped bundle, thrusting it into his hands with a last farewell for the son she would never see again. Hervor had given him her most valuable possession, the one she knew would help her violent and restless offspring make his way in the world in the only way he knew how. Heidrek left his father's hall with Tyrfing strapped to his side.


The young man strode forth into an unknown future. With his hand on the hilt of his mother's sword, he walked with a new confidence, and didn't turn to take a last look back at his childhood home. Past the outskirts of his family's encampment, however, he heard running footsteps behind him. Warily, Heidrek turned to face whoever it was who had followed him from his father's hall, but relaxed when he saw who it was. Angantyr had come to take a private final leave of his younger brother. The two young men embraced and exchanged greetings, and Angantyr offered to walk with Heidrek for a while. Heidrek was glad to have his brother's company; aside from their mother, Angantyr was the only person who had ever cared about him.

They walked in silence for a time, and then Angantyr gestured to the sword that Heidrek wore. Both men had heard rumors and bits of stories about their mother's viking escapades, and understood that her sword was a valuable family heirloom. Angantyr did not begrudge Heidrek his inheritance, but confessed to curiosity. Neither had ever actually seen the blade, Hervor having always kept it carefully sheathed. Angantyr thought there would be no harm done if his younger brother took it out of its scabbard and gave it a flourish, so that they both could get a look at it. Obligingly, Heidrek drew Tyrfing forth.

As the sword left its sheath, Heidrek felt a tremor run through his body, and his sword arm began to shake. A roar burst from his lips as he felt a wave of blood rush up to his brain. His head felt hot, and his vision dimmed as a red haze filmed his eyes. As the berserker frenzy took hold, Heidrek lost all reason, overwhelmed by the imperative to kill. He felt his arm rise and then gave a great animal howl as he struck out with the powerful sword. He felt Tyrfing's blade make contact, heard the groan of his victim, and plunged the blade in again and again. Blood spattered his face and he roared again, lifting Tyrfing to the sky in triumph. 

As quickly as it had descended upon him, the Berserker fit suddenly passed. Heidrek shook his head and felt his vision clear. His chest still heaved from exertion, but his blood cooled and he felt calm again. Warm blood still dripped from the sword in his fist, however, staining his face and clothes. Heidrek looked down and saw his beloved brother, Angantyr, lying butchered on the ground at his feet, dead by his own hand. The curse of Tyrfing was let loose once more to wreck havoc upon the House of Arngrim.

Filled with horror and self loathing, Heidrek fled from the sight of his brother's body. But he kept the sword, and thus did doom stalk the House of Arngrim for yet another generation.....

.........more to come.......

Friday, November 4, 2016

Papa Don't Preach, or All in the (Berserker) Family, Part II

...........and now for the continuing story of Hervor the Shieldmaiden, of the House of Arngrim.

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If you read my last post, then you'll know all about Hervor, posthumous daughter of Argantyr, who was one of the twelve sons of Arngrim the Berserker. The House of Arngrim was not much mourned after their collective demise, and most folks had hoped that their deeds would be left to molder in the barrow on the small island of Samsø, along with the rotting remains of Angantyr and his brothers. But Hervor had no intention of letting her inheritance rust among her father's bones. She had every intention of carrying on her family's grand tradition of fighting for plunder, and for that, she needed her father's powerful dwarf-forged sword.
She needed Tyrfing.


And that's how Hervor found herself on a viking longship, sailing for a small haunted island off of Denmark, in search of her destiny. Her crew willingly followed her to Samsø, but refused to disembark upon that fearful blood-soaked soil. Eager as they were to follow the Berserker's granddaughter into battle, they had no interest in facing the spirits of the restless dead. They left Hervor there to find her father's grave on her own. As the sun sank below the ocean horizon, tiny flames rose from the ground. The flickering ghost lights led her to the barrow she sought, solitary in that abandoned place, with only a simple runestone to marking the final resting spot of the sons of Arngrim.

Nothing daunted, Hervor faced the dark mound and summoned the spirit of Angantyr, demanding the sword which his father had given him, and which was now hers to wield in turn. The tiny flames along the ground shuddered, but there was no response. Impatient, Hervor called out again, less respectful but with greater urgency. She would not leave without the sword. Again, her voice resounded in silence, with nothing but the moan of the wind to answer her. Enraged and desperate, Hervor shrieked curses upon the dead, wishing eternal torture upon the decaying flesh in the lonely barrow, where her father and uncles lay. That got a response.


Out of the barrow came a weary voice, rusty from lack of use, carrying with it the stench of the grave. Angantyr had heard his daughter, but was reluctant to give up the sword whose curse had brought destruction upon their family. He pleaded with her to leave it there, and to leave the dead in peace. But Hervor would not leave empty-handed. Back and forth they argued and threatened, him reciting the curse, and her implacable in her abuse. Time seemed to slow, with nothing but the dull lights of the dead to keep her company in this spectral colloquy. Until finally, Hervor saw a pale white bone stretch out from the mound, hurling something long and glinting through the air. End over end it turned, before plunging into the dirt by her foot with a vicious thud. It was Tyrfing.





