Gunnhildr awoke with a piercing scream that traveled through the silent corridors of the long house like a shrieking ghost agonising in the first light of dawn. Her now matured bosom, rising and falling rapidly from sheer fright. Trying to catch her breath, she brought her delicate hands to her breast as if to physically force her heart to slow down its pace. From the only overture through the southern wall, covered with a dried and stretched placenta from a goat, a dim light penetrated the small room and partly illuminated the pale, half naked form. She was now a woman in her own right at the eve of her twenty-first winter. Nature having blessed her with all the natural attributes of a true woman from the north, she would soon be the envy of every young men seeking a wife to wed.
Her thick golden hair falling in a myriad of curves all the way down to her knees like serpents covering her marble skin. A skin, soft and milky white and even more so beneath the beams of light, seemed to radiate in the penumbral confinement of her small room. And her eyes; emerald green, almost unnaturally glowing, accentuated by long curly lashes. Eyes of a wise woman that seemed to possess the wisdom of a hundred lifetimes of mysteries and forgotten lore.
The heavy wooden door swung open, causing the iron hinges to squeak and crack. It was Helge, Gunnhildr’s mother entering in a rush, seax blade in hand, her panicked eyes searching every corners of the room looking for some invisible foe daring to spoil the sweet innocence of her precious daughter. When her fears revealed to be nothing, she turned to her weeping child. Her large eyes crying in the faint light, her arms folded around her trembling nude shoulders.
“What is it my poor child? What could have brought such a terrifying sound from my sweet baby?” She spoke in a comforting voice as not to frighten the poor child more than she already was.
Her voice still sobbing and gasping between breaths, the girl managed to break the paralyzing spell of fright. “A shadow walks amongst the trees in the moonlight. I saw a giant of wood with eyes like brimstones and a doom befalling all the tribes of the north.”
“You had a vision again my daughter.” Exclaimed Helge, obviously not surprised at her daughter’s cryptic revelations. And as the caring mother brought the linen sheets and wolf hide over her child’s shoulders to hide her femininity in case anyone else entered the room, she brushed away the curled bangs off her forehead and kissed it gently. At that moment, Kveldulf stormed through the door, axe in his hand dressed only in a long linen shirt, hair and beard loosened wildly about his shoulders and chest, eyes flaming with anger, he roared.
“What is the meaning of this? By Odhinn’s beard I will-” But his wife cut short the charge of her husband, all too eager to swing his long axe again.
“Shhhhh! Lower your voice my husband, you’ll frighten our poor girl back into a crying fit. And put that huge dented blade aside before you hurt any one of us.”
“Do not raise your voice at me woman. I am still Jarl of this place, by the gods.” Answered Kveldulf somewhat taken aback by the commanding tone of his wife.
“And I was your wife first before you became chieftain old goat, so do not speak to me like I am some spineless subject to his royal highness. This is the rude northlands my dear, not the imperial court of the soft and civilised. Regain your manners.” Kveldulf etched a soft grin hidden under his long beard remembering why he married that woman in the first place.
Turning her attention back to the young girl; “She has seen again with her eyes closed. Let her speak out.” The pallid youth sunk into her mother’s embrace and let out a sigh of relief before she proceeded with the other visions that haunted her dreams just a moment ago. “It is not clear as spring water mother. I see images and hear terrible sounds in my head but they do not always make sense. I…I cannot…”
“Calm down child. Breath slowly and look at me” Taking Gunnhildr’s face between her strong hands, Helge stared into her wet eyes with a motherly tenderness that dissipated all fears from her daughter’s mind. “There was a thing that walked like a man yet was no man in essence. I saw a temple in ruin amidst the trees, buried in snow, from which I felt an age old evil sleeping within its crumbled walls. I stood at the center of great battlefield surrounded by the lifeless bodies of thousands of men, including our clansmen. I also saw that thing on that field watching me from a distance, pointing an accusing finger at me. Then suddenly it threw back its cloak of darkness to reveal a man’s face: his eyes aflame with hate. And this sound, like a low vibrating mantra: Groooond… I cannot imitate that terrible sound which reverberated like thunder from the sky. Then you entered my room.”
Kveldulf erupted. “This is madness woman. I will not suffer this nonsense again under my roof.”
“You know very well that our daughter has the gift of sight, husband. Like my mother had and her grandmother before her. There is nothing we can do.”
“I know that this curse appears every two generations, praised be the gods, I haven’t suffered your part of this.”
“Old fool. You should not be so blind to what your eyes cannot see and your axe cannot hack. There are more to this world, or the next, than blood and iron. Thörgrimr understands.”
“Ah! And I will never understand him. As much as he inherited my common sense, he seemed to have been poisoned by this womanly curse of yours.”
“Our son is no more cursed than our daughter my husband.” Answered sharply the proud wife in a defensive tone, holding her daughter in a protective embrace. She was like a she-bear protecting her cups. “Nor does he cowards before the unseen like many. Yet as opposed to you, my goat headed spouse, he acknowledges that there are things in this world that cannot be bled to death with steel. So do not confuse his natural instincts towards the unfathomable for superstitious ignorance-”
“Please, stop this, both of you!” snapped the young girl, regaining her composure, a hint of annoyed anger in her voice. “I have never asked for this, curse or gift of sight, yet all my life I had seen what others cannot. Does that make me less your daughter in your eyes father? Am I to be sent away to the hills with the beasts of the wild like some banished crone?”
Kveldulf’s body language changed as he softened his composure. He knew in his heart; hardened by a lifetime of conflicts and the political intricacies that come with the duties of sitting upon the throne of a Jarl, that his harsh words were only hurting his child, his own blood. Reaching for the fatherly love that still burned in the depths of his being, he spoke softly, his eyes now sorrowful and gentle.
“Forgive my brute manners my child. I have no mind for such matters which I, a man of the earth, cannot grasp with my bare hands nor see with mine own eyes.”
“Then stop fearing what you cannot understand father. I do not grasp the meaning of these visions myself and seek only to lift their terrible weight from my soul by sharing them with you. If only I could make sense of them.”
“The gods are speaking to you through your dreams my child, this I know.” Intervened Helge, still holding her daughter’s hand. “And we must find out what they are telling you, for the gods would not have sent you these images if there were no hidden warming behind them. What is it my husband, you seem troubled suddenly?” Kveldulf was passing his thick fingers trough the locks of his white beard his attention fixed at the floor. “Just something that came back to mind from a few nights ago. That day when we vanquished the clans of the west, at the victory feast in the great hall that followed. Thörgrimr and I had words, for he mentioned something about some mischievous plan, some conspiracy to set all the clans at each other’s throat. But surely this cannot be related.”
“You must send for him immediately-” Said Helge. “Our son’s instincts are as keen as the wolf’s eye when it concerns matters of imminent danger. You should have taken more into consideration the wisdom that lay hidden in his words. Fetch for him now.”
Kveldulf rose and exited the room without uttering a word for there was none more to be said. He was made of the stuff rulers are made of and that left no place for superstitions and beliefs in visions in dreams. He cursed himself for his stubbornness but he knew that this wouldn’t change a thing. He was getting too old for this anyway. When the fate of his people may be on the balance, he refused to open his all too narrowed mind to the deceiving plots and hidden political agendas of those who would bring down empires forged in blood and fire, for their own greed and lust for personal power.