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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Chapter 41

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Chapter 41: The War for Novgorod

Þorfinn sat on his throne in Kalmar. His wife, the Empress Liudmila sat beside him. The Council stood at the ready, and all dignitaries around were invited for the announcement. Ambassadors noted specifically that Svanhildr, his older sister, was present, despite not having an official role at court.

The Emperor spoke:

"Sixty-five years ago, Sigfroþ the Trapper King brought together the Godis and prepared the Sagas, the great stories of triumph of the Norse and the Viking ways. Men came from vast distances to pay their respect, and our kinsman Rurik took the lessons in the Sagas and founded the Kingdom of Garðariki, a great Viking kingdom in the lands of the Rus. The lands were great, plentiful, but his neighbors coveted Rurik's fortune, and sought to destroy them. Because of this weakened state, Volodar the Monster, Jarl of Pskov, saw fit to claim the title away from Alfgeir, son of Bagge Rurikid and Inga, daughter of Ivar the Tenacious, son of Sigfroþ the Trapper King."

Þorfinn threw his hands up in despair. "Yet Volodar could not lead the people of Garðariki. The craven hedonist fled into hiding at the slightest hint of trouble, and has cowered in fear ever since. He claims to follow the call of Odin, but is this the way to Valhalla? No! The steadfast people of Garðariki deserve better, a warrior to serve them!"

He gestures into the crowd and a middle-aged man, slender but hardened like an iron poker, stepped forward. "I present to court Björn the Frog, Jarl of the Rhine. He is the son of Gnupa Ulfing and Þora the Shieldmaiden, daughter of Rurik. He carries the claim to Garðariki in his veins, and it is he who is destined to return Garðariki to glory! I, Emperor Þorfinn, rightful ruler of Sviþjod, Denmark, Norðrriki, Tyskland, and Skotland, joined in union under the figure of Ivar the Boneless, father of Sigfroþ and Guðfrið; the Emperor Philosopher and Bearer of the Bloodaxe, do hereby declare war on Volodar the Monster to return the lands of Garðariki, so-called Novgorod by Volodar, to Rurik's line through Björn the Frog. May Tyr guide us."

upload_2019-4-2_23-5-36.png


The ships in the Northern Colonies raced home to Kalmar, filling with eager warriors from across Ivarland. All the vassals pledged their men and ships to the war, and the men began gathering in Kexholm. Large numbers started marching south from Kexholm into Novgorod, and the lightly defended tribal lands fell quickly to the heavily disciplined Ivarish troops. The initial battle of the war took place on the shores of Lake Ladoga, with a decisive Ivarish victory.

upload_2019-4-2_23-28-31.png


Yet, Ivarland suffered their first defeat in the forests of Gdov soon afterward. Novgorod could still rally armies of nearly 8,000 men, so it was folly to think that Novgorod would fall easily. Kol the Lame was sent to Pskov to ensure that intelligence of warband movements throughout Novgorod would reach Þorfinn's ears. Svanhildr, in the meantime, whispered secrets into Þorfinn's ear about the people of Garðariki which she had gathered when she was Spymaster for the kingdom.

The message of the advancement of Ivarland into the Rus reached the other tribal chiefs quickly, and Briachislav of Kiev asked to convert on his death bed.

upload_2019-4-2_23-36-55.png


The retinue in the Northern Colonies made the fateful decision to march across Vologda to join the second battle for Ladoga. Many froze in the Vologdan cold, but they arrived to join the levies and win the battle:

upload_2019-4-2_23-40-18.png


The battles were many, but the land could not possibly repel those blessed by Þordis Valkyrja, and Volodar was forced to send a courier to Kalmar, delivering no message, but the Crown of Garðariki.

upload_2019-4-2_23-42-55.png


And so, Volodar abdicated, Björn was crowned by Fylkir Hasten, and swore fealty to Þorfinn.

upload_2019-4-2_23-47-29.png


Back in Kalmar, Svanhildr and Taknang looked over the charts and Kol's reports. "Those eastern tribes will have no idea what will hit them."
 

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Ahh, the first properly eastward expansion for quite a while.
 

