My eldest brother, Mark, started writing a book many years ago—some time after my first book came out.

As time went on, he finished that one and started another... this became an ongoing thing with him, he'd write, rewrite, write some more, write another, etc. I know I marked up one book for him, but then I wouldn't mark up any more until he submitted something—AND wouldn't have one of his friends give him notes after me. I know it sounds weird, but I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it and then have someone undue all my hard work after I was done.

Alas, he never submitted the books anywhere, but I asked his son if it was okay if I posted a few chapters from one of the books here and he said it was okay.

Feel free to let me know what you think of it by dropping me a note on my livejournal or wherever else you'd like to drop me a note at!

P.S. Mark, my eldest brother and godfather, died back in 2007 and his son read a Viking prayer during the service for him and we sent him on his way armed with a really shiny sword! (Really, it was on his coffin at the laying out and, well... The Polish priest wisely said nothing about the sword or the Viking prayer.)


Valkyrie Dawn


The world was yet young when the first war was fought.

So diametrically opposed were the aims and goals of the two tribes of gods, the Vanir and the Æsir, that they were foredestined to ultimately clash, for can any truly claim to be gods and not wield the power supreme. There had been skirmishes, even planned raids. The Æsir, the upstarts, the newcomers, had crossed the River Tanais into Vanaheim to see what of value might be carried off from the Vanir, the old gods, those who held sway over the fertility of Midgard, the lush, virgin world below.

For their part, the Vanir were loath to do battle with the warlike Æsir. Their long and patient nurturing of the good earth had led them to complacency and a state of comfort with what they had accomplished. But they soon tired of the harassment and the younger of their number ventured over the Tanais and across the plain of Iðavollr, there to raid the very heart of Asgard.

Still, as with any great martial conflagration, all the elements may be in place, yet, a catalyst must be added to the mix before the monumental conflict begins.

It seemed an innocent enough plan. Freyja, fair daughter of the Vanagod Njörd stepped forth as the elder gods of her tribe sat in council. To Asgard would she go, and seek to learn what of the Æsir may be known. A woman, she reasoned, may enter unnoticed where a man was recognized by all.

But would not her beauty summon the gaze of even the foremost of the Æsir, posed Freyr, her twin brother? The voluptuous Freyja replied with the seiðr, the seething magic, that arcane witchcraft practiced by the Vanir of which she was the mistress. Her sapphire blue eyes lightly closed — a pass of her lithe, white arms — words whispered by hardly moving, ruby red lips — and she became an old crone of the sort whose eyes are always to the ground, looking for sustenance from the castoffs of others.

Njörd, Freyr, even Fródi, Nerthus and Ing — all agreed it was a wonderful disguise Freyja had conjured and so the young fertility goddess ventured forth over the Tanais and onto the broad plain of Iðavollr, coming at last to the walls of Asgard, the city of wonders.

Such a woman was neither noticed nor challenged as she slowly passed through the Valgrind, the tremendous gate of the city. Up and down narrow lanes and broad avenues alike she trod, her head bowed but her eye ever roving, searching for the source of strength of the Æsir and any clue as to their military intentions. What she saw was shocking: warriors being marshaled, ships and siege machines being constructed, weapons of every sort being shaped and formed. There was every sign that this tribe of gods was preparing for a massive invasion: an assault on Vanaheim and ultimately on Midgard, far below.

The disguised Freyja was greatly troubled by this, especially the devastation that would be wrought on the Midgard. The newly created races of men were innocent, unknowing of such strife. The long and careful planning of the Vanir, to cultivate and enrich the earth so that these mortals could grow and prosper, learning to reap the benefits of the soil and all the creatures who dwelled thereon, would be for naught. They would not come to worship the gods as bountiful providers. No, they would come to fear these gods, and all gods, as the purveyors of ruin and devastation.

The gentle goddess reflected on these things and was sorely troubled. She began to weep, her worried head was now truly bowed and tears fell from her eyes to the cobbles of the street below. And there was a tinkling as of bells, and strong men looked up from their hammering and their work, to learn the source of the wonderful tones.

Soon, a crowd had formed and gods and godlings alike stooped over to pick up the tears that lodged between the pebbles, for they were made of gold, not unclean ore but refined aurous metal of the brightest sort. Now the Asynjur, the goddesses of the tribe, began gathering about, urging their menfolk to vie for the precious droplets. They began to quarrel among themselves and screech, falling to their knees, scrambling for the errant scattered golden kernels.

This sudden, unwanted consternation heightened Freyja’s anguish and she wept all the more, her tears growing and falling like rain. This swelled the gluttony for gold among the Æsir and they were intoxicated by it in their greed. They began grabbing at the still disguised Freyja, and shook her, hoping to increase the flow, which by now had become a torrent. This ill treatment changed anguish to trepidation and the gentle goddess ceased crying.

“More gold! Give us more!” demanded the mob, to which the apparent crone reeled in horror. Never had she been so shocked and humiliated, living, as she did, among the beneficent Vanir.

When more tears were not forthcoming, the throng, drunken with lust for the shimmering metal, raised a hasty plan to smelt more gold from the amazing stranger. So, into the flames of the forge they cast the hapless woman. Now, where they expected a molten stream of precious gold, their savagery was rewarded with an enraged Freyja and a smoldering hail of chthonic curses, as the auto-levitating goddess summoned the occult power of the seiðr.

Pigs and fowl, beasts of burden and forest, were gods turned into as she gestured with outstretched fingers and words none could fathom, in defense of her life. It took all their courage and strength to restrain her once more, for only by forcing her hands shut and gagging her with their arms could her sorceries be quelled. These things they were impelled to do, for now they knew she had great magic and they desired these secrets she commanded even so much as the gold itself.

The gods demanded she reveal her mystic lore but they were frustrated as she could not speak unless they released her lips and every time they did so, another rain of curses began. Defeated, they hurled her struggling form once more into the flames.

Again, she rose, now summoning visions of dragons and monsters; walls of flame they ran into in their panic. Each of these proud gods was made to face his worst fear. Again, they struggled to gain control over her. Great Hoð was struck blind in the process. What he saw that caused him to forever forsake his vision, he would never reveal, for that would be his greatest weakness and his undoing.

“Take her before Odin!” screamed a female voice in the crowd. “Yes! To Odin — to Odin!” they all agreed.


“There’s more to this one than beseems,” said Odin, Lord of Asgard and chieftain of the Æsir, looking down from high-seat at his brethren, assembled before him and still restraining the struggling hag.

“Look at you all,” he chastised, “You’re all drunk with greed for this woman — this Gullveig’s gold. Hmm, but I lay, this sorcery you touch on has me intrigued as well. I allow I’d give my one good eye for the secrets you describe.”

“No!” reproved Queen Frigg, seated at his side. “You already traded one eye for what mysteries you now possess. You’ll keep your good eye and use it to look at me once in a while.”

Her remonstrations were ignored by her mate, as well as the men in the hall.

“Gungnir should give me control over this one,” decided Odin, thoughtfully. And so saying, he rose and took his great spear in hand. With this, he marked the breast of the sorceress, just so, over the heart.

“Now cast her into the fire once more and see if this doesn’t give me sway over this fordæða,” said he, describing her as a witch.

The roaring blaze in the hearth was employed this time and logs crackled and spit sparks into the air as the old witch was flung into the midst of it.

Once more, Freyja emerged, unscathed. She now flung back her gray mantle and opened her robe, revealing a short coat of brown feathers within. With a gesture, she threw off her disguise and exposed her true nature to all the assembly. Every god gasped in raw fascination, the Asynjur in envy. The men were now overcome with lust for the graceful, beautiful goddess who now stood, clad only in the brief fjathrhamr. Her long hair glowed like the sun and her alabaster legs assumed the most beckoning stance, like twin sunbeams shining in the unsteady light of the expansive hall. Her bosom, peeking through the revealing feather garment, was full and supple. She was every inch, truly, a goddess of love.

Freyja took advantage of her awe-inspiring appearance, overcoming her fear and loathing, for she was accustomed to the effect she had on every man who beheld her. With a toss of her golden locks, she pulled shut the golden brown feather garment that crossed her breasts, spread her arms and launched into flight as a great gyrfalcon. In a twinkling, she darted through the smoke hole in the roof — and was gone.

The next morning, the Vanir attacked Asgard in force. Sorely troubled by Freyja’s report of war preparations and horrified by her recounting of the outrageous treatment she had received at the hands of their rivals, the peaceful fertility gods reluctantly crossed the Tanais and stormed the capital of their foemen.

The massive stone wall was breached, collapsing before the onslaught and both sides were quickly engaged in hand to hand fighting. By sunset, neither side had gained the much sought after advantage, and so it went the next day and the next.

It would never be decided which side invited the truce. One moment they were fighting, the next they were all spitting into the same cauldron and professing mutual vows. The only way to dominate was to unite: the Æsir to rule over strife, and yes, government, for strife was inherent in every decision as each side argued the merits of their respective positions; while the Vanir ministered nature and the bounty of the good, green earth. For that is the way of things: that opposites attract and compliment each other and, indeed, out of this union emerged Kvasir, who rose from that kettle and was said to be wisest of the gods.

Brave Freyja, with others, was sent to abide in Asgard, as a pledge of peace, while Hœnir and Mímir were sent to Vanaheim. The beauteous hostage was immediately proclaimed Vanadís, the “goddess of the Vanir” and was much desired by all that saw her. She was further hailed as gratfagra god, “the goddess beautiful in tears” and it was for love of her that everlasting peace between the two tribes of gods was assured.

For her part, Freyja undertook to teach Odin the coveted art of the seiðr, this despite the protestations of his consort Frigg, who held that this new sorcery was a black art, suitable for a woman but beneath the dignity expected of a high warrior-god. But Allfather, as he was known to his followers, would not be allayed, intrigued, as he was by this hitherto unknown craft. Was he absorbed by these artifices, or was he, himself becoming entranced by the glowing new female in his court? Frigg could only watch, and wonder.


It then came to pass that the gods employed a mountain giant to rebuild the fallen wall of Asgard and this, he warranted would stand against any attackers. One of the giant-folk, Loki, had recommended his services to the newly expanded Æsir and his counsel was then held in esteem by the gods as he alone, of all the Jotunner had stood with the gods of Asgard during the war.

So it came to be that Odin and Loki took mutual oaths of brotherhood and Loki was welcomed into the councils of the Æsir. Odin was showing the visiting giant much hospitality and the mead was flowing freely. The Norns, those three sisters who govern the fates of gods and men, were in attendance and were shown much deference and respect. Urd, the eldest, and Verdandi were enjoying a visit with the goddesses of the Asynjur. But Skuld, the youngest sister, was not happy with the seat she’d been given and someone had thrown a bone in jest and it had skittered across the oaken tabletop and pitched her drinking horn over into her lap. That she was not quickly offered another horn of honey-wine only exacerbated her pique. A ripple of tittering laughter made the unintended victim feel she was the butt of the joke.

Skuld was, by appearance, an adolescent, a young girl unattractively clad in gray robe, with a wimple and cowl to cover her golden hair. She was, in fact, ageless, an ancient deity who governed the future yet never quite seemed to attain it. Her childish appearance sometimes led others to underestimate her importance in the cosmic order.

After everyone had enjoyed several rounds of strong drink, Lord Odin asked if the Norns might not cast the mystic runes and make prognostications. Verdandi cast the carved bones on the floor before the high-seat and she and Urd studied them thoughtfully.

“The new wall surrounding the city shall never fall,” said Urd, “so long as Odin lives.”

An approving “Ahhh,” rose from the seated guests.

“The bonds of alliance betwixt Vanir and Æsir shall stand and shower blessings on both realms and Midgard as well,” pronounced Verdandi, to a second wave of approval and raising of drinking horns.

“But what of the brotherhood pledged by Odin and myself?” inquired Loki, pointing a long, gnarled finger at the bones. “What blessings do the runes portend there?”

Urd and Verdandi looked down as if searching for additional inspiration. Now Skuld, still seated in her undistinguished place on the bench began rocking to and fro. Eyes closed, she began humming, as if only to herself, but all soon began to take heed.

The young Norn began to chant in a low tone.

“Two mother’s sons

Take brother’s vows.

Troth pledged forever,

So then, for now.

Cometh another

God in the land.

One ‘gainst the other,

The pledglings will stand.

Seeking lordship

O’er earth and sky,

One gets dominion,

The others will die.

What sign is given?

The Fates now command:

Maiden avenger

Turns cross to brand.”

Slowly, Skuld lowered her eyes and let her face fade into the shadow of her gray cowl. The crowd remained hushed, as though anticipating further verses.

Finally, Loki broke the silence in exasperation.

“Well, what sort of divination is that?” he demanded, striding before the fire in the central hearth. “It makes no sense at all. My question was not meant for this mere snip of a girl! We must have another casting!”

The assemblage gasped. Amongst the Æsir, it was unheard of to question the prognostications of the Norns. Even the gods were compelled to meet their destinies. All eyes turned back towards Skuld, to gauge her reaction to the outburst of the giant, newly admitted to their council.

Her seat was empty.


I. Sevafjell

It was a glorious summer day in southern Germany in the ninth century after Our Lord’s birth. Princess Sigrún leaned forward over the battlement of the highest tower of the castle at Sevafjell; her petite, young ribcage fit neatly into the crenel opening, meant for archers but suitable for perching princesses in peacetime. The cold stone felt refreshing on her belly, even as the sun bore down on her back. Golden tresses blew across her face in the breeze as it sped up to girdle the circumference of the ancient edifice and gently tugged at the ankle-length blue skirt draped about her dangling legs.

Down below, in the outer ward of the castle, the three hundred-man escort of King Hothbrodd, some mounted, some afoot, was passing out through the gatehouse of the outer wall and onto the high road beyond. She watched as the men were marshaled into correct order of pre-eminence in the ward and came out of the barbican on the far side in an orderly stream of military splendor. It had all the appearance of a funnel. Here and there, the sun caught a well-polished shield or helmet and shone in her direction for a moment. Her eye fell upon a young man finding a stride to match the mounted knight he walked beside. His long brown hair bounced on the back of his scarlet surcoat and his spear bobbed in time with his jaunty step.

“I kind of like that Niels,” she said at last, looking to her right where her friend Astrid was similarly perched in the adjoining crenellation.

“Oh Sigrún, why do you look at squires when any of those noble knights would have you in a heartbeat?” she asked incredulously.

“I liked his eyes,” said the Princess. “A woman can judge any man by his eyes — and his smile.”

“Oh, you’re a woman now?” said Astrid, with a bit of laughter in her voice. “Just turned thirteen winters and going on woman.”

“Well, princesses grow up faster than maids, my mother told me so just last night,” Sigrún snapped back.

“Well, at least you were presented to King Hothbrodd,” sighed Astrid. “I was just presented a lot of heavy platters to serve.”

“I must say, that sounds better than it was,” said Sigrún. “Hundreds of young warriors and my father makes me sit next to some old king.”

“The secret word there is ‘king.’ You know, as in wealthy ruler of a kingdom.” Astrid could not conceal her jealousy. “Overlord of thousands, owner of castles and estates...”

“…And most likely to fall asleep during dinner,” interrupted Her Highness.

“So — that’s when you start looking at your squires,” said Astrid, flashing a devilish grin. “Besides I don’t think he was even forty.”

“Oh Astrid, you silly girl, who made you the royal matchmaker? I have my whole life ahead of me. And if you’re good, maybe, when I’m Queen, I can marry you off to some really minor baron — with a hair-lip, so he’s not too choosy.” Now, it was Sigrún’s turn to laugh. “Besides, that king was creepy. He kept trying to hold my hand.”

“How bad is this baron’s hair-lip?” asked Astrid, not joking.

Sigrún looked back upon the procession, which now extended to the banks of the Rhine River as it slowly rolled off to the north. The banners unfurled in the breeze and now the trumpeters played a mournful dirge as the last of the men passed out through the barbican.

“Someday Niels will be a great warrior,” mused Sigrún aloud, “and I’ll make him a king. I’ll have the man of my own choosing and he’ll be so fine.”


Sigrún sat in her bedchamber and inspected her countenance in a hand held mirror. Astrid stood behind her, patiently combing out the wind-tossed tresses.

“Do you think I’m beautiful?” she asked. “And remember, I’m a princess.”

“Yes, you’re lovely,” sighed Astrid, “even for a princess. I love your deep brown eyes. Everyone else around here has blue eyes…”

“What is that supposed to mean?” retorted Sigrún, turning to glare at her maid.

“Oh Sigrún,” she gasped, “that was supposed to be a compliment. I just meant you have beautiful eyes. I’m sure one of King Hogni’s parents had brown eyes and you were graced with them.”

“I better not find out you’re telling stories behind my back.”

The door opened and Sigrún’s mother, Queen Matilda, entered the tower chamber.

“Leave us Astrid,” she commanded.

“Yes Majesty, by your leave,” said the maid, curtseying and backing out through the door and closing it behind herself.

The Queen looked out the window for a moment, then turned to face the seated girl. Her Majesty smiled curtly.

“Well, my dear, did you enjoy the banquet last night?” she asked at last.

“It was fine, only, I thought the venison was a little overcooked. I wanted the goose but no one passed me the platter and I’m much too much of a lady to ask for food.”

“Thank you, Sigrún, I’ll see that you get some goose at the next banquet,” chided her mother impatiently. “Now, I have some wonderful news for you. This is very important for you and all the people of the kingdom.”

Sigrún instantly came alive. “Yes, what is it?”

“Your father has arranged a wonderful alliance for the kingdom and a marriage for you.” Now, the Queen joined in her exuberance. She was a handsome woman but clearly of an age that would bear no more progeny. Her very light brown hair showed streaks of the white of winter and the skin about her eyes wrinkled more and more with each passing moon.

The young Princess sort of froze in place. “A marriage — for me? With whom?” she asked in a voice that could scarcely be heard.

“With King Hothbrodd, Sigrún, can you believe it?” she exclaimed as she clasped her hands together. “Your father was so excited when the King asked for your hand, he could hardly think to negotiate proper terms. This means so much to us — to me. You know I’ve always felt so bad for not producing your father a male heir. Now, in one fell swoop, he has a son — and an ally. And Hothbrodd’s brother, Gothmund, is king of Svarin’s Howe. So we have allies on two marches. Oh, Sigrún, I was so excited, I wanted to tell you last night but King Hogni made me wait till King Hothbrodd’s cortege left the fortress so we wouldn’t appear too eager.”

Sigrún felt her blood had stopped flowing. She felt faint and wanted to swallow but there was no moisture left in her mouth. “King Hothbrodd?” she managed to gasp, “but he’s so old and…” Words failed her.

“Well, of course, you’re too young to worry about such things. But don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Your father was quite strict. He told His Majesty he must wait two winters till you’re of age to marry.”

“Marry?” Sigrún dryly croaked. “Me?” She felt she might fall sideways out of her chair.

“Yes, you, it’s just so exciting. Ooh, the very idea.” Queen Matilda raised her arms and looked out the window once more, thrilled this time. “Just think, two kingdoms will be at your command. Why, if I were young again.”

Sigrún thought her mother would swoon. She hoped she herself would die. Last night’s banquet replayed in her mind at high speed. What had she missed that would have warned her of this impending disaster? Why had she been so concerned with the food being served that she had failed to listen to any of the matters being discussed by the two kings? Perhaps she could have quashed this thing right then and there, had she only known. Well, no wonder King Hothbrodd kept trying to hold her hand. God only knows what he was thinking just then — what he really wanted to be about.

Her mother fairly danced from the room. A few moments later, Astrid re-entered.

“Did you hear?” asked Sigrún.

“Of course I did. Your mother nearly caught me. This is wonderful,” said the maid, her eyes rolling. “A king — with two kingdoms. Can you believe it?”

“Astrid,” implored the Princess, “you, of all people should know where my heart lies. How can you side with my parents?”

“Well, if you won’t marry him, I will. Say, would Your Majesty present me to one of the nobles in King Hothbrodd’s court?”

“Here I am, being sold off in some mad political marriage and all you can think of are your own little courting prospects,” exclaimed Sigrún in terse tones. “Well, you can have your king. Two winters hence, we’ll stuff you into my wedding gown and march you up to the altar. Old King Hothbrodd will never know. He wasn’t looking at me. He had eyes only for my father’s castle and his men-at-arms in the Great Hall. He’s not gaining a wife, he’s gaining another crown to wear.”

“But Sigrún, his crowns will sit on your head as well.”

“Yes, while I become another adornment to grace his left arm,” scolded the Princess. “Well, we’ll see about this. I’m going to go speak with my father right now. I’ll just let him know that I must have some rights in the choosing of my husband.”

“Should I come? You know, in case His Majesty feels the need to hit someone.”

“No Astrid, I’m going to see him myself. But, maybe it’s not a bad idea to have someone on my side — hmm.”

The young Princess stalked out of the room, lost in thought. She had altogether forgotten to assign her maid a list of tasks to perform in her absence so the young servant contented herself with combing and brushing her own auburn hair with her lady’s beautiful things.


Sigrún walked along a passageway within the thick stone walls of the castle keep, passed over to another tower and approached the heavy wooden door of the chamber occupied by the family chaplain, Father Hugo. She paused, to collect her thoughts, then gave a soft rap. The door opened and a round face peered out.

“Yes, my child, what is it? Won’t you come in and sit down?” the stout, middle-aged man asked in his gentle voice.

The Christian Priest had lived in the fortress for as long as Sigrún could remember. He was her tutor and sometimes confidant. She had learned to read her bible from him and also to converse in Latin. His attempts to teach her Greek had borne less fruit but the Princess was intrigued by the exotic sound of the language and its strange alphabet.

“Father Hugo, I hope I’m not disturbing your prayers and meditation but I need to speak with you about a matter of great importance.”

“Will I need my stole? Is this in the form of confession?” inquired the cleric.

“No, I need your counsel and intercession.”

“Intercession with Our Lord?”

“No, well, yes, maybe. More like intercession with our king.” Sigrún hesitated and pursed her red lips. “Maybe you’ve heard…”

“About your coming nuptials, yes, I was privy to the negotiations. His Majesty felt the need for spiritual guidance in the talks with King Hothbrodd.”

“So you consented — you agreed?”

“Yes child, it’s a truly marvelous opportunity for you, for the kingdom and for Holy Mother Church.” The Friar pressed his hands together in prayer and touched them to his lips.

“Was everyone consulted but me?”

“I don’t understand Princess, I would have assumed you knew the King’s visit to Sevafjell was for the purpose of suing for your hand in marriage. You were presented to His Majesty. You sat with him at the banquet.”

“Well, all they talked about was an alliance,” said Sigrún, her voice breaking. She felt her eyes grow wet. “How was I supposed to know what they meant? I’m only thirteen winters.”

“But you’re the Princess Royal, surely you know you’re expected to marry a great man. Your parents have no other children. The destiny of the kingdom lies within you. You must one day produce an heir to the throne.”

Her face was now all flushed. “Of course I knew. But I thought I’d have more time. Time to meet more suitors. Time to see more things.”

“Time is fleeting. Each of us is only allotted so much time to accomplish those things we must do. Besides, did you not hear? King Hothbrodd has agreed to accept baptism prior to any marriage ceremony. Do you know what that means? His retainers will surely follow their lord to the font. Churches will be built and consecrated. Missionaries will be sent. In time, all the souls in his kingdom will be converted.”

“Oh Father, that’s wonderful, of course,” said Sigrún, hoping she wasn’t audibly sobbing. “But what of love? Has no one considered my happiness? I just wanted to find the man of my dreams, someone that loved me and whom I loved. Someone who wanted me for who I am, not for the lands I would come to possess.”

“I can see you’re troubled, child. I’m glad you sought my counsel. Here, wipe your face.” He offered her a small cloth. “Your experience in matters of the heart is so limited. You must learn to trust your elders in these affairs. Hothbrodd is a fine man and a great leader, so I’m told. And what of your love of the Christ? You will be bringing so many people to his table. Your sacrifice for the souls of two kingdoms will not go unrewarded. You could be ‘sainted’ for this, but you must give of yourself willingly.”

“Sainted? I’m not even sure I want to be a queen anymore. Why does everyone expect so much of me? Why can’t I just wait for my knight to come to me? And serenade me? And treat me as his lady?” Now the tears freely flowed.

“Please try to banish such thoughts from your mind, Princess. I want you to come with me to the chapel and pray for divine guidance.” With that, he took her arm and led her from the room through a side door to an adjoining, larger room. The ceiling was high and raftered with oaken beams. A stone altar rested on a raised platform to the left and the rest of the chamber was taken with carved wooden benches. A large, ornate crucifix stood tall above the altar.

“Approach Our Lord, my child, you will not be abandoned in your time of need. Make your examination of conscience. His solace will comfort you.” He gently released her arm and then withdrew into his own sanctum.

Sigrún approached the altar and knelt. She blessed herself with the sign of the cross and then began to pray, as Father Hugo had taught her:

“Pater Noster, qui es in cœlis. Sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sirut in cœlo, et in terra…” Her soft voice fell silent as her lips continued the prayer.

When she had composed herself a bit, she rose and confronted the statue of the man hanging on the wood cross.

“I implore the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost to give me the strength to forge my own destiny. Grant me fortitude and please, please do whatever must be done to bestow on all those around me the wisdom to recognize and understand my needs. I beseech you in my darkest hour. Take everything from me but leave me my freedom to choose. To this end, I lift my heart and mind in prayer.”

She reached out and touched the feet of the figure. Her finger rubbed the protruding nail-head. Sigrún blessed herself again and then quickly turned and ran to the door, wiped her face with her sleeve and stepped out into the corridor. It was mercifully vacant. She descended the spiral staircase, down to the level of the Great Hall. It was bustling with activity while the evening meal was prepared.

In a fortress like Sevafjell, named for the ‘Wet Mountain,’ every meal was an event. There was seldom anything like a simple, family meal. In a royal court, there were knights and men-at-arms, house-karls and servants. They and their families must be fed. There were reports to be made before the throne. There were skalds and minstrels to entertain and educate the assemblage and there were pronouncements to be made. The castle was a community, which came together for the great feast each evening. There, the day’s toils were set aside. Cups of ale and wine were lifted; toasts were made.

Sigrún did not see her father in the hall. She lifted her long skirt and stepped up the few stairs to the door of his antechamber. A soldier clad in a thick leather hauberk and helmet opened the door. She entered and viewed King Hogni seated on a sumptuous chair. Before him, two knights, in chain-mail armor, were giving a report. The Princess waited till they departed then approached the throne, curtseying.

“May I have a word with you, father?” she asked in her most civil tone.

The King beamed broadly. “Ah, Sigrún, my only daughter. So you’ve heard the news. I swear — I could restrain your mother no longer. Come sit on my knee.”

The young girl thought herself too old for such a display but there was no better place to reach a king’s ear than from his lap. She dutifully obeyed.

“So are you as excited as everyone else?” he proudly asked.

“Father, I’m not excited at all. Why didn’t you talk to me about your plans? I would like to know how I’ll spend the rest of my life.”

“What was there to discuss, my dear? You’re much too young to concern yourself with delicate matters of state. We have forged a fine alliance and Hothbrodd has given a magnificent bride-price worthy of a queen. I’ve declared a holiday and have sent heralds into the surrounding villages. There is to be a great feast three days hence where I will proclaim your betrothal. The people have eagerly awaited news of who shall be the heir to my throne. Now, we have the man in the person of King Hothbrodd Granmarsson. I only wish he could have remained for the celebration but messengers came bearing tidings he could not neglect. That’s why he left so abruptly this morning.”

“What could be so important as to draw him away from a betrothal announcement?” Sigrún was amazed to hear herself ask this question but it offended her that she was to be so used.

“Oh, nothing to bother your pretty head with. Some sort of raiders are menacing his outlying villages. Hopefully, he’ll deal with them forthwith. Elsewise, I suppose I’m obligated to dispatch troops to support his forces. See what this alliance costs me? I certainly wouldn’t want to jeopardize your kingdom — your happiness.” He rubbed her back, as pleased with himself as he was with her. The aging ruler stroked his graying beard with his other hand.

“But father, what if I don’t love King Hothbrodd? What then?”

“Well, you’re not expected to love your husband before marriage. The virtue of a royal princess must be above reproach. You will come to love and honor him. Do you suppose I loved your mother before our wedding? No, I had barely met her. I had heard good things. Inquiries were made, you know.”

“Is there no one around here who understands love?” intimated Sigrún in a soft voice.

“My darling, as you come of age you’ll learn love grows much more readily than do kingdoms. Here, we have a fine opportunity for both to grow. Once you begin to bear fruit and give life to future kings, you will truly know the meaning of love and life.”

A frightened young girl leaned over and hugged her father. Unable to find a single sympathetic ear, she consigned herself to her fate.


The next day, Sigrún sat in her tower room and sulked. She sent Astrid off on some silly errand, what it was she couldn’t even remember. In the evening, she didn’t go down to the hall for dinner. Her maid brought a plate to her chamber. The Queen stopped by and her daughter excused herself saying she needed time to compose herself for the feast honoring her betrothal.

The following morning, the Princess was wakened by a great clamor in the courtyard below. Men were shouting and horseshoes clanged against cobblestones. She looked down from her window and witnessed the confusion of a military force being assembled. Just then, her maid entered the room.

“Astrid, what is happening down there? Father’s escort looks like they’re going on an expedition.”

“Haven’t you heard? A courier arrived from King Hothbrodd last night. He’s requesting military assistance to repel some sort of marauding army. Only the King’s escort is prepared to travel on such short notice. They’ll march within the hour. Boy, Sigrún, I would think you’d stay up on news from your kingdom.”

“Keep a respectful tone Astrid, I’ve put up with quite enough this week. In fact, I think you should start addressing me as ‘Your Majesty.’ Yes, if you think I’m going to appoint you my lady-in-waiting so you can make something of yourself, you better start giving me my propers.”

“Yes, at once, Your Majesty!” Astrid curtseyed. “Shall I advise the Queen that ‘Your Majesty’ will be dining alone again tonight.”

“Oh Astrid, don’t say that to her. I’m sorry. I’m just very upset.” She turned and looked out the window once more.

“Look how many knights are leaving. I wonder who’s going to guard the citadel while they’re gone.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” assured Astrid, joining her. “They’ve levied men from the villages. If they can stay awake all night, they can secure this place. Just look around you, it’s a fortress.”

Sigrún awoke to the sound of Astrid’s voice. “Good morning Your Highness. It’s a lovely day that has dawned for your betrothal feast.”

The Princess sat up in bed and looked at the young servant who was curtseying deeply. She wanted to ask if her maid had fallen on her head, when another voice spoke.

“Sigrún, get up, get up, the day’s awasting.”

It was her mother, standing on the other side of her bed. “The people are already entering the bailey. We’ve only several hours to pull you together for your grand appearance before the assembled masses of your future subjects.”

The bride-to-be arose from her bed and looked towards the large tub in the corner. Water vapor slowly rose from the vessel.

“Now Astrid is going to bathe you and then we’ll try to do something with your hair. Sigrún, you simply must stop going up on the roof of the tower. You know what that wind up there does to you.”

The Princess pulled back her nightgown, revealing the supple body and budding breasts within. Astrid drew away the garment and laid it over a chairback. Her Majesty left the room with a final “So much to do, so little time.”

So began a day of bathing and grooming and trying on gowns. Then, more hairstyles; then, more gowns. Astrid appeared to be enjoying it more than Sigrún and she had to do all the work. Her servant always seemed to enjoy handling all of her mistresses beautiful dresses, even though she would never own anything so lovely. The daughter of a house-karl, she was accepted into the service of the royal family upon the death of her father. Her mother had died years earlier. She had a small bed in an alcove of the Princess’ chamber. She ate well and got to be involved in all the juiciest gossip of the kingdom. Though her voice was the least important among Sigrún’s closest circle and she was the one person the Princess could pick on at whim, it was probably her glowing approval of the pending nuptials that convinced Sigrún that this dreaded event would come to pass. For it was clear that the self-interest of everyone about her would be satisfied by her marriage to Hothbrodd. She might order Astrid to take her side and speak of no other viewpoint but it would be a lie. Yes, everyone saw advantage in this political marriage, everyone except the bride-to-be. Even little Astrid was now dreaming of this great improvement in her own humble station. It seemed all that was left to Sigrún was to let the wedding go forth and begin the life she was expected to lead.

“Well, what do you think?” asked the Princess, carefully examining herself in a hand held mirror.

“Oh Sigrún, you look absolutely radiant,” Astrid said with genuine admiration.

The door abruptly swung open and Queen Matilda bustled in, all aflutter.

