ano nakikita Mo?, harana
(continued from The Shield Maidens of Hafrsfjord, Part One)
After two weeks of not seeing him, Astrid sees him in the great hall. He is with his friends talking and laughing as if he has done nothing wrong. He must know that she is watching him because he meets her eyes and has the nerve to smile wickedly at her. She feels shivers go down her spine as the feelings that she felt that night start to resurface. It takes everything in her not to scream in the middle of the hall as her body starts to shake.
Eira takes notice of Astrid’s change in mood and alerts her father. Thigurd follows Astrid’s blank stare towards Knut. Knut Siegfridsson. It doesn’t take long for Thigurd to put the pieces together. That fucking bastard raped his daughter and is now sitting in his hall as if he is innocent. Thigurd silences the hall as everyone stares at him in confusion. Astrid turns to look at her father, but he isn’t there. She is looking at Jarl Thigurd Sigurdsson. The jarl who is known for being fearful yet just. The fearful jarl mixed with his rage as a father is something to frighten anyone.
“Knut Siegfridsson. You walk into my hall to eat my food and drink my mead after what you’ve done. Why shouldn’t I have your head?” Thigurd accuses as Kunt looks at him with a stunned expression on his grime covered face.
“I did nothing wrong, Jarl Thigurd,” he lies quickly. “You all know who I am. I do what I want. I take what I want and I believe is rightfully mine. Sure, I have stolen a few things from the market here and there, but I haven’t done anything wrong,” he says. Astrid feels her anger bubble deep within her; she will soon explode, she knows that she will. Astrid’s fury is going to spill over and it will be as if Múspell has become Hafrsfjord.
“Are you going to deny what you did?” Thigurd asks him. Knut looks at him in amusement.
“As I have said, I have done no wrong,” he says smugly. It is then that Astrid’s fury finally spills over and she speaks.
“Knut,” she barks his name. “Do you deny that you have been obsessed with me since I saw my twelfth winter? Do you deny that just three weeks after reaching my twelfth winter that you asked Father for my hand? Do you deny the incessant stalking? What about the way you would look at me with lust filled eyes? What about the night of the sacrifices when you raped me in the woods and left me there? Do you deny that?” she asks him coldly. Knut’s face pale and everyone in the hall, including his friends, turns to look at him with stunned faces.
“You were drunk, you don’t know what you are talking about,” he says with a chuckle.
“My knife. Everyone knows that I keep at my back. I keep it tied in a series of knots inside its scabbard. I know that it was you because I watched you as you taunted me with it before you threw it far from me. I watched as you climbed on top of me and forced yourself inside of me without my consent. You made me feel worthless. I have wanted to take my own life because I thought that I deserved it. You will die for what you did to me. I swear by all of the Gods that you will never reach Valhalla.” Thigurd looks at her with a feeling of pride swelling throughout him.
“You wanted it!” he yelled. At this statement, the hall erupts in roars of protest. They want him dead. Someone throws their cup full of mead at his head, while someone else throws a piece of roasted fish at him. An axe is hurled in his direction as it cuts him on his upper brow; blood spills down his face.
“I will ask once again. Do you deny that you raped my daughter?” Thigurd booms.
“No, I don’t deny it. I’ll do it again. She was supposed to be my wife, but you denied me. Now no man will ever want to wed her,” he says as he starts to cackle at the thought of Astrid remaining with her parents for the rest of her life. The people surrounding Knut begin to punch, slap, and kick him until he is on the floor of the hall. Once two of Thigurd’s guards manage to get through the crowd, they stand him up so that he can face his Jarl’s wrath.
“I, Jarl Thigurd Sigurdsson, hereby charge you, Knut Siegfriedsson with the rape of my daughter, Astrid Thigurdsdottir. For your punishment, you will be blood eagled under the night sky tonight. I hope you will never reach Valhalla,” Thigurd spits. “Get him out of my hall!”
A chorus of cheers arsie as Knut is dragged from the hall, Astrid feels a weight lift from her shoulders. He will die. Knut will pay for what he did to her, but she wants to be the one to make him pay.
“Father,” she calls out. Thigurd turns his attention to her, as does the rest of the hall. “If Knut is to be blood eagled, I will be the one to do it. Allow me this, please.” Thigurd thinks it over before he agrees. The hall erupts in cheer once again in knowing that they will bare witness to justice being served.
That night under the night sky, Knut is brought out in chains as he is being spat on by the people of Hafrsfjord. Knut looks up at the sky as he feels someone’s spit land on the left side of his face. He turns to see who it was, and he is surprised that it is his friend who spit on him. He can’t believe that Halvar, his friend, would spit on him. He doesn’t have time to ponder on it as he is dragged up the steps that have been placed in the center of the square. Knut gets forced to his knees and watches as both of his arms are tied to two poles by ropes. He pulls at the ropes, but they are so tight that they hurt him.
Astrid watches him as he struggles against the ropes that he is bound by and she relishes in the sight of it. The sight of Knut being helpless fuels her with an energy that she forgot she had. A fire is started, and a knife is being heated over the fire. Astrid walks up the stairs, gaining the attention of everyone that is present. She has something that she wants to say.