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Cha-ching! Another one bites the dust!
 
Chapter 42

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Chapter 42: Wars of Conquest

Þorfinn strode with purpose into the council chamber. King Björn joined him at his side. "Volodar is deposed, and Björn has been reinstated as King of Garðariki. Bragi, I'm going to need you on the front lines. We will need to act quickly, cover as much land as possible as quickly as possible, and your skill with sieges is paramount. I need you to command my armies, and Björn will take your place as Marshal.

Shocked by the announcement, Bragi sputtered, "Your majesty, did I...?"

Þorfinn waved his hand dismissively. "No, of course not, you're incredible. I just need your skills elsewhere now. You are still a favored servant, and you're welcome to stay here as we discuss next steps. You'll be making sure the armies are successful."

He turned to his brother. "Alfr, how fares the invasion for Skotland?"

"Ongoing, but well. Gospatric's armies have been reduced greatly. Mide and Brythoniaid still support him."

"Freyr, you're Jarl of Suðreyjar, would you be able to lend him a hand?"

Freyr looked at him hollowly. He had clearly been losing sleep. "No, not now, I'm afraid, I'm repelling a major rebellion. There is a claimant for Suðreyjar."

"Ivaring?"

"Aye."

Svanhildr laughed from behind Taknang's chair, "It's his wife!"

Freyr lowered his head as laughter could be heard throughout the chamber.

"That's enough. I still need you as steward regardless. Kol, how is Thurgau?"

"I've been a bit too focused on Garðariki and Volodar to tell."

Þorfinn nodded. "Why don't you take a break? Svanhildr, I want you to be spymaster in Kol's place."

Kol nodded, also quite exhausted, and relinquished the seat for his sister.

upload_2019-4-3_21-23-47.png


"Now then, Garðariki is ours, and the tribes of Rus are fractured. What do we know about them?"

Taknang spoke up. "Borovichi and Toropets are held by followers of the Aesir and Vanir. We have approached them about joining Ivarland, but they refuse. They claim to be Russian, but Chieftess Astrid of Borovichi's heir is Norse."

"Astrid? This is a Russian name?"

Taknang smirked and bowed in his seat. "No, but she insists on adopting their ways."

Björn called out, "I'll get her knee to bend. I'm going after the Vepsian lands of Karelia, first. They are mine, de jure."

upload_2019-4-3_21-42-29.png


Taknang continued, "Barjik the Brute holds Smolensk, Minsk, and Drutsk. His lands are scattered across the Rus, but he has managed to make Hungary and the Pechenegs give him tribute. He would be a harder foe to conquer."

"We're up to the challenge, but I'm guessing you have an easier target?"

"Indeed. Kholm, Polotsk, and Mstislavl are all presently held by independent Khazar chieftains, confused and separated when the lands were stripped from Khazaria. They are small, no match for us."

"Then we'll take all three before they can join the defensive pact."

upload_2019-4-3_21-23-8.png


Ivarland gathered local levies and combined them with the retinue stationed in Garðariki. Ships set sail from Kalmar to deliver one force up the Daugava directly to Polotsk. The armies of Vitebsk gathered to repel both Polotsk and Mstislavl. Kholm and Polotsk were weak, but Mstislavl sat on productive farmland, and the population of tribal warriors grew thick there. A host from Savonia threatened to cut off reinforcements from Finland, but they proved unnecessary.

upload_2019-4-3_21-51-1.png


Polotsk was first to fall, with the river raiders joining up with the local Vitebsk forces. Kholm was next, and both armies joined up to make quick work of Mstislavl. Þorfinn granted Kholm and Polotsk to Björn. Kholm is de jure Garðariki, and Polotsk, renamed Pallteskja, joined the two separate pieces of the kingdom. Mstislavl, though, Þorfinn saw potential and kept hold of it himself.

