If on some cold winter’s night you gaze up in to the darkened sky and see the glow of the Northern Lights – consider this. Those shimmering colours are not an illusion. They are the glow of the Rainbow Bride called Bifröst. Across that magnificent bridge, far from the World of Man, you will find, Asgard; Land of the Norse Gods and home of Valhalla.
Also known as Odin’s Great Heavenly Hall for the Heroic Dead, Valhalla sits in the very centre of Asgard. Resting deep within the ethereal plane it is accessible from Earth only by crossing Bifröst.
Enormous in size with a thousand spires rising high into the clouds, it hosts over five hundred doors. Each entrance door to Valhalla is wide enough to allow eight hundred slain warriors to pass through marching side by side.
In ancient times, the Vikings fought valiantly to earn a seat at Valhalla. It was all they strived for. But to get there, they had to be selected by an elite group of winged Battle-Maidens known as the Valkyries.
In the middle of the battlefield, the Valkyries would swoop down from the skies, riding their winged Reaping Mares and howling their haunted cries. Coming to Earth to choose among the dead and dying only the most valiant of warriors to deliver to Odin at Valhalla.
Arriving at Valhalla, these chosen warriors would spend their nights sitting with Odin feasting and drinking. They would dance with the Valkyries and listen to their enchanting songs as the Battle-Maidens entertained the dead.
A warrior’s days at Valhalla were spent on the training grounds outside the heavenly hall as they picked up their weapons and gloried once again in endless battle.
This was their heaven and their paradise.
In today’s battles, soldiers have long forgotten Valhalla and the Valkyries that fly in to gather up the chosen dead.
Though we have forgotten them, they haven’t forgotten us…
The first rays of dawn swept over the distant horizon and drove away the long night. But Freya did not welcome the rising sun. It was her mortal enemy that would bring only sorrow. She tilted her wings and flew headlong into the fading darkness hoping to follow the night, praying day would not find her.
But darkness betrayed her and allowed in the light. She had been flying all night, soaring high above Asgard, dreading the upcoming First Day Ceremony.
Orus, her raven companion, flew at her side and tried his best to keep up. But his wings were much smaller than hers and despite his best efforts, he lagged behind. After the long flight, he was too tired to beg her to go back. All he could do was try to stay with her and help guide her through ‘First Day’.
“Freya!” a voice called from behind her.
Freya looked back and saw her older sister Maya soaring confidently behind them. Her own raven was flying closely at her side.
“Freya, stop!” Maya called. “Please land, we must speak.”
Orus forced more speed and caught up with her. “Stop!” he gasped. “I can’t fly much longer and your sister is calling.”
Freya looked over to her companion and saw how exhausted he was. She hadn’t been fair, forcing him to fly all night. Pulling in her wings, she descended and gracefully touched down in a field of golden grain. As she folded and settled her midnight black wings on her back, Orus landed on her shoulder. “Don’t lose your temper with your sister,” he panted softly.
“Thank Odin I found you!” Maya cried as she also landed and charged towards her. “Mother’s in a state. Everyone is searching for you. Where have you been all night?”
Freya used her sleeve to wipe away the beads of sweat from her brow. Now that she had stopped, she felt exhausted from the long flight. The muscles in her wings warned of the stiffness to come. “I needed a bit of fresh air.”
“I can see that,” Maya cried. “But why didn’t you tell anyone you were going? You could have at least told me!”
Freya dropped her head. “I saw you dancing at Valhalla with some of the warriors. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You know I would much rather spend time with you than dance,” Maya softened her tone, “Especially on the eve of your First Day.”
Freya dropped her head. “I don’t want to do this.”
Her sister’s pale brows knitted together in a frown. “Do what?”
“This! Today!” Freya shot back. “My First Day ceremony and then going to the battlefield.”
“What do you mean? You’ve been to the battlefields thousands of times. You have spent all of your life there. Only today you will reap your first dying warrior.”
Freya sighed heavily. “But I hate it. I hate the warriors and I hate all the killing and wounding. Humans are filthy, blood thirsty monsters. I don’t want to touch them or be part of bringing more of them here. Asgard would be much better off without Valhalla and its dead warriors.”
