Opulent, Taharah Islam
(continued from The Shield Maidens of Hafrsfjord, Part Three)
Two days have passed since the chaos of the poisoned chests. The chests of silver and gold have been buried deep within the woods of Northumbria. The last two days have been filled with anxiety and dread as battle approaches. Eira has not slept; she feels that her sister or father will disappear before her very eyes. She watches Astrid from afar, still unsure of how to approach her. She has never seen her younger sister that angry with anyone before, let alone her. She shakes her head as she recalls Astrid’s words.
Her sister wants to die. Does Astrid believe that Eira is supposed to be okay with that? They are each other’s closest friend. How could Eira ever survive in a world without Astrid watching her back? Who would she go swimming with? Who would she train with? By all the Gods they fight side by side. If Astrid were to die, she would be taking a part of Eira with her. If she dies, I will not be far behind her, Eira thinks to herself.
Is she a terrible sister? She was so caught up in what she had seen in her dreams that she did not even stop to consider how Astrid is still feeling. Eira once again questions if she knows her sister as well as she believes she does. Eira does feel bad for the way that she has hovered over her sister, but she is afraid of what she saw coming true. Maybe she should apologize to Astrid, but would she want to hear what Eira has to say? She decides against reaching out to her sister; they can talk after the battle.
Astrid has been thinking about Eira and the way she has hovered over her. Astrid knows that Eira is only trying to protect her, but Astrid feels that Eira cannot protect a person who wishes to die. Astrid did not mean to tell her elder sister that she was already dead, but it seemed that the words spewed from her mouth on their own. The look on Eira’s face when Astrid admitted her true feelings was a mixed look of horror and sadness. The past two days, Astrid has felt Eira watching her from a distance; it makes Astrid want to talk to her, but she decides against it. There will be time for the two sisters to talk after the battle.
Thigurd had noticed the behavior between his daughters, who were usually joined at the hip. He figured that they must have had an argument, which is a rare occurrence for them. He can barely recall them ever arguing, except for one time during Astrid’s first raid. It was a bad argument, but both of their tempers were flared so neither would speak to the other first.
They were on a raid to the east along the coast of the Eastern Roman Empire near the Baltic Sea. Astrid had only seen fourteen winters, whereas Eira had just seen her sixteenth spring. They were excited to see a part of the Roman Empire, after only hearing about it through stories. Both girls knew that there would be a possibility that they would have to do battle, but they were hoping that they could just raid.
They had been sailing for a few weeks seeing as they had to sail around Norway in order to sail south to Denmark. The girls were tired of rowing, their backs hurt, they desperately wanted to have a wash, and Eira had started her moontime for the month; Eira was in a great amount of pain. When they finally reached east, Eira did not care to know what land they were on; she was thankful that they could finally stop rowing. Both of the sisters helped unload the boats, but Eira stopped helping once her pains became too much. Astrid saw to putting their tent together and gathering supplies for Eira to go wash because she smelled of blood mixed with a strong odor that only the other shield maidens could recognize.
Eira went down to wash with Astrid standing guard. The two sisters were silent and Eira was grateful for the silence. She did not want to speak to anyone due to the way she felt her irritation boiling at the surface. Her younger sister seemed to be the only person whom she could tolerate. Astrid knew that Eira was constantly irritable whenever she had her moontime; therefore she would try to placate Eira whenever she was around her.
While Eira washed in the river, Astird took in her surroundings. The trees were so tall that they almost kissed the wispy white clouds that dressed the blue sky. The sun shone in all directions, but the trees provided a nice shade from the sun’s rays. The river was almost green in color when standing away from it, but as one draws closer they see that it’s a blue-green color. There are weeds along the shore of the river where different colored flowers grow; the flowers range in colors from yellow to purple. Astrid has never seen anything so beautiful.
Different birds soar above them as Astrid watches with a smile on her face. She watches as a bird swoops down to land on a tree branch that is less than thirty paces away from her. With Astrid being lost in her thoughts, she does not hear Eira call for her to bring her clean clothes. Eira was frustrated because she had called Astrid’s name twice, but her sister did not hear her. Feeling as if she has no other choice, Eira looked around for something that may grasp Astrid’s attention. Eira ends up finding a rock that is a decent size despite being a little rough on its sides. She hurled the rock at Astrid’s head. Upon feeling something hit her head, Astrid’s head snapped in the direction that it came from to find her sister as the culprit.
