The next month passed much as time always had in the summer: slow days of tending to the animals, keeping up with their small crop, communal meals at the mead hall. The cool evenings were reserved for training their bodies and minds: though the warriors had not been called upon for many years, their duty was to remain at the ready should the need arise. After training they retired to bed and the village slept. All, but Astrid, that is: each night the moon grew smaller and each night her sleep grew more fitful, until on the eve of the new moon Hrothgar found her wandering the fields in the wee hours.
“Wife,” Hrothgar whispered as he walked up to her, “what are you doing? Come back to bed.”
“I could not sleep, husband.”
“Was it my snoring?”
“No,” she laughed half-heartedly, “it’s the dreams, the nightmares.”
“What did Visendakona say,” Hrothgar asked.
“Hrothgar,” she looked into his eyes pleadingly, “she said they are a bad omen. That the new moon will signify the beginning and the end.”
“Crazy talk from a crazed old crone. She consulted the runes, I suppose?”
“It’s nothing but old superstitions.”
“No, my wife. Come to bed. Not sleeping is not helping. We will talk to the priest in the morning. Perhaps a demon has taken hold of your mind.”
The church smelled of new timber and strong incense. It had been erected not five months ago, an attempt by King Bjorn to introduce Christianity to Odin’s people. Most villages resisted, but Astrid’s did not. Father Ansgar had managed to convert all of her people, besides Visendakona; Astrid herself was hesitant to fully embrace this new god, but put on a good face for her husband.
The elderly father hobbled into the sanctuary from his garden. His scholarly life had left him slight and weak compared to the other men in the village, but he was much more intelligent than them; that in itself was a great tool in their conversion. Feats of strength were a dime a dozen among these simple folk, but intellect amazed them. Hrothgar cleared his throat upon seeing Father Ansgar.
“Yes, my son,” the father queried, “what can I help you with?”
“Father, my wife has had visions.”
“Oh,” he said, looking over towards Astrid, whose head was bowed, “visions of our lord and savior?”
“No,” said Astrid into her chest.
“What was that girl, please do speak up.”
“Then what have you had visions of?”
Astrid looked at Hrothgar, who nodded at her to tell. Nervously, she began:
“I’ve seen a fire streak across the sky. A fog freeze the village. Empty beds and the screams of women. Two ravens trapped in a cage, shrieking to be released.”
“Oh?” said the father looking at Hrothgar, “These are quite troubling. Quite troubling indeed. These are not the kind of visions the one true God provides. Not at all. His are always quite clear.”
“What does that mean, Father,” asked Hrothgar.
Astrid looked up finally and into Father Ansgar’s eyes. They were troubled, but not out of concern for her. They were troubled by what she had said. When he discovered her looking, his eyes changed, flashing anger briefly before becoming kindly and concerned.
“Some form of devil has taken her mind. You must leave her with me, Hrothgar. I will cure her.”
The late-afternoon breeze blew into the sanctuary, twirling smoke from the incense seductively over Astrid’s shackled body. Father Ansgar locked the church and chained her up.
“It’s for your own protection,” he told her in a fatherly tone that made her agree to his request. Now that she was chained she saw the angered look in his eyes again as he paced around her. She coughed as the incense reached her nostrils, causing him to start and slam his hand on the pew to which she was chained.
“That devil inside of you is choking on the holy incense. I can see him struggling.”
“No, Father, I am just coughing as it’s a bit thick in here.”
“Ah, I see. You don’t believe that there is a demon inside of you?”
“Father, they are just dreams.”
“Ah, if only I believed that was true. That you didn’t see that witch who lives in the forest.”
“What are you talking about, Father?”
“Small villages hold no secrets, Astrid. That witch told you what your visions meant, I suppose?”
“I never talked to her.”
At this the father lashed out and struck her cheek. A bruise formed as soon as his hand retreated.
“I will not be lied to in my own house,” he said.
“Yes, Father. I talked to Visendakona.”
Another strike, this time to her ear.
“How dare you say her name in this church! And you admit you sought counsel with this worshipper of devils?”
“She does not worship devils.”
This punch came to her mouth, blood began to flow as her lip split open. Another hit came to the top of her head. The father threw punch after punch, beating her as she sat defenseless.
“Another lie, demon. Shall we try to burn the fallacy out of you?”
“No, Father, please.”
“What did the witch tell you?”
“That tonight, at the new moon, it will be the beginning and the end. That a cataclysm awaits our village.”
“Oh, she told you that, did she?”
Father Ansgar stood more upright than she had ever seen him. He looked larger than even Hrothgar as he loomed over her, frowning with a look of crazed anger in his eyes. Suddenly, he turned on his heel and with a spritely gait took a knife from the altar.
“She told you of the cataclysm. Her old magic must be strong to have gathered that message from her runes.”
“So, it’s true?”
Father Ansgar walked over to Astrid and ran the knifes blade lightly along the flesh of her cheek. Blood trickled down her cheek.
“Insolent child, of course it’s true.”
“Then why not save us?”
“There are forces at work in this world that you do not know. Forces powerful and supernatural. The warriors of this village will be sacrificed for the greater good.”
“You are going to kill the men of this village?”
“Me? No. In fact, death is a simplistic way to look at this. A woman would never understand.”
He put his finger to his mouth, silencing Astrid as, behind him the sun began to set through the sanctuary window.
“It’s beginning. I think you at least deserve to know what your visions were about before I kill you.”