“All of you are gathered here this night to witness justice. Knut Siegfridsson, you are guilty of raping me and for that you will die by my hand. Before I begin, I have something that I wish to say. Knut, you took something from me that I will never get back. You made me question if I was worthy enough to live. You broke me, but I am determined to come back stronger. You will never be able to break me again. For your crimes against me, I pray that you get sent to Múspell or Niflheimr. You know that if you scream, you will not go to Valhalla, but you will not go there either way. You will never be allowed to walk amongst our Gods in Valhalla,” she says in a deadly cold tone.
Once the knife is heated, two guards rip Knut’s fading white shirt off of him. With the heated knife in her right hand, Astrid roughly presses the blade to his spine. At the contact of a heated blade, Knut grunts. Astrid drags the knife all the way down his back before she makes cuts by his shoulder blades. Eira happily passes Astrid her axe so that she can hack at his open back. The first swing to his back makes Knut cry out in pain as Astrid feels a grin come onto her face. She continues to hack at his back as his blood splatters her face. By the time Astrid pulls his lungs from his body, Knut is silent. With the lungs of Knut still in her bloodied hands, she throws them into the fire where the knife was heating. She watches with a proud smile on her face as the fire engulfs Knut’s lungs.
Knut screamed during the ritual, therefore he did not go to Valhalla, like Astrid predicted. Astrid smears his blood across her face using her index and middle fingers. Knut tried to take her power, but she took it back. Everyone who watched now knows that Astrid Thigurdsdottir is one to fear. She had dealt with Knut, now Astrid can continue to heal from what he did to her. Astrid smiles, a great big smile, knowing that she has conquered Knut Siegfridsson and now she will take on England with her sister.
Over the past week many people have been making last minute preparations regarding their families, farms, and jobs. The earls who are sailing with Thigurd have been arriving in strong numbers; it seems that everyone wants to join this raid. Everyone is excited for this raid; they all want to see what England has to offer. Astrid, though still weary of people, has been using the preparations as a distraction. It has been a week since she sent Knut to either Niflheimr or Múspell, it doesn’t really matter to her because she knows that the Valkyries didn’t carry him to Valhalla.
When Astrid admitted what Knut did to her, she did not expect the praise that she had received. A girl, Kari, thanked her for speaking up; Knut had done the same thing to her. When Eira asked the girl, who couldn’t have seen more than fourteen winters, why she never told anyone, she said she didn’t think anyone would listen to what she had to say. It was hearing her say that which made Astrid take what Eira told her into consideration.
Astrid has asked Thigurd to hold another sacrifice to help cleanse the air and the people before they set sail. Her father has agreed and this time Magnhild will officiate. This sacrifice will be held two nights before they are to leave; Thigurd doesn’t want anyone to be too hungover to sail. Astrid is nervous, but as long as she is surrounded by her family, she knows that she will be okay.
Astrid watches from her place in the great hall where her father converses with King Stigr Lefisson. He is the king of a small village called Oleifsbjorg which is a two weeks’ ride from Hafrsfjord. When Thigurd sent out word that he was to raid England, King Stigr was the first to respond. Astrid watches as the king laughs as her father tells him a story. The king has broad shoulders, dark shoulder length hair, and dark steel gray eyes. Along the side of his right face, there is a tattoo of a small Valknut. Astrid watches in awe as the three triangles move in an upward direction every time King Stigr laughs.
“Hei, Astrid,” Tor calls to her softly. Astrid looks at him as he stands away from her.
“It is okay if you come closer, Tor,” she says just as softly. Tor is hesitant, but he obeys.
“I will not ask if you are okay because I do not expect you to answer. I will ask one thing though. How do you feel since you performed the blood eagle?” he asks her as he looks down at his muddied boot covered foot.
“I am still learning to survive, but I feel free. I don’t have to look over my shoulder and wonder if I have to bury my axe in his face,” Astrid says. Tor chuckles at the part about burying her axe in his face; it has always been Astrid’s go-to threat, especially to Tor.
“I am proud of you, you know?” Tor says softly. Astrid looks at him, waiting for him to further explain. “You stood up to one of the most feared warriors in Hafrsfjord. You sent him to Múspell,” he says in admiration. Astrid blushes under Tor’s praise.
“You really think that highly of my actions? Should I have just asked for him to be beheaded instead?” she asks timidly. Tor looks at Astrid with a look of disbelief. Only Astrid would think that she was too harsh on a person that has wronged her.
“No, Astrid. You did well; Knut deserved everything that happened to him. Also, have you heard what the people are calling you now?” he asks.
“What are they calling me?” she inquires.
“They call you Astrid the Fearful. It is known throughout the village that the daughter of the great Jarl Thigurd Sigurdsson is one to fear. The people admire you, just as Eira and I do,” he says as Eira walks up to them. Astrid considers Tor’s words as she and the trio leave the hall to go help prepare the boats.
Upon arriving by the docks, Astrid is handed a crate of dried meat to eat on the journey to England. As she passes the crate to Kjeld, a warrior who is accompanying them on the raid to put into the boat, she watches as everyone is doing something. She admires the way her people work together, it has always been something that warmed Astrid’s heart. Astrid is handed another crate and gives to gives it Kjeld. As she goes to open her arms for another crate, she hears her name being called.