“What in Odin’s name is wrong with you?!” Astrid screeches at her sister.
“You did not hear me calling for you,” Eira replies smugly. “I have called your name twice so that you could bring me clean clothes; you would have heard me had you not been in your head.” Eira walks out of the water towards her sister who still wears a stunned expression upon her face.
“I did not hear you so you decided to throw a sharp rock at me?”
“What else was I supposed to do? Quit your complaining, you are not the one that is having her moontime,” Eira says as dries her body with a large rag before she takes an article of clothing from Astrid’s arms.
“Why must you behave like this during your moontime? You behave if you are the only woman who has pain during her moontime. My moontime comes more often than yours does and I never behave the way you do. I swear by Mjölnir hitting the sky that I cannot put with you during this time. You turn into a completely different person. You talk down to anyone just because you are in pain, but when someone suggests that you lie down or stop what you are doing that only sets you off on throwing insults on people. Perhaps due to you being the jarl’s eldest daughter people say nothing, but I will not hold back any longer,” Astrid says breathlessly.
“I do not behave in a certain manner. If I do then I should be allowed to; I feel as if my womb is going to fall out of my body. You do not know what it is like, I rarely see you complain about your moontime.”
“I do not complain about mine because I know that every woman goes through it. Eira, you are one of the lucky women because you only bleed every other full moon, whereas I bleed multiple times during one moon. I do not understand why my body is like this, but the point I am trying to make is that I do not behave the way you do when I am in pain. I do not take my irritation out on you or anyone else. When I am irritated, I swing my axe or go for a walk; sometimes I make carvings. I would have never let my irritation get me to the point where I throw something that could hurt someone at another person. Finish dressing, Father wants us to sup with him and the others around the fire,” Astrid says before she walks away from Eira.
Eira ponders what Astrid has said to her. She admits that she should not have thrown a rock at Astrid; she could have just walked up to her. Maybe Eira just felt like hurting someone because she was in pain, but she knows that it is a terrible excuse. Astrid was right; Eira is a downright terror during her moontime. Could this be the reason that she does not have many friends apart from Tor and Astrid? Great, now my sister is upset with me because I behaved like a child, she thinks to herself. Eira huffs in frustration as she puts strips of cloth between her legs before pulling up her loose fitting trousers. Once she is feeling secured enough, Eira walks to rejoin the warriors in the camp.
Upon returning to the camp, Eira finds her father looking at her with a look of disappointment strewn across his face. Forcing her eyes to the ground, Eira knows that she must apologize for her behavior towards her sister. She hates to see Astrid upset, but knowing that she has upset her sister fills her with shame. Eira wants to talk to Astrid, but she knows that Astrid needs time to herself. Eira hopes that she and Astrid will be able to speak to each other soon; who knows how long this raid will last?
Eira shakes her head at the memory of the last time her sister and she had a bad argument. Much like their previous one, Astrid refuses to talk to Eira. Eira prays to the Gods that Astrid will talk to her soon; if she does not talk to her now, she may never get the chance to. She continues to watch Astrid as she sits with the warriors around the fire. Astrid is smiling, but her smile is dull and she wears a far away look on her face. Could Astrid be thinking what Eira is thinking?
Thigurd sits back as he watches his two daughters. He almost calls them over to where he is, but he decides against it; the two sisters can work whatever it is out by themselves. The earl takes to seeing how his daughters, who are typically always together, interact with each other during one of their sister spats. He watches as Eira has a look of sadness on her face, whereas Astrid still looks lost. I hate to see them this way, Thigurd thinks himself.
“Eira, komhír,” Thigurs beckons to his eldest child. Spotting her father sitting further away from the fire, she walks over to him feeling Astrid’s eyes on her.
“Já, Faðir?” She asks as she reaches him. Thigurd motions for her to sit next to him; he passes her a drink as she settles beside him.
“What has your sister and you so far from each other?” he asks. Eira lets out a deep sigh and swishes the mead around in her cup.
“My dreams. I saw that one of us will die here, Father. I know not if it is Astrid, you or myself. I have been trying to keep you both safe; it is why I have been following or constantly watching you. Astrid pulled me away a few days ago and Father, I did not think that my hovering made her feel this way,” she says before she starts to cry. Thigurd wraps an arm around her and brings her into his side. His baby. His eldest child has been plagued with such dreams and he knew nothing about it. She has only seen nineteen springs, she should not bear such a weight on her shoulders this young.