With a shout of triumph, Hervor seized her prize and called out her thanks to her father's spirit. There was no reply, but with the sword in her grip, she left the haunted place filled with excitement, eager to seek her fortune at last. Reclaiming her ship and crew, Hervor picked up where her father and grandfather had left off. True to its nature, Tyrfing could not be unsheathed without taking a life, and Hervor was well-pleased with the terror which she inspired. For years, she led her viking crew from settlement to settlement throughout northern Europe, sowing death and destruction and looting as it pleased her. In time she amassed a considerable fortune in ill-gotten goods; somewhat surprisingly, she found herself tiring of blood sport and decided to settle down.

With her impressive dowry, Hervor had her pick of suitors, and she married a viking prince. She sheathed Tyrfing for the last time, and lived with her husband in peace, bearing him two sons. The elder one she named for her father, Angantyr; surprisingly, he was both handsome and well-liked, making friends easily. But Hervor's younger son, Heidrek, was quarrelsome and given to unprovoked acts of violence. Hervor's husband was fond of Angantyr, but looked with disfavor upon Heidrek. The prince had heard dark rumors of his wife's forebears and their reputation; he knew that something would have to be done about his second son, lest disaster strike the House of Arngrim once more..................


.......to be continued.......













Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All in the (Berserker) family, Part I

Last night, I hosted my first Adult Folktale Telling, at lovely Porter Square Books. It was Hallowe'en, and there's nothing like the ancient Celtic New Year to get me in the mood to tell stories. Now, for normal folks, fall's chill makes them yearn for pumpkin spice lattes and ugly Christmas sweaters. And then there's me. That nip in the air puts me in mind of some of my favorite folklore friends: The Suffocated Bride, The Little Old Woman who ate Hairy Toe Stew, the Longridge Boggart, Hoichi the Earless. Those there are my homies, and Hallowe'en doesn't pass without my paying them a visit. This year, I brought a new friend to the party, and she wasn't shy. In fact, she may have freaked out the others, and they don't scare easily.

Her name is Hervor the Shieldmaiden, and she is a Nasty Woman.

The story of Hervor is ancient, its earliest known version dating from the 12th century. Despite having been raised to be a servant and kept in ignorance of her ancestry, her bloody parentage made itself known even before she hit puberty. Given to bursts of savage violence and brutality, unusual even in Viking culture, Hervor made few friends, and her enemies feared her. Whoever told her about her lineage was probably hoping that the news would motivate her to move on. It did.

Turns out, Hervor was the posthumous daughter of Angantyr, one of the twelve sons of Arngrim, a famous Berserker. Violent mayhem was her birthright; that, and a cursed dwarf-forged sword, called Tyrfing. To a penniless orphaned bond-maiden, ownership of Tyrfing offered the promise of wealth and eternal fame, the twin lodestones of Viking culture. Neither curse nor threat of death mattered to Hervor. Only her father's sword, her rightful inheritance. (Believe it or not, Vikings were sticklers for legal niceties regarding legacies and moveable goods. Since women had higher status in Viking society than nearly anywhere else in the ancient world, they could - and did - defend their inheritance rights.) The only wrinkle in this case was that Hervor's relatives were all dead, and their weaponry, including Tyrfing, had been buried with them. But that didn't worry her.

So who were these Berserker relatives? Therein lies a
tale.... Hervor's grandfather, Arngrim, was the first in her family to claim Tyrfing, which he took from the severed hand of its first owner. This was Svafrlami (don't hurt yourself trying to say his name), one of the god Odin's numerous spawn. Odin, lord of Valhalla, was called All-Father for good reason; not even he could keep track of all of the mortal women he impregnated over the centuries, and the men and women who claimed him as their direct ancestor were legion. The luckless Svafrlami had kidnapped and forced a pair of dwarves to forge him an unbreakable, invincible sword. They complied, but in revenge they embedded a curse into the wicked blade, which caused the death of its owner, and three generations of destruction upon the House of Arngrim. In addition, the power of Tyrfing was such that whoever drew it was so overcome by bloodlust, that they felt an irresistible compulsion to kill; no drawback to a Berserker!


Proud Arngrim took Tyrfing, but he also took Svafrlami's daughter, and he fathered twelve murderous Berserker warriors on her for good measure. He amassed a fortune pillaging and terrorizing the land, before retiring in comfort and bequeathing his most prized possession to the tallest and strongest of his sons. In this way, Angantyr son of Arngrim, came to own Tyrfing. One by one, Angantyr and his brothers found and took wives; but, like their mother, few joined the House of Arngrim willingly. One of the twelve, Hjörvard, set his sights on Ingeborg, the daughter of the king of Sweden. With his eleven brothers as his wingmen, he arrived in Uppsala and announced his intention, demanding the princess. But Ingeborg already had a suitor, Hjallmar the champion of Sweden, and she was loathe to marry a Berserker. Enraged, Hjörvard challenged the Swedes and demanded the right to fight for the bride he had chosen. So Hjallmar brought a host of hundreds to meet the twelve sons of Arngrim on the small island of Samsø, off of Denmark, in a bloody battle. It was the Hunger Games, Viking Edition. Total mayhem ensued.