“Sigrún, are you presentable yet? Let’s see what you’ve done with yourself.” The Queen slowly

circled her daughter, scrutinizing every detail. Sigrún wore a long-sleeved, floor-length gown of golden-hued silk, a very rare and exotic fabric. The bodice was rather scooped for one so young but a golden cross on a chain rendered a demure look. Her hair, like pure sunlight, was tied up and delicate beautiful braids were coiled one upon another. An amber ring hung from each ear.

“Oh my dear, you look so lovely. It seems just yesterday you were nursing and now, look at you — being dressed for your betrothal celebration. It takes me back to my own festivity with King Hogni.”

“I’ll wager that at least he attended the betrothal celebration,” the Princess glumly replied.

“You know he wanted to attend, Sigrún. But Hothbrodd is an important monarch with many pressing matters of state and defense to attend to. But wait, you’ll find out soon enough the role a queen must play.” Matilda paused for a moment, then smiled slyly. “I was supposed to wait till the banquet and announcement but I believe you need a little encouragement to put you in the proper frame of mind.”

“What is it mother?” asked Sigrún. Even Astrid’s ears pricked up.

Queen Matilda reached into her bodice and withdrew a large ring of red gold. She delicately placed it in her daughter’s hand.

“Look dear, King Hothbrodd left you his royal signet as a token of his troth. We were going to present it to you when the proclamation was read but you may have it now and hold it up to the audience later. Isn’t that lovely?”

The young girl held the heavy ring for a moment then slipped it onto a finger. It was every bit too big for even her index finger. She examined the crest: a hand firmly grasped a spear near the head. Yes! That was the design displayed on the armor of many of the king’s retinue.

“It’s not exactly a friend and lover.”

“Now daughter, I know things are happening so quickly and you’re all excited and confused. But this signet is the symbol of the King’s intentions towards you. Why don’t you put it on one of your gold chains and hang it about your neck. Now I really must fly, there are so many details I must see to. It’s going to be a wonderful feast. Every hall, ward and bailey is overflowing with well-wishers.” Her Majesty raised two hands, which positively shook with anticipation. With that, she actually seemed to fly out the door.

“I guess she’s pretty excited about all this to-do,” said Astrid.

“She doesn’t get much excitement in her life,” Sigrún said. “Father would have to start a war to get this worked up. Astrid, give me some yarn, I’m going to wrap it around this ring till it fits my finger.”

“Your mother wanted you to wear it around your neck on a chain.”

“I’m not going to hang some dumb old ring around my neck and have every man stare at my cleavage, claiming he wants to see Hothbrodd’s ring. They can kiss my hand if they want to see it.”

The Princess stepped over to the open window. Astrid joined her. They were both impressed by the throng of humanity below. There was no empty space within the castle’s walls. Barbecue pits dotted the bailey and barrels of ale were strategically located in every corner.

“I hope everyone gets enough to eat,” Sigrún said. “They must have butchered every cow and pig within twenty leagues of here. They’ll be eating onions for a while after this. Now listen, Astrid, you may wear my old blue dress so you’ll be presentable as my lady-in-waiting tonight. And don’t wander off. You have to attend on me every moment. And don’t worry about meeting men. They’ll come to you because you’ll look so important.”

“But how will they ask for my hand? I haven’t any father.”

“Well, of course, as your queen and mistress, protocol demands that they approach me with their petition. But don’t worry, I’ll consult you in advance. Well, unless they’re such an incredible catch that I can’t give them time to inquire about your lineage.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful; even the son of a baron. I’m sure I’d love him ever so much and bear him many fine heirs!”

In due course, there was a knock and the chamber door was opened by a soldier. Father Hugo and Gertrud, one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, entered.

“Greetings, Your Highness,” said Gertrud curtseying deeply and spreading her long dress in a very formal manner. “Her Majesty has sent us to escort you to the Great Hall.” Father Hugo now bowed; his hands folded in prayer.

Sigrún slowly turned in a regal fashion. “Thank you Gertrud. Astrid will be attending me this evening. You have my leave to withdraw.”

The lady again curtseyed. “Thank you, Your Highness.” She turned and left the room.

“You are an absolute vision of loveliness, my child,” said the Friar. “The people will be blessed by any heir you present them.”

“Thank you, Father,” the Princess politely replied. “I look forward to hearing you share those words with the people. Shall we go?”

The soldier, the Priest, the Princess and the lady-in-waiting quietly filed down the hall and thence down the flights of winding steps. Anon, they arrived in the archway of the Great Hall. Trumpets blared a fanfare as all eyes in the jammed hall fell upon Sigrún in her grand entrance.

“Her Royal Highness, the Princess Sigrún!” shouted the herald.

Sigrún slowly strode up to the raised platform and curtseyed to the King and Queen, who nodded their royal assent. The multitude in the hall thundered their cheers and applause. Sigrún turned and curtseyed to the crowd and was rewarded with another ovation. She then sat on a plush chair beside the King.

King Hogni rose. “My loyal subjects, you have long awaited word on who shall rule the kingdom when, in the due course of time, we pass on to our final reward. I thank you all for attending this celebration.”

“I hardly recognize any of these people,” Sigrún whispered to Astrid, who was now standing behind her.

“Maybe they’ve come from Hothbrodd’s kingdom,” whispered Astrid.

“After due consideration and with divine guidance,” continued Hogni, lifting a hand in Father Hugo’s direction. The cleric graciously bowed at the neck. “We have, after lengthy negotiations, come to a decision.” The King paused, for effect, and lifted a golden goblet to his lips for a sip of wine. The people cheered again, in anticipation. Princess Sigrún took a deep breath and gripped the arms of her chair.

“We now wish to announce the betrothal of our own Princess Sigrún to…”

“NOW!!!” shouted a harsh voice in the midst of the assembled multitude.

The hall was instantly thrown into a state of utter confusion and madness. Hundreds of men drew swords, axes and maces and began wounding and killing the men beside them. The levied soldiers, ringing the hall, were slow to react to the extraordinary situation; many fell before drawing their weapons. Sigrún gasped. Astrid screamed, as did many women. King Hogni drew his own sword and smote a man charging the throne.

“Find the safety of the tower!” he ordered his wife, as he slew another attacker.

“What’s happening?” screamed Sigrún.

Her mother grabbed her by the arm and began tugging her towards the archway.

“No! I want to stay and help father.” Sigrún bent down and picked up a sword dropped by the man slain by the King.

Matilda had been married many years to a warrior and was quick to react to the unexpected melee. “Come quickly Sigrún. Drop that sword immediately. Leave the fighting to the men.”

The Queen, the Princess, the Priest and the lady-in-waiting now ran, as fast as their skirts and robes would allow, back up the spiral staircase.

“Guard this staircase with your life,” Matilda commanded the soldier following them. The foursome heard his screams before they reached the top of the stairs. They ran into the royal bedchamber and slammed the door.

“Father Hugo, push the wardrobe against the door,” ordered the Queen. She then lifted the feather mattress of the royal bedstead. “Sigrún, hide under here,” she instructed, pointing to a box concealed beneath the mattress. Its construction would lead most searchers to think they could see under the bed from the sides. And indeed, there were many valuable objects placed there. Much of Hothbrodd’s bride-price had been secured there.

“No, mother, don’t put me in there!” begged Sigrún.

“Do as you’re told Sigrún! No matter what happens, make no sound. Be very still. And if you’re captured, offer no resistance, King Hogni will ransom you if he’s still alive. If not, King Hothbrodd will buy your freedom. Tell them, Sigrún, they dare not touch you if they desire any ransom.”

“Mother, don’t do this to me!” sobbed the Princess. “Where’s Astrid? Where’s Astrid?” she cried, even as her mother pushed her down into the box.

All became darkness. Sigrún strained to hear any sounds. She could hear the clashing of metal on metal, the shouts of men and the screams of women. What could have gone so wrong? Why did they swing open the drawbridge and admit anyone who cared to enter the castle? Why did they send the elite cadré of warriors to fight in another kingdom? Why wouldn’t they let her fight in defense of herself and her family?

Now, she heard the sounds of combat outside the door. She concentrated so hard that she felt she was right in the midst of it. Sigrún heard her father shouting commands at his men and oaths at his attackers. She heard iron weapons bursting iron armor. She heard the groans of men and the thumps of bodies striking the wooden floor.

Then she heard a crash of metal and heard her father, the King, gasp as he drew his final breath. Queen Matilda screamed. Then there was a splintering of wood as their enemies used the bench out in the corridor as a battering ram on their chamber door.

They shouted upon each stroke of the bench, until the heavy, oaken door ruptured and the wardrobe fell over. The voices were clearer now, and closer.

“My sons, my sons, stop in the name of the Christ,” begged the Priest.

She heard the swath of the sword that silenced his voice.

Then she felt a thump on the mattress above her as a body was forced down upon it. She heard men laugh. So close, she could almost taste it. Her mother screamed. She groaned. Then she began to sob uncontrollably.

“Where’s the Princess Sigrún?” demanded a noxious voice with the sound of death.

Sigrún tried to push up on the mattress but it wouldn’t budge. She wanted to scream. Then she remembered her mother’s instructions and she froze.

The box was too small for her young body. She couldn’t even push her legs out to their full length. Nor could she turn in place. All she do was smother and die — a moment at a time.

There was a tearing of fabric and she felt the mattress rocking above her in the most curious manner. Now she heard the groans of a man.

“Who else wants to ride a queen?” asked a voice so filled with malice that Sigrún trembled.

She clutched the cross at her throat and prayed. Sigrún prayed for deliverance. She prayed for her mother. Then, she remembered her prayer three nights earlier. “My God,” she prayed, “Protect and defend me from my own stupid wishes.”

There was more movement of the feather mattress. Then more. Then more.

“Anyone else?” said a second crude voice. “Her Majesty won’t be kept waiting.” There was a chorus of laughter

“All right then,” said a third voice, “let me have a try at this.”

She heard Queen Matilda softly sobbing as the mattress repeated its rocking ritual.

“I’m going to ask you one more time, Highness,” again demanded the first cruel voice. “Where’s the Princess Sigrún?”

“She’s not talking,” said the second voice. “We should get it over with.”

There was the ‘swoosh’ of a sword and a ‘whump’ as it found its target. The sobbing stopped.

Sigrún heard, and felt, the treasures beside her, outside the box, being removed. The voices were now commenting on the value of their find. The Princess lay absolutely still. Her mouth was so dry, she couldn’t have cried out if she wanted to. She heard footfalls leaving the room. There were rough footsteps on the wooden staircase. Then, all sounds receded into the distance. She reached out with her mind, discerning what sounded like a celebration in the Great Hall, far below.

Still she lay. Her leg muscles ached from being bent so long. Sigrún lay for what seemed half her lifetime. There were still sounds in the distance, but nothing close; no footfall, no heartbeat.

Sigrún tried to push up on the mattress now. It gave a little. Enough to show it was becoming dark in the room. She pushed as hard as she could and the mattress gave enough for her to crawl out of the box. The Princess rolled onto the hardwood floor. It was hard to control her trembling. Again she opened up her senses — nothing close.

Slowly rising, her legs smarting, she hoped she wouldn’t have to bolt. The room was dark save for a few errant moonbeams drifting through the unshuttered window. She looked down at the bed. Her mother’s still body lay there, a look of horror on her face. Matilda’s beautiful gown was torn wide open and her naked body was exposed and covered in blood. Her chest was split open. Sigrún knelt and kissed her on the lips, searching for any sign of life. She hugged her and sobbed.

The young girl stood up and slowly made her way to the shattered door, tripped in the dark and then realized it was the head of her tutor and confessor. His body lay nearby. Sigrún dreaded going out into the hall.

It was mercifully dark. She moved with short, careful steps, lest she trip on the body of her father or one of his men. Further down the hall, a single torch provided the only illumination. She cautiously felt for the top of the staircase, the only way down. As she worked her way down, step by step, she felt the bodies of many soldiers strewn about. One felt different.

Sigrún reached down and felt the body. Enough light filtered down from an archer’s slit to tell it was poor Astrid. Her young friend never made it up the staircase. Who could know why? Her dress was ripped open and soaked with blood. Sigrún felt her cheeks grow wet and had to fight the urge to cry out.

Slowly, she descended the remaining steps. The hallway beyond was dark and unoccupied. She slipped past the archway and into the narrow corridor beyond. On the other side there was a slit that looked over the Great Hall. Sigrún carefully brought her eyes to bear on the scene below.

There was an assemblage of rough looking, armed men, literally walking over the bodies of the slain, continuing the banquet meant to celebrate her betrothal. They now celebrated their cowardly victory. Instead of swords, each now wielded a cup and joint of meat. Some spoke in a tongue foreign to her ears but they appeared to be offering toasts to their success.

“All Hail Arminius! All Hail Mars! All Hail CathuBodua!” they screamed.

Was it Latin? No, something like it. Sigrún had heard of Mars, the old Roman war-god. Father Hugo had forbade her to even speak the name. But who was Arminius? Who was CathuBodua?

The hall was a scene of utter carnage. There were dead bodies everywhere. Most were on the floor but some lay upon wooden tables. The raiders seemed to think it funny to let them remain there. Some even made a show of catching blood drips with their cups. Towards the rear, other men were binding crying women with straps and ropes. A surly looking man with a black beard stood up on top of the head table. He raised a sword and what looked like her father’s gold goblet.

“Hail Mars! Hail CathuBodua!” he shouted in a drunken voice.

“Hail Arminius!” his men raucously retorted.

Sigrún espied a drunken soldier heading for the archway. She dropped down and quietly headed down the dark corridor. The Princess knew of an old drainage shaft within the massive wall of the keep. It was not considered an access point by any except Sigrún and Astrid and it had been some time at that. The girl felt for the opening in the dark. Her hands were shaking but she found it.

She slid her legs down the hole. Somehow, her hips and chest weren’t quite as easy to pass as she remembered. Sigrún began slithering through ten feet of fitted stones. A sense of panic seized her. Would she become stuck in here, unable to get out? Who would help her? She couldn’t cry out, the raiders would get her. Before she could gather her wits, she felt air beneath her feet and fell to the ground where she collapsed into a heap. She quickly rose and glanced about. Only the dead kept vigil in the bailey. The young fugitive hiked up her long skirt and ran for the gatehouse. The portcullis was halfway down, as if the guards were slain as they attempted to close it when the alarums were first sounded. She heard a sound and looked up to see two armed men on the wall. They must be raiders. The Princess hurried to the base of the wall and pressed her back to it. Carefully, she inched her way out. When her toes found the boards of the drawbridge, she broke into a run. Her small, slippered feet made no sound that could compete with the singing and shouting wafting from the Great Hall.

Princess Sigrún ran pell-mell down the hill in the dark, following the road, which led along the mighty Rhine River.


The Black Forest had always been her home. Now, it never seemed darker as Sigrún hurried along. She imagined an enemy soldier lurking behind every tree. Though it was still early into twilight, no passers-by were abroad tonight. Everyone who had escaped the massacre must have fled the castle at Sevafjell and kept on going. The road rose to the top of a hill giving her a chance to glimpse the moon, rising in the east, through the leaves of the trees. It was full and it was blood red. The eye seemed to be staring right at her.

Breathless, she finally dropped her skirt and slowed to a fast walk. After a while, she started trying to pull her gown up over her bosom to allow more clearance for her legs. Her young breasts would not hold the fabric and she had nothing to tie the dress up with. So then, at length, she sat down on a log and tore the skirt off at the knees. Sigrún couldn’t bear to throw the beautiful embroidered silk away so she wrapped it around her shoulders as a shawl.

As she walked, she occasionally daubed at her wet cheeks with her new shawl. What could have gone so terribly wrong? She thought of her mother and her father and poor Astrid. All she ever wanted was to be a lady; and what of Father Hugo? Sigrún tried to remember the exact words of her prayer in the chapel. Did her wish to quash the wedding bring this horrible doom down upon everyone she loved? It had to be. That was the only reason she survived. Everything was the result of her terrible prayer.

A sudden shadow startled her. She realized the moon had risen high in the sky and was now behind her. A break in the clouds had bathed her in moonbeams. She was reeling from her own shadow. A cold, unseasonable wind arose. Her little cape flapped and she tried to hold it close around her.

The wind became increasingly violent and Sigrún felt it would sweep her off the road so she sought the shelter of the largest trunk in a stand of birch trees. The fugitive sat upon the grass on the leeward side of the tree. The whipping wind pummeled her from every side and heightened her apprehension. There was a roll of distant thunder as the birch and its neighbors began swaying and bending in the wind, their leaves sounding like a large company of men running across a stream. Sigrún closed her eyes for protection. She was so dreadfully weary; all sense of time seemed to dissipate like smoke in a gale.

“Wuu-ohhh,” cried the howling wind. “Wuu-ohhhh,” it moaned again, and again.

In a delirium, Sigrún thought she heard the pounding of thousands of feet hurrying by, above her, in the treetops. She lifted her eyelids to chance a look up. The flying dust stung her eyes. Was it a dream or a vision? She thought she saw a wild multitude of men, furiously racing by. Waving arms and weapons, they seemed to be involved in a mad chase. Was that a man with an axe? Above a willow, was that a man with a shield? Over there — a face with a hat and an eye-patch? Or just dust in the wind?

The Princess pulled her shawl over her head, drew her knees up to her chest, rolled over on her side and sobbed the rest of the night.

The wind died down and sometime thereafter, the sun rose. Sigrún got up and returned to the road. No one was about and she wondered how far she had gone. Was she still in Hogni’s kingdom? Did it matter? Should she make for a village? Or avoid all human contact? Would Hothbrodd still accept her as his bride? Was this land, this kingdom, now hers? Or did it now belong to the cowardly enemies who had slaughtered the people in the fortress? And who were these raiders? Were they the marauders who had menaced her fiancé’s kingdom? Had they sidestepped the assembled armies of the two kingdoms and simply slipped into the undefended citadel during the festivity? She twisted Hothbrodd’s ring so the signet was in her palm and she clutched it tightly. Once again, she walked north.

All the events of the preceding days played out over and over again in her mind. She sniffled intermittently. All she ever had, all she ever was, had been torn from her. Her beautiful dress was a tatter. She reached to see if she still had her golden crucifix at her throat. At least that was still there.

She thought of her — dream was it? What did she see and hear in the forest last night? The song of a wandering troubadour came to mind. He had appeared at Sevafjell one cold winter night. He was dressed so strangely. Someone said he came from the distant north. He sang his songs in the Great Hall and was fed and given a bench for the night for his trouble. The fire in the hearth had burned low by the time he came to his somber last ballad.

He sang of the Wild Hunt of the Furious Host, charging by with the howling wind. What did he call their leader? Sigrún vaguely recalled him tell of some one-eyed man with a hat? What was his name? Then the agonized look on Astrid’s face sprung into her mind and she began sobbing again.

She had walked all day before realizing how hungry she was; the road was so lonely. There was a little village off to the right but she was afraid to approach and, so, hurried along the road, never hearing the man come up behind her afoot.

“Well, what a fine young girl to be walking all alone on the north road,” he said. He was an obvious ruffian of a low class. Though he had a brown beard and wore a dagger, he was not a tall man and was slight of build. He wore a thick leather gambeson and a leather cap, obviously meant to be worn under a helmet. “Off in search of a husband, no doubt.”

“Please go away and leave me alone,” said Sigrún.

“Now, now, I would think an unescorted lady would favor the chance to be accompanied by a fighting man such as myself. A lot of bad things can happen on the high road.”

“This is the king’s road and it’s perfectly safe.”

“Oh, ho ho-o! It certainly wasn’t safe for the King. Brought the very men who killed him. Or haven’t you heard? Imagine, a king dies without an heir. Word is that Arminius now sets the throne.”

“King Hogni did not die without an heir.”

“Now listen to you. What special knowledge of the law do you possess? My, my, you look to be a lady of the court fallen on hard times. You might have need of a champion, to stake your claim perhaps. Yes, you might even be a lady-in-waiting,” he said, “or the daughter of a count.”

“What I am is someone who likes to travel alone and I can take care of myself.” Sigrún tried to quicken her pace.

“That’s a very impressive cross about your sweet, young neck. I’d like to get a better look and perhaps offer a prayer with you.”

Sigrún turned and glared, “This is my kingdom now and I command you to be on your way!” She immediately regretted revealing herself and wondered if she should begin running back to the village behind her.

“So you’re the Princess Royal!” leered the vagabond. “Allow me to accompany you back to your capital. Your army awaits your command. Also, I’m sure Arminius would reward me handsomely for returning Hogni’s only heir.”

Sigrún shrieked and began running away. The ruffian gave her a length and then gave chase. He easily caught up with her and shoved her roughly from behind. She lost her balance and sprawled forward, falling onto the side of the dirt road. Sigrún scrambled for her feet but was grabbed from behind and an arm wrapped around her throat to rip her crucifix away. She was thrown to the ground at the base of a spreading yew and began clawing at the ground and crawling on all fours into the undergrowth. The man threw his weight on her back and flattened her onto the forest floor.

She struggled to prevent herself from being rolled over onto her back but wasn’t strong enough and every muscle in her body ached from her ordeal. Sitting on her hips, he now reached for the scooped neckline of her bodice, pulling away, tearing the silk and revealing her breasts. Sigrún screamed. The rogue leaned forward and put his mouth on hers, giving her a terrible kiss and muffling her frantic cries. His hands reached down for the torn edges of her dress and further tore it open. Now, he put the weight of his chest on her breasts and used his free hands to pull his pants down.

Sigrún desperately shook her head back and forth trying to evade his lips and tongue. There was a new sensation as he began to force his way into her. She felt something where something ought not to be. The young girl lashed out with her right hand and caught his left temple with Hothbrodd’s ring, still hidden in her palm. She screeched and pushed his head away. The edge of the tiny spear insignia caught and tore the skin at the side of his eye. He lurched back a little and reached for his face, lifting himself with his right arm. The hapless girl felt her left hand tighten around the hilt of the dagger in its sheath at his right hip.

“Oh, I like a wildcat, Princess. Do your worst. The smell of fresh blood drives me into a frenzy,” he snarled as a drop of his blood fell on her face.

“I was crowned in blood,” she answered, in a voice as cold as death. Sigrún drew the dagger and stuffed it into his exposed right armpit. It bit deep. Blood gushed forth from the artery. Her assailant’s face went pale. He assumed a shocked expression and then fell heavily upon her.

The girl struggled to remove his weight, finally using the planted dagger as a lever to roll him over onto the blanket of bloody yew needles beside them. Sigrún crawled away on her hands and knees under the saplings of the ancient yew, spitting and gagging. She stopped only to become violently ill, her empty belly convulsing in dry heaves.

Sigrún reached for a sapling and tried to pull herself to her feet on legs that were shaking and unsteady. The torn edges of her dress wouldn’t come together to cover the naked body within. She took a few tentative steps forward and reached down for the dagger protruding from the side of her fallen attacker. Slowly, the Princess raised the bloody double-edged blade in front of her face; its sharp point rested lightly against her throat.

“You’d like to take me too, wouldn’t you?” she deliriously asked. She looked at the dead body before her, then she looked down at herself. “I would like to accommodate you but stay with me awhile. Let’s see what other mayhem we can cause first.”

With that, the Princess Sigrún, betrothed of King Hothbrodd and sole heir to the throne at Sevafjell, knelt down and began stripping the clothing off of a dead robber. When it was done, she cast aside her own ragged, bloody garment and donned the leather breeches, gambeson and belt of her adversary. The breeches pulled up to her ribcage and the boots had to be worn over her own slippers. She buckled the straps on the front of the gambeson to the last hole, then bent over forward and let her long blonde hair fall into the leather cap, which reached down to cover her neck, like a knight’s chain-mail coif. Lastly, the dagger was wiped on the bare arm of its previous owner and replaced in the sheath on her belt.

“Who’s the victim Now-w?” she sneered, viciously kicking the corpse in the face before walking away on the long northern road.

Night was fast catching up with her. The air was cool and felt good on her face. It felt funny not to feel the breeze about her ankles and calves. She passed a little brook near the roadside and stopped for a drink. Even in the dying light, her white skin seemed a marked contrast to her tanned leather garments. Sigrún splashed some refreshing water on her face and then dug into the mud with her fingers and let the rich earth run between them. Rubbing her face and neck with her mucky hands felt good, and reassuring that her disguise would stand scrutiny and she would pass for a man. After all, it was a man’s world she found herself all alone in.

It was completely dark when she came to a fork in the road. One choice led east, the other continued north. After consideration, she stayed on the north road, the route that carried her the farthest away from Sevafjell.

The high road was awash in shadows painted by the moon coming up over the trees as Sigrún kept up a brisk pace. She wanted to walk all night and then maybe catch a little sleep in the morning. That way she might escape detection by wandering robbers and then, she hoped to avoid a repeat encounter with the ghostly apparitions that had passed near last night.

As the road wound around a hill to the left, the princess-errant began to hear a distant sound of many voices. After another league passed she spied several bonfires and a large melange of men encamped in an open field. She resolved to confront the party and possibly throw in her lot with them. Sigrún suddenly remembered she was wearing earrings and slipped the delicate amber jewelry off her lobes. Having neither purse nor pockets, she dropped them into her right boot. She felt for her gold cross. It was gone.

Oh well, it hadn’t brought her much luck anyway.

Walking boldly, as she thought a man might, Sigrún strode across the field to what appeared to be the largest bonfire. The assembled men scarcely paid her any attention as she passed between their gatherings. Into the middle of their circle she stepped. A large, muscular man, clad in a chain-mail hauberk and wearing a sword, was the apparent focus of attention.

“Now what have we here?” he asked in a gruff voice upon noticing her. “Who are you boy? What business have you with us?”

“I am a soldier, seeking my fortune. I wish to join your company,” said Sigrún, trying to lower the pitch of her voice.

“Ahh-haaa-haaa,” roared the men crowded about the flames.

“So you’re a soldier of fortune are you?” asked the man, after laughing himself. “Have you seen many battles?”

“I’ve seen my share of fighting,” responded the Princess. She rested her right hand on the hilt of her dagger.

“Ahhh-ha-haa-ha,” laughed the men again.

“General, let’s bind him and sell him as a slave,” suggested a harsh voice to her right. “This one will fetch a fair price in the Frankish markets.”

“Tell me boy,” commanded the General, “why I should enlist you instead of selling you for a slave.”

Sigrún clenched her teeth and strengthened her resolve. “Because a slave will only work as hard as you make him,” said she, glad she remembered to use a masculine pronoun, “and will serve you no longer once you sell him. Now a soldier, he will serve you with all his heart, even unto death.”

There was a smattering of laughter this time.

“Very well boy,” said the General, “I wish half my men held your sentiment.” He looked around at the silent crowd. “You may join my cohort for your board. I will see how well you serve me.”

“May I ask the General?” replied Sigrún, “are we raiders or do we serve some king?”

“Neither boy, we are free-lancers, mercenaries for hire, much like yourself. We march north to the Baltic Sea to seek our fortune in the service of Ulrich, King of the Goths.”

“That’s good, because I’m no raider.”

“You’ll earn your fortune with our company. Now, I am General Manfred. How are you called?”

“I’m — I’m called Rune.”

“Well, Rune, of ‘the secret lore,’ we’ll soon learn what secrets you possess,” said Manfred, playing with the ancient import of her adopted name. “See if you can find a blanket in that wagon over there and find a spot for yourself.”

Rune spent the night tossing and turning on the cold, hard ground. It was the worst just before dawn when the dew settled on her like a second mantle. Sleep evaded her; there were only sporadic moments of delirium. She wondered why she was not wakened to take a turn at the watch and then realized it was because they didn’t trust her.

The cohort rose at dawn. Rune was given a piece of stale bread and some water. She realized it was the first food she had had in three days. It wasn’t much. Some of the men had a pot of hot gruel but no one offered her any.

In the light of day, she got a better look at her new associates. There were four, maybe five hundred men. Some had slept in tents, the rest on the open earth. There were a number of horses hobbled in the field, grazing on the grass. Several wagons stood by; blankets beneath them revealed that a number of the men had slept there.

“Hey, you boy,” called out a man, “hitch those grays to that wagon over there.”

The new mercenary hurried to comply. The fact that she had never hitched a team of horses didn’t occur to her, she had seen the end result Suddenly, she realized she didn’t know how to get the horses to come over by the wagon. Calling them and pulling on their chins didn’t seem to work.

“The bridles and reins are on the wagon-seat,” hollered the man at her.


They were on the road before the sun had cleared the trees. The cohort formed a long procession on the north road; most men marched, some rode horseback. The mounted men rode up front, as a vanguard. There also appeared to be outriding scouts who reported back regularly to the General. The infantry marched four abreast, carrying their spears and shields. The supply-wagons brought up the rear. Someone had ordered Rune to carry a burlap sack full of dried peas. She wondered why it couldn’t be thrown in a wagon. Six days ago, she wouldn’t even have eaten such fare. She wondered it a lot that first day.

They stopped late in the evening. Rune was happy that someone decided to cook her sack of peas. That night she had just fallen into a fitful sleep when she was shaken awake.

“Get up boy,” demanded the soldier. “Get some wood into that fire.”

Rune rose and headed for the woods, looking for small limbs and branches. The sentry who had wakened her handed her an axe to break them up for firewood. She had never wielded an axe before and her first blow was deflected by the wood and didn’t even break the bark. Rune renewed her grip and swung with all her might, making a small cut in the limb. It took a while to learn to strike at opposing angles to sever the firewood.


Marching down the road, she felt a pain growing in her palm. She looked and found a flap of torn skin between her thumb and forefinger. The Princess tried to get the skin back in its place but it wouldn’t stay. It would only smart.

The cohort marched another three days. The road turned east to follow the course of the Elbe River. They came to a halt on a hill overlooking a fording place. Rune was marching near the head of the column in hopes of eating less dust. She saw two outriders gallop up from the ford.

“Bad news General,” shouted the first, “those are King Gothmund’s men down there. They’re demanding a tariff to allow us to pass over the ford and their lands beyond.”

“Well, how much are they demanding?”

“They want fifty gold bezants, it’s outrageous.”

“What! Do they know we’re not rich merchants?”

“Aye, they know what we’re about. I told them we ride in the service of King Ulrich. They couldn’t care less. They have no treaties with him on this score.”

A captain leaned forward in his saddle. “We can take them, General. They’re no more than a border guard.”

“That’s so. But can we defeat the king’s forces that lie ahead? It’s a long march across Svarin’s Howe.” Manfred pondered a moment. “Here’s the thing. If we pay what they ask, then there’s no profit in our venture. If we march to the next ford we’ll never make it to Ulrich’s lands in time to meet our commitment. If we slay Gothmund’s men-at-arms, we risk fighting a war of attrition with his main army that we can’t win. It’s a real barrel we’re over, lads.”

Rune sidled up from her place alongside the mounted men. She twisted the heavy gold ring from her finger.

“General, sir, show them this ring,” she began, taking care the pitch of her voice didn’t rise too high. “It’s the royal signet of King Gothmund’s brother, King Hothbrodd. If you say a favor is owed the cohort for services rendered, I trust we’ll be granted safe passage over Svarin’s Howe.” She reached up with the ring, which Manfred examined.

“How did you come by this ring, boy?” asked the General. “Did you steal it?”

“I came by it fairly, General,” replied the Princess who would be a soldier. “I’m no robber. It’s my ring.”

“Okay, it’s worth a try. But I warn you, boy, if this starts a war, it’s your head.” Manfred handed the ring to the scout. “Do as the lad says, Roald. I’ve no better idea.”

The two scouts rode down to the ford. Some of the infantrymen sat upon the road. The mounted men moved over to the field to let their mounts sample a mouthful of the local grasses. Roald and his comrade soon returned.

“They’re going for the deal, General. The signet worked.”

“All right, move out,” shouted the captain.

“Hey, where’s my ring?” demanded Rune.

“Sorry boy, they kept the ring as evidence that Hothbrodd’s debt is repaid. Did you think they only wanted a look?” asked Roald.

She should have gone down the hill and done the talking herself, thought Rune. But what would she say? “Hello, I’m King Hothbrodd’s Queen-to-be but I’ve decided to become a mercenary soldier instead. So, if you’ll let my new friends pass, the family would be ever so grateful.”

Those border guards would not have dared take the ring from Hothbrodd’s fiancé. No, indeed — they would have taken her — right back to Hothbrodd’s castle. Rune shook her head, threw her blanket roll over her shoulder and marched down to the ford with the rest of the cohort.


