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Warrior women frequently appear in mythological tales from around the world, but their roles vary wildly. They can be portrayed as heroic and honorable figures that break social norms to take up arms for the sake of defending their home and family, or as monstrous villains whose disregard of society's expectations is an example of their barbarism. Today, we'll be looking at two of the most unique warrior women of mythology and seeing how they measure up in battle. They are Brynhildr, the disgraced valkyrie and lover of Sigurd who didn't handle rejection well, and Scáthach, the trainer of Irish heroes and the mentor to Cú Chulainn! Who is DEADLIEST?

Brynhildr

And I said to him that I had made a vow in my turn, that I would never marry a man who knew the meaning of fear.
— Brynhildr, Sigrdrífumál

Originally a human shieldmaiden, Brynhildr was taken by Odin to serve him as a valkyrie. During a battle, Brynhildr ignored Odin's orders and slew a king that Odin favored. As punishment, Brynhildr was cursed to sleep in a ring of fire until rescued by a hero, whom she would marry. Sigurd, the famous dragonslayer, discovered Brynhildr, but Sigurd left and promised to marry her when he returned. Thanks to a potion, Sigurd forgot about Brynhildr and instead married Gudrun, the daughter of a king, and was made to help Gunnar, Gudrun's brother, wed Brynhildr. Sigurd disguised himself as Gunnar and retrieved Brynhildr. While upset, Brynhildr married Gunnar. She eventually learned of the trickery and confronted Sigurd. Sigurd offered to elope with Brynhildr, but she refused and had Gunnar murder him. Full of despair, Brynhildr killed herself on Sigurd's pyre.

  • Spear and Shield: The traditional weapon of a valkyrie is a shining winged spear. Spears in the Viking Age typically had shafts of ash wood and were about two to three meters long. They were suitable for throwing in addition to thrusting. The spear is traditionally accompanied by a center-grip shield, about one meter in diameter and fitted with an iron boss in the center.
  • Armor: Valkyries are typically described as being clad in constantly bloody byrnies, waist-length coats of mail made of riveted iron rings, and helmets. When in full armor, Brynhildr is described as having her face obscured, so her helmet likely includes a sort of mask, like the "spectacle" guard of the Yarm helmet.
  • Swan Cloak: Similar to their queen, Freya, who wore a cloak of falcon feathers, all valkyries wear cloaks made out of swan feathers that allow them to fly freely, so that they may descend upon battlefields and retrieve the honored dead for Valhalla.
  • Runic Magic: Valkyries had knowledge of magical runes, passed down from Odin after he learned them from ritually hangining himself on Yggdrasil. Runes encompass a wide variety of effects, but the ones relevant to combat include improving the user's luck to make victory more likely, counteracting poison, healing wounds, and sharpening the mind. To take effect, these runes are carved onto the user's weapons, armor, and other equipment. Brynhildr was familiar enough with these runes to be able to teach them to Sigurd.

Scáthach

But he said that if Cuchulain would go to Scathach, the woman-warrior that lived in the east of Alban, his skill would be more wonderful still, for he could not have perfect knowledge of the feats of a warrior without that.
— Cuchulain of Muirthemne by Lady Augusta Gregory

Hailing from the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland, Scáthach was a famed warrior woman and mentor of heroes. When Cú Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster, sought to woo a chieftain's daughter, he was required to travel to Skye and train with Scáthach. After killing the lover of Scáthach's daughter and sneaking up on Scáthach and threatening her while she was praying, Scáthach agreed to teach Cú Chulainn her greatest techniques. When Aífe, Scáthach's sister and former student, invaded Scáthach's territory, Cú Chulainn offered to be his teacher's champion. Cú Chulainn defeated Aífe through trickery and forced her to bear him a son and end her feud with Scáthach. In some myths, after her death, Scáthach ascends to godhood and serves as a psychopomp.

  • Gáe Bulg: With a name meaning "spear of mortal pain", the Gáe Bulg is a magical spear crafted from the bones of a sea monster. Its exact appearance varies from myth to myth, but it is always described as long, barbed, and deadly. The spear's magical properties are enacted under specific circumstances. If it strikes a target after being prepared for battle by a stream and thrown by the foot, the barbs will spread through the target's body, tearing their body from inside and making it impossible to remove without cutting the flesh.
  • Javelins: Javelins, darts, and throwing spears are a core part of the fighting styles of mythological Irish warriors. Scáthach's talents of agility and dexterity allow for amazing accuracy with thrown weapons; Cú Chulainn, her greatest student, could throw a needle through the eye of another needle.
  • Martial Arts: Scáthach is not only deadly in her skill with arms, but also without. She possesses great knowledge of various styles of unarmed combat, including boxing, wrestling, and disarming.
  • Superhuman Agility: The fighting styles of Scáthach and her students are heavily based around incredible agility and dexterity. They can leap over enemy strikes and attack from unexpected angles, fight effectively while underwater, and effortlessly dodge or block javelins and sling stones. Scáthach herself demonstrated unique dexterity by mastering the Gáe Bulg, which required throwing it with her feet. However, she wields it as easily as any other weapon.
    • Salmon Leap: One of the most famous techniques of Scáthach's students is the Salmon Leap. Exactly how the technique is performed is never explained, but the end result is that its users are able to effortlessly jump to incredible heights. By using this skill, Cú Chulainn could jump to the ramparts of a castle or over enemy formations to attack from behind.
  • Power of Prophecy: Scáthach is also a druid with the power to predict future events. Upon request, she was able to predict the coming War of the Brown Bull, Cú Chulainn's role in it, and his eventual death.

X-Factor

Experience

Although she became a valkyrie, Brynhildr was of human birth and was raised from childhood as a shield-maiden. As a valkyrie, she performed the regular duties of the choosers of the slain by entering the battles of humanity to protect the warriors favored by the Æsir, ensure the deaths of those condemned to die, and gather up the souls of the fallen. In Valhalla, Brynhildr and the other valkyries trained with and tended to the einherjar, the chosen warriors of Odin, in preparation for Ragnarök.

Next to nothing is known about Scáthach's history or how she became a trainer of heroes. What is known is that she has been fighting and training with the best warriors of the British Isles for long enough for her reputation to have spread well beyond her domain. Countless aspiring warriors seek her out to learn her techniques, but she only accepts those that can meet a demanding standard. The few who thrive under Scáthach's training become legends, one-man armies capable of killing hundreds of warriors alone.

Notes

  • The battle takes place in the highlands of Scotland, amidst rolling hills and rivers.
  • Brynhildr is as she was prior to the events of The Völsunga Saga, before she was cursed by Odin. Scáthach is as she was before meeting Cú Chulainn, hence she still has the Gáe Bulg.
  • Although the method of preparing Gáe Bulg for battle by a stream is not specified, whatever this ritual is will already have been carried out prior to the battle.
  • Voting ends whenever.
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