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 their welfare. From the time of his daughter's birth, he seems to have curtailed his raiding activity and stayed close to home. 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; more likely, they had a score to settle with the king who had enslaved them. 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.

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