Dark Valkyrie
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     Gylla of Kaupangur was not an honorable woman, and she did many vile deeds while alive, so when she died, she awoke in the hall of the dark goddess Hel.

     Gylla was born and raised in Kaupangur, one of the greatest market cities of the North and the capital of the Kingdom of Vestfold. Her father had been a shipwright, and her mother had been accused of practicing forbidden sorcery and cast out when Gylla was very young, so she never knew her mother, really. When she came of age she went to work at an inn called the Green Anchor, which catered mostly to sailors passing through the great market port. The innkeeper, a lecherous lout named Arngrimur whose rough manner matched his brutish body, had hired her to look pretty while serving meals and drinks. When he thought they could get away with it, he also encouraged his wenches, like Gylla, to seduce and rob travelers who were staying at the inn. In some circumstances, they murdered their victims and dumped their bodies in the bay at night.

     Gylla lied to herself; she told herself that she had no choice, that Arngrimur forced her into this life of theft and murder. The truth was that she enjoyed it. Gylla loved that her beauty gave her power over men, that they made fools of themselves for her pretty face. She loved the slow, sensual dance of seduction, the sense that she was so much more clever than the fools who fell for her act. Gylla loved that she, a slender, small woman, had such power over the burly, hulking sailors and vikings she seduced.

     In the end, there were two things Gylla loved most about her shadowy pursuits. The first was that she became quite wealthy; Gylla had acquired more gold and jewels than any serving wench expected to see in a lifetime, and always hungered for more plunder. It pleased her to know that if she wished, she could appear as bejeweled and wealthy as a queen.

     The other was that she loved taking the lives of her victims. Murder was not always necessary in her line of work, but it was a joy to Gylla. It made her feel alive, feel powerful, the moment she suddenly plunged her dagger into the vitals of some man she had tempted to his doom. That so small a person as she could bring about a hulking warrior, simply because the fool was dazzled by her looks and allowed himself to be naked and vulnerable with her . . . well, there was nothing else quite like it! Gylla told herself that she was like the valkyrjur, the female spirits who served the gods as Choosers-of-the-Slain, for she was a woman who chose what man would live and what man would die. She was like a goddess, she thought.

     The wicked life of Gylla of Kaupangur came to an abrupt end because while she thought of herself as a Chooser-of-the-Slain, a kind of dark valkyrie, she chose her final victim poorly. The man's name was Gunni Hallason, a Danur from Jutland, whose ship had made port in Kaupangur to unload exotic goods from the Palnorran Empire – silks and fine glass and the silver lotus drug so ubiquitously abused in decadent land. Gunni had developed some decadent tastes himself while he was off trading in the Palnorran Empire, and flush with cash from his share of his ship's cargo, he sought to fulfill his darker desires at the Green Anchor Inn.

     Gunni came to the Green Anchor before sunset, and tipped the brute Arngrimur handsomely to send some pretty wenches to attend his needs. Arngrimur knew that Gunni was Gylla's preferred sort of victim, so he sent her to attend the wealthy trader. Gunni ate and drank long into the night, spending prodigiously, and plying Gylla with wine, suggesting that she should accompany him to his room. Gylla played hard-to-get, enjoying the game, as always, and was secretly dumping the wine Gunni kept handing her. She needed her wits about her if she were going to steal from this man . . . nay, not just steal, but murder him and dump his body in the bay, she had decided. The way Gunni treated women was despicable, and he deserved it. Besides, he was drunk on wine and his wits were addled by Palnorran silver lotus, so he would be an easy kill, or so she thought.

     Late that night, Gunni and Gylla staggered back through the cramped corridor to the dark room he had rented from Arngrimur. Gunni stuck the torch in a sconce and lit some candles, illuminating the dingy, squalid back room. “Strip, woman!” he slurred at her.

     “You first,” replied Gylla coquettishly, “I want to see how big and strong you are!”

     Gunni reached down and started to pull his woolen shirt up over his head. When he was thus vulnerable, Gylla darted forward like a striking adder, blade in hand to plunge it into the man's heart. But Gunni stumbled at just that moment, his drunken gait saving his life, and Gylla fell past him onto the grimy mattress behind him. Gunni flung the shirt from his body and stared blearily at Gylla, as if disbelieving the woman with the dagger in her hand had just attacked him. As comprehension dawned on his face, it contorted with rage. “I'll kill you, you harlot!” he roared, and drew the dagger he still had belted at his side.

