Bright Nights City Lights, Jackie Phuong Ta
The Northmen are all standing and sitting together in the hall of the great Jarl Thigurd Sigurdsson to await his announcement of the summer raids. The hearth is blazing as it heats the entire room, mead is being poured into horns, laughter is coming from all directions. The banners that hang above the people cast shadows from the hearth. The dark blue of the banner almost looks black due to the shadows. The wooden benches and tables are filled with the people of Hafrsfjord as they eat and drink.There is a certain buzz in the air, a buzz that fills the hall with excitement and determination. Everyone has been raiding the west in a land called England. There is talk amongst other Northmen that England is filled with riches, lands, and treasures that no person of Scandinavia has ever seen.
Most of the people who live in Hafrsfjord have never been on a raid to the west because they typically go to the east. There was a Northman who went west for the first time and he is seen as the most famous man in their world. Some say that he is called Ragnar Lodbrok, others say Ragnar Sigurdsson. Either way, whatever Ragnar saw in the West was enough to make everyone want to raid there. For the past few months, there has been talk that some of Ragnar’s sons are going to raid England again, perhaps Jarl Thigurd will choose to join them.
The hall is still buzzing with energy when Astrid is pulled out of her thoughts by her older sister Eira. Astrid looks around at the hall and sees the excitement and curiosity radiating off of her people. Eira and Astrid are both curious to know where their father has decided where they will raid this summer; both girls are hoping that they will go West with Ivar Ragnarsson and his brothers.
“Astrid!” her friend Tor calls out to her as he walks towards her.
“Heil, hvernig eru thú?” She greets her friend. Astrid hasn’t seen Tor in a while, she wonders how he has been.
“Er em vel,” he responds to her. “Where do you think that your father will decide to raid?” he asks. Astrid sighs as she looks at her tattooed blonde-haired friend.
“I am unsure; Father has not told us either,” Eira answers for her. Astrid gives her sister a look of thanks for speaking on her behalf. That is a downside of being the daughter of the earl, everyone thinks that she knows what her father will decide. Astrid never knows any of her father’s decisions until he is ready for everyone to know, besides if she knew where they were raiding this summer, she would have already stolen a ship to set sail. Astrid chuckles as she envisions herself stealing one of Thigurd’s ships to go raiding in the West; her father would drag her back here and ask if she had been praying to Loki for such an idea. Although if she prayed to Loki, she would have to be careful.
Loki is the God of mischief, he is often called the Trickster. Loki had multiple wives, although his two most known wives were a giantess named Angrboda and Sigyn. Sigyn birthed two of Loki’s children, although his children with Angrboda are the ones to be feared. Angrboda is the mother of Jörmungandr, the sea serpent, Fenrir the giant wolf, and Hel who is the ruler of Helheim. If people think Loki’s children are bad, Loki is the worst.
Odin, the Allfather, had a favourite son named Baldur. Loki had him killed due to Baldur being immune to harm, except for one thing. Mistletoe is strong enough to kill him, so Loki deceived the blind God Höd and he killed Baldur by throwing mistletoe at him. It has been said that Loki disguised himself as the giantess Thökk and refused to weep over his body. The tears from the giantess were enough to bring Baldur back to life, but Loki posing as the giantess, Baldur remained dead.
The sound of the hall chattering brings Astrid out of her thoughts of Loki and praying to him. All around, the chatter of the hall intensifies as Thigurd emerges from his living quarters. Someone starts to beat their mug on the tables at which they are sitting and within seconds it rapidly grows. Thigurd stands at the stairs in front of his seat as he waits for the noise from his people to cease. He looks out at the crowd of people, trying to spot his two daughters. When he spots Eira’s light brown hair, he knows that Astrid is with her; Astrid is never far from her sister.
“Velkmin! Velkmin! Welcome friends! I would like to start off by saying that I am very happy to see you all here. I know that this past winter was a little hard on us, but the upcoming summer raids should brighten our spirits,” Thigurd says to the hall full of people.
“Jarl Thigurd, where are we raiding?” someone calls out to Astrid’s father. This causes a chorus of people asking him the same question and asking it amongst themselves.
