|Goddess of Love, Beauty, and War|
|Original Stories about Freya||Myths about Freya||Fairy Tales||Humor|
The dancing flames painted a second sunrise across the shadowy forest growth. The acrid stench of burning pine resin scented the plumes of smoke pouring from the broken wagon. A worn wool blanket draped haphazardly across the top smoldered damply as the crate beneath it caught fire.
Sven stared grimly down at the fellow lying twisted at his feet. Even in gruesome death, he looked roughly half Sven’s age. The man, dressed in drab homespun, had been gutted like a deer, his entrails spilled onto the damp ground. Squatting down, Sven felt the cooling face of the dead man and decided the massacre had occurred barely an hour before. A woman’s corpse lay a few feet away, face down. She was also dressed as a peasant, perhaps this poor fellow’s wife.
The aging warrior stood again, staring down at the pair. From their clothing and meager possessions, they looked like more of the farmers Sven had seen fleeing from King Olaf’s troops. Since the King had converted to the cult of the desert god, he’d gone mad, slaughtering anyone who wouldn’t bow down to the foreigners and their crossed sticks. From where he stood, Sven could see the eye of Odin carved into the headboard of the burning wagon. These farmers believed in the Gods, and the King’s new friends had just murdered them for it.
Sighing unhappily, Sven fingered the sword hilt at his side. The worn leather grip felt comforting, even standing in the midst of this grisly scene. But there was no enemy here anymore. He heaved another sigh, moving toward the burning wagon.
The rough wood was blazing now. Snatching up a tree branch, Sven used his makeshift staff to shove over a couple of crates, trying to even out the load. The sudden shower of sparks pushed him back, singeing his beard. “Freya’s eyes,” he swore, batting away the ember caught in his gray whiskers angrily. “I just want to give them some peace, Lady. I’ll be grateful for any help you’ll grant me.”
As gently as he could, he lifted the dead man. It was hard to maneuver him onto the wagon without spilling more of his insides, but Sven had had some practice over the years. He settled the fellow among his burning possessions, and then went back for the woman. Someone had stolen her cloak, leaving the body clad only in a thin shift. Turning her over, Sven saw that she’d had her throat severed, almost removing her head. He took a moment to close her cloudy blue eyes, then lifted the blonde woman and carried her lifeless body to the fire.
Settling the woman next to her husband, Sven stepped back, staring into the pyre. He felt a great sadness creep over him as he watched the man and woman burn in a pile of their last provisions, too worthless even for their murderers to steal. They didn’t deserve this. They’d done nothing but follow the Gods they’d followed all their lives, the Gods of their fathers and grandfathers. The King was wrong. This was just wrong.
As the old warrior stood, his shoulders slumped in defeat; he felt a small hand take his. Looking down, he stared into the wide blue eyes gazing up at him. A small girl in a formless woolen dress peered up into his wrinkled face, searching for something. Tears ran down her dirty face and she sniffled sadly. Her pale blonde hair was matted and she looked infinitely weary.
“Was this… were they your Ma and Da?” Sven rumbled uncomfortably. The little girl nodded slightly, squeezing more tears from her eyes. She couldn’t have been more than nine. “What’s your name, kitten?” he asked as kindly as he could. The big blue eyes just stared at him. He couldn’t tell if she was too sad or too frightened to answer.
“I’m… sorry,” Sven muttered, turning back to the pyre. The flames had risen, half hiding the bodies. The girl looked too, the tears silently dripping down her face. She held Sven’s hand tightly as she watched the pyre burn.
When the fire had consumed the wagon and its owners, the warrior knelt down in front of the little girl. “Do you have people?” he asked quietly. “Maybe a Gran, or an Uncle?” The child solemnly shook her head “No” and started trembling. She sobbed, crying harder now.
Sven gathered her up in his arms, like he had his sister’s small ones when they were tired or hurting. “It’s ok, kitten,” he tried to reassure her. “I’ll find you a nice Gran to watch over you.” As the warrior stumbled to his feet, his knees cracked loudly. “And maybe me too,” he chuckled sourly, waiting for the pain in his legs to subside.
As Sven started across the glade, he heard the broken sobs of the little girl muffled into the thickness of his beard. His gnarled hand caressed her back clumsily as he tried to think of something to reassure the child. But everything wasn’t all right, of course. She’d just lost everyone in her whole world because the King had fallen sway to the mad desert cult. Her Ma and Da had been slaughtered before her eyes for the crime of worshiping their own Gods. “Odin, “ he cursed silently to the Allfather. “Maybe you should help us a little now, instead of always preparing for the final doom. What is Ragnarok to us if the children of the desert god murder us all now?”
No answer, of course. The Gods rarely answer, thought Sven, and certainly not an old fool like me. He hugged the child in a futile attempt to still her crying. He hadn’t held a child like this since three years ago when his sister had sent little Ingrid and big Olaf with the soup when he was so sick. Ingrid was a happy child, probably like this kitten had been before today. She’d been about nine then too, he remembered wistfully.