     Gylla stared up at the enraged viking, cursing her bad luck that he had stumbled at just the wrong moment! She writhed into a crouch, dagger at the ready, trying to gauge just how addled the man was. He no longer seemed as helpless as he had a few moments ago! The man roared again, swiping the dagger drunkenly in her direction, and a smile slowly spread across her lips again. This fool was too drunk to fight her!

     “Come on!” roared Gunni Hallason, “Fight me!” He lunged at Gylla. She tried desperately to twist out of his way, leaving him to flop drunkenly across the filthy straw-filled mattress, but her leg caught under him, and she fell beneath him. She could smell the viking's foul breath and she screamed, stabbing at him blindly. She felt hot blood pouring out of him over her body as she stabbed, but then felt a sharp, biting pain in her belly, and an icy feeling radiating out from her stomach, and all at once she realized that his dagger had slid deep into her abdomen.

     “Nooooooo!” she shrieked, “No, not like this! Not like this!” She continued to stab at Gunni, even though some part of her had registered that he was no longer moving, that his dead weight on top of her was pinning her to the mattress with the cold dagger that was thrust through her abdomen. Even if her strength were not rapidly draining from her limbs, she might not have been able to move Gunni's body off of her. She would have needed Arngrimur to help her move his body, if she had succeeded; she hated that, it meant she had to give the brute a bigger cut of the take. Such were Gylla's last mortal thoughts as her eyelids grew unbearably heavy and darkness engulfed her. Arngrimur won't even find me 'til morning, since Gunni paid for this back room where no one would hear us.

     Having died, Gylla never knew what happened to her body the next morning. It would have been the least of her worries, had she known.

     When heroes die, the valkyrjur come to bear them away to the halls of the gods, like Valholl for Odhinn of the Aesir and Folkvangur for Freyja of the Vanir. Other souls make their way to the halls of other Aesir and Vanir, depending on their temperament, abilities, and honor. But the souls of the dishonored dead, those deemed by the gods beyond redemption, wend down to the dark, mist-shrouded realm of Helheimur and awake in Hel's dark hall. This was Gylla's fate.

     So Gylla awoke in darkness, surrounded by swirling, freezing mists. She was lying on her back on a stone slab of some kind. A cold, aching, gnawing pain felt almost alive within her, consuming her muscles, her innards, her skin . . . Gylla felt only cold, dull pain, except when she moved, when it became a frigid, sharp pain in every limb, every organ, every part of her. She could feel the cold, ragged hole in her belly where Gunni Hallason's dagger had slid into her. She was dead, but still here. Wherever here was.

     Gylla sat up despite the agony of movement. She was in a shadowy room filled with a pale mist, a frigid fog that seemed to sap the color and light and warmth and life from everything with which it came into contact. Out of the corner of her eye, she continually saw a slithering motion, and her ears detected the faint echo of hissing, as if the structure she was in were filled with serpents, despite the cold. But whenever she tried to look directly at the snakes she was sure were there, she could not see them. Gathering all her strength, Gylla climbed to her feet. Everything hurt. Should not the dead be beyond pain? Gylla was not.

     Gylla staggered from the room into a misty corridor. She wandered through the darkness and freezing cold until she emerged into a vast space. It was in form like a dark hall, like a noble's feasting hall, but it showed signs of decay and neglect, and was constructed on an unimaginably vast scale. Gylla felt cold drops of liquid fall onto her head from above; looking up she could see slithering motions in the thatching of the roof, as if serpents slithered there as well. The droplets burned where they touched her skin, and Gylla realized they were some kind of venom. She shook with horror, trying to wipe away the venom with her clothes, which seemed to be the ones she had been wearing last night at the Green Anchor, but ragged, worn, faded . . .

     “Are you lost, my lady?” asked a voice. It was a woman's voice, old, screechy, harsh. She turned around to see a crone in gray clothing gesturing over to long feasting tables, where sat innumerable others like herself, pallid people who appeared to be dead, bearing the marks of their demise, bloodless, colorless . . . All were dressed in faded, worn clothing. Finally, Gylla's mind began to accept the truth of what had befallen her. She had died without a shred of honor or decency. She was among the dishonored dead. She was in Hel's hall!