The levies went home, but the retinue stayed, and continued its eastern conquest. Roslavl fell to Ivarish forces, and Bryansk afterward. Freyr's wife (yet another "Alvör the Heavenly," this one a granddaughter of brothers Haukr and Hysing) did take Suðreyjar from him, but died of dysentery soon afterward. Freyr remained Jarl of Wessex and Cornwall, and remarried. Suðreyjar passed to her brother, Gunnar the Evil, Jarl of Kola.

upload_2019-4-3_22-1-47.png


And so, Þorfinn considered next steps. He still wanted to go east, connect with Khazaria and Bashkiria. And the Roof of the World was much closer, but still so far...

upload_2019-4-3_22-6-9.png
 

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Still half a world away
 

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Roadtrip?
 
Chapter 43

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Chapter 43: Mothers and Daughters

At the camp in Naberezhnye, in the Bashkir steppe, Kourkoutai the Mutilator, Khagan of Bashkiria, celebrated recent victories with his men. In the years since Alvör's untimely death, he had swallowed his sorrows in goat meat and fermented milk. He noted the dancing women he would summon later, gorged himself on a fat leg of mutton, and excused himself to the swampy land along the Kama river. Dizzy from all the festivities, he proceeded to relieve himself. His breath grew heavy, a sludgy slowness in his chest. Turning to look back at his lands, he slipped and fell to the muddy earth, and drowned on his own vomit and the mud. And so ended Þorfinn's plans in Bashkiria.

upload_2019-4-15_23-52-24.png


Þorfinn shed a tear when he heard the news. "I liked him, Kourkoutai, you know. Actually quite a clever man. He and Alvör were a good match. But they both died young and that's that."

The Bashkir emissary cleared his throat. "Kourkoutai's brother Temir is the new Khagan, and he notes that your daughter Skuld is still betrothed to Sotan, the son born to Kourkoutai and his brother Yagi's wife, Karacik. He will still maintain the non-aggression pact between our two great empires in consideration."

The emperor looked up and shrugged. "So be it. Perhaps we will find a better future in Sotan and Skuld. Let us drink to their health."

The emissary leaving, Þorfinn continued, "Taknang, please, is there some good news?"

"Why yes, your imperial majesty. King Björn has claimed the land of the Veps from Karelia."

upload_2019-4-15_23-53-12.png


"Also, your cousin Gunnarr the Evil has claimed Pohjanmaa for himself, and has launched a campaign to take Chester from Gospatric.

upload_2019-4-15_23-54-2.png


Gunnarr was one of the more important cousins to watch. He has recently become the Jarl of Suðreyjar as well as Jarl of Kola. Although he seemed oddly unqualified to rule at times, it could not be denied that he was one of the more consistently expansive of Þorfinn's vassals. He considered making him King of Norðrriki to see what he could do with it.

"This does mean we can claim the Jarldom of Pohjanmaa for ourselves, stripping Armas' right to rule all his territory. I already know that Lappland would bow to the rightful king of Norðrriki and swear fealty."

"Then make the claim, and offer vassalization."

"It will drain the treasury."

"The world fears us, and stands ready to face Ivarland together. So, it's time to step back and not declare future expansion for the moment. We will go raiding again. I remember my father's interest in a land far to the south. This time, we will raid Egypt!"

The ships were gathered, the men joined up, and a force of six thousand Vikings set sail for the Nile delta. They found the lands of Egypt divided, with the sultan dealing with multiple rebellions. The Vikings took the opportunity to descend upon Alexandria in a storm. Local forces could not deal with the destruction, and the sultan's men could not be freed up from wars elsewhere.

News came soon after landing that Björn died, apparently poisoned.

upload_2019-4-15_23-50-47.png


Þorfinn returned to court, satisfied that the men would continue to claim the treasures of Egypt. "All right, then, who is the new king?"

"Björn had a son Gorm. Honestly, he's rather a dullard."

upload_2019-4-15_23-50-13.png


"What? Oh, and he'll want to get on the council and poison us all. No, I don't think that will do. Who's next in line?"

"His younger brother Kauro, presently inheriting the Jarldom of the Rhine."

"Definitely a superior choice. And they're not yet married? Then we'll send my daughter Gloð to marry Kauro and perhaps something untoward happens to Gorm."

"Gloð is betrothed to Khazaria."

