A Viking Birth

Then the Valkyries rode across the evening sky spreading fear, making people wonder what disaster was about to strike and who had brought it about. It is better to stay indoors, out of the way of their wrath but I was spellbound and could not move. As the winged horses raced across the sky, there were brilliant reflections from the armour of the riders and there followed in their wake shimmering waves of green and golden lights. They filled the sky above me. It was beautiful and dreadful. It filled me with awe. Then I turned round and fear pierced my chest. Far away behind the trees, where the sun had set many hours before, a pale red glimmer coloured the horizon. Yesterday’s sun was returning. Tomorrow’s sun was rising from the wrong place. The harbinger of Ragnarok, the final battle between Gods and giants, the chaos when the snake of Midgaard shall whip the sea into a giant wave, when the Fenriswolf will break its fetters and with fire burning in his eyes swallow the world.

I felt a stab to my stomach, fell to my knees and let out a groan of despair.

‘No sound, Sigrid Kveldulfsdaughter. It will bring down the fury of the Valkyries.’ ‘The sun! Ragnarok!’ I raised my arm but he caught it.

‘Don’t point. The light guides the Valkyries. It must not be mocked or disturbed. It is not the final battle, not yet.’ He led me towards the house.

‘My children!’

‘Safe. They were brought inside so no light could descend and sever their heads from their bodies.’

I shivered. Another stabbing pain tore through me. My second child asked to be born. I wondered what fate befell a child born under the light from the armour worn by Odin’s own shield-maidens.

As with my first birth, I struggled and suffered great pain. The sauna was fired up and Old Kirsten was sent for. She arrived with her granddaughter Kirsten and bemoaned the lack of fresh Shepherd’s Purse to deter evil spirits. She threw a handful of pine cones on the fire. They filled the air with a soothing scent of resin. In a brief moment between the birth-cramps I heard her ask my mother:

‘What have you given her so far?’

‘Silverweed and motherworth, small doses only. We keep few strong herbs here.’ Old Kirsten nodded and asked her granddaughter:

‘So what would you do now?’

‘I would mix a small amount of rue with the white deadnettle.’ The girl answered promptly and Old Kirsten nodded again.

‘The Valkyries,’ I panted, ‘What will happen?’ Old Kirsten looked at me and pursed her lips.

‘Hmm. Let’s add some henbane. She may start raving but it will pass.’ She came over to me and looked between my legs. She pressed her dry, claw-like hands over my belly. ‘Ah, a breech birth. This is not good. I shall try to turn the baby but let’s get something to still you first.’ She waved Young Kirsten over.

‘Watch carefully. Put your hand here.’ Why did nobody listen to me? I cried out:

‘The Valkyries, are they still riding the sky? What will happen?’ The young girl put a hand on my forehead.

‘They are gone. It is almost midday. Try to be still. The Norns will weave the destiny of your child whether you worry about it or not.’

 The draught they gave me was bitter like gall. I choked and coughed but was forced to drink. Then the walls began to sway and ripple. From the fire rose a cloud with red, glowing eyes, flared fiery nostrils and silver horns. Its hot breath filled me with the strength of a giant and together we roared the battle cry of the Norse: Odin, Odin. With my bare hands I fought a three-headed demon. He forced himself inside me and filled my belly with flames. They grew and grew and I screamed and I heaved and I pushed until it tore me apart and I sank into a whirlpool of blackness.

 

Go back to The Shield-Maiden       or go to A Viking Raid

 

 

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