     “Need help finding your place?” asked the crone, “I can help! I am the serving wench here, my name is Ganglot! Let me help you to your place!” The crone began to hobble with excruciating slowness through the shadowy hall. Not seeing any other option, Gylla followed her.

     “Ah, this is your place, then!” cried Ganglot. She pulled out a chair to allow Gylla to take her place. Gylla sat down. The chair was scratchy, splintered, uncomfortable. She looked around her.

     Gylla had always heard tales of the feasting halls of the gods, for example, how the valorous dead in Valholl were treated to endless feasts of the finest foods and mead. The honorable dead could enjoy wondrous feasts for all eternity. Hel's feasting hall seemed a mockery of the tales Gylla had heard of Valholl – a sumptuous feast laid out for the dishonored dead, but with the whiff of decay, the air of spoiled food, and all the food and drink splattered and mixed with the drops of venom that rained from the serpents in the thatching above. A feast which none could enjoy, at which none could bear to eat or drink.

      “This cannot be!” cried Gylla, “I do not deserve this!” This earned her glares from the souls seated to either side of her; doubtless everyone whose soul was sentenced to Hel's cheerless hall felt as if they somehow deserved better!

      Time stretched, warped, frayed, snapped. Gylla had no idea how long she was attending this horrible feast of the damned; indeed, the very concept of an eternal feast warped her perceptions. She might have sat in this chair at this horrid feast for hours, days, weeks, months, years . . . how would she know? It was a dreamy, timeless state of horror in which she existed. It did not occur to Gylla to get up from her chair . . . it could not occur to her to rise from her seat! Gylla knew the prophecies. The dishonored dead awaited in Hel's hall until Ragnarokkur, the end of all things. Then, the dishonored dead would march in the legions of the Jotnar, the giant-gods, against the Aesir and Vanir, the gods of men and land-wights, in a battle to end existence itself. Gylla knew that by the time Ragnarokkur began, she would gladly fight for an end to existence, since her existence had become an endless agony.

     In life, Gylla had stolen a fortune, and had laughed that she might bedeck herself better than a queen. Now, she paid for her theft clad eternally in rags. Alive, Gylla was a killer, and told herself that she was godlike, a kind of dark valkyrie. Now, she would never see a valkyrie, a Chooser-of-the-Slain who brought the honored dead to the joyous halls of the Aesir and Vanir. She was condemned to Helheimur, here to dwell in agony and sorrow forever . . . nay, not forever, only until Ragnarokkur. She might see a valkyrja yet. Fighting against them, at the end of all things.

     An old man dressed as a servant walked over to where Gylla was seated at the feast of the damned. It took Gylla a moment to register this – it was new, it was different, it was not part of the neverending sameness of this feast! Change! Change was the essence of life, and nothing ever changed in Hel's hall! The man walked up to her and bowed. “I am Ganglati, the servant of Our Dark Lady,” he rasped, “Do I have the pleasure of addressing the woman who in life was known as Gylla of Kaupangur, who styled herself . . .” (and here there was a hint of a vicious smile on the old man's grim face) “ . . . the dark valkyrie?

     “Aye, I am . . . I am who you said,” stammered Gylla. “What . . . what do you want with me?” After a moment's flash of hope and joy at something, anything in this gray place being different, it had taken Gylla only seconds to realize that perhaps things were about to get worse. Despair had crept into the very core of her, and she found she could no longer expect anything but pain from existence, now.

     “Come with me,” rasped Ganglati, “Our Dark Lady would like to meet you!” Unused to anything except unquestioning obedience when he gave orders in the name of Hel, Ganglati turned on his heel and began to limp away, apparently certain that Gylla would follow. Well, she might not have much choice, but . . .

     “Me? The Dark Lady – Hel – wants to meet me?” asked Gylla in a strangled voice.

     “Aye, quickly, now!” snapped Ganglati over his shoulder, still limping away from where Gylla sat.

     Gylla hesitated for a moment, then rose from her chair, shaking off the dreamlike state which had made it impossible for her to rise, and hurried after the limping servant. It might have been her imagination, but it seemed as if everything hurt just a little less. Only a little, but any respite from the endless agony seemed beyond anything she ever could have hoped for!

