No Score and Seven Years Ago...

October 28, 2011...

I don't remember what time it was, but it was late, probably the wee hours of the morning. I was trying to talk myself into doing something that made me very nervous.

I was going to post the first chapter of a story.


Late in the summer, I'd discovered fanfiction. It came as a shock to discover there were other people out there who rewrote books and movies to give them different endings or send the characters on new adventures. What's more, there was actually a huge community devoted to it... hundreds of thousands of stories.

I'd tentatively posted one a month or so earlier, and to my astonished delight, I had about twelve regular readers. Twelve! And they were reading it willingly! They were so nice about it!

I wasn't sure they'd be so nice about the one I was thinking of posting.

It was... weird. There's just no other way of describing a story that's about an alien with a tail and his kidnapped Earthling bride. Like viral you'll-be-memed-for-eternity kind of mockery. But I'd loved this story since it unfurled itself in my mind, and I wanted to share it. If the internet has taught me anything, it's that there's always someone out there who likes the same kind of stuff you do, even if that stuff is weird stories with heavy-handed allegory, pop-culture references, and geeky Magellan jokes.

I told myself there were hundreds of stories posted every day. It was likely no one would ever read it, but I was kind of charmed by the idea it would be floating around out there in the digital ether, perhaps finding and enchanting a reader someday.

But what if people were mean? I was a sensitive little thing back then. It was one of the reasons I'd never considered typing out one of my stories and submitting it to a publisher. I didn't think I could take cruel criticism or repeated rejections.

I told myself I was prepared. If people were cruel, I had an exit plan. Delete everything. Vanish into the void. No one would ever know. (I didn't even tell the people closest to me that I was writing, so I was pretty confident my real life and secret writing life would never intersect.) It would be like I never existed. I'd delete my account, and never return to any fanfiction site, thus avoiding any discussion or reviews.

I must have stared at the screen for an hour before I hit the "post chapter" button. I decided to back out of this whole stupid idea. But my finger hovered over the red X the same way it had the "post" button. I just couldn't click it.

A story isn't alive until it's read, after all. And I wanted so badly to let this one out into the world, albeit as anonymously as I could to shield my sensitive little self, but still... to let it exist in other people's imaginations.

It was like standing on the edge of a pool, knowing that first plunge will be an icy shock and trying to steel yourself to do it, because maybe it won't be so bad once you're in the water.

I finally reached up and punched the "post" button before I could talk myself out of it again. I switched off of the office light and went to bed, telling myself it wouldn't be a big deal and I was worrying myself for nothing.

It actually did become kind of a big deal. It's the reason my publisher contacted me to see if I'd want to write a book. But that's another post for another day.

Today, I find myself in the midst of indecision again. My publisher has closed and while I have other stories to tell, I don't know what to do with them. I'd rather be with a publishing house, but I don't want to have to go through the submissions process/rejection, so self-publishing is probably my best option, but it's a lot of work. So, I'm hovering with my finger over the button, still trying to talk myself into making a decision. (Which, frankly, is a trait which argues against self-publishing being a good option for me, but that's also another post for another day.)

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The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "Moments of Vision"

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fifth season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: This was a beautiful, complex episode, easily the best of the season. As I was watching, I was wondering how in the world I would describe it in our chat because the structure of it makes a narrative description so difficult. It was a visual feast, and words are poor substitutes at times.

Sandi: Oh, yes. A wonderful episode. One of those you want to watch immediately after just to get the nuances. I know I will probably be enjoying it more than once in the break before Season Five, Part Tveir. History Channel could have done all the emotional stuff before the battle and then gone on to the horrors of war—but they've been there, done that (very well), and took it a step further. The bloodshed was more poignant when contrasted with the moments spent before in the immediate way in which they were presented. 

Lissa: This episode was about a huge battle between Lagertha’s forces and the combined forces of Ivar, Harald, and the men Rollo sent to assist his nephews. But amid the chaotic and terrible scenes of battle were beautiful and touching scenes that happened before its start. The only way I can describe it without driving our readers mad is to discuss what happened to each set of characters. Because this really was about relationships, in the end.

Sandi: And that is really a profound truth to this and any other part of history, really. There are huge issues in the world but they are determined largely due to relationships people have with one another, as individuals or as groups. And this episode shows how touching and devastating that can be. 

Lissa: The episode had a “cold open” dropping right into the action before the credits and Halfdan and Harald are singing the same war ballad on the opposing sides of the field. Their haunting voices wove through a montage of pre-battle scenes. It ended with a raven looking out over the ground where the battle will play out.

Sandi: Loved the opening. I am a huge fan of dropping a viewer/reader in where the action is happening. The brothers' war song has been part of their presence since we met them, seasons ago. It has always been haunting, the notes alone telling of the strength and pathos of battle, and this was never more evocative than it was in this episode. And the raven? Oh yeah. First episode, season one, Ragnar. I will always think of him when I see a raven and I did in this episode as well. 

Lissa: Lagertha meets with Heahmund. She tells him this may be the last time they meet, for if they die, he’ll go off to his Christian heaven and she will go to Valhalla. She thinks this may be the day she dies. He tells her he doesn’t intend to die today, and she is amused that he still believes he gets to choose whether he lives or dies. She asks him to kiss her and after he does, she says, “Now I can die.”
Sandi: This moment still puzzles me. I don't doubt that Lagertha and Heahmund shared "a moment" (or however many). I don't doubt that a woman who has been greatly loved and then lost the love of her life can find passion and satisfaction in a new relationship. But if she were going to say this to anyone, I would have thought it would have been Joan Jett, not Bishop Heahmund. As quickly as they drew together, we the viewers were not privy to the varied nuances of a relationship that might seem to lead to a "and now I can die" kind of statement. Unless, of course, it was merely just something she said to him, since she couldn't say it to another. 

Lissa: We see her say this line in several different tones throughout the episode. “Now I can die.” This one sounds wistful and almost fatalistic, but when she utters it on the battlefield, it sounds fierce and powerful.

