The raiding party hides in the woods, waiting for their signal to advance on the fortress. It boasts primitive defences by our military standards, for sure, but primitive is all you need when the attackers are similarly armed.
It’s a mixed-gender raiding party: an undetermined number of men, and one woman who is the partner-in-love-and-war of the leader, a Viking Dane of the type that rampaged up, down, and across the British Isles during the 8th and 9th centuries as one of a never-ending series of invasions. It was a “So-Called Friends, Romans, and Every-other-Country’s-men” free-for-all: Romans, of course, but also the Germanic peoples, Vikings, Normans, French and Dutch.
And the woman raider? She’s a Dane, too, of course? No, no, she’s a Saxon who was kidnapped by Danes when she was a child. She started out as a slave but now self-identifies as a Dane, as we might put it, thus settling the nature/nurture argument pretty conclusively, I think, at least with respect to group identity.
So, this is an attack by Danes on Saxons? No, no, these nice Danes are attacking some nasty Danes on behalf of Alfred (then King Alfred of Wessex and now Alfred the Great), a Saxon if ever there was one. They also have a family-feud-style bone to pick. Or head to break. It’s complicated, as power politics often is, and a blood sport, to boot.
Anyway. The raiding party waits for the signal that the other raiding party has reached its objective. For the want of a cell phone, will the shoe/rider/horse/battle/kingdom be lost? No, no, these raiders know their business. More, they approach it with a certain wotthehell attitude.
Glory or Valhalla!
Thus does the leader’s voice rise in what is clearly a familiar exhortation; thus do the raiders’ voices rise in practiced response. This shout pretty much eliminates any advantage of surprise but confers the benefit of intimidation. The phrasing itself is a battlefield-appropriate ellipsis for the whole thought, which in turn is a 9th-century version of what we might call a win-win scenario.
Today we shall prevail in battle and win glory,
or we shall die in battle and reach Valhalla.
All right then.
I know it’s TV. I don’t suppose they were as cavalier about dying as this would suggest. And yet, even allowing for George Carlin’s profane riff on our unfortunate tendency to use war as a metaphor for everything we’re trying to change in our society, it occurs to me that this alleged Viking way might be an interesting way to be in the world.
Giving it my all, in whatever activity presents. Not being overawed by established fortresses of incompetence or indifference or inhumanity. Not skulking in the woods, calculating my odds, but charging into whatever battle may be required. And never fussing about the outcome: Indeed, finding any outcome welcome.
Glory or Valhalla!
It’s got a certain ring to it, don’t you think? Or is that my (partly) Danish nature speaking?