     “So . . . where, uh . . .?” Gylla tried to formulate something to say, to make small talk with Ganglati as she followed him, but suddenly everything warped and she found herself standing beside the ancient servant at the end of the endless hall, before the throne of Hel.

     Hel! The goddess of death and the dishonored dead, the daughter of Loki, the exile from Asgardhur! Hel sat on a throne like a queen. Half of her was white, like a marble statue of a beautiful woman, or perhaps a recent but bloodless corpse. The other half of her body was dark, blackened, like a badly decayed or charred corpse. Half unearthly beauty, half unearthly horror. Her terrible gaze turned on Gylla, and Gylla felt that Hel could see inside her, see every horrible thing she had ever done, the lies, the thefts, the murders. And then Hel smiled. It was an inhuman, cold smile. With a flick of her blackened, dead hand, she dismissed Ganglati, who shuffled away muttering.

     Hel spoke at last, in a voice that could not be mistaken for human, sounding almost as if different voices were saying the same thing in an echoing chamber, at once sweet and feminine, but with a gravelly, growling sub-tone. “You may be of use to me. I am at war with Allfather Odhinn, you know this?” she said.

     Gylla swallowed and said, “Aye, well, I know that you are fated to be on opposite sides at Ragnarokkur, but . . .”

     “Ragnarokkur?” asked Hel, seeming surprised, “Aye, Ragnarokkur will be the final battle in this war. But the war has already begun, you see. It will take millennia to conclude, but the war has begun! And Odhinn has an unfair advantage!”

     “What . . .?” began Gylla, but a glare from Hel silenced her.

     “Odhinn has been meddling in Midhgardhur for millennia now, encouraging those with the greatest potential to become champions, even breeding more than a few of his own heroes,” said Hel, “and Odhinn has his valkyrjur! Those servants of his go about collecting the souls of dead warriors for Valholl, and choosing those to be slain in combat to join him! It is not fair! I am left with the scraps, the dishonored dead . . . the cynic might think that there are more than enough of those, for my needs, but they do not make the best soldiers!”

     “How . . . how may I serve you, o dark goddess?” Gylla dared to ask.

     “When you were alive, you called yourself a 'dark valkyrie' . . . what a fascinating concept!” replied the goddess, “That may be just what I need! Someone to meddle in the affairs of Midhgardhur on my behalf, as the valkyrjur meddle on behalf of Odhinn!”

     “You wish . . . for me to . . . to become a valkyrja, my goddess?” Gylla barely dared to allow herself to hope for not only an escape from the horrid feast of the damned in Hel's hall, but even elevation to the status of a valkyrja, a servant of the goddess! Escape from Helheimur!

     “Aye, such is my wish,” said Hel grimly, “and as such, so shall it be! You will serve me!”

     Gylla threw herself on the floor, kneeling to Hel, crying, “Aye, I shall serve you, lady! Command me!” Escape! Escape from Helheimur!

     Hel smiled her cruel, inhuman smile at Gylla, and said, “Oh, I know you will! But do not think your chance to serve me comes without cost!” Hel's eyes glowed with a ruby light as she raised her pale white hand towards Gylla, and Gylla felt a searing pain as some sort of power flowed from Hel into the dead woman. “The first step to becoming my servant is to invest you with a tiny bit of my power, so that you may act and speak in my name!” Gylla screamed and howled and eventually lost consciousness.

     Gylla awoke still sprawled on the floor at the feet of Hel's throne. “Uhnn . . . w-what . . .?” The searing hot agony was receding. She began to rise, then thought better of it, and resumed her kneeling position.

     “Now . . .” Hel's voice sounded almost thoughtful . . . “I have unlocked the talent for sorcery within you, and given you a shred of my own power. You will take the place of a woman on Midhgardhur, a princess Gydha Eiriksdottir of Hordhaland. Your new identity as Gydha will give you great opportunities to corrupt many mortal men and bring them to dishonorable deaths in my name! Gydha is about to have the chance to influence Haraldur Halfdansson, a favorite of Odhinn. If you can seduce and corrupt Haraldur . . . well, the greater the influence you attain, the more souls you will be able to claim for Helheimur!”

     “How will I take this Gydha's place?” asked Gylla, “Will not the folk of Hordhaland see that I am not their princess?”

