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~ Heathen Stories and New Myths ~

 

Half Shirts, Half Truths

Bragi and Hrolf Ragnarson came down from their family steading to seek their fortune in the wide world. Their brother Hundur would inherit the farm, and their sisters were set to marry into the neighboring farmsteads for a quiet life of hardscrabble farming in the northern fells. Bragi and Hrolf dreamed of going a-Viking, of seeing towns and cities, of wearing fine cloth, drinking southern wine, and learning about women in a fashion that did not leave you with the choice between quick marriage and having your head nailed to the neighbor's barn door.

With naught but the axes at their belts, and a sheepskin bedroll, they snuck out for Trondheim where great captains recruited for voyages of trade, exploration, and plunder. Bellies flat as their purses, they came to the docks at Trondheim, and to Captain Sven Hammerhand, named for the many foes he felled with his fist rather with than sword or axe. Hammerhand looked at the two farm boys, green as spring hay, without helms, sword, spear or shield, and shook his scarred head.

“Look lads, ye seem brave enough, and hardworking too, but ye don’t have a sword between ye, nor a shield to ward your bench-mates. I can’t have a man on my crew who cannot hold his place in line with a shield, nor strike down an armoured foe with sword or axe. Ye boys have ne’er even faced a drunken thrall, let alone an armed carl. Come back when ye have gear and experience, or I may as well toss you right to Ran’s net as take you aboard my Serpent.”

Depressed at being dismissed by Hammerhand, the two boys went into town, to see if they could find work for a meal, and maybe hunt up something better than returning home to their mother’s tears and their brother’s laughter. When they asked in the town, they were directed to the new temple of the southern Christ that the king had ordered built, where it seems you could get a meal, and a fine white shirt if you would take god oath to the southern god. Bragi and Hrolf looked at the shirts in wonder, for they were fine linen, and bleached white as the snow. Such a shirt would go far in raising them in the eyes of the village girls, and would be worth taking a god oath toward whatever strange god the southerners had.

They filled their bellies with bowls of thin porridge, and looked as the line of men and women went down to the water, where a black robed southerner with a bald spot dipped each person in the dirty river water, and handed them a fine white shirt. It really was as they had been told! Get dipped, say an oath, get a free white shirt as they had only seen on chieftain's sons and traders!

As they ate, a ghodi of the southern god was shouting at everyone, telling the saga of Christr, who was somehow Baldr who died and was risen again. Ragnarok happened and all the gods were dead except Christr-Baldr who hung from a cross because they were bad, and now they don’t have to burn in Hell if they take the oath.
“He’s no Skald, that’s for sure”, said Bragi, watching the Southerner labour through his tale with the skill of a blind drunk thrall, and the voice of a scalded crow.
“You’ve got it backwards Sir!”, shouted Hrolf, “It was Odin that hung, not Baldr, and Hel is frozen not burning. After a winter on the fells, an eternity by the fire sounds a lot better than waiting months to plow-charming to smell the farts that fall frozen out your ****-cheeks at Yuletide!”
Ragnar laughed, but the armed carls who wore the king's mail but wore the odd sword shaped Tiwaz rune on their torcs looked to make a scene, so the boys finished their porridge and slunk to the back of the line. It seemed townsmen who took this Frankish god had no sense of humour!

Being boys, they grew quickly bored in the line, having learned from some of the people that had been through the line and sworn the oath two or three times, that the Queen and her pet priests brought up the tunics from the south, and that everyone was swearing the oath to get the tunics, sometimes a half dozen times! Casting their eyes around, they saw a slip of a girl at a trader’s stall, selling heavy oiled cloaks of wool, and glaring at the line and making curse signs. Wondering at the girl’s anger, and more than a little excited by her fine fiery form, they decided to have a word.

Introducing themselves, the boys asked what she had against the people getting the free shirts, although they could see it would hurt a weaver's trade like hers. The girl, who called herself Gudrun Helgasdottr swore that the Frankish priests were going to destroy her house. Her mother had taken the god oath, and been terrified her dead husband would be in hell, and had sold half their land already to give to the church-men or Christ-godhi, just for a promise to get their dead father out of hell. Gudrun swore before long everything her father had left their family will have gone to the church men, and her family will be begging in the streets, where once they had been a leading family. Gudrun left them with this word: “They are men that love not women, they are half-men telling half-truths to bind their betters with god oaths and steal with words what their fathers could never take with swords.”

