For Bridget, a true shieldmaiden.
CHAPTER 1: CHOOSER OF THE SLAIN
Hildr was always amazed how quiet it was, after a battle. The only sounds in the valley were the whisper soft sigh of the wind through the fir trees, and the calls of the ravens that wheeled over the site of the carnage. It was as if the world itself was in somber mourning for those who perished upon the field, regardless of for whom or what they were fighting for. Kings and causes didn't matter in the end, after all. Valor mattered, to her, and to her father. Indeed, valor was a cause, in and of itself, and it was that which drew her and her sisters to places like this one, a tiny valley sheltering a small hamlet, now a smoking, smoldering ruin, in a remote corner of the cold homeland of the Norsemen.
Hildr heard a booted footstep on the rocky ground of the ridge upon which she stood, and felt the familiar presence of one of her sisters, through the bond which she and all the others of her kind shared. She turned and regarded her fellow daughter of Odin. "One can tell from you demeanor that you wish to speak, Skuld." Hildr noted. In truth, Hildr found her companion exasperating - she was far too silly and girlish for her tastes. However, the same undefinable calling pulled them both to this battlefield, so her presence had to be tolerated, at least.
Skuld regarded Hildr with a faint smirk on her face. "You certainly know how to make one feel welcome, sister-mine. The years certainly haven't thawed you out, have they?" Skulds' red tresses streamed out from beneath her helm, spilling down her back like a river of copper. "I just wished to greet my dear sister, is all. Have you come to choose, as I have?"
Hildr turned her gaze back out over the valley, scanning the field of dead and dying with her eyes, and with her intuitive supernatural senses, searching for one worthy of her notice.
She would never be able to describe how a Valkyries' abilities functioned to a Mortal. When one of her kind came to a field of dying, there was an indefinable... pulling, withing their souls, that led them to the ones that were to join the ranks of the Einherjar, and be taken to Valhalla. The day would come when Odin the All-father and the other Aesir would lead the Einherjar into battle against Loki and their ancient enemies, and it was the duty of Hildr and her sister Valkyries to find stalwart thanes to fight at Odin's side.
"Have you chosen, sister?" Skuld persisted.
"Yes." Hildrs' blue-gray eyes were fixed on a certain part of field of dying that stretched before them. Skuld looked to the same spot, doubtless sensing the soul of the warrior that Hildr had chosen, through the bond that the sisters shared.
"A most... interesting choice, I must say. Are you quite certain, my sister? His soul has a strange timbre to it, that I don't comprehend..."
"Yes, Skuld. My choice is made. I can sense the steel within his heart. He belongs among the Einherjar. I feel this." Hildr pulled her pale blonde hair back from her face as she settled her gleaming helm atop her head. Pulling her white fur cloak close about her mail-clad form, she took up her spear and made her way over to the giant gray wolf that was her steed. "Do you disapprove of my selection?" she asked as she mounted.
Skuld looked at her sister Valkyrie and smiled toothily. "Does it matter if I do? Indeed, you always were obstinate, sister. But, I hope your selection is well made, for it is said that the day is at hand. The signs herald the approach of Ragnar. We shall need the finest of warriors to face the end of all things with us."
"I never choose lightly, Skuld."
"Nor do I suggest such, Hildr. It is just that there is an air of Doom about this one. His soul seems troubled, somehow."
"Then perhaps the feasting and revelry in Valhalla shall be a boon for him. None the less, I have chosen, and shall not alter my decision." With that, Hildr urged her canine steed down the side of the ridge, to the battlefield below.
Skuld watched her sister depart with a slightly amused look on her face. "This promises to be most interesting."
Hildr rode through the field of the slain, the huge wolf needing no reins to guide it, as it felt its masters' will leading it. Around them laid the dead and dying. Most could never hope to be chosen by a Valkyrie – that was an honor reserved for only the most worthy. The truly wicked and dishonorable, however, were taken by Hel, daughter of the evil Loki, and ruler of the icy wastes of Nifelheim. As for the fate of the rest, Hildr had no knowledge, nor caring.
At last, Hildr came to her chosen. She supposed he was an imposing warrior, for a human; tall, and with a powerful build that bespoke a hard life of combat. However, it was not that which surprised Hildr. Rather, it was his face, which was careworn and lined, making him look somewhat old beyond his years. He laid against a large boulder, with several arrows standing out from his chest. Hildr had arrived just in time, as the moors that held his soul to his body were clearly weakening. He would be gone within the hour, and she knew that she must be present at the moment of his passing, to carry his spirit to the halls of her father. She dismounted and approached the fallen warrior.
"Hail, Erik, son of Ragnar. I am Hildr, daughter of Odin."