“Afsaka!” Thigurd booms. The hall falls silent as Thigurd continues. “Now what was I saying? Oh yes, the summer raids. Most of you believe that I will sail East, but not this time. I am tired of hearing of the fame, treasures, and glories that Ivar Ragnarsson and his brothers have been receiving. I say we sail to England! We will raid England, take their silver, their gold, and their wives. We will make England remember our names! The gods will show us favor!” he says as the hall is being dominated by shouts in agreement.
Astrid looks at her sister in astonishment. She cannot believe that her father agreed. Astrid and Eira are going to raid England. They are going to take silver and gold from the homes and churches that they raid. They will fight against the Saxons if they must, but the thought of fighting doesn’t scare Astrid. If Astrid were to die while in battle, then the Valkyries would come to take her to Valhalla where she would walk and sup amongst the gods. In Valhalla, she would see the other slain warriors and tell them of her achievements and of the raids that she participated in; she may even tell them of England if she reaches Valhalla on that land.
“Can you believe it, systir?” Eira asks her.
“No, I cannot. We are finally going to raid the West. Do you think Father will allow us to go?” Astrid asks while looking down.
“Ek veit eigi, systir. I really do not know. Perhaps Father will allow us to go raiding with him, we are shieldmaidens after all,” she responds to Astrid. Eira looks at her sister unconvincingly. Their father knows their strengths, but he also knows where they are weakest. The two sisters have always trained side by side, back-to-back. They are each other’s weakness, and it will be the death of them one day.
“Faðir!” Eira calls out. Thigurd turns his attention towards his eldest daughter. “Will Astrid and I be accompanying you to raid England? Surely you do not plan to leave your best shield maidens behind,” she says eyeing him. Astrid glares at her sister. She dares to question Father in front of everyone, Astrid thinks to herself.
“You are my daughters, you both will stay here with your mother,” he says. If looks could kill, then Thigurd would be greeting his own father in the hall of the slain.
“Why?” Astrid calls out, deciding against her better judgment. “Father, we are just as good of a warrior as any man in this hall. We train every day, and we were taught by the best. Mother will be protected by Brynjar and Einar. We are older than they are, we deserve to sail with you.”
“Astrid,” Thigurd says with a sigh. “Come, we will speak in my quarters.” As the earl briskly walks away, the two daughters share a look of disappointment before following their father.
As the pair of sisters walk through the hall to reach their father’s quarters, they feel the anxiousness rising throughout their bodies. They are afraid for their father’s answer. They both want to raid England, they want to raid desperately, but their father is the only one who can grant them permission.
“Astrid, did you truly have to ask me in front of the entire hall?” he questions her. Typically, she would cower under her father’s glare, but instead she looks the man in his eyes.
“Yes, Father, I did. I know, just as well as you know, that you were not going to even discuss the chance of Eira and I going with you,” she says firmly. Thigurd takes a deep breath as he considers his next words carefully.
“I just do not want you two to get hurt,” he says eventually. The girls look at each other and then at their father.
“Father,” Eira says. “Do not worry for us. We were trained by you, the greatest warrior that we know. If we fall in battle, then we will see you again in Valhalla where we will drink and sup together as we have done in the past.” Thigurd rubs at the back of his neck as he absorbs what his eldest child has said to him.
“Okay. You two may come along, but you will stay-”
“Together and be careful,” the girls say as they cut their father off.
“Exactly. Now go enjoy the feast.” The girls leave their father’s quarters with smiling faces. The Thigurdsdóttir sisters are finally going West; this will be the raid of their lives.
All around them, there has been nonstop talk of what they will see in England. Some people have been wondering how rich the soil will be; they wonder if it’s good for growing crops. Others have been talking of the raid itself. Will the Gods show us favor for raiding in this unknown land? Will people achieve Valhalla? Who will the Valkyries come to claim if Frejya doesn’t get them first?
These are the kind of things that the two daughters of Thigurd Sigurdsson have heard directed at them and around the village. Due to the girls being the daughters of the Earl, everyone assumes that they know what England will be like. The problem with that would be that neither Eira nor Astrid have been to the West. The girls only know of what they heard.