Astrid smiles as she sees her younger brothers run up to her. The boys are hesitant to hug her, so Astrid hugs them instead. She can almost feel their smiles as they wrap their arms around her. Despite them being younger, her brothers are already starting to tower over her. Einar looks to be an exact copy of their father save his eyes, whereas Brynjar looks to be the perfect mix between Thigurd and Magnhild. Einar’s blonde hair is starting to reach his broad shoulders. His dark eyes look like honey as the sun shines. His long narrow nose has freckles going across it and he has a mole that stands out on his chin. Brynjar has dark hair with gray eyes that he inherited from Magnhild’s mother. Brynjar is a little taller than his brother, but not much.
Brynjar and Einar are exactly like Astrid and Eira. Where there is one, the other is not far. They are best friends, despite their age difference. Brynjar has seen thirteen winters, while Einar has seen fifteen springs. They both want to follow in their parents and elder sister’s footsteps. They so desperately want to join their family for this raid, but they know that they must stay behind to help protect their mother and rule in their father’s stead.
“Do we really have to stay behind? Mother is one of the most famous shield maidens in our world,” Brynjar asks his elder sister.
“You know that you must. Besides, you are far too young to join such a raid,” Astrid says as she ruffles his dark hair.
“I am a man now! I have seen thirteen winters,” Brynjar declares. Einar laughs at his younger brother.
“Yes brother, you have seen only thirteen winters. I have seen fifteen springs. You and I both know that if we were to go on a raid that we go together. We will be able to raid after you have seen your fourteenth winter,” Einar tells his younger brother. His statement causes Brynjar to huff in annoyance; Astrid laughs at her brother’s antics.
“Are you nervous about the raid, Astrid?” Brynjar asks her as Eira walks over to them.
“Hello, sister. To answer your question, Brynjar, no I am not nervous. Honestly I am more excited than anything. I want to see the land, see how the people live, and take what I can,” she says to him. He pauses to consider her answer before he gives her a big smile.
“Will you bring me back something?” he asks her shyly.
“Of course I will,” Astrid says gently as she nudges him.
“I want something too!” Einar exclaims.
“I will bring you the nicest piece of silver that I find. Would you like that?” Eira asks her blonde haired younger brother. Einar eagerly agrees to his eldest sister’s question.
“Do you think you will do battle in England?” Brynjar asks. The two sisters look at each other with a look of questioning. Neither sister is sure what will happen in England. They know that the journey will be rough, although they’re hoping that the seas will be kind to them.
“I do not know,” Astrid answers. “However, if we do, I hope I will come back to you two. If I do not come back, then I am in Valhalla supping with our slain warriors and the Gods.”
“Promise me that you will return,” Einar states as he throws his arms around Astrid. Startled by the extra weight of her brother, Astrid stumbles to the ground. When they fall to the ground, Einar is on top of Astrid and she is immediately taken back to the feeling of Knut on her.
Astrid lies motionless as she is transported back to the night where Knut forced himself upon her. She can hear the sound of the celebration raging on as Knut ruts inside of her. She can hear her pleas and cries for help. The tears are streaming down her face again as tries to force the scream that is threatening to emerge down. Astrid never feels Einar rushing away from her as she still lies motionless on the ground.
Eira sees her sister with her eyes snapped shut. Astrid’s body has gone rigid and Eira knows that she is being reminded of the night Knut raped her. Astrid has not realized that Einar is no longer on top of her. Eira slowly walks over to Astrid as she notices the way that some people are staring at her sister. They too know what she has been reminded of.
“It is okay,” Eira whispers to her. “You are safe. You are loved. It was not your fault. Knut is being surrounded by the fires of Múspell,” she says soothingly. She repeats her words a few times before Astrid opens her eyes. When Astrid opens her eyes, she sees that it is light outside and that her sister is by her side.
“Astrid, please forgive me,” Einar begs. “I did not mean to make you fall and give you bad memories,” he says.
“I know, bróðir. I do not blame you; it was an accident,” she says cooly.
“Nei, I should have been more careful!” Einar exclaims.
“Bróðir, Ek em góðr. I promise that I am okay.” Astrid reassured her brother. “It was an accident.”
“I still should have been careful,” he says.
“Einar, if you blame yourself one more time, I will throw you into the fjord,” she says firmly.
“Fine, fine. I know that you will be true to your word. Shall we continue to help load the boats, or shall we go see if the mid day meal is prepared?” The thought of food makes Astrid’s stomach loudly growl. Her siblings look at her with looks of amusement.
“Come, let us go to the hall before Astrid turns into Fenrir and eats us all,” Brynjar says as he begins to run towards their father’s great hall. With a laugh, Astrid follows after her siblings trying to ignore her thoughts of what Knut did to her.
Arriving at the hall, the children of Thigurd and Manghild see their parents already sitting down to eat; the children hurry to join them. Today, the family eats a meal that consists of pig, berries, cheese, and blackened bread. The pig has been roasted over an open fire. It is crispy, yet tender. Astrid watches as the juices from the pig slides down Thigurd’s mouth. Magnhild watches in amusement as the way her beloved husband eats.