“Are you certain that one of us will die, minn ljós?” he asks her. She shakily nods her head as she tries to smile at the use of the endearment her father has called her. Eira has always been his light, although she feels a little dull at this moment.
“I saw it, Father. I know not which one of us, but one of us will die in this land,” she tells him after a moment.
“Well, if I am to die, tell your mother that I fought well and that I will see her in Valhalla,” he says.
“Father no. You will not die,” Eira says.
“Eira, I have lived a full life. If your dreams come to pass, I will be the one to die. I will not lose you or your sister. You both will live your lives to the fullest that way when you are much older, you can join your mother and I in the hall of the slain, where we will feast together until it is time for us to fight one last time,” he tells her. The thought of losing her father makes her start to cry again. How could she live in a world without her father? She would never survive, just as she would never survive should Astrid die before her.
“We will see who joins the Gods on the morrow, Father. Please, try to sleep. May the Gods keep you,” she says as she slowly stands. Thigurd stands with her and pulls her into a bone crushing hug.
As Eira walks back to her shared tent with Astrid, Astrid watches from across the fire what Eira and their father were talking about. She saw her shoulders shake as if she were crying and her father pulled her into his side. Has everything finally taken a toll on her? Astrid hates seeing her sister stressed out in any way, but she is not ready to speak to Eira yet. Maybe Astrid is behaving like a small child, but all she wanted was for Eira to understand how she feels. She sighs as she gets up from the log that she was sitting on. Tomorrow is the day that battle will occur; tomorrow Astrid may finally get her wish. When she walks into the tent, Eira is already asleep. Astrid sits on her bed to take off her boots before she settles into bed.
“Good night, Eira,” she whispers as she finally settles into bed to close her eyes. What Astrid did not know was that Eira hears her, but does not respond. Instead of responding aloud to her sister, Eira says a silent good night to her younger sister with her back still turned.
She awakes to shaking. As her eyes open, she sees her father standing over her. Eira’s stomach is filled with a mix of nerves and anxiety; she wants to vomit. Today is the day. Today will show if Eira’s dreams will come true. Astrid’s side of the tent is cleared of her shield and weapons; she left without waking Eira. As she sits up, Thigurd leaves to give her time to dress. Eira slowly pulls on her armor. Her armor is made of black leather. It has no particular style other than it fits her perfectly. She quickly ties it at the sides before securing her weapon’s belt. Once her sword and axe are in place, she grabs her shield and leaves her tent without a second glance.
Astrid rose early; she slept fitfully. It could have been due to Eira’s dreams, her wish for death, or Knut still haunting her. As she silently put her boots on, she looked over to her sister who slept with a frown on her face. Typically, Astrid would wake her and they would dress together, however they are currently not speaking. We will speak soon, Astrid thinks to herself. After making sure her sword and axe were secured in their proper spots, she grabbed her shield and left their tent. As she reached the opening of the tent, she looked back at her still sleeping sister. With a sigh, she exited the tent.
Eira looked around for Astrid, but she could not find her. When she asked where she was, she was told that Astrid’s flank went to get into position so they left earlier. Her shoulders sagged in sadness when she heard this; she at least wanted to make things right with Astrid before battle. After quickly eating, Eira clutches the wolf pendant given to her by Thyra, Tor’s mother.
“Tor, my dear friend, please be with us today,” she says while still clinching the pendant. With her eyes closed and a deep breath, Eira leaves to go with the other flank.
This is the first battle where Eira and Astrid will be separated. Both girls are a ball of nerves this morning. As they walk into the woods from the left side, Astrid thinks about how Eira felt about not seeing her there when she woke this morning. If Astrid had swallowed her pride, she probably would have hugged her sister goodbye and wished her luck in battle. Shaking her head, Astrid sees the group stop walking. This is it, she thinks to herself. She has a great deal of hope that Eira’s plan will work. They are far enough that the Saxons would not be able to see them, but they can still see what is happening. The plan of action for the flanks is that when they hear the horn blow for the second time, they are to come out of their hiding spots with the catapults.
Each flank has two catapults, while the main army has the other three. Several people will push the catapults out. A few people will be staying behind to light the catapults as well as launch them, while the rest charge to encircle the Saxons. Astrid will be charging, she voted against having to push the catapults. Astrid feels nervous, but excited; she cannot wait to see how the Saxons fight. Although she is still worried about Eira, she is also worried about her father because she did not see him before leaving. Her father usually hugs her, kisses her forehead, and wishes her luck before battle. It is alright, I will see Father after we have achieved our victory.
