I: A.D. 1050

“Give me a sword and shield, Father. I’m ready to go raiding.”

Reanna the Red was her nickname, due to her fiery red hair, but her true name was Reanna Ulfsdottir, and Ulf was a jarl. His name meant wolf, and he wore a wolf’s pelt across his back and shoulders, pinned on the right side to keep his sword arm free from entanglement.

The only daughter of a nobleman (jarl) named Ulf, and his wife, Gunnhild, Reanna was tough—she had to be, to survive with five brothers—Hakon, Erling, Horic, Bjorn, and Hrolf, and the youngest one—Erik. Her much older brothers, Hakon and Erling, were back from the raids on Dublin, so for a while, the whole family was reunited. People accused the two elder brothers of being lazy lowlifes—“coalbiters”—but Hakon in particular had a gift. He was a masterful storyteller. Reanna was overjoyed that he’d come back unscathed to fill their nights in the longhouse with the heroic, empowering stories of old.

Reanna, daughter of the wolf, had awoken that morning from a strange dream. She’d seen the three Norns, weaving the rope of her destiny.

II: Dream

The one sitting down said, “Sisters, a visitor approaches.”

The one standing said, “Let her come,” and the one leaning on a staff said, “It is Reanna Ulfsdottir. She has come to learn her destiny. Come, child.”

Reanna walked forward toward the three women. The scene around her was hazy, as seen through a film, as dreams sometimes are.

“You are bold,” said the Norn woman who wore blue. “What makes you so bold, child? What is it that ails you?”

“The old world is dying,” said Reanna. “Soon, no one will worship the gods. Odin the Allfather will have no sacrifices in his honor. No ships will be burned on the shore.”

The Norn nodded, and the next one spoke. This one wore robes of red, like blood. “The gods will always see themselves through—but see themselves through—but there is more to this tale. You are not who you seem to be. Speak, child; tell us what it is you truly desire. For unless you know the yearnings of a person’s heart, you do not truly know them.”

Reanna felt her eyes well up with tears. The Norn’s words hit close to home. She knew what she wanted, and it was not the life that her society had planned for her.

“I do not want to be merely some farmer’s wife,” Reanna admitted. They already know, so there’s no harm in telling.

“Ah,” said the third Norn sister, this one wearing green. “Now I see you clearly, and how right it is that you should throw off the oppressive chains of an ordinary life. My dear, you were born with a Valkyrie’s spirit; that’s all. You were born for the battlefield, the conquest, the gathering-up of heroic deeds. You were born to a great destiny that will please the gods and secure you a place in Valhalla.”

Reanna couldn’t help but smile. Finally, someone understands me.

III: Inside the Family Longhouse

This night, as they sat around the family pit fire, Hakon drew over the chest that he sat on in the longships for the raids. “Tonight’s tale is of Ragnarok,” he announced. Erling sat on his own wooden chest that so often held the treasures he’d brought back from profitable raiding expeditions. Hakon took a swig of barley beer from his drinking horn before continuing. Outside of the longhouse, a mighty storm raged. Thunder cracked across the sky.

“One day, the world will end, at a time known as the Fate of the Gods. There will be the Thimbulvinter, the terrible winter that will last for three whole years. What could possibly grow during such a time? The snowfall will be intense and unreal. The sun will be clouded over and black. The inhabitants of Midgard will have abandoned all hope. In their despair and confusion, they will give in to the worst tendencies of mankind. There will be greed, incest, and civil war. The agents of chaos will be unleashed to wreak havoc on the world of men. The Midgardsormer itself, that great world-encircling serpent, will come lunging out of the ocean. The tides will swell up, rush over the land, and flood the world. No place will be safe.”

Here, Hakon took a break to drink another sip of his barley beer. Erik scooted closer to Reanna, and Reanna put her arm around his shoulders. Poor little Erik, she thought. He looks so scared. Hakon wiped the beer from his blond beard with his sleeve. Then he continued on with his tale. “The giant wolf Fenrir will break free of his chains, and the frost giants will arrive on a ship with Loki at the helm. The ship will be made from the uncut fingernails of the dead. The fire giants will surge across the sky-bridge called the Bifrost. The gods and the frost and fire giants will go to war. Odin will take on Fenrir and Thor will fight the Midgard serpent, but the serpent kills him. Heimdall and Loki square off and then kill each other. Fenrir swallows Odin. A fire giant kills Frey, and then it spreads its fire across the Earth until everything is consumed.” All eyes were on the fire in the pit. Hakon went silent.

