The Legend of the Alamo Celebrated by A Nordic Bard
Context: The bard being currently called Widsith is entertaining the celebrants at the victory feast for Beowulf's victory over the beast Grendel. As this is taking place in the Commonwealth of Letters, he sings a song he just wrote -- honoring the heroes of the Alamo. This literary romp combines western history and legend, myth and fact.
Your last warning: This is a song about battle for a people whose idea of Heaven (Valhalla) was fighting every day, forever. It gets gloriously gorious, and if you don't care for that sort of thing, I will not be in the least offended if you skip this page.
The Ballad of Bowie Gizzardsbane
Harsh that hearing for Houston the Raven:
Foes had enfeebled the fortress at Bexar,
Leaving it lacking and looted the while
Hordes were sweeping swift on the land,
Hell-bent to crush him. The cunning old prince
Did not, though, despair at danger's onrushing;
Hardy with peril, he held it, perused it,
Reading each rune of it. Reaching the facts,
He thumbed through his thanes and thought of the one
Whose guts and gray matter were grafted most neatly.
"Riders!" he rasped, "to race after Bowie!"
"Bowie," he barked when that bearcat of heroes
Bowed to his loved prince, "Bexar must be ours
Or no one must have it. So hightail, burn leather!
Hold me that fortress or fire it and raze it.
Do what you can or else do what you must."
Fame has its fosterlings, free of the limits
Boxing all others, and Bowie was one of them.
Who has not heard of the holmgang at Natchez?
Fifty were warriors, but he fought the best,
Wielding a long knife, a nonesuch of daggers
Worthy of Wayland. That weapon had chewed
The entrails of dozens. In diverse pitched battles
That thane had been leader; by land and by sea
Winning such treasure that trolls, it is said,
Closed hills out of fear he'd frisk them of silver.
Racing now westward, he rode into Bexar,
Gathered the garrison, gave them his orders:
"Houston the Raven is raising a host;
Time's what he asks while he tempers an army.
Never give up this gate to our land.
Hold this door fast, though death comes against us."
The flood of the foemen flowed up to Bexar,
Beat on the dam braced there to contain it.
But Wyrd has no fosterlngs, favors no clients;
Bowie, the war-wise winner of battles,
Laid out by fever, lost his first combat,
Melting with death. Yet the might of his spirit
Kept a tight grip on the trust he'd been given.
"Buy time, my bucks," he told his companions.
"Be proud of the price; our prince is the gainer."
Bold thanes were with him, thirsty for honor,
Schooled well in battle and skilled with all weapons;
Avid for slaughter there, each against thirty,
They stood to the walls and struck for their chieftains,
Houston and Bowie, the bearcat of heroes.
Twelve days they ravaged the ranks of the foemen.
Tens, though, can't harrow the hundreds forever;
That tide had to turn. Tiredly the thanes
Blocked two wild stormings and bled them to death.
The third had the drive of Thor's mighty hammer,
Roared at the walls and rose to spill over,
Winning the fort. But the foemen must pay.
Heroes were waiting them, hardy at killing,
Shaken no whit, though sure they were lost.
Ten lives for one was the tariff for entry;
And no man got credit. Crushed and split skulls,
Blasted off limbs and lathers of blood
Were the money they soughted and minted themselves --
Worth every ounce of the weregild they asked.
Of every eleven, though, one was a hero
Turned to a corpse there. Cornered and hopeless,
They strove while they yet stood, stabbing and throttling,
Meeting the bear's death, dying while fighting.
Chieftains of prowess, not chary of slaying,
Led and fell with them. Alone by the wall,
Travis, the red-maned, the truest of warriors,
Pierced through the pate and pouring out blood,
Kept death marking time, defied it until
His sword again sank, sucking blood from a foeman.
Content then, he ended. So also died Crockett,
Who shaved with a star and stamped to make earthquakes.
Kimball, the leader of loyal riders,
Bonham whose vow was valor's own hallmark.
Crazed by their losses, the conquerors offered
No truce to cadavers; the corpses were stabbed
In hopes that life's spark would be spared to afford them
Seconds on killing. Then some, taking count,
Bawled out that Bowie was balking them still;
Like weasels in warrens they wound through the fort,
Hunting the hero they hated the most.
Least of the lucky, at last some found him,
Fettered to bed by the fever and dying,
Burnt up and shrunken, a shred of himself.
Gladly they rushed him, but glee became panic.
Up from the grip of the grave, gripping weapons,
Gizzardsbane rose to wreak his last slaughter,
Killing, though killed. Conquered, he won.
In brief is the death lay of Bowie, the leader
Who laid down his life for his lord and ring giver,
Holding the doorway for Houston the Raven,
Pearl among princes, who paid in the sequel;
Never was vassal avenged with more slayings!
in Myth, Literature and History
Houston the Raven: Sam Houston, governor of two states, president of the Republic of Texas, U.S. senator, military hero, adopted Cherokee who married a Cherokee wife -- Sam Houston, whose Cherokee name was Raven, fits well the role of a Viking chieftain, and is a fond subject of romantic history novels, movies and adventure stories.