Thigurd is with King Stigr and the main army. The main army consists of his friends, and subjects. King Stigr seems eager to battle the Saxons again, but Thigurd is anxious. He is so anxious it feels as if his nerves are going to devour him whole. His daughters are in each flank and not together as they usually are; he does not like that. They may be each other’s weaknesses, but they fight better together. He wishes he could have seen Astrid before she left, but he knows that he will see her again soon.
Thigurd’s thoughts trail back to the conversation that he had with Eira. If today is the day that either he or his girls die, he would wish for it to be him. If he has to return to Hafrsfjord without them, Magnhild will be beside herself; she may wish to burn the world to the ground. He hopes that Eira’s dreams prove to be false, but he will not find out until the battle has been won. I will see my girls soon, he thinks to himself. The earl shakes his head as he lets out a small chuckle. His daughters are two of the best shield maidens that he has ever known; his daughters will live. Yet, a small part of him fears that one of them will not be returning home with him.
The main army has walked for a time in order to get into position. The field that has been chosen has a large hill that the Northmen must climb. A number of people will push the catapults up the hill at the time where they are needed. For now, those people will stay back until the horn has been blown for the flanks to join them in the encirclement. As they climb the hill they are silent, but expectant. They are curious to see the size of the army that the King of Northumbria has, along with seeing how they fight. As the main army, being led by King Stigr and Earl Thigurd Sigurdsson, reach the top of the hill, they are slightly taken aback by the size of the Saxon army. How can so many Saxons fight for a man like King Ælla?
King Ælla sits atop his white horse as he watches the Northmen reach the top of the hill. Of course they are small in number, how could those barbarians ever manage to band together, he thinks to himself. He laughs at seeing their number. The King of Northumbria will destroy their small army and rid them from his lands. He can feel the excitement bubbling in his stomach and in the air around him. His commanders are eager to please their king and their God. They are fighting to keep their beloved Northumbria from being run by Godless heathens.
“For Northumbria! For our God! For our king!” the Saxons cry out before they charge towards the group of awaiting Northmen.
On the side of the Northmen, they see the king laugh. The plan is working, he believes the main army to be the full army. The Saxons have no idea what is coming for them, but the Northmen cannot wait to show them.
“Shield wall!” Thigurds orders when he sees the Saxons start to charge towards them.
“Brace!” King Stigr yells as the sound of a horn being blown is heard.
“Hold the wall and do not break!” Thigurd says. The impact from the Saxons charging towards them almost makes the shield break, but it holds. At the back of the wall, the archers are firing numerous arrows while the front of the wall are using the small gaps in the wall to pierce through the Saxons. At Thigurd’s command, the wall is opened for a split second in order to trap some of their enemies.
“We must push them back!” someone yells over the commotion of steel clashing against steel. It almost looks like the suggestion was not heard as the Saxons are starting to use more force.
“Jarl Thigurd!” a warrior named Torben calls out. “We must sound the horn again, they will kill us all if we do not sound it,” he says from behind Thigurd.
“Sound the horn!” Thigurd orders. When the sound of the horn has been heard, the two flanks emerge from their hiding places in the trees. Among each flank are Thigurd’s daughters.
Astrid sat in the woods as she waited for the second blow of the horn to sound. The battle has started and King Ælla has a large army, but he does not know about the two flanks hiding in the woods with catapults. Astrid wonders if Eira is watching the battle as she is or if she is being plagued by her dreams. Astrid has decided that if today is the day she should sup with Odin, then she is glad for it; for she would finally be at peace. Despite her decision, she knows that it will kill her family should the Gods decide to grant her death wish. When the second blow of the horn is heard, Astrid springs to her feet and pulls her axe from its place in her belt. With her shield in front of her, Astrid charges into what could be her final battle.
Eira stood as close as she could while she watched the beginning of the battle. On the other side of the woods, Astrid is doing the same thing. Eira has never been more anxious about a battle than she is about this one. She has been hoping that her dreams would start to clear and she would see which of her family members would die, but they have not cleared. Someone that Eira loves will be supping with the Gods by the end of this battle. If it is to be her who goes to Valhalla, she will happily wait there for the rest of her family to join her. When the sound of the horn being blown for a second time can be heard, Eira knows that it is time for the Gods to decide. Who will join the Allfather tonight?