“Verr, must you eat as if you have not eaten in years?” she asks him.
“Kván, I am famished. We are to leave for England this week. I need my strength,” Thigurd replies. Magnhild shakes her head at her husband before she goes back to eating.
Astrid attempts to listen to the conversations around her, but she finds herself wondering what the journey to England will bestow. Will the seas be kind? Do they have enough food for the journey? Will there be sickness over the seas? Are they going to encounter Jörmungandr the Sea Serpent? Or will it be Ægir, the god of the deep sea? The thought of meeting Jörmungandr frightens Astrid, but she knows that she would never reach Valhalla if she ever encountered either of them.
Ægir is known as being the god of the deep sea while his wife, Rán, is known as being the goddess of death in the sea. The pair are known to be greedy and cruel. It is said that sailors must carry pieces of gold at all times in case Rán gets them; if she gets them, she will drag them down to her palace where she will then feast on the drowned sailor. Ægir’s hall is said to be a jovial place. In the hall of the deep sea god, mermaids and nixies seduce the visitors as they drink the mead from the cups that never seem to empty. Despite being off the coast of Hlesey Island, there is no warmth in his hall; the hall is heated by an enchanted pile of gold in the middle of the hall that sits on the floor.
Ægir’s cruelty goes as far as him creating storms on the sea just because he felt like it. Far too many times have ships become shipwrecked, people drawing, and treasures from raids disappearing. If a ship was filled with plunder from raiding, Ægir will take the treasure to put in his hall. The hall of Ægir is believed to be fashioned with the jewels, slivers, and golds from the raids. It is rare, but sometimes he allows for people to return to the surface, but that does not happen too often. However, Ægir is not the only one to be afraid of when on the sea.
Jörmungandr is a sea serpent who is so large that he can circle the earth and grasp his own tail in his mouth. The sea serpent is the child of Angrboða and Loki. Jörmungandr was taken by Odin and tossed into the sea that encircles Miðgarðr. Many Northmen believe that Jörmungandr will finally release his tail one day. On the day that he releases his tail, Ragnarök will occur. The day that this happens will ensure the great battle between Odin’s son, Thor and the sea serpent. It is believed that Jörmungandr will poison the sea and the sky with his tail and that Thor will then kill him. Once Jörmungandr is dead, Thor too will die after walking nine paces away before he succumbs to the serpent’s venom.
Astrid hopes and prays to all of the gods that she does not have to witness Ragnarök; knowing that she may see Ægir, Rán, or Jörmungandr is enough to fill her with such fright. She wishes that their journey to England will be smooth, but she knows that it may not happen. Astrid wants nothing more for everything to go correctly, but she does not believe that it will. Perhaps if they were to make a sacrifice to Ægir, then the sea may be easier on them.
“Dóttir, hvat erð thú ætla til?” Astrid hears her father ask her.
“Forgive me, Father. I was thinking about the god of the deep sea and the sea serpent. Do you think we will encounter them?” she asks.
“I know not, Astrid. Since you have mentioned it, perhaps we should sacrifice to Ægir along with Odin and Thor,” Thigurd suggests. Astrid looks around the table at her family as they consider her father’s words. Magnhild looks deep in thought at her husband’s words, but by the look on her face, Astrid can tell that she agrees with her father. As the agreement is reached, Astrid starts to feel a little better.
After the mid day meal, the family breaks into different groups. Magnhild goes off with Einar, Thigurd with Eira, and Astrid with Brynjar. Astrid and Brynjar decide to help prepare for the sacrifice, although it is not until the next day. Due to a number of warriors leaving, Thigurd wants to fortify the defenses around the village, so Eira decides to help him. When Eira voiced that she wished to help her father, he was slightly taken aback. He was taken aback because Eira has always despised doing anything that did not involve fighting.
Eira grunts as she helps her father pull a sharpened piece of wood into line. Thigurd has this plan of defense in case trouble arrives at their gates. They have gathered and sharpened several large chunks of wood to place in a line; this line will create a fence. The fence is to be angled so that anyone charging towards the village, rather they be on horse or foot, will meet their death once the wood has impaled them. The sharpened fence will be tied together by leathers made from cowhide.
The plan is to tie the fence together to lie it on the ground. Once the fence is on the ground, it is to be covered with grass so that enemies will not see it. While that part of the fence is on the ground, the rest of the fence will be upstanding. The upstanding part is set to be a mix of different angled wood. Thigurd wants each log to be sharpened as well, but one will stand upright while the other angles towards the enemy. Eira thinks that it is a good plan, but she also thinks that some of the archers should be located in the battlements. If archers were located there then they could fire arrows at enemies trying to gain access into the village.
Eira stands back to watch as people gather long straps of cowhide to tie the logs together. She hears the grunts leave their mouths as they lift the logs using all of their strength. She watches in amazement as she observes the way everyone moves to help; she loves seeing her people come together for the betterment of their beloved village. The way that everyone helps without complaints brings a smile to her face. It fills her heart with joy to know how much everyone cares about their home.