Erik Ragnarson opened his eyes and looked at her, regarding her warlike rainment."Daughter of Odin? A Valkyrie, then..." he said in a labored voice.
"Indeed. You have been chosen, son of Ragnar, to accompany me to Valhalla, to feast alongside warriors of legend, and to stand with my father and the Aesir at Ragnarök. The ultimate glory is yours."
He looked away from her, and chuckled hollowly. "I fear that I shall disappoint you, fair shieldmaiden, for I shall not go with you." he said in a quiet voice.
Hildr couldn't disguise her astonishment. "I-I do not understand... you have won a great honor. Why would you refuse?"
He looked to her again, his blue eyes glazed with pain. "I have been a warrior since I was barely more than a boy, and in that time, I have taken more than my share of lives. And for what? Honor? Glory? Fah! Mere words, all of them. All we actually gained was was rape and plunder, all gained at the expense of lives.
"Look about you, Valkyrie. There is no honor here, no glory. All that I see is death. I've had my fill of war and strife, and it is right that I should meet my Doom here."
Hildr took a deep breath, to calm herself. In all her centuries of life, she had never encountered one such as this. "Warrior, you must understand... should you refuse me, you turn your back on your honor, and the honor of your forefathers. Such blasphemy will not go unremarked. You would be claimed by Hel, and taken to the cold wastes of her realm. You would know only an eternity of freezing darkness. And when chosen by her, there will be no refusal. Would you condemn yourself to such a fate?"
Erik laughed humorlessly. "That would be a fitting end for me, I suppose. You should go now, fair maiden, and chose another." He looked about the battlefield, regarding the multitude of fallen. "It would appear you have no shortage of willing." he said sardonically.
Hildr paused for a moment, unable to respond to Erik bitter words. "Very well, then. I cannot force you to accompany me. I shall leave you in the hands fate." Without another word, she turned, mounted her steed, and rode off towards the forest at the edge of the field.
Erik looked at her departing form, and sighed.
As Hildr entered the forest, she contemplated the warriors' refusal. Lost in thought as she was, she did not notice the old man that stood at the side of the path, until he spoke to her.
"Hail, Hildr of the Valkyrjur."
With a start, Hildr halted her mount and looked at the speaker. Though his countenance was aged and gray bearded, he stood tall, back unbowed. He was garbed in a blue cloak, and beneath his wide-brimmed hat, one piercing eye looked at her intently. It was a face that Hildr instantly recognizedly.
Dismounting, she knelt before the old man "Hail, Odin." She intoned formally.
"Rise Hildr." As she stood he spoke again. "One notes that you do not carry a warrior with you. Did you not come here to choose, daughter?"
"I did choose, father. The chosen refused."
"What?" Odin's voice was quiet, but Hildr could hear the anger beneath. The god of battles was clearly displeased "He has refused my Honor?"
"I fear that it is so, Father." she replied.
"Such impudence..." Odin closed his one eye, and his anger seemed to subside, a fact that made Hildr happy, for her fathers' wrath was most terrible. At last he looked at her again. "And what of your choice? Do you not now choose another?"
Hildr steeled herself, not wishing to appear weak in her fathers' sight. "I do not, father. I stand by my choice, and shall not choose another. He is worthy, even if he does not think it so."
"Indeed, you cannot," Odin replied, "and yet you cannot serve me, if you are still bound to your choice. " He seemed to think a moment. "Very well then. Erik Ragnarson shall not die this day. He shall be healed, to keep him from the grasp of Hel. However, I shall only do this once, for my mercy is not infinite. I shall charge you then with this task: you will watch over him, and decide if he is truly worthy of your choice. But remember, he must still die a warriors' death, to enter my Hall. He must rediscover his honor."
Hildr bowed her head. "I understand, father. He is worthy, and I shall show him his worth."
Odin nodded grimly, "One hopes that it is so, for both of your sakes, for your very lives are bound to your choice. Should he not come with you to Valhalla, upon his death, than you shall expire also. Do you still choose this man?"
"Yes, father." She answered without hesitation. "I trust my instincts."
"Go then, daughter," Odin replied, "And may he prove worthy of the risk you face for him."
Hildr bowed respectfully, as Odin soundlessly vanished from her sight. She would help Erik reclaim his honor, and lead him to Valhalla. Indeed, she had sworn her very life on it.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Why isn't there a Norse Mythology catagory on Fanfic. net? Why should the Greek gods get all the love?
This story was an idea that grew out of a conversation with a friend, and simply would not go away. It's been most interesting to write, as it's quite unlike the fanfic that I have previously written.
Also, If you wish to see what Hildr looks like, see the link on my Fanfic . net profile page. The artist, Hermitchild, did a most remarkable job of portraying her. I only hope that my fic is half as good as her art is!
Until next time, then...
30 October 2005