April 2022 Newsletter
She, who had no name here in this land but “slave,” stood by her body and wondered what would happen next.
Maybe she shouldn’t have fought so. But after six moons of these people, she’d grown tired of . . . everything. So she’d fought. As had the other five. Fellow women with no names who were also only called Slave. They’d fought, too, and they’d also died. Two wept over their bodies and the other three had wandered away, unable to look at what remained.
How good her life had been before the Northmen had come with their long boats and their steel. They’d ripped apart her village in seconds. At least it had felt that way. Even as the village men fought back, the warriors trying their best, the Northmen had simply decimated them . . . then they’d turned their attention to the women and children.
She closed her eyes. She wouldn’t think about that again. She couldn’t. Life was hard enough without remembering that..
Well . . . her life had been hard enough. Now that life no longer existed. But where were her ancestors? Why weren’t they here to lead her to her place of glory at their side? Or had being a slave ruined that for her?
She looked at the other five. They’d suffered along with her but they hadn’t been from her village. She didn’t know where they were from, but she could guess how they got here. Just as she had. Thrown over the shoulders of Northmen like so much chattel.
Unable to stare at her body a moment longer, she looked out over the field where the battle had taken place. So much death, but these people lived for death. All the men wanted to die with honor in battle so they could meet their precious gods and feast at their table. Would her short life have been different if she’d been born a man? Probably. But if she’d been born in the same village that would have meant she’d only have died sooner.
Moving among the dead she could see the ones the old women of the village called the Valkyries. They would choose which of the dead would go with them to their special gods’ hall. They were so tall, with long blond hair and bright shiny armor. Their helmets had wings on them but it was their horses that could fly. They waited for the Valkyries at the end of the battlefield, eating grass and nuzzling each other, their wings occasionally fluttering from time to time.
A veiled woman walked onto the field of death from the woods nearby. She was tall like the Valkyries but there was nothing to tell about her except her eyes. They were so dark and cold. Very cold.
One of the Valkyries left the dead to go to the woman’s side and despite the distance between them, all could be heard between the two.
“Why are you here, Skuld?” the Valkyrie demanded. “You did not ride with us this day.”
“I know. The human who caused this battle,” she sneered, “still has my property. I want it back. The only reason he won this battle and the others these last three moons is because he holds what is mine. His advantage is unfair.”
“Whatever you lost is your problem. You cannot deal directly with the living on these kinds of issues. You know that. Father will have a—”
“Your father is not my problem.”
“He is father to us all.” The Valkyrie caught the Skuld woman’s arm and stopped her forward momentum. “I know you like balance, but that is not always possible. Power is always there to be claimed. Someone will take what is yours from the Jarl and defeat him.”
“And then become a monster themselves? I do not like that.”
“Unless Odin changes the rules he has set—which we both know he will never do—there is nothing you can do about it.”
The Skuld woman said nothing for a very long moment, her cold black eyes moving over the field of death as if she searched for some answer that never came.
As she wondered what would happen next between the Valkyrie and the Skuld woman, a crow landed on the back of her body’s head. Horrified, she who was once called Slave, dropped to her knees and tried to shoo the animal away. But her hand went through the bird. She was no longer living. She was nothing but air. Worthless air.
The crow, however, could see her. Not just her body but her spirit. It was looking right at her. Those in her village considered crows the harbingers of death and despair. Perhaps, but this one was just here to feast on the bodies of the dead. Looking for an opportunity like every other creature in the world.
She couldn’t allow that.
The crow squawked at her, telling her to go. Telling her to leave this body to its hunger.
Frustrated, she screamed back, her rage and disgust at her helplessness coming to the fore.
How many more indignities would she have to endure?
Her scream echoed out and the crow backed up a bit. Even more interesting, the enemy men looked up from their raiding of the corpses, looked around, trying to find out where that scream came from.
That’s when the Skuld woman walked over to her. She studied her for a moment, black eyes blinking down at her. Kind of the way the crow blinked and studied her.
“What is your name?” Skuld asked.
“I no longer have a name for I am Slave.”
Skuld crouched beside her, pushing black hair from her face with pale white hands. Unlike her own slave hands, which were brown like her people’s. Just as all of her was brown, making escape and hiding impossible in this cold, white land. Although she always dreamed of escape. She always dreamed at night when she was lucky enough to be alone.
“Would you like revenge, She of No Name?”
“Revenge? Against what? The ones who did this to me, sold me? Then I was sold again. Then I was lost in a game of chance. For true revenge, I’d have to kill everyone. Absolutely everyone.”
“Perhaps, then, revenge is the wrong offer. What about power? A chance to live the life you deserve.”
“You can give me back to my people? You can restore what I had?”
“No. But I can give you a new life. And I can give you power. The power to fight. The power to rule your own fate. If you’re brave enough.”
“Skuld,” the Valkyrie demanded, “what in the name of Odin are you doing?”
“Getting back what’s mine. Your father has you. Ran has her—”
“Daughters. We fight for our father. Ran’s daughters fight for their mother.”
“Already you grow bored with your tasks. Soon, Odin and Ran will be forced to choose from humans, too. I see it. You know I do. I’m the one you cannot lie to.” Skuld stroked her hair. “So this one will be mine.”
“She is not of our people. She does not have our blood running through her veins.”
“I know. That’s what I like about her. Give me your loyalty, child,” Skuld said to her, “and I will give you a second life on this plane. One in which you control your destiny.”
“What will I have to do?”
“Take back what’s mine.” Skuld looked at the warriors pillaging the dead. “Starting here.” She pointed at a tall man, watching his warriors as they stole and cut and finished off. “Starting with him.”