Sandi: Which, really, is much more like her. Fierce and powerful have always been adjectives which applied to Lagertha and it was good to see them so evident in battle. Lagertha is, first and last, a shield maiden. 

Lissa: Hvitserk talks with Ivar in camp.

Sandi: Ivar is . . . a cunning fellow. A manipulative man, first, last, and always.  

Lissa: Ivar asks him if he has any regrets, and Hvitserk says he regrets he hasn’t had any children, but in that regard, he and Ivar are the same. Ivar says he will have many children, so many children that they will populate the earth. There’s a dude with ambition. He was Duggar-ing before Duggar-ing was cool.

Sandi: And yet, for all his braggadocio, Ivar left no known descendants. Here, I truly believe, he was either boasting of his non-existent sex life to his more, er, able brother or he was doing his usual one-upmanship thing. He has never viewed Hvitserk as an equal. 

Lissa: Hvitserk laughs at that, and he thinks Ivar is laughing along with him until Ivar grabs him and puts a knife to his throat. He says Hvisterk has doubted that he’d made the right choice to get off Ubbe’s ship and join Ivar. He doubts Hvitserk ever loved him. Hvitserk tries to plead, and Ivar relents, saying he’s sorry, he’s nervous about the battle. Harald interrupts and says the drums have sounded for battle.
Sandi: Why Ivar decided that just before battle was the time to disconcert his brother is beyond me. Unless, of course, he did so with the wish to have his brother fall. Which wouldn't surprise me. Hvitserk is a son of Ragnar and, though he might be a "dog" to Ivar, he is also an older brother and that matters. 

Lissa: In the battle, he is injured, and we see him think back to the moment he climbed off Ubbe’s ship. Ubbe spots him in the midst of the fighting and he makes his way over. He lifts his sword and swings it at Hvitserk with a scream, but stops the blade at his brother’s throat. He can’t do it. He can’t kill him. Hvitserk looks almost disappointed when Ubbe strides away.

Sandi:  You mentioned, last night, that Ubbe didn't give Hvitserk the honor of a fight, here. This could be construed that way, yes. But I think that, for Ubbe, he can't kill his brother and though Hvitserk may have, at that juncture, welcomed the opportunity for battle, he is left standing as if he weren't worthy of one. Which was not, I don't think, Ubbe's intention. 

Ivar, I think Ubbe might have been able to kill. Maybe. 

Lissa: Torvi runs across the battlefield screaming when she sees her son Guthrum take an ax to the chest at Hvitserk’s hands, but it’s too late. He falls and Hvitserk reaches out to almost touch a weeping Torvi’s cheek.

Sandi: This was so, so sad, I think. Guthrum, Torvi's firstborn, dying right in front of her. I thought it was him or his memory (?) that reached out to touch his mother. I told you, I really have to watch this episode a few times! 

Lissa: I thought she would die at that moment, too, but the battle resumes, and Hvitserk turns to strike down another enemy. Björn runs over and crouches over his dead stepson. He tells the boy that now he’ll be dining with his Valhalla.

Sandi: One kind of wishes Ubbe had been able to summon the intestinal fortitude to at least wound his brother in order to prevent this death. If, indeed, it was preventable. Björn's dash to say his farewell was good to see, simply because he was there to do it. Which may be weird, but at this point, his firstborn died when he was gone, and his other children were in the questionable care of a woman no one likes. Probably not even her husband. 

Lissa: Joan Jett is painted bright blue on the sides of her cheeks for battle, but her expression is far bluer.

Sandi: And this is the part where I'm thinking, Okay, so, here is where we find out why there was a Joan Jett character. Even in the still image above, we can see the emptiness of her expression. She is clearly distancing herself from her caring spouse here and the viewer just knows something bad is going to happen. 

Lissa: Harald asks her to share her sorrows with him, but she says she can’t. Harald points to his hair, and tells her to cut it. She’s surprised, because he said he would only cut it – “Cut it if I married the woman of my dreams,” he interrupts. “And I have.

She cuts the long braid and holds it to her lips.

Sandi: Clearly, Harald is doing everything in his power, just before the battle, to ease the heart of his wife. Reminding her of how important she is to him, kneeling before her, asking her to cut his braid—all these things bespeak his wish to please. That she is so emotionally unresponsive (for all her braid-kissing) is kind of wrenching. At least, it is for me. Peter Franzén is a wonderful actor. 

Lissa: Halfdan talks with Björn. He tells him he has a connection with his brother, but he owes Björn greater loyalty. Björn took him on an incredible adventure. He gave his life meaning – showed him that life was more than fighting for worthless glory against his own Viking brothers - and Halfdan will always be grateful for that. If he dies today, he’s fine with that. He says he’s ready for Valhalla.

Sandi: Halfdan certainly emerged fully from his brother's shadow over this season. That he found so much meaning in his relationship with Björn—bromantic as it all was—was a bit of a surprise perhaps, but there is no doubting the man's sincerity.

Lissa: Later, Halfdan is on the battlefield when suddenly, everything goes quiet. He sees the churning field around him empty, and then it turns into the deserts of Africa. He bends down and picks up a handful of sand, which sifts through his fingers and becomes the soil of Kattegat again.

Sandi: This bit of the Other Side as seen in Halfdan's psyche was intriguing. He envisions the desert—not because it is arid and empty, but because it was where he grew strong, I think, in himself.  

Lissa: He turns and sees Harald standing there. Harald says he didn’t want to have to kill him, and then brings his sword down on Haldfan, hacking him where the shoulder meets the neck. As Halfdan falls, Harald tenderly cradles him and says he’ll meet him in Valhalla.
Sandi: Harald did what Ubbe couldn't, here. He met his brother who had chosen the opposition and cut him down. Looking him in the eye, with a clean stroke. .It was brutal, but honest, and both brothers understood that it would have happened. Harald loves his brother; you can see that. But he loves more than his brother. This relationship, though important, did not cause him to veer from his greater cause. His greater vision, perhaps, with a bow to the episode's title. 

Lissa: Princess Snuffles has a tender moment with Björn, snuggled up against his chest.