     Hel laughed at this, a most unpleasant sound. “Nay, for princess Gydha has been dabbling in dark arts, and I have arranged for her soul to join me here in my hall, but leaving her body intact. Your soul will inhabit the soulless shell of the princess and become Gydha. No one will know . . . well, at least, not at first. As my dark power kindles and grows within you, you may occasionally give away signs that you are not quite . . . human. That you have become a dark valkyrie!” Hel laughed then, and her echoing laughter rang in her Gylla's ears as she felt herself rising from the floor, then rushing up towards the ceiling of Hel's hall. She felt herself hurtling through what felt like infinite, freezing space, and she blacked out again . . .

     . . . and awakened in a bed. A bed! A warm, comfortable bed! It felt like a literal eternity since she had felt warm! And alive! She was back on Midhgardhur, in a living body! Alive! There was a confusing sensation in her head as the formerly disembodied elements of her soul fused with the body she now inhabited, and her identities fused together. She was no longer Gylla of Kaupangur . . . she was Gydha Eiriksdottir, princess of Hordhaland! Gydha sat up. There was no pain in her torso, she no longer bore the eternal wound of her death! A young, beautiful body!

     “You are awake, I see!” said an old woman's voice, nearby. Gydha glaced about the room and saw that an old crone in black robes was seated on a comfortable chair near her bed. “Excellent! You have work to do!”

     “Who are you?” demanded Gydha. For a moment, her own voice sounded strange to her. Then the feeling was gone; her voice was her own, this had always been the voice of Gydha Eiriksdottir!

     “I am known as Ljotur,” said the crone, “and I know who you are! Who you really are, you see! I am a sorceress, and I serve Our Dark Lady . . . I was told to come here, befriend Gydha, instruct her in sorcery. I've been here for months. Eventually, Gydha made a very foolish bargain with powers she did not understand, and fell into a trance, or so it seemed! Everyone thought she was sick, and they put her to bed! I alone knew that she was not sick! Her soul was gone, claimed by Hel, and now she has sent you to take her place!”

     “Aye . . . Ljotur . . . I understand a little of how I came to be here . . . by why are you here?” asked Gydha.

     “The power of Hel has unlocked the talent for sorcery in your blood,” replied Ljotur, “but you will need to learn how to use your powers! It may take years before you achieve your full potential! I am to . . . instruct you!”

     “Very well,” said Gydha, “then first . . .” She was interrupted by loud knocking at the chamber door.

     “Oh, aye, come in!” cried Ljotur. Gydha glared at her. This was her room! How dare Ljotur invite people into her presence, particularly when she was not out of bed and dressed?

      The door opened and some faces peered eagerly through the door. The faces beamed with joy at the sight of Gydha.

     “Aye, it is just as I have promised,” the crone Ljotur told the crowd gathered outside Gydha's door, “I have cured the princess Gydha of her illness! She is awake again! She will make a full recovery!”

     “Is she . . . is she well enough to attend the feast tonight?” asked one of the people outside, obviously servants.

     “Well, I do not . . .” began Gydha, but Ljotur quickly cut her off, saying, “Of course! Of course! Gydha would not miss the feast!”

     The servants bowed and shut the door as Gydha rounded angrily on Ljotur, saying, “How dare you? I am a princess and your mistress, you old hag! I . . .”

     “But you're not, are you?” asked Ljotur, “You're just some tavern wench from Kaupangur who got herself killed in a brawl, and Our Dark Lady has seen fit to place under my tutelage! That makes me YOUR mistress, does it not?”

     “I . . . I . . . I suppose . . .” began Gydha, but Ljotur waved a gnarled hand in her face and cut her off again.

     “Never mind!” snapped Ljotur, “Our Dark Lady only knows why she picked gutter scum from Kaupangur to take on this role! I've been to Kaupangur, mind you, awful city! But she intends you for something special, so I shall strive to make you special!” Ljotur sighed wearily, then said, “Come, now! Let us prepare you for this feast! This will be a very special night! Your marriage is to be arranged!”

