CHOOSERS OF THE SLAIN
Vol. One of The Valkyrie
Based on the Old Norse Sagas of the Nibelungenlied and the Volsungensaga, this is the story of Brynhild who escapes death as a sacrifice in the spring ritual only to become a Valkyrie in service to the war god Odin. She and her sister battlemaidens can turn the tide of any battle--but this, too, calls for sacrifice, more than many can bear.
. . .
And then, come fall...
The god came.
I don’t remember what mundane errand I was about when he came, what basket of new wool I was carrying to my aunt in the next hamlet, or what herbs I had just gleaned from the heath for winter drying. But I do remember where I was – on the path of dust that ran along the lower field my ancestors’ ancestors had cut from native woods, where we’d grown, or tried to grow, oats that year.
And I do remember that I had a premonition of his presence before he even appeared. Something in the field made me look up from the path and in that direction. A sudden stillness, perhaps as the birds forgot their usual carefree chatter while gleaning the new-cut field. I stopped to see what this presence might mean and saw only dusty heat waves rising from the denuded field. In the next plot, still uncut, the grain became possessed by the shadow of a single cloud blowing by and shivered the way a dog’s coat does when you scratch his spine – nothing more.
They used to tell us, when we were children, that an old woman in the wheat might steal you away if you ran off in the grain to play. I was old enough to realize that this ruse kept children from trampling and ruining the crop. So might all the Vanir gods be, simply boggles. So might Odin be.
I turned back to the path. I had learned that keeping my hands full made the time pass quicker, and my time was always spent in waiting. Three more steps ... waiting for what, I knew not. Until he came.
Something made me scan the field again that afternoon and there, feeding at the last sheaf, the sheaf left for Odin, stood a horse. My first thought was, Who dares such sacrilege to eat from Odin’s sheaf? Then I saw it was no ordinary horse, but a monstrosity, a horse with eight legs. Then it became clear this was no monstrosity, but divine – Sleipnir, the magic fleet-footed horse of Odin, the horse for whom the sheaf was left.
And then, there was the god, leaning on his staff before the horse and watching me. He was tall with solid width in proportion, and not the slightest stoop to his shoulders, although his beard lent him age. It hung like a massive clump of grey-blue icicles spun from the house eaves on a day fit only for whittling wood by the fire. His cloak was a blue that matched the sky. I later learned that it always matched the sky, whether lowering grey or smiling like forget-me-nots, as it did this day with one of the last bright skies of autumn. The wide brim of his hat he wore sloping over the right side of his face, but from where I stood I could still see the eye. Or rather, the eye that wasn’t, for the right lid hung slack over an empty socket.
As soon as his one eye – blue, like his cloak, changeable like the sky – met mine, he gave me the closest thing to a smile I ever would see come out of that glacier of a beard.
Would he speak? What would a god sound like? How could I know?
. . .