“And that’s the end?” Erik asked.

“Yeah, that’s it. The end,” said Hakon, drinking down the rest of his beer.

Erling punched Hakon lightly on the shoulder. “Hey brother, if you keep telling stories like this, people are going to think you’re cracked. You don’t want to end up eating mushrooms and moss and talking to the trees, exiled in the woods in a stump by the river!”

Hakon shoved Erling, saying, “Maybe I do, brother.”

Ulf walked over and reprimanded them both, saying, “Are my sons men or are they boys?!”

That got the brothers to stop fighting. Good job, Dad. Last time they fought like that, furniture was broken over it. There’s no need for all that to happen again.

“It’s okay,” said Reanna to Erik. “The end of the world’s not going to be for a real long time, ‘til after we’re long dead and worms are eating our bodies.”

“Okay,” Erik replied, smiling as he looked at her.

IV: Inside the Family Longhouse, Next Morning

“Hands off my lutefisk!” Reanna shouted, shoving her brother Erik away from her plate. She then ate all of the boiled cod, shoving the whole portion into her mouth all at once. She knew that living with six brothers was like trying to survive in a pack of wild dogs.

Erik laughed. “Okay, but if you leave it out like that one more time, it’s mine!” He walked over and picked up a wooden sword, and then prodded her with it. “Wanna fight?!”

Reanna finished gnawing her lutefisk and then pointed her fork at him, saying, “Bring it!”

She then got up out of her seat and raced over to the wall, where a pile of wooden swords were. The house was never without them. She picked one up and stabbed it in Erik’s general direction.

Hakon and Erling were by the fire, trading stories from the raids that they’d been on and boasting that they were never going to get married. Meanwhile, the three triplets were off causing trouble together like always. These three, Horic, Bjorn, and Hrolf, were a mini-clan unto themselves in the household, and today, they were planning out a battle against their imagined frost giant foes, drawing battle plans with sticks in the dirt of the longhouse common room floor and piling up stones as makeshift fortifications. Ulf walked in, saying, “Are any of my children going to get married and live normal lives? I’ve got two coalbiters who want to drink and tell stories all day, three little hellions who don’t listen to anybody but their self-appointed leader Bjorn, and a daughter who wants to lead a raiding party. Erik, don’t let me down. You’re my only hope at this point.” He spread his arms wide for emphasis as he said, “This is a place of chaos. Loki has possessed my house!”

V: King Gylfi’s Hall, Later That Day

“Give me a sword and shield, Father. I’m ready to go raiding,” said Reanna. It is my destiny. She felt it in the pit of her soul. This is what she was put on Earth to do, not to sit around tending gardens and taking care of livestock.

“There are hardly any raids, these days. The kingdom of Cnut fell 15 years ago when he died, girl. The old ways are dying, too. There is simply no need for us to go raiding in this day and age. You ought to take up a life of farming. Who put this strange idea into your head to go picking up swords like a man and go raiding?” Ulf asked.

“The Norns told me to go raiding, Father. They said that I have a great destiny and that I must seek it out.” She pointed to her father’s sword. “What good is a sword if you never use it?”

Swedish king Gylfi stood nearby and also heard the odd request made by Ulf’s only daughter, Reanna. True to Viking tradition, the king had his mighty sword, Icebreaker, with him.

“Are you sure you are ready to wield a sword?” Ulf asked.

“I can wield one as well as any man,” Reanna boasted. She ran over and seized the family sword Ankle-Biter from the table where it lay. Then she heaved it, hacking a solid wooden table in half.

“That will be the destiny of our enemies!” she shouted into the sky.