"I've just sailed through Khazaria. Wide open expanses of nothing, and horsemen desperate to attack each other over it. We'll break the betrothal and ensure my family line takes hold in Garðariki. Besides, she's incredibly bright. She would never do well as the wife of a nomad."

upload_2019-4-15_23-49-34.png


"But I don't want to go to the wedding!"

Gloð's sister Skuld was always a shy and fussy girl, never one to enjoy social pursuits. Päivä, her mother, rushed after her throughout Kalmar. "You're a princess, and you'll go to your sister's wedding! It's your duty!"

Päivä tracked Skuld into the root cellar, a popular hiding place for her, and noticed her crouching in a particularly filthy corner, the droppings of rats visible. "Come now, it's only for a couple hours, and there's a party afterward."

"I hate parties."

"No one will mind if you leave the party early. You can greet the other guests, and then you can go to your room and rest. It'll be okay."

"It'll be loud. Why are parties always so loud?"

"You can leave before it gets too loud."

"They're always too loud!!!"

Skuld uttered a guttural shriek and leapt from her crouch. Her mother stepped back in shock. Cobwebs and dung tumbled from Skuld's hair as she rushed past like a feral beast.

Chasing her back up the stairs, Päivä called out, "What's gotten into you? This isn't like you at all! We've got to get you cleaned up!"

One of the arriving party, Toke, commander of Rügen and grandson of Hrolfr Red-Cheeks, watched as the young princess ran into the courtyard, bellowing. His eyes grew wide. He smelt the dirt upon her. The sweat from her pores. He knew a berserker rage, and bared his teeth and chuckled.

Päivä stood at the doorway of the courtyard, conflicted between control and decorum, undone.

Toke nodded to Päivä and hunched like a bear. His nostrils flared and spittle flew from his beard as he took chase after the princess.

Skuld clambered over the stones like a woodland beast and charged along the outer berm. The sea gales tossed her hair into a flying mane, a bramble of detritus and madness. She careened toward the berm's edge, and stared with fury at the waves crashing on the rocks below.

"You're always too loud! Curse you! I curse--"

Toke pounced upon her, knocking her to the dirt. "Good spirit, lass," he called in his frenzied stupor. Then he froze. He pulled himself back as far as he could while still keeping her pinned beneath him. He had been wrong. She had bad spirit.

Skuld stared at him with hatred, with bloodshot eyes, with spit foaming at the corners of her mouth.

upload_2019-4-15_23-48-18.png


"Your daughter's a fighter," Alfr said, after the wedding had passed. "Most are dead within days, but she is trying to push off the bad spirits. She holds the spirit of Ivar, definitely."

Þorfinn looked down at Skuld, tied to the bed. Her breathing was shallow. "Will she live?"

"I've done what I can for her, but the rest will be if the gods allow."

"Then we'll hold a Blöt for her. I've got a peasant rebel leader in the dungeons."

More somber than most, Þorfinn and Päivä gave offerings to Freyja for protection and asked her to lend her strength to their daughter. Alfr, busy with her care, spent much of the Blöt feasting, drowning his sorrow at Skuld's condition in boar and mead. Freyr seemed increasingly unhinged, jumping at shadows and drinking far too much ale trying to forget something that never happened. And Kettil...

upload_2019-4-15_23-56-43.png


Kauro was still at Kalmar for the Blöt, and Þorfinn took him aside to talk.

"Gorm is still trying to lead?"

"Aye, and he's failing at it. One of Volodar's faithful is pressing his claim for him for the kingdom. Most of the vassals are supporting him."

"Hmm, perhaps I should take care of Volodar. But Gorm is still mismanaging an important piece of the empire. I would hope that a smooth transition according to succession should come to pass."