The sound of metal clashing against metal fills the training yard. Everyone wants to make sure that they are at their best so that if, by chance, there should be a battle, they are prepared. Astrid is fighting against her friend Tor. Tor’s long blonde hair is bound back by leather straps. Tor tries to swing his sword at Astrid’s side, but he gets blocked by her dark blue and black painted shield. As he stumbles, Astrid seizes the opportunity to take him by surprise. She spins and ducks as Tor comes at here again only for her axe to meet his neck. He drops his sword and shield as he holds his hands up in surrender.
“Góðr, Astrid,” Tor says to her. Eira, who has been watching her systir scoffs at their friend.
“Really Tor? My sister just kicked your ass and all you can say is that she did good? Astrid, that was amazing. Do you think you could show me how you did that?” Eira asks her sister. Eira had never seen her sister move the way she did, despite the numerous times that they had trained together. When Astrid fights, it is like watching her axe and sword become her arms. They move with her as if they are one. She is always so focused as she tries to anticipate her opponent’s next move.
The thing about Astrid is how quickly fighting came to her. When she had only seen eleven winters, she told her parents that she wanted to become a shield maiden. She had dreams of fighting in the shield wall amongst her parents, their friends, and the other warriors. She wanted to die in battle so that when the Valkyries came to pick the warriors, they would pick her and she too would be welcomed into the Allfather’s hall. Astrid was just like every other warrior, she wanted to impress the Gods, for she knows that they are always watching.
On Astrid’s first day of training, her father had her use a large stick. The stick was hard, rough, and had stray pieces of wood sticking out of it. That day, Astrid learned about defensive moves. Thigurd, her father, taught her how to block someone’s strike using her shield. The shield isn’t just for protecting a person’s face, it can be used to protect their body as well. Astrid continuously tried to dodge her father’s strikes, but she ended up being covered in bruises by the end of the day; she enjoyed every second of it because she knew that it would take time. After all of the many lessons from her parents, or their friends, Astrid was now one of the greatest shield maidens in their village.
Astrid takes pride in knowing that she is skilled with a sword and axe; it is all she ever wanted. This upcoming raid is Astrid’s chance to prove herself to her village, her father, and the Gods. She hopes to impress Thor and his father, Odin. She can just imagine the swell of pride on Odin’s face, should he choose to watch her as she engages in battle in England. Thinking about battle in England makes her wonder how the people there fight. Do they use shields? Do they know what a shield wall is?
The shield wall is something that has been taught as being beneficial. When the call for the shield wall is made, the first line of shields protect the lower half of the body. The second line is made to protect the middle section of the body, while the third line is for protecting the upper body. Typically, behind the wall, there are archers who are firing numerous arrows at the enemy. The archers are brave as they stand out in the open, they never know when the enemy will try to flank them from behind. When it is time to advance towards the enemy, the shield wall moves without breaking; everyone must keep the line tight. Sometimes they’ll open the wall to allow for some of the opposers to be slaughtered by those who are behind the wall. Astrid has seen it happen when she and Eira accompanied their father on a raid to the East. At that time, their father did not allow for his daughters to be in the wall, he preferred if they were behind it.
Astrid can still recall the sounds of swords clashing against the shield wall. She loved hearing the sound of battle rage around her; it sounded like music flowing in the wind. When the shield wall opened, Astrid took her opportunity to send the person who came at her to their Gods. That was the first time that Astrid had taken someone’s life. She had buried her axe in a man’s face as he tried to strike at her side. As the man lied on the ground choking on his own blood, Astrid straddled him and took out her knife that she keeps at her back. Astrid slit the man’s throat and his blood splattered on her face. Astrid smiled as she watched the life leave his eyes.
Astrid feels a hand on her arm bringing her out of her thoughts. Her sister looks at her with a look of concern on her face, but it passes as Astrid tells Eira what she was thinking of. Eira asks Astrid if she will teach her the move again, and Astrid agrees. As she teaches her sister the move she did on their friend Tor, she feels as though she is being watched. She has Eira practice the move as she looks around the training yard. Everyone is engulfed in their fights, everyone except for Knut. Knut Siegfridsson is a ruthless man. He is tall with broad shoulders, long dark hair that is always bound back by leathers, hard piercing blue eyes and a hooked nose. Knut has brown freckles that are spread across his face, and he wears a constant hard glare.
