A fire blazed in the middle of the room as Astrid woke groggily. Cold had slipped into the hovel in the night and Astrid found herself covered in mossy sheepskins. She felt the cold of steel on her leg and her hand wrapped around the hilt of a sword. She lifted the sheepskin to see the glow of the sword from her dreams. She looked away in disbelief.
Visendakona sat cross-legged in front of the fire, eyes closed, facing Astrid. The light from the flames licked her features, giving her an ageless appearance; sometimes old, sometimes young. She was strangely beautiful in this dancing light.
“Why is it so cold?” Astrid asked through a yawn.
“Winter has fallen.”
“Winter? I could not possibly have slept that long.”
“No, you did not. It is noon, you have been asleep for the better part of a day.”
“There is no sun, Visendakona; your reckoning of time has to be off.”
“My reckoning of time is just fine, thank you very much. It is noon and the sun is gone.”
“Gone? Gone where?”
“Eaten by Fenrir the wolf,” said Visendakona.
“Yes, that means Ragnarok is upon us.”
Astrid sat bolt upright and looked over at Visendakona. The crone looked grimly back and shook her head.
“And the men?”
“They are fighting on the front lines,” said Visendakona, “those Father Ansgar converted fight for the god of many names: He who usurped Odin’s throne. Many others fight for Odin. Father Ansgar was smart in converting our village, the mightiest warriors are ours.”
“General of His army.”
“Shall he return?”
“None shall. Many will die. The victorious are doomed to serve their master until the end of time.”
Astrid’s heart dropped heavily; the man she loved, whom she woke next to every morning, gone forever. That she could not accept. The gods had not deigned to bless her with a child, neither the old gods, nor this Interloper. Now they, in their petty war for power, had stolen the one person on earth whom she loved eternally. A look of rage filled her eyes as she looked at Visendakona.
“It will be a hard road to get him back, Astrid.”
“I would fight through a million hells for him.”
“Would you fight a god to get him back?”
“I would kill all of them just to have one more night with Hrothgar.”
Visendakona looked over Astrid, motherly love in her eyes, “Then I shall go with you. I am no warrior and I am old, but my magic is strong and I will do my best to protect you.”
Astrid walked around the fire and embraced Visendakona, “thank you, dear woman. I fear going alone.”
“Rest now, Astrid. We shall gather ourselves and leave tomorrow.”
They rose early, before what should have been sunrise, to begin their journey east. The sky remained dark as the hours wore on; the woods were quiet. It was as if no animal would wake in this unnatural night. Mile after mile Astrid and Visendakona travelled in this midnight world; towards what, neither knew. Astrid knew that Ragnarok had begun, that the final battle of the gods was heralded by the eating of Midgard’s sun by Fenrir the wolf. She knew, far to the east the star that stole their men landed. What lay in that burned land, she could not know for sure.
Her grip tightened on the hilt of her sword as she thought this. Visendakona, as if sensing Astrid’s hesitation, gently grabbed her arm and smiled. They continued in silence, all notions of time driven away by the perpetual dark. When they became tired, they rested, then continued on. Astrid was afraid to sleep, lest the visions return.
They pushed on, Astrid amazed at the vitality of the old woman by her side. They pushed forward, hour after hour; the further east they travelled, the thicker the smell of burning wood. Soon, smoke filled the air and their lungs, the sounds of battle filled their ears; they were close. Visendakona began to chant in a whisper, long-forgotten words in the old tongue. They stopped as they arrived at the lip of a giant crater, filled with flame.
“We must cross the fire to reach Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge,” Visendakona said, “I will use my magic to part the flames, you must be ready to defend us shall the need arise.”
Astrid looked down at the flames as Visendakona began to chant again. First, the words came as whispers, the hot tongues shivered lightly and revealed rich black earth underneath. As the chant continued the old woman pushed on Astrid’s backside, an indication to start their trek through the crater. With each step, the chant built in volume, until the flames were powerless against it; they fled in the wake of this crone and her defender.
Visendakona continued as they walked quickly through the crater, her concentration total. Astrid, beside her, stared around vigilantly with her sword, Ulfberht, drawn; she knew that if the sorceress lost her concentration they would die a fiery death. So they walked slowly, the world burning silently around them.
Then, without warning, the silence was broken.
A roar echoed through the crater, bending the flames with its ferocity. Out of the scorched earth came a blackened giant, dirty with soot, howling angrily at the two women. As he pulled himself to his full height, Astrid readied her sword.
“I am Logi,” said the giant, “god of flame and wildfire itself. You are trespassing in the land of gods, mortal.”
“I am here to take my husband back from The Interloper, demi-god,” shouted Astrid with a fury equal to Logi’s, “You would do best to step out of my way, for we are on the same side.”
“The Interloper?” asked Logi, “You mean He, Elohim, the new King? I am here on his behalf, Odin is banished and near death.”
“You treacherous wretch,” replied Astrid, “you have abandoned the All-Father?”
“A fire must be fed, and the forests of Midgard shall be mine when Ragnarok is at an end.”
“Then you will not yield and let me pass?”
“I will eat your body’s ashes before the night is done.”
At this, a fireball flew from Logi’s chestdirectly at Astrid. She stepped aside, slashing with her sword, causing it to land with an explosion at Logi’s feet. Astrid let out a war cry that shook the heavens as she charged Logi. Closing the distance, she swung the sword with all her might. A hard blow sent Logi backwards, bright red lava oozing from a gaping wound.
Logi smiled and struck out at Astrid over and over, each blow parried by Ulfberht. Her steel did not bend or weaken in the heat, it seeming to grow stronger with each blocked strike. Logi’s smile faded with the realization that he underestimated this woman. He screamed in rage throwing fireball after fireball, pushing Astrid back.
Then, as he rage reached a crescendo, he raised his hands above his head and struck down with all of his godly strength; Astrid lunged and buried Ulfberht to the hilt in Logi’s chest, the heat causing her to stumble backwards.
“You have killed me, mortal, but I will have you as my last meal,” Logi said, reaching for her. That is when she felt the first raindrop.
One, tiny drop of water brushed her cheek, followed by another. She heard Logi scream, not in rage but despair as a violent storm broke overhead. The flames began to extinguish as Logi was transformed by the cold droplets into stone. Astrid sat and watched as all of the orange faded and his featured became rigid. Logi was defeated.
All was silent, Visendakona had ceased her chant; in fact, Visendakona was nowhere to be seen. Astrid had lost track of her during the battle. Panicked, she stood and looked all around.
“Visendakona,” she cried out, “Visendakona, where are you?”
A gentle hand rested on her shoulder, warm and comforting. A youthful voice said: “I am here, child, but not as you knew me. Turn now, but be prepared.”
Astrid turned around, prepared to see Visendakona charred beyond recognition.
She was not, however, prepared to see Freya standing before her.