The battle between the Northmen and the Saxons of Northumbria is in full swing. With the catapults being launched, the ground and people are on fire. As bodies start to fall towards the ground due to being burned, the Northmen are able to encircle them in the middle of the chaos. Saxons are flailing their arms and legs as they try to stop their flesh from burning, but it is no use. The metal chainmail that they wear quickly catches the fire and starts to burn their bodies. The Northmen at the catapults watch with glee as their enemies burn to death, before they too charge into battle.
The air around her is thick with emotions and burning flesh as the battle rages on. The rich soil of Northumbria is now forever stained with the blood of the Northmen and the Saxons. All around her, Astrid hears the sound of steel swords clamoring against axes, swords and shields. The dark green leaves from the trees that they hid in blow the scents of sweat, determination, anger, and burnt bodies towards her. She wishes that she could take a moment to breathe, but she knows that if she does the Saxon men in brightly shining armor will kill her. Astrid ducks as a Saxon comes rushing towards her with this sword pointed at her chest; she quickly takes her axe and buries it in the man’s side. She watches for a second as the man’s once shining armor is now seeping red.
As Astrid continues to kill other Saxons, Thigurd is engaged with a Saxon almost as big as himself. If this is what it is like fighting himself, he understands why some people run in the other direction. This man does not seem to tire; he is making it his mission to try to kill Thigurd. The way the two men move around each other is almost like a dance. As the Saxon takes a strike at Thigurd is able to quickly dodge his strike while landing his own in the process. Thigurd managed to slice the man in his side, but it only slowed him down a little. As he lunges for Thigurd again, Thigurd falls to the ground on one knee before completely slicing the man’s body in half. As blood splatters across Thigurd’s face, he lets out a battle cry of his own before continuing to engage with the enemy.
While Thigurd was engaged with the man that he sliced in half, Eira was struggling to land a hit on her Saxon. This man was the size of two Thigurds; she has never seen someone so large before. He is a resilient fighter, but Eira cannot allow him to live. If she could just manage to catch him off guard so that she could kill him. As the pair circle around each other, Eira lunges at him. The sound of his sword clashing with hers is the only sound that she can hear; it is as if she has become deaf to the world around her. When the Saxon finally knocks her to the ground and is prepared to stab her through her heart with his sword, Eira kicks his legs out from under him which sends him tumbling to the ground. Using her axe, Eira buries it in the man’s chest before slitting his throat with his own sword. She closes her eyes as his blood is splattering over her. When her eyes open, she sees a sight that knocks the wind from her.
Astrid has been handling her own very well; she managed to kill every Saxon that she has come into contact with. In the back of her mind, she thinks that this may have been the best plan that Eira has come up with. Apart from dodging burning bodies, Astrid would say that she is dominating in this battle; she is fighting like has never fought before. As she kills one Saxon man, another comes running into her path. Unlike the others, this one does not wear a helmet on his head. This Saxon has dark hair, green eyes, a large nose, and thin lips. Above his left eyebrow is the start of a long scar that curves down to his cheekbone. Blood splatters on his face and he wears a look of hatred.
All it takes is a few seconds before he lunges at Astrid. When the man tries to stab Astrid, he misses her because she stepped away causing him to trip. When he turned around to face Astrid he wore a look of fury before they both charged at each other. Astrid and the man met axe against sword. He may have been stronger than her, but it did not stop Astrid from pushing the man away enough so that she could lodge her axe in his chest. As he fell, Astrid watched with glee. She yanked her axe from his chest to see that his chest was rising and falling very slowly; she could not have that so she picked up a sword off of the ground and stabbed the man in his heart. As she twisted the sword, he started to gargle and eventually spit blood before he died.
While she was twisting the sword in the Saxon’s chest, another one came up behind her and put a sword through her sister’s chest. As he yanked the sword out, Astrid fell to the ground. Eira felt rage overcome her. She let out a loud scream before she started to cut down any Saxon that came her way as she was trying to reach her sister. Please, she thinks to herself.
As Eira watched her sister fall in battle, King Stigr was busy slaying the Saxon army. When a Saxon about the size of Earl Thigurd’s daughter Astrid came running to him, he raised his sword in the air and slashed his body in half. With blood covering him, the Norse king continued to kill the Christian army of Northumbria’s king. King Stigr spins to his left side as he hears someone charging towards him. As the green Saxon charges, the king watches as he is taken out by Tarben. Battle could not be more beautiful than it is at this moment, King Stigr thinks to himself. He wonders how Jarl Thigurd and his daughters are faring; he decides not to ponder on them for too long, for he will see them once they are victorious against the Saxons.