Kauro grinned. "I can only support my liege in his plans."

upload_2019-4-16_0-1-23.png


All the vassals were in attendance at the Blöt, including the Benedictine Magnus, who admitted that it would be best to support the faith in this time of need. Þorfinn's mother described how the Russians were embracing Odin as their lord, and the temples in the far southeast of the empire were becoming Germanic and organizing into Feudal governments. In fact, she arrived to the Blöt with high chiefs from the neighboring tribes of Bryansk and Novosil, ready to embrace the faith.

upload_2019-4-16_0-0-29.png


The news from Vologda was not as felicitous, as their leader Nishkepaz remained dedicated to the northern faith, and now called himself King of Vladimir.

upload_2019-4-16_0-3-22.png


The Blöt wore on, and months passed. Skuld lasted a total of eight months in the grip of dark spirits before she succumbed. Alfr said that no one else would have survived in such a state as long as she did.

upload_2019-4-16_0-4-14.png


Þorfinn's mother, long ill from her many dalliances, finally passed from Midgard. Despite her questionable background and her wanton ways, she was always a cornerstone for the faith, and birthed a generation of kings.

upload_2019-4-16_0-5-7.png


As her funeral barge was sent adrift on the Dneiper, Þorfinn prayed for her soul. As if in response, the sounds of a thousand men singing in joy and victory could be heard. The valley filled with chants of success, exultations of glory. And around the bend in the river, ships appeared. The Vikings had returned from Alexandria, laden with Egyptian treasures beyond imagining.

upload_2019-4-16_0-5-53.png
 

stnylan

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Ok, the situation with the daughter was intriguing and potentially a little tragic, but then Kettil rolls around and that is just comedic
 

WJS

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The family is still cursed ...
There is definitely darkness going on right now. Also, internal management of the empire is becoming an issue. I'm probably going to need to write another intermission post to discuss some of the vassals' shenanigans.
 

brovahkiin

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There is definitely darkness going on right now. Also, internal management of the empire is becoming an issue. I'm probably going to need to write another intermission post to discuss some of the vassals' shenanigans.
Oh those wacky vassels
Keeping up with kettil is the best sitcom
 
Intermission 9

WJS

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Intermission: Powerful Pieces

Þorfinn counted the spoils from the Egyptian expedition and carefully looked over the possibilities of reinvestment into his lands. Nobles from across Ivarland were gathered in Mstislavl, a poor Russian outpost on the Dnieper, to mourn the loss of Empress Mother Gloð. After the push to integrate Garðariki, the counties of Mstislavl, Roslavl, and Bryansk remained Imperial property, and Þorfinn hoped they could be a land to spread Ivarish power from, into the surrounding tribes and the lawless steppe. Something would need to be done about the local names, though.

He suddenly realized he was not alone, though, in the counting room. He wheeled around to find Ragnarr, Jarl of Skåne, waiting patiently.

upload_2019-4-16_19-41-11.png


Ragnarr moved like a serpent, and would only be seen when he chose. However, he was still loyal and a powerful jarl. The grandson of Håkon the Butcher, that venerable warrior personally chose him to rule his lands next, and he continued to expand from there.

"Your majesty, I did not wish to disturb you."

"Sure you did. But no matter, what do you want to talk about?"

"I have learned of disturbing news from Wessex."

upload_2019-4-16_19-32-41.png


"Oh? My cousin Freyr's lands? What have you learned?"

upload_2019-4-16_19-33-54.png


"Thank you, Ragnarr, that is all."

"How can that be all? I have witnesses who swear they saw Freyr flying through the night sky, and one poor woman lost her unborn child at the sight!"

"Freyr is also Steward, and a powerful vassal in these lands. If he manages to take Suðreyjar from Gunnar, I may make him King of Skotland. He may be consorting with dark forces, but he has been loyal to the crown."

upload_2019-4-16_20-39-35.png


"Quite ironic, actually, how Freyr's wife stole Suðreyjar from him in the first place, only to die and pass it to Gunnar."

"Ah, well, far be it for me to know the inner workings of the Council."

Þorfinn shrugged. "We shall see. I may have to shuffle the council around, in any case. You would be welcome as my Spymaster."

Ragnarr smiled. "It would be an honor to serve. What else might happen?"

"Well, the most powerful jarl in Ivarland has been Magnus for the longest time. Now, I've had no interest on granting him a place on the Council, not after he shaved his head and beard and claimed to be a Christian monk. But I barely recognized him recently. He's changed, Ragnarr. Truly changed."

upload_2019-4-16_19-45-55.png


Ragnarr frowned. "He still thinks he can strip Årus from me. He is not that worthy."

