Literature / The Saga of the Jomsvikings
aka: Jomsvikinga Saga
"Hailstorm at the Battle of Hjorunga Bay" (Halfdan Egedius, 1899)

"Poorly would I remember the laws of the Jomsvikings if I shrank from death or spoke words of fear. Death comes to every man."

Jómsvíkinga saga, i.e. Saga of the Jomsvikings, is a 13th century Old Norse saga, the author being an anonymous Icelander. It is a fanciful historical adventure set in the 10th century, recalling the days of the vikings.

Its first part is dedicated to the rise of the Knytlings, the Danish royal dynasty that was the first to unite Denmark under their rule and built it into the northern European hegemonial power of the late The Viking Age.

The focus then shifts to a clan of Danish warlords, the descendants of the chieftain Toki, and their long history of both rivalry and collaboration with the Danish kings. King Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson’s ruthless pursuit of unrivalled power leads to a long-smouldering enmity with Toki's clan that only ends when Toki's grandson Palnatoki stirs up a rebellion that overthrows the king and puts Harald's bastard son Svein Forkbeard on the throne.

But when Svein discovers the truth about his father's death, he cuts ties with Palnatoki, and the latter is forced to leave Denmark. A successful commander of viking cruises, he eventually establishes a new base of operations in Vindlandnote , realm of the mighty king Burisleifnote , who cedes the Danish sea-rovers a stretch of coast in the land of Jom, where they build the mighty fortress of Jomsborg.note 

Having become somewhat snobbish by all their victories, Palnatoki and his lot, henceforward known as the Jomsvikings, decide that only the crème de la crème of warriors can join their club, and establish the law of Jomsborg that makes bravery and recklessness mandatory. Applicants arrive from whom Palnatoki picks the captains of Jomsborg – Sigvaldi, Thorkell the Tall, Bui the Stout, Sigurd Cape, and Palnatoki's own grandson Vagn Akason with his veteran mentor, Bjorn the Welshman. Together, they form the most prestigious viking host to ever haunt the seas, and heap up fame and fortune in spades.

King Svein is not exactly enthusiastic about the unchecked power of the Jomsvikings and their lack of proper obedience to the Danish king. When Palnatoki dies and Sigvaldi takes over the leadership, things seem to normalize - only for Sigvaldi’s double-dealing with Svein to fire a new grudge. Eventually, the crafty king devises a scheme to put the Jomsvikings back in their place—tricking them into a brazen undertaking that can only result in glory... or total destruction.

A free translation (pdf file).

Tropes in Jómsvíkinga saga:

  • Anvil on Head: Fully literal the death of Aslak Holmskalle. Played serious (or is it?).
  • Badass Army: The Jomsvikings.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Earl Arnfinn and his sister, the true parents of Knut the Foundling. How anybody could know about this is not explained by the saga.
  • The Berserker: Aslak Holmskalle.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: When there's no hope left, Bui jumps overboard to his death.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: The Battle of Hjorunga Bay is the saga's climax.
  • Black Comedy: Svein Buason tricking one of the Jarl's bodyguards into losing both of his hands. Cruel and horrible ... and funny.
  • Blood Knight: Vagn.
  • Cool Old Guy: Bjorn the Welshman is already an old man by the time of the Battle of Hjorunga Bay, but still renowned for his bravery.
  • Doorstop Baby: Knut, from whom the Knytling dynasty derives its name, is found as a baby in a forest by King Gorm the Childless and adopted as a son by him.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The narrative does neither approve nor condemn the acts committed by the Jomsvikings. The underlying outlook seems to be that the Jomsvikings were bad people, but they got style.
  • Divine Intervention: The goddesses Thorgerd and Irpanote  come to the aid of the Norwegians, summoning an enormous hailstorm in the process.
  • Dragon Hoard: The saga speculates that a sea-serpent seen in Hjorunga Bay is the ghost of Bui, guarding the two chests of gold he took with him to the sea-bottom.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: A whole firework of them.
  • Get It Over With: Several variants of this are spoken by the Jomsvikings about to be executed.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Bui's sword blow cuts the warrior Thorkel Midlong in two.
  • Home Base: Jomsborg, with a pinch of Clown Car Base as some manuscripts make it big enough to accommodate 300 ships.
  • Honor Before Reason: Sigvaldi and the Jomsvikings when they decide to keep the vows they swore while they were wasted, even though they know they have bitten off more than they can chew. Vagn Akason when he refuses to retreat from the Battle of Hjorunga Bay, preferring death or captivity over flight.
  • Human Sacrifice: To ensure the victory over the Jomsvikings, Jarl Hakon sacrifices his own seven-year old son Erling.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Havard the Hewer fights on even with his feet cut off.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: For Svein Buason, Vagn and the few remaining captives.
  • Last Request: One of the doomed Jomsvikings asks to take one last piss. Turns out it's only the set-up for a foul punchline.
  • Losing Your Head: Discussed when a captive Jomsviking suggests he will lift his hand holding a knife if he still can after being beheaded. Interestingly, the thought that his head could still be alive without having control over his body doesn't occur to him.
  • The Low Middle Ages: Semi-historical adventure set in the 10th century.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: Aslak Holmskalle is immune to regular weapons, as berserkers usually are.
  • Nobody Touches the Hair: Svein Buason: "Whose hands are in my hair?"
  • Off with His Head!: What awaits the captured Jomsvikings.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: The Jomsvikings' daily grind.
  • Rain of Arrows: Pours over the Jomsvikings in Hjörunga Bay.
  • Taking You with Me: Vagn Akason and his would-be executioner Thorkel Leira.
  • Warrior Poet: Jarl Hakon's Icelandic skalds Einar Skalaglam, Vigfus Vigaglumsson and Thorleif Skuma.
  • We All Die Someday: Invoked by one of the Jomsvikings led to execution:
    "Poorly would I remember the laws of the Jomsvikings if I shrank from death or spoke words of fear. Death comes to every man."
  • Weather of War: The magical hailstorm that is the Jomsvikings' undoing.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: After sleeping off his inebriation, Sigvaldi can't remember his vow.
  • Where Are They Now: The saga ends with a short summary of what later became of the Jomsviking chiefs that survived Hjorunga Bay.

Alternative Title(s): Jomsvikinga Saga, Saga Of The Jomsvikings