Maya looked shocked “How can you say that? Valhalla is a wondrous place and a home to all the valiant warriors who have fallen in battle since the dawn of time. Those men have earned the right to be here. It is a great honour that we are the ones chosen to escort them. You should celebrate them and what they have achieved.”
“All they have achieved is being good killers!” Freya challenged. “And what does that make us when we reap them? We’re even better killers!”
“We do not kill!” her sister said indignantly. “We are Valkyries. We bring an end to their suffering and escort them home.”
“It’s still killing,” Freya insisted and her wings fluttered in annoyance. “If we didn’t touch them, they would live.”
“And they would suffer unbearably,” Maya insisted. “Existing, but not living. Soon they would beg for release. We give them that release. It is their time to die, whether we help them do it or not.”
“But I don’t want to do it,” Freya responded as she turned and walked away from her sister. “I don’t want to touch a human or even talk to them. I have seen the warriors at Valhalla – spending all day fighting and all night drinking just to rise and start fighting again. What kind of existence is that?”
Her sister started to preen the black feathers on Freya’s folded wings. “Freya, listen to me. Those are the old warriors, from the early days when it was glorious to fight all day. You have not spent enough time with the new soldiers. They are different.”
“A warrior is a warrior,” Freya insisted as she turned and pushed her sister’s hands away. “They are human. All they want to do is kill and destroy.”
“How can I make you see that you’re wrong? The soldiers of today are nothing like the warriors of the past. Most do not remain in Asgard and choose to ascend to be with their families. You’ll see today when you reap your first. Talk to them. You will soon find they are nothing like the others you have seen.”
“But what if I don’t want to?”
“You are a Valkyrie. Reaping is what we are born to do. You have no choice, it is your destiny.”
Freya looked at her sister and sighed. Maya was beautiful. All four of her sisters were, but Maya was the most enchanting. She was tall and lean with long flaxen hair. The skin on her sculpted face was unblemished and she had the palest, pearl-grey eyes in all of Asgard. Her wings were fine boned with elegant white feathers lying neatly over each other. She was everything a Valkyrie should be; which was why most of the reaped warriors fell instantly in love with her.
Compared to Maya, Freya, the youngest of the five sisters, felt like a plow horse. She wasn’t as tall, beautiful or graceful. Her wings were large and stocky. Their raven black feathers always looked like they could use a good grooming. Instead of pearl-grey eyes, Freya’s were dark blue. And although she was the fastest flyer in Asgard, it was always Maya who attracted attention.
But for all their differences, Freya adored her older sister. Many times Freya had watched Maya with envy as she confidently approached the battlefields. Without a trace of hesitation, she reaped the warriors she was assigned to and escorted them back to Valhalla.
“Don’t you ever question what we do?”
Maya shook her head. “We do as we were intended to do. As Odin tells us to.”
“And if we don’t want to do it?”
Maya put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side. “Sometimes I wonder if you are even my sister. How can you not want to be a Valkyrie? We are most respected in Asgard. Odin favours us above all others. It is an honour to do what we do. We escort the best warriors home.”
Sitting on her shoulder, Orus whispered in her ear. “Stop arguing. Maya can not understand. Don’t condemn her for that.”
Freya looked into the dark eyes of the raven on her shoulder. Orus was right. No one in Asgard could understand how she felt. At times she didn’t even understand it. She hated humans and nothing could change that.
“I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I guess I’m nervous for today.”
Maya nodded and combed her fine fingers through Freya’s wild, unkempt hair. “I understand. Now come, let’s get you prepared for the ceremony before Odin sends out a Dark Searcher to get us.”
Freya and Orus followed Maya and her raven back to Valhalla. Beneath them, the great heavenly hall was being prepared for her First Day ceremony. This was to be the final ceremony for some time as there were no Valkyries younger than Freya and everyone in Asgard wanted it to be the best – everyone except, Freya.
In the fields surrounding Valhalla, the reaped warriors who had chosen to remain in Asgard did what they were always doing. Fighting. The clanging sounds of sword upon sword rose up in the air as fighters spent all day battling against each other until night fell. Then they would enter Valhalla and drink and sing – preparing for the next day’s battle.
To Freya, it all seemed so pointless. There were so many other things to see and do. Why these warriors should choose to fight day in, day out, was something she couldn’t comprehend.