Sandi: Looking at the picture in this post, they could have been at Woodstock in 1969, listening to a ballad or something. But no, this couple is preparing to separate, with the keen understanding that life can be brutal and abrupt, so they are taking what they can and giving what they can to each other in silence, here. 

So much of their relationship—such as it was—was without deep conversation before the audience at home. We lack a connection with the pair of them, though Björn will likely always have a home in our Viking fandom-heart. 

Lissa: After they’ve dressed for battle and she’s adorned her face with streaks of black paint so she can blend in with the trees, he nestles his nose against her neck.
Sandi: The sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to memory, I have read. In this way, he draws her in, to keep her near. 

Lissa: She goes with her father into the forest where they blend in with the trees, waiting for a band of Vikings on the crest of the hill. When they start down, to the sound of war drums, the Sami hit them with a round of darts. But the men swarm down and overwhelm them. Snuffles’ dad falls first, and then she is slain. When Björn finds her body after the battle, he weeps over her, stroking her face.
Sandi: The cinematography, here, was more moving for me than the deaths were, alas. I enjoyed the angles and lighting. It was sad, yes, that Björn lost another loved one, but as you said in your tweet, Lissa, we hardly knew Princess Snuffles ourselves. 

Lissa: Margrethe walks into the creek that borders Kattegat. Around her, she sees the bodies of those on the battlefield floating. She turns the bodies over and recognizes faces. She lifts one from the water and walks out with it in her arms. It turns into a log as she strides from the water toward Torvi’s children.

She lays the wood at their feet and tells them that “This one is dead. Soon they’ll all be dead. All of them fighting.”

Sandi: Margrethe's visions are disconcerting. She is obsessed and it shows in her mental wanderings. Her focus on Torvi's children, on their losing their mother to death, on all kinds of negativity makes one uneasy and I had to wonder if anyone could see that, in Kattegat. Did no one keep an eye on the kids? 

Well, Margrethe wanted answers, so she went to find them. No holds barred.

Lissa: She goes in to visit the Seer. He is sitting askew in a pile of robes, and his voice is very faint.
Sandi: At this point, we estimate twenty-five years or so have come and gone since we met the Seer in the first place. He was pretty old then, for a Norseman. By the time Margrethe consults him? He's gotta be ancient. Still, he must command respect. At least from some. 

Lissa: She asks him if he knows her, and he says, “Yes, Margrethe, slave woman.”

Sandi: Oh, yeah. The murmurings on twitter last night were all mentioning this. Insulting, as Dee Donuts says below. Dismissive. Belittling. We all liked it because no one likes her. Does anyone in the fandom? 

Lissa: She asks him if Ubbe will be king of Kattegat and if she will be queen and both times he says a curt ”No.”
Sandi: If there was anyone, anywhere who didn't comprehend that Margrethe was only in it for the status? I'm guessing they are no longer deceived. 

Lissa: She tells him she has Torvi’s children in her custody and if she kills them, Ubbe will be closer to the crown. He tells her she’s insane, and she’s dismissive.

Sandi: The callousness of her suggestion regarding killing the children was appalling. It's like she has a checklist and she's going to ask all her questions, tick off all her boxes, whether they be lives or positions or even rationality. 

Lissa: She asks him again about Ubbe being a king, and he says, “Because you asked if he’d be king of Kattegat.” She doesn’t pursue this interesting line of questioning, and that’s regrettable because it opens a lot of possibilities. Ubbe will be a king, but not king of Kattegat, and she will not be the queen (she didn’t specify a location when she asked about being a queen.)

Sandi: I haven't seen anything in history indicating that Ubbe Ragnarsson was a king, though he is noted as a battle leader in the Great Army. (Guthrum, in history, was apparently alive and campaigning with Ubbe in the middle of the 9th Century in Wessex.)

Lissa: Later, we see Torvi arrive home and she sees Margrethe standing in the doorway, her hair tangled down around her arms. “Where are my children?” Torvi asks. Margrethe gives her a slow, chilling grin. Torvi repeats the question and then draws her sword. Margrethe retreats into her bedroom and Torvi follows, her blade extended, but as soon as she enters the room, she sees the little ones sitting by the wall and grabs them into hugs.

Sandi: Oh, I was SO relieved to see that the children were alive and well. I mean, they probably have Our Babysitter was a Troll! stories to tell Torvi and Björn in the future, but hey, at least they can tell them. The suspense created by careful scene framing and the movement into the rooms in question was well handled by the director and film crew. 

Lissa: Lagertha is fighting on the battlefield. At one point, we see something I’ve never seen before in film or television and is best described in the following Tweet.
Sandi: This is a clear example of using what is at hand to accomplish a task, yeah? 

Lissa: Uh huh. That happened. I’m just going to quietly back away from that one.

Sandi: I think everyone will join you. 

Lissa: Anyhoo, the moment changes when she sees a vision of herself as a young girl. Little Lagertha runs across the battlefield to a man plowing a field. She cries to her father that she’s frightened. He crouches down and smiles at her and hands her his own necklace, a Thor’s hammer. He tells her to never be afraid because Thor will always protect her. We saw her kiss this same necklace in the opening scene with Heahmund.

Sandi: This scene was charming, for all its brevity. Seeing Little Lags, there, in such a comforting moment was healing in the midst of an episode rife with bloodshed. The gift of an amulet of Mjøllnir was precious and that Lagertha still has it speaks of its importance to her, at a time that she deems pivotal. 

Lissa: Joan Jett appears. “You have to kill me!” she cries. Lagertha asks her why, and Joan Jett first says unless Lagertha kills her, that she and Harald will kill Lagertha. Lagertha assures her that she knows Joan Jett didn’t betray her, that Joan Jett loves her. Joan Jett cries that she cannot bear this child. “Child?” Lagertha whispers; she didn’t know of Joan Jett’s pregnancy.

Sandi: Was this Joan Jett's plan all along? To confront Lagertha, if she couldn't fight at her side, to get her former lover to kill her? To bring up a child to Lagertha, of all people, was either thoughtless (an entire possibility, given the time and circumstances) or calculated for effect. As I don't personally deem Joan Jett to be the most effective strategist, I just have to figure she didn't consider what effect her words might have. 