     Gydha's mind was awhirl as she got dressed and tried to make herself presentable. Marriage? She had only just been reborn! Things were happening so fast, and all out of her control! Had she escaped Helheimur only to be trapped beneath the thumb of this domineering hag Ljotur, or some brute of a husband? The thought of a feast, a real feast where one could eat and taste the food and eventually leave, that pleased her, though! She had had quite enough of the endless feast of the damned in Helheimur!

     Details of her situation continued to flood Gydha's mind as her consciouness merged with that of the body she now called her own. She was in a tiny settlement in the valley of Volldres, where Gydha was being fostered by a minor jarl who was beholden to King Eirikur of Hordhaland, her “father.” Rumors of her beauty had spread far and wide, and tonight a feast was being held to honor emissaries of King Haraldur Halfdansson, the Usurper of Vestfold who had, by right of conquest, become king over Hringariki, Heidhmork, Hadhaland, Thotn, Raumariki, and the northern part of Vingulmork. It was rumored that these emissaries came to seek Gydha's hand in marriage to King Haraldur. Gydha knew that the goddess Hel intended her to seduce King Haraldur. But she was not ready yet!

     That night, at the feast, the emissaries did, in fact, announce that King Haraldur had heard of Gydha's great beauty, and that they had been sent to offer suit for her hand on his behalf. They added that now that they had seen Gydha, they could well understand their master's interest, for her beauty outshone even her reputation. The feast was delicious, and all were well-pleased, but as it drew to a close, Gydha felt obliged to make an answer.

     “You will convey to King Haraldur my thanks for his interest in me,” Gydha told the emissaries, “and I shall consider his suit. King Haraldur has accomplished so much! Yet it seems strange to me that there is no one who has yet possessed himself of all of Noregur's petty kingdoms!”

     This answer confused the emissaries of King Haraldur, who were unused to anyone not simply obeying their master's wishes. Their master was a mighty king, they reminded her, and a better husband she could not ask! They asked the meaning of her delay. Could she not simply agree?

     Gydha then said plainly, “Convey my words to King Haraldur! I shall become his bride only when first he has laid all of Noregur at his feet for my sake, for only then will he truly be a king! If he does this thing, he will find that I shall be his perfect wife, and complement his ambitions in every way. If he does not do this, he will not be worthy of me!”

     The emissaries made clear to Gydha that they thought her words were rash, and that she did not deserve their mighty master's attention, for all her haughtiness and beauty, but they promised to deliver the message. “You may come to regret it, however!” sneered one of the soldiers, “Our King Haraldur was prepared to treat you with honor, as a queen, but now I should not be surprised if he sent many men to . . . dishonor you!” The man leered at her as he left.

      Weary, Gydha headed for bed. When Gydha reached her bedchamber that night, the hag Ljotur was waiting for her. She slapped Gydha and said, “What was that performance about, you wretch! You know that it is the will of Hel that you seduce King Haraldur and use him to further her cause! How dare you disobey?” She reached back her hand to strike Gydha again, but Gydha caught the hag's body hand and held it, squeezing hard.

      “I am seducing the king, you fool!” cried Gydha, “He is an ambitious man, a usurper, one who needs to feel the challenge to earn his rule by conquest! I have given him a chance to earn me! And this will serve the cause of Hel! If Haraldur seeks to conquer all Noregur, as I think he will, then many will die, and in such an unjust war, many will die without honor! I shall flood Helheimur with souls!”

     “But . . . but how . . .?” began Ljotur, but Gydha cut off the crone's words, saying, “Now you listen to me! Your task is to teach me sorcery for Our Dark Lady! Well, you had best get to it! When Haraldur is finally ready to claim me as his wife, I shall be a trained sorceress, and I shall learn to wield the power of Hel in my blood! You may teach me, but you are not my mistress, is that clear?”

     “Aye . . . princess . . .” growled Ljotur.

     So Ljotur began to teach Gydha, and Gydha was an apt pupil, but the two women despised each other, and regretted the need to work together. Ljotur taught Gydha dark, forbidden sorcery, and as the months and then years passed, Gydha grew in power. Word came, now and then, of battles fought across Noregur as Haraldur Halfdansson waged pitiless wars of conquest, crushing freedom and liberty wherever he rode. Gydha knew that Hel would be pleased, that the despairing souls who died without honor were damned to her halls to await Ragnarokkur. Meanwhile. Gydha lived as a princess, slowly building her power to truly become the dark valkyrie. She wanted the power to kill, the power to slay, the power to control everything and everyone around her! Only then would she feel a true Chooser-of-the-Slain!