They veered away from Valhalla and flew over the beautiful buildings that made up the main city of Asgard and back to their home. It was a magnificent mansion standing alone on a hill, surrounded by gardens that turned into dense forests.
The Valkyries always had the best housing, and as Freya’s mother was senior Valkyrie, she had the biggest, most opulent home that was second only in size and beauty to Odin’s palace.
Landing on the main balcony, they found their mother pacing the large, richly decorated living area. Shields and weapons of battles throughout the ages adorned the walls and the floor was lined with sheepskin rugs.
Their mother was dressed in her shining silver armour. The feathers on her wings were groomed and bejeweled and her ceremonial dagger was at her waist. Her winged helmet was cast on a chair.
“Freya!” she shouted as she charged over. Her ice-blue eyes blazed and white wings were half open in fury. “Where have you been? Do you realize the time? You will be late for your own First Day ceremony! Odin will be in a rage.”
“Mother, it’s all right,” Maya said calmly. “Freya and Orus were out for a quick flight and lost track of time. Odin need never know. If you tell him we’re on our way, we’ll be there shortly.”
“It will take an age to get her prepared,” her mother ranted. “Just look at the state of her, she’s filthy.” She snatched up a comb and tried to drag it through Freya’s tangled blonde hair. “It will take all day just to get this mess cleared. Not to mention your feathers. Just look at the state of them. I’m amazed you can even fly…”
“Mother, please,” Freya begged. She caught the comb as her mother pulled it through a large tangle. “I can do this. Just give me a bit of time.”
“For the life of me, I just don’t understand how my own daughter could do this to me on this day of days. Of all my children, you have always given me the most trouble. Your sisters were dressed and ready to leave at sun up. They’ve already gone to Valhalla to join the honour guard. Don’t you realise how important this is? You are my youngest child and the last Valkyrie. Today, finally, you will join us in the reaping. It is a great honour.”
Freya opened her mouth to protest, but her sister cut in. “Of course Freya understands how important it is. We all do. Just give us a moment to prepare and we’ll meet you at the entrance to Valhalla.”
Her mother seemed unconvinced, but nodded as she reached for her winged helmet. “Just don’t keep Odin waiting long. You know how impatient he can be.” Without a backward glance, she crossed to the balcony, opened her wings and leaped off.
“Remember to bow when you approach Odin,” Orus warned. Well preened, he sat on Freya’s shoulder as they prepared to leave for Valhalla.
Freya nodded her head nervously. “I’ll remember.”
Maya put the finishing touches to Freya’s gold and white gown as she flitted around her. “And try not to yawn when he gives his speech.”
“I’ll try. But why does he always have to talk for so long.”
Orus leaned closer to her ear, “To hear himself speak!” The raven started to laugh and caw at his insult to the leader of Asgard.
“Don’t let Odin hear you say that,” Maya warned, swatting at him. “Orus, you should show more respect like my Grul.” Maya reached up and stroked the raven at her shoulder.
“Don’t try to educate Orus, Maya,’ Grul teased. ‘He’s too thick to learn anything.”
“Who are you calling thick!” Orus challenged, cawing loudly and flapping his wings.
“You,” Grul answered.
As the two ravens cawed at each other, Maya held up her hand. “Enough! When will you two finally get along?”
“Never!” the ravens said as one.
Freya reached up and stroked the smooth black chest of Orus. “Calm down. He’s just trying to upset you before the ceremony.”
“He’s doing a fine job of it,” Orus muttered. “One of these days, Freya, I’m going to show that Grul just how clever I really am…”
Ignoring the bickering birds, Maya finished fastening a plain gold chain at her sister’s neck. “Oh, and try to look interested when Odin tells the story of Frigha.”
“Oh no, not again,” Freya moaned. “Why does he keep telling us the same old story every time there is a First Day ceremony? Surely by now, we all know it.”
“He tells the story as a warning to all of us,” Maya said. “So no one forgets what happened to the one Valkyrie who defied him and ran away from her duties in Asgard. You remember what happened to her?”
“How could I forget? Odin had to summon a Dark Searcher to find her. Then he let loose the Midgard Serpent to punish those who helped hide her from him. Half the Earth was destroyed in his rage.”
