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Literature / Half's Saga

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Half's Saga, or more formally the Saga of Half and Half's Heroes (Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka) is an Icelandic saga from c. 1300 CE.

Half's Saga is a family history of the royal dynasty of the Norwegian kingdoms Hordaland and Rogaland, although it does not really have a common theme and may be thought of as a sequence of self-standing tales. The three main parts are the following:

  1. King Hjorleif "the Ladies' Man" likes to marry beautiful women. As he learns, this innocent hobby can be life-threatening, turning him a convert to monogamy.
  2. At age twelve, King Half, son of Hjorleif, decides to assemble the ultimate viking band. Whoever sails with King Half must never show fear, never wince at wounds, and be strong as twelve regular men.
  3. King Half has fallen victim to foul play, but some of Half's Heroes have survived, and many years later succeed in avenging the king and their comrades.
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Can be read online here.


Tropes:

  • Badass Crew: When King Half assembles a crew in order to go sea-raiding, he only takes men who have lifted a certain large stone in the king's courtyard off the ground. He also refuses to take anyone "who got scared […], or who spoke despondently, or who winced at wounds". Only 23 men in all of Half's kingdom meet his requirements, but of those "not one […] had less than twelve times the strength of an average man".
  • Chocolate Baby: In her husband's absence, Queen Hagny of Hordaland gives birth to the twin boys Hamund and Geirmund who turn out to be "black and strikingly ugly". Afraid of her husband's reaction, Hagny swaps the boys with the pretty newborn son of a serving woman. After the switch has been discovered and reversed three years later, their father King Hjor finally accepts his sons, although he gives them the shared nickname Heljarskinn (Hel-skin) on account of their blackness. No explanation is offered for the twins' looks, suggesting that their dark skin is simply a freak of nature.
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  • Dreaming of Things to Come: The night before the banquet at King Asmund's, Half's warrior Innstein has ominous dreams about them being engulfed by flames, then sinking into deep water. He correctly guesses that Asmund plans to burn them to death in the banquet hall, but Half won't listen.
  • Heroic Vow: Half's Heroes set a lot of rules for themselves that are meant to highlight and attest their manliness and to increase their fame. One of these rules is "that none of them should have a sword longer than eighteen inches, so they would be forced to get in close"; another is to never bandage a wound till a whole day has passed. They also pledge themselves to never carry off women or children, and furthermore to never pitch tent on land or awnings on their ship, and to never reef a sail in a storm.
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  • Last Stand: Half and his warriors manage to break out of the Asmund's burning hall and hold out against the overwhelming numbers of Asmund's warriors for an entire day before being cut down.
  • Nasty Party: King Asmund invites his stepson Half and his warriors to a banquet with plenty of alcohol. When they are sleeping fast, he has the exits barred and sets fire to the hall.
  • Portent of Doom: Sailing homeward after marrying Hringja, daughter of King Hreidar of Zealand, Hjorleif observes a giant rising out of the sea who chants a prophecy that predicts the death of Hringja, Hreidar, and Hjorleif's own imprisonment.
  • Switched at Birth: Worried that her husband King Hjor Halfsson could reject her twin sons because of their ugliness (which would result in their exposure), Queen Hagny swaps them with the handsome newborn son of a serving woman. Unfortunately the false prince turns out timid while the twins are aggressive and grow much faster and stronger. When the boys are three years old, the poet Bragi correctly guesses that the prince is fake and that the twins are the true heirs, causing Hagny to come clear and swap them back.

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