Lissa: The battle is raging on around them, but it’s as though they’re the only two people there. The view shifts briefly to show that around them, people are dying in hideous fashion, but returns right back to them. “You have to kill me!” Joan Jett cries and rushes toward Lagertha’s extended blade.

Sandi: This was a beautiful moment, though it was fatal and devastating to the characters.  

Lissa: Impaled upon it, Joan Jett falls, and Lagertha cradles her on the ground as she bleeds out and dies. “May Freya lift you up and take you gently to her hall.”

Sandi: Lagertha was shocked, but she went with Joan Jett's wishes. I wonder if she would  have responded differently if approached in a non-battle setting? 

Lissa: We had a brief discussion about this last night. Brief because so much was happening in the episode that it was hard to keep up. You suggested it might be because Joan Jett didn’t want to bear a child that might be the result of gang rape instead of Harald’s.
Sandi: I still tend to side with the "gang rape" angle for her, here. Though she could have found a way to end the pregnancy without ending her life (possibly) such procedures/treatments would have whispered their ways back to Harald, to deleterious effect. Dying in battle, or at the scene of one, anyway, carries more honor and disguises her wish to end the pregnancy. 

She was not stupid, for all her lack of wisdom. Marrying a man and then having apparently enthusiastic sex with him, without any method of birth control available (one presumes), she had to know pregnancy was a possibility when she made her marriage oath. So if she had not been assaulted, the pregnancy might not have been the traumatic thing it was, to her. Such a horrible attack could well have made her wish for death, which led to her seeking it from Lagertha's hand on a field of war. 

Lissa: And then a quiet moment comes. We see Floki’s True Believers building a boat grave for Eyvind’s son. He tells him gently that this new world cannot repeat the cycle of vengeance and violence that rent their homeland asunder. Floki tells him he knows Eyvind’s pain. He, too, has lost a child – his only child. And then shortly thereafter Helga died, and it destroyed his world. But this is not the way. They must be better people. He offers Eyvind the position of lovsigeman, or “law-giver.” He tells Eyvind that it will give him the power and status he’s been craving.
Sandi: Yeah. Consolation prize behind burnt temple number one. Or something. Not well-considered, from where I sit, but I do believe, sincerely, that Floki was seeking to bring peace from violence. 

Lissa: But peace is not achieved so easily. Aud runs to fetch Floki and show him something. It turns out to be the body of Thorgrim, drowned in one of the hot springs.
Sandi: I have to wonder where they're going with the Iceland story, here. Their numbers, small to begin with, have dwindled significantly. And, of course, no farms. But, back to relationships... 

Lissa: Floki has to tell Ketjil that his son is dead. In front of Thor’s burnt temple, Floki tells the people that they’ve failed. They acted like humans when the gods had given them a chance to rise above. Something drastic has to be done to atone for this and perhaps persuade the gods to give them another chance. A sacrifice must be made. Floki offers himself to be that sacrifice as everyone gasps.

Sandi: And I get it. Floki is devout. He sees his life and current mission as blatant offerings to his gods. So when a life is required, his should be the one offered. Even if he is the notional leader, the inspiration. Even if there might be a more concrete/practical solution.

Lissa: Do you remember in the early seasons when Floki tried to offer himself as a sacrifice? One was called for and when no one immediately volunteered, Floki looked around and then made to stand up, but Helga put her hand gently on his chest and shook her head.

Sandi: He's consistent, and one must give him credit for being that way. Even if some of his methods are at odds with practicality. 

Lissa: We return to the battlefield. Ivar gives an awesome speech in Norse to his troops. “We will not die as old men in our beds! We are bound for Valhalla!”

He speaks of how victory is much sweeter when it’s difficult to attain, slapping the shields of his men who roar with approval.

As they prepare to charge, Ivar spots Heahmund fighting for Lagertha. For a moment, I genuinely felt sorry for him, but as always with Ivar, pain became rage.

Sandi: Their nonverbal communication has always been eloquent. Even here.

Lissa: Ivar also sees Lagertha, but through his eyes, she’s fighting skeletons – fighting men who are already dead, as I interpreted it. She turns and looks at Ivar, then points her sword at him. He sends in the troops, along with Rollo’s army.

Spotting this huge horde, Heahmund shouts for their army to retreat. Lagertha stops fighting and runs with them.

Sandi: "He who fights and runs away . . . lives to fight another day." I can't remember where, but I read that once upon a time. Retreat to homes and families might not grant immediate entrance into Valhalla, but it does bring strength and comfort.

And frustration lacing the victory with those left on the field.

Lissa: Behind the lines, Ivar lounges against the hill. “Come on, Lagertha,” he murmurs. “Come fight with me.”

Sandi: And here is the thing with this half of the season. Ivar's driving desire has been to avenge the death of Aslaug by slaying Lagertha. Personally, one presumes. And here, at the midseason finale, she evades his sword. 

All that drive and determination . . . is left to simmer in the angry heart of a young man while we wait for the second half of the season later this year. 

Lissa: Back in the Kattegat hall Björn is telling people to pack up to leave. Ivar will be here soon to celebrate his victory. The camera pans over and we see Lagertha, sitting against the wall. Her hair has turned white, and her face is haggard and blank. She is a broken, defeated woman.

Sandi: Truly, if Björn hadn't said what he did about Ivar's presumed victory celebration, we might have concluded that one of the famous/infamous time-jumps had occurred between one scene and the next. Lagertha is defeated, as you said, with a thousand-yard stare that sees only yesterday.

Lissa: We talked a bit about what did it… what was the final straw that broke Lagertha’s indomitable spirit. Joan Jett’s death? The loss of Kattegat?
Sandi: I think it was the loss of everything more than "only" the loss of Joan Jett. That death might have been the one to make her retreat, but it wasn't the only loss suffered. She has had a lifetime of loss, really. Or perhaps she felt that Joan Jett's demand for death at her hands was, after all, a betrayal. By a woman she had loved and considered a friend, if nothing else. And Lagertha had, as she stated often, been betrayed many times.