It has been said that Knut drains his enemies of their blood before he bathes in it, but Astrid does not believe it. Knut is just a man with a hardened heart, or at least that is what she believes. Knut doesn’t have many friends, but the few friends that he does have follow him as if he is their leader. Knut is the type of Northman that takes what he wants no matter the consequences; he simply doesn’t care how his actions affect people. Something that Knut has always wanted but has never gotten would be Astrid’s hand in marriage.
Knut initially asked Thigurd for Astrid’s hand when she had just seen her twelfth winter. In their culture, when a female bleeds for the first time, she is then considered as a woman. This means that she is then able to marry. Knut, who had seen twenty-two winters that year, wanted her as his wife because he believed that she would bare him many sons. Thigurd did not allow for it. He wanted Astrid to choose whenever she was ready to be married. The rejection of Knut’s proposal made him angry. As the winters passed by, he watched Astrid as she grew. He watched with hungry eyes as her body started to fill out and harden. He wanted her, and he knew that he was going to have her.
“What are you staring at, Knut?” Astrid asks him. The way he looks at her makes her uncomfortable. He always looks at her as if he wants to hurt her.
“You have a fagr form. The way you move seems like you are gliding. I am intrigued by you,” he says in his deep raspy voice. The way he says that to her makes skin crawl. Why did he say that her form is beautiful? What did he mean by that? Was Knut trying to insinuate something?
“Thank you, Knut,” Astrid says shakily. “I am afraid that I need to return to the hall now,” she says as she begins to walk away.
“Will you be in the square tonight?” he asks her. She wants to lie to him, but she knows that he will be able to find her.
“Yes. It is the night we offer our sacrifices to the Gods in thanks for allowing us to raid the West.”
“Perhaps I could stand with you?” he suggests to her.
“We shall see,” she says. As she takes her leave to return to the hall, she can feel his eyes burning holes through her body. Knut has made Astrid feel as if she had been rolling in the dirt. She must wash. Maybe she could get the feeling of his eyes on her off of her skin this way.
Unfortunately, Knut has always been like this towards Astrid. Ever since her father denied his request for Astrid’s hand in marriage, he’s been like a shadow. He follows her throughout the village, he stares at her while she trains, and his eyes always seem to find her in crowds. Astrid still remembers the first time Knut made her feel strange.
When Astrid had seen fourteen winters, she and Eira went swimming after they trained one day. On this day, both girls decided to swim in an area that is away from the docks where most of the people would be. They both stripped down to their night clothes and jumped in the water. Little did Eira know that someone was watching them. Astrid, though younger than Eira, seemed to be more alert. As she swam in the water with her sister, she looked past an overturned boat to see a pair of steel blue eyes watching her. She calls for her Eira to stop swimming to see that someone is watching them, but before Eira can get to where Astrid is, the person is gone. They may have left, but Astrid still felt strange.
The moon is shining brightly in the sky this night. The fires have been lit, the mead tankards are being passed around, and the presence of the Gods are strong. The Gods are with Astrid and her people this night. Although they are not to set sail until three weeks from this night, they are holding the sacrifices tonight. Tonight, two horses and a goat are being offered to the Gods in hope that they grant the warriors and shield maidens going West a safe passage. Eira asked to officiate the ceremony and Thigurd has granted her request.
The sounds of laughter fill the air as shadows dance around the fires. Astrid and Eira have horns of mead in their hands as they listen to a story that is being told by their father’s friend Asmund. Asmund is telling the Thigurdsdottir sisters about the time he and their father shot apples and cups of mead off of each other’s head. The girls laugh as they hear of the trouble their father got into when he was younger. Asmund says that they remind him of their father and uncle with the way they are always together.
The tone of Asmund’s voice is now somber as he reminisces about Gudbrand and Thigurd. The three of them were as thick as thieves. Wherever Gudbrand was, Thigurd was not far behind. Eira barely remembers her uncle because she was so young when he died, so she asks Asmund to tell her and Astrid how he died. There was a raid to the East. Their father, Sigurd Eivorsson, warned them many years prior about where they were going to raid. Sigurd told them to stay together and be careful should they ever raid where the Rus live.