That night at the campfire, Rune sat alone, eating a piece of hard barley bread. It wasn’t much, and it was stale; she chewed slowly to make it last. The men were boisterously talking and drinking ale.

Suddenly, Manfred called out, “Rune, where are you boy?”

Rune approached his position of honor and made a little bow. “Yes, General.”

“Lad, you did us a real service today and it cost you what fortune you’ve accumulated thus far.” Manfred rose from his seat and cleared his throat.

“Listen up, Rune is one of us now. He gets a private’s share of any bounties earned by the cohort. He’ll serve as my squire.”

“What about the ceremony?” hollered a voice in the mob.

“Right, okay lad kneel down.” Rune knelt before Manfred who drew his sword partially out of his sheath. “Put your hand on the hilt of my sword.” The ersatz-boy reached out her hand and gripped the bone handle.

“Allright, do you swear to fight hard and be a loyal member of the cohort and follow my orders?”

“I swear.”

The men around the fire cheered briefly.

Someone handed Manfred a conical helmet and he plopped it onto Rune’s head, right on top of the leather coif she always wore. It had an iron strip to protect her nose. It was very concealing, she thought, even though she had to resist the urge to cross her eyes.

“Go ahead and get some of that hot pork, Rune,” said Manfred. “And you can have a ration of ale if you can find a cup.”

Late that night, as Rune restlessly sought sleep, a man roused her.

“Good man, sleep in your helmet do you?” he said. “Go report to the sentry down by the road. You’ve got four hours guard duty.”


The mercenary cohort marched long and hard the next day. Word was that an emissary had arrived from Ulrich and he was anxious for their early arrival. Rune ached all over and her feet felt raw. Her face and arms were burnt by the sun, despite the mud baths she applied at every opportunity. But she felt stronger. Stronger and more confidant than she had ever felt in her young life.

When they made camp that night, Rune was told to unsaddle the General’s war-horse and see he had fodder and water. Everyone got extra rations of ale and food that night. Manfred wanted to lighten the wagons to speed their forced march. Besides, they would soon be feasting as guests of the Goth King.

After supper, the squire went down to a small creek. Pulling off her oversize boots, she dipped her tired feet in the cool waters. Search though she might, there was no sign of her amber earrings. A hole worn through the sole of her right boot told the tale. Her slippers were now little more than rags padding her boots. Her feet were the same. All red and sore, they were covered with broken blisters. She leaned forward and put her face in the water. What evil powers could have conspired to reduce her to this state? As her breath ran out, she contemplated surrendering to the waters embrace.

Then she sat up again and watched water dripping down her noseguard. An old soldier came over and sat down beside her.

“What is such a young bairn doin’ marching with an army of crusty old fighters?” he asked, in a slow, measured voice, frosted with an accent so thick you could cut it with a battle-axe.

“Same as you,” she stammered, “Seeking my fortune by honorable combat.”

“Oh, ye’ll see combat aplenty and soon me young comrade.” The gray-bearded war-dog took a sip from an old cow horn. “Here try a taste of this.”

Rune took a swig. Oh it was good. It burned a little but it was thick and rich and sweet. The liquid was immediately intoxicating. She looked into the horn; the contents were all golden. She returned the vessel.

“Ahh, that’s good. What is it?”

“It’s mead, son. Honey wine. Drink of the gods. I keep a bladder of it. Reminds me of home.”

“Where is your home old timer?”

“The North Country, Scandia, and tonight I feel it in me bones that soon, I’ll be returning there.”

“Are you leaving the cohort? We’re only going as far as the coast. Isn’t Scandia somewhere over the sea?”

“Aye, it lies over the Skagerrak but I won’t be sailing there.” He took a deep draught of the liquor. “I feel the spirits calling me home, lad.”

“What spirits? How are they calling you?”

“The Valkyrjor lad.”

Rune didn’t understand and wore a puzzled look

“The Idisi in ye language,” said the old soldier.

Rune shook his head to and fro.

“Why laddie, who brought ye up, goats?” The old trooper was incredulous. “Don’t tell me ye be Kristinn?”

Rune admitted he was.

“The Kristinnr gods can’t protect ye in the savage North Country. Ye be going into battle against Viking warriors. Do ye even know what that means?”

The boy shook his head again.

“Ye’ll be fighting Berserkers — the bear-skins. Maybe even wolf-men.” He drew his sword. The blade caught the last rays of the setting sun. It was broad and long and the blade had some strange letters written on its patterned metal, which looked like the rings inside of a tree, running along its entire length. Rune had never seen anything like it.

“Ooooohh!” she exclaimed. “It’s beautiful. What is it?”

“This be a Viking broadsword lad,” he said proudly. “The finest weapon in all the world.”

“Could — could I hold it — for a moment?”

The old man hesitated, then proffered the hilt. “Here but watch how ye touch the blade lest ye lose some of that young blood of yourn.”

Rune held the sword up and admired the blade. It was heavy but it felt to be in perfect balance. The crossguard was short, as if suggesting that its bearer needed no defense. The leather wrapping of the grip was blood stained; it was altogether the weapon of a great slayer. She handed it back.

“Thank you, sir.”

The old man returned the sword to its sheath. He drew a leather thong from around his neck. It had a silver medallion hanging on it that resembled a cross but was heavier.

“Would ye like to wear this in battle?”

“Is it a cross?”

“No lad, this be the hammer of Thor. It will give ye some real protection in these parts.”

“Who is Thor?” asked the squire.

“He be the God of Thunder. Ye would do well to pray for his protection in battle.” The old man seemed very sure of himself.

“But won’t you need your hammer?”

The grizzled old warrior laughed. “They know my face well enough I reckon. It’s that young face of yourn they need to remember.” With that he hung the thong around her neck.

It smelled a little but it smelled like the old soldier and Rune liked that.


The cohort only marched three hours the next morning. They came over a rise in the land and suddenly it was there: the coast of the Baltic Sea. Rune had never seen so much water spread out before her eyes. They had marched hard, leaving the supply train behind. Everyone sat down in place for a rest as their leaders parlayed with warriors sent by King Ulrich. Apparently his forces were nearby.

General Manfred rode into view and began barking orders to his captains.

“Put the archers on the high ground to the left and have the pikemen block that valley to the right so we don’t find the raiders crawling up our backsides. The infantry will charge straight down the hill as Ulrich closes off their retreat to the sea.”

Men began hurrying to do their commander’s bidding. Well-disciplined units, with healthy profit motives, smoothly deployed across the forested landscape.

Rune wasn’t really assigned to a fighting unit. She was to stay near the mounted General. As he discussed the tactical situation with his senior men, Rune’s eye caught sight of a peculiar thing.

A face was carved into a massive oak at the edge of the glade. There seemed to be a strange letter carved just below it. The entire carving seemed to be quite old. As the young squire examined it, she raised her hand to touch the face.

“Hey boy, don’t touch that,” commanded Manfred, approaching from behind.

“What is it General?” asked his squire.

“It’s an old rune tree. This must be a sacred grove. I expect that’s their war god, probably Wuotan. Don’t touch his tree unless you have a sacrifice to offer or you’re likely to fetch yourself a good measure of bad luck.”

“Yes sir.”

“Now look, boy. Here’s a mace,” he said, handing her a weapon that had been hanging from his saddle. It was as long as her arm. The business end was thicker and had a metal strap around it. The strap was studded with four wicked, broad spikes. A leather thong was tied above the grip. “You stay behind me and watch my rear. Do you understand?”

“But General, I wanted to fight with a sword.”

Manfred laughed. “Swords don’t grow on trees, boy. You want a sword? You kill somebody who has one.”

“You can count on me General. You don’t know how bad I want to kill a raider.”

“Good man!” he exclaimed and then wheeled his large black horse to face the front of the coming battle.

As with most battles, they had rushed to the battlefield only to wait around for things to start happening. Rune once again began looking at the carving on the oak tree and now noticed a terrible old scar in the bark of the bole, high above the ground. A lightning strike in years past? No wonder these people deemed it sacred, it had been touched by their god.

She tried to make sense of all the incredible events of the past several days but could not. The name spoken by Manfred came to mind: Wuotan. She had never heard the name before and the General did not say that he worshipped this god. Maybe he was the god of this strange land. How did Thor fit in? She touched the hammer at her throat. What was his relationship to Wuotan? Sigrún said the name aloud. A chill came over her as she recalled the cry of the wind in the forest on that fateful night, the night her world was destroyed. Her family and friends had all been killed by marauders; was that now to be her fate as well? She thought of the imminent battle. Sigrún didn’t want to die but she was afraid for her future. Had she now forsaken her true gender forever? And what of love? Had she forsaken any hope of finding that as well?

Should she have revealed herself to King Gothmund’s border guards? That may have been the point of no return. They would surely have respected her and given her an escort to Hothbrodd’s fortress. No! She had chosen the cohort and would honor that commitment for it offered her the one thing King Hothbrodd would not, her freedom. Her new comrades would teach her how to make war and how to slay her enemies. Silently, she resolved to avenge the murders of her loved ones, no matter how long it took. She would have said a prayer for them but was uncertain to whom she would now direct her prayers. Whoever this Wuotan was, he had brought her to his world for a reason. Sigrún steeled her nerve. At last, she felt compelled to reach out and touch the face.

“O Great Wuotan, god of war, hear my prayer. Please don’t abandon me as my father’s god did. Make me strong, make me a warrior,” she pleaded. “As my sacrifice, I, who have nothing, give all that I have to give. I offer my life.”

Rune felt a shiver run down her spine. The sounds of battle reached her ears. She turned. A huge, black raven perched on a gnarled limb of the oak suddenly took flight, startling her.

Manfred continued to bark out orders. There were sounds of a frightful battle below. The squire couldn’t see much through the trees. She wished she had a horse and wondered what had become of her dapple pony, Dancer. At least he was probably still alive. He would be too valuable to kill.

A sudden crash through the undergrowth to the right alerted her to wild looking warriors breaking through the forest.

“The pike-line was breached,” shouted a voice.

The horsemen wheeled to confront the threat and furious fighting erupted. Rune tried to make sense of it. The strangers went straight for the horses, slashing and striking with axes and broadswords like the old timer carried. Manfred was swinging his own sword. He now carried his teardrop shaped wooden shield on his left arm. He slashed an attacker on his right, felling him and dealt a blow to another on his left. As his horse turned at his master’s urging, a young Viking came upon him from the rear.

Rune ran forward and struck the raider from behind. The blow of her mace failed to fully penetrate his chain-mail hauberk. Blood ran but he spun around and swept at her with a broadsword. Rune ducked the hasty swipe and sidestepped. Her eyes met those of her adversary. He was young as well but taller. He had no facial hair but a helmet topped his long red mane. And that sword — the squire eyed that fabulous broadsword.

He screamed and swung again. Rune barely blocked the strike with her mace, then returned the blow, which he blocked with a round wood shield. She shrieked and they exchanged several more blows. Rune wielded her mace with two hands. She swung with all her might. Instead of blocking, the young raider stepped back and let her swing go wild.

Rune never saw the swordthrust that caught her in the belly. Her leather gambeson gave little protection from the deadly weapon. The Viking looked her right in the eyes and then pulled back on his blade. Rune collapsed to the ground and moved no more.


A foggy haze had descended upon the battlefield where the ground was strewn with the bodies of the dead and dying. A few horses lay sprawled on the turf as well, victims of their masters wars. A mob of crows clung to high branches of the trees of the glen and a pack of wolves prowled the undergrowth of the forest, waiting their turn at the ready carrion. The caw of a crow broke the still air, punctuated only by the sound of distant voices carried on the breeze blowing from the sea.

The scene was being inspected by a group of armored women as well, their priority being recognized by the waiting assemblies of scavengers in the woods. Each wore glittering mail byrnies and their lower legs were cast in steel. On their heads they wore winged helmets which partially masked their faces with half visors. They wore mantles of silver and gold. Their lips were ruby red and their pale thighs were bare. Near each was a magnificent white horse, with white-feathered wings and every woman carried a sheathed sword at her hip.

“I do not recognize many of the slain,” said one especially elegant woman. “They must have come from a distant land. A pity they came to die. But no matter, if they fought bravely they may be chosen.”

The strapping warrior-woman she had addressed responded, “Brynhilde, this one’s not dead yet.” Both looked down upon the body of Rune.

The one named Brynhilde carefully scrutinized the small body with eyes that had the ability to see truth. She drew her broadsword and slipped the tip beneath the straps on the front of the leather gambeson. With a flip of the wrist, she cut them all. Again with her swordtip she lifted the leather on one side. There was a bloody wound just beneath the left breast. A silver hammer rested below her throat.

“This one’s also not a man-child,” said Brynhilde.

“Why does such a young girl lie dying on a battlefield?” asked the muscular woman.

“That’s a good question Sváva. I would know the answer myself. But be that as it may, I choose to accept her sacrifice.”

A nearby voice called out. “Brynhilde, look at this.”

“Please lay her over my saddle Sváva,” spoke Brynhilde, walking away. “I will carry her back to Valhalla myself.”

“Yes, my Commander,” replied Sváva. She carefully lifted the young body. The squire’s helmet and coif fell to the ground. Her long blonde hair streamed forth like spilled sunshine.

“Well, little one, what other secrets have you got hidden inside of yourself?” Sváva gently asked as she lifted the limp body over the saddle of a mighty stallion. There was still no movement. A single trickle of blood ran down the flank of the magnificent animal, under his wing, and fell to the forest floor.

2. Valhalla

Floating, bathing in brilliant colors that coalesced into the most wonderful light; she may have fallen into the sun. Her mind was awash in all the glory of the universe and every truth seemed clear. She had lost track of her arms and legs and there was a smell of clouds in her nose. How did she know that?

Her belly was warm for this return to the womb, this passage through the dreamscape. There was a steady Vvmmp, vvmmp, vvmmp and a gentle rocking. It made your mind drift; the rhythmic pounding went on and on. Chill air washed over her face and neck like the running waters of a babbling brook. It was so refreshing. Her eyelids rested lightly closed and she yearned for the dream to last forever.


Sigrún opened her eyes and choked a little. She looked into the smiling face of a yellow-haired girl. The girl’s arm cradled Sigrún’s head and clutched her snugly to her own breast.

“Hey, everyone, I’ve got her,” she called out. Sigrún was too weak to speak and there was a familiar taste in her mouth. The girl lifted a vessel to Sigrún’s lips and she felt a slight but ever so pleasurable burning in her throat. Again she choked.

“Who are you? Where am I?” Sigrún blurted out.

“I’m Sieglinde and this is Valhalla,” she said in a so melodic voice. “Don’t be afraid, I’ve got you.”

The faces of several more girls suddenly loomed over her. All appeared to be very interested in looking at her, and touching her. She felt their hands holding her arms and touching her knees.

“What’s your name?” Sieglinde asked.

The Princess didn’t answer. She was confused and didn’t know how to answer these strangers, nice as they may be. Sigrún sat up and looked around. She was wearing a simple brown dress. It barely covered her knees.

“Do you have a name?” asked a tall girl with bright blonde hair. Her eyebrows matched her hair and she had a clean matter-of-fact face.

“Err-rr, I’m — what is this place?”

“She can’t remember her name,” suggested a girl with long, sandy hair.

“Let’s call her Ravensfood,” said a small girl with braided pigtails of red gold.

“No, let’s call her Hell-hound,” retorted the sandy-hair.


“Sigrún,” sputtered the girl who now realized she was sitting on a table. “My name is Sigrún.”

“The ‘secret-lore of victory,” said Sieglinde. “That’s a wonderful valkyrie name.”

“All in favor of calling the new girl Sigrún say Aye,” said the tall girl.

Everyone said ‘Aye’ and raised their hands except the small redhead.

She stepped back and crossed her arms. “I’m holding out for Ravensfood.”

“Gunilla, get in line with the vote,” ordered the tall girl. “All right, everyone back to work. Sieglinde, you show the new girl what to do.”

All except Sieglinde stopped poking and prodding her and walked away. Sigrún turned and let her legs fall off the wooden table. She felt very sheepish and alone.

“Where am I? Why am I here?” she softly asked.

“This is Valhalla. We’re in Asgard, home of the gods,” replied Sieglinde. “You’re a Valkyrie now. It’s our job to serve mead and roast boar to the warriors here.”

“But — I’m a princess,” muttered Sigrún. “Can’t the maids serve the warriors?”

“Oh, so you’re a princess are you?” said Sieglinde with a knowing laugh. “Welcome to the club. My father was King Svafnir and I was fostered by Franmar Jarl. They use queens and princesses for handmaidens in this place. You’re a handmaiden now, Sigrún.”

“But what if I don’t want to be a handmaiden?”

“There’s simply no going back for you now,” said Sieglinde, as she stepped over to the next table. A man lay there with an axe lodged in his chest.

“This is Olaf, and he obviously has a problem,” she said. Sieglinde grasped the haft of the axe and pried it out of his torso. Blood streamed out onto the table but the flow miraculously ceased and the wound seemed to close when Sieglinde daubed it with her fingertips after immersing them in the mead in her drinking horn. She lifted his head with her hand and poured some of the golden liquid over his lower lip. He immediately coughed and sputtered and his eyes rolled open.

“What happened?” the mustachioed man asked after catching his breath.

“You misjudged Gustav’s feint and he nailed you good, Olaf,” said Sieglinde. She pushed him into a straight up position. “The feast is starting soon, better get your seat.” The man rose from the table and walked away.

“See, that one was simple,” Sieglinde said to her amazed associate. “Now, let’s see what we can do with poor Halfdan. He’s gotten his head lopped off again.” She moved to a table occupied by a headless corpse.

“Who are these men?” asked Sigrún, “and what is wrong with them?” She slid off the edge of the table and ventured to walk on unsteady legs toward her new friend.

Sieglinde bent over to pick up a head that had rolled off the table onto the floor. “These men are the Einherjar — the Army of Single-Combatants,” said Sieglinde. “They’re great warriors who have fallen in battle and were brought here by the Valkyries to receive their final reward.”

“But I thought you said we were Valkyries.”

“No silly. We’re Valkyries of the Handmaiden Class.” Sieglinde pointed to four armored women on a raised platform at the front of the hall. “Those are Valkyries of the Warrior Class. They brought them here.”

The new handmaiden stared at the wondrously clad women in their shimmering armor. They stood now, with bright, round shields and tall spears, strong and proud, every bit as imposing as any male warrior she had ever seen in her father’s court. She was instantly and totally impressed and wanted to know everything about them. They could certainly defeat any enemy — avenge any wrong.

“Oh-hh, that’s what I want! I want to be like them.”

“Give it time Sigrún. As long as you do your work in the hall, they’ll train you to eventually be just like them.”

“Truly? Will they teach me to fight with a sword?”

“They truly will,” replied her mentor. “The Valkyries are the greatest warriors in the Nine Worlds. I’ve only been here one winter and I’ve already learned so much. Now look, hold Halfdan’s head in place while I give him the mead.”

Sigrún again looked at the incredible warrior-women, then mounted the table on her knees. She carefully lifted the bearded head onto the bleeding stump of a neck.

“Watch that you get everything lined up,” said Sieglinde. “If you don’t line up his throat right he won’t be able to breathe. And if you misalign the spine he won’t be able to stand up. In either event we’d have to whack off his head and start over again.”

The girl from Sevafjell couldn’t believe her ears. What kind of crazy place was this? She held the head in both hands as her partner skillfully guided it back into its natural place. As Sieglinde poured the mead from the horn, Sigrún looked to the middle of the huge hall and now saw a crowd of men gathered around what appeared to be a furious swordfight.

One man fell amidst the cheers of the assemblage. Two stout fellows stepped forward to lift the body and remove it from the arena. They carried the corpse over to the next table and plopped it down, then returned to the center where another duel was shaping up.

“Okay, Sigrún, let’s see what you can do with Bernt. What do you think?” She handed the horn to the new girl.

“Well — he’s dead,” started Sigrún. “The wound is clean. The weapon is removed. So, I just give him a little mead?”

Sieglinde nodded and lifted his head. Sigrún poured a little fluid into his mouth. He laughed and awoke.

“Oh, I was killed?” he blurted out. “Sorry, I thought it was a dream.” He rose and walked away.

“Sieglinde, why are we reviving these men when they’re obviously just going to get themselves killed again?” asked Sigrún, her incredulity stretched to the breaking point.

“Don’t you know? They fight all day and feast every night. If we don’t revive them, they’ll miss the feast. Now that wouldn’t be paradise, would it?”

“This is paradise? Sorry, I guess I had it pictured different.” Sigrún now wondered if she was still dreaming. She looked at the horn of mead in her hands. This must be what they had given her. The taste still lingered in her mouth. Where had she tasted it before? The old soldier. Yes! He shared some with her, something like it anyway, said it reminded him of home. Which home? Scandia — or Valhalla? Was that the true home of every valiant warrior? She desired another sip of the wonderful brew. But wait, she thought it best not to do anything she was not explicitly told to do — not yet.

“Where did you come from?” asked Sieglinde. “You know, you do have an odd sort of accent. You’re a southern girl aren’t you?” She had a big grin on her sweet face.

Sigrún had thought the same of her and the other girls. Each had a distinctiveness to her voice, an accent if you will, as if each were carried here from various distant lands. Were their respective languages so similar that they were able to understand one another, and she them? Or was there further magic afoot here: was their communication on a higher level? An occasional word seemed unfamiliar to her. If the context of what was being said gave no clue to its meaning, she tended to let it pass, preferring to try to absorb and enjoy all that was happening about her. It was all so new and fascinating and she could not imagine them hurting her. Hadn’t she been hurt enough? Didn’t she owe her life to her new friends?

“Now watch this,” said Sieglinde in a conspiratorial tone as she moved toward another occupied table. She looked about to see if anyone were paying attention. A comely young man reposed there, not more than sixteen winters. “Say you kind of like one of them — this is a good chance to give him a little ‘try out’ you see. Watch, I sip a little mead.” She did so and also dipped two fingers into the liquid.

Sieglinde gently rubbed the young man’s chest and wiped away the open wound, then lifted his head with her hand and gave him a kiss, full on the mouth, long and loving. Well, as loving as you could be when not expecting a response. She quickly pulled away when he started to blink, then lurch, startled, into a sitting position.

“You’re all right, Ivar, it’s all right,” she consoled, supporting his back with her palm. “You have to get those old war-dogs to teach you their tricks before they use them on you. Now get out there and watch. You’ll do better next time.”

Speechless, Ivar sort of smiled at her and rose upon unsteady legs. Their eyes appeared to meet for a moment of mutual interest and admiration. Slowly, he made his way back out towards the other men in the center of the immense hall. Sieglinde seemed distracted as she watched him move off. Suddenly she turned back to her trainee. Her pretty face widened into a sheepish grin.

“I kind of like him, so I wake him with a kiss,” she intimated.

“Won’t he know?” asked Sigrún.

“No — they’re totally helpless when they’re like that. So we can do whatever we want with them.” Sieglinde lightly touched the back of her hand to her lips as though reliving the sensation. “If you do it enough times they’ll start dreaming about you and if you want — well, you can encourage them a little.”

Sigrún was much intrigued. “So, what if you change your mind after your little ‘try out’ and they — you know, still come after you?”

“You just tell them ‘In your dreams’ and walk away. There’s a thousand of them for every one of us, so they have to be glad for whatever attention we’re willing to give them. And anyway, if they don’t treat us right, we just wait ‘til they get killed again and then we stick their body under a table and we don’t revive them until we’re good and ready.” Now, she displayed a mischievous grin.

Sigrún couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows at these revelations. She was not entirely satisfied with her new life — but it was beginning to show promise. While she was apparently now to be a servant to these men, at least they were the greatest heroes in the world — and she was to enjoy life and death power over them. In truth, she had never even kissed a man, at least not the way Sieglinde had joined lips with the handsome young warrior, though, of late, she had been thinking about it with increasing frequency. And she was intrigued by the notion that she could compel a man to dream about her. Not just a man but any man she desired. This was a place where a girl had many choices to make.

And what about this place? Valhalla was enormous; the entire fortress at Sevafjell would fit nicely in the corner. The roof seemed higher than her old perch on the lookout tower and looked to be thatched with battle shields. Massive pillars all the way around supported the incredible roof and each of them was the size of the trunk of a massive oak — carved in the form of warriors — or were they gods? There were designs carved too, of entwining vines and coiling snakes, many ending in fantastic heads and dashing animals. And beyond every column were doors — enormous doors, one after another, enough to move an army through at a moment’s command. Not at all like her old castle where the entry was restricted to allow control of every visitor — welcome or otherwise. That strategy had proven flawed for the hapless inhabitants of Sevafjell. Would these men be able to defend their home — and their lord and his family?

But what of these men? Surely they were the finest soldiers anyone could ever imagine. Look at them! Resplendent in superb armor and clothing, even though many seemed centuries out of fashion. They must be the boldest warriors to be found anywhere. And fine, yes, Sigrún would enjoy making choices here. Finally, her gaze drifted back to the fabulous warrior-women at the head of the hall. Sieglinde’s words came to mind and she imagined herself standing there, dressed in silvery armor that shone like the moon. Oh, the things she could do. Maybe this was paradise after all.

A booming voice called out, “Enough!”

The clanging of swords stopped and all the warriors began moving from the center of the splendid hall. They sat on the long benches astride each table, of which there were hundreds, perhaps thousands.

Sigrún looked up at the raised platform at the head of the room. There were several figures seated behind a heavy table. The armored women stood to the right of them.

“Who are they?” she asked.

“Those are the gods. That’s Odin, the Lord of Asgard, in the middle. There’s his wife Frigg and his son Balder. That’s Tyr. That’s Frey. The big guy with the hammer is Thor, god of thunder.”

The new Valkyrie reached for her throat and felt the silver hammer still hanging there. “That’s Thor?” she asked. “The one you call Odin. Is that the same as Wuotan?”

“Boy, do you ever have a thick accent. Of course he is. How many supreme gods do you think we have? C’mon, we have to serve supper.”

She led Sigrún to a large open fire, one of several scattered through the length of the hall. The oddest-looking man was swinging a cleaver, chopping a fresh roasted boar right off the spit. He deftly tossed the portions onto huge silver platters. Sieglinde hoisted one onto her shoulder and indicated the other to her partner. Sigrún complied and followed her trainer while struggling under her load.

“Serve them and go back for more,” instructed Sieglinde. “We have to do all these tables.”

Sigrún’s jaw hung in disbelief. She was indicating dozens of tables. She espied several platters floating above the mass of warriors and knew the other girls were frantically serving their own tables.

She felt she was flying between the tables and the hearth. When, at last, it appeared she and Sieglinde had set a platter on every table, her partner shoved a keg into her arms and hollered, “Start filling horns!”

The fledgling Valkyrie gasped for breath. Then she noticed her feet felt better than they had for days. She looked down at the short, new leather boots and their fresh laces. The rawness was gone. Someone had healed her blisters.

How many hundreds of drinking horns were shoved at her for refilling, Sigrún couldn’t say. The thirst of the men was inexorable. She went back for full kegs several times. Her long locks of blonde hair kept washing cross her face as she worked until she thought to pull the leather thong of her hammer medallion over her tresses to tie them down a little.

At long last, the fires were burning low. The warriors sang their final fighting song. One by one they slumped over on the benches and tables, intentionally or otherwise. The tall girl ordered all the girls to carry away the platters and return them by the open hearth. The head table was vacant at this hour, the gods had gone off to bed or wherever it was gods went at night.

The young Valkyries huddled near one of the uncountable doors. They sat and quietly discussed the day’s adventures. A last horn of mead was passed around and shared. It had the best taste Sigrún could remember. Several more girls had joined them. Each introduced herself as if they had known her forever and were just sharing the latest gossip. Sigrún liked that. It took the edge off making so many new friends.

It seemed the tall girl was Eir, the senior handmaiden, who looked about seventeen. The sandy-hair was Frith. Bleik had almost-white braids and a very fair complexion. There was Aurboda, with hair like spun gold. Svanhild had white tresses and wore a dress made of white feathers, very different from the loose shifts the others wore. She said something about being a swan maiden. There were two sisters named Fenja and Menja. They seemed uncommonly large for young girls, apparently giantesses, recruited as Valkyries. Then there were Bjort, a beautiful young girl and Blith, who seemed very friendly. The diminutive redhead was Gunn but advised that everyone called her Gunilla.

Every girl was exhausted as they left the incredible hall and walked through the dark over the heath to another imposing hall nearby. Sigrún was greatly impressed by the armored Valkyrie who stood as sentinel at the door. She wanted to introduce herself but Sieglinde hurried her through the portal. They went along a stone corridor and then entered a chamber illuminated by a torch lighted by Eir. It was a large room full of beds. Sieglinde sat down on one bed and indicated a four-poster beside it.

Sigrún was a little uncomfortable about entering the bed. She was reminded of the box but said nothing aloud. Wondering at her unease, it occurred to her that she hadn’t slept in a bed in many days. While the others peeled their dresses over their heads, Sigrún tentatively lay lightly over the blanket.

“Better get some sleep, Sigrún. We get up real early,” advised her new friend.

Sigrún lay there for a very long time and finally lapsed into a light sleep.


True to her word, Sieglinde roused her while it was still dark. There was a flurry of activity in the room as girls splashed water on their faces and quickly ran combs through their hair. An armored Valkyrie without helmet stood out in the hallway, giving instructions to Eir. The handmaidens broke into two groups and Sigrún followed Sieglinde out into the brisk night air. Her group crossed a courtyard to an immense stable-barn. Fenja and Menja swung open the massive doors and all entered the dimly lit interior.

“We have to saddle all the chargers along this wall,” said Sieglinde.

Sigrún was stunned at the sight. Sieglinde giggled, enjoying her friend’s expected surprise. Facing them were several horses, each as white as the driven snow — and each wearing a pair of white, feathered wings neatly folded over their back.

Sigrún gave pause to silent reverie: What wonders have they in this place, this home of the gods? Where men live forever and horses have wings. What marvels have I still to see? What secrets to learn and people to meet? How came I to be here and why was it I that was chosen? Who are these women who stand so tall in their silver armor and will I ever grow to be just like them?

A nudge from Sieglinde’s elbow returned Sigrún to reality. She showed her helper how to saddle each winged beast. The saddles seemed very odd. They were little more than thick leather pads and looked overlong from bow to cantle. There were many thongs and grommets along the saddle’s edge and the stirrup hangers were unusually stiff. Each stirrup iron had a small ring on top. There was no sign of a saddle horn.

Every horse had a stall but none were tied up and there were no doors on the stalls. There was a variety of equine armor hanging on every stall wall, together with an additional heavy saddle featuring high bow and cantle. There were also brightly polished round shields and deadly looking lances. Bows and quivers of arrows rounded out the equipage.

Sigrún marveled at how the horses raised their wings and willingly accepted the saddle. Sieglinde seemed very particular about showing Sigrún how to tighten the cinch.

“Don’t you just give him a whack to make sure he’s not holding his breath and puffing his chest when you tighten the strap?” asked Sigrún.

Her trainer looked horrified. “You strike any of these animals and you’ll have someone come looking for you with a broadsword,” she warned.

Sigrún wondered how anyone would know if she slapped a horse. In the next stall, she learned, when Sieglinde instructed her not to strap on bridle and reins.

“How will the warrior ride?” asked Sigrún.

“Every warrior is of one mind with her charger, they communicate with each other whether they’re together or not.”

“How can that be?”

“Because Lord Odin ordained it be so when he presented the first winged charger to the Valkyrjor. Lightning here doesn’t like to wear a bridle, so he doesn’t.”

“Is that why they’re not tied up?”

“These are intelligent animals. That’s why they’re not tied up. They’re free to move around as they like when they’re not working. Just like you. How would you like to be boxed up in your bed at night?”

Sigrún’s blood froze. “Don’t say that!”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just — just don’t ever say that again.”


Sigrún stood alongside Lightning. She became aware of armored figures entering the stable-barn, along with the other group of handmaidens. One tall, striking figure entered her stall. The warrior inspected her mount, ignoring Sigrún completely. She scratched him under his chin and again on his withers. The apprentice Valkyrie thought it odd until she recalled Sieglinde’s words: “Every warrior is of one mind with her charger.” Could she even sense where he itched?

The armored Valkyrie had a radiant appearance. Her shimmering chain-mail seemed to be a light source unto itself. It had an unnerving appearance in the stable, which was lit only by torches. Sigrún looked around for a stool or step. There was none. She hoped she wasn’t expected to lock her fingers together and offer the rider a lift. She had no hope of lifting the tall, heavily armored woman.

