The Shield Maiden

By

BT Shapiro

 

Astrid sat up in bed, unable to sleep. Her head had been whirling for weeks, unable to shake the strange nightmares she suffered through. Dreams of fire-streaked sky, of her village in a frozen fog, of the great wolf eating the sun. Of Hrothgar’s death. The nightmares shrouded her life, interfering with not only her sleep, but her ability to help around the farm. She devoted less time to tending their small crop and more to weapons training lately. Hrothgar joked that she was training to kill him because of his snoring, but the joke was half-hearted. Astrid could see he was worried for her and knew she had consulted Visendakona about her visions; rumors travelled fast in a small village.

Astrid looked over at Hrothgar. He was her warrior: large, scarred muscles, a thick mane of hair, his beard a masterpiece of braids. He was right, his snoring did drive her crazy, but she grew used to it in the years they were married. Her love for him allowed Astrid to ignore the low grumble that emanated from his nose. She loved watching him sleep, his mass moving up and down with each breath, the child-like peace on his face. A face which had seen many battles and much death.

Hrothgar not only protected her, he protected the village with the rest of the band of warriors; Hrothgar also insisted she know the art of swordplay and how to wield a shield. When the men were called away to battle, their women had to defend the village. It had been years since Hrothgar had left, though; much of the warfare was over and Hrothgar was almost an elder at the age of forty-five. If Astrid has any regrets in their blessed union, it was that she was never able to bear his children. He never mentioned this as he knew how much it pained her, which made Astrid love him even more.

As she sat beside him in their shared bed, Astrid heard a stirring outside their home. She stood quietly and went to the door to look out. There, on the path, stood Visendakona, the light from the full moon causing her silver hair to shine with a supernatural essence.

“Astrid,” she said, her lovely voice not matching her crone’s body, “I have consulted the runes about your visions.”

“Yes, Visendakona?”

“The runes agree with your vision. We are on the cusp of a cataclysm. I know not what it will be, what form it will take. Something is afoot in the nine worlds.”

“When will it come to pass?”

“The new moon will be the beginning and the end. You must not tell the village, for they will not believe you and they will turn on you.”

“Can’t you tell them?”

With that Visendakona turned and started back down the path. Astrid watched as she faded into shadow, unsure of how to proceed.

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