“Dottir, what do you think of my defensive plans?” Thigurd calls out to her. Eira shakes her head as if to bring herself out of her head.
“I think they are good. I just wonder what we will do about the South entrance,” she voices.
“I am glad that you have said that. I was thinking that we could create a blockade at that entrance. I have had something specifically made for that entrance. Would you like to see it?” he asks her.
“Of course!”Eira exclaims eagerly as she starts to follow her father. As they walk through the village towards the southern gate, Eira cannot help but notice the energy in the air. People are excited, some are a little afraid, and others seem to be calm. Eira believes that the closer they get to setting sail, the more the mood of Hafrsfjord changes.
As they continue to walk through the village, Eira notices something shimmering in the direction that they are walking to. When they are closer, she realizes that it is the southern gate. The gate is now larger, it has large bolts on it, with a large beam across it. Standing in front of the gate are four guards. They stand with their shields at the back, spear in their hand, and axe at their side; they look formidable. They look ready to defend all of Hafrsfjord on their own.
“Jarl Thigurd,” greets a guard named Olaf. The other guards stand up straighter at the sight of their great earl and his daughter.
“Well, what do you think?” Thigurd asks Eira. Eira is in awe, she has never seen anything so grand before.
“This is incredible. What is it made out of?” she inquires.
“Iron. I believe the iron comes from England. They have stronger iron than we do,” he tells her. Eira looks at him with a puzzled expression on her face. “Do you remember when I told you that we traded with some of the warriors who raided with Ragnar Sigurdsson? Well one of them, Tarben I believe, showed the English iron to your grandfather. By this time, your grandfather was too old to lead the raid to the west, along with him not wanting to, therefore we kept raiding east. While we raided to the east, your grandfather made trade deals with different jarls and their warriors who went to England,” he tells her.
“I do not understand. If this iron came from England, how long would we have had it?” she asks.
“According to anyone who was alive then, Ragnar Sigurdsson made his journey West in 793. My father was an old man, but he was still very much alive. Remember, I was not born until 813. At the time of Ragnar’s first raid, my father was still considered young, when I came along my father had seen well past his sixtieth winter,” he explains to her. Eira thinks it over. If her grandfather had started to save the English iron then it would make sense as to why it is used now. I wonder what else it had been used for, Eira thinks to herself. She wonders if they could have made more stable structures using the iron. Eira listens as her father continues to explain to her the different uses of the English iron. From what she has gathered, it has a lot of value, she just wonders why her father has never raided there before if England has such valuable goods. What has kept Thigurd away from such treasure?
Astrid smiles at her younger brother as he tells her what happened when he played with the other children the prior day. Her brother has always been a jovial boy, playing with the other children has always been something that he enjoyed. He loved to chase the other children around the village. Brynjar tells Astrid how the other children played a game where they tossed a ball around. He says that if someone did not catch the ball, then they were out. Astrid thinks that the game seems a little childish, given Brynjar’s age, but it seems to make him happy.
The two siblings are sitting at the table where they eat as they mix different plants, and roots for the sacrifice tomorrow. In one bowl Brynjar is mixing beets to get a red color, while Astrid is mixing charcoals to get a black color. When the colors are fully mixed, they will be used for their father to paint his face. The black will cover most of his face, while the red will highlight around his eyes, nose, and mouth. It is believed by their people that during sacrifices the Gods are most present. The elders always say that the gods are watching during times such as those.
The thought of the Gods watching makes Astrid wonder if they were there when Knut raped her. If they were there, how come they did not hear her pleas? Why did Freyja not take her to Sessrumnir? Did the Gods believe that she would survive that ordeal? Ever since that night, she continues to see him in her dreams; it is almost like Knut is haunting her. When Knut was inside of her, she thought that she was on fire. The sensation of a forced entry created a feeling of being ripped into two pieces. The way one of his hands roughly roamed her body as he used the other to keep himself steady. That is what Astrid sees every time she closes her eyes. In every dream, she pleads with Freyja all over again before she awakes in sweats.
Brynjar watches as Astrid is mixing the charcoal with a far off look in her eyes. He figures that she is thinking about that night. Astrid does not know, but every night that she awakens from her nightmares, he awakens as well. Brynjar hears Astrid as she gasps for air after she wakes up; although he does not move. Whenever Astrid awakens from such dreams, she will stay awake until first light before she leaves her bed. A few nights ago, Brynjar heard his elder sister call out to Freyja in her sleep; the way she called for the goddess left him with chills.
“Brynjar?” Astrid calls out. “Why have you stopped mixing? Have the beets smoothed enough to be used as paint?” Brynjar does not answer her immediately, he stares at her for a while before he takes a deep sigh.
“I know that you suffer from night terrors. I hear you every night as you awaken, gasping for breaths. You called out to Freyja a few nights ago. I am sorry that I was not there for you; I would have killed him on sight. Ek hata Knut. Hann mein thik!” Brynjar exclaims. He does not like to see either of his sisters in pain. Astrid, who has stopped mixing the charcoal a while ago, looks down at the table. She understands why Brynjar hates Knut, she hates him too, but she needs her brother to understand how she feels.