The warrior reached up and took a light hold of Lightning’s mane. She lifted a foot to the stirrup and readily rose to the mounted position. Sigrún was amazed. In Sevafjell, strong knights needed assistance in mounting. She looked up at the warrior and offered her lance and shield, as instructed by Sieglinde, who was assisting another rider.

The warrior slipped her left arm through the leather loops of the shield and then grasped the lance with the same hand. She fitted the lower end of the shaft through the ring on her left stirrup. For a moment, she looked down at Sigrún and their eyes met. Sigrún felt a chilling wave of menace sweep over her as horse and rider slowly walked out of the stall. The warrior’s winged helmet gave her an aquiline appearance, like a great hunting hawk, perched on a tree limb, surveying its domain and prey. No sound was passed between them.

Sigrún was relieved when Sieglinde returned.

“I don’t think she liked me,” confided Sigrún. “I think that horse snitched me out for my comment.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t read too much into that. Lady Thrud is not very chatty on her way to a mission. If she wanted to hit you, she would have. Her father is the Thundergod and she would have gotten away with it.”

“She’s — Thor’s daughter?” was all Sigrún could think of to say.

The band of girls walked out of the stable. An orderly double column of mounted warriors rode off into the night.

“Aww, I thought they flew off,” complained Sigrún. “I wanted to see them fly.”

“They usually ride out of the city on hooves to give their mounts a little warm up. Just wait,” said Sieglinde. “There, in the eye of the moon.”

Sigrún looked skyward. The waning moon seemed immense. It had never looked so huge. We must be high in the heavens, she thought. Then she saw it, the silhouettes of dozens of wings flapping. Every rider sat erect in the saddle, every lance pointed skyward. Vvmmp, vvmmp, vvmmp, came a sound from the distance. She watched in awe until the flying force disappeared from sight.

The girls broke their fast with rolls and cider.

“We have Archery class this morning,” said Sieglinde.

That sounded good to Sigrún. She longed for any weapons training.

“Tell me, Sieglinde, why did you call that warrior Lady Thrud? You’re a princess. Shouldn’t she be deferential to you?”

“This is Asgard,” replied her friend, spreading thick jam over a roll with her finger. “Each person is honored by their deeds here. You are honored for your birth on Midgard, the middle-earth. You’re not in Midgard anymore, Sigrún.”

“So the warriors are the royalty here in Asgard?” asked Sigrún in amazement.

“The word of the Valkyries is law throughout the Nine Worlds,” answered Sieglinde.


Sigrún had never shot bow and arrow before. Archery was considered a menial task where she came from. Archers were common foot soldiers, massed together for the purpose of covering an assault by mounted knights in battle. Lady Thorgerd worked with her while the other girls practiced independently. The warrior wrapped her strong arms around Sigrún’s small frame and fired the great bow through her. Sigrún sensed the enormous confidence of her instructor. By the end of the session, she was consistently hitting the target on her own.

“I liked her,” Sigrún confided to Sieglinde later. “She really knew what she was doing.”

“Lady Thorgerd is the finest of archers. So great is she that she can fire arrows from her fingertips when the battle-spirit moves her.”

The girls jogged back to Valhalla and immediately began reviving warriors and serving mead, using wooden hods to carry many horns at one time. After a time, they again lifted great plates of roast boar and distributed them throughout the incredible hall. The day was long. The work was hard. Sigrún loved every minute of it.

The next morning, she saddled several horses. Sigrún assisted Lady Skögul with lance and shield. When they were finished, Sieglinde directed her to saddle additional mounts. When she asked why, she was told that the first contingent was off to supervise a battle. The second group were off on various missions to Midgard.

Those warriors left in twos and threes. The sun was already rising.

“Where do the other girls go when we go to the barn?” she asked her friend.

“They have to help the warriors dress in their armor,” was the answer.

“Ohh, I want to do that,” sighed Sigrún.

“Don’t worry, by the time you’re done here, you won’t want to look at another greave,” joked Sieglinde.


Their schooling this day was conducted in a long room filled with tables. Lady Baduhenna was tall and powerfully built; she cut a striking figure. Her hair was black as night, a rarity in this place, with a single white flash. The class was Philosophy, valkyrie philosophy that is. All the girls were chattering like magpies when the instructor entered.

“All right girls, pipe down,” she said. “There’s plenty of time to gossip later — you’re going to live forever, you know.”

There followed a long lecture on how the Valkyries supervise an earthly battle. It seemed overly technical and Sigrún had no idea what they were talking about and so, felt left out. She longed for further weapons training.

Blith asked, “If we’re invisible, will the mortal soldiers even know we’re there?”

“That’s a good question, Blith,” answered Baduhenna. “The Legion always flies in from the north, the soldiers on the ground see us as the Northern Lights. That way, the armies know that their combat is sanctioned by Allfather Odin, the Lord of Battle. And of course, you’ll be seen for one brief, shining moment by the slain warrior that you choose to ride with you back to Valhalla. Yes girls, that’s right. After the fighting’s over, the Valkyries walk the battlefield. You must then choose the biggest — the strongest — the bravest…”

“The dreamiest…” moaned Gunilla. She wrapped her arms around her torso and wriggled seductively in front of the class, her head and pigtails gently swaying in rhythm. The girls giggled. Baduhenna chuckled.

“Well, maybe so. But in any event, the choice is yours — when you become a warrior of the Sisterhood of the Choosers of the Slain. Just think,” she softly cooed, “you lean over your chosen warrior, lying dead on the ground. You reach deep into the chest of his shattered body and gently pry loose his soul.” She tenuously reached out with both hands. “At that moment, his eyes open and he looks into your eyes — and your face is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, it’s like a brilliant light. And he knows that all the troubles and heartaches of his life are over — and he’s finally going home. And sometimes he will resist your touch, because he wants to cling to life, but that life is over. So you must breathe softly on his face and reassure him — and then lift him into your arms and lay him carefully over your saddle, because at this time he will be as helpless as a newborn babe. And when the Legion takes flight, you will bear his soul to his final reward in Valhalla.”

Sigrún was moved. All the other girls were leaning forward, resting their heads on their elbows, with bated breath.


The next morning, Sieglinde headed in another direction with her trainee in tow. Along with other girls, they entered another sleep chamber. It differed from their own in that every bedstead had armor hanging from each corner-post. Sigrún was fascinated.

“Good morning, Lady Rathgrid,” said Sieglinde in her pleasant voice.

The Valkyrie warrior was clad only in boots and a white linen loincloth. The girls held her chain-mail byrnie as she entered the garment. They fastened the straps on the back. They did likewise with a bright steel breastplate. The two girls held golden armbands, which she slid her arms into. They laced armcuffs onto her wrists. Rathgrid sat on the edge of her bed as her handmaidens attached metal greaves and sabatons onto her lower legs and feet. She rose and lifted her arms as they wrapped her swordbelt around her and buckled it. The girls lifted a silver mantle and laid it on her shoulders, then fastened the broaches above her breasts. Finally, Sieglinde lifted a winged grimhelm from the cornerpost and delicately handed it to the warrior. Rathgrid accepted it and carefully placed it on her head. It reminded Sigrún of a coronation. She was deeply impressed.

All nine warriors of the Troop left as a group, followed by the handmaidens, in a sort of procession. They parted company at the end of the hall. The warriors went one way and the handmaidens headed for the stable. Sigrún wondered where they went. After she had saddled several horses, the warriors reappeared in the dim light of the stable.


Sigrún had been waiting for today’s class. Lady Sváva was the fencing instructor.

“All right class, we have a new girl so we’re going to work on basic motions,” announced the muscular warrior.

“Awww-ww,” groaned the class, expressing their disappointment.

“Don’t hold them back on my account,” begged Sigrún. ““I’ve seen some fighting, you know.”

“Yes, I seem to remember seeing you on a battlefield,” replied Sváva with a very non-committal expression on her face. “Everyone form two lines,” she commanded, “free fencing — Begin!”

Sigrún faced Sieglinde. Each held a wood shield and waster, a wooden practice sword. The sword was a blunt tree limb, shaved except for two twigs above the grip, which served as the crossguard.

The girls of the class began trading blows. Sigrún struck at Sieglinde with all her might. Each blow was blocked by her opponent’s shield. Every blow was also answered and Sigrún fended off each strike with her own shield. This continued for some time as the combatants slowly circled each other. Suddenly, just as Sigrún was about to strike, Sieglinde lunged forward and thrust her sword right into the center of her torso.

Sigrún fell straight backwards and landed flat on the ground, gasping desperately for breath as she clutched her midriff.

“Halt!” commanded Sváva. She stepped forth and inspected the prone body. The warrior pushed on her chest a little and then rose. “All right class, Resume!”

Sigrún sheepishly arose and picked up her waster.

“Do you know what you did wrong?” asked Sváva.

“I got killed?”

“Well, there’s that,” said the instructor with a good-natured laugh. “But — why were you killed?”

“Because I wasn’t fast enough?”

“No, little one. You were very fast — and surprisingly strong. No, you were killed because you were signaling your moves.” The warrior paused for effect. “You seem to have a natural ferocity. It concentrates all your power and force into every stroke. I sometimes spend years teaching that to other students.

“Your problem is that well, frankly, you fight like a girl. Watch, a woman completes a motion — then contemplates her next motion.” Sváva held Sigrún’s hand and back, to demonstrate. “Now, a male warrior — he will gli-ide from one action — straight into the next. There’s no discernable break between the two.

Sieglinde watched you do this for awhile. Then she just waited for the pause — and gave you the sword.” Sváva thrust both their arms forward to demonstrate.

“So you want me to fight like a boy?”

“Better, little one,” said Sváva. “By the time you’re done here, you’ll fight better than anyone.”

Sigrún beamed at the suggestion. Sváva turned to check on the rest of the class. The young aspirant noticed that Sváva wore her cloak differently than the other warriors. It flowed off her left shoulder but then was attached to her breastplate, under her right armpit. She wore no chain-mail byrnie but only a brayette, a chain-mail skirt which girth her hips. Her back was exposed above the gold cape and the muscles rippled with sensual fury. Her arms were equally powerfully sinewed. Small wonder she taught swordfighting, she was a magnificent figure.

“All right class — good warm-up,” Sváva announced. “Now let’s line up for those basic actions. Swords only.”

The girls set aside their shields and lined up. The instructor took up a position behind the new girl and guided her actions as she called out a series of motions for the others to follow. Sigrún was glad for the extra attention even though it singled her out as the beginner. It seemed that this art of war had its own language and she was unsure what to do even when she comprehended the words.

“Advance…thrust…lateral parry…riposte…direct thrust…detachment parry…passata soto! ….Gunilla, thrust as you duck….that’s it. Now, feint…and lunge… remise! Here Sigrún, move your feet like this. Circular parry…now false attack…and parry, riposte. Now, in quartata! Now, croisé…disengage…now, coupé.” The class swept their wooden swords low, then high, in response.

This course of action went on for some time. Although her arm began to ache, Sigrún loved every moment. The teacher was wonderful. Sigrún wondered what it would be like to see her in action, against real opponents, large men — raiders. When Sváva sensed the girls had taxed their limits, she ordered a break. Then they started over, wielding their swords with their opposite hands. Next, the class faced each other in two lines and drilled on thrusts and parries under Sváva’s watchful eye.

After a lengthy class, the girls hustled over to Valhalla to resume their routine of serving mead and reviving warriors. Sigrún had concentrated considerable effort looking for familiar faces in the great hall. There were none from Sevafjell. Today, as she was serving in a different quarter of the hall, a familiar face appeared. It was the old soldier she had met the night before the battle on the Baltic coast.

Sigrún graciously served him a horn of mead. She thought his eyes fell on the amulet at her throat but he said nothing. The old timer was right: the spirits were calling to him. He had called them Valkyrjor. She was glad he had given her his Thorhammer. Was he somehow aware they were coming for her as well?

She leaned forward and surprised him with a kiss on the cheek; then she hurried away with her hod of drinking horns.

Returning to their sleep-chamber, Sieglinde showed Sigrún the announcement board in the corridor. She called it the Bull

“Oh, look, tomorrow’s class is riding and flying,” read Sieglinde.

“Wow, that sounds fabulous!”

“Well, not for us,” moaned Sieglinde. “We aren’t qualified for this class yet. You don’t even have a horse.”

“Where do I get one?”

“They’ll give you one eventually. Just wait.”

“Do you have one?”

“Yes but he’s too little to ride yet,” assured Sieglinde. “You get yours at birth and you raise him yourself. Mine’s named Moonbeam.” She became very animated when she said her pony’s name. “So I guess we have free time tomorrow — Oh, no, we got hall duty all day. Look.” She pointed to their two names on the bull. “Oh well, no swimming for us.”


The two girls sat on a table in Valhalla the next morning. The warriors were engaged in swordplay in the central aisle. A few gods sat watching from the head table.

“So that’s the deal,” said Sieglinde. “You check the bull every night. It tells you whether you saddle horses or arm warriors. It tells which troops are needed.” She took a little sip of mead from a horn on her hod. There are usually nine warriors to a troop and there are three troops in a wing. Each troop has a captain and Lady Brynhilde commands the Stjornbordi wing and Lady Gondul commands the Bakbordi wing.”

Sigrún had picked up enough of the local dialect to know that these terms meant Starboard and Port.

“Then there’s what they call the Tail-wing,” continued Sieglinde. “That’s made up of all the warriors not in a regular wing. Most of them live on Midgard as fylgjakoner or sea captains or whatever. They’re only called in for major missions.”

“What does fylgjakoner mean?” asked Sigrún.

“Those are ‘following spirits’ and only big-time kings and royal families rate their own Valkyrie. You live with the family in disguise and then when you’re needed, ‘Bamm’ you appear in full armor and take charge.”

“Wow, sounds strange,” said Sigrún who wondered why her family had not rated such privilege — such protection. Oh, they were Christians. “So Lady Brynhilde and Lady Gondul — what, they run everything?”

“Exactly, Lady Brynhilde is the senior commander though. Lady Gondul commands her own Wing when they fly separately and then she is the ‘Ride-mistress’ when the entire Legion sorties. Then, I guess, if it’s a really big deal, the goddess Freyja takes command herself.”

“Really? Who’s she?”

“She’s the goddess of love and fertility, she’s beautiful,” sighed Sieglinde. “We live in her hall, Sessrumnir: the ‘seat-roomy.’ All the greatest women who die go there too. So anyway, the Goddess mostly stays in her inner sanctum and does goddess stuff. But when she shows up to command the Legion, they call her Val-Freyja, the ‘Lady of the Slain.’ Then she’s beautiful — and frightening. Or, so I’ve heard.”

Sigrún could only marvel at the strange dichotomy that ordained the goddess of love also be the high war-goddess of these amazing people. But weren’t they her people? Her mother had once told her that they had only become Christians some time after her birth. She had asked Father Hugo about the matter but he had quickly changed the subject. Were these the true gods of her people? She tried to search her feelings. All of these new sensations, and experiences, somehow they all seemed to be taking shape, like fragments of a forgotten dream. As a place you once visited in a dream, when you find yourself there again, you have to wonder: is it all real or have I returned to my dream again? She could only decide after learning more.

“So, what’s the deal with the bull?” she asked.

“Oh, that’s simple. You look what class is offered the next day and you’re expected to go to it until the instructor tells you you’ve mastered the subject. If you are scheduled to work, you have to skip the class unless someone will work for you. If you don’t need the class, or you’re not qualified for it yet, and you’re not scheduled for duty, then you’ve got free-time and can do anything you’re allowed to do.”

Two men walked by, carrying a dead corpse.

“Could you put him on that table?” said Sieglinde.

Sigrún went straight to the bull on the way home that night.

“Sieglinde, what does ‘Celestial Navigation’ mean?” she asked her following friend.

“Wow, I need that class,” said Sieglinde excitedly, as the other girls gathered around for a look.

“Do I need that class?” asked Sigrún.

“Yeah, if you think you’re ever going to get out of Asgard on your own. You sure do,” said Frith.


Everyone stopped talking when Lady Sigrdrifa approached the podium.

She began, “Since the dawn of time, the Valkyries have maintained order across the Nine Worlds. This is made possible by the speed and power of the winged chargers given to us by the gods. However, this power must be directed by the rider. A Valkyrie must be ready to travel anywhere on a moment’s notice, whether as part of a formation or on a solo mission, when the Allfather commands. Before you pass my class, you must be able to draw a chart, from memory, of every fjord and river, every mountain and forest, every kingdom and town, whether it be in Asgard or on Midgard, the world of mortals. You will learn to navigate by the sun and the stars. Only when you have learned all these things, will you be able to ride a winged charger upon the crest of the clouds. That which we call the ‘Wolkenthrut’ — cloud-power! Now, let’s get to work” She pointed to a map on the wall with her sword. “This is Scandinavia, a great peninsula...”


The next day’s class was about close-order drill. The girls were expected to parade about for hours. Sigrún wished they were back in Navigation or Swordfighting, or working, even. Lady Herja told them that they must give over control of their minds to the parade marshal, they must act with one mind. Sigrún had no idea what she was talking about but did her best to mimic the pace set by the other girls. They practiced endless column turns and flank movements.

They marched at a rapid clip, raising their knees on every step. Their right hands flashed up and down, from waist to hip, in cadence with their feet. The left hand held an erect spear and there was a wooden shield suspended from the left arm.

“Did you feel the mind-link?” Sieglinde asked after class.

“What are you talking about? I didn’t feel anything.”

Gunilla marched by, left hand cocked, as if still carrying shield and spear.

“Maybe you’ll get it next time,” she purred, leaning back to look into Sigrún’s face as she passed. Gunilla kept going down the hallway.

“Here’s the thing, Sigrún,” said Sieglinde. “The Warrior Class parades to rally the troops before a battle and afterwards to proclaim victory. But to the Legion, it means much more. You have to learn to give over control of your movement to the leader. That way, the Sisterhood acts as one. This is training for battle, every bit as much as Fencing class. Then afterwards you get a feeling — I can’t describe it. You kind of saw it on Gunilla’s face. Just wait, you’ll get it.”


The following day, most of the handmaidens had a free day and decided to go swimming in the Thund River, in Asgard. They stripped down on the bank and went skinny-dipping. The cold water felt wonderful to Sigrún, who had learned to swim in the mighty Rhine. The current was very fast here and the girls made a game of pretending they could swim so swiftly. Their other game was assessing their own physical development compared with their friends. Words on the subject were not exchanged but those more favored at this point in time made a little show of strutting their mature bodies. Proudly, they inflated their lungs to expand their blossoming womanhood. They shook their heads as if to throw loose waterdrops from their hair when truly their intent was to lend motion to their bosoms.

Sigrún was used to the company of women but not their competition. She had been a princess after all, so she practiced breathing deeply to exaggerate her own charms and tried not to look at the older girls or exhibit her insecurity. Finally she dove into the rushing waters for another refreshing dip.


Back in the stone sleep-chamber, they combed and braided each other’s hair before proceeding to Valhalla for the evening’s work of serving food and drink to the slain warriors. It was a time for relaxation and girl talk, free from the constraints of study and duty. Sieglinde enjoyed this time and carefully stroked Sigrún’s brilliant tresses with a comb crafted from walrus ivory as she sat behind her. Her hair was so soft and fine, she was certainly the product of a gentle birth and proper upbringing. Sieglinde was only half listening to Frith and Eir to her right and Blith and Bleik to her left. Sigrún was silent as she sat patiently having her hair tended to. She seemed lost in thought and Sieglinde’s mind began to drift as well. Her emptiness began to fill up with thoughts of her foal, off in the stable with her mare. Moonbeam’s wings were still too small to carry either of them aloft but she could share the sensation of feeling them grow longer and stronger upon her own shoulders.

Sieglinde felt Moonbeam sense her interest as the filly began nursing upon her mother. The young Valkyrie expanded her consciousness to include the mare and even felt a gentle pressure on her own breasts through this mystical empathy. She lightly closed her blue eyes and shared Moonbeam’s joy at this simple task. The nurturing and caring of mother for child left a warm and cozy feeling in her and she felt her own years slip away as she became once more a babe in arms herself. The link with the foal strengthened with each passing day and Sieglinde could now virtually perceive the world through the young filly’s senses.

Sigrún shifted her weight in response to the slower tempo of Sieglinde’s brushing.

“Whatcha thinking about?”

“Mmm, Moonbeam.”

“Are you thinking about her — or with her?”

“With her. She’s suckling now. She grows so much every day. I can hardly wait to ride her.”



“When will I get my charger?”

“I don’t know. Don’t worry. It’ll happen.”

Sigrún fell silent, as though pondering that day. The strangest girl, thought Sieglinde. She reflected on the previous day when the girls were in their quarters. Someone started throwing around a skin-wrapped ball. Before long, it flew over Gunilla’s head and disappeared behind her headboard. Little Gunilla refused to move off the bed until Fenja and Menja, the giantesses, began physically shaking her bedstead. She rolled off just as the largish girls tugged the frame away from the wall.

All who looked were surprised to find a hole in the stonework. Not finding any ball, Eir decided for the group that it had gone down the hole, an orifice she could not see the end of.

“Gunilla, crawl in there and look for the ball,” she said.

“Aww, I don’t even want to play ball,” complained Gunilla. “Everyone throws it over my head ‘cause I’m short.”

“That’s why you should go in there — you’re small.”

“Well, the new girl is thinner. Make her go.”

“Okay, Sigrún,” said Eir, “You’re the junior Valkyrie. Crawl in there and fetch the ball.”

“What?” said Sigrún, looking as though she’d found a dead man in her bed. Her eyes seemed to bulge out of her suddenly sweating face as she glared at the hole.

“What’s your problem?” demanded Eir.

“Wull,” she swallowed hard. “I don’t know. I think there’s rats in there.” She looked about the room for sympathy. “Yeah, that’s it. There’s rats in there.”

“Let’s go Sigrún, get in there,” commanded the senior handmaiden.

Sigrún slowly approached the narrow opening, even as a person might crawl into their own grave. Inexorably, she got down on hands and knees and peered into the darkened hole. She reached in with an arm and gauged the width of the opening. It was clear to all that it was a snug but passable fit, to all but Sigrún that is.

“No, I won’t go in there,” groaned Sigrún. “It’s too tight — and there’s rats. I can smell them.”

“It’s probably Gunilla,” said someone.

Gunilla clenched her lips and glared in the direction of the voice. “It is not. You guys gave me this bed by-the-hole on purpose,” she retorted.

So Sigrún,” said Eir, “how are you going to fight trolls when you won’t even face a little rat?” The older girl shared a smirk around the room.

“Wull, give me a broadsword and I’ll go in there,” said Sigrún, seeking to appear brave.

“Sounds like someone needs Lady Thrud’s Boxing class,” called Frith from the back of the chamber.

Sieglinde rushed over to her friend and pulled her to her feet. “This is probably an old drain hole that goes on and on ‘til it goes out of the wall,” she said. “Don’t worry, Sigrún and I will make a new ball. The old one had a rip anyway.”

Everyone seemed satisfied with this promise. At least, they returned to their grooming and gossiping. Sieglinde was sure a few of the pairs were sniggling about Sigrún’s trepidation and hoped her friend was oblivious to the jokes made at her expense. She had to wonder a little herself though. The new girl seemed to have a voracious appetite for martial training and yet now professed a fear of tiny rodents. It occurred to Sieglinde that she hadn’t smelled anything by the mysterious hole. She wondered but began talking about her filly again to ease Sigrún’s mind. As she spoke to her silent friend, she massaged her back and couldn’t help but notice how taut and distressed those muscles had become.


All noise in the room ceased abruptly as the door swung open, accompanied by the chingle of chain-mail.

“Captain on deck,” called out Frith.

All the handmaidens leaped to their feet and stood stiffly at the foot of their respective beds. Sigrún scurried to do likewise, though she did not know why.

Lady Menglod entered the chamber and slowly moved from bedstead to bedstead, inspecting each girl and her belongings.

“Fenja, is this bed getting too small for you yet?” she inquired of one of the giantesses.

“A little, milady.”

“We shall see what we can do for you and Menja.”

She paid particularly close attention to the new girl. “Hello, Sigrún. I am Captain Menglod. I am the Captain over all the Handmaiden Class,” she began. “How are you settling in?”

“Very well — milady — Thank you.”

“Good,” she said coolly. “See me if you have any difficulties.”

Menglod turned to address the group. She joined her hands behind her back. “Comments have been made that you’re not keeping the horns full at dinner. What seems to be the problem, girls?”

There was a pause and then Eir spoke up, “Milady, there are more and more men in the hall every day and we’ve only had one new handmaiden in a year. We’re each serving several hundred men.” She remained stiffly at attention.

The Captain responded to Eir in a voice measured to address the entire room. “And when you join the Warrior Class, what will you do on the battlefield when you have to serve several hundred men the working end of a sword?”

“Yes my lady, we’ll work harder tomorrow,” answered Eir for the class.

“Very well, I’ll be counting on it,” said Menglod, adding, “Gunilla, wear a clean dress tomorrow.”

“Yes my lady.”

Menglod left the room. Eir called “Stand down.”

“What was that all about?” Sigrún asked Sieglinde.

“Oh, did I forget to mention Lady Menglod? She’s the boss of us. She organizes classes and prepares the schedule.”

“She seemed nice enough,” ventured Sigrún. “Where do I find her if I need anything?”

“She’s not that nice,” said Sieglinde. “She’s mostly interested in teaching her Healing Arts class. I don’t think they asked her if she wanted this job.”


Baduhenna’s Philosophy class started right after stable duty the next day. Sigrún still had the scent of straw and horseflesh in her nose when she sat down at her seat.

“Okay class, settle down,” the tall dark-haired Valkyrie began. “I know you’d rather be outside fencing. Lord of Battle knows I’d rather be teaching it,” she said as she scanned the young faces. “But I believe this is your most important training because here you learn what being a Valkyrie is all about.

“Today, we’re going to continue discussing how the Valkyries supervise a human battlefield on Midgard. You handmaidens know that you have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to armor the warriors. But does anyone know what the warriors are doing while you’re saddling the horses?” Baduhenna paused to look for hands.

“Before each battle, the warriors are briefed on their mission and the route we’ll fly to the scene of battle. We must study the lists of names given to us by the Norns. As you know, they’re the three goddesses who determine the destiny of all things. Each Valkyrie is given an assignment. Some must watch over and protect those warriors who are ‘destined to live,’ while others must see to it that those ‘destined to die’ will fall in battle. The rest of the Legion watches the battle from the air and sees to it that the victory goes to the army Lord Odin has chosen to win. We may accomplish the above tasks by any means necessary.

“All of this is called the Wyrd — it is the great plan set forth by Gods and Norns and all that dwell in the Nine Worlds must follow the course charted — even the Gods themselves. And it is our sacred responsibility to assure the fate so dictated — for we are the enforcers of destiny.”

Baduhenna ceased speaking. The room was silent. The teacher’s eyes slowly swept the class as if judging whether any or all of her words were sinking in.

So they called it the Wyrd; the great plan of fate. Sigrún wondered whether the tragedy at Sevafjell was part of that plan, and if so, whose plan was it? Who would author a plan like that — and why would they do such a thing? Did it have something to do with her, and the truly remarkable things that had been happening to her? She began to wonder whether these plans were written down somewhere. How would you get a look at them? Who had them? Where did they keep them? Baduhenna stepped forth and pointed a finger down the aisle.

“Yes, Aurboda, you have a question?”

“Milady, what if a soldier’s name does not appear on either list?”

“Those are usually the commonest of soldiers,” replied Baduhenna. “Their fate is in the wind. We may do with them as we see fit. If an unlisted soldier is about to kill one you are protecting, you may kill him if no one else does.”

“How do we do that?” asked Blith.

“Since you are invisible until you wish to be seen, it’s not hard to steer a man, or trip him, amidst all the excitement of the battle, or you can put your hand over his eyes to blind him, this is usually fatal. Or you may snatch an arrow or spear out of the air and redirect it. If all else fails, use your sword. No one will notice in the heat of battle.

“Yes — a question from Bjort.”

“My lady, how do we decide the outcome of battle, I don’t understand,” asked Bjort.

“A good question!” Baduhenna pursed her lips and collected her thoughts. “We do whatever we have to do to assure victory for the selected army. The same is true if we are involved in the battle ourselves. We prefer a straight up fight but if need be, we can call down storms on the adversary, or hide our allies’ ships and armies with fog. We can blunt their swords with spells and chants. Sometimes we afflict enemy soldiers with the panic-terror.”

“The Valkyrie shriek!” exclaimed Gunilla.

“Exactly so,” declared Baduhenna. “Or, if all else fails we can circle them from the air and shower arrows down on them. Usually, though, we support the better army. So a word to the wise is sufficient.” She winked an eye. “Sometimes we see the enemy’s secret tactics from the air and we counsel our favorites as to those plans. That will turn the tables real fast.

“Now, if you’re assigned to an individual warrior — whether to save him or doom him, you usually leap from your charger and stay close to him on the ground.”

“You leap from a flying horse?” asked Bleik sheepishly.

“I see someone hasn’t taken Acrobatics class yet.”

Gunilla slowly raised a hand as she sort of played with a braid of hair.

“Yes Gunilla.”

“Umm-mhh, could you show us the Scald-crow?”

“Gunilla, haven’t you seen enough crows and ravens around here?” asked the teacher in mock exasperation.

“Yes, but they’re not the Badb.”

“Yes show us BadbCatha,” squealed the girls in the class, rapidly becoming bored with the lecture. Sigrún’s ears suddenly pricked up. What was she hearing?

“Now girls, I told you this class is very important. You get your Spells teacher to change into a crow. Better yet, have her teach you how to do it yourselves. Now, let’s get back to battlefield supervision.”

Sigrún barely heard the rest of the lecture. There was only one question burning in her mind and she preferred to ask Sieglinde her question. She waited till they were walking from Sessrumnir to Valhalla.

“Sieglinde, tell me, what does BadbCatha mean, you know, that name everyone called Baduhenna?”

“It means ‘battle-crow’ in Gaelic. Lady Baduhenna is an ancient and very powerful war-goddess. She’s been worshipped everywhere. Thousands of soldiers have prayed to her for victory in battle. She’s called the ‘Scald-crow’ or the ‘Battle-crow’ because sometimes she sits on a tree limb as a crow and supervises the battle. But I hear she can change into most anything, a wolf, an eel, a heifer, whatever.”

“Well, I thought you said that Freyja was their war goddess.”

“I did,” agreed Sieglinde. “It’s just that, in Asgard, most every god and goddess has some sort of war function. War is very important to the Northern peoples and its one of their favorite subjects to pray about.”

Sigrun walked on a bit, to be certain Sieglinde was finished speaking and to make her next question appear a casual inquiry. “Mmm, then what does CathuBodua mean?”

“Same thing. I think the southern Gauls called her that. I’m surprised you aren’t familiar with the name, you being from the south and all.”

“I’ve heard it around. That’s why I asked.”

“Yeah, the Celts of Erin called her Badb or BadbCatha, the Gauls prayed to her as Bodua or CathuBodua, I think the Romans even offered sacrifice to her as Boduogenos after she smashed a few of their armies. Let me tell you, they’re still looking for some of the legions that got in her way. She’s that powerful.”

“Isn’t there something sneaky about using all those names?”

“No, all those people speak different languages. I’ve even heard her called Morrígan and the Crobh Dearg — the ‘Red Claw.’ But she’s always Lady Baduhenna in the North Country. She’s my favorite teacher. I like her class a lot, don’t you?”

“Yeah, she’s great,” allowed Sigrún, without enthusiasm.

That night, after serving in the hall, she collapsed onto her little bed, falling fast asleep. As the moon hovered in the sky, she began to dream. It was terrifying.

She felt the hand of King Hothbrodd slipping a ring on her finger but she couldn’t see him. “NOW, now, NOW, now, NOW, now, NOW!” she heard in her mind. Sigrún looked into the face of Queen Matilda, as she was lowering her into the box. “No, mother, don’t,” she cried. “Don’t do this to me!” Astrid appeared. “Yes, that would be wonderful,” she said before her face locked into a visage of abject horror. She felt the robber enter her mouth, enter the very center of her being. Throughout the entire nightmare, there was a sound, increasing in volume and severity till she could stand it no more — “Caw, caw, caw, caw.” The sleeping dreamer froze, she couldn’t defend herself.

Sigrún sat up in bed. Sweat ran freely down her forehead and she shivered from chills she couldn’t understand.

The room was dark. Silently, she left her bed and crept from the room. The hall without was dark save for the flicker of a torch she couldn’t see. Sigrún crept down the hallway, looking for the source of the light. The curving passage was seemingly endless; there was an archway, the door was open. She peeked within.