When it was over, the Swedes had triumphed, but just barely. Hjallmar only lived long enough to sing his own death song, but it was a song of victory nonetheless. The twelve sons of Arngrim lay mutilated and dead in a gory heap on the field of battle. The battered Swedish warriors, eager to leave the scene of slaughter, hastily covered over the gruesome corpses with the blood-soaked dirt upon which they lay. In this manner they formed a traditional warriors' barrow in which to contain the dead, whose feats of arms they grudgingly acknowledged with a runestone marking the place where the twelve Berserkers had fallen. No doubt everyone hoped that this marked the end of the reign of terror of the House of Arngrim. No such luck; as we already know, Angantyr's wife bore Hervor several months after the carnage on Samsø. Despite her attempts to keep the story of her daughter's heritage buried, along with her late unlamented husband and his cursed sword, Hervor eventually learned the truth. She somehow got her hands on a ship, recruited a crew, and sailed for Samsø, intent on claiming her inheritance. And that's when things began to get really interesting!



..........to be continued...........







Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Story Hour @ Porter Square Books


Here's a shout-out to one of my favorite places: Porter Square Books in Cambridge! Here I am, at my regular Story Hour, reading a terrific book: What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. It won a Caldecott Award, well deserved; it has beautiful and highly "readable" illustrations, and clear, informative text, as well as a section of "fine print" in the end pages, with more detailed information, for children who want to know more. A real gem of a book, I gave it 5 Stars on Goodreads.


Here I am reading Digger Man, by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, which is a good book for reading aloud, but poses a challenge, in that the language is emphatically Male Only. Luckily, reading aloud to a group of pre-literate kids, I was able to modify a couple of the words so as to make the world of trucks and diggers equally appealing to girls, as well as boys.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Frog life

I had the wonderful privilege recently of participating in a 5-session intensive workshop with Diane Edgecomb, an eminent Master Storyteller and experienced workshop leader. During our meetings, and in the interim, I had the opportunity to get a closer look at a traditional Hmong folktale which I have long been interested in, but never performed: "How Frog Became Emperor". I needed an excuse - a good kick in the pants, really - to really dig into this story, to develop the knowledge base that I needed to do it justice as a performer. Over the course of five weeks, I learned more than I ever imagined about frogs, and about the richness and beauty of Hmong culture. 

This story has now become one of my new favorites, it has everything you'd want from a great epic tale: romance, adversity, fire-breathing amphibians, and embroidered balls. Allow me to introduce you to the cast of characters:



Frog's Mother - she handles surprises well, and believes in unconditional love







Frog's Father - ditto, an open-minded loyal man who loves his wife and child





Talking Frog - a likable, resourceful know-it-all, dependable and pragmatic, possessing unexpected talents






Emperor of China - a real empty shirt, there's no substance here, just fear and panicky self-preservation, and very little love


Imperial Princess - quiet on the surface, but loyal in love, an excellent judge of character





The Story
It begins with a happily married woman who unexpectedly births a Talking Frog while her husband is away. Despite their shock, the Frog's parents quickly come to love him, and they realize that in addition to being able to speak, their son is also modest and preternaturally intelligent. One day he informs them that he must got to the capital, in order to save the country from an invading army - !? - so off he goes.


Signs around the capital city warn of the approaching enemies, and promise the Imperial Princess in marriage to whomever will save the country. Frog informs the Emperor that he (Frog) will save the country in three days. The panicky Emperor submits to the Frog's every demand, not knowing what else to do. For three days, Frog silently sits beside a roaring fire, steadily swallowing glowing coals until his belly is enormously distended. As the enemy army approaches, Frog orders the Emperor to open the city gates. Despite his terror, the Emperor obeys, whereupon Frog spews flames at the enemy, who flee. The country is saved!

The Emperor doesn't want his daughter to marry a frog, so he decrees that she will marry whomever catches a traditional Hmong embroidered ball which she will throw to a crowd of eligible bachelors. The Imperial Princess has fallen in love with Frog, but is forced to obey her father, and throws the ball. It is caught by a handsome stranger, to whom she is married that same day. That night, the stranger reveals himself to his wife as Frog, in disguise!

After months of wedded bliss, the suspicious Emperor bursts into the room of his daughter and her new husband, and discovers Frog, in the act of removing his frog skin. Frog explains that he prefers to wear his frog skin, because it gives him immortality. The Emperor demands to wear the skin; he removes his Imperial robes, and puts on the frog skin. But then he discovers that he cannot remove the frog skin - he is trapped! The Imperial Princess puts her father's robes on her husband, who becomes the new Emperor.

And that's how Frog became Emperor!!








Here's a wonderful image of the princess, throwing her embroidered ball to her true love....








Sources 







Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Hallowe'en Storytelling on CCTV

What a great time we all had, being filmed by CCTV for this year's Hallowe'en special! I was joined by a phenomenal lineup of Storytellers, all recruited by the inimitable Norah Dooley. Enjoy!!

https://www.cctvcambridge.org/node/354277



Spooky Storytellers: Doria Hughes - "The Big Hairy Toe" from Cambridge Community Television on Vimeo.