Viking Hrafnkels Saga: Horse, Vow, Kill, and Revenge

Viking horse Viking Hrafnkels Saga

Viking Hrafnkels Saga or Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoða was an Icelandic saga that told the story of struggles between chieftains and farmer in the 10th century. Hrafnkell was initially a farmer, a duelist, and a loyal worshipper of Freyr. But as the story went on, Hrafnkell became a atheist who refused to believe in gods.

Hrafnkell was the son of Hallfreður who was a Norwegian settling down in Iceland. As Hrafnkell grew up, he started his own farm. The man worshipped Freyr so hard that he built a temple to dedicate to the god. He devoted half of his property to the temple to show his respect and belief in Freyr.

During the begin of the saga, Hallfreður was rude and savage. He bullied the neighbors and made himself their chieftain. If he killed someone, he would pay nothing to the victim’s family. This was somewhat against the law of the Vikings. Because in the Viking Age, you could kill someone and generously pay them something to make up for it. A typical reply to “Hey, I killed your relative. Here is some money so take it” is that “Ok, don’t worry about it”.

Freyfaxi the Horse and the vow

Viking Hrafnkels Saga

Hrafnkell had a favorite horse whose name was Freyfaxi. Because he dedicated this horse to god Freyr, he would allow no one to ride on the horse without his permission. He swore that he would kill anyone who dare to ride on his horse in the most brutal way.

A shepherd whose name was Einar on one occasion need a horse to perform his duty on the farm. The dust was falling over the horizon and he had to gather all the livestock back home. But any horse he approached ran away. The only one that remained calm was Freyfaxi. Without hesitation, he rode Freyfaxi and managed his duty.

The horse then went back to the owner, full of sweat and dirt and neighing nonstop. Hrafnkell knew what had happened and set out to find the shepherd. Finding the little boy Einar, he wielded his axe simply cutting the neck of the boy. But within a moment, he showed a sign of reluctance and regret. But it did not last long and he came back home.

Upset by the death of the son, the father of the shepherd, Þorbjörn , found Hrafnkell asking for compensation. First, this Freyr worshipper refused to pay anything because it went against his habit. But some voice inside crying him to make amends for his brutality, Hrafnkell offered some payments which were so generous at the time. He promised to provide milk for Þorbjörn’s family forever, giving their poor family food, and allowing Þorbjörn to live in his house when he could no longer farm. But bloody for milk was not ideal for Þorbjörn. He refused this compensation and sought revenge.

The law, the torture, and the broken faith

Þorbjörn failed to seek assistance from his brother. Then he came to his nephew whose name was Sámur. This nephew reluctantly agreed to aid his uncle to seek revenge for the death of the cousin. They did fail because no one in the court wanted to betray the powerful Hrafnkell.

But luck smiled on the uncle and the nephew as a man from Vestfjord came and provided them some help. He used his family’s power to win the court, depriving Hrafnkell of his honor and material things. They gave Hrafnkell two options: to be killed or to live as subordinate. Hrafnkell chose to live as a subordinate. Þorbjörn  at this time warned his nephew as Hrafnkell could revenge someday but Sámur did not hear a word.

Before capturing Hrafnkell, the men of Sámur stormed into Hrafnkell’s house and tortured his men. They cut holes in the heels of Hrafnkell’s men and strung them up.

Probably, Hrafnkell called for help from his deity many times during this phase of his life. But he got no reply. His horse Freyfaxi was driven to the cliff and the temple set on fire. This was the reason why he became atheist.

He completely gave up his faith in god. The hardest part was always starting again but Hrafnkell managed to get over it.

The later part of the Viking Hrafnkels Saga told how Hrafnkell became chieftain in other farmland and how he captured and humiliated Sámur.

Things we can learn from Viking Hrafnkels Saga:

  • If a Viking tells you not to touch his property, follow his words
  • The Vikings kept and lived by with their vow
  • In the Viking Age, don’t mess around because you might wake up the murderous blood inside a Viking.

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