While King Stigr continues to fight the Christians, Astrid lay on the ground as blood pooled out of her body. She was in pain and wanted the pain to end. She turned her head towards the sky and noticed that it changed colors. When did the sky change colors? The sky which was once blue is now a light pink color, the color that one would see during a sunset. As she sits up, she realizes that she is not in pain anymore. She looks around her and sees a woman dressed in armor with a large axe strapped to her side. The woman has long flowing blonde hair, bright blue eyes and a hooked nose that suits her freckled face perfectly. The woman carries a sword and an axe on her side. Could she be? This woman must be a Valkyrie. The Valkyrie extends her long arm towards Astrid and she helps her up. The woman begins to lead Astrid down a long path and past a wooden fence. As they start to approach, Astrid hears singing, laughter, and toasting. A single tear slides down Astrid’s face as she realizes where she is going.
With a newfound eagerness, Astrid continues to walk down the path. As she walks, the sound that she heard starts to get louder. She is almost at the entrance when she hears her name being called. That voice. It could not be, could it? She turns around to see Eira running down the path towards her.
“Hví eru Þú hí?” Astrid asks her. She is feeling confused; the last time she saw Eira, she was still sleeping in their shared tent.
“After I saw the Saxon stab you, I went on a small rampage trying to get to you. By the time I reached you, you were already gone. I was crying and I kept screaming,” she says softly. “I never even felt the sword enter my body. I was lying on the ground next to you when I saw the sky change colors. The next thing I knew, I was following a Valkyrie and I saw you.”
“I am sorry for how I have treated you the last few days,” Astrid says to her while looking at her feet. Eira smiles as she lifts Astrid’s face with her hands.
“I am sorry too. I should have realized how you were feeling. Am I forgiven?” she asks sheepishly.
“Yes, sister,” Astrid says while laughing. “You are forgiven. Now let us go join the other fallen warriors.” The two sisters link arms and continue their walk to the entrance. As they stand outside of the gates of Valhalla, they see guards on the ramparts as people walk around. Smiling at each other, the girls walk through the gates of Valhalla. When they walk through, they are amazed by the number of people they see.
As they walk, they hear a mix of their language and the old language. They see people toasting, laughing, telling stories, and fighting. They look around them in awe at the hall itself. This is the place that they dreamed of most all of their lives and now they are here; they are in Valhalla together. They are impressed by the giant golden doors that are open which lead to the actual hall. As they peer inside of the hall, they see that there are even more people. Sitting at the high table is the Allfather himself with his wife sitting next to him. They look so relaxed here, but the girls know that Odin is still watching; Odin is always watching. They were going to walk into the hall when they heard a familiar laugh. Looking to see where it came from they find Tor standing with a group of men.
“Tor!” Astrid exclaims. Upon hearing his name, Tor’s head snapped in the direction that the voice came from.
“Astrid! Eira!” he exclaims as he runs over to hug his friends. “What are you two doing here? I thought you were going on the raid to England? How long have I been dead?” he started to question.
“We did go to England. Tor it is everything that we ever dreamed of,’’ Eira begins.
“However, England is where we were fated to die. We died in battle. We fought hard,” Astrid continues.
“You always said that you were going to die in battle, Astrid. Come, meet my father.” The trio, finally back together, walk over to the group of men that Tor was standing with. The man that Tor introduces as his father looks exactly like him. Astrid wonders would Tor have looked like him if they lived longer?
“Who are you two?” Tor’s father, Calder, asks.
“I am Astrid and this is my elder sister, Eira,” she says. Eira shyly smiles as one of the men perks up when he hears her name.
“Eira? I have a niece named Eira. She is my brother, Thigurd’s, first child,” he says solemnly. The two sisters look at each other with a look of recognition.
“Gudbrand Sigurdsson?” Eira asks.
“Yes, that is my name.”
“Hello, Uncle. I fear it has been a while since you died. I am Eira, I have seen nineteen springs now. Astrid was born two winters later; she has seventeen winters,” Eira says softly. Gudbrand looks at her with tears welling in his eyes.