“Brother, minn bróðir, there is nothing you can do now. I blood eagled him because it was something that he deserved. When I close my eyes at night, I still see him, but I know that he is no longer breathing. Even if I wanted to prevent Knut from raping me, he would have found another way; that vile man had an obsession with since my twelfth winter. I have now seen seventeen winters; Knut spent five winters constantly watching me. When he was inside of me, I prayed to Frejya because I wanted her to take me to her hall at that moment. Sometimes, I still find myself wanting to go with Frejya, but I want my chance at Valhalla more than anything. I want to raid, I want to fight, and perhaps one day I will marry. I do not want Knut to have a hold over me. If I must suffer with nightmares for a while, I will. As I had said to Knut, I refuse to let him break me,” she says sternly. Brynjar stares at her in complete awe. His sister has always been brave, but after what she has been through she is still choosing to be brave; Astrid has become his hero.
“You are the strongest person that I know. I am astonished at your bravery and your continued strength,” he says to her. She shyly smiles as she reaches forward to ruffle his dark hair before she pulls him into a hug.
Brynjar thinks Astrid to be brave and strong, but Astrid does not think she is. Astrid still questions if it was her fault that Knut raped her; she is still struggling to accept that it was not her fault. She is afraid of sleeping due to her nightmares; she hates that she is afraid. How can her brother think her to be brave when she is still afraid of a dead man? Astrid swears to the gods that she will not allow Knut to hold power over her, but when she is alone with her thoughts she feels as though he has won. It seems that no matter how much Eira has told Astrid that it was not her fault, that Knut holds no power over her, that he did not break her, has been for nothing.
Astrid believes that she is still trying to come to terms with everything that has happened over the past few weeks, perhaps she does need this sacrifice. Perhaps this will help cleanse her spirit and mind, at least she hopes that it will. Brynjar mentioned Astrid’s continued strength; she wonders where it comes from. Sometimes she feels as if she could take on the world, other times she still begs for Freyja to take her to Sessrumnir.
If Freyja were to take Astrid, then she would never see her family or friends again. She wants to be able to tell them of her achievements and raids after they have passed before her. Dying would ease Astrid’s pain, but what about her family? Tor? She then realizes that her brother was correct, she is strong. Astrid is strong because every day that her eyes open, she wishes for death, but it never comes. The gods have kept her here, despite her many pleas, for a reason. Astrid knows that despite what has happened to her, she will be a great warrior. Astrid Thigurdsdottir is a name that will never be forgotten.
The moon is in the waxing crescent phase, therefore the sky does not look as bright. The stars are out, but they do not shine brightly, perhaps they are, but the sisters have not noticed it. All around them are fires, laughter, and singing. The atmosphere feels different tonight than the last sacrifice, and Astrid is glad for it. Tonight, the atmosphere feels more free in a sense. Astrid does not have to look over her shoulder as waits for the ceremony to start; she can relax knowing that she is safe.
The sounds of the drums starting to beat slowly, starts to quiet the crowd down. As the drums continue to beat, Eira and Astrid hear the sounds of the rattles that the elders carry. For this sacrifice, they have decided to offer a person to the Gods, but no one knows whom the Gods have chosen. Astrid waits in anticipation as she sees the last elder come down the aisle. Thigurd walks the beat of the drums down the aisle. He is wearing a flowing white tunic and brown trousers. Following him is the person who is to be offered.
Gasps leave the mouths of the people of Hafrsfjord as they see who has been offered to the gods. Eira sees a familiar silhouette walking after her father. This silhouette has a decent build, tattoos that she recognizes along with that mousy blonde hair. A single tear comes down her face as she sees that Tor has been offered for the Gods. Eira feels Astrid grab onto her as she tries to steady herself. Out of everyone that they, the Gods, could have chosen, they had to choose their best friend?
Astrid feels numb. The gods have chosen her best friend as their sacrifice. Why did they choose him? This is not right, but she knows that no one can change the decisions of the Gods. Tor has been Astrid’s friend since they were small children. They have eaten, slept, trained, and fought together. Apart from Eira, Tor is Astrid’s only friend. She tries not to cry as she watches Tor be lowered to his knees while her father places a curved sword over a fire. At that moment, Astrid wishes for Tor to have a quick death, she does not want her friend to suffer.
“Velkmin! Aptann vér smíða einn blóta til vár æsir! Heyra órr bœn!” The words, hear our prayer, are echoed back to Thigurd as he turns in a circle to look at all of those gathered. He sees the solemn faces of his two daughters. He knows that this will hurt them, but he cannot go against the Gods.
“Tor, if you have anything you wish to say to your family or friends, you may do so now,” Thigurd says to him. Tor nods at him before he takes a deep breath.
“Mother, you have raised me alone for all of my life. Do not weep for me, I will be reunited with Father in Valhalla, where we will wait for you to join us. Please take care of my siblings and let them know that I love them,” he says to his mother. Astrid can see from where she is standing how her shoulders shake as she silently cries.
“I will tell them, my son,” she says through tears. Tor looks in the direction of Eira and Astrid.