The old warrior followed the quickest path to the old North Road. There was a shrine to Goddess Freya a half-day’s walk to the north, and there should be someone there who’d take in the girl. He strode quickly through the forest; sure of the way although it’d been 20 years or more since he’d been here last. He’d spent too much raiding, with not enough living. That was the problem. His pouch held barely a dozen gold coins – his entire treasure and a fortune to the locals around here. At least his sister’s farm was prosperous thanks to the loan he’d made her and her young husband when they’d started out. Ah well – he didn’t need much and there were others much worse off. He hugged the drowsy child close, wrapping his cloak around her against the wind.
The path to the road and the long walk north took perhaps a bit longer than he remembered. He was tired from carrying the little girl, but he didn’t have the heart to make her walk. Eventually, when they were drawing near to the shrine, he heard the shout.
It sounded like the shriek of a woman. Rousing the little girl, he pressed a knife into her small hands. “Stay right here, kitten. Hide right here in the bushes. I need to help, little one and I need you to hide here and be safe. Can you do that?” He peered into her small, terrified face and saw her timid nod. Unable to prevent himself, he kissed the child softly on the forehead before scooting her into the tangle of underbrush. “Wait here, “ he hissed at her. “Hide and wait for me.”
Then he was running. The flush of youth swept over Sven. The old fire burned hot in his belly as he ran quietly up the road, crouched and as silent as possible. Rounding the bend, he saw the small stone shrine with Freya’s symbol inset in gold. Sprawled in the clearing before it was a woman about Sven’s age dressed in the blue and gold tunic of a woman of Freya. Her face was half covered in blood from a cut over her eye. Surrounding the woman were five men in leathers, each with a sword. On each chest was the sign of their god – the symbol of how they’d killed their desert messiah. The leader had his sword out and was advancing on the defiant old woman.
Carelessly discarded behind the men, Sven saw a woman’s tunic bundled into a half-full carry sack. These are the bastards that murdered those peasants and looted their wagon, he realized, his blood raging even hotter. They need killing.
In one smooth motion, Sven drew, aimed and threw his dagger. His aim was true and one of the men went down in a fountain of blood, the knife in his throat. His other dagger was in the hands of the little girl, so Sven pulled his broadsword. Lifting it in a two-handed grip, he bellowed a cry to Odin and Freya for victory and charged.
The four remaining fellows were warriors, soldiers of their desert god. They readied their swords and fell into a semi-circle to meet the charge. Hoping for a little luck, Sven engaged the small fellow on the left, looking for an easy kill. Unfortunately, he slipped on a hidden stone and missed his killing stroke, although the smaller fellow was driven back.
Now engaged with two of the men, Sven tossed a quick glance over his shoulder to see the other two circling behind him. “Freya’s eyes,” he swore aloud, redoubling his efforts. He was going to die, but he wouldn’t die cheaply. These dogs deserved killing for what they’d done to the little girl.
A sudden charge and the larger man sagged, impaled on Sven’s sword. Unfortunately, that left Sven open to a stroke from his partner, who sliced cleanly into Sven’s shoulder. The pain was red and hot and Sven’s fury rose into a scream of rage. All Sven could see was the eyes of the child he’d tried to comfort, her tears running down her small face. With an inarticulate cry of fury, Sven sliced at his other foe, lifting the man dying on his sword to do it. Sven and the corpse bore the smaller man to the ground, driving the sword through his heart. Unfortunately, the smaller man’s sword pierced Sven’s chest before he died, opening a mortal wound.
Looking around wildly, Sven saw the last two men charging at him with their swords raised. Suddenly, a woman was there between the men and him. Such a woman Sven had never seen before. She was so beautiful it hurt his eyes to look and her skin glowed with a golden fire. The woman strode forward, throwing her forest green cloak back to reveal her naked voluptuousness. That alone might have stopped the men, but the flaming sword she wielded had already. The two young men froze, awed by the power and beauty of the vision of the Goddess before them.
Sven staggered to his feet, clutching the wounds in his chest. Blood poured over his hands as his heart slowed. He managed to pick up the loose sword at his feet and he stood, swaying from weakness and despair.
The dying warrior stared at the vision of magnificence before him and despite his pain, he laughed with joy. Pulling himself upright, he saluted the Goddess, cried, “For Freya!” and charged widely at the two young men, his blood flowing freely. Like a Volsung of legend, the old warrior rained down a hail of blows, smashing aside the warriors’ weapons in his death zeal. They tried to fight back, but he overbore them, slaughtering them where they stood.
When the fight was over, Sven collapsed. He fell against the shrine, a bloody smear painting the rough stone. Falling to the ground, he stared up into the beautiful face of his Goddess and saw welcoming approval in her eyes. The old woman knelt down beside him, not seeing the glorious Lady that he saw. In what seemed to Sven like moments, the little girl ran to him and knelt, taking his hand. He heard her soft, shy whispered, “I’m Hilda. Thank you for avenging Momma and Poppa.” Sven pointed to the Goddess and the girl looked behind her.
After a moment, the child gasped, seeing what the dying old man saw. “The Lady will take care of you, little Hilda,” he murmured, barely able to speak. Then, in an instant, the old warrior and the Goddess were gone. All that remained was Hilda, who sat holding the old man’s hand and whispering a funeral prayer to the Goddess Freya.