“Will I be immortal?”
Skuld sighed at the Valkyrie before replying, “No. You will not be immortal. That I cannot give you. But . . . I can give you a second chance at life. At having children. At growing old. And power. I can give you power.”
“Enough power to fight all these men? They’ll try to stop me.”
“I would not make you live this life alone. I have two sisters. They irritate me, but they are mine. When I need help, they are always there. You shall have sisters as well. And strength. And skills.”
“Have you lost your mind?” the Valkyrie demanded. “My father—”
“Does not rule me. No one rules the Norns. We keep the balance and I have decided that this will keep the balance.” Skuld focused on She Who Had No Name. “Promise your loyalty to me, child. Swear it.”
Was this just another form of slavery? Perhaps. But it had to be better than what her life had become before her death. She might die again, but she’d already died once. So what was one more time?
“I swear it.”
Lifting her veil, Skuld leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. By the time she pulled away, the veil was back in place and She of No Name still had no idea what Skuld truly looked like.
Skuld stood and moved to the other girls. The other slaves who had lived this hell with her. She spoke to them for a bit and then they, too, swore their loyalty. In the end, there were five of them. None of them from the same place. None of them friends or tied by blood. But now sisters under Skuld’s banner.
She felt strange, her ethereal form suddenly shivering, then moving. She blinked and that’s when she realized she was back in her body. She lifted her head and the crow jumped off her back.
She pulled herself from the mud and grime and blood and stared down at her hands. She flexed her fingers, moved her shoulders. Life coursed through her. She felt strong. Not just from being alive again, but as if she’d had full meals these last few months. As if she hadn’t been beaten, tormented, abused. As if she hadn’t been violated.
That pain was gone, replaced by strength. But her thirst for vengeance still roared through her and, for the first time since her entire village had been wiped out, she held her head high.
“Look at this,” a male voice said. “Thought you said this one was dead.”
“She was. Trust me . . . I checked.”
“You were wrong.” He grabbed hold of her hand. “Let’s put her with the others and sell her off to—”
She snatched her hand back and the man snarled at her. “Bitch,” he growled before backhanding her across the face.
But this time she didn’t fall to her knees. She didn’t whimper and cower and cry because the pain was so unbearable. Instead, she stood tall—and backhanded him in return.
He stumbled to the side, shocked that a woman—any woman, much less a slave—could harm him.
One of the others who’d died but was now back, caught the man from behind. She gritted her teeth as she held him, her expression one of grim determination and, in her eyes, hopeful glee.
Understanding what was needed, She of No Name yanked the sword from the sheath at the man’s side. But it was long. It would impale him and the one who held him. So a shorter blade was retrieved from the man’s belt. This blade he’d stolen from the one who’d once ruled these lands but now lay dead in the mud and muck not far from where they stood.
Yes. This would do.
She wasted no time burying that shorter blade in his side and then slowly dragging it across his belly.
The man screamed as she’d screamed during her own death, but she felt no pity. She felt pity for no one any longer.
Another man ran toward her, his sword raised, ready to cut her down where she stood.
Yanking the blade from the first man’s gut, she turned toward her new attacker. He swung the blade, trying to cleave her from shoulder to waist, but it was easy to avoid the weapon. She quickly realized she’d never been able to move so fast. At first, the man looked stunned. Then angry. They didn’t like it when those they considered slaves didn’t die quickly and without much fuss.
He swung his blade again. Again she avoided it.
This time he went to ram the blade in her belly and she stepped aside, caught his arm, and bent it. The arm cracked like dry wood, part of the bone jutting through the skin, blood splattering across her face and the face of her comrade. Neither of them minded. The blood was like rainwater to them now. Refreshing in its purity.
There were more angry men coming, so she cut the throat of the broken-armed man and faced those who would kill her. But she was no longer alone. The three other women who had died but now lived, jumped into the fray. They attacked with brutal force and unmitigated fury. Screaming and snarling, they took the men down and tore them to pieces, using the weapons of their enemies or their own hands.
That’s when she noticed they had a bit of an audience. More crows had come to watch, staring at the women as they did their bloody work. One of the birds—birds she once saw as a portent of death but now saw only as winged friends—picked up a bit of bloody remains with its taloned feet and ate it.
She lifted her own blood-covered hands and watched in horrified fascination as her fingers turned long and blade-like.
Talons. She now had talons.
She dropped the weapons she held. She could still use them if she had need, but this weapon would do her just fine.
A man ran up from behind her and she turned into him, ramming her taloned hands into his gut. Once imbedded in him, his shocked face staring down at her, she wiggled her fingers inside him, cutting his organs, gleeful in the knowledge that she was making his death as painful as possible.
She’d been taught by the elders of her people that it was wrong to enjoy the death of another. One should kill out of necessity only. A fine and lofty belief. But who could afford fine and lofty beliefs among people like this?
So instead, she shed her lofty ideals and embraced her rage. She embraced it as a lover would. Or the way a mother embraces her child.
She ripped her hands from the man and his guts fell to the ground, moments before he followed.
“They are demons!” someone screamed. “Kill them!”
“We have played enough, sisters!” she called out, shocked that they seemed to understand her. They all spoke such different languages that none of them understood anyone very well. Instead, their masters showed them what they wanted or needed by force; although she’d begun to learn the masters’ language simply so that she knew when a blow was coming. When to anticipate pain. It had been a struggle . . . until now. Now she spoke and understood the language of these lands easily.
“We have a chore to do for our new god,” she yelled out to her sisters. “She calls upon us. Let us do her bidding!”