I hear so many people lament over Lagertha and Ragnar no longer being together, so many who desperately wish for some happy reunion or ending to this love story, that I feel like I need to put down my personal thoughts about it. I want to share why I think that while this desire for happily ever after is just a romantic dream, a wishful thought, a fairy tale ending of sorts. I do not think that there will ever be, nor should there be such reunion between these two. I will agree on the fact that yes, they do still love each other, and will hold that deep love for each other forever. That does not mean however, that their love for each other is enough to overcome the life events that have come between them. We need to look at their relationship realistically in terms of who each of them is now, what they have went through and done to each other. In this case, my personal thought is it comes down more to what Ragnar has done to Lagertha than what she has done to him. Because, really- what has she done to him, other than stand up for herself, her principles and her self pride.
When we first met this couple, they were young, happy in love, filled with curiosity and desire for adventure. They were passionate and volatile in their relationship and their views on life as a whole. We fell in love with them as a family in those early years and always hoped for that love story to go on. But, we overlooked some of the realities of their relationship and put it down to just their passionate spirits overtaking them. We glossed over the physical arguments that put their son Bjorn in the middle, having to play peace maker or choose sides in their disagreements and disputes.
From the earliest beginnings of this relationship there have been problems between the two but we always chose to overlook those problems in hopes of a happy outcome. There were hints of Lagertha’s possible past with Rollo- which we will probably never know the truest extent of, but Rollo often set himself as her protector. He admitted early on that everything he did for his brother, he was really doing for Lagertha. That is really of no consequence in this particular discussion other than to point out the fact that there already underlying issues in their relationship.
Through many of their difficulties and troubles, Lagertha remained steadfast and loyal to Ragnar, staunchly defending him and standing up for him no matter what he did even when it went against her grain to go along with it. She would fight his decisions but would follow his lead. It often felt like Lagertha has always had far more invested in this relationship than Ragnar. Ragnar often demeaned her, took her for granted and assumed that she would always be there for him no matter what he did. I could go on and on in citing specific instances of how he treated her but, really that is not even what this is about. We all know of their history together and if we look at it honestly, we can see that this couple was not such a fairy tale after all, not such a destined to be together forever couple.
The breaking point for Lagertha of course, was when Ragnar brought his other woman Aslaug into their home, their life and expected her to be accepting of it. Lagertha’s self pride was too much for this affront to her. She loved Ragnar deeply and unconditionally for the most part, and she assumed that he felt the same about her. She would have accepted his affair with Aslaug had he left it at that, but instead he chose to bring the woman into Lagetha’s home and her life, and he expected Lagertha to willingly accept all of this. For Lagertha, this was a betrayal of the deepest sort- this was a betrayal of their love and of the heart where it hurt the most. I think that this in itself was the end of their most personal relationship even though she still loved him. She loved him but she could not live with him and this betrayal of her heart.
Lagertha made her choice to leave Ragnar, but she did not force their son, Bjorn to go with her… Ragnar could hold resentment against her for taking Bjorn away but, in reality it was Bjorn’s choice to go with his Mother. Could she have forced Bjorn to stay, yes she could have but honestly and realistically, in their society, Bjorn was a man and capable of making his own decisions as to who he would live with. Lagertha respected that decsision on his part and took him with her. In the future, there would be resentments felt if not openly admitted regarding that choice. Again, it does not necessarily pertain to the personal relationship between Lagertha and Ragnar but only adds to later difficulties and resentments between the two.
Even after years of being apart, Lagertha was still emotionally attached to Ragnar to come to his aid when he needed it. She left her village of Hedeby with son Bjorn against her husband’s wishes and approval to come Ragnar’s aid and help him become King. Even this though, could not compel her to remain there in Kattegat near him. She did however leave Bjorn with him this time because that was also Bjorn’s choice. Lagertha understood even then already, that as much as she might love Ragnar, she could no longer compromise her own personal values and principles in order to be with him. In a sense, Lagertha had already moved on with her life and tried to set her feelings for Ragnar aside. She knows that as much as she loves him so deeply and unconditionally, he does not return that feeling mutually and equally. She can not stop herself from feeling that love for him but that does not mean that she will ever allow herself to act on it or put it out there openly again for him to use her or betray her heart once again. Lagertha loves Ragnar but she knows him well and understands him…she knows what he is capable of and what, ultimately he is not capable of. What he is not capable of is loving her on that same level that she loves him. I think that she has seen well enough through the years that much like King Ecbert, who she was also attracted to, Ragnar is unable to truly love someone else because as we are coming to see, he doesn’t truly love himself… He is so consumed with his personal issues, with thoughts of power, of revenge and of mistrust of others that there is little room left in his mind or heart left for that deeper emotion of love. The only one left whom he might feel that love for is their son, Bjorn? But, in the end, when you think about it, he has used Bjorn as well, and now has put Bjorn in the position once more of having to choose sides between Father and Mother. In a way, it is kind of like his last and final blow of revenge against Lagertha… in his own way, he has said without speaking, “I win, I will have our son with me, on my side”.