Three figures with long, flowing robes and cowls were at the forefront of the room. One held a torch. The other two were posting some sort of scrolls on the wall. Sigrún wondered at the significance of this event. Was she still dreaming?

The figures turned. Did they see her? Sigrún pulled back and ran down the hall, falling in the dark. The young girl rose and felt her way along the wall until she reached the door of the handmaiden’s bedchamber. Stealthily, she entered and groped around until she located her own bed. Hopefully, it was her bed. She got in and covered herself with the blanket.

Sigrún didn’t sleep, nor did she move, until Sieglinde came to waken her. She feigned sleep, then rose, disappointed to learn they had Philosophy again after morning duties. She felt tormented and didn’t know what to do about it.

Her mood lightened when she learned Lady Baduhenna had been called away on a mission. The rest of the class seemed disappointed, however. Sigrún soon learned why.

Her replacement was Fro’ Vihansa, an old Teutonic war-goddess. Like the other Valkyries, she was beautiful, with rust-red hair. But she had the demeanor of a woman who had seen it all. There was no freshness to her, no surprise. Sigrún wondered how old she was and how much magic it took to maintain her appearance. She apparently came from central Germany, not so far from Sevafjell but her accent was of centuries gone by. It seemed heavy to all the girls in the class. And chilling, like the rime-frost on a heifer found frozen on the fen. She preferred to be addressed as Fro’ the feminine title of respect in her dialect.

Today’s subject was the proper conduct of sacrifice to Lord Odin. It would have been funny, listening to Fro’ Vihansa listing celebrations, detailed arcane rituals, proper offerings and magical incantations in her strange accent but the girls were all terrified of her. She carried a rather nasty looking sword at her left hip and an equally menacing dagger slid into her right greave, which armored her calf.

The class began innocently enough, with talk of throwing weapons and armor, captured in battle, into a bog. There was mention of burning ships as well. As the class dragged on, the subject turned to human sacrifice. The war-goddess didn’t notice that the girls were too scared to even ask questions. As she slowly passed between their tables, continuing her lengthy lecture, Sigrún looked across at Gunilla. The poor girl was digging her fingernails into the edge of the wooden table and had a look of total dismay on her face.

“So now, are the enemy soldiers, who captured have been — bound are they, stabbed then und strangled und into the bog thrown or hung then from the blót tree are they. So to rot, except that eat them first, the ravens do.”

Vihansa swept the room with her vulture’s stare. Every girl sat rigidly, facing front but feeling that awful penetrating gaze as clearly as sleet in a biting wind, wishing they knew the reaction she was looking for. The war-goddess droned on in her cutting, dispassionate voice.

“Now, for the class a question — May chosen, a sacrificed soldier by the Valkyries be, so to Valhöll carried is he?” She slowly looked around the class for a hand. Seeing none, Vihansa bent over to face little Gunilla, seated in the front row.

“Well — what think you?” she asked point blank.

Gunilla finally became totally unglued. “Hey, these aren’t the Dark Ages,” she yelled in her little voice. “This is the Ninth Century.”

“What?” demanded Vihansa. “What the matter with you is? No respect for the gods have you?” She slowly rotated and glared at everyone. “Und the answer is ‘Yes.’ Carried they may be to Valhöll if face death bravely und willingly they do — all the greater glory of the victors und Valföder is for.”

Poor Gunilla was beside herself. She covered her face with her hands. Sigrún felt sorry for her but couldn’t imagine what to do. The warriors seemed to wield life and death power over the hapless handmaidens. And Eir and the other older girls had already completed this class and weren’t around to speak for them.

Sigrún determined to take the pressure off Gunilla to give her a chance to compose herself.

“Fro’ Vihansa,” she asked with hand raised, “I have a question: If the feast of Thor is held the first full moon after the winter solstice, what do we do if it rises before the miðvetrarblôt is over, counting the twelve days after Julblót, then do we continue the Jul sacrifices or do we begin Lord Thor’s celebration?”

“A very good question that is.” She pounced on the first spark of interest expressed by the class. “Very complicated can this be so very carefully listen should you.”

Fortunately, the other girls realized what Sigrún was trying to do. She was afraid they would beat her senseless before they got over to Valhalla after class mercifully ended. They all immediately threw themselves into their work, trying to shake the fright that had been put into them.

3. Insights

The giantess Angrboða entered the dimly lit, cavernous chamber and took up a position beside Loki, who stood staring into a large, black cauldron filled with a simmering liquid. The glowing coals heating the vessel provided the only source of illumination for the room yet the surface of the viscous brew displayed scenes of places far away.

“Will you come away from that scrying pool and spend a little time with me,” croaked Angrboða in her raspy cackle of a voice. “I’ve set out some dinner for you and it’s long since gone cold.”

“Later, my dearest Angrboða, there’s time for that later,” replied Loki. “Conditions are particularly fortuitous today for viewing Midgard and I must needs solve this riddle, else I will go mad.”

“But dear, you have searched and searched for untold centuries and have found nothing. What makes you believe that anybody remembers that ancient prophecy anymore except you?”

“Oh, the Æsir forgets nothing of such importance. Any pronouncements made by the Norns are remembered forever. Especially anything uttered by that brat.” Loki touched the surface of the glimmering waters with a wand and a fresh scene slowly settled into place.

“But Loki,” rasped the giantess, “Millennia have passed and you’ve still yet to fathom the import of that puzzle, let alone the identity of all the players.” She ran a hand back through her oily, black hair; almost as if the act would actually straighten the scraggly locks.

“Well, of one thing you may be certain, my love, though the prophecy purports to give each divinity a fair chance at success, you may be assured it bears no good tidings for me.”

“How so?”

Loki looked up from the images in his cauldron for the first time and looked directly at his consort. “That little bitch made no sign of it but she knew full well I hurled the bone that toppled her precious, silly drink into her lap. Everyone knew it was but a little jest aimed at old, blind Hoð but that child thought it meant for her.” His face now tightened and was turning a purplish-red in the glow of the coals. He pointed a bent finger at the giantess. “If she’s not grown up enough to appreciate a little adult humor, then she ought to eat with the other children in the nursery.”

“But in truth, she’s older than years can measure. She is now and she was then,” said Angrboða. “She looks that way on purpose and I, for one, find it very disturbing.”

“It is disturbing and she does do it on purpose,” snapped Loki. “And I’ll tell you another thing —these so-called prophecies of hers, which everyone places so much stock in, are little more than thinly veiled expressions of her own self-interest — carved in poetry and tinctured with riddle. And why those simpering — all-powerful gods would ever enthrall their futures according to the mad wishes of a pre-pubescent witch is totally beyond my ability to comprehend.”

“They fear her wrath,” said Angrboða, “as well should you. Her predictions have a way of running true and her sisters support her at every turn.”

“Of course they back her tales of things to come. To deprecate her prognostications is to diminish themselves. And why shouldn’t her utterings seem to hit the mark? Her enigmatic predictions leave much to the imagination and still the gods believe them to be substantive — and so accept any outcome as fitting the prophecy. Moreover, their strong belief adds impetus to that little bitch’s chants.

“They want them to come to pass and in so doing, they congratulate their own credulity.”

“If that be true,” asked the giantess, “then why do you waste away the seasons searching for the answer to the riddle?”

“I do so, my sweet, because I must. To allow the prophecy to reach fruition means my death. You may wager it means that. It seems to me my task is clear,” said Loki. “I must find the maiden in the verse and stop her ever achieving lawful vengeance! So doing will quash the sign and the prophecy will fall.”

“But how will you ever find her?” asked his consort. “These clues, after all this time, still mean nothing.”

“Oh but they do, my love, they do.

“When said, they made no sense, but time has filled in some substance. In the æons since pronounced, brother Odin’s gift of poetry to these foolish mortals has taught us that a ‘brand’ is no more than a sword, in their parlance; as a ‘cross’ describes a sword in the hand of a Kristinn knight.

“The trick is in finding a maiden who wields this weapon in the name of righteous revenge.”

“But then, who is the new god who comes in the land?” asked Angrboða.

“Ahh, there’s the thing,” replied Loki. “That little fordæda almost had me with that one.

“It seemed for the longest time that the Roman high-god Jupiter was described. Everywhere you looked you saw Roman legions on the march — one Cæsar after another invading the North Country but it was all for naught — they never achieved any real foothold in the realm of the Æesir. Then, for awhile I thought Mithra might be the one so described but he also came to naught. So, along comes this unnamed Triune God of the Kristinner.

“Now there’s a threat.” Loki set fingers against his lips and became lost in thought.

He loathed admitting it but Skuld displayed remarkable prescience in her visions of destiny. By what agency she achieved her insight he could only guess. For all his magic and sorceries there were powers in the universe he could ever only grasp at, like dust motes in the wind. He had worn out his welcome in Jotunheim, what with his tricks and deceits and had hoped to make a fresh start in Asgard. He had meticulously ingratiated himself, serving the needs of the gods. He had done their dirty work. Was it not he who had caused the mountain giant who re-built the shattered wall of Asgard to forfeit his promised payment: the sun, the moon and the goddess Freyja?

Aye, that was a challenge. Changing into a mare and enticing the giant’s stallion Svadilfari to chase after him had denied the Jotunn his only helper and had prevented the completion of the wall in the allotted time. Was Freyja the least bit grateful? Did she embrace him as she had done every other god and elf she favored? No!

She denied him any friendship and then took her wrath upon him when he claimed her Brísingamen necklace as his own reward. Did the Æsir reward him? Certainly not!

They let him come to term with foal after his dealings with Svadilfari when they could have

spared him the humiliation with their magic. To add insult to injury, Odin himself raised the colt Sleipnir and unashamedly rode the eight-legged beast everywhere.

He had been blamed for the kidnapping of the goddess Idunn, for the shearing of Sif’s golden hair and the theft of Thor’s hammer Mjollnir.

While he may have been peripherally involved in some of these crimes — it was all the fault of that Norn. She had planted the seed of mistrust. None would have even suspected the blood-brother of great Odin had not Skuld first pointed the finger in his direction. He might have taken advantage of their friendship for many years had she not singled him out as one not to be trusted for long.

Had not Odin himself sworn that he would never touch ale to lips unless Loki was also served?

Now, he was only grudgingly offered any seat at their banquets, always something farther down along the bench.

“That whelp of a Norn hopes to drive me mad searching for a mere woman able to best men in mortal combat.”

“Mere woman?” decried Angrboða.

Loki was quick to defend. “I speak of mortals, my treasure. Certainly none of the Jotunner may be called ‘mere.’

“Have I not borne for you many fine children?” demanded the giantess.

“You have, my sweet.”

She spoke, of course, of Hela, queen of the underworld, Fenris the Wolf and Jormungand, the Midgard serpent, that endless leviathan who swam the roiling seas that surrounded the world of men. To be sure, they were monsters all but they were his monsters, the fruit of his loins. Each was destined to play an important role in the cosmological order of things. The question now was — Would they each fulfill their designated role to his benefit? — Or would he perish in the wake of that odious prophecy and not live to reap the harvest of destruction his offspring must surely one day unleash all across the Nine Worlds?

And why the issue of his illicit union with Angrboða should all be such horrors was beyond his comprehension. Had he not begat two normal godly sons, Vali and Narfi, upon his lawful wife, Sigyn? She, who had been given to him as spouse when prospects still looked bright betwixt the Æsir and himself. Sigyn was of the Asynjur, a goddess fair to behold, and she had remained faithful to him even though his affair with Angrboða was common gossip amongst her sister goddesses.

What it was about the gnarled giantess that held his interest, Loki could not say for sure — not to himself — not to anyone. Sigyn was beautiful, she gave him familial ties to the gods, she had given him two sons and she loved him despite being a bride in an arranged wedding. She waited patiently for him even now at their home in Asgard. That, despite the full knowledge her husband was cohabiting a disheveled old tower in Jotunheim with another woman. This he was wont to do for an increasingly greater portion of his time as the winters passed.

For her part, Angrboða was large and misshapen. Her ruddy skin covered sinewy muscles instead of delicate, luscious curves. Dark, piercing eyes provided her best feature but, set above a large, curving nose, they gave her the face of a hawk, which was not softened by thick eyebrows that joined in the middle and a widow’s peak that traced the leading edge of her lamp-soot blackened hair. Nonetheless, Loki loved her; at least as much as he could love another being. His unbridled self-interest prevented him ever giving total, unconditional love to anyone. Perhaps she fascinated him, for she understood his needs as no other. And there was always that element of danger.

Each time he shared intimacies with the giantess, he was secretly intrigued by what surprise would issue forth when she came to term. Truth be known, Loki was thrilled by the menaces his loins had unleashed on an unwitting world. He would have liked greater control over these now mature monstrosities but so long as everyone believed he exercised a sire’s primacy over his brood he enjoyed at least a modicum of respect.

“I’m preparing a special meal for you tomorrow — your favorite,” said Angrboða.

“No my love, conditions for peering into the world of men will not be so favorable on the morrow,” replied Loki. “I will be off to Midgard at first light to continue the search for I feel it in my bones that something is happening. The terms of the prophecy are coming to pass and I must be after the game.”

“Oh but you’ll miss my surprise.”

Loki looked once more upon his consort. “It is not your surprises I must concern myself with now. No, I must ferret out the surprises being laid for me by that Nornling Skuld.”


Sigrún had had another fitful night filled with bad dreams. The bull showed a change of classes. Instead of archery, they had another Philosophy class. Speculation was Lady Baduhenna was going to read them the riot act on account of their poor performance for Vihansa the preceding day.

Captain Menglod entered the room and all snapped to attention.

“Who would like to pull duty today instead of attending class?” she asked.

Sigrún was quick to raise her hand. “I’ll work.”

“Don’t you need this class?”

“I need all the classes. The others need it more than me.”

“Very well,” said Menglod, “you are relieved of stable duty.”

“I’ll get over to the hall right away.”

“Not the hall,” snapped the stern Valkyrie. “You’ll be attending the goddess Freyja today. Put on your best dress and come to my chamber.”

Sigrún’s mouth went dry. She wanted to gag. This sounded very scary. She thought of Sieglinde’s description of Val-Freyja. And ‘attend,’ how do you attend a goddess?

“What do I do Sieglinde?”

“First, you should learn not to volunteer until you know what they want,” counseled her friend. “Look, you can borrow my best blue dress. This might not be so bad. At least she won’t kill you, because then she wouldn’t have an attendant. If Lady Baduhenna kills all of us, well, then, I guess, she gets a free day.”


Sigrún appeared at the door of Menglod’s chamber, wearing the pretty blue dress.

“Ah, Sigrún, come in,” directed Menglod. “Now, listen carefully. The Goddess’ regular attendants are away to Midgard. You are to stand inside the door of Freyja’s sanctum and await her commands. Just stand with your hands clasped in front of you. Face the opposite wall of the arch. Don’t stare at her, no matter what she’s doing. If anyone knocks at the door, look through the peephole and then announce whoever it is and see if the Goddess cares to see them. If there’s any trouble, just pull the sash by the door and warriors will come. Remember to bow a lot. Other than that, just regard her every wish as your command and you’ll do fine.”

“How long am I on duty for?”

“Until you’re told to go,” answered Menglod. “Now get up there. Just knock on the door softly and announce you’re there to attend the Goddess. There’s a warrior at the door. You’ll be relieving her so she can handle a mission herself. Now remember, Sigrún, you are to address her as ‘Goddess’ or as ‘Vanadís.’ Okay, get going.”

Sigrún withdrew slowly, as if trying to think of any further questions she may have and headed down the hall and up the stairs. The Lady Geirronul was at the door, waiting to be relieved. She wondered how long the warrior had been there.

The handmaiden quietly closed the door. She stole a quick look at the spacious hall. Freyja was reclining on a Roman couch. A large brass bowl of flaming oil and a bank of candles provided illumination. There was a table behind the couch and some sort of well beside her. Many various statues stood about the high-ceilinged room and these seemed to be from many lands and many times. Some of the statues had armor or garments hanging on them. A number of scrolls lay upon another table, near the bank of candles. Sigrún thought she saw two cats lying on the couch with the Goddess, who was dressed in a lavender robe.

The handmaiden bowed. There was no acknowledgement from the Goddess, who was looking into her well. Sigrún turned, facing the opposite wall of the archway and clasped her hands together.


Sieglinde and the other girls finished assisting the Warrior Class in the stable and headed across the Folkvang, back to Sessrumnir for breakfast and class.

She wished Sigrún hadn’t been so quick to volunteer for this special duty. Then, she might have been a bit quicker to do so herself. Sieglinde giggled to herself as she walked. She knew better than anyone that Lady Baduhenna would not be killing any handmaidens today, her warning to Sigrún notwithstanding. The poor girl must have been scared to death. But they were in for a stern lecture. They deserved that. Maybe it was better that the new girl be otherwise employed. That way she would not come to loath Baduhenna’s class. Sieglinde had come to like Sigrún very much in the short time she had been in Asgard. Reviving her and training her had given her a sense of accomplishment and responsibility she had never felt before. The other girls were nice but Sigrún was different, she was her friend, someone she could share secrets with. Well, most secrets.

There was no chatter among the handmaidens as Lady Baduhenna strode into the classroom. She set some scrolls down on the table and then turned to face the class.

“So how was class during my absence yesterday?” she quietly inquired.

The girls present murmured softly. No one had dared skip the session. It would only get worse if they tried to avoid it.

“Does anybody have any questions about the dísablôt session yesterday?” she asked. “Nobody —that’s odd. I’ve been given to believe that none of you learned a thing yesterday while I was on Midgard.”

Gunilla leaned forward and put her face in her hands.

“You girls failed to take advantage of the wisdom that Lady Vihansa was trying to impart to you. That’s the pity.” Gunilla looked up as Baduhenna spoke. “I know she can be a little scary. Believe me, you don’t want to face her in battle. The problem is that you failed to learn what she was trying to teach you. I know human sacrifice can be disconcerting but there’s a reason for it.

“Those sacrificed are the soldiers who have been captured in battle. They should have been killed. Their lives are over.

“To be captured in battle means you lose your freedom. You lose your land. You lose your wives and concubines. You lose your weapons and armor. You lose your horse. You should have fought to the death. Your only fate can be slavery — or death.

“That’s why fallen warriors willingly embrace sacrifice. It’s their last chance to achieve Valhalla — to attain paradise. Some of them are old, some are just fated to die because of their allegiance. If the Lord of Battle determines your army shall fall — he has foredoomed you.

“If a captured warrior willingly allows himself to be sacrificed, then his sacrifice may be accepted by the Valkyries. How can you hope to be the judges of such men, if you do not study the rules by which they must live?”

The girls hung their heads. Baduhenna let her sermon set in.

“It’s just the same as when you must assure a certain warrior will fall in battle,” she continued. “He has let it be known by his boldness in battle, that he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for king and country.

“When the Valkyries claim his life in battle it is because Allfather Odin has called him home, to serve in the Einherjar. He wishes to draw the warrior close to him. The warriors understand this, that to die in battle means they will achieve paradise. It’s all they ever hope for.” Baduhenna passed her gaze over the class. “Would you deny them their final reward?”

Asked Blith, “I guess what we don’t understand is, why the army that wins anyway thinks they have to kill everyone on the losing side?”

“Let me tell you a little story,” said Baduhenna. “A long time ago, more than a millennia actually, there was a little city called Rome. They hadn’t yet become a powerful empire. The Celts, who had expanded their domain across Europe, attacked the city and occupied it. They could have ground the Romans beneath their heels. But instead, their commander, Brennus, demanded a thousand pounds of gold as the ransom for their city. As the Romans piled the gold upon scales provided by the Celt army, the Roman leader Camillus claimed that the scales favored their captors. To this, Brennus tossed his sword upon the counter-weight and declared ‘Vae, victis.’ That means ‘Woe to the vanquished’ to those of you who have not taken your Latin classes yet.

“He thought he was so clever. Yes, the Romans had to contribute the added weight of a sword in gold. But they did it and the Celts left. So, who knows what happened?”

Sieglinde raised her hand and was recognized. “The Romans eventually killed most of the Celts and drove them to the westernmost fringes of their world.”

“That’s right,” said Baduhenna, “and what lesson do we learn by this?”

“Don’t fight your enemies more times than you have to,” said Blith.

“Exactly! Don’t give your foemen the chance to rise up and destroy you.”


Sigrún had stood facing the wall for a very long time. She began to think of everything that had happened to her, especially the most recent revelations. To think that her family had been slaughtered by the evil worshippers of CathuBodua and now to learn that self-same goddess was right here in Asgard — her Philosphy professor, no less — well it was just more than she could bear.

But what to do about it? Baduhenna was, by all accounts, a most powerful goddess, famed in war and feared by the boldest of warriors. At the very least, she must complete all the training promised to the handmaidens. Only as a Valkyrie warrior did she stand any chance against the ancient divinity — let alone the brigands who had actually done the deed. Yes, let them train her and grace her with power and weapons, then…

Then she stopped. She was in the presence of a most powerful goddess. Who knew what the extent of her senses might be? The young Valkyrie resolved to clear her mind, to think of nothing. Sigrún contemplated the wall in every detail. She did this for a long time, then tried to clear those thoughts as well. Her mind must be a complete blank. In time, she believed she had achieved clearness. There was a steady beat in her mind: vvmmp, vvmmp, vvmmp. She closed her eyes and let it soak in.

There was a light rap on the door. She opened the tiny peeping door and looked out. It was Commander Brynhilde. Sigrún instinctively reached for the door-latch, then stiffened up. She turned towards the couch and announced in a clear voice, “Commander Brynhilde.”

Without looking up, the supine Freyja made a simple beckoning motion with her fingers. Sigrún opened the door and admitted the leader of the Valkyrjor. Brynhilde entered without acknowledging her, then strode purposefully to a spot near the couch. She bowed at the waist and it seemed a conversation ensued. Sigrún wished she could hear what was being discussed, then realized such attention might be detected, so she again cleared her mind and stared at the wall.

After a certain amount of time, she heard footfalls and reached out to hold the door for the departing commander. Brynhilde seemed to inspect the novice as she left the inner sanctum.

Sigrún went back to contemplating oblivion for what seemed to be hours but there was nothing to gauge time by in the windowless chamber.


Sieglinde shifted nervously in her seat. She wondered if Sigrún was having as much fun as she and the other girls. Things weren’t going so badly as she’d feared but still she was uncomfortable today in this, her favorite class.

“So now that you’ve learned how things came to be the way they were,” began Baduhenna anew, “I’m going to explain to you what we did about it.” The teacher noticed something resembling renewed interest by her students.

“Allfather Odin, the Lord of Battle, decided that the mortals were sacrificing way more warriors than he desired. In other words, they were trying to send him the riff-raff. It wasn’t good for them, it wasn’t good for the people of the villages they came from and frankly, it wasn’t doing Allfather any good either. He just stopped taking them.

“They weren’t worthy enough for Valhalla and they also weren’t unworthy enough to be consigned to Niflheim. Only those who die of pestilence and old age should go there to dine at Hela’s table. And of course she keeps criminals forever in her deep dungeons.

“So, Lord Odin rounded up all those disembodied spirits that were aimlessly wandering the earth, and he formed them into the Wild Hunt. Some call them the Furious Host because of the way they charge through the forest at night.” Baduhenna seemed more relaxed herself now and sat back on the edge of the head table.. “Tell me, have you ever gone out on a dark, stormy night and heard the howling wind come crashing through the trees? Those old trees that aren’t strong enough to withstand the storm will fall, leaving room for new growth.

“Right then, at the peak of the storm, open your mind and look up. You may just see the Furious Host rushing by, following the leader of the hunt, Lord Odin himself.

“So now, the Lord of Battle had resolved the problem of what to do with all the disgruntled spirits roaming the earth. It was then he began dispatching Valkyries to not only rule over the battles but also to supervise the ensuing sacrifices.

“Our orders were to allow only the sacrifice of the greatest warriors — those we wished to carry to Valhalla. The rest were either to be ransomed, sold as slaves or let go.”

“How did you make the kings and warlords do what you wanted them to do?” asked Sieglinde.

“Oh, they resisted at first, old ways die hard,” replied Baduhenna, “but believe me, they don’t want to make us angry. Anyway, that’s when we showed our favorites how to strengthen the keels of their longboats and erect masts for sails.

“Once they did this, they found they could strike at kingdoms in distant lands without much fear of a return visit.”

“Is the dragonship the greatest fighting ship in the world?” inquired Blith.

“You betcha!” asserted Baduhenna with a wink.


Sigrún had stood still so long she was feeling woozy. She had missed breakfast and was now both hungry and thirsty. It was hard to keep your mind clear when your stomach was making little, impolite noises. The young girl chanced a brief glimpse at the reclining goddess. Freyja was still looking at her well. Sigrún wondered what could be so interesting about it. She also wondered what the other girls were doing in class. The last face she wanted to see today was Baduhenna’s but certainly class would be over by now and they would all be hustling and bustling about in the hall. Fish, maybe she had fish in the well.

The attendant kept trying to remember to keep her mind blank. It was hard. Random images kept popping into her head, now a crowded marketplace, now an isolated farmstead. A fleet of dragonships sprang to mind. There was the battlement of a castle. Again she cleared her thoughts.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, more images crept into her mind. There was a battle raging, now she saw a great clash of armored men on horseback. The mists swirled and then she glimpsed a young man practicing with a sword against a spinning training-dummy, a quintain. He was a handsome youth, strong and tall, with wavy yellow hair. He carried himself like a warrior-born.

“Sigrún, approach,” commanded the couchant goddess.

The attendant was startled. She had been there for hours without hearing Freyja’s voice. Sigrún turned and walked quickly and, she hoped, gracefully. Upon nearing the Roman couch, she stopped and bowed.

“Yes Goddess,” she said in an unsure voice.

Freyja slowly looked at her. She still rested her weight upon one elbow. Her free hand was lightly petting a golden-haired cat. Another was curled up against her bare feet.

“Were you not told not to stare at me?”

“I wasn’t — I wouldn’t,” answered the terrified girl. It felt like her knees weren’t

going to be able to support her any longer.

“I see,” said Freyja, “but whether you stare with your eyes or your mind, it’s all

the same.”

“With my mind, I don’t understand — Goddess,” stammered the scared girl.

“You were clearly staring into my pool with your mind,” asserted the Goddess, without raising her voice.

“I didn’t know,” begged Sigrún. “I was trying to keep my mind clear — to wait upon your pleasure…” The attendant could now see that there were images reflected on the waters of the goddess’ well. But what were they reflections of? Certainly not of anything in the room. Sigrún also noticed that there was some sort of echo every time the goddess spoke. Despite her soft-spoken words, every syllable was clear as a bell. Her voice sounded in mind and ear both.

“Hmm, your mind is very perceptive, but it is certainly not clear,” spoke Freyja. “There are many closed doors there, some with locks.”

“I don’t understand, Goddess.”

“You have closed many parts of your mind,” whispered Freyja. “I could reach in and open some of those doors but…” She paused to pet her cat. “I find that part of my enjoyment of eternity is to let each story spring forth at its proper time.”

“Thank you, Vanadís.”

“If you’re going to stare into my pool, you may as well stand near,” said Freyja. “You may comb my hair now.”

“Yes Goddess.” Sigrún stepped closer and began removing the small gold pins, which held Freyja’s beautiful golden hair in place. There was a large jewel-encrusted comb lying on the table and the attendant used it to begin grooming her mistress.

The waters of the well were displaying a scene of two lovers fawning over each other in a hayloft. Sigrún was almost embarrassed to look as they began disrobing each other, slowly and coyly.

Freyja’s hair was like the breath of the sun on your face on a warm summer day and it offered no greater resistance to the stroke of the comb. It was the fairest and finest Sigrún had ever touched. She couldn’t imagine why the goddess needed it combed at all. There was not one bright strand fallen out of place.

The exposed skin of her back was equally fair. There was neither blemish nor any other imperfection to be found on her perfect flesh. She looked up as Freyja disturbed the water of her pool with her fingers. The scene re-materialized upon two whales at sea. What were they doing? Oh no, she thought, they’re doing the same thing the two in the hay loft were doing. She recalled Sieglinde’s words, “She’s the goddess of love and fertility.”

So, was this ‘goddess work?’ Was this what they did all day?

“Clear mind indeed,” spoke Freyja softly. “You may stop now, come around the couch so I can see you.”

Sigrún set down the comb and stepped around the backless lounging couch with one upraised end. She stood stiffly and bowed at the waist.

Freyja appraised her for a moment, then whispered, “Draw near, child.” She gently pointed down at the carpet upon which the couch stood.

Sigrún obediently knelt beside the goddess. The cat she had been petting rose and moved over to a spot by her knees, which were exposed by a long slit in the side of her luxuriant lavender robe. Freyja reached forth and delicately grasped Sigrún’s small hands with her own.

“That’s a very pretty dress you’re wearing,” she said.

“Thank you Vanadís,” Sigrún softly replied, “it’s borrowed.”


“So you see,” summed up Baduhenna, “if the losers had really wanted to avoid a lot of very terrible consequences — they would have trained harder — they would have prayed harder and damn it, they would have fought harder!

“Now, is any of this sinking in? Each of you is required to understand all of it, you know. The Warrior Class are not just soldiers, each must serve many roles. One of them is as Priestess. You may be called upon at any time to perform a wide variety of religious as well as military functions. Frankly, the two are inseparable anyway.”

The faces of the girls of the class now seemed more relaxed than when class began. Certainly Sieglinde was, yet she sensed the others still harbored nagging doubts about their part in the cosmic scheme of things.

“Well, maybe what we need is a little sample of the shape of things to come,” Baduhenna said causing every student to look nervously at each other.

The powerful war-goddess slowly paced, inspecting her disciples. She stopped in front of one small redhead.

“Gunilla, have you ever seen a real battle? You know, a real bone breaker between rival armies.”

“Umm-mhh, I’ve seen some fights, some tournaments but umm-mh, not a real battle, no wars.”

“There it is then, we’ll have to show you a real battle. In fact, there’s a real belly-whomper going on this afternoon.”

“We’re going to Midgard?” blurted Gunilla. Now the class seemed to spring to life. Each girl’s interest was intense. They all wanted to go.

“Now, Gunilla, look into my eyes,” said Baduhenna, bending her tall frame in order to look straight into the seated girl’s face. The teacher reached out and put her hands on the redhead’s temples.

“Gaze deeply into my eyes,” commanded Baduhenna in a quiet but firm voice. “All you have ever been — all you shall ever be — are within you now.”

“Hey, what are you doing to me?” begged a frightened Gunilla.

“All your ancestors — and all of their forebears — are locked in your memory.”

Gunilla tried to close her eyes but Baduhenna used her thumbs and forefingers to keep them wide open. Sieglinde and the other students sat transfixed, astonished by what was happening.

“Look back, Gunilla — look back — see the time before time — hear the beat of wings — feel the beat of those wings — feel them in your mind — feel them in your heart — your heart is beating faster now — and faster —”

Gunilla’s jaw dropped, her face went pale. She appeared to be losing consciousness.

“Now feel the beat in your arms — your arms — your arms — your wings — Look down upon the earth — you slowly circle — there’s a tree — alight — alight!”

Baduhenna released her hold on the girl and stepped back. To Sieglinde’s amazement, the small girl with red braids fell face forward and, before her head hit the table surface, became a crow, squatting on two legs on that wooden surface.

All the other students sort of laughed nervously and gathered around for a better look.

“Well girls,” said Baduhenna, “you wanted to see a crow — there she is.”

“Oooo-ooh!” A few reached out to pet their friend on the head or wings. The crow started squawking.

Baduhenna raised her arms above her head. The warrior closed her eyes and slowly rocked her head to and fro. Abruptly, she became a large, black scald-crow, flashes of white feathers broke the jet-black plumage that covered her body. Using her broad wings for lift, she hopped up onto the table beside her student. The large crow nudged the small one with her beak. The fledgling got the message and leaped to the stone windowsill. The large bird joined her and cried “krackackack” as she wiggled her tail.

The smaller black crow leaped tentatively into the fresh air without and was followed by the transformed warrior. The girls ran to the open window and each strained for a glance at the two crows rapidly winging their way over the Folkvang.


“So how do you find the duties of your new station in life, Sigrún,” asked the Goddess, “are they to your liking?”

“Yes, Vanadís, I like it here very much,” admitted Sigrún, “but…it’s a little confusing sometimes.”

“I expect it would be, for one who was born and raised a Kristinn.”

“You mean a Christian, yes I was,” she confessed. “I’m surprised you can tell. I haven’t discussed it with anybody.”