The Rus are somewhat akin to the Scandinavians. They were first in Novogorod, but eventually moved on as their power began to expand. Due to the Rus being related to the Scandinavians, they knew how to defeat them in battle. On that raid, Thigurd and Eivor were going to raid an area that belonged to the Rus. The then young Thigurd had no idea just how powerful the Rus could be. As they traveled along the Silk Road, no one noticed the change in the air or how the path started to narrow.
After traveling on the road for almost two weeks, Asmund, Thigurd, and Eivor thought that they had stumbled upon what seemed to be a market. As the three warriors shared a look between each other, the other warriors with them began to take out their swords and axes. They slaughtered the men that were in the market, stole their food, and raped the women. The Scandinavians laughed as they drank and ate around a fire that had been built. The Sigurdsson brothers sat with their friend as they ate the food that they had stolen. When the camp started to quiet down, the brothers took it as a sign to relax. Due to it being on a long road, they did not think that someone would find them. Oh, how wrong they were.
Asmund woke to the sound of Thigurd calling for a shield wall. He looked around as he saw men from the previous night scrambling to gather their shields to form the wall. He recalls the way he fell into line to help make the wall as the Rus charged against them. The small band of raiders tried to hold the wall, but the Rus overpowered them. As Asmund engaged with one of them that came from his left, Thigurd was taking them face on, and Eivor had the rear. Thigurd turned towards his brother as he heard his shout just for him to see one of the Rus push his sword through Eivor’s heart.
Thigurd let out a pained cry as he called for the retreat. The Scandinavians ran from their kin, leaving behind the bodies of their fallen friends. Asmund looked back as he ran, and he swears on his arm ring that he saw a Valkyrie take Eivor. The girls are stunned as they listen to his story. They figure that this is the reason why Thigurd is overprotective of them; he doesn’t want them to suffer the same fate as he did. He watched his brother die and there was nothing that he could do to stop it.
“That is why your father is the way he is. Thigurd just doesn’t want to see either of you hurt,” Asmund explains. The girls nod in understanding. It all makes sense now. Eira knows that they have heard rumors of England, but even with the warnings she wants to see it for herself.
Eira listens to those around her as the chatter starts to grow quieter. Her father has arrived. It is time for her to prepare as he speaks to the people. As Thigurd begins to speak to the people, Eira meets her mother in their designated meeting spot just by the hall. Her mother helps her change into a flowing white dress and paint her face white, while her eyes are painted black. She hears the low sound of drums, which signals her that it is time to begin. Elders come out of the hall with their faces painted, wearing white, and hold bowls with brushes. One of the elders carries a long rattle like staff and shakes it to the sound of the drums as they begin to walk ahead of her.
Eira follows the elders as they walk the path to the square and people of the village begin to shout into the night air. Eira walks with her head held high despite the nervous that are threatening to bubble over the surface. As she reaches the center of the square, she sees the animals being brought in. The horses and goat are fighting against their ropes, but they will not fight for long. They are going to join the slain in Odin’s hall.
“Velkmin! Aptann vér smíða einn blóta til vár æsir! Tonight, we will offer the Gods the sacrifices before us in hopes that they will grant us safe passage on our journey to England,” she says. The sound of cheers fills the air before she calls for silence again. Eira asks for a knife before she walks over to the goat.
“Odin, hear our prayer. We offer you these sacrifices in turn for safe passage to England,” she says. The goat is brought to hear and within seconds she is on her knees with the knife held to the goat’s throat. A bowl is placed underneath the goat before she then slits its throat in a swift motion. As the goat bucks and eventually goes limp, the horses start to pull at their ropes again. Switching from a knife to an axe, Eira cuts the head of one horse off as the crowd cheers. The other horse is spooked and begins to fight against the ropes that are restraining it, but it does no good. Eira cuts this horse’s head off as well. When the body of the horse falls, she watches as the bowl is being filled with blood.
When the first bowls are completely filled, two of the elders bring Eira to the center of the square, next to the bodies of the dead animals. They throw the bowls filled with horse blood on her; it soaks her entire body. The blood feels warm and sticky against Eira, but she does not mind. Eira feels them. She feels the presence of the Gods as she starts to sway to the music that she didn’t realize was playing. In the midst of Eira’s swaying, she wonders where Astrid is. She did not see her sister during the ceremony and that’s strange. Astrid has always loved watching the sacrifices being performed. Where could she be?