“My family,” he says as he engulfs the two shield maidens into a group hug. Between crying and hugging, the daughters of Thigurd tell their uncle everything he has missed since he came to Valhalla nineteen springs ago.
The three of them, along with Tor and his father, spend the night talking. They watch as people kill each other, listen to stories, and meet some of their heroes. Although they are happy to be in Valhalla, they cannot help but think about their family. How will their mother react? Has Odin already told Magnhild that her daughters are with him? What about their younger brothers? Their father? Their father brought them to England with him at their insistence, now he must return home without him. With both girls so lost in their thoughts they almost missed seeing their fellow warriors enter the gates of Valhalla. The girls both had drinks in their hands as they welcomed their warriors from the raid in England to Valhalla with smiles on their faces. The two sisters cannot wait for the day where they can welcome their mother, father, and brothers; until then they will happily wait amongst the fallen.
He sailed back to Hafrsfjord with no joy over the raid. The lights of his life are gone. He knows that Lord Odin has taken them, but that does not make it hurt any less. His Eira and Astrid. Two headstrong young women with determination in their eyes. They were he and Gudbrand come again. They fought side by side, back to back. Wherever there was one, the other was not far behind.
When their ship first arrived at the dock, he could not even enjoy the sound of people welcoming their loved ones back. His wife, Magnhild was standing at the end of the dock with their two sons, all of whom had red puffy eyes. Lord Odin came to them; he has told them that the girls are in Valhalla waiting for them to join them there. Magnhild, who is usually very put together, has not dared to comb her hair or change from her shift. When Thigurd reaches her, she collapses in his arms as she starts to sob again. Their people, ever so attentive, fall silent as they hear their Lady’s wailing.
“As many of you know,” Thigurd begins. “I went on a raid to England. I took two very important shield maidens with me; my daughters. When we landed on that island, we landed in a kingdom called Northumbria. It is rich in soil, and they do have treasures that we have never seen. Their king tried to trick us, but my Astrid saw the plot and warned us. Astrid’s warning saved our lives, but took hers. My daughters, Eira and Astrid went to Valhalla together. They are supping with the Gods and our other fallen warriors. My daughters are waiting for my wife, their brothers, and myself to join them one day.” Thigurd stops speaking as he feels the ball of emotion swell in his throat.
“We must feast in their honor, my Lord,” someone says. This raises a chorus of agreements. Magnhild pulls back from Thigurd to look at him.
“They want to feast in honor of our daughters? We will do it. We will gather all of their favorite foods, have music, and tell stories about them,” Magnhild starts. She stops speaking because her emotions overcome her again.
“We will never forget them. They protected all of us. They cared for all of us. They were young, but they had great ambition. They will forever be the shield maidens of Hafrsfjord.”
Somewhere far off, two sisters can hear people chanting their names. They look down with smiles on their faces. They did everything they said they would do, but most of all they did it together. Two girls. Two friends. Two sisters who never left each other’s side. Two sisters that happened to be shield maidens from the small village of Hafrsfjord that is ruled by their father Jarl Thigurd Sigurdsson.
When the day comes that Magnhild, Thigurd, Brynjar, or Einar should join the two sisters, they will be the ones to lead them to the hall of the slain. When that day comes, it will be their mother’s final raid. She will die with honour and Astrid will greet her. Thigurd will have to live without the love of his life for a while, but not for long because Eira will bring him back to her when they join together in Valhalla. The two boys, who will be the last of their family, will die in the way that their sisters before them did, side by side. When both Einar and Brynjar awaken, they will be greeted by two people that they love most, apart from their parents, their sisters.
That is how it went. Each daughter took one of their parents, then they both took their brothers. The family is finally whole again; they live again. Now, they watch as their friends join them or come over from Frejya’s hall to visit them. They drink, they play games, sing, they enjoy being with each other again. All is right in the world, even if it is changing. They came, they fought, now they rest. They rest until the day all of the doors Valhalla open and they must march out to fight in the great battle. For now, they enjoy their lives as they sup with the Allfather.
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
Taharah Islam · George Mason University
Taharah Islam is majoring in biology with a minor in psychology at George Mason University. She enjoys working with chalk pastel and oil-based colored pencil and is actively involved in The Memory Project, creating portraits for children in different countries. In 2017, she earned first place at the Virginia’s 11th District Congressional Art Competition. As an aspiring physician, her interest in the relationship between medicine and art inspired this piece, which first appeared in Volition. This piece was first featured in plain china in 2021.