“The waters you are immersed in leaves a certain mark. It doesn’t quickly fade from view.”

“You mean baptism. But that was so long ago. I was but a babe in arms.”

“It’s readily apparent to one who knows what to look for,” confided Freyja as Sigrún knelt close beside her reclining form.

“Tell me, child. Why do the faithful look away from the gods of their ancestors and accept new gods? What is their attraction?”

“Well, I think my mother once told me that they became Christians as part of a treaty of some sort but that, in time, they came to revere the God of love and peace.”

“The Kristinn gods make you strong in peace. We make our followers strong in war.”

“I guess that’s so. I think maybe that idea gets lost when you’ve been at peace for some time.”

“But there is no peace, is there Sigrún?”

“No, sometimes you think you have it — and then it gets away. But the Christ hung on the cross and his heart was pierced by a Roman lance.”

“And what was gained by his sacrifice?” asked Freyja.

“Well, salvation, I guess.”

“Salvation from what?”

“From sin — from original sin.”

“How do you define this original sin?”

“I guess it stains us from birth because of Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden.”

“It never ceases to amaze me what the Kristinner won’t call a sin. Isn’t there enough evil in the world without summoning minor transgressions committed at the dawn of time? Therein lies the difference between the Kristinner and the true believers,” said Freyja. “As they lay dying, all they can think to do is confess all the worst deeds of their miserable lives. Now, a Viking, when death calls to him, he will proudly proclaim all of his greatest victories.

“Look at Allfather Odin. He hanged himself from the world tree for nine days and he did it for wisdom. He pierced his own side with a lance and he did it to proclaim his sovereignty over all warriors: that they may know that when their time arrives, he will be with them.

“Can you compare that with your Kristinn gods?”

“Begging your pardon, Goddess,” said Sigrún, “but the Christians only worship one God.”

“One God? Really. I count at least three. How are they named? Father? Son? And who is this Holy Ghost they speak of?”

“Um-mhh, actually, they’re three as one. A Holy Trinity if you will.”

“The Celts worshipped many such trinities, they are replete with triune gods. Your own professor Baduhenna was one such many winters ago.”

The attendant’s ears turned on this new comment. “Yes, I’ve heard some things. But I don’t fully understand.”

“Lady Baduhenna has been around a very long time,” began Freyja. “Long ago, she was worshipped by the Hibernian Celts on the Isle of Erin. They called her Badb. But she did not ride alone, even back then. She was part of the Morrígan, along with Macha and Némain. Together, they ruled the battles and wars. They were all of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the old gods.

“In time, an escaped slave named Patrik came to Erin. He brought the Kristni teachings with him. The people began to look away from their old gods. They were fascinated with the new gods. The Kristinner were voracious in their appetite for influential new converts. They would do anything to steal the hearts and minds of the faithful. They offered Baduhenna’s own sister Latarian — how do you say, hagios? Sancta?”

“Oh, you mean sainthood,” said Sigrún, “They offered to make her a saint?”

“Exactly so, child. They made their offer to many of the Celt gods. They would do anything to claim that island. Baduhenna refused. She said there was no room for a war-goddess in the Kristinn scheme of things. But Branwen took the deal. So did Brigid, although she held out for awhile. Finally, they offered to call her saint and bishop and gave her fine lands upon which to build temples and abbeys. But she still kept her maidens and they still maintained the eternal flame that was her trademark.

“Then, there was Sheela-na-gig. I can only imagine what deal she got. Those Kristinner seem such prudes and here they display her graven image on their temples with her spreading her own vagina. Really!”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that,” said the handmaiden.

“She tends to be worshipped more in Ængland. She and their other hundreds of gods.”

“Hundreds, I thought you said there were three.”

“You have to count their so-called Sanctum. Do they not have temples dedicated to their worship? Do the Kristinner not pray to them and offer propitiations to them?”

“I guess that’s so. Somehow it seemed different when Father Hugo talked about it. But then, there are the martyrs. Didn’t they give their lives for their faith?”

“Martyrs, yes, so you’re familiar with the term?” inquired Freyja. “So, then, why is it so different when a warrior is willingly sacrificed to Lord Odin?”

“I don’t know. It seems different when it happened five-hundred years ago. I suppose it only seems bad when they tell you to take charge of it yourself.”

“Does not ‘martyr’ mean witness?” asked Freyja. “All they are doing is justifying their words with their lives. People say what they want to say. Didn’t this Patrik claim he drove out all the spirits of air and darkness?”

“But I thought St. Patrick drove the serpents out of Erin,” said Sigrún.

“There were no serpents there, child. It’s an island. What’s there is there, until men or gods bring something else there. Patrik drove nothing out. Baduhenna was worshipped across Europe by many peoples. She merely flew away to greener pastures, to aid people who properly respected her gifts. Eventually, Allfather called out to her and she joined the Valkyrjor.”

“I heard the Romans once worshipped her, is that true?”

“To the extent the Romans were capable of worshipping anything but wealth, yes, it’s true. They attempted to enter the North Country. They made a big show of reverence for the gods. They called to us by the names of their own heathen gods. Caesar himself paid court upon me. In time, it became clear, however, that they offered much but gave little. The gods were briefly amused by the art and architecture and other manifestations of their much-vaunted civilization but the Romans craved only slaves and wine. Finally, we had had enough. The war-goddesses rallied their forces of the faithful. Under the guidance of Baduhenna and Vihansa, Hariasa and Harimella, the Romans were hurled back across the Rhine. You will see as much when you learn to soar over Midgard. Their cobblestone highways are to be seen everywhere in Frankland, what they would call Gaul, but nary a one east of the Rhine.

“Pour me another sip of mead,” directed the Goddess.

Sigrún stood and complied, pouring the amber fluid from a standing pitcher into her golden goblet. Freyja took a draught.

“Would you like a taste?”

Sigrún knelt again and accepted the cup. She took a sip. It was deliriously intoxicating.

“Oooh, this is good.”

“Have another sip,” said Freyja. Sigrún gratefully took a longer drink.

“I get the best mead, not that stuff you serve in the hall.” She took the cup and had another drink herself. Sigrún wondered as to the powers of the best stuff in view of the fact that what must be the bad stuff had the ability to raise the dead. Freyja set aside the horn and once more, held Sigrún’s hands in hers.

“In fact, the war-goddesses showed the Romans what decimation really means,” continued Freyja. “You see, the Romans punished their subjugated peoples by killing one out of ten whenever they suspected rebellion was afoot.

“Baduhenna ordered the deaths of 900 legionnaires who dared defile her sacred grove. In response, the emperor’s nephew, Quintillius Varus, invaded in force with three entire legions.

“Nothing was ever found of them. They call them the ‘lost legions.’ They were one tenth of the imperial army. Now, that’s decimation!” Freyja smiled. Her face was beautiful beyond description. Her delicate voice still echoed within Sigrún’s mind; it was so compelling. She became lost in her words. Freyja again, shared the mead with her attendant.

“So then, about four-hundred years ago. Lord Odin grew tired of the Roman’s pompous posturing. That’s when he sent in the Visigoths and the Vandals. They sacked Rome and destroyed their empire.”

“Then that was the end of it?” asked Sigrún.

“No, some things never change,” said Freyja. “The Kristinner just began where the emperor left off. They even set up their capital in Rome. Since then, I notice they’ve been claiming all our festival days, even as their own, hoping to confuse the faithful. That’s why I was interested to learn why your people had turned to them.”

“Now that you mention it,” said the slightly inebriated handmaiden, “they sort of offered me sainthood too.”

“I see we picked you up just in time.”

“How did the Valkyries know to carry me to Valhalla?” asked Sigrún.

“They have excellent instincts for such matters. Did you know that Commander Brynhilde herself carried you here?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, it’s so. She chose you after Captain Sváva found you lying on the battlefield.”

“So that’s what Lady Sváva meant when she said she’d seen me on a battlefield.”

“I’m afraid it wasn’t your best day.” Freyja smiled.

“But why did they choose me?” Sigrún wistfully asked. “Was it my amulet?”

“Well, there’s that. But then you did offer your life to the Lord of Battle.”

“You knew about that?”

“Well, Sigrún, you were touching a sacred rune tree when you did it. What did you think? That we wouldn’t know about it?”

“I don’t know what I thought. I just needed to call out to a power higher than myself.”

“That’s very admirable, child. But tell me…” The Goddess looked right into the young girl’s eyes. “A day will come when the commanders of the Valkyrjor will approach me and ask that I accept you as my Priestess. How then shall I answer?”

A shiver came over Sigrún. “I wouldn’t presume to speak for the Goddess.”

“The people expect that my Priestess does speak for me!” pressed Freyja. “How then, shall I answer?”

Sigrún felt very tense. Her mouth was dry. For the first time, she felt her knees grow weak as she knelt beside the Goddess.

“I pray you will say ‘Sigrún is ever my devoted servant.”

The goddess Freyja drew her face very close to Sigrún’s. “Will you be my devoted servant — even unto the end of time?”

Sigrún heard Freyja’s voice and felt it within her mind at the same time. “I swear I will love and serve you forever.”

Freyja leaned back and looked at the young girl before her. As if planned, there was a little rap at the door.

“That will be Hlin returning,” said Freyja. “Let her in and then you may withdraw.”

“Thank you Vanadís.” Sigrún began to rise.

“Oh, and Sigrún…”

“Yes Goddess?”

“It is my wish that you keep our words in your heart — and share them with no one else.”

“Yes Vanadís, thank you.” Sigrún was genuinely relieved by the order. She knelt again quickly and kissed the hands of the good goddess. Then she hurried to answer the door.

It was indeed Hlin, Freyja’s attendant and herself a goddess. They passed without conversation. Sigrún stood outside in the hall until she heard the latch click into place within. She wanted to savor her conversation with the Goddess while the taste of it was still fresh in her mouth. Would she ever have another experience like that? And if she did, could it ever be the same? She descended the stairs to the level occupied by the Valkyrjor.

The other girls were coming in from Valhalla. It was late at night. They were all laughing and sharing some new gossip. Sigrún ran to catch up. Little Gunilla seemed to be the center of attention.

“What happened?” Sigrún sang out, even though everyone else was excitedly talking at once.

“We were in Philosophy class and Gunilla got turned into a crow,” squealed Blith with glee.

“Yeah, she looked so scared, it was fabulous,” chimed in Aurboda.

“Aww, I wasn’t scared,” insisted Gunilla, “it was great. I got to fly to Midgard and see a big battle and everything.”

“Gunilla, did they make you drink blood?” asked Bleik.

“No! — But it was suggested.”

“Oooo-oohh,” groaned everyone present.

Sieglinde handed Sigrún a horn of mead they had been passing around as they walked. She started to lift it to her lips and then passed it off to Blith. The taste of Freyja’s honey wine still lingered in her mouth and she wanted to savor it until she dropped off to sleep.

With all the excitement about Gunilla’s adventure, none of the girls thought to ask Sigrún how her day had gone. She was glad it worked out that way.

4. The Handmaiden Class

Sváva surveyed her class of fencing students. They had been improving rapidly of late. The powerful Valkyrie warrior could not help but credit the change to the influence of her newest acolyte. The mysterious girl she had found, dressed as a male soldier, fallen on a remote battlefield, brought a natural lust for combat that the other girls had previously been lacking.

Today’s lesson involved mock swordplay with the quintain, a mannequin with shield and a mace suspended from a chain. The whole apparatus pivoted on a post, answering every strike with a whip-like cast of its morning-star weapon, equal in velocity to the stroke it had received. While the other girls had been content to exchange blows with the doppelganger at a comfortable pace, Sigrún charged it with an unquantifiable fury. Her every blow was calculated to be a knockdown injury and she was more likely to parry the morning-star with her wooden sword rather than merely ducking its predictable trajectory.

Even the usually monotonous practicing of basic actions had taken on a new dimension under her influence. What had been a dull, repetitive pattern of prescribed motions had become a spectacle unto itself as the handmaidens tried to match the bold steps and graceful lunges which Sigrún seemed to be improving upon with every session. And her practice of shrieking as she dealt a potential deathstroke was music to the instructor’s ears.

“Lady Sváva,” asked Sigrún as she ran up to her favorite teacher. “Can I move the two quintains together? I want to practice fighting multiple opponents.”

The Captain laughed. “Next time, Sigrún. You’ve done quite enough damage to the one already. Leave something for the other girls.”

“Well, then, will you teach me your Botte Secrete?” asked the girl, referring to the best combination of moves known to each fencing instructor, usually a closely guarded secret.

“I only teach my best moves to students ready to leave my class,” replied Sváva. “Are you ready to leave Fencing class, little one?”

“No, milady, it’s my favorite class!”

“Very well then, I better not catch you holding back so you can remain longer than you need to.”


The girls were cleaning up in their bedchamber, preparing for duty in Valhalla. Eir, the senior handmaiden entered.

“Okay everybody, look real sharp today. The warriors have brought in some really important king and a lot of the gods are at the head table.”

The handmaidens began filing out of the room.

“Oh, Sigrún,” said Eir to the passing girl. “See Captain Menglod.”

“About what?” asked Sigrún. Sieglinde gave her a funny look.

“About whatever she wants to talk to you about,” replied Eir in her cool, matter-of-fact voice.


Sigrún knocked on the oaken door of her captain’s chamber. She entered upon hearing an acknowledgement.

“I was told to report to the Captain.”

The Valkyrie warrior appeared to be shuffling through some scrolls on a table by her chair.

“Yes — Sigrún, thank you for coming,” Menglod began, almost absent-mindedly. “So, how did your day go with the Goddess?”


“Fine? That’s all? Did anything exciting happen?”

“No, Captain.”

“Well, I’m surprised that’s all you have to say after spending fifteen hours standing inside her door.”

“I found it very calming.”

“Calming, — you found it ‘calming?”

“Yes milady.”

“Was anything of interest discussed?”

“No milady.”

“Did she speak with you at all, or did you just stand there for fifteen hours?”

“No Captain, I mean yes — we did speak.”

“I see — and what about, pray tell?”

“Umm-mhh, well — I — was — instructed…”

“Yes, I see, very well, you may go.”

“Yes my lady, thank you,” said Sigrún, who turned and reached for the door-latch.

“Wait a moment Sigrún.” Scarcely looking up, Menglod casually indicated a dress hanging on the side wall. “The goddess Freyja sent this for you.”

It was a beautiful dress, sewn from gold silk. The bodice had a damask pattern and the hem was intricately embroidered with flowers. It reminded her of the gown she had worn for her betrothal party. That made her wince, so she tried not to think of it. She held it up to her. The skirt only extended to the knee, like the shifts worn by most handmaidens.

She looked up at the seated captain.

“How does it look?”

“It will look wonderful on you,” replied Menglod in her precise voice. “See that you keep it clean.”

Sigrún took the dress and left. She wished Menglod had at least pretended to share her excitement at the gift. The girl wondered if this was standard procedure, this giving of gifts by the gods. Or was Freyja reacting to her comment that she had borrowed a dress? Then, was her attendance on the goddess-head of the Valkyrjor some sort of rite of passage around here? Menglod didn’t even have to hear her answer and she understood that Sigrún had been asked not to discuss their private conversation. Maybe that was Freyja’s way of developing a personal sense of loyalty from every Valkyrie. Or maybe she was, in fact, assessing Sigrún’s worthiness to become her Priestess. It occurred to the handmaiden that if the Goddess of Love had disapproved of her she would not have sent the fabulous dress.

Sigrún suddenly had visions of waking up and finding herself lying all alone on that Baltic battlefield. Really? What would they do to a Valkyrie who failed to live up to their expectations?


Sieglinde was brushing a powerful winged charger when Baduhenna entered the barn.

“How does Bledlochtana look today?” asked the war-goddess.

“He’s magnificent,” said Sieglinde, “and I think I’m finally starting to sense what he’s thinking — what he wants.”

“How so?” asked Baduhenna, as she absent-mindedly scratched a spot on her horse’s flank.

“Oh — nothing,” said the handmaiden, a little miffed she’d had no sense of any irritation on the stallion’s side.

“So, how is that new girl Sigrún coming along?”

“Real good! I like her a lot. I think I could really get to know her.”

“Hmm. I’m surprised you get on so well,” said Baduhenna as she lifted a saddle to her mount. “She seems a cold fish to me. I’m beginning to wonder whatever Brynhilde was thinking of when she chose her for training.”

“No, you’re wrong — milady — she’s really smart; and strong. We started Celestial Navigation at the same time and she’s already way ahead of everybody. And in Fencing — oooh, she’s really good.”

“Then why is she such a lump on the log in my class? Every day, she sits farther back. Soon, she’ll fall, heels over head, out the window. And every time she sits farther back, so do you.

“Do you two know something I don’t know?”

“Oh no, my lady, of course not. I guess maybe I thought if I sat with her she’d feel more comfortable.”

“Well it’s not working very well,” said Baduhenna, attaching a shield to her saddle. “I’ve seen men twisting on the gallows who looked more comfortable than her.

“Tell me truthfully now: does she ever speak of me?”

“Mmm, well just stuff. I don’t know,” replied Sieglinde, starting to feel a little uncomfortable herself. “Once she asked about some of the names you’re known by — said she’d heard of you. That was all.”

“Heard of me doing what?” asked the war-goddess.

“Nothing — just heard of you. I’ll ask her more if you want.”

“No don’t bother yourself dear, it’s of no moment I suppose. I’ll ask her myself if I have to. No sense getting her mad at you if she’s a friend.” Baduhenna strapped a bow and quiver of arrows to her saddle. “I just like to keep an eye on the young handmaidens they enlist around here is all. We can’t have them giving the power of a god to just anybody, you know.”

Sieglinde nodded and stepped back, taking a seat on a bale of hay, as Baduhenna seemed intent on finishing her equipage herself. She wished Baduhenna liked her friend better but then Sigrún didn’t seem to be warming up to the Valkyrie warrior either. Actually, Sigrún seemed a little stand-offish toward most everybody. Maybe that was why Sieglinde liked her so well. She was like her own personal exclusive friend. Eir and Frith were okay, except they were older and they were each other’s best friends. The giantesses were, well, huge. The other handmaidens were nice, in a cousin sort of way and they, too, tended to fall in as pairs on most days. Gunilla seemed to be an odd girl out, probably just as well.

Baduhenna was like a mother to her and she loved her accordingly but a friend was like a sister, someone your own age who liked you for yourself and didn’t think you were dumb because you sometimes said, or did, dumb things. Someone who was always there, to keep you company and share things with, your ideas, your dreams, your secrets — maybe. Sometimes they could just sit there on the grass, both staring into the sky, hardly speaking and yet sharing a camaraderie both could enjoy though neither could define. It was nice.

“Brooding again — about them?” asked Baduhenna, quietly sitting down alongside her.


“No, not really. I try to avoid dwelling on painful memories, especially of those men and what they did to me.”

“That’s best dear. Don’t worry yourself now, your time will come.”

Sieglinde became very somber and leaned her face into her open hands as her elbows rested upon her knees. Her palms covered her eyes but a tear trickled out anyway. “I just wish I could understand why anybody would do those things to another human being.”

“The world is full of evil men, my dear, elsewise, how would we recognize goodness? Could we appreciate bravery if there were no cowardice? Would we know virtue were it not for vice? That is the way of things and I suppose it’s best that it be so.”

Sieglinde exposed her reddened face and looked at her mentor. “But what is it that leads some men to be so evil?”

Baduhenna reflected. “Destiny sets a course for every living thing. Allfather Odin calls to the brave warrior as he endeavors to follow his calling, so to attain his final reward in Valhalla — just as the rapists and murderers heed the call of Queen Hela — drawing them inexorably to their eternal torment on the Nastrond. Just so, the Wyrd has decreed that you will become an enforcer of destiny and wield divine power in the avenging of such wrongs. That is to be your role in the grand scheme of things. One day you will be ready and you will obtain your vengeance with all the righteous fury of a Valkyrie warrior.”

Sieglinde seemed comforted by these words. “Do you think Sigrún would ride with me when that time comes? As my wingmate I mean.”

“And have you told her your story? How your heart cries out for justice?”

“No, Baduhenna, I couldn’t do that. How can I ask another person to share that kind of pain?”

The warrior smiled wryly. “You share it with me.”

Sieglinde’s bleary eyes sought support from her mentor. “But you’re not a person.” She suddenly blanched. “I’m sorry, I mean, you’re a goddess, you’re strong. You’ve seen everything. And anyway, you already knew what happened to me — you found me and carried me to Valhalla.”

“I understand. And it’s probably for the best that you keep these things between us for now.” The war-goddess was circumspect. “Opportunities to be elevated to the Warrior Class are few and far between, Sieglinde. Hopefully, you will have completed the blood-trail long before Sigrún completes her training and is accepted into those ranks. Fear not, for when the time comes you will find you have many sisters who will gladly assist you in your undertaking but have a care. When a Valkyrie handmaiden takes her final vows before Lord Odin she is forsaking every previous right and obligation. There is a way of achieving such goals and I will advise you more fully when the time is right. Until then, you must work very hard in all your training to learn every skill you will need in your quest for justice — and to be promoted.

“I know Sigrún is your best friend now but in most ascension competitions, destiny chooses only the one best woman.”

Sieglinde clenched her lips and nodded her resolve.

Baduhenna mounted Bledlochtana and beckoned to Sieglinde. “I’m making a quick trip to Midgard. Do you want to go?”

The handmaiden eagerly rose and raised her arms. Baduhenna grabbed her elbows and hoisted her protégée onto the saddle before her.

Sieglinde leaned forward and flicked the oddest-looking fly off of the stallion’s wriggling ear with her thumb and forefinger. As the fly reeled off into the corner of the stall, buzzing its displeasure, she wondered if she had felt the horse’s annoyance with her mind or merely seen the insect with her eyes.


Sigrún stood with the other girls on the wild grasses of the Folkvang, the ‘people’s plain.’ This was the land surrounding the palatial abode known as Sessrumnir, the ‘seat-roomy’ dwelling of the goddess Freyja. The Valkyrjor, as her loyal servants, lived there as well. So also did the souls of the deceased whom Freyja had taken as her share of the dead with Odin. It was her practice to select those noble women and those common-folk women who had died well. While she was entitled to a draw of the warriors slain in battle, these she left to the Lord of Battle and his mighty Valhalla.

She was not one of the gods of the Æsir. Freyja was one of the goddesses of the Vanir. The Æsir and the Vanir gods had fought a war, millennia ago. The fighting ended in stalemate. Freyja and her brother Frey were actually sent to the Æsir as hostages, to insure the peace. In time, however, the beautiful and gracious goddess had come to be the most important of the goddesses, worshipped more widely even than Frigg, the wife of Odin.

Today’s class would be Sigrún’s introduction to the spear as a valkyrie weapon. The professor, Captain Hilda, began with a demonstration. The class couldn’t have been more interested.

“This is the standard issue fighting lance,” began Hilda, holding the formidable pole-arm for all to see. The spearhead dazzled in the sun and left no doubt that it was razor sharp. “In this length, it is an excellent weapon for close quarters fighting.” She wielded the spear with two hands, spinning around for effect.

“Now, watch what happens when I touch this rune carved in the shaft and impose a little will-power.” The length of the spear abruptly increased. “Here we have a lance, perfect for charging on horseback.”

Hilda touched another rune and the shaft increased to a great length. “Now we have a pike. A Troop can halt any attack with a cluster of these.

“So, now we touch this rune — and the shaft shortens to a javelin, just right for hurling.” The warrior turned and threw the javelin an incredible distance, striking the center of a straw target that seemed an impossible distance away.

“Ooooohhhh,” gasped the Handmaiden Class in awe.

“All right girls, everyone get a pike and shield.” Hilda pointed to a rack of wooden sticks that seemed to be three or four times the height of the students.

“Lady Hilda,” asked Sigrún, “when do we get to work the magic lance?”

The Valkyrie captain laughed. “You will perform every drill with every weapon a thousand times ‘ere you will properly wield a valkyr lance.”

There followed a lengthy session wherein the girls practiced advancing with extended pikes. This alternated with learning to leap into a proper shield line the moment the order was given.

“SHIELD LINE!” commanded Hilda, as the class marched in a single rank with pikes erect and shields slung on their left arms.

Every other student locked their legs in a strong front stance and held their shield in a protective posture before them, while the girl on each side of them dropped to one knee and positioned her shield likewise. From the front, all that presented was an impressive wall of shields. They still held their long pikes tightly erect.

“PIKES OUT!” screamed Hilda.

Every pike, well almost, was swung out to the front, so as to form an impenetrable barrier before the cluster of young Valkyries.

Blith lost her grip on the staff and it clattered to the plain, banging against shields as it fell. Suddenly, a shield flipped over forward and also whumped noisily on the Folkvang. The instructor watched as Gunilla stepped over the lower row of wooden discs to retrieve her own dropped shield.

“Blith, Gunilla — you two, exchange places,” directed the Captain. “Gunilla, take the crouching position. Rest your elbow on your knee for support. Blith, you’re taller, you should stand and remember to straighten your rear leg like a flying buttress for strength.

“Now everybody — all your pikes have to snap out like one weapon. Let’s try it again. And remember: this maneuver is designed to stop a heavy cavalry charge. Some of you forgot to dig in with the heel of the pike behind you in the turf. It must be one smooth motion — dig in — swing out.” The warrior again demonstrated the desired movement with her own valkyr pike.


It was early afternoon and the handmaidens were relaxing in their quarters. This was the first free day they’d had in a while. The Bakbordi Wing was on a combat mission, supervising some distant battle, while most of the Stjornbordi Wing were off on assigned missions to every corner of Midgard, busy about the god’s business. Virtually every horse had to be saddled and every warrior armed and armored. The girls talked of going swimming in the Thund, the rapid river that ran past the Valgrind, the main gate of the fortress city of Asgard.

“You know the minute we strip down and jump in the river, we’ll have returning warriors flying overhead and we’ll have to run for the stables,” observed Bleik.

“She’s right,” said Aurboda. “They’re going to trickle in all afternoon. I just want to rest. I think I injured my head in class the other day anyhow.”

“Really?” asked Sieglinde. “Where? In Fencing class?”

“No! In Latin, I don’t get that class. I thought we overthrew the Roman Empire so we wouldn’t have to learn their silly language.”

“Latin’s easy,” said Sigrún. “It’s not like it’s Greek or something.” She stopped to reflect on Father Hugo’s patient lessons. That young princess she once was had never dreamed where it would come in handy. But it sure got her on the good side of Lady Harigast, the Latin mistress. She was another old Teutonic war-goddess who had been around so long that the Roman’s had prayed to her for safe passage through the Dacian wilderness. The Valkyrie had learned Latin centuries ago just to understand what they were babbling about.

It was now taught to all aspirants as it had tended to become the written language in much of Europe and the Valkyries considered wisdom and learning as important as fighting prowess in an age where most persons, even in the upper classes, could neither read nor write and sometimes considered such an ability as borderline sorcery in and of itself.

Sigrún had glided through the session but it reminded her of home and she was afflicted with her recurring nightmare that night. Waking up in a cold sweat was becoming more frequent for her and she didn’t know what to do about it. She feared confiding in anyone lest she be seen as flawed and unsuitable to be elevated to the Warrior Class. She was glad for a chance at any diversion.

“Watch this,” said Eir, who was seated on her bed, holding a silvered mirror in her hands. Everyone gathered around the oldest handmaiden to see what she was up to. “Here, Frith, hold this mirror,” she directed and her friend complied.

Eir closed her eyes and slowly rocked her head. She joined her hands above her bright blond hair. Suddenly, it began to grow and tumble over her shoulders like a waterfall, soon to splash upon her bedding.

“Wow!” squealed Gunilla. “How did you do that?”

“I’m practicing veiling spells we learned in class the other day,” Eir proudly announced, sweeping her outstretched fingers back through her heavy new locks. “What do you think? Is this a good look for me?”

“Yeah, it’ll be great until you try to find a helmet that fits,” said Sigrún, just a little bit jealously. She closed her eyes and rocked her head, while touching her fingertips above her own golden hair. Her lips were silently mouthing the words of an arcane spell.

All the girls watched intently to see what their friend would develop into. After a long moment of intense effort, she abruptly stopped.

“I don’t get it,” she complained. “I memorized all the veiling spells as well as you and nothing’s happening.”

These were the spells used by Valkyries to disguise their appearance or to become outright invisible while traversing the world of mortals.

“You can say all the spells you want,” teased Eir. “Until they give you some real power, you’ve got nothing to back them up. Otherwise, everyone would be able to do this stuff.”

“Like you do?” asked Sigrún.

“I’m related to the Norns,” Eir casually boasted. “I was born with power.”

“Oh yeah? So what else can you do?” asked a befuddled Sigrún.

Eir repeated her performance and was suddenly transmogrified into a mirror image of Sigrún. All the girls howled with glee. All except the girl who sat staring at the likeness of herself.

“Hey! If you’re going to impersonate somebody, do Gunilla. That way if you screw up you won’t be damaging someone’s reputation.”

“Hey! I do so have a reputation,” scowled the small redhead.

“Yeah, you have a reputation all right,” giggled Blith.

Gunilla slapped her on the shoulder. “I have a reputation as a lady!”

“Yes, my lady Gunilla.”

“Get serious you two,” asserted Sigrún. “I want to try something.”

The acolyte reached out and held Eir’s head between her palms. She closed her eyes and slowly waved her head to and fro.

“Sigrún! What are you doing with my head?” demanded the transformed Eir.

“Hush Eir! It’s my head on your shoulders,” sighed Sigrún, continuing to rock her head. She fell silent and began anew mouthing her charm.

It looked as though she were only contorting her features. Suddenly, her dark eyebrows ran bright blond and she took on the visage of Eir. Unmindful of her successful transformation, Sigrún continued casting her spell until the excitedly squealing girls broke her concentration.

“How’d you do that,” insisted Eir. “You don’t have any power.”

Sigrún was busy looking at herself in a mirror. “Oh, I just used your head like the amulet they let us hold in class to practice these spells. Hmm-mm, I don’t know about this,” she said. “I looked way better before.”

“What!” screamed Eir as all the girls rolled with laughter.

“You two better change back,” said Aurboda with glee. “If you try to exchange classes the warriors will be mad.”

“No they won’t,” said Sieglinde, trying to hold back a snicker. “Remember, in the lecture, Lady Heidi said a warrior Valkyrie can always peer through any veil.”

“Do you suppose that’s true?” asked Svanhild. “Or are they just saying that to scare us?”

“Listen, Svanhild,” said Sieglinde. “They’ve been teaching you to foment tempests, concoct deadly poisons and how to conduct human sacrifices. Do you really think they’d try to scare you with something like that?”

The young swan maiden answered with bulging eyes and clenched lips.

“All right Sigrún, I want you to change back right now,” ordered Eir.

“Okay, okay, but I have to hold your head again,” said Eir’s doppelganger. Sigrún reached out and, once again grasped what appeared to be her own head. She entered a mild trance and shape-shifted into the image of Queen Dagna, an older woman who lived in Sessrumnir with the other deceased personages.

“Aaa-hh,” exclaimed the girls at this latest manifestation. Sigrún immediately stood up, now much taller than any in the room. She had not only veiled her face and hair but also her dress, which had become a long robe, cut in a fashion centuries old.

“I vant all aff you little gerls to be qviet ven you r-run down der hall,” she mimicked a recent royal outburst by the elderly Queen. She shook her finger at each and every one of them.

The girls roared with laughter. Even the usually staid Eir joined in.

“Your Majesty, may I have your leave to withdraw to my own pathetic quarters in the barn?” begged Blith, curtseying profusely.

“Be qviet und get bakk to vork in der kitchen!” commanded the Queen.

“Your Majesty,” interjected Gunilla, curtseying and spreading her skirt. “The king is in his bed-chamber and he is calling your name repeatedly.”

“Vell, go und tell heem to shtart a var or zumzing,” instructed the faux Dagna.

By now, some of the girls were guffawing uncontrollably.

“All right, all right everybody,” said Eir, “that’s enough. We’ve got to start watching for the return of the Troops. Sigrún, you’ve got to change back.” Eir, herself closed her eyes and writhed herself back into her own form.


Sieglinde marveled as Eir magically reverted to her own appearance. This veiling — this mastery of will over appearance — was perhaps the mildest, yet most intriguing, use of the seiðr, the ‘seething’ magic — so potent it was coveted by Odin, King of the Gods — so devastating it was feared even by Frigg, his wife and Queen of the Gods. Nonetheless, it was required learning for every handmaiden training to become a priestess of Freyja. Hopefully, she would never be called upon to exercise the blackest mysteries of that craft as taught in their class, mused Sieglinde to herself.