The "straw that breaks the camel's back" is a figure of speech, but it's an accurate description for many who develop that stare into yesterday. 

Boats row toward Kattegat and sitting in one of them is Rollo, Duke of Normandy. His features are downcast and he looks sad and defeated himself.

Sandi: Well, he's been away from us for quite some time, but the Duke of Normandy has had his own trials and burdens as he's carved a niche out for himself. Normandy is, remember, a way to say Land of the Northmen. Vikings' Land. Has he worn that appellation with pride or derision? Has he had to prove himself over and again to family and the court of the Franks? 

All of this is likely, yet he came after the battle. Was he sent for or did he come of his own volition? 
So many questions! I am very much looking forward to the second half of this season. 

And as soon as I know when that is, I'll make sure to tweet about it. :) 

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next season for our continuing series!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4
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The #ShieldGeeks Review #VIKINGS "A Simple Story"

“100% more evisceration talk than expected.”

“These chicks are machines!” 

By elithanathile on Tumblr

Heillir! The Shieldmaidens of History (Protecting the Innocent from Anachronisms) welcome you back to our series on the History Channel show Vikings. 

We—Lissa Bryan and Sandi Layne—are two historical fiction authors with a serious thing for Vikings. And for VIKINGS, the amazing series that is going to begin its fifth season on HISTORY CHANNEL.

Follow us on twitter, #ShieldGeeks where and Sandi and I will be live-tweeting during each episode, as has been our custom since Season One. We follow up with a more detailed discussion on our websites the following day.

We are SO excited! So, Warriors and Shieldmaidens all, get your weapons and armor ready, because it’s going to be an amazing season!


Historical fiction author Sandi Layne is with me again to discuss the historical aspects of the show. Sandi has written her own series on Vikings, both well-written and carefully researched. (You can read my review of the third book in the trilogy, Éire's Devil Kinghere.)

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Lissa: The episode opened with the aftermath of the battle. There are still bodies scattered on the field. Lagertha walks through her camp and we see that she’s wearing a tunic and vest over a pair of pants. In silhouette, it looks like something a modern college girl would wear in the fall. When the camera zoomed in on her, we all stared at the blue … pleather… sleeves she was wearing. It was obviously meant to resemble leather, but leather that thin and shiny and bright blue wasn’t really a thing in the Viking era.

Sandi: The post-battle scene was particularly effective, in my opinion, by the wonderful job History Channel did in portraying the battle itself in the prior episode. And due to our recent dissatisfaction with some of the costuming and cosmetic issues in the show, I really appreciated seeing the authenticity in the "average Viking ensemble" presented here. The rough weaves, the uneven edges, the layers of woven wool. Colorful, yes, but that wasn't so hard with textiles. 

Lissa:  Sandi, you researched leather dying for this episode. What did you come up with? We talked briefly about how it was difficult to achieve vibrant colors in textiles, let alone leather, because dyes were plant-based.

Sandi: Coloring textiles was largely a matter of repetition, once a suitable color had been achieved. Different plants—and parts of the same plant, too!—could be boiled down, salts or other additions included—and the spun yarns of wool or flax (linen) would be saturated with the color. Dry, soak, repeat. 

Leather, though, is a very different thing. Leather would have to be worked and tanned to the desired suppleness. A lighter leather would require some form of bleaching, which often involved ammonium (derived from stale urine in most cases). Then the leather would be rinsed and wrung to remove excess water before dying. THEN was the tricky part. Especially with blue! Medieval records indicate that the leather was "passed through" water that had alum dissolved in it. Alum—what we now believe to be aluminum sulphate —was the most common mordant used when a dye required it.

 A mordant is a chemical fixative used to help bind the dye to the material being colored. Alum, though the most common, was difficult to acquire. It had to be rendered by various means from other ores or minerals, combined with the dye, and then boiled into it to make it one before the leather would have been passed through the treated water. At this time of history, the chemical was most commonly brought to Europe through North Africa or Asia, along the silk routes. This made it costly, so it wasn't often used. 

And though the Vikings did indeed have blue clothes, the blue would have been mostly common among the textiles, where it would have faded, certainly, but not as readily as it would with leather. 

All of which is to say, Lagertha's blue leather? Probably not a thing in 9th Century Nordweg. Even black leather required a lot of work if it needed to be dyed to achieve that color. All leather dying required a lot of work and chemical fixatives. And even then, if the leather were improperly tanned, the dying wouldn't hold.  

Lissa: Anyway, Boot Sole File Sleeves aside, Lagertha is talking to Torvi, who is caring for Heahmund. She tells her that Heahmund will survive his wound. Heahmund is awake, and he looks pretty good for a guy somewhat-mortally wounded just a day or so previously.

He and Lags chat about the gods, life and death, and then there’s an odd segue into sexuality as Heahmund tries to explain agape love to her, but makes it sound like bisexuality. Whether intentionally or not, it’s hard to say. I guess without the word “Platonic” being in common parlance, it might be a little more difficult to explain the concept.

Sandi: This was indeed an odd scene. I see both Lagertha and Heahmund trying for dominance of one sort or another, here, while also endeavoring to be civil, show—ahem—interest, and leave a door open for further discussions. Heahmund wants to be on the good side of the Chick in Charge, clearly, for more than one reason. Some of his reasons are undoubtedly more earthy than others, but one cannot discount his spiritual foundations here, even so. Lagertha is intrigued—she carries fond memories of another priest, I imagine—and her curiosity is piqued. Besides she can afford to be generous. Maybe getting to know this priest will give her insight to her enemy, Ivar. 

Lissa: Harald is upset about losing the battle. Ivar lays on a bench in his hall as Harald tells him that he will never be fooled again by tales of Ivar’s brilliance at strategy.

Sandi: Harald is a lot more polite than he might have been, here, but then he is a man in his own hall, and that lends weight to his words. Or it should. With Ivar, it is hard to tell, at this point.