“Yes,” Maya said. “And then he cut off her wings and took her eyes before he banished the Valkyrie from Asgard for all time. She was left to wander the world of man, blind, alone and flightless. To lose our wings is a fate worse than death.”
“I know the story,” Freya said tiredly. “You don’t have to remind me.”
“I’m just saying that Odin will repeat it. You must show him respect and try not to look too bored.”
“I’ll try.’ Freya inhaled deeply. ‘So how do I look?”
Maya took a step back and surveyed her work. “You look beautiful. Not even Mother could find fault.”
Freya grinned and opened her dark wings. Her sister had applied fragrant oils to the feathers that had them shining brightly. It the full sunlight, the black feathers shone with rainbow iridescence.
Freya looked to Orus. “Well, what do you think?”
“You’ll do,” the raven said casually. He gave her a playful nip on the ear with his polished long beak. “Just as long as they don’t look too closely at your fingernails.” He cawed in laughter and flew off her shoulder towards the balcony. “Now hurry up before they start the ceremony without us!”
Valhalla had been dressed for the ceremony in the most beautiful flowers that grew in Asgard. The high walls had been scrubbed; the spires that rose high into the air all flew the flag of the Valkyries and the weapons adorning the many doors had been cleaned and polished. All the grounds surrounding the hall had been groomed. There wasn’t a thing out of place.
Outside the great hall, the slain warriors stopped fighting and gathered together along either side of the entrance to greet Freya. As she approached, they all bowed their heads.
“See, they’re not so bad,” Maya whispered as she smiled radiantly at the gathered warriors.
Freya wasn’t convinced. “Just you wait. The moment we’re inside, they’ll go back to slaughtering each other in the name of amusement.”
Maya sighed. “That is the after-life they have chosen. Why must you condemn them for that?”
“Because it’s foolish.”
“It is their choice,” Maya insisted.
Their mother appeared at the entrance. “You’re late,” she chastised. “Everyone is waiting.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Maya said. “But doesn’t Freya look beautiful?”
Her mother was much like Maya. Tall and elegant and was Odin’s favourite Valkyrie. “Yes she does,” she admitted. She embraced Freya warmly.
“You are my youngest child and I am proud to welcome you into the sisterhood of the Valkyries. Come, my daughter, come and take your rightful place among us.”
Freya stood directly behind her mother, while Maya took position behind her. As they approached the wide doors of Valhalla, Maya donned her winged helmet and then placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I’m right behind you, Freya. Always.”
Grateful for her sister’s presence, Freya reached up and gave Orus a stroke on the chest. “Well, this is it.”
“Good luck,” the raven whispered. “You’ll do fine.”
As her mother led her into Valhalla, Freya felt the eyes of everyone in Asgard resting upon her. Lining the aisle leading up to Odin were all the other Valkyries. They were dressed in their full amour and wearing their winged helmets. Their wings were open in salute as they raised their swords high in the air.
Freya knew them all by name, but there were none among them that she could call friend. She was the youngest and the last in the long line of Valkyries. But this wasn’t what made her different. For reasons no one understood, Freya was the first Valkyrie born with solid black feathers, as opposed to the white or grey wings of the other Valkyries. This difference made her stand out and was the subject of much talk and rumour. At times, she felt almost as if they resented her and didn’t trust her. Her mother had always said that her father was a powerful warrior of dark hair and piercing black eyes. She had been told that he remained in Asgard and was one of the warriors fighting outside Valhalla. But her mother had never pointed him out.
When she was younger she would walk among the warriors and wonder if she could find him. But as time past and she saw how brutal they could be, she lost interest. Besides, she reasoned, he could have come forward to find her. He knew her mother, surely if he wanted to meet her he could. So if he wasn’t interested, why should she waste her time trying to find him?
The blasting or horns pulled Freya from her thoughts. Everyone in the huge hall stood to attention. As Freya followed her mother down the long aisle, she walked past her three sisters at the front. With their swords held high, their armour shone and their extended wings glistened as they all smiled proudly at her.
Finally, Odin appeared with his family on a tall dais at the front of the hall and took a position to receive her. Following close at his heels were Odin’s two pet wolves, Geri and Freki. At Odin’s command, they sat and panted softly.