Making Thor’s sign with their hands, for they feared she had some of the witch-woman in her anger, the boys went back to the line to think about her words. As they had tarried long with the girl Gudrun, it was now almost the end of the day, and they were the last in line for oath and dipping.

The Christr Godhi church man had forgotten Hrolf’s words from lunch, and seemed ready to take their oaths.
“Will you take Christ oath, to follow no heathen gods, but Christ your saviour only?”
- “Will you put on God’s unstained mantle and be his living saint?”
The two boys looked at the shining white shirt and their eyes grew wide, never had they seen such shining fabric, save on their chieftain or the great traders and sea captains. All it took to get this mantle was an oath about becoming some kind of fultrui to Christr. Well if he was giving away chieftains shirts like this, he must be a fine ring giver, a real luck bringer, and might be fine to take oath to. Both agreed.

Being the days end, the priest had only the one tunic left, he had been baptising heathens for a week now, and must have done every hairy barbarian and their brazen whores for a hundred miles! Speaking slowly for the simply barbarians, he took his knife from his belt and cut the shirt in two, giving half to each as he explained
“As Christr’s love is infinitly divisible, so is this shirt. For now you are both full brothers in Christ.”

Bragi looked at his half shirt and felt angry. He protested that he had been promised a full shirt for his oath, and he had sworn fully, he expected a full shirt, or he would name the priest and his Christr oathbreakers, and demand settlement from the Thing. Hrolf agreed, stating that his oath was exchanged for a fine white tunic, not a cleaning rag! Give them a shirt each, or be dragged before the Thing and fined or branded as a thief!

The priest had never been spoken to that way, and by half grown barbarians! Raising himself to his full height, he loudly began cursing them in Latin, breaking back into their heathen tongue, to demand they kneel and beg his forgiveness, or suffer god's curse and burn in hellfire. Holding his half shirt in his right hand, Bragi slapped the priest to the ground with his left.
“With only a half shirt, I’m still half-heathen, and will have what I am owed from your hand, or in your hide”, Bragi said reasonably.

The two armed carls drew their swords and charged into the water after the boys. Being soft townsmen, they looked down at the water when they went in, and swung their shields to the side as they ran. When they looked down Hrolf threw his axe, taking one full in the face beneath his steel cap. When the second tripped on the body of his axed friend, Bragi put his axe in the other one's neck with the same swift stroke with which he butchered hogs. They turned on the frightened priest who began to cast curses at them in Latin. Angry at his treachery, the boys dunked him beneath the water until he had finished thrashing. Dragging him to the edge, they planted him face down in the muck, and carefully dropped stones on him, until he stayed down. One cannot be too careful in bogging curse throwing witch men. Retrieving their axes, they dragged the carls to shore, and back onto dry land.

Stripping the mail and fine white tunics off the dead carls, they left the coins in the fighting men’s purses to pay for burial, for they had died like men. Having taken the heavy purse from the dead man-witch of Christr, they decided to see Gudrun before they left. They had money to buy good cloaks from her now, and they would need them where they were going.
They left word at the temple of the Old Gods, placing hands upon the oath-ring that they would return next year with weregild for the dead men or be outlawed for murder. Back to Sven Hammerhand they went, war-gear on their backs, and a song in their heart.

“Hrolf,” said Bragi “We can’t lose! Either we come back from Hammerhand’s voyage rich enough to pay the wergild and still feast on better than porridge as renowned warriors, or we end up gloriously dead someplace and feast with the All-father on something better than porridge!”
“Aye,” said Hrolf ,“and Christr can try his lying ways with Odin if he wants his witchman’s weregild! One-Eye has a hard way with liars. Besides, I think that Frank god must be Loki, not Baldr - anyway; when did the Shining One ever cheat anybody out of half a shirt?”

© John T Mainer

This work by John T Mainer is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License.

The Freyr's Press of the Heathen Freehold Society of BC:
Kindertales and Kindertales 2 by John T Mainer et al.
 

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