Aslaug in legend
According to the thirteenth-century Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, Aslaug was the daughter of Sigurd and the shieldmaiden Brynhildr, but was raised by Brynhild's foster father Heimer. At the deaths of Sigurd and Brynhild, Heimer was concerned about Aslaug's security, so he made a harp large enough to hide the girl. He then traveled as a poor harp player carrying the harp containing the girl.
They arrived at Spangereid at Lindesnes in Norway, where they stayed for the night in the house of the peasants Åke and Grima. Åke believed the harp contained valuable items and told his wife Grima. Grima then convinced him to murder Heimer as he was sleeping. However, when they broke the harp open, they discovered a little girl, whom they raised as their own, calling her Kråka ("Crow"). In order to hide her beauty – the accepted sign of her noble origins – they rubbed her in tar and dressed her in a long hood.
However, once as she was bathing, she was discovered by some of the men of Ragnar Lodbrok, the legendary Viking king. Confused by Kråka's beauty, they allowed the bread they were baking to burn, and when Ragnar inquired about this mishap, they told him about the girl. Ragnar then sent for her, but in order to test her wits, he commanded her to arrive neither dressed nor undressed, neither hungry nor full, and neither alone nor in company. Kråka arrived dressed in a net, biting an onion, and with only a dog as a companion. Impressed by her ingenuity and finding her a wise companion, Ragnar proposed marriage to her, which she refused until he had accomplished his mission in Norway. She gave him four sons: Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Hvitserk, and Ragnvald.
When Ragnar visited viceroy Östen Beli of Sweden, Östen persuaded him to reject Kråka and marry the Swedish princess Ingeborg. On his return home, three birds had already informed Kråka of Ragnar's plans, and so she reproached him and told him of her true noble origins. In order to prove she was the daughter of Sigurd who had slain Fafnir, she said she would bear a child whose eye would bear the image of a serpent. This happened and she bore the son Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. When Östen learned of Ragnar's change of mind, he rebelled against him but was slain by Ragnar's sons at Kråka's behest.
When Ragnar was about to undertake his fated expedition to England, his failure was due to his not heeding Kråka's warnings about the bad condition of the fleet. When King Ella threw Ragnar into the snake pit, Ragnar was protected by an enchanted shirt that Kråka had made. It was only when this shirt had been removed that the snakes could bite Ragnar and kill him.
According to Marilyn Jurich, Aslaug's tale in the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok is the prototype of the "Clever Peasant Girl" folk tale, Aarne-Thompson no. 875. The saga matches the tale closely up to Aslaug's marriage to Ragnar, but even after that there are similarities: The saga highlights Aslaug's resolve (she refuses sex to Ragnar until after marriage) and her seemingly preternatural wisdom: because Ragnar insists on bedding her immediately after the wedding, contrary to her advice, their first son Ivar was born weak, "boneless".
The romantic poem, The Fostering of Aslaug by William Morris, is a retelling of Aslaug's relationship with Ragnar, based on the version of the tale in Benjamin Thorpe's Northern Mythology (1851). It is changed in tone and emphasis by Morris' romantic escapism, excising the saga's more somber and complicated motifs and portraying Ragnar as the typical hero wooing the maiden.
- Thorpe, Benjamin (1851). "Of Ragnar and Aslaug". Northern Mythology, Comprising the Principal Popular Traditions and Superstitions of Scandinavia, North Germany and the Netherlands. Lumley. pp. 109–113.
- Morris, William (1870). "The Fostering of Aslaug". The Earthly Paradise.
- Jurich, Marilyn (1998). Scheherazade's sisters: trickster heroines and their stories in world literature (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 160. ISBN 9780313297243.
- Hodgson, Amanda (2010). The romances of William Morris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 85–86. ISBN 9780521154925.
- Boos, Florence S. (2002). "Introduction to "The Fostering of Aslaug"". William Morris, The Earthly Paradise. Routledge.
- Mitchell, John (25 April 2013). "'Vikings' season finale: Mysterious beauty tempts Ragnar". EW.com. Retrieved 25 April 2013.