     Years passed. Gydha's power grew, as did her wrath with Ljotur, who continually treated Gydha as beneath her, saying that Hel had placed Ljotur over her, and she ought not to question Hel! Gydha tolerated Ljotur because she felt she had no choice, but after a decade it seemed as though the fount of knowledge in Ljotur ran dry, and she suspected Ljotur had taught her everything she knew. Still, she worked to hone her spells and powers, awaiting her moment.

      Gydha's moment came some fourteen winters after her rebirth, when word came that King Haraldur Halfdansson, who had begun as the Usurper of Vestfold, was now the undisputed lord of all Noregur! Fourteen long years of terrible war, degrading the spirits of the Northmenn of Noregur, and Gydha felt that Hel must be well-pleased! The king dispatched emissaries to bring Gydha to him, for he now intended to claim the bride he had been promised.

      The night before the king's messengers were due to arrive, Gydha dined privately with Ljotur. Ljotur was droning on and on about her new responsibilities to Hel once she became queen. Finally, Gydha could take no more, and snapped, “You foolish old hag! Do you think you are to be queen? I shall serve Our Dark Lady as it pleases me! No more of your prattle!”

     Ljotur sneered, “You think you can ignore me? I have taught you as Our Dark Lady commanded, but you are a whining, sniveling wretch of a girl! You do owe me obedience, girl! I shall tell you why . . .” She broke off, starting to cough.

     “I do not think I owe you anything except a defiled burial, to ensure your soul goes straight to Hel!” said Gydha. “oh, how I have missed this! The moment when I take a life! For all my sorcerous powers, nothing fills me with joy like the literal power of life and death! I am a dark valkyrie now, a Chooser-of-the-Slain, and I choose you to be slain! You gobbled the poisons I prepared for you readily enough!”

     Ljotur choked and gagged, blood spilling from her rotten maw, trying desperately to speak, saying, “Do not . . . do this . . . daughter! I . . . I am . . . your . . . mother . . .” At last, Ljotur slumped over, knocking her dish from the table with a loud clatter.

     Gydha stared in horror at the dead hag. Ljotur did resemble a much, much older version of her old body as Gylla! Gylla had never really known her mother as a child . . . her mother had been banished from Kaupangur when Gylla was just an infant . . . on charges that she practiced black magic! In that horrible instant, Gydha saw Hel's cruel jest upon her, that she had sent Gylla's own mother to tutor her in sorcery, only to have Gydha murder her own mother!

     “There is no escape from the power of Hel for the damned, dishonored dead!” murmured Gydha.

     The next day, King Haraldur's men came to escort Gydha to Vestfold, where she would marry the king. The king now styled himself the Einkonungur, the “One King” of Noregur, and had plans for the domination of all the North, plans that had begun to grow within her mind ever since she had challenged him to prove his worth fourteen years earlier. Now, Queen Gydha took her place at his side, as his partner, and the folk feared her as much as their king. The Northmenn of Noregur had many tales of their dark queen, but a persistent theme in the rumors was that she practiced black magic for the king, and that she was not truly, fully human, for sometimes her eyes seemed to glint with a red light that came from no earthly source, as if the power of Hel herself burned behind those eyes. For her role in directing the great power over life-and-death wielded by the tyrannical government of the Einkonungur, many came to call Queen Gydha . . . the Dark Valkyrie! 

Next: Hrafn's Ninth Night

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Carla Conorino      8/27/20 2:18 PM

Well done! Excellent description! I especially loved the time in Hel's kingdom and the twist toward the end was awesome!

Carla Conorino      8/27/20 3:30 PM

How cool! I just added "The Saga of Asa Oathkeeper" to my Kindle collection!

Colin Brodd      8/27/20 2:59 PM

Thank you! The character of Gydha had appeared in a novel set in the same world which I had written, called "The Saga of Asa Oathkeeper" - when I mentioned that I was going to be starting a short story series on Channillo, my wife said, "Oh, I really hope we get to find out more about Gydha someday - why is she so evil? Why do her eyes glow red sometimes?" So the very first story I did for Channillo was fulfilling her request to give some of the background -the secret history - on the evil Queen Gydha!