Ragnar has used Lagertha, taken her for granted one too many times for Lagertha to any longer be able to set all of that aside for the sake of love. As I have already said, Lagertha has understood this for quite some time and accepted it. She knows that there is something about this man that she will forever hold in her heart, forever love despite his behavior and his treatment of her. She has accepted it and can even be friends with him on some level but that does not mean that she would ever go so far as to give her heart openly to him again. And, at this point, I have some feeling that he may have even crossed that last line of friendship on her part.
His recent actions, his final deception and his ultimate mistrust in all of them, I believe will cause her to walk away from him for good this time. How many times can you put yourself, your heart and your trust out there for someone you believe in, care about and love, have it trampled on and used against you before you say, “This is enough, I can not do this any longer no matter how much I might care for you.”
When Lagertha thought it was all finally over for them, she shared her truest and deepest feelings about him, admitting that love that she had held on to for so long.
She pours out her heartfelt emotions in private, little knowing of his final betrayal… In Lagerta’s mind and heart this is the deepest betrayal and violation of all because once she realizes what he has done, she knows that he will find a way to use these private thoughts against her in some way. He has also completely destroyed what ever trust she may have had in him by not placing any value or trust in her. Without trust there can be no true future in love.
What we see played out with the relationship between Lagertha and Ragnar is not some romantic fairytale love story of the ages. In a sense, it is a one sided love story that can not have a happy ending because for one thing, after everything that has happened between the two of them, it would go completely against what we have seen about both of them. It is a harsh and difficult story of real life love and how that love is not always enough to conquer all. It is though, a story of hope, understanding and acceptance that while we may not have our chance at such true love in this life, we do not give up hope that we will have it in the next life, the after life. It is a story of Lagertha’s understanding that love can not fix everything, that love does not make everything ok, and it speaks of her inner strength, her character, her spirit in that she will not give up on love but neither will she allow herself to be completely ruled and subjugated by that love. She will no longer accept a version of love that must put her on an unequal level. Hopefully, one day she will find a truer love that is shared equally by both people. And, if she does not find such a love, she will be at peace with herself for having experienced love and knowing that she does not have to settle or accept. She is coming to understand that love should be equal and unconditional between two people.
Now, I want to share why this story of Lagertha and Ragnar touches my heart so much, why I can understand it well and why I do not expect, need or want some happily ever after to it’s ending. I want to share the story of my Grand parents who had, in some ways, just such a similar love story. Were they Vikings… no, of course they weren’t, they weren’t even Norse. That does not make any difference in their story.
My Grandparents were two young people from slightly different backgrounds, living in northern Minnesota in the early 1900s. Susie was the oldest daughter of a somewhat well off merchant family in the area. She was their oldest daughter and had a somewhat independent and adventurous streak to her. She took a job teaching school at a small one room school in an isolated farm area where she met my Grandfather, Ed. Ed was the son of farmers and he was one of the oldest students in her class. Ed was not content to be a farmer, and he was not all that interested in being in school… until Susie arrived as his teacher. Ed was a rebellious, rowdy teen who caused her a few problems in the class room. It was not long though before Ed and Susie felt their attraction for each other. For all intensive purposes, it was a quick, whirlwind courtship and they did love each other. They were married, despite Susie’s family’s misgivings and reservations about the relationship. Susie was headstrong and stubborn. She loved him and would not be talked out of marrying him.
From what I can gather, they did have a few good years in the beginning. They were young, head over heels in love with each other and they were trying to make a life together under difficult circumstances. As I said, Ed was not content to be a farmer, though he did try at first. Nor was Susie all that much of a farmer either in the beginning. Her family were storekeepers and she may have been raised in a farming community but her parents always had better visions for their children. So, neither of them were such great farmer… and probably not all that content with that way of life on the farm with Ed’s family. They were both adventurous, curious and a bit free spirited during those early years. They also quickly became parents, which put a damper on Susie’s adventurous spirit. Susie was not one to let children stand in her way though. When they were small, she took them with her as she followed Ed to the logging camps of Northern Minnesota. For a time, that worked out alright for them. They were still together and though Ed was filled with wanderlust and discontent, they seemed to manage. Susie was willing to put up with quite a lot in her love of Ed. She parted with her older children as they got old enough for school, leaving them often with their Grandparents during the school years. This enabled her to keep traveling around with Ed and his adventuring spirit. Eventually, there came too many young ones to leave them with relatives and Susie needed to stay in one place with them. Ed was never content in one place or one job for very long and the family was often on the move, following him to new places and new job possibilities. Their life was not easy by any means, nor was it filled with such happiness. Along with being a wanderer, Ed was a drinker, and not always a happy drinker either. He could be extremely abusive to Susie and to the children. Ed also had a wandering eye for women. Susie overlooked much of this over the years because she loved him.