Bexar: The region of Texas containing the Alamo. Texas-Mexican History
Rune: The runes are an ancient Norse alphabet with mystical significance. According to Norse legend, Odin won the runes for mankind by hanging upside down from the great world-tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights with his own spear embedded in his side. The runes were considered valuable, and powerful.
Thanes: The Viking culture was a form of feudalism. Thanes were vassals of a lord; they owed him service and loyalty, he also owed them protection and loyalty. The thanes in turn had charge of other men: the Vikings were very much into hierarchy.
Bowie: Colonel Jim Bowie, a stormy and colorful adventurer; he did not invent the Bowie knife, but he might as well have -- his is the only name it will ever be known by.
fire it and raze it: Bowie's orders from Sam Houston were to blow up the Alamo.
"Fame has its fosterlings": and every Viking wanted to be one of them. In the old Norse view, at the time of Beowulf, there was one purpose to life: live hard, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. No, they didn't say it that way, but they would have appreciated the line. The purpose of life was to win enough fame that you would be remembered after you died. One of the most awful terrors imaginable was to die "the straw death," in bed, of old age. The defenders of the Alamo fulfilled Viking ideals.
Holmgang: A feud-battle. Eskimos have a hundred different words for snow, Hawaiians have a hundred different words for sand; I believe the Vikings had a hundred different words for "battle".
Natchez: One of the hallmarks in the legend of Jim Bowie is the fight on the bank of the river near Natchez. The "fifty warriors," though, are the exaggeration of legend.
a long knife: Also called the Arkansas toothpick, after Jim Bowie used it it has almost always been referred to as the Bowie knife.
Wayland: Wayland the Smith was the greatest smith of Norse mythology. The Lay of Wayland in the original language
Trolls: Most mythologies have 1) mishappen creatures who hide from sunlight and war on or prey on humans; 2) extremely strong beings, usually smaller and uglier than humans, who live underground, mine and shape metal -- usually with supernatural skill; 3) beings who are older and Other than human. Trolls are some blend of all these three; the combination varies between cultures. In Viking culture, the trolls got to be miners and smiths -- not just big ugly guys who hid under bridges and ate goats.
Thor: Thor was the Norse God of Thunder -- and battle, strength, all associated things. He owned a whomping big hammer -- the thunder was caused when he threw it around. Thor's Visit to Jotunheim
Weregild: In a culture that valued the glories of battle as highly as the Vikings did, sooner or later you were going to kill someone whose kinfolk objected. To keep revenge-feuds from decimating the country, and intricate system of monetary payment was worked out to satisfy honor; weregild, or "man-gold". (There were life-prices for women and children, too, but smaller ones.)
Travis:Colonel William B. Travis, commander of the Alamo.
Crockett: "Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier." Pioneer and statesman, Davy and his coonskin cap are a popular item in American folklore. He was as brave and colorful as Jim Bowie, but a bit more likable. His tombstone reads: "Davy Crockett, Pioneer, Patriot, Soldier, Trapper, Explorer, State Legislator, Congressman, Martyred at The Alamo. 1786 - 1836" American West -- Davy Crockett
Who shaved with a star and stomped to make earthquakes: Widsith is borrowing a bit from the style of the American West here -- "hyperbole," exaggeration for effect. The tall tale, the big brag.
Kimble: George C. Kimble. Lt. Kimble led a relief force of 32, the Gonzales Rangers, to San Antonio de Bexar and through surrounding Mexican lines into the Alamo on 1 March 1836.
Bonham: James Butler Bonham, the man who carried Travis's desperate and famous appeal for aid -- and returned.
Ring giver: The Viking culture was a type of feudalism, with a strong hierarchy in which those above owed as much to those below as those below owed to the ones above. A lord gave rings (actually arm bands) of precious metals to his thanes to indicate favor. For a thane to have many large gold arm-bands not only reflected well on him, showing that he stood high in his lord's favor -- it also reflected well on his lord, showing that he was wealthy, generous and loyal to his thanes, rewarding them for service. It was also a sign of obligation both ways. The thane had to turn out to fight for the lord who gave him his rings -- and the lord had to come to the defense, or the revenge, of a thane who wore his rings. As Houston revenged Bowie.
Other interesting Alamo publications online are The Fall of the Alamo by Dr. John Sutherland and The Fall of the Alamo by Captain R. M. Potter, both written in 1860. (Not originally in HTML.) The Alamo: Shrine of Texas Liberty is an extremly thorough site.
by John Myers Myers
Ace Fantasy Books
The Berkely Publishing Group
200 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016
A Silverlock Companion:
The Life and Works of John Myers Myers
edited by Fred Lerner
Niekas Publications, 1988
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