Astrid saw the beginning of the sacrifice. She heard the sounds of the drums, but then she was whisked away by Knut. Knut offered to refill her horn before Eira came out to start and she graciously accepted the horn of mead. Perhaps she drank too much tonight or Knut was just in the spirit, but she shouldn’t have allowed for Knut to refill her horn. She feels groggy as she follows Knut through the woods. Why is she in the woods? When they reach a clearing, Knut lets her hand go.
She sees a covering laying on the ground, but she doesn’t understand why it is there. She looks at Knut’s face, but he wears a look that she doesn’t recognize. Astrid tries to reach for her axe, but it isn’t there. Then she remembers that she took it off for the night. She looks around and pretends to scratch her back as she tries to feel for the knife at her back. The knots that hold the scabbard with the knife against her back are loose; the knife is gone.
“I do hope that you aren’t looking for this?” Knut says as he holds her knife up before he throws it. The color drains from Astrid’s already pale face as she now realizes what Knut means to do to her.
“Knut no. Please don’t. Knut, I beg of you,” she pleads as tears begin to roll down her face. He starts to advance towards her as she backs into a tree. If she knew how to climb a tree, she would use the tree as a safety net to get away from Knut, but sadly she does not know how to climb. She immediately sprints as fast as she can to get away from him, but her vision has started to become blurred due to her tears. She attempts to run to what she thinks is nearing the square, but she doesn’t get there fast enough.
Astrid feels herself hit the ground as she trips over a tree branch. She attempts to get back up, but a hand pulls her back down by her ankle. She cries out in pain and panic as she tries to fight her attacker, Knut, but knows that it is no use. Knut is far bigger and stronger than Astrid. Astrid blocks out the sounds around her as she feels Knut on top of her. She feels as though she is on fire. Astrid thinks that she must be being ripped open by Knut. Frejya, please take me to your hall. I am ready now, she thinks to herself. Astrid had never craved death as much as she has in this moment.
Knut has never felt like this. To feel Astrid as he continues to rut inside of her. He smiles as he watches the tears stream down her pretty face. She has brought this upon herself, he thinks to himself. If only Astrid had returned his advances; this could have been a beautiful time, but instead he must take what he wants from her. He will spill his seed inside of her and force her to be his wife once she carries his child. He laughs aloud as he thinks about it. What a life they could have together. Children, hunting, swimming, raiding, a perfect life with the woman that he has always desired. The thought alone is enough to make him finish inside of her. When he pulls out of her, he cleans himself off and returns to the celebration, leaving Astrid alone in the woods.
When Astrid feels Knut has finished inside of her, she listens as he pulls out of her and tries to catch his breath. He puts himself back into his trousers and goes back to the celebrations, but Astrid does not move. She wonders if she is truly alive. Why would the Gods allow for that to happen to her? She tries to get up, but the pain is too unbearable. She feels a liquid surrounding her and it smells like blood. That night, Astrid falls asleep in a pool of her own blood with tears streaming down her face.
Astrid awakes to the sound of footsteps approaching the area she is in. She would call out to whomever is nearby, but she fears that she is too weak for it. She screamed and screamed yet no one heard her. She realizes that Knut planned it. He wanted to take a part of her where he knew that she would be the most vulnerable. Knut knew that no one would hear her cries for help over the celebration. She should have never accepted his offer to refill her horn of mead. How could she have been so stupid?
Following the smell of blood, Eira stumbles upon a woman lying in a pool of her own blood. As she approaches the woman, she sees a tattoo on her hip that is oddly familiar. There is only one other person with that tattoo because they got them together. Eira’s blood runs cold as she sees her younger sister lying in her own blood.
“Astrid,” she says softly.
“Systir?” Astrid answers weakly. Eira drops to her knees in a sob. Her sister. Her younger sister. Her best friend. Someone will pay for what they have done to her, Eira will make sure of it. Eira coaxes Astrid into sitting up, but when she sits up, she starts to sob uncontrollably. Astrid reaches for Eira’s arms, which she gladly wraps around her sister. Eira does not ask what happened because she knows that Astrid will talk when she is ready.
