The sun fell behind the trees, leaving the world in a twilight realm. Astrid saw the sky darken slowly through the sanctuary window. The light afternoon breeze picked up into a steady wind as the darkness spread and night blanketed the world. The wind began to gust as a quilt of stars settled over the land. Astrid’s sweat-matted hair blew in the breeze as a noise she could not identify filled her ears. It was like no sound she had ever heard in nature.
The sound began as a light crackling, like that of a fire built with wet wood. It began to build as the stars disappeared from the sky one by one. The sky roared with the sound, Astrid felt the rumble in her very soul. As the last of the stars blinked out, she saw a light build in the west. The sky became a purple twilight before finally showing as blue as the mid-afternoon. A fiery sun flew through the sky towards the east.
It was as this missile passed over the village that she heard the screams from the village compete with the near deafening roar. Women’s screams, children’s cries. Not one male voice joined this fearful choir. Finally, an explosion sounded far to the east, a great wind bent the trees, and all was darkness once more. The stars reappeared one by one, like fires being lit in the sky. All that remained were the cries of the women and the laughter of the only man left in the village: Ansgar.
“It is finished,” said Ansgar, a note of awe in his voice, “He has done it.”
“What has happened? Taken who?”
“He, the one true God. He has taken the warriors of this village, every single one,” replied Ansgar, far away in his thoughts, “He, The Interloper, has called upon them for war.”
“War against whom?”
At this question, Ansgar seemed to come out of his daze. He looked sharply at Astrid, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the knife’s handle.
“Your demons are not the only beings capable of giving visions. I have seen the future; the old ways are dead. The future is His,” Ansgar stalked towards Astrid, knife raised, “And He has told me your sacrifice will begin his ascension. He must be appeased.”
Astrid tried to scream as the crazed priest came towards her, but the shock of her situation held the noise in check. She bowed her head and closed her eyes, ready to accept the fate that her visions had foretold. Astrid’s death would be her end and His beginning, Visendakona’s words made sense now.
She waited for the knife to pierce her flesh, for Freya to take her hand and lead her to Folkvang. A grunt sounded beside her, then an old hand took her by the wrist. Astrid took a deep breath and readied herself for the pain; instead, she felt the shackle release and heard it clank upon the floor. Astrid opened her eyes to see Visendakona’s old, friendly lavender eyes. Looking over she saw Father Ansgar on the floor, a trickle of blood coming from the crown of his head, a candlestick beside him.
“Silly girl,” said Visendakona, “I told you not to tell anybody. Quickly, before he comes to let us take our leave. I will explain everything when we get to my home.”
The sounds of the village faded as Astrid and Visendakona moved deeper into the woods. The women wailed over their men, taken by the evil sun that dashed through the sky. They prayed to God for their return, but the prayers fell on deaf ears. He had taken them for a war, but what war Astrid did not yet know. She hoped that the crone would explain when they arrived at her hovel. Astrid was overwhelmed and exhausted by the time they entered Visendakona’s hut. She fell to her knees on the dirt floor and burst into tears. Visendakona put her arms around her and whispered words of the old tongue, words of comfort and power.
“Sleep now, girl,” she said, “there is time yet to fix this. A little rest will do you good.”
The two ravens lay still, barely visible in their cage. Astrid stared long and hard at them, they looked back curiously, as if they had not expected her to be there.
“Who are you?” they asked in unison. It was the first time in her visions that she had been directly addressed.
“Astrid, wife of Hrothgar, mother of none.”
“Ah,” said the ravens, “Can you open our cage, Astrid Non-mother?”
Astrid crawled over to the cage and fiddled with the latch, but it held fast, as if by magic. The Ravens eyed her with disdain.
“I cannot, it is stuck fast.”
“Perhaps that sword over there would help,” they replied.
Behind her appeared a broadsword, from which an unnatural light emanated, on its blade was inscribed UlfBerht. She hesitated at first, then picked it up, surprised at its lightness and balance. It was as if some unknown blacksmith had forged it for her.
Astrid pointed the tip at the latch of the cage.
“May your aim be true,” the ravens said as she swung at the cage. The latch broke under the force of the blow. The ravens pushed the door open, free from their prison.
“Who are you,” asked Astrid, looking from the bright sword to the dark forms of the ravens.
“We are the familiars of the All-Father, non-mother,” they replied.
“My name is Astrid. Please don’t call me non-mother.”
“Our apologies,” they replied, “it is in our nature to mock.”
“If you are Odin’s pets, how is it you came to be trapped?”
“He trapped us.”
“No, wife of Hrothgar; He who calls himself, I am. He who has taken the throne of Asgard.”
“That is one of his names. One of the many he goes by.”
“How did I come to be here?”
“We have no idea. We wondered the same thing when you appeared. We do apologize, but we must take our leave.”
“Must you leave now? The men of my village have been stolen by Him. How do I get them back?”
“No, we must go,” the ravens said as they took flight. Then, mockingly, “wake up mortal, there are fields to be tilled. A thousand thanks.”