"Competition is good for the soul, Ragnarr. No one gets to rest on their laurels. Let the strong feast and the wicked starve."

Ragnarr snorted mildly, but refused to respond.

Þorfinn continued. "Then there's Kjartan of Vestergautland. Solid, loyal man. But as I'm sure you've noticed, he's getting on in years and can't lead or train the troops like he used to."

upload_2019-4-16_19-51-38.png


"But it's not like the most powerful jarls are up to the task. My brother Kol, for example, he used to be an excellent spymaster. I'm not sure why that's changed."

upload_2019-4-16_20-14-17.png


"Then there's Emund of Angria. I must be thankful for his careful caretaking of the Ivaring Runestones in Norfolk, but despite his large army, is he really qualified for the Council?"

upload_2019-4-16_20-18-13.png


"I'll probably keep Helgi as advisor, though. He's continued to expand his lands into Bavaria. He's been a solid warrior. House af Rügen has held that land since Hrolfr Red-Cheeks, and they've always been loyal to the crown."

upload_2019-4-16_20-23-12.png


"Then there's my brother Alfr. Advisor, Court Physician, he's the brother of the Seven Sons who's stood with me through everything. But with his failed invasion for Gospatric's Scottish holdings, perhaps that's no longer enough."

upload_2019-4-16_20-25-39.png


"And, as well, great things are expected in the coming years. That Pope in Rome is expected to call for a new Crusade within the next couple years. I can imagine he's going to want Tyskland back, but I hope that Emperor Louis of Francia is still on the throne. He follows the Pope in Heaven, or somesuch concept, and already embarrased Rome by winning Jerusalem for him without believing or taking orders from him. The nobles kicked Louis out, but he came right back when his son died three years later.

upload_2019-4-16_20-35-11.png


"With any luck, he'll be the next target. But yes, great things. In one year's time, I will have ruled for 30 years. In two years time, it will have been 100 years since the Great Heathen Army invaded Northumbria. Much has changed, but people, they remain people."

upload_2019-4-16_19-31-42.png
 

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brovahkiin

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it took me a sec to realize I was looking at direct vassal mode
tis a very snakey empire
 

stnylan

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A good look around the most powerful in the realm.

But I echo @brovahkiin - the Empire is very snakelike and not appreciably getting any less
 

WJS

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Losing Norway and gaining Germany did a lot to snakify the empire. I'm hoping my vassals take just a bit more of de jure Finland, because then I can create that kingdom and get all the fussy Finnish Germanics to swear fealty.

In a normal game, I'd spend more time finishing out Scandinavia and Britannia instead of pushing into Russia, but then, why talk about that?
 

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Holy crawfish, EIGHT MONTHS with rabies?! I've never heard of such! Skuld definitely earned a seat at the tables of Valhalla. I hope she got a proper Viking funeral!

In RL, only three humans in recorded history have ever survived a successful infection of the rabies virus without a vaccine. Every other survivor of rabies got a weakened version of the disease (e.g. from bats) that didn't manifest in a full case of rabies, like Skuld or the three survivors had. At least two of them were put into a coma in order to keep the brain from swelling. The average time it takes for rabies to kill is seven days.

If Skuld was a real person, she would have gone down in the history books and would still hold the record for the longest untreated battle with rabies. I think your characters should recognize this amazing feat and immortalize Skuld in a temple.

Also, while frothing at the mouth, extreme aggression, and insanity are all symptoms of rabies, the disease also causes fatigue, an inability to speak, numbness in the body, and the inability to breathe or swallow. Most people with rabies either have heart failure or the spasms stop them from breathing, causing asphyxiation.

It's a good thing she didn't live, believe it or not. If Skuld had lived, she'd have been comatose or would have suffered permanent brain damage. She likely couldn't walk, feed herself, or even speak.
 
Last edited:

WJS

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I was definitely thinking it would have been far more humane if she had died within days (the first month) of the discovery of her infection. I was so unsure what to make of it when she just kept hanging on.

I've got to figure out how Norse mythology would have viewed an affliction like rabies.