The king rolled his eyes. “Your daughter has turned berserker, Ulf.” He paused for a moment before speaking further. “Take your daughter at once to see the sorceress, Frideborn,” the king instructed. “Frideborn knows the realms of man and woman both—the ties that connect them in the worlds of the supernatural. It is only fitting that Frideborn should conduct a ritual and cast the runes of your daughter’s fate. I await the results of Frideborn’s casting.”

“Yes, my king,” replied Ulf.

VI: Forest, Exact Location Unknown

“Pick a stone from the river,” Ulf instructed his daughter. “I received word by messenger that you are to present an ordinary stone to Frideborn as part of the ceremony.”

Reanna walked over to the water’s edge, found a gray, dull stone polished smooth by the waters, and plucked it out of the water to carry with her.

And so Ulf led his daughter to the cave beyond the edge of the forest, where the sorceress Frideborn lived. The smoke of burning herbs wafted forth, and Frideborn shambled out on crutches. I don’t know what to make of this person, thought Reanna, unable to tell whether Frideborn was a woman or a man. At first, she thought it was a woman, due to the dress that Frideborn wore and the lumps beneath it that suggested breasts. But then she thought it was a man due to the powerfully muscled arms that clutched bone crutches and the overabundance of thick, black facial hair.

“Come in, child,” said Frideborn. “The gods have told me all about you. We mustn’t leave them waiting.”

Ulf waited outside. “Go on,” he said. “I’ll be here waiting for you when you’re done.”

Reanna saw him seek out a log to sit down on. She cautiously approached Frideborn’s cave and then followed the sorceress down into the depths, where candles were lit upon an altar.

VII: Frideborn’s Cave

The cave was sparsely decorated, with a pit for a fire at the far end of the room, and at this end of it only a few chairs, a large blue cloak, and the ingredients of rituals spread out upon the table. At the back of the table sat three wooden carvings of Odin, Thor, and Freya. Reanna took a seat; Frideborn set her crutches against the wall and then sat in the chair with the blue cloak.

“So, the town seems to be in a state of chaos all of a sudden, all enthralled with the idea of a raiding party led by the jarl’s daughter, who they say has the spirit of a Valkyrie.”

“I didn’t know that everyone knew already.”

“Word travels fast,” said Frideborn, “but I am glad that you have chosen to consult with the consort of the gods before your journey. The wild sea may be the whale’s road, but for humans it is extremely treacherous.”

The candle light flickered uneasily for a moment in silent affirmation.

“Give me but a moment,” said Frideborn, seizing the blue cloak and covering themselves with it as they sat. “In order to see the invisible world, we must withdraw from the visible one. Odin the Allfather knows this—he was wise to give up his eye for a taste of the pool of wisdom—wise before he even had the wisdom he sought! And now I fly into the spirit world.”

And she began to hum a song whose cadence echoed through the cave. Reanna listened and soon enough found herself growing lightheaded, as though she herself were a part of the spell. The effect of the humming and the candles and the sounds of nature outside the cave were so soothing. Reanna felt her eyelids growing heavy as the sorceress chanted. She sat there holding the stone she’d been instructed to bring. Soon, her head drooped down to her chest, and she was sleeping, overtaken by the strangest of dreams.

VIII: Dream

In the dream-world, she held no stone. Her hands here were free and she was standing in a sea-side temple dedicated to Thor. She knew that it was dedicated to Thor because there was a wooden altar toward the back, and upon it, a massive stone carving of Thor’s hammer, designed with intricate knotwork. The temple was lit by a string of lightning that shot all around the ceiling like trim-work. Then all at once, a brilliant crack of lightning flared right in front of her: CRACK!

Thor himself appeared before her, wearing armor, clutching his hammer, Mjolnir. “The stone you came with will be no ordinary stone. The color changes in the light, and you will use it for navigation,” he instructed.

“But it’s just an ordinary stone,” said Reanna. “It’s one random stone out of a billion that I picked up out of the river…”

“Do not be so eager to toss away seemingly ordinary things,” said Thor. “Some of them may be more than they seem. Now go forth, with my blessing, and win victories for me and secure your place in everlasting Valhalla!” He raised his hammer into the air.

Reanna said, “I will,” and then faded out of the dream.


For all installments of “Wolf’s Daughter,” click here.