Much like Lagertha, Susie overlooked much of Ed’s behavior and treatment of his family because she loved him but the one thing she could not overlook or endure was when his wandering eye became more than that. He would leave her and the children often, but always come back assuming that Susie would always be there for him. One of his departures and affairs hit far too close to home though for Susie. He entered into a relationship with a young woman the same age as his oldest daughter, and in the same town as where all of Susie’s relatives lived. This of all the things she had put up with for the sake of love of him, was too much for her to take. She was humiliated and looked at this as an ultimate betrayal by him. This was the breaking point for Susie in their tumultuous and volatile relationship. Susie could not forgive him for this act and told him that he was no longer welcome in her life or their children’s lives.
Was that the final ending of their relationship? Well, no not quite… Ed did take her at her word at that point and left to start some life with this other woman. Much of the story after that had to be pieced together from what others have remembered of the times and the events because Susie never really spoke of it or him again. He remained in the nearby town for a time with this other woman and had four children with her. The two oldest died as infants and the two younger ones were never aware as they grew up that Ed was even their Father because he left and this young woman quickly married someone else. Now, one part of this whole story is interesting in the fact that as far we can tell, there was never any actual divorce documented or recorded between Ed and Susie. We have never been able to locate one in any searches of court records of the time. Susie was a devout Catholic and the idea of divorce would have went against her inner thinking, no matter what she knew for the best. Also, there is a conversation remembered by some others of what Susie told Ed the last time that he tried to come back to her and needed her help. Susie told Ed that he needed to just leave town, leave her alone because everyone thought he was dead anyway. After leaving the woman in the nearby town, Ed had wandered around, gotten into various bits of trouble here and there, and always seemed to come back to Susie for help. She would not let him stay with her but did often try to help him out until that last event when she told him he had to leave town for good. Part of Susie’s reasoning for this was self and family survival. Ed was not one to offer any sort of financial support, so having four young children to take care of, Susie had turned to the church and welfare for assistance. At that time, the only way to get the help she needed was to be a widow, so that is what she made herself. In doing that, it was crucial to Susie that he not destroy her only means of assistance. Ed did go along with her on this. He left town in the middle of the night assisted by some members of their family and that was supposedly the last that Susie or her children ever had any knowledge of him.
Ed took Susie at her word, he became dead for all surface purposes. He left town, eventually changed his name a few times, moved across country, leaving more than a few added families on his journey and as far as we know, Susie and his family never heard from him again until many years later when Susie was in the hospital dying. Susie had never remarried, never had another relationship and always vowed that for what it was worth, she had always loved Ed… she just couldn’t live with him.
All of those years later, as Susie waited for death in her hospital bed, she kept holding on for some reason. Her family thought she was delirious when she kept saying that she was waiting for Ed, that he still needed her. It was a shock to say the least, when Ed appeared at the hospital to visit her. His reason was that something was telling him that Susie needed him? Well, ironically and sadly, Susie was still right… Ed did still need her for one last thing and she somehow knew it in her heart. What Ed had really come back for was that he was in need of Susie’s signature on a piece of paper to verify who he originally was so that he could apply for social security benefits. He had changed his name legally many years before but needed some proof of who he was previously in order to qualify for those benefits. Now, realistically, what made him decide that he needed to do it at that particular time? There was some deeper underlying connection between the two of them that spoke to each in that time near Susie’s end of life, something that did indeed tell him to come back now before it was too late. That same connection told Susie to hold on, to wait for him because he did need her one last time.
There is no doubt in my mind or heart that Ed and Susie did love each other on some deeper and spiritual level than most can imagine but Susie was strong enough to fight that surface love that brought some much heartbreak and pain, to set that aside for the emotional survival of herself and her children and all the while hold on to that inner spiritual connection, that much deeper unconditional love that she had for this man, perhaps knowing that one day they would meet again in that other place and be together in happiness rather than hurt.
As for Ed’s future path, he walked into those lives of his children for a short time and then left them again, saying it was too difficult to go on with a relationship with them as he had never told his current wife or daughter anything about his past. Some years later he ended up in a nursing home suffering from dementia and his daughter thought his ramblings about relatives and family in Minnesota were just delusions of his deteriorating mind. She had no idea that he was telling her stories of his past until many years after that when she discovered the truth from others who were searching for information on him.
My Grandfather, in some ways, like Ragnar, left many broken and damaged lives behind him on his wanderings and his journey through life. Do I hate him for it? Yes, in some ways I do, for all of the pain that he caused my Mother, his oldest daughter- who was old enough when he left to understand, to feel such resentment and betrayal of his leaving them. It was my Mother, who as she reached the end of her life, asked me to search for him, to find out what happened to those families he left and to put the pieces together. My Mother held on to the secrets of their life until the very end and then was able to forgive him for his acts and only hope for some closure for his other families. In other ways, I understand him, his reasons for leaving Susie, at least, if not the other families.
Do I forgive him for those actions that shaped all of our lives for better or worse? Yes, I do forgive him because it is for me to judge his actions. His actions resulted in the paths that each of us have taken since then. In some way, it was his fate, his destiny, his path to travel in order to set the future course and path of all of us who have followed in the aftermath.
My one remaining hope is that somewhere on that other side, in that other place, much like Lagertha and Ragnar, my Grandparents have reunited, set aside those earthly human differences and hurts to find each other once more, to laugh, to sing, to rejoice and love each other once more.