Lissa: Ivar says Harald approved the plan. Hvitserk suggests they contact Uncle Rollo and ask for assistance because Rollo said to him before he departed that if they ever needed assistance, all they had to do was ask. Ivar says Hvitserk should leave in the morning.

Sandi: We remarked during the episode that Hvitserk couldn't have been all that old when last he saw Uncle Rollo. Hvitserk is about twenty-one at this point in the story, and he probably saw his father's brother a decade ago. Did the lad truly remember his uncle's words or was he scavenging his memory for the sole purpose of having a place, here?I don't know, but his eagerness to go indicates he was very keen on carving a Hvitserk-niche for himself, however temporary.  

Lissa: Joan Jett is in her bedroom when Harald comes in. She looks introspective.

Sandi: I imagine, if she is learning wisdom at all during her sojourn as queen, that she has to be exhausted by putting on a face that is not suited to her. No wonder she appears introspective. 

Lissa: He asks her what she’s thinking about… their child? She says she’s always thinking of her child. She requests that if they’re ever at war again, he not restrain her from going in to fight. She says she wants her unborn babe to hear the cries of battle.

Sandi: Still chuckling about your tweet, Lissa!  

Lissa: We mentioned again last night that despite the way their relationship began, Harald has treated Joan Jett with great respect and consideration. He’s done everything he could to make her feel like a fully engaged partner in ruling their kingdom. No one could fault his post-marriage behavior, by the standards of the day. Hey, even by modern standards, he’s being a pretty good husband!
Sandi: He's really a good husband. Seeing as how he does eventually become the first King of Norway in actual fact, it's nice to have something good here about him rather than our first rapine impressions. *sigh* Also, Harald is showing restraint. Kingship has, in one way or another, been long on his shoulders and he carries it easily at this juncture. 

Lissa: Ubbe, in his own bedroom, is talking to Torvi. He says he regrets marrying Margrethe. She is much more ambitious than he thought. Torvi is concerned and says she left her children in Margrethe’s care. Ubbe tells her he’s confident Margethe won’t harm them. But he wishes that Torvi was the one carrying his child.

Sandi: I do feel for Ubbe. I do. He married Margrethe because it was a symbol of "I got her and all of you wanted her!" Not uncommon, that feeling, perhaps, but his reasons for matrimony were hardly high. And marrying a former was beneath his stature as a prince, as well, which seems to be a theme in this series among the Ragnarssons. At least sometimes. That he is disappointed and complaining to another woman—one who is probably a bit older, has proven herself to be stable and mature and fertile and willing—is unsurprising. They'd do well together . . . if they're allowed to, that it. Which I tend to doubt. 

Lissa: Lagertha is told that a huge number of ships have arrived to assist Harald carrying more warriors than can be counted.

The scene is interspersed with them arriving in Harald’s home city. Frankish troops march down the street as Ivar smiles in satisfaction.

Sandi: Hvitserk looks so smug, here, and I was reminded of boys watching soldiers at a parade when I saw him and Ivar smiling at the Frankish troops.  

Lissa: Rollo has been contacted by Hvitserk and sent soldiers to assist in Ivar’s fight against Lagertha. Rollo himself has not come – too many responsibilities. But he sent his support. Hvitserk, who was the one who went on the mission to contact Rollo, tells Ivar that Rollo had one condition – that Ivar spare Björn’s life. Ivar smiles and says he’ll consider it.

Sandi: Rollo was certainly very busy . . . BUT. If he had more fully supported Hvitserk and/or Ivar, he could have made time to accompany his forces, if not fight with them. Rollo, at this juncture, is likely in his late 50's/early 60's, and would have been beyond his fighting years, but his presence would have lent consequence to his sending of the troops. And there were many ships, yes, but not as many as there might have been. A politic move for the Duke of Normandy at this juncture, to be sure. Yes, he helped, but no, he didn't lend total support by his presence. He can then claim to be "for" all of his nephews, as he asked for the life of Björn to be spared.

Lissa: Björn says to his mother that he has to go and try to talk to his brothers, and so we see him travel to speak with Ivar, seated at a long table while Ivar lounges on the floor.

Lissa: Björn says for the sake of his father’s legacy, they shouldn’t waste their people’s lives. Ivar says – quite correctly, to be honest – that Björn is only there because of the size of the force that’s gathering against him. He asks if Björn is frightened. Björn says he’s not and at a signal, Ivar has men rush forward to assassinate him.

Harald jumps to his feet and shouts for them to stop. “This is not how we handle this!” he yells. Tell that Jarl Ingstad and the cat-killing Kalf, dawg. But Ivar calls them off.

Sandi: Consider that it likely took three to five days for a ship to sail one way to Normandy to begin with, another day or three for the "Hi, Uncle, how's it going?" conversations to happen, with perhaps an introduction or two along the way. Then another few days to get back with the troops. Anywhere from nine days to perhaps a fortnight has passed since Ivar sent his brother on his errand. I mention this because so many things are happening that some sort of window is helpful.

Harald seems genuinely unhappy with Ivar at this point, too. His dissatisfaction with Mister Tactician has had a chance to fester in the intervening weeks, I imagine. 

Lissa: Floki’s True Believers are working on a temple to Thor, but Eyvind’s family is still causing trouble. He believes Floki has begun this settlement to make himself into a king. Floki, for his part, tells Ketjil that Eyvind’s plan is to stir up trouble and make himself the leader from the chaos.

Sandi: First thing that struck me, here, was how much wood was being used. And did you see the carving of Thor? From my admittedly hasty research, the forests of Iceland were largely birch. A good tree, certainly, for building and fires and survival, but it doesn't lend itself to the large-scale statue-carving that was shown here. There is evidence for prehistoric pine in Iceland, but that's . . . well, a long time ago. The True Believers (some, anyway) argued that building a temple before homes was not a wise move and I am inclined to agree with them.

On a side note, there is now a temple to Thor in Iceland, 1000 years after the nation identified itself as Christian. See this article at 

Lissa: Eyvind’s son, Bul, gets in a verbal spat with another settler who mocks him and calls him “Bul the Dog.” It turns into a fight.