When her transformation was complete, the senior handmaiden looked for the other changeling. “Where’s Sigrún?” asked Eir, looking around the large room.

“She wanted to try her disguise out in the dining hall and see if it fooled the other women there,” said Aurboda.

“Oh no!” cried Eir. “She can’t do that.”

“Why not?” asked Aurboda. “I saw Queen Dagna heading over to Vingolf a while ago to dine with the goddesses.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” said Eir. “You can’t just go around impersonating the honored dead.” The senior handmaiden looked ill.

Sieglinde suddenly perceived her plight: If she chased Sigrún into the courtyard, it would imply her complicity. If she let the masquerade go forth — who knew what could happen?


The ersatz Queen Dagna sauntered out into the dining hall of Sessrumnir. Many great and grand ladies were lounging about on couches and in richly upholstered chairs. They were sipping mead and ale and cider and nibbling on various delicacies. Servant girls brought with them, even unto death, waited upon them for all time.

“Well Dagna, back so soon?” inquired Queen Rigmor, seated by a richly carved table.

Sigrún tried to turn graciously. “Vy dahling, all day haff I been gone; chust now returning from Fingolf.”

“Whatever,” exclaimed Queen Sonje. “You must join us for some mead.”

“Vy yez, some mead I believe I vill haff,” said the mock monarch, sitting upon an open chair at the end of the table. A girl approached with a silver tray and Sigrún selected a goblet of honey wine.

“Senk you, my dear,” she said, then wondered if Queen Dagna ever thanked anyone for any service. She took a good swig of the cool drink.

“So Dagna,” asked Rigmor, “what is the gossip from Vingolf?”

Sigrún wished she knew. “Vell, you know, after all zees yeahs, vat kan I tell you dat iss new? Der goddeshes zend der bezt of course.”

“Oh?” replied Rigmor with a puzzled look on her face.

“Tell me Dagna,” asked Sonje, “what are the arrangements for the midsummer festivities?”

“Vell, let me zee,” speculated Sigrún, “I believe zey said zey would be held on der zummer zolstice.”

Now, both of her fellow queens wore puzzled looks at hearing this redundant observation. Sigrún took a long draught of mead. This impersonation was becoming all work and no play.

“Excuse me,” she said, rising. “I zimply musht frezhen oop und schlip into zumzing more comfortable.” Without further ado, she glided off from the table and her two bewildered colleagues.

Sigrún cautiously lifted the latch of what she hoped was the correct door to Queen Dagna’s tower chamber off of the ladies dining hall. She peeked inside. The quarters were empty. The imposter slipped in and began looking about.

The Queen had brought many wonderful things to the grave with her, they almost cluttered the place up. Who says you can’t take it with you? There were silver bowls and intricately wrought gold utensils for every conceivable task. There were resplendent gowns and dresses and beautifully carved wooden boxes and chests full of accessories and jewelry. She stood in front of a mirror and tried on an amber necklace. Next she slipped off her own conjured gown and tried on a long, lacey undergarment.

There followed the trying on of many outfits and appurtenances. Sigrún began doing a little dance in the chamber. She looked down to see how the long, full skirt flared out as she twirled. The disguised handmaiden lifted the skirt and tried a few little kicks; misjudged her new-found tallness and fell, laughing, backwards onto the canopy bed.

After a while, she grew bored with this new game and wandered back into the dining hall to look for new friends. As she approached one likely group, seated by a fountain, a door opened across the room. Sigrún espied a pair of armored Valkyrie warriors drift into the hall. The caveat about Valkyries piercing the veil occurred to her and she abruptly turned and headed down a side corridor. She stood in the shadowed arch of a doorway and tried to see where the warriors were heading.

There was the sound of light footfalls and she pressed her back to the cold stone of the darkened archway. The footfalls loomed closer and Sigrún felt her muscles tighten.

“You there, handmaiden,” called out a strict voice, “step forth and show yourself.”

“…gulp,” Sigrún muttered, searching her throat for moisture. She sheepishly stepped out of the archway into the dim light of the corridor. There were two helmeted warriors standing there. More, from their peculiar byrnies, they were swan maidens as well. Instead of chain-mail, they wore armor made of rows of silver feathers, every row layered upon the next. Sigrún had had little to do with the swan maidens. They struck her as being a bit clannish.

The pair of warriors scrutinized her carefully.

“Handmaiden, who are you supposed to be?” asked the stern voiced one.

Sigrún tried to swallow but there was still no saliva in her mouth.

“I’m Sigrún, my lady,” she muttered in a voice so low you would need the ears of a Valkyrie to hear. “You see, we were practicing our veiling spells…”

“I know who you are,” insisted the voice, “now who are you supposed to be?”

“Queen Dagna,” confessed the imposter, looking down at her feet.

“And what do you think you are doing?”

“Now Hervor,” interrupted the other warrior. Snow white hair flowed from her winged grimhelm. “You heard her say they were only practicing their little veiling spells.”

“It’s not the practicing of spells that’s the problem,” said the swan-warrior called Hervor, whose own milky tresses were entwined in a heavy braid on either side of her face. “It’s the entering of the Queen’s chamber and rifling of her things, combined with parading around in front of her friends that becomes the malfeasance. Why — it borders on desecration of the dead.”

“Am I in a lot of trouble?”

“Only if you don’t mind raking horse droppings in the stable every day ‘til next Julblot,” advised Hervor.

“No, I guess not.”

“Oh, Hervor Alvitr,” chided the Valkyrie with snow white hair, “they don’t exactly call you All White because of your behavior as a child, you know. Why I remember when you were a little girl…”

“Please, Hladgud,” droned Hervor, “spare me the sordid details of my misspent youth, especially in front of this handmaiden. All right, do with her as you please — it’s not a very good veiling anyway. I’m amazed she fooled anyone.”

“Oh, don’t listen to her, dear,” said Hladgud, looking Sigrún right in the eyes and putting her hands on her shoulders. “It’s a wonderful veiling. I’m sure that none of them suspected a thing. Now, you understand that you must never do anything like this again, don’t you?”

“Yes, my lady, I’m sorry.”

“Okay, now I want you to change back right now,” instructed Hladgud, stepping back.

Sigrún shut her eyes and allowed her head to float. She mouthed the words of a reverting spell. Nothing happened.

“I can’t do it.”

Hladgud looked towards her sister, then stepped forward and spread her mantle around the shoulders of the young girl.

“Try now, Sigrún.”

Sigrún repeated her performance and promptly transmogrified into her own form.

“Oh my,” said Hladgud. “I forgot. You’re still wearing Dagna’s dress.”

“What are you going to do now?” asked Hervor in amusement.

“How am I going to get this dress across the hall and back to her room?” moaned the handmaiden.

“All right, dear,” said Hladgud, “I’ll do you one more favor.” The Valkyrie laid her arm across Sigrún’s shoulders, while clutching the hem of her cloak. They both promptly faded from sight.

“Let’s go,” instructed Hladgud, “you just better hope that Commander Gondul doesn’t wander out into the hall.”

“You better hurry,” warned Hervor. “I saw Dagna walking across the Folkvang when we entered Sessrumnir.”

The two drifted silently out into the dining hall, heading for Queen Dagna’s quarters. Dozens of women looked right through them, seeing nothing. Sigrún felt a thrill of excitement. She had become invisible in Spells class but this was so different and deliciously naughty. To pass unseen, before so many unknowing people was positively intoxicating.

They arrived at Dagna’s door and quietly slipped in. Sigrún quickly undressed and tried to lay the garment exactly as it had been. She pulled her own brown shift over her shoulders and slid her feet into her own boots.

“Hurry up,” whispered Hladgud. Suddenly, there was a sound at the door and the latch could be seen to move.

Sigrún panicked, twisting and turning to look for a hiding place. Her eyes stopped on the unshuttered opening of the window.

Hladgud reflexively stretched a straight arm right at Sigrún’s shoulder. The hapless maid was launched through the gaping window and plummeted towards the ground, several stories below.

“WOOooooooooooooooo,” wailed Sigrún, tumbling through space.

Hladgud instantly leaped through the opening and spread her arms into a magnificent swan dive. Her form immediately shape shifted into that of a great Royal Swan. The mighty avian beat her wings furiously, chasing the hurtling figure below.


“Deed you hear zumzing?” asked Queen Dagna, entering her tower room.

“It had die zound of a mourning dove upon der vindowzill,” remarked her young serving girl.

The elderly Queen stepped over to the window and looked up.

“I zertainly hope zey are not building a nesht,” complained the Queen, “It’s a krvying szhame ven you haff been dead for two czenturies und shtill kannot resht in peace.”


The large swan thrust out her webbed feet at the rapidly accelerating handmaiden. Sigrún desperately grasped at her thin orange ankles and hung on for dear life. The swan whipped her strong pinions against cold air to break her powered dive and arc into a course just above the grasses of the Folkvang.

Upon gaining her bearings, Sigrún released her hold of the swan’s legs and tumbled to the ground an arms-length below. The Royal Swan never missed a beat of her wings and continued on across the plain. Her fast, rhythmic wing-beat produced a curious humming, pleasant to the ear.

“Thank you,” called out Sigrún, waving her arm. “Thanks a lot, milady.”

There was nothing left to do but brush herself off and start hiking back up the hill to the portal of Sessrumnir.


Captain Menglod was lecturing the handmaidens on the Healing Arts. Sigrún thought they were expected to perform a lot of functions. Apparently, there were mortals who were knowledgeable about warfare, navigation, fighting skills, linguistics, divination, healing, sorcery and religious ceremonies. The Valkyries, it seemed, were expected to be expert in all of these skills plus aerial equestrianism as well.

Today’s lecture was a survey of the locating and preparation of all manner of herbs for health and healing purposes. Sigrún had heard more about leeks, onions and garlic and the like, than she had ever hoped to know. Then there were endless lists of teas, brews, poultices, salves and ointments that were made from the widest assortment of tree bark, leaves, herbs, roots, berries and stalk-saps — each designed to treat and cure an unbelievable plethora of mortal maladies and afflictions. It was a lot to learn for one who hoped to solve all her own ills with the flashing blade of a broadsword. Her interest perked more when the discussion turned to the poppy family of plants. It seemed the Valkyries were occasionally dispatched to bring these strange, powerful plants in from Anatolia, on the far shore of the Black Sea, the old Roman province of Galatia. Amazon Country, thought Sigrún; least it was — once. Wonder whatever happened to them.

Menglod was instructing the students in the proper dispensation of the white ooze found in the weeds for the sublimation of pain during surgery or while battle injuries were healing.

“You are also authorized to give small quantities of this mysterious substance as a gift to recognized spákónur and völvur,” she taught them, referring to mortal soothsayers and divinators — and, of course, ‘recognized’ meant those thought to be friendly to the gods. “They often use these plants to make potions which they employ to enter the trance-state necessary for their profession.”

Sigrún examined the open flask passed to her by Sieglinde, smelled the contents and then passed it on to Gunilla. The young redhead also sniffed it.

“Ooooh,” she crooned and then passed it over to Blith.


Eir swung a tight fist with all her might and caught Sigrún squarely in the jaw. The smaller, younger handmaiden reeled from the blow and answered it with her best right jab to Eir’s midriff. Eir lashed out with her left fist and planted it firmly in Sigrún’s right eye. Sigrún gasped and desperately swung at her larger opponent’s nose. The hit was weak as Sigrún’s shorter arms had trouble finding the range to the senior handmaiden’s vital targets.

Eir boxed her ear as Sigrún turned her head, smarting from her injuries. She spun about and launched a kick with her heel, landing a forceful blow to Eir’s ribcage.

“Whoof,” gasped Eir, who tried to catch Sigrún by the foot. The younger girl with golden hair snapped her leg back and took a stride to punch Eir in the jaw. The uppercut had a telling effect but the taller girl recovered and drove her knee into the solar plexus of her rival.

She followed up with a haymaker to the jaw that sent Sigrún sprawling onto her back on the rough ground at her feet. The only perceptible movement of her prone body was a trickle of blood running down from the corner of her mouth. Her arms were flung out to either side.

“Enough,” ordered Lady Thrud, the Valkyrie boxing instructor. She clapped her hands for effect. The Valkyrie warrior had hair like spun gold. Her tall, slender shape gave little hint of her fighting prowess. Her name meant ‘Might!’

All the pairs of girls ceased fighting. Little Gunilla slumped to her knees, gasping for breath. Svanhild stood nearby, trying to catch blood running from her nose before it splashed her white featherdress. Fenja and Menja, the giantesses, stopped their fisticuffs and gave attention.

“Are you all right, Gunilla?” asked Thrud.

“Yesh..milady,” sobbed Gunilla.

“You don’t sound all right.”

“I jusht — don’t shee — why we — gasp — have to fight — like this — gasp — when we — have weaponsh — to fight wish.” She leaned forward and spit a glob of bloodied saliva on the ground.

“A time will come, class, when you find it necessary or advisable to fight hand to hand, without weapons,” instructed Thrud. “When that day comes — you are expected to prevail. Understood?” She cast her eyes about to assure understanding.

“All right girls, that’s it for today. Good workout everybody.”

“What about Sigrún?” asked Eir.

“Eir, you clobbered her. Now you carry her up to the hall and revive her.”

“Yes my lady,” Eir dutifully answered. The tall girl pulled the unconscious maid over her shoulders and strode heavily up the hill.


In Valhalla, Eir held her fallen partner to her breast and swabbed her face with a small square of cloth soaked with mead from a horn. Sigrún’s eyelids flickered a little and she stared hazily into the face above her. Eir put the horn to Sigrún’s lips and slowly poured some honey wine into her mouth.

At surrounding tables, the other girls were occupied likewise tending one another’s injuries. The men of the Einherjar were oblivious, being occupied with the final duel of the day. Bodies of their fallen littered many oaken tables.

“Okay girls,” commanded Eir, leaving Sigrún sitting up on the edge of a table. “Let’s get to work reviving the warriors. The feast will be starting soon.”

“How do I look?” asked the groggy Sigrún.

“Well, you’ll never be as beautiful as me,” answered the smug Eir, “but you look well enough to work.”


Sigrún staggered to her feet and walked over to the hearth. She picked up an empty platter and tried to inspect her face in the polished metal. Sieglinde joined her and tried to view her own countenance, looking over Sigrún’s shoulder.

“You look fine, Sigrún,” assured Sieglinde. “Eir just lined up opposite you in Boxing class to get even with you for what you did last week. She should have fought Frith or one of the giantess sisters. She’s happy now. I’d let it go at that.”

“Yeah sure,” groaned Sigrún, running her tongue around her mouth. “Am I missing any teeth?”

The girls picked up hods of drinking horns and joined their friends, passing out the strong drink to the sweating warriors, now taking their places at the numerous tables.

Sigrún went through hod after hod. She was working an area near the rear of the massive hall and the roast boar platters weren’t ready just yet. So, she sat down on the stone floor by an empty table and set down her hod. The handmaiden stretched her legs out beneath the table and leaned up against the heavy leg. It felt good to just relax for a moment. Her hand reached out for one of the drinking horns remaining on her hod.

Sigrún took a little sip, then a long draught. She sat, cradling the horn in her lap for a minute, then took another swig. Sieglinde was right, she thought, Eir pounded her on purpose. Well, the joke was on her. Boxing a smaller opponent doesn’t enhance your skills, it retards them. It was obvious she was the true beneficiary of the bout, as she would be the one who became stronger — if she could just stand up again. Sigrún took another long pull of the mead.


A fly buzzed about the head of the young girl now lapsed into a stupor, finally alighting upon her cheek. The fly’s long tongue coiled outward and tasted the sweat that lay on the fair skin.

An odd sort of taste, he thought. What is it? The mead perhaps. It had a sickly sweetness.

Nearer her shut eye the fly boldly trod on six legs till a limply swatting hand caused him to take flight once more. That slow hand would never have caught him. Circling her head, the fly did a final inspection.

Not this one. No, this maiden will never challenge me, thought Loki, guised as an insect. She shows many signs of recent repair. And her inattention to even the simplest of tasks does not bode well for her. One such as this would never an avenging maiden make.

How had he been reduced to this? The great Loki — son of giants — as one with the gods — sneaking about as a tiny fly, seeking the one named in the prophecy — that damnable ‘maiden avenger.’ She must be here somewhere. She had to be a Valkyrie: one of these handmaidens; he had ruled out the rest.

For a moment, he considered abducting that brat Skuld and forcing the truth out of her. Surely, that spoiled child would quickly break under torture, she led too soft a life to believe otherwise. Still, she was well watched and protected. The young Norn was too valuable to the Æsir to be left unguarded.

Was he becoming obsessive about this ancient prophecy? No, the Norns took it seriously. So did the Gods. And so must he if he wished to prosper — let alone survive.


Sigrún stirred and opened her eyes. Captain Menglod was seated at a table, writing with a quill pen.

“Ah, Sigrún, so good of you to join us,” declared Menglod, fingering the amber necklace at her throat. That’s what her name meant ‘necklace-glad.’ “We missed you at the feast.”

“…sorry milady,” sighed the girl.

“Well, that’s wonderful that you’re sorry,” snapped the Captain. “The girls who had to serve your tables will be so happy to know that. What have you got to say for yourself?”

“Ummhh, well I got pounded pretty bad in Boxing class,” said Sigrún, “and I guess I must have gotten, umh, a little overmedicated.”

“Really?” asked Menglod, clasping her hands together, “and who, pray tell, gave you this pounding?”

“Ummh, Eir — my lady.”

“And who was it that treated your injuries?”

“Eir did — milady.”

“Well, I’m shocked. Eir is an excellent student of the healing arts. I’m amazed that she would overmedicate a patient.”

“…mm, well, I think I might have increased the dosage on my own, sort of.”

“Really — and how much did you increase the dosage by?”

“I guess I’m not sure. Quite a bit I think. I guess if I knew, then I wouldn’t be here.”

“Oh, so you have learned something after all?”

“Yes my lady.”

“Well that’s fine, Sigrún. So let’s see — we have dereliction of duty, sleeping on the job — being drunk on duty — improper use of healing skills. Why don’t we have you rake and scrub the stable during all your free time from now until Lugnasad.”

“Yes my lady, thank you milady,” said Sigrún sheepishly. She rose to her feet and bowed.

“Very well, you may go.”


Sieglinde used all her strength to toss the heavy war saddle over Vingskornir’s mighty back. The white, winged horse readily raised his feathered pinions to accept the furniture. The young Valkyrie reached beneath the beast’s belly and fastened the cinch. Sigrún carefully fitted a chamfron of steel-plate to the stallion’s face. She stopped to contemplate the deadly spike, which projected from just above his eyes. Was this where the legend of the unicorn came from? Or did they just keep the unicorns in some other stable, which Sigrún hadn’t been compelled to clean yet?

“It just isn’t fair,” she complained. “First, I got trashed by Eir in a fist fight in class. Then I got trashed by Captain Menglod when I accidentally over-medicated myself.”

“Well Sigrún, you were stone-cold drunk. We found you laying under a table in Valhalla,” confided her friend.

“That’s another thing,” said Sigrún, “I’ll wager Eir was the one who ratted on me.”

“Oh no she’s not. Let’s just say it wasn’t too hard to know there was a problem when a thousand men started pounding on their tables with sword hilts and axe butts because they weren’t getting any roast.”

“Oh yeah! Well having a thousand men for every woman in Valhalla isn’t working out quite like I hoped. How come they can all get drunk every night and I get caught having one too many sips and I’m stuck in the barn for six weeks?”

Sieglinde stopped what she was doing to look at her partner. “It’s their final reward, Sigrún, not yours. But I do think the Captain was a little harsh in punishing you. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eir told her about your ‘personation of Queen Dagna and she nailed you for both infractions at one time.”

“You think she’d have hollered at me for that too, then,” said Sigrún, attaching a steel peytral to Vingskornir’s chest. She stepped around to the other flank to connect the opposite straps to the bow of the saddle.

Sieglinde was fitting a chain-mail crupper to the horse’s hindquarters. “Maybe not. Then you’d know Eir told on you. Now you know why the Captain is so aloof. If she got too close it’d be hard to maintain discipline and that’s her main job. Just wait until you’re ready to be elevated to the Warrior Class — then she’ll like you just fine.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” retorted Sigrún, “if this is their final reward — what’s mine?” She paused in her efforts to attach a metal crinet around the charger’s neck.

Averred Sieglinde — “The Warrior Class!”

The duo moved on to the next stall and began saddling and armoring another winged horse.

“Well, I just wish there was training today,” grumbled Sigrún. “Now I have to rake horse poop all day.”

“Yeah, I think the Captain is getting wise to your volunteering for extra duty every day there’s no class,” commiserated Sieglinde. “I noticed she acted like she didn’t see your hand this morning when she asked if anyone wanted to serve noon-meal at Vingolf today. Hey, can you hook up the crupper straps on your side?”

“I never would have passed out if I could get a decent night’s sleep around here,” groaned Sigrún.

“Why? What’s the matter?” asked Sieglinde as she attached quivers of arrows to the rear of the saddle’s cantle.

“Ummhh, nothing,” lied Sigrún, “I just don’t sleep well, I guess.” She didn’t even want to confide in her friend the fact that she was constantly tormented by nightmares of her past life. Why couldn’t her memories have just died with her? The recurring themes that haunted her were always the same, her mother, her father, the box, poor Astrid, the chanting killers in the hall and the caw-cawing of the crow — always that damnable crowing rang in her mind and in her soul.

Sigrún patted the mare’s wing in order to straighten out some feathers. For a moment, she pressed her face against the white appendage and inhaled deeply. It smelled good, not like the chickens and geese back home. It was a clean fragrance, like the fluffy clouds she knew they trod regularly. The ‘cloudy way’ they called it.

“So, who is the Legion fighting today?” asked Sigrún. “This is a lot of gear for a simple reprisal.”

“I heard trolls.”


“The Nine Worlds are — Asgard, the home of the Æsir gods — Vanaheim, land of the Vanir gods — Alfheim, abode of the light elves— Midgard, the Middle Earth, the world of mortal men and women…” Aurboda paused for a moment to think. “Jotunheim, land of the giants…”

“Thank you, Aurboda,” said Lady Sigrdrifa. “Blith, please continue the recital.”

Blith rose from her seat, smiling as she cleared her throat. “Yes milady, there’s Svartalfheim, land of the dark elves; Muspellheim, land of fire; Niflheim, the underworld of the dead and then — then there’s the Nastrond, the shore of death of the eternal damned.” She shuddered and sat down quickly at the very sound of that dreaded name.

“Very good, Blith,” commended the Celestial Navigation professor. “Now who knows the way from Asgard to Midgard?”

“Oooh, ooh,” chimed in nearly everyone, straining their upraised arms to be called on. The Captain pointed at Thothvara.

“The Rainbow Bridge, Bifrost, the ‘Trembling Roadway,’ stretches from Asgard to Midgard,” said Thothvara.

“Okay, that was too easy,” rejoined Sigrdrifa. “Who knows the way to Jotunheim? Yes, Gunilla.”

“My lady, I — was wondering — what makes the dark elves so — so dwarvy?”

“Well, because they’re dwarfs, Gunilla. It’s their nature.”

“Umm, what I mean is, you know, the light elves — they’re like young boys with pointy ears who never grew up.” Gunilla looked around and drew in some air through her nose. “But the dwarfs, they’re so smelly and vile looking and they always look like they’re up to something.” She began scratching as though she had a rash.

“I see. Well, they certainly bear a lot of watching,” said Sigrdrifa.

“If you catch them messing with your stuff, just shove them out the door into the sunlight,” said Thothvara with knowing sarcasm in her voice. Everyone laughed. Gunilla’s eyes darted about, not in on the joke.

The wise teacher commiserated. “For those of you who don’t know — the average dwarf will turn to stone if exposed to the full light of day. That’s why they’re always lurking about at night and clinging to the shadows by day. Their world of Svartalfheim is deep in the bowels of Midgard — off in the far north, near Niflheim — so they’ve no tolerance for sunlight.” Sigrdrifa’s eyes moved up, towards the ceiling, and she seemed to begin musing to herself. “Though the Niðavellir can be quite lovely, I suppose, in a gloomy sort of way,” she said, in an allusion to the ‘dark fields’ of their subterranean world, where the better homes — and dwarfs could be found.

“But,” said Gunilla. “But don’t they work at the hottest forges deep inside the earth?”

“Yes dear, but there is a great difference between fire-light and sunshine,” replied Sigrdrifa. “They are very capable craftsman and make wonderful, magical things out of gold and iron and other metals…”

“…When they’re not burrowing into burial-mounds,” interjected Thothvara with an aplomb that might be regarded as insolent by a less understanding professor. Many of the young students shot devilish grins at one another, as if suddenly remembering a story they’d heard or something they’d seen.

Sigrdrifa gave a little smile. “Yes, it’s so. They’re always digging their mines — looking for metal ore — and I suppose they’re not above mucking about in a grave if they think there are riches hidden there.

“But they do a lot of good work too. You will find, when you become warriors, that most of your armor and weapons were crafted by Allfather’s dwarfs; Brokk and Sindri especially and the sons of Ívaldi. They’re on good behavior because Lord Odin rewards them handsomely — things they can’t get anywhere else — and they have the freedom to peddle their wares in Asgard — except in Sessrumnir. The Goddess has had dealings with them in the past and if she wishes to see the dark elves — she goes to them!

Sigrún wondered at that last remark. Now Sigrdrifa almost seemed to have a story to tell — one that wasn’t going to be told by her. Sigrún had heard gossipy, whispered tales of what the Goddess of Love had done, with four dwarfs no less, in exchange for the fabulous Brisingamen necklace, which they had just completed in their cavernous workshop. Sigrún decided that she was certainly not going to help perpetuate that rumor with any comment or question. She was a princess after all.

Captain Sigrdrifa was her favorite teacher, after Sváva the fencing mistress, and Sigrún had never heard any handmaiden utter a bad word about her. She could scarcely imagine another instructor who allowed the girls such freedom of expression — even to challenge her teachings — but you better be ready to be challenged right back! And her love of her subject was ever infectious. Celestial Navigation could be made into a very dry series of lectures but Sigrdrifa had a way of leaving her students dreaming of her discourses, with stories of great adventures and interesting peoples and places and the unlimited freedom they promised — all available to her young charges — once they’d mastered her subject.

“Now who has the answer to my last question? Yes — Bjort.”

“Jotunheim lay beyond the River Ifing.”

“Very good Bjort,” said the professor, “and who knows the way to Niflheim? Yes Sigrún.”

“Niflheim exists beneath Midgard,” began Sigrún. “One must travel into the frigid north and enter through the Gnipahellir, the ‘cliff-cave,’ then past the watch-dog Garm — then past the Helgrind, the wall surrounding Niflheim, then over the River Gjoll by way of the Gjallarbrú bridge. Then on to Hela’s fortress…”

“Very nice, Sigrún,” said Sigrdrifa, interrupting the young girl’s detailed recital. “Remember to be sure, should you ever be dispatched to Hela’s hall, that you leap over the Helgrind for ‘tis said: None who pass through the gateway shall ever leave therefrom.”

The handmaidens were frantically trying to serve dinner. The contests in the hall had run long due to a grudge match between two kings who had been sworn enemies on Midgard. They served the same Lord now but the enmity hadn’t totally dissipated. Fueling the clamor was the presence of many of their greatest warriors who had fallen in the earthly strife. Interest was intense and many wagers were made, doubled and re-doubled as the clash wore on.

Now, the Einherjar were thundering their demand for victuals with sword and axe, pounding their desires upon the long, wooden tables. At his head table, Lord Odin sat with Thor. Odin made a pass of his hands and the two monstrous tables before his throne slid together, forming one long table. Frigg was there, ever demure. Freyja had come and sat with her brother Frey, as if a maiden waiting to be presented to her family-chosen mate. Balder was there, talking with Tyr and the rest of the Æsir.

Sigrún twisted and turned as she wriggled her way between tables and benches. She carried two hot, huge platters of roast boar. Like the other handmaidens, she had a way of serving her favorites first. The ‘old soldier’ was seated with many of his fellows. Sigrún exchanged words with him occasionally, finding his words brought her pleasant memories of her own brief sojourn as a warrior. He sat quietly, with his hands folded upon his ponderous belly. His gray beard slept quietly upon his gentle face. She wondered how this pleasant man ever became a professional warrior, but warrior he must be to have been accepted into this company.

She leaned to her left, virtually crashing the silver platter onto the wooden planks. Every hand instantly reached and grabbed and tore the generous hock of boar to bits. She recoiled to the right and landed a similar plate there. It was a wonder that the meat made it to the table before being ripped to pieces.

A man burst through one of innumerable broad doors in the hall. The warrior hollered for all to hear, “The Valkyries have won a great victory over the trolls!”

Another member of the Einherjar was close on his heels. “The Legion is parading through the streets of the city!” he bellowed.

All of the vast assemblage suddenly leapt to their feet and headed for the doors. Sigrún was caught in the throng and virtually thrown forward onto a table while still bearing a huge platter of pork.

“Come on,” yelled Sieglinde. “This’ll be fabulous!”

The other handmaidens were heading for the doors as well. Sigrún glanced up at the head table. The gods were all gone, having exited through their own door. The duo ran to catch up to their friends who were working farther along the vast hall.

As they hurried, Sigrún thought of her close order drill classes. She executed the steps and maneuvers properly but still seemed not to ‘get it.’ What was there to get? Whatever it was, apparently even Gunilla got it.

There was a sudden blare of horns as the lure players proclaimed the approach of Lord Odin and the other gods upon the grand portico of Valhalla. The fringes of the streets were already filling up with men and women, eager for the spectacle. The beat of the drums was beginning to fill their ears. Now, the uru horn blowers resounded throughout Asgard with their plaintives.

The handmaidens found a grassy patch at a turn in the road that wound between the halls of the various gods. They were halfway between Bilskirnir, the hall of the Thundergod and Glitnir, palatial home of the god Forseti. It was a good spot and they were glad to have it because as the parade passed around the corner they could turn and see them march away along the other road. Besides, the corner would require a fancy column turning maneuver.

The drumbeat was loud and regular now. Brrmmp, brrmmp, brrmmp — brrmmp, brrmmp, brrmmp! Some of the girls were making a little line and marching in place. Each held their left hand in front of them as if gripping a spear. Their right hands flashed up and down with the beat of the drum. Suddenly, the front rank of the parade came into view. As one, each of the small paraders turned their eyes left to catch sight of the center of attention.

The nearby crowd began cheering uproariously but were unable to cover the undercurrent of drums and horns. Sieglinde grabbed Sigrún by the small of the back and posted her at the end of the handmaiden line. Sigrún mimicked the motions of Bleik to her left as Sieglinde fell in on her right.

The Warrior Class marched right before them now. Each rank was another troop. Commander Brynhilde was at the right of the first rank. She carried a shield but no spear and was the only marcher with drawn sword. This, she either held vertically or used to salute dignitaries or direct movements of the troops.

The Legion was magnificent in their martial splendor. They somehow seemed larger and taller than ever. Every piece of armor glistened like a thousand stars. Sigrún was accustomed to the Warrior Class by now but had never seen them all arrayed at one time. They were breathtaking.

Each hand moved in total cooperation with every other. Every armored foot and calf rose and fell in perfect harmony. A hundred alabaster thighs advanced to the beat of the drums as bright chain-mail twinkled like the sun sparkling upon the spraying surf.

A sea of winged grimhelms passed in a wave. Rather than obscuring the eyes beneath the iron demi-visors, the helmets framed those eyes and drew you to them, calling you, alluring you, like the entrance to paradise that they were. Their rosy red lips were closed and emotionless but held the promise of seething embers concealed ever so lightly just beneath the cool surface.

The beat of their feet upon the ground reverberated right into Sigrún’s body. It joined the beat of the drum throbbing in her head and the boom of the lures and the uru horns already resounding in the hollow of her chest. The girls continued marching in place as Troop after Troop passed in review.

“Open your mind,” whispered Sieglinde.

“By the left column — Ha-arch!!” commanded Brynhilde. She swung her sword arm out and down as the Legion instantly responded to her command. Each Troop pivoted upon the left-most marcher, who virtually marched in place as the right end of the rank increased their stride but maintained perfect beat. The effect was like some gigantic counter-clockwise pinwheel. Their military efficiency was so serene as each warrior moved in exquisite harmony with her sisters.

The line of handmaidens made their own pivot but rotated on the center of the line in clockwise fashion, some marching forward, some marching backward, some with short steps, some with long. A spectator would expect to find they had interlinked their elbows but each continued to feign carrying shield and spear and flashed her right hand like the warriors.