Freya’s mother bowed before the leader of Asgard and stepped to the left and knelt down. Freya followed suit and knelt before Odin. Her sister bowed and then knelt on Freya’s right.
“Rise!” commanded Odin.
Freya rose and stood before the imposing leader. She felt awed in his presence. Odin was a terrifying sight in his full, well used battle armour. His wild red hair spilled out from under his large horned helmet and his red beard grew long and thick, down to his waist. His left eye socket was covered with a gold patch. It was rumoured that he had sacrificed his eye in pursuit of wisdom, but Freya didn’t know if it was true or not. In his bare arms, he carried his famous spear, Gungnir.
Freya had never been this close to Odin before and the sight of him petrified her. All the wild stories told about him and his strength and battle prowess now seemed possible as she stood before him.
Standing behind Odin was his wife, Frigg. She too was dressed in her golden battle armour and in her hands was the new silver breastplate that was to be given to Freya. Her long blonde hair was neatly styled in two bejeweled braids that almost reached down to her fur lined boots. It was said she was the most beautiful woman in Asgard. Up close, Freya could see it was true. The only one who could ever rival her beauty was Freya’s own sister, Maya.
Beside Frigg was Thor. He was the spitting image of his father, Odin, except for the colour of his hair. Thor’s hair was long and blond, only his beard showed a trace of his father’s red. Thor stood, stone faced and unmoving as his blue eyes bored into her. He was clutching his hammer, Mjölnir, in one hand and holding a newly crafted winged helmet in the other.
It was said that Thor didn’t have a lot of time for the Valkyries, and by the dark expression on his face, Freya could see that it was true. What caused the animosity remained a mystery. But for as long as she had lived, Freya had avoided him and his sharp tongue.
Standing back against the wall behind the dais was Loki, the trickster and unrelated blood-brother to Odin. Unlike the other men of Asgard, he wasn’t strongly built, nor did he wear armour or carry a weapon. He had long dark brown hair and sparkling, mischievous eyes. Freya knew even less about him than she did Thor. Only that for reasons untold, Odin tolerated his presence in Asgard even with all the trouble he liked to cause. Her mother said he was dangerous and was always warning her to stay away from him.
Freya didn’t know if it was true or not, but as he caught her eye, he gave her a big grin and bowed elegantly.
Odin cleared his throat loudly to ensure he had everyone’s attention. “Welcome to this final First Day ceremony.” He dropped his eyes and they landed directly on Freya.
“Freya, today you are the last to join your sisters in the reaping. This is a somber occasion indeed, filled with reverence for a time honoured tradition assigned only to the Valkyries. It falls upon you to bring only the best of the slain to me, here at Valhalla. They have earned their place among the glorious dead and share in the celebration of battle…”
Freya stood before Odin trying her best to stay focused and listen to every word of his long speech, but as the moments passed, it was becoming harder and harder.
To her, there was no glory in being a warrior killed in battle. It was wasteful. Where were art, music, and all the other parts that made up a life? Maya kept insisting there was more to the world of man than just fighting. But if that was so, why did Odin revere it as he did.
As her eyes drifted around the great hall, she saw how everyone hung on Odin’s every word. How they murmured in agreement as he spoke of the glorious dead and of battles fought and won. Looking at the masses of people surrounding her, Freya never felt more alone.
Why was she so different?
Why couldn’t she feel the same way everyone else did? What was wrong with her?
A sharp nip at her ear brought her out of her reverie. She stole a quick look at Orus on her shoulder. “Freya, stop daydreaming!” he warned softly. “Prepare to swear your oath.”
With a quick nod, Freya turned her attention back to Odin. She hadn’t been aware of his speech and suddenly realised he was now deep into telling the story of Frigha, the runaway Valkyrie.
“It gave me no joy to blind and de-wing her,” he was saying. “Finally she was banished from her home in Asgard. To this day, she wanders the Earth alone, lost in her shame and betrayal…”
On and on Odin droned, giving warning to all Valkyries that once they swear the oath, they are bound to their duties. Freya wondered if he ever stopped talking long enough to actually breathe.
Finally, he offered her his large hand. “Come forward, Freya,” he commanded.
“Go on,” Orus ordered into her ear. “This is it!”
Freya nervously took hold of Odin’s outstretched hand and stepped up on to the dais. “Kneel, child.”