Sandi: First thing I thought when I heard that was "he's a bulldog!" Which, honestly, kinda worked for me, you know? So, as was discussed by Ketjil and Floki earlier, this was an attempt to start trouble and, here, trouble was largely averted. 

For a while. Then the temple is completed and things change. 

Lissa: Her face painted a pasty white and her head bedecked with a crown of sticks, Aud begins the ceremony to dedicate the temple.

Sandi: The color on Aud's face could have been many things. White clay, ash from fires, almost anything could have been used. The coloring helped to make her anonymous, in a way. Her own features disguised so she could function as a priestess and represent the people, not just herself. 

Lissa: Goats are sacrificed and their blood runs down into a cup. The Believers pass the cup around, each taking a sip, until Bul strides up and grabs it. He flicks some blood in his friend’s face. The others chide him for blaspheming the temple and demand he return the cup. The man he fought with steps up and demands the cup and Bul flings it in his face. Floki is enraged by this blasphemy and draws his blade back to strike, but he stays his hand when Aud cries out, realizing the holy ground he stands upon. He drops the ax and runs away.
Sandi: So, yeah. The communion service, here, is interrupted in a purposefully disrespectful manner. The target had to be Floki, at the heart, as he would not be able to stand for any disrespect to his gods. This turned out to be effective. And did you see Floki when the carved statue fell from its fiery height? Floki fell as well, to his knees. In fear of retribution or in sorrow at what had happened, I don't know. 

Lissa: Heahmund limps through Lagertha’s camp until he comes up to the woman herself. She asks him what he’s doing, and he says he wants to talk to her. About what, she asks, once she has him inside her tent. About everything, Heahmund says with enthusiasm. Life, death, the afterlife, fate, everything. He says he thinks she has some of the answers, and considering the circumstances, the timing is urgent. She asks him why that is and he says it’s because they’re going to fight again. That’s what she wants, isn’t it, for him to fight at her side? She asks him if that’s what he wants, and boy howdy, does he lay it on thick. He wants to fight for her, to die for her.

Sandi: He really brings all the lines, as Dee Donuts says. This Heahmund is not necessarily acting as his historical self would have, but Michael Hirst is giving us a later-in-life-ish sexual interest between two charismatic characters, I think. (Thankfully, this is not a graphic display at present.) Personally, I adore wordplay and even if it does require boots to step around, it's amusing.

Lissa: Lags says how can he know this after only having just met her, and Heahmund declares that he’s known her his entire life. Lagertha asks if he wants to sin a bit more and then blows out the candle.

Sandi: Left me wondering if there was a deleted scene in here, somewhere. 

Lissa: I’m honestly not sure what Heahmund’s game is, here. I’ll buy that he’s attracted to her, because what man wouldn’t be, but I don’t think he’s being sincere about falling instantly and passionately in love with her, ready to sacrifice his life and honor, nor as receptive to her beliefs as he makes it appear. I suppose he’s of the opinion that a vow made to a heathen is worthless, but it would be nice to see some of his thought process here. And if he thinks Lagertha is a silly little woman who’s easily fooled by a man’s sweet words, he has another think coming!

Sandi: I believe that Heahmund is using ALL his talents to get on her good side. He wants to stay alive, as he's said. He's definitely attracted to her and, as she's a beautiful pagan woman who feels no guilt over what she does (per their earlier odd conversation after the battle) he likely feels he can explore that a bit more. Ahem. Additionally, as a bishop, he has already shown his efforts to introduce the matters of his faith in amongst the heathen as he did with Ivar. I tend to think he's hoping for that as well, him being the conflicted fellow he is. I don't think he finds Lagertha foolish; he's impressed by her. Might he have underestimated her? Oh, I'm sure he has on one level of another; she's a rather outstanding sort of woman. 

Lissa: Back home in Kattegat, Magrethe is walking with Torvi’s sons. She has a vision of Ubbe kissing Torvi, interrupted when one of the children mentions his mother. Margrethe asks him where he imagines his mother is now. The boy says she’s probably getting ready to fight and Margrethe tells him he’s stupid. Torvi has probably already been killed in battle and the boys should forget about her. The children stare at her, mouths agape, as she hisses that Torvi is dead, and she’s never coming back, except perhaps as a ghost.
Sandi: Really, really unhappy about this. I mean, it's not like we needed another reason to hate Margrethe and her psychological torture of small children isn't going to make us feel anything but more angry with her, yeah? She's petty and small-souled, I think, as well as foolish.

But take a moment and look at the elder child she spoke to, in that scene. He reminded me of a young Björn as played by Nathan O'Toole in the first season. Just a bit. I hope Björn's sons fare better than the daughter he left behind! 

Lissa: In Wessex, Aethelwulf has called together all of the land’s nobles to discuss how they’ll meet the Viking threat. He compares the Vikings to stinging hornets, swarming in from all directions. Afterward, he retreats into his study to look at a book. When he’s turning a page, a bee swirls down and stings him on the back of the hand. Perhaps amused by the connection to what he’d just said, he gives a little huff, but then his breath starts coming short.

Sandi: During his speech, he mentions "stinging" three times, I think. A hornet's sting, but still. I saw that this morning when I watched this episode again. (Thank you, Sling!) The foreshadowing is strong in this scene, yeah?

Usually, anaphylactic shock doesn't set in until the second time one meets a bee, if one is allergic to the venom in its stinger. So we can only assume that Aethelwulf has been stung before. Heh. Wait, is that another metaphor? Could bee! Er, be...

(Sorry. It was there.) 

Lissa:  We next see him in his deathbed, swollen and agonized. As priests chant in the background, he speaks to Judith and his sons. He tells them they must love one another and do what is best for the kingdom. Then, delirious with pain, he speaks of the angels he sees surrounding him. Judith weeps as he passes.

Sandi: The chamber he was in struck me as a bit anachronistic. More 12th or 13th Century Royal than 9th. The bedding of the era was less elaborate, relying more on furs and bolsters than the crafted pillows, even for a deathbed. Still the scene was rich in all that was Aethelwulf. He did his best, I really think so. And he died knowing he'd said all he'd needed to. 

