This comic is based on The Tale of Thorleif the Earl’s Poet, found in the Iceland Flateyjarbók, written 1380-90. The story itself takes place in the 11th century. And, off we go:
Thorleif, exiled from his home for murdering a man, decides to buy a ship and goods and travel to Norway as a trader. Earl Hakon would very much like to trade with him, but Thorleif refuses him. Hakon, literally deadly offended, has Thorleif’s crew hanged, the ship burned, and confiscates all the money and goods. Thorleif returns from wherever he was that day (scooping out new non-Hakon trade opportunities in Thrandheim?), and pretty much swears bloody revenge.
But first, Thorleif becomes popular in Denmark, making it as court poet of King Svein. He even writes a set of verses about Hakon, and Svein lets him leave for Norway so he can preform them for the earl, it being Christmas, and all, and Hakon surely being deserving of this amazing poetry treat. But! Thorleif disguises himself as a beggar, with a fake goat beard, spiky crutches, and a leather bag hidden underneath his shirt. At Hakon’s court, he draws attention to himself by beating up the other beggars with his crutches. He agrees to preform for the Earl, as long as he’s given food and drink first (which he slips into the bag hidden under his clothes, so he can both appear to have great food prowess and collect provisions for his way back to Denmark.)
To begin with, Hakon is really enjoying Thorleif’s poem. It is very flattering after all. But gradually, Hakon starts to get itchy. Really itchy. Particularly between his legs. So itchy, in fact, he needs his servants to scratch him with combs, and a knotted rough cloth, that they move back and forth across his thighs. Because he’s far too itchy to care about any sort of decorum. Then, darkness falls over Hakon’s hall. Hakon’s men are being attacked by their own weapons, and many are killed. Eventually, Hakon passes out.
Thorleif, having finished his poem, leaves, and once the light returns, there is no trace of him to be found. Neither is there any trace of Hakon’s hair or beard, most of which falls out. Now it’s Hakon’s turn to swear bitter vengeance.
He has a man made out of a piece of driftwood, and, after inserting a heart into it, brings it to life with the help of Thorgerd and Irpa, powerful trolls. To be confusing, he names that creature Thorgard. Thorgard is given a bill from the temple of Thorgerd and Irpa, and sent off to Denmark to kill Thorleif.
Thorleif meets some ugly and mean looking stranger on the road back from a Thing, and the ugly stranger immediately starts insulting him. Unsurprisingly, it’s Thorgard. Things escalate into a fight. Thorgard hits Thorleif with his bill, while Thorleif misses. Then Thorgard sinks into the earth, no trace of him left. Thorleif is deadly wounded. He managed to take off his tunic, and the extent of his wounds becomes clear: all of his organs fall out.
A cheery tale from the North!
Craigie, William A. Scandinavian Folk-Lore. 1896. Reprint. London: Forgotten Books, 2013. pp.345-351 (Also contains helpful hints on making zombies.)
Kiekhefer, R. 2014. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press p.43
Schultz, J.D. 2007. Creativity, The Trickster, and the Cunning Harper King: A Study of the Minstrel Disguise Entrance Trick in King Horn and Sir Orfeo. PhD Dissertation, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. pp.165-168
On Thorgerd and Ilpa: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%9Eorger%C3%B0r_H%C3%B6lgabr%C3%BA%C3%B0r_and_Irpa