Freya opened her wings wide enough to allow her to kneel before the leader of Asgard as Odin placed a hand on the top of her head. “Freya, do you swear to carry out your duties to the best of your abilities?”
“Say ‘I swear’,” Orus whispered softly in her ear.
“I swear,” Freya repeated somberly.
“Do you swear allegiance to the sisterhood of the Valkyries and promise to fulfill your obligations as one of the favoured?”
“Do you swear your allegiance to me and do my bidding according to the laws of the Valkyries – bringing only the best of the best warriors to my great heavenly hall, Valhalla and leaving the others to Azrael and his Angels of Death?”
Freya hesitated. This was the one order she knew was going to be hardest to follow. Who were they to decide who was worthy or not? How could she be expected to judge someone? It was all so unfair.
“Say ‘I swear’!” Orus whispered. “Freya, swear it!”
Freya could hear the sharp intake of breath from the others behind her as she hesitated.
“Answer me,” Odin commanded. “Do you swear?”
It went against everything Freya believed, but with the pressure of her mother beside her, and all of Asgard gathered behind her, Freya finally nodded. “I swear.”
She could hear her mother release her held breath.
Odin inhaled deeply before continuing. “Do you understand your position as Valkyrie? That you possess the power to keep the Angels of Death at bay and with a word, can command them away from the battlefield and they must obey. They resent this ranking, but accept it. Do you?”
“I understand and accept,” Freya said.
“Then it is by my order that I command you to arise, Valkyrie. Rise and receive your armour and sword.”
Freya climbed to her feet as Odin took her hand. He drew her back to his wife, Frigg.
Frigg raised the new silver armour. “By this breastplate, I give you the power of wisdom in choosing the best slain for Valhalla. May it guide you and protect you always. I welcome you, young Valkyrie.”
“Lift your arms and open your wings,” Orus softly instructed.
Freya felt like she was in a dream as she lifted her arms and opened her wings fully. Frigg approached and placed the silver breastplate into position on her chest. The heavy armour fell down past her waist. She had never been measured for it, yet somehow, it fit the lines of her body perfectly. The leather straps were then fed around her body and under the wings at her back to be fastened at her right side.
With her breastplate in position, Frigg kissed Freya lightly on the forehead and took several steps back.
Next, Thor came forward. He put his hammer down as he lifted the silver winged helmet high above Freya’s head.
“With this helmet, I grant you speed and stealth. No human eyes will rest upon you as long as you wear it. Only the dead and dying may see you as you truly are. Take this helmet and protect it. With it lies your power of secrecy.” He paused and his blue eyes threatened, “But be warned. Never allow a living human to wear your helmet. To do so will cause the helmet great suffering and its cries will be heard in all Asgard.”
Thor took a step closer and put the silver winged helmet on Freya’s head. When it was in place, Freya felt everything change. She became dizzy and light headed. The world around her drained of colour as though she was gazing through a dense fog. Maya always said it was harder to see with her helmet on. Freya now understood what she meant. Though the helmet made her invisible and part of the ethereal realm, it had a cost. That was her clear, colour filled vision.
She felt herself starting to fall. Thor’s strong arms went fast around her.
“Steady…” he said. “It takes a moment to adjust.”
Freya recovered, but still felt very strange, almost as if she weighed nothing. Too distracted by the strange sensations coursing through her body, Freya was unaware of the silver gauntlets being drawn up her arms or the heavily jeweled dagger being placed at her waist.
When she was fully dressed in the armour of the Valkyrie, Odin came forward again. In his hand he carried a newly forged sword. Her sword.
Freya had seen Odin do this part of the ceremony many times, and had watched her sisters going through it. But now that it was her turn, her fear returned.
Odin lowered the sword until the tip was resting half way down her lovely gown, just above her knees. He reached forward and pierced the fine fabric with the sharp tip. Then as Freya stood perfectly still, he used the sword to cut away the lower length of gown all the way around her body.
When he finished, the jagged edge of fabric rested against her thighs as the lower half of her beautiful gown lay on the floor in ruins. Looking down at herself, she knew this signaled the end of the life she had known. She was turning fourteen. It meant she was no longer a child, or girl or even young woman. She was now…