Lissa: Alas, poor Aethelwulf, felled by a bee! It certainly fit in with the theology of the era, that sudden death was all around them and could strike, inexplicably, at any time. Later, it’s mentioned that no one knows what killed him. There was no real forensic science in the era. They probably would have blamed poison, lacking a better explanation.

Sandi: If they had blamed poison, you didn't catch a whiff of that in his death chamber. Sorrow, but no suspicion. 

Lissa: His character certainly grew a lot from the petulant, fanatical boy who married Judith. In the last season, you could see Ecbert’s influence very strongly. He focused on Aethelred, preparing him for the kingship, but he seemed to become a good king, a good father, and even a good husband to Judith.

Sandi: He really did. We have in this episode the demonstration of good kingship in both Harald and Aethelwulf, though they'd fight in opposition. 

And with his death, I wonder if we see the hint of A Simple Story, the episode's title? A lot happens here, none of it simple, really, except if one tells it to one's children by firelight. '

"And King Aethelwulf, having a lived a long life and fighting many foes, died peacefully on his bed..." 

Lissa: Judith meets with Aethelred and Alfred afterward. She tells them the nobles will meet tomorrow to choose a new king and it will likely be Aethelred who is chosen. She tells him he must refuse the throne in favor of Alfred. Aethelred is not enthusiastic about the idea. His father had been training him for this. Judith tells him that these times call for a different kind of ruler; his grandfather knew that, knew that Alfred had skills and talents that Aethelred does not. What did Ecbert know of these times, Aethelred demands. Judith is only saying that because she was Ecbert’s mistress. But his attempts to shame Judith bounce right off.
Sandi: The less said about Judith's determined manipulations the better—no, wait. All right. So, was she all about fulfilling Ecbert's dreams? Had she loved him to such an extent? Or was it all about getting Athelstan's son on the the throne? Or was it about thwarting her husband post mortem. Or could it have been about finally, finally exercising real power? 

None of that makes me happy, really. And her plotting and scheming irked. It was unfair to her sons, wrong of her as a queen, and showed her to be something of a grasping kingmaker. I wasn't thrilled. 

Lissa: She meets with a noble named Cuthred for dinner and tells him he must get the nobles to support Alfred. If he will, she’ll see to it that he gets a bishopric.

Sandi: I get that she is trying to wield what she has, but it was vastly inappropriate of her. Unlike, say, Eleanor of Aquitaine, she didn't actually have territory or much experience in wielding authority. She just . . . wanted it. A lot. 

Lissa: The next day at the meeting, Cuthred calls for Aethelred to take the crown and all the nobles cheer enthusiastically. Judith grimaces for a moment, but then claps with the rest of them. But Aethelred says he cannot accept the crown, that they must choose someone else. Cuthred says if Aethelred won’t take it, then Aethelwulf’s second son, Alfred, should be offered the crown. Judith starts to clap, but there’s silence in the hall.

Sandi: He was pouting; it's clear he was under some sort of dictate. What I wondered was WHY he obeyed his mother, here? He didn't really respect her, did he? And if he hadn't, if he'd just accepted the kingship, then no one could have gainsaid him. No one. And he could have packed Judith and even Alfred off to Kent or somesuch (where historically Aethelwulf had reigned not long before) and worn the crown himself. But, no . . . 

Lissa: After a long, uncomfortable moment, someone calls out “…aye…” and a few other voices slowly, grudgingly, join in. Judith announces her “Aye!” as if anyone asked a woman’s opinion of the matter in the 9th century.

Sandi: I know! It was really . . . weird. What was Hirst trying to do, here, other than make everyone look bad? 

Not that I have a problem with Alfred being a great king and all, and I know this is entertainment, not biography . . . but . . . yeah. 

Lissa: And so we see Alfred crowned, the scene entwined with one of Heahmund offering his sword to Lagertha, kissing the haft in pledge to her. Aethelred does not join in the cries of “Long live the king!” Instead, he glares angrily at Judith.

Sandi: Can you blame him? 

Lissa: One thing you noticed during the ceremony was that Judith’s scarred ear was now on display. She’d always taken great pains to cover it, so it has to be significant. I wonder if, as when she let Aethelred’s words bounce off her, she’s saying she’s no longer going to be shamed by anything?

Sandi: I see this, here, as a token of her refusing to live under a pall of shame. She doesn't have to protect her father-in-law/lover anymore. She doesn't have to protect her husband's reputation any longer. If anyone lives that remembers why she lost her ear, she will stare them down. That boy she suffered for . . . the one that caused her to be discovered as an adulteress . . . is king. And no one is going to make her feel ashamed of that. 

At least, that's my take on it. 

Lissa: Floki’s camp wakes to screams as Thor’s temple burns.

Lissa:  Everyone rushes out to see it, wreathed in flames. Ketjil’s son accuses Bul of setting the fire and they fight again but this time, the fight ends in Bul’s death. Floki weeps as the temple continues to burn and Eyvind wails over his son. In Wessex, the crowned Alfred looks up as if he heard the cries of “NO!”

Sandi: Did you see Floki when the carved statue fell from its fiery height? Floki fell as well, to his knees. In fear of retribution or in sorrow at what had happened, I don't know. 

I didn't take Alfred's expression to be related, exactly, to what had gone on before, but I did like the montage overall. The taking of the scepter for Alfred and the sword for Heahmund contrasted with the devastation in Iceland. Alfred's turning as king contrasted with Floki's fall to his knees. Does this indicate the rise of Wessex and the Fall of Iceland?

History tells us one tale; what will Hirst tell us? 

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Thanks for joining us! Tune in next ODINSday for another episode!

If you’re looking for incisive comments, please check out ProjectFandom. @DeeDonuts on twitter is the chick in charge, there, and she always has sharp things to say!

Heill þú farir, heill þú aftr komir, heill þú á sinnum sér!

Hale go forth, hale return, hale on your ways! – Vafþrúðnismál 4
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