“Eira and Astrid. The two of you have been my best friends for all of my life. It gladdens me to know that one day we will all meet again in Valhalla. I will save the two of you seats next to me where you shall tell me of the raid to England. I want you both to know that I am grateful to have been your friend. I will see you both again,” he addresses the sisters. “Astrid, you are the strongest person that I know. I look forward to hearing of your achievements when we meet again.”
“I will happily tell you of them one day,” she says with tears streaming down her face. Tor looks towards Thigurd, signaling that he is ready to join his father in the hall of the slain. Thigurd takes the sword away from the fire and slowly walks toward Tor.
“You are aware that you must be silent in order to go to Valhalla?” Thigurd asks him.
“Yes, Jarl Thigurd. I am ready for Valhalla!” he exclaims. The people erupt in cheers and it feels as though it is a proper send off to Tor. Tor feels the hot metal pierce his chest. The pain is excruciating, but he will not scream. Tor looks to Thigurd with wide eyes as Thigurd drags the sword down his abdomen before pushing it deeper into his body. As the sword is roughly pulled out of Tor’s body, he hears cheers, laughing, and singing. He looks up as a shield maiden comes to lift him up. The woman lifts him up with ease, and it is then that he realizes that it is a Valkyrie.
Tor turns to look back at his body, but it is no longer there. The sky around him has changed from the dark sky of night time to a soft pink color. The color almost looks as if it were a sunset. As the Valkyrie is leading him to Valhalla, he looks in awe as he sees other warriors going to the same place that he is. Tor feels as though he is walking on air as the cheerful sounds he initially heard are growing. The louder the sounds get, the closer Tor knows that he is. Suddenly they stop walking at what looks to be a village. Tor looks to the Valkyrie in confusion, but she urges him to continue walking. As he walks through the village, he sees a familiar man sitting outside at a table with a horn of mead in his hand. Behind the man are the tallest gates that he has ever seen. The gates are golden and carved with Runes. From where he is standing, he can see a plethora of people inside of the golden gates.
The man, who has been sitting with his friends, looks up to see Tor standing there. He drops his horn in shock. The two are staring at each other for so long that neither knows who moved first. The only thing that Tor knows is that this man has wrapped him a great hug. He pulls back from the hug to see a pair of eyes that he has not seen in years.
“Hello, Father,” he greets as his father pulls him back into another hug. With a smile on his face, Tor and his father walk back towards his father’s friends. Tor begins to tell his father of everything that has happened since he came to Valhalla. As the two men are exchanging stories, Tor knows that the Gods made the right decision. Tor is happy because it seems that no time has passed between him and his father.
In the two days since Tor died, the daughters of Thigurd Sigurdsson have been in solemn moods. They miss their friend, but they know that he is waiting for them in Valhalla. Tor has probably already told anyone who would listen how Thigurd is planning to sail West; the girls just wish that he was here to see it as well. After Tor fell as he bled out, the sisters promised each other that they would raid in his name. It was supposed to be the three of them going on this raid together, but now there are only two. The girls swore by all of the Gods that they would not let Tor’s name be forgotten; Tor would live on forever.
Eira has not been able to sleep all night. She does not know if it is grief from Tor’s death or if it is excitement.The only thing that Eira knows is that today is the day that they set sail for England. Perhaps being on the open sea again will help boost her spirits. As she swings her legs over the side of her bed, she sees that Astrid is already awake. The two sisters stare at each other for a while before giving each other a nod. It is almost as if they had a silent agreement that being on the sea is what they need.
When they dress, they are sure to pack any other clothing that they may need before rolling everything into a pack to carry with them to the boats. They walk out of their shared quarters to greet their mother and younger brothers before they part. After Magnhild had kissed both girls on their foreheads, their brothers pulled them into a group hug. When they broke from the hug, they smiled at their remaining family one last time before walking towards the docks. As they arrived at the docks, they saw many people hugging or kissing their loved ones goodbye. Amongst those at the docks, they spotted Tor’s mother, Thyra. She briskly walks over to them.
“I know that you wish he was here with you, going with you on this raid. This raid was all he talked about since it was announced. You may already have one, but I wanted you both to have a piece of him with you in England,” she says as she places an object in each of their hands. In Eira’s hand she placed his wolf shaped pendant, whereas in Astrid’s she placed his Thor’s hammer pendant.
“I thank you for this,” Eira says as she fights back tears. This pendant was always Tor’s favourite piece of jewellery that he owned. He brought it because he said that the wolf reminded him of Loki’s son, Fenrir. The pendant of Thor’s hammer was one of the first gifts he received as transitioned from being a boy to becoming a man; his mother and father gifted it to him.
“We will cherish these pendants for all of our lives,” Astrid says to his tearful mother. She pulls the shield maidens into a hug before she departs to go back to her children. With one last small smile at the Thigurdsdottir sisters, she departs as they both put their new pendants around their necks.
They walk down the dock to get into a boat with their father. Around them people are cheering, smiling eagerly, or crying. The sky above them is clear as the sun shines. Each daughter has a purse full of gold coins in case of a storm at sea. With their packs safely stored near their father’s belongings, they smile at each other as they hear the sound of the horns being blown. The horns being blown signify that they are about to pull away from the docks.