Astrid sits with her knees curled up against her chest as she rocks back and forth. She feels dirty. Every time Astrid blinks, she sees Knut looking down at her with an evil grin that shows his yellowed teeth and unkept beard. How did she let this happen? She should have been more careful around him. Astrid knew that he was a dangerous man, but she never thought that he would go as far as defiling her against her will. Why didn’t she realize what Knut was going to do to her?
“By all the Gods, I’m a fool,” Astrid whispers. She thinks Eira doesn’t hear her, but she does. Eira turns to look at her sister and sighs as she sees the position that Astrid is sitting in.
Eira is careful as she walks over to her sister. Astrid’s face is tear-stricken, there is dirt on her face, and blood stains her handmade light blue dress. Eira sits down in front of her sister, whose eyes are blank.
“Astrid, systir, I know that you are hurting, but I want you to listen to me. What happened to you should not have happened. You are no fool,” she says firmly.
“It’s my fault, Eira. I shouldn’t have drank so much,” Astrid says softly. Eira bares a look of disbelief at her younger sister.
“Astrid, it is never someone’s fault when they are raped. Do you know whose fault it is? It’s those that chose to commit such an act against another person. It is not your fault. It matters not what you wear, or how much you drink. If someone does not give consent then it is rape. Sister, even if you do give consent and are in the middle of the act, if you start to feel uncomfortable you are allowed to withdraw your consent. Consent is consent. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I am sorry that whoever did this to you does not grasp the concept of consent,” she says with a soft, but firm tone.
“Maybe if I was wearing different clothing…” Astrid trails off.
“Astrid, as I said before, what you wear does not matter. Clothes are clothes. What a person wears does not mean consent. You and what you wore last night were not the issue, sister. The issue is the person who did this to you. Whenever you are ready to name them, I want them arrested by Father,” Eira says. Astrid looks at her sister and feels the anger radiating off of her, but she knows that it isn’t directed towards her.
Astrid wants to wash; she needs to get the feeling of Knut’s hands on her body off her. As she shakily stands, Eira is there to help her. As Astrid feels her sister put an arm on her to help her walk, she can’t help but ponder how she will live with this. She feels as though Knut has finally achieved what he wanted; Knut broke her. As Eira helps Astrid walk back to the great hall, Eira feels Astrid’s body shake as she quietly sobs.
When the sisters arrive at the great hall, it is practically empty with the exception of their family’s servants. Upon seeing them walk in, one of the servants calls for the Jarl and his wife. Walking out of their quarters, Thigurd sees Astrid leaning on Eira covered in dried blood, dirt, and tears. He feels his temper flare up as he wants to know who did this to his daughter. Someone would dare hurt the daughter of Thigurd Sigurdsson? Thigurd wants the person in the square and tied to the posts.
Eira’s mother, Magnhild Rangvaldrsdottir, wants to give the person who hurt Astrid a death that is dragged out. How could someone be so cruel as to rape a woman when she was vulnerable? Astrid is silent as she listens to her parents’ rage. She thanks the Gods that her brothers are out playing with the other village children; for she knows the rage of her siblings and parents together is a rage to fear. Magnhild calls for Astrid to be taken to the river to wash, but she is to be under the protection of shield maidens only.
After being taken to the river to wash, Astrid knows that physically her body is clean, but she can’t help that she still feels dirty. When Astrid stood in the river under the guard of the shield maidens, she thought about swimming out as far as she could in hope that she would drown. At this point, Astrid wants death more than anything, but she knows that she still wants her chance at Valhalla. While she was in the water, she wondered if Odin would still welcome her if she were the one to end her own life. What would her family think if she took her own life? Would they cry? Would they burn the world to the ground? Would they ever guess that it was Knut Siegfridsson who broke her?
About the Author
Sherena Willford · Virginia State University
Sherena Willford, from Carrollton, VA, is an English major with a creative writing concentration at Virginia State University. When she is not studying, she enjoys writing and listening to music.
About the Artist
Jackie Phuong Ta · SUNY Plattsburgh
Jackie Ta graduated with a BFA in Painting and Graphic Design from SUNY Plattsburgh. She is from Vietnam. “Bright Nights City Lights” first appeared in Gandy Dancer.