They ceased pivoting when they reached the best view of the last Troop of the Sisterhood, rapidly receding down the road. The roar of cheering followed them like a sea-swell. Their gold and silver mantles flowed behind them and rocked to and fro with the beat of their steel-clad feet. Scores of shining spearheads pointed skyward, rising from the forest of silver wings.

The girls marked time until the Legion was out of view. Then, they all stood quietly as each collected her thoughts and savored the sense and taste of the parade.

Each girl patted Sigrún on the back or arm as the line broke up.

“What’s that for?” she whispered to Sieglinde.

“They’re happy that you finally ‘got it,” confided Sieglinde.

Her friend was right. She had finally been as one with every other Valkyrie, of every class. Sigrún had opened her mind at Sieglinde’s suggestion and had given of herself to the group and the group had filled her with a special euphoria she could not hope to describe. The young Valkyrie could only appreciate the sensations coursing through her, body and soul.


Sigrún pulled on the long handle of her rake. The tines gathered droppings and old straw but in her mind it was a spear and she was ravaging a horde of trolls. The young Valkyrie tried to summon the feelings of the parade, which still lingered in her breast, marking time and creating variations on the basic step.

“Good morning, Sigrún,” said Sváva. The warrior had come up behind her and her voice was as soft as her footfalls. “Would you please help me saddle Borealis? I have a late mission this morning.”

“Yes milady,” Sigrún eagerly responded, glad for a brief respite from raking and cleaning. The handmaiden lifted a saddle from a rail and onto the back of the horse in the stall. She was securing the cinch as her fencing instructor came alongside her and secured a bright steel shield, which she had pulled off the wall.

“No lance today, little one, but we’ll need a snaffle,” instructed the helmeted, athletic blond.

Sigrún couldn’t remember Sváva ever requesting bridle and reins but she took a set from a hook and began fitting it to the white mare. Borealis opened her mouth and readily accepted the hinged bit in her mouth.

“We have to fly out over the North Sea. I bet it’s been a while since you saw Midgard, would you care to join us?” invited Sváva.

The handmaiden’s bright, brown eyes flashed, then faded as abruptly. “I have to clean the stable in all my free time,” admitted the girl.

“I see,” pondered the valkyr captain. Sváva studied the repentant girl, looking at her feet. “Well, I’m sorry to say that free time’s over, Valkyrie, you are summoned to duty. Let’s mount up.”

Sigrún couldn’t believe her ears. The handmaiden lifted her left leg as high as she could and set foot to stirrup. Her hand reached for the white mane and she gingerly threw her right leg over the leather saddle, scooched to the front and pulled her foot from the stirrup. Sváva mounted in a smooth motion and then, without reaching for the reins, slowly rode out of the stable.

The trio accelerated to a trot in the courtyard and headed for the Valgrind, the main gate of Asgard. Without the walls of the city, they crossed over Iðavollr, the broad plain leading to Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge. Briefly, they followed the course of the Thund River. Rather than riding onto the bridge, it seemed to slide under them. Sigrún looked down and there it was, the brightest yellow she had ever seen. To her right lay a field of brilliant red, shimmering from the heat that seemed to slowly loft from it’s surface. To the left was a field of shades of azure. She could almost feel the coolness emanating from it’s ever shifting waves of blue.

They came upon a fortress, a tower really, standing like an eternal sentinel upon the luminescing portal to paradise. A giant armored figure emerged to challenge them.

“Valkyries, on mission to Midgard,” spoke Sváva in a commanding voice.

The guardian raised his hand in salute and stood to watch as the magnificent charger leaped into the air and took flight above the bridge, fanning his mighty pinions in ever accelerating arcs.

Sigrún felt her shoulder-blades press against the breasts of the warrior as they climbed and sped up. Her steel breast-plate offered a firm support and the maid marveled at the velocity they achieved in a few brief moments as the many-hued bridge melted away beneath them.

“That was the god Heimdall,” said Sváva, into Sigrún’s ear. “He’s the divine sentry and you must identify yourself whenever you leave or return to Asgard.”

“Oh I see,” Sigrún started to say but a mouthful of air muffled her.

“Look beneath us, little one, that’s the Himinbjorg, Heaven’s Mountain, where Bifrost meets Midgard. Do you see it? — Nordkapp, the end of the world of men.”

“Yes, I see it,” replied the girl, struggling to catch her breath. “It’s beautiful.”

“Okay, now, let’s see if you’ve been studying your navigation,” challenged the warrior. “What lies ahead?”

“Ummh, there’s the Altafjorden below — we’re coming up on Halogaland, then ahead is Tromsø, then uhh, then Senja , then Borg at the far end of Lofoten.”

“Good and what’s that off to port?”

“Mountains? Yes, that’s the Langfjellene.”

“From way up here, doesn’t the earth look just like the charts and maps you study in class?”

Sigrún dared to lean forward a little and peer over the steadily beating wings of their mount at the face of the earth, spread out below. The view extended in every direction until it’s features blended into the distant horizon.

“I recognize the lines, all right,” admitted the maid, “but no map will ever look like this!”

Sváva held Sigrún by the waist, lest she lean too far forward. The girl was awestruck by the sights assailing her eyes. It was almost too much to behold. She came to a point where she learned to spot details on the coast, far below. Instead of just shoreline, she espied villages and even ships, beached on the sandy line that divided the blue sea from the rich, brown earth.

“Let me know when we’re above the Vestfjorden,” called out Sváva.

“Yes milady,” sang out Sigrún, trying to look into the country ahead for some sign of the fjord.

Shortly, she caught sight of the Lofoten Islands that she knew straddled the approaches to the Vestfjord.

“Vestfjorden, dead ahead!” she cried out.

The mighty charger banked to the right and flew out over the cold waters of the Norske Havet, the Norwegian Sea. They passed over the Lofoten and headed westward. Lazy clouds played below them and the sun shone magnificently off their left shoulders.

Ahead lay a heavy bank of clouds that extended from the south to the north for as far as the eye could see. With their great speed it wasn’t long before they splashed head-on into the cloud-head. The deep blue sea was no longer visible below them save for splotches and patches that shown between random clouds.

“A dragonship has lost its way in this overcast sky,” advised Sváva. “Her captain and crew have been praying to the gods for assistance — and we’re here to give it to them.”

“How will we do that?” asked Sigrún.

“Pull my shield out from under your leg and hand it to me,” directed the warrior and Sigrún carefully complied.

“Okay, now right about here we’ll turn southward,” said Sváva as the mare banked again, this time to port. “Now, keep your eyes peeled for a dragonship with a red and white sail.”

The maid wondered how they would ever find the sailing vessel in all the pea soup that lay upon the surface of the unending sea below. Suddenly, she glimpsed a flash of color.

“There, Sváva — in the mist, the sail of a dragonship!” she excitedly hollered into the wind.

“There it is indeed,” replied Sváva.

The red and white vertical stripes of the sail had a coiling, black serpent painted over them. That was about the only detail Sigrún could make out from this height. She had a sense of movement on the deck but could not make out the men clearly.

“Watch, little one, see what I do with my shield.”

The warrior aimed the polished round disc on her arm so that the rays of the sun, clearly visible at their altitude, were reflected through the tiny break in the clouds.


The brilliant light pierced right through the enveloping fog and was immediately beheld on the deck of the pitching dragonship.

“Cap’n, look! Through the mist — is that the North Star?”

The crusty old Viking sea captain turned to eye the sudden phenomena.

“Too bright for any star — too small for the sun. More likely some passing Valkyrie. Well, no matter, they always swoop in from the north. Helm! Put that light dead off our port beam and let’s head for home,” barked the old salt. The oarsmen rowed with fresh vigor, now confident they were bending their efforts in the right direction.

“Look Sváva, the dragonship is turning,” yelled Sigrún.

“Good, they saw our signal,” said Sváva. “The captain has a good crew, they should reach home by tomorrow.” The warrior slid her shield beneath her leg and re-hung it on the side of the saddle. “So-o, my little one, do you suppose if I let you take the reins, you’d be able to find the way back to Asgard?”

“From way up here? I could find my way anywhere.” With that, Sigrún picked up the dangling reins before her and began maneuvering the incredible animal, who eagerly responded to her every touch. It was the best afternoon of her young life.

5. Rusila

The sea captain leaned forward and grasped the prow of the dragonship as it knifed its way through the waters of the Baltic Sea. Unkempt red hair danced on her shoulders to the rhythm of the wind. Long exposure to the sun upon the open deck of the longboat had brought out her freckles and gave a reddish cast to her cheery face. Her chain-mail byrnie shone in the first rays of the morning sun, still low on the eastern horizon. Steel-cast feet and calves stood firm upon rough-hewn planks and the sea breezes lapped at her bare thighs. Rich armbands of red gold adorned her arms, like snakes coiling about her trim but athletic limbs.

Green eyes scanned the row of warships to her left. Like hers, each proudly thrust a carved prow through the verdant waters. The prow she now clutched in her hand had lent its fearsome appearance to name her ship — the Red Serpent.

Her gaze fell on the captain of the Great Wyrm, cruising gracefully off her port beam. Stikla stood watch on her foredeck, while conferring with her forecastleman. Fifteen oars projected from the starboard side of the ship. Round wooden shields hung there, alternating with the oarlocks. The single deck of the ship was exposed to the elements and every oarsman had a sea chest upon which he sat. A single square sail depended from a yardarm crossing a mast amidships and two T-bars, for stowing and drying oars, rose up from the main deck.

The Great Wyrm turned the sea to lather as it broke wave after wave. The dagger-sharp shape of the vessel driven by a combination of sail and oar power made the Viking dragonship the fastest ocean going warship in the world. No galley slaves toiled on these rowing benches. These were warriors, volunteers who had signed on to go a-Viking, seeking their fortunes any way it could be found.

Today’s mission was a naval engagement on behalf of King Thorkil of Telemark. They sailed in search of the fleet of the Jómsvíkings, that warrior society which sailed from their island base at the mouth of the Oder River; the fortress of Jómsborg, which overlooked a walled harbor sufficient to hold 360 longships. Every man was sworn to the service of their corps. No women were allowed to abide in their sanctuary of strict military discipline. The entire northern world was wary of their depredations.

The eastern sky had bloomed a brilliant red this morning. It betokened an early free flow of blood. Rusila breathed deep and filled her lungs with fresh sea spray. Her eyes scanned the sky as the helmsman called out.

“There’s the Aurora in the northern sky.”

Every oarsman looked skyward, each seeing the silvery beams of unearthly light that struck like an arrow through the still darkling heavens. To Rusila’s green eyes, however, they came: three sets of wings soaring down from Asgard. Lower and lower they descended. The trio was carried upon wings of white, slowly gliding low over her fleet of thirty ships. There was no sound as they passed over the Great Wyrm, seeming to rise out of the black striped sail.

Like a dream, they crossed her prow. Their armor caught and reflected the sizzling rays of the virgin dawn. The trio drifted a short distance out to sea and then banked and began a return course to the Red Serpent. As they rolled to the right, the crew seemed to go wild, as if they had previously been enthralled by the slow review of the three Valkyries.

Rusila stood tall on the foredeck. She made a pass with her right hand and Hrolf, her forecastleman, screamed, “UP OARS!”

“Prepare to receive boarders,” laughed Rusila, a joke shared by her crew.

Slower, slower they descended, until their hooves lightly impacted on the wooden planks of the main deck. The three Valkyries took care not to collide with the T-bars or mast. They stood slightly in their stirrups, both to lessen the force of the hard, sudden landing and to control their balance on the heaving deck. Their winged grimhelms gave the appearance of three arns, sea eagles, landing on the dragonship.


Hladgud the Swan White, watched as her sister Hervor carefully dismounted and then slid easily herself from the saddle. Ölrun seemed to vault from her own mounted perch.

“Hervor Alvitr, it’s been too long,” rang Rusila’s voice with glee. She approached the Valkyrie and they came together, each clutching the wrists of the other as they crossed arms, right over left. They kissed and then both laughed.

“Well, if it isn’t our own little Ingean Ruadh,” said Hladgud with a laugh as she approached. She also joined arms and kissed the ‘Red Maiden.’ Rusila had picked up the nom-de-guerre from the Gaelish Celts after her attacks of monasteries along the coast of Erin.

Finally, Ölrun shared the traditional greeting of Valkyrie wingmates with the sea captain.

“Allfather sends his love,” said Ölrun.

“Is that all he sends?” asked the Captain.

Ölrun handed her a flask. “How long has it been since you tasted the mead and stood in the light?” she asked.

“Too long,” confided Rusila who accepted the flask and took a swig.

“He sends us to save your best warriors from the tender mercies of Rán and her daughters,” said Hervor, referring to the Queen of the Sea who had good claim on all those who died by drowning.

“Lord Odin must have infinite confidence in my crews to send only three Valkyrjur for such a mission,” replied Rusila.

“We shall see,” said Hladgud.

Rusila seemed to pass on the opportunity for comment. Hladgud knew she had petitioned the Lord of Asgard for permission to return to the life at sea that she had been born to. She had put forth the notion that she could better serve the interests of the Lord of Battle as a leader of warriors in great struggles. Her proposal had been accepted and she was released from active duty with the Legion. While she maintained many of her powers, she was no longer privy to the Lists of Destiny posted by the Norns. She was unaware of which warriors would be claimed in today’s battle and it would be improper for her to ask. It was not wise to cling too tightly to life, after all, not when you lived the life of a warrior. War was a hard master and the sea, a cruel mistress.

“So Captain, what is your readiness for battle?” asked Hervor.

“We have thirty ships, with good crews, eager for battle,” answered Rusila.

“And a battle you shall have,” warned Hervor. “Your foemen sail fifty ships less four, including a giant forty-two seater.”

“Where do they lay?” asked Rusila. Hrolf, her second, had now joined the discussion.

“An east, nor-east course will intercept,” advised Hervor.

Rusila turned to Hrolf, “Signal the fleet to make that course.”

“Aye, aye Captain,” he said and hurried to make it so.

“We observed the Jómsvíkings from the air and we feel the weakness in their deployment is that they have split into squadrons in order to better sweep the sea for your force,” said Hervor.

“I see. We can make use of that intelligence,” replied the Red Maiden. The sea-borne Valkyrie huddled on strategy with her sisters.


The sun began to creep higher into the sky. The enemy was still not in sight. The men had been rowing hard and were ready for a break.

“I’d like to go over to see Stikla,” said Hladgud.

“So, fly over,” advised her sister Hervor.

“No, I want to walk,” she said.

“Helm,” ordered Rusila, “Bring us two oar lengths from the Great Wyrm.”

“Aye Cap’n,” came a reply. The helmsman pushed out on his steering oar and the ship veered to port. Under his expert guidance, the two longships quickly reached the ordered interval.

Rusila nodded to the neighboring captain and then raised her palm to a posture parallel to the deck.

“FEATHER OARS!” commanded the forecastlemen of both ships.

Both crews immediately raised their oars from the water and rigidly held them straight out from their oarlocks, with the oar blades flat to the sea. This angle was primarily designed to lessen the influence of the wind but today would find a far different use.

“Go ahead, Hladgud,” said Rusila, now extending her hand as an invitation to proceed.

“Thanks, Captain, I think I will,” ventured the Valkyrie. She stepped off the deck and put a foot on the gunwale, the side of the ship. With a long stride, she stepped off the boat and onto a waiting oar.

Stepping from oar to oar, she gingerly walked away from the Red Serpent. Every oarsman strained for a better look. Each step carried her closer to the Great Wyrm.

““Have a care, Hladgud,” warned her sister Hervor.

The oar-walking Valkyrie turned around and began walking backwards, still balancing precariously on the wooden shafts.

““Don’t worry, Hervor, I’ll be careful,” said she, reaching for the next oar behind her. Her heel missed the footing and she began to fall.

“Ooohhh” went all the rowers.

Falling, Hladgud leaned over backwards and gracefully grabbed an oar with her hands, performing a back handspring and then another, finally landing lightly on her feet on the broad blades of the paddles which had joined together for this maneuver. She laughed and turned around to complete her walk.

Hervor turned to Rusila and said, “Oh, she’s just showing off now.”

Rusila made an earthy chuckle in her throat and then extended her hand, level with the deck. She slashed downward with a vertical palm. A nod conveyed the signal to Stikla, aboard the Great Wyrm, who repeated the signal.

Both forecastlemen yelled out, “HOLD WATER!” and every oarsman instantly struck his oar down into the sea. Hladgud found herself standing upon thin air.

“Wahhkk!” she screamed and the heavily armored woman promptly plunged into the cold, green waters of the Baltic. Both crews roared with laughter and looked over the shields suspended on the exterior of the ship at the tiny bubbles dancing on the surface of the sea.

The laughter lessened and eyes searched for some sign of the submerged Valkyrie. None was apparent and the mood quieted as the school of bubbles diminished, then disappeared.

Suddenly, there was a splash and the head and wings of a Royal Swan emerged from the water. The full bird floated to the surface and flapped its wings, shedding excess water. There arose such a commotion of barking and honking, as the traditionally ‘mute swan’ loudly protested the bad treatment it had received. Then the avian leapt into the air and took flight.

It flew the length and breadth of the fleet of war-galleys, passing over each prow, and then returned to alight on the deck of the Great Wyrm. Everyone there was laughing and exchanging commentaries.

The swan abruptly transformed into an armored maiden. Stikla, laughing loudest of all, approached the dripping Valkyrie. Instead of the cross-armed greeting, Hladgud wrapped her soaking arms around the sea captain. They kissed and Stikla reeled back and spit out a quantity of briny seawater.

“Buuahh,” she choked. Now Hladgud laughed.

“Okay, I deserved that,” confessed Stikla. “Now let’s make up and get to the business at hand.”

“Alright, sister,” agreed Hladgud, “now here’s our plan.”


“Captain,” shouted the lookout perched on the high yardarm of the lead ship of the southern squadron of the Jóm fleet, “sails off the starboard quarter.”

“How many?” yelled the captain.

“I make it an even twelve,” called down the lookout. “Shall I signal the fleet?”

“No,” hollered the captain. “We’ll have the honor of the kill ourselves.

“And the profit,” he said to his forecastleman as an aside. “Set course for the attack.”

“Strike sails,” ordered Rusila. “Lean into those oars.”

The crews redoubled their efforts. They realized that their best advantage lay in joining battle before the mighty Jóm fleet could assemble their spread-out squadrons. They faced sixteen dragonships. More lay on the horizon, also searching for their vessels.

What the Jóm commander couldn’t know was that he faced thirty dragonships.

The three Valkyries slowly circled eighteen ships under the command of Captain Stikla. As the wings of their fabled steeds slowly beat the morning air, there fell from them dewdrops. The dewdrops splashed upon the surface of the sea and boiled into mist. The mist rose and enveloped the warships in a dense fog. The fog concealed them from the eyes of enemy lookouts. They sailed an intercept course, set to join their comrades in battle against the lone squadron.


“Captain, there’s a fog bank rolling in off the port beam,” yelled the high-perched lookout, seated on the yardarm.

“Strike sail, make ready for battle!” commanded the Jóm captain, Gerolt. “That fog won’t hide them now,” he told his second. “We have Rusila right where we want her.”

“We’ll pull that Raven banner down from her mast,” laughed the forecastleman confidently.

Crewmen leapt to lower the yardarm and, with it, the lookout. Every man would be needed for close combat now and the sail would interfere with battle maneuvering.

The opposing fleets were rapidly approaching each other, churning white water before them. The object was not to ram but to come alongside, close enough to board your opponent’s ships. The speed was needed for the helmsmen to maintain control once the oars were taken from the water.


The Red Maiden made an upward stroke with her hand.

“OARS OUT!” bellowed Hrolf.

Every man rushed to pull his long oar through his oarlock and draw it into the ship, letting it drop onto the deck and in front of the rower across from him. The warriors then pulled their shields off the gunwale by their benches and reached for whatever weapon of choice they had at hand. Swords, axes and spears were all brandished for the coming conflagration. Burning eyes glared past iron nose-guards and across the roiling sea at their foe, searching for the personal opponent who would give his life to your blade — or take your life with his.

Rusila scanned sky and sea one final time and then pointed a long graceful finger at the flagship of the Jóm squadron. The helmsman leaned into his rudder for the course correction that would put the Red Serpent directly abeam of the selected target.

There was a grinding of oaken timbers as the two warships made physical contact. Every warrior leaped, screaming, from his sea chest for the clash with the man opposing him. Metal struck wood and steel and flesh in a virulent cacophony of death and destruction. Men immediately toppled every which way. Some continued to struggle, even as their foemen clambered over their falling bodies.

Rusila split the helmet of the Jóm-soldier rushing her position on the forecastle, killing him instantly. She cast a glance across the fleet. The enemy had engaged every ship and the extra three vessels had turned at right angles to allow access to more than one of her ships for each. The trap was ready. The Captain let loose a Valkyrie shriek.

The dense fog was suddenly cut by the sharp prows of eighteen dragonships. Their crews had loosed a final burst of speed with their oars and now scrambled to withdraw them and arm themselves.


“It’s a trap!” screamed the Jóm-forecastleman.

“We are doomed by sorcery most foul!” retorted his commander.

The eighteen longships quickly enveloped the squadron in support of their comrades, already engaged. Though outnumbered, the Jómsvíkings fought back furiously. Struck a mighty axe blow, one of Rusila’s stalwarts pitched backward off the aft-deck, heading for the briny deep. A clammy face and arms appeared at the crest of a wave and Kolga, wave-daughter of the sea-goddess Rán grabbed at the toppling body.

Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light and Ölrun swept the warrior away in her arms, her steed flapping his wings mightily to handle the added weight during his low swoop over the waves. Horse and rider kicked off the grasp of the foamy wave and Kolga sunk back into the depths.

The captain of one of Rusila’s sister ships was struck by a flung spear and fell over the rail of his foredeck. Bylgia, wave-sister of Kolga, extended her chilly embrace to receive the swarthy warrior.

Before there was any splash, Hladgud the Swan White had plucked his limp torso from the tender mercies of the sea. Her mount rapidly pulled away from the surface and headed for the accustomed security of the open sky. She looked back over her shoulder at the mad conflict sweeping the decks of the opposing dragonships. The Jómsvikings were bold warriors but a little overly testosterone driven for most Valkyrie’s tastes. They were glad so few were named on the Norn’s Lists. The fate of the rest was relegated to Valkyrie discretion and in this conflict, the loyal warriors under the command of their sea-borne Valkyrie sisters were clearly the favorites.

Hervor All White surveyed the scene from the air. The sound of a heavy battle-axe smashing through chain-mail was her signal to dive her charger and swing low over the verdant water. Skimming the surface, her mount virtually dancing on wave-crests, she timed her approach for the moment of destiny when Barend, the warrior, met his end.

Water splashed over the side of the dragonship as Hronn, another of the nine wave-daughters, made a desperate grab for her prey. Hervor gripped her charger’s flanks tightly with her bare thighs and armored calves and leaned over to make the save.


Rusila swung her blade and nearly cut a man in half. The battle was in full engagement now as men began falling on every side. Her eyes went skyward. No longer three Valkyries, two Troop formations, invisible to the fighting men, had joined the fray.

A third Troop of nine riders circled high in the sky, their bows at the ready for targets of opportunity, supervising the conduct of the great sea-battle.

Matching sword strokes with an opponent, Hrolf yelled out, “Captain, the second squadron is closing fast.”

Rusila finished an opponent and turned to look. Ten and six dragonships were lowering their sails and making ready to board.

“Give me a moment for some unfinished business,” she shouted.

The Red Maiden leapt to the deck of the Long Snake and issued another valkyrie shriek, which parted what was left of the crew of common soldiers. Captain Gerolt alone stood before her.

“I have a reward for your smugness!” she cried and engaged the stocky man in a furious duel. Neither carried a shield but fought only with swords, trading worthy blows.

Gerolt parried Rusila’s sweep and lunged for her heart. The sea-borne Valkyrie sidestepped as the broadsword blade just grazed her breastplate. She answered the lunge with her own blade as Gerolt literally impaled himself on her weapon.

“Rán, accept this token of my affection,” howled Rusila, as she let her enemy slide off her blade and over the side of his ship.

The Queen of the Sea herself rose with the swell to claim the lifeless form of the Jom-captain. Fierce eyes flared as she clutched her prize. Her hair, like seaweed was tossed across his back as she drew him to her breast. Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, the wife of the ocean-god Ægir submerged once again beneath the waves.

Rusila returned to the foredeck of the Red Serpent to meet the assault of the second squadron. Any advantage their fleet once had, in numbers, was dashed by the vainglorious attack of Captain Gerolt, hoping for an easy victory. The third squadron was hoving into position but was still too distant to join the attack.

Still bound to Gerolt’s ships, Rusila’s dragonships now formed a solid block from which to repel the fresh combatants. Moreover, rather than tired, the blood-fury was upon her warriors. The battle became a freewheeling melee of individual contests as men leaped from ship to ship and deck to deck.

Swooping Valkyries continued to rescue the chosen slain of both armies from the grasp of the daughters of Rán, who burst the churning surface of the sea, as the waves slapped the sides of the longships. Blódughadda, ‘the one with the bloody hair’ had just wrapped her cold fingers around the ankles of Meinrad when Skeggjold circled his armored torso with her fair, gold-adorned arms and headed for the sky with him.


Rusila’s forces had a clear upper hand as the third Jómsvíking squadron came within easy sight. They were led by the forty-two seat Black Dragon, an enormous warship. Their commander had just ordered the sails lowered when he perceived the true threat he now faced. The Red Maiden’s warriors had dispatched the first two elements of his fleet and retained sufficient manpower to deal likewise with him.

“HOIST SAIL!” he screamed. “Helm, hard to starboard! Get those oars back in the water!” He began frantically traversing the deck and ordering warriors to set aside their weapons and row for their lives. It was a humiliating action for such a man to take.

The forecastleman of the Black Dragon raced to signal the other ships to execute a battle turn. Their crews hurried to comply but the confused flurry of shouts and hand signals took their toll.

The captain of the Typhoon, intent on the looming enemy, suddenly found his ship heading at top speed straight at the starboard beam of the Black Dragon.

“HOLD WATER!” he bellowed to his oarsmen, who rowed facing the stern of the ship, oblivious to the imminent danger.

In the confusion of screamed orders, some held water as others continued to stroke the sea. There was a frightful splintering of timbers as the dragon-prow of the Typhoon crashed through the wooden clinker construction of the side of the Black Dragon. The prow snapped and fell forward onto the deck of the flagship, as if attempting to take a bite out of the other ship. Hapless men cried out as they were crushed by the carved tree trunk. Water rushed into the ripped hull of the Black Dragon and quickly filled the shallow draft. Warriors scrambled for the comparative safety of the Typhoon, which was also taking on water.

Engaged in the battle turn maneuver ordered, the Green Eel struck the aft quarter of the Typhoon which had stopped its forward motion when it collided with the Black Dragon. The impact failed to shatter the resilient oaken hull of the Typhoon but caused her to rock uncontrollably as men rushed over her deck from the Dragon.

Slowly, inexorably, the Typhoon rolled over and deposited both crews into the waiting waves. The nine daughters of Rán, frustrated by their poor take for the day, began pulling men beneath the waves, though, by right, they were only entitled to those who drowned of their own accord.

Hefring, ‘the lifting one,’ swelled to raise a warrior within reach of a gunwale of the Green Eel, only to then lower him into the net of Himinglaeva, who promptly descended to the gloomy deep with her new friend.

Bára gently washed over the face of Captain Roch of the Typhoon and kissed his gasping mouth. His lungs filled with briny water as she caressed him and carried him to a watery grave.

Unn and Dúfa chose warriors of their own and tenderly drew them down, down, down to a seat at the table of Ægir and Rán.


“Release the grapples on the Long Snake!” ordered the Red Maiden. “Man your oars. Take me over to the Black Dragon.”

Their foes subdued, the men jumped to their rowing benches and heaved mightily to get the ship underway. The remains of the enemy fleet were now in headlong retreat. A scant handful of the crews of the three wrecked longships still clung to flotsam and jetsam floating precariously on the surface.

Rusila shook her long red hair and fixed her gaze on the object of her desire. Captain Steinar, ‘the Stone Warrior,’ had not had the good sense to go down with his ship. It was her desire for Steinar’s life that had driven her to accept today’s mission, serving a king she felt no real allegiance to. Indeed, much of her decision to return to mortal life had revolved around her desire to be avenged on the man who had claimed so many of her friends and kinsmen. She extended the fighting end of a spear to the man in the water, allowing him one more opportunity to die a good death. But Steinar clung to life — he grasped the shaft of the lance and let himself be hoisted into the Red Serpent.

“Greetings Steinar,” gloated Rusila at the captured commander as her men held water and stared over their shoulders for a look at the doomed captive.

“Well men,” she sang out, “shall we sell him for a slave or give him the Blood-eagle?”

“The Blood-eagle!” they all cried. His was to be a terrible death — split along the spine with the biting edge of a battle-axe — only to have his lungs plucked out and displayed like the wings of an eagle. And to cry out in pain meant losing his dignity along with his life!

Rusila scanned the scene. They had captured many fine vessels and many weapons and men. She had lost good men but their numbers were not great. Captain Stikla, on the Great Wyrm, caught her eye. Stikla pointed with her gaze. Rusila turned to see a single column of mounted Valkyries pass slowly in review, just above the water’s troubled surface. They would be invisible to the mortal men on board the ships of the fleet but to the sea-bound Valkyries they flew serenely towards the north, each rider shared her saddle with her chosen warrior, their lifeless limbs draped over the flanks of the magnificent beasts.

For the first time, Rusila sensed the absence of her faithful forecastleman Hrolf. She reverently raised her hand to the brow of her winged grimhelm in salute as she witnessed his still form across the saddle of Herfjotur’s steed. Allfather Odin had summoned him home.

It was not good for a warrior to cling too dearly to life but a tear welled up in her eye all the same.


Loki lashed out and struck the still water on the surface of his cauldron, splashing the liquid in every direction and destroying the picture it displayed.

“She hopes to make me mad and she is succeeding!” he screamed.

His giantess consort, Angrboða, entered the darkened chamber.

“Do you call me, my love?” asked she.

Loki looked anxiously over his shoulder. “That Norn will be the death of me yet. No, I didn’t call you but come anyway and perhaps view my last breath.”

“Are you at it again?” asked Angrboða. “Will you never tire searching for that girl?”

“Search for her I must,” declared Loki, “else I am doomed for certain. The Æsir have made it clear I have no future with them. The time is nigh one of us will make a desperate move.

“If only that insolent brat had not stuck her nose into the business of her elders. History would have been a different place.”

“What progress have you made?” asked she. “Are you any nearer now to the solution of the riddle?”

Loki stroked his pointy chin and paused. “My gaze has drifted from these mortals,” he replied. “And I begin looking more and more towards vaunted Asgard.”

The image in the cauldron settled once more, revealing a scene of handmaidens as they armored Valkyries of the Warrior Class.

“The Valkyrjor?” asked Angrboða. “Why do you turn your attention in the direction of the battle-maids?”

“Battle-maids indeed,” said Loki. “Songs are sung of their virtue and virginity yet is there a one who does not take any man she desires – be he ‘live or be he dead? Aye, the irony would tickle that Norn bitch no end; to watch me turn mad searching for a mortal ‘maiden avenger’ whilst the one I seek is right before my very eyes, parading around as one of brother Odin’s oskmaer. It’s his fault, you know? No matter how they carry on, he decrees they continue to be called ‘maidens.’

“It’s that mead they’re constantly swilling, I tell you. And when they’re unable to raise a horn to their own dead mouths they await the kiss of mead-drenched lips to bring them back to fighting form. The stuff cures every hurt — evensofar as to restore the maidenhead of a wanton whore.”

Loki was not sure he liked the look of wistful longing that crossed the face of the giantess but he was sure he must be right. Were not the Valkyries the enforcement arm of the Norns? Who better to serve their selfish purposes?

“Look at them, strutting about in their dwarf-forged armor as if they were the gods. Well, I’ve been studying them these past moons. Who are they? Where do they come from? I keep asking myself.

“Outcasts! Misfits! Those who were thrown down and laid low in life now profess to sit in judgment of others — the Choosers of the Slain. Bah! Blessed few of them are without grudges against the living. Any one could become the Avenger. But which one? I can’t concentrate on all; they span the Nine Worlds at will. They’re constantly slaying someone or another. Who can know every motive?

“It’s justice they say! It’s destiny they say! Oh, them and their murderous ways!”

“They have any man they desire?” mused Angrboða.