Before they know it, some of the warriors and the few shield maidens have begun to row their bow forward. Thigurd and his daughter turn back to look at their remaining family and suddenly they feel indifferent about this journey. No one knows, except the Gods, one of Thigurd’s daughters looks at her home for the final time.
After sailing for what seemed to be two moons, they finally reached land. Their ships have been blown off course and they are unsure of where they are. The journey to this land was treacherous. People fell to Rán and others swear that they saw Jörmunandr. Some of the ships have been damaged, supplies have been lost, but they will make the best of it.
“King Stigr, is this England?” Ivor, a warrior, asks him. The king looks around in confusion at the unfamiliar place.
“I do not believe so. I believe this is Northumbria,” he says.
“How far is it from England?” Thigurd asks.
“I do not believe it to be far.” Astrid looks at her sister as their expressions mirror each other. What is Northumbria? Are they Christians like England? What if they are allies?
“Who is their ruler?” Eira asks King Stigr. The king heaves a sigh before he answers the question.
“They are ruled by a king called King Ælla,” he explains. Astrid wonders where she has heard that name before, that name sounds very familiar.
“He is the man that killed Ragnar Lodbrok! Who is to say he will not kill us next?” Eira hears someone exclaim.
“He killed Ragnar using a snake pit! By all of the Gods, I could be next. I heard that this king will kill any Northman who dares to step onto his shores,” a warrior named Erik expresses in a mix of fear and anger. Thigurd runs a hand through his graying hair as he tries to make a decision about what they should do. Thigurd is so far into his thoughts as those around him argue that he does not hear his daughters approach him. He feels a small hand on his shoulder as he raises his head to meet his daughter’s faces staring back at him.
“Father, what shall we do?” Eira asks.
“I do not know, Eira. What do you think we should do? If this king wants to kill all Northmen, what are we going to do?” he says. He looks to Astrid to see that the plan is already forming in her head. “Astrid, I can see that look in your eyes. What are you thinking?”
“I think we should stay, Father. If this King Ælla wants to send us to Valhalla, then I say we let him try. We have landed right here on his beach and yet no Saxons have come for us. I say we make camp. If this king wants to treat with us or exchange a hostage we will do it. If he wants a battle, then we will give him a battle. Father, this is the raid of our lives. We will be leaving this land with new riches and treasures. If some of us go to Valhalla at least we will get the fight of a lifetime,” she says with a far off gleam in her eyes. The family had not realized that those around them had stopped arguing with each other until they heard the sounds of cheers fill the air.
“Lady Astrid is right! This is our chance for glory! This is our chance to impress the Gods, for we know they will be watching,” King Stigr says. Eira looks around as people are pumping their fists in the air. Of course the Gods are watching, this will be a raid that no person will ever forget, Eira thinks to herself.
Eira thinks about what Astrid has said about this being the raid of their lives. Eira and Astrid have been going on raids together for over three summers, despite Astrid still being young on her first raid. Eira has a feeling that something will happen on this raid and it will change their lives forever, but she does not know what it is. Perhaps, they will take enough riches to fill the ships. Maybe they will not need to have a battle in this land, maybe their king is too afraid of them and fears for his life. All of Eira’s thoughts are swarming inside of her head; it is making her feel overwhelmed.
Eira shakes her head a bit as she tries to relax her breathing. Although she is outside, she feels as if everything is closing in on her. Her chest tightens as she tries to catch her breath. Eira wants everything to go according to plan, but a part of her knows that it will not. This is what is making her feel like this. She looks around as she sees her people walking between the beach and the trees as they set us camp. As her chest continues to rapidly heave, she grabs onto the wolf pendant that was given to her as she searches for her younger sister.
Astrid feels eyes burning a hole into her side as she turns to search for the person that they belong to. She spots her sister clutching the wolf pendant from Tor’s mother; her knuckles are turning white from how hard she is gripping it. Astrid looks her over as she realizes that Eira’s chest is rapidly moving. Astrid breaks into a sprint in order to get to her sister before Eira can start to shake. As she runs through the sand, she can feel the eyes of her people watching her. When Astrid reaches her sister, she wraps her arms around and begins to count.
“Eira, listen to my voice. Will you count with me, please?” she softly asks her. Eira shakily starts to count as Astrid joins her. While continuing to keep her arms around her sister, Astrid can feel Eira start to relax. As Eira slows her counting down, Astrid knows that she is close to feeling okay enough to speak.
“I am sorry,” Eira says softly. “Here I am too much into my own head when I have no right to be. I just cannot help but feel it. I fear that something will happen that will change us.”
“What do you think will happen?” Astrid asks her. Eira looks down at her feet for a moment.
“I fear that one of us will die here.”
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. This piece first appeared in One Twenty One.
About the Artist
harana · University of California
harana is a senior design major at UC Davis whose art is shaped by her identity as a Pilipinx-American immigrant. Ano Nakikita Mo appeared originally in the University of California -wide Matchbox Magazine. You can find more of her work as an artist on instagram @harana_, and her work as a designer at EmiliaTongson.com. This piece originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of plain china.