If you haven’t read Henchmen, you won’t know Eve. She’s one of the main characters and I intentionally left her somewhat mysterious throughout the story. I had intended to flesh her out more in the sequel and accomplished some of that, but her back story didn’t fit smoothly into the rest of the narrative. I’m trying to flesh out some of the back stories of the characters, tell some of their tales and breathe a little more life into them through a series of short stories. The first one is obviously Eve.
Here’s the first part of Eve’s story – bonus points for anyone who can figure out which character will ultimately evolve into Eve:
The battle rages in the way that only Viking battles can rage.
The Romans codified warfare, and they were brutally efficient at it, partially because they loved it so much. The Vandals and other associated groups that tore down the Roman Empire bit by bit, learned some of the art of warfare from the Romans, and added their own ferocity to it.
The English, and the other European empires that rose up slowly after the Romans collapsed into a vile heap of complacency and corruption, took what the Romans had done and expanded on it.
But the Vikings were special when it came to fighting. It wasn’t just that they were good at it, wasn’t just that they enjoyed it; to the Vikings it was religious and the only way to get to Valhalla was to die in battle. If you died in battle and made it to Valhalla, you got a shot at the fight that would come at the end of the world. It would be a chance to fight side by side with Thor and Odin, taking the battle to the hated Jörmungandr and ensuring an eternity of peace.
Valhalla was the place to go in Viking mythology. It was constant drinking and eating and fighting and fucking. A heaven for a group of people who would find the idea of floating on a cloud and playing a harp to be a form of Hell: The Hell of Boring Eternity.
So, the Vikings fought and fought well. In fact, they were the scourge of most of Europe during their day. The only real reason the Vikings didn’t conquer their part of the world was they couldn’t get along long enough to actually take over.
Most people don’t realize it, but the Vikings had a martial arts system. Actually, they probably had many of them. Most of their systems focused on the use of weapons because, as Odin had decreed, a Viking should always have a weapon handy. There was an unarmed form of combat, too, called Glima – which means “In a Flash” – that consisted of a lot of throwing opponents around.
So now, the battle rages. Large men, and some fairly tough women, hurl spears, smash each other with hammers, slash and cut with swords. Those who have lost their weapons are busy chucking each other around with a manic frenzy. The blood is thick on the ground, mingling with the frozen turf and making the ground treacherous.
Trip over a body here – and there are many dead or dying dotting the landscape – and someone will slide a blade into you.
On a hill, not far from the battle, three women calmly watch the slaughter. Here, in this time, they’re known as valkyrja. They’re the choosers of the slain. They show up frequently at battles, seeking great warriors to come to Valhalla and, eventually, fight in the final battle of the world.
They’re all blonde and all wearing varying themes on leather armor. The tallest, Ráðgríðr, wears leathers dyed all black. Her hair is a mane of golden blonde hair that hangs down to the middle of her back and her icy blue eyes sparkle like a still mountain lake. She’s nominally the leader, even though there’s no real sense of hierarchy among the women. Ráðgríðr vacillates between consensus building and ordering the others, but she always gets what she wants.
In the middle, holding a bow, and wearing brown leathers is Kára. Her hair, like the others, is blonde, but pulled into braided pigtails. The pigtails, coupled with stormy gray eyes, manage to make her look dangerous rather than cute. She’s physically the strongest of the group, but is considered somewhat unpredictable by the others. Some have gone so far as to describe her as a stormy petrel.
The third is the smallest, but that’s a relative term. Sanngriðr is adorned in deep red leather armor, covered with a fine gray chain mail. Her hair, like the others, is golden blonde, but she wears it in a short bob that makes her look safe and charming. Her black eyes and severe face are a stark contrast to her hair. Sanngriðr’s black eyes have nothing that even approaches sympathy. Under the best of circumstances, she’s not a pleasant person to be around. When she gets angry, she can make the gods run and hide.
These are not small women, the largest stands over seven feet tall, the shortest slightly under seven feet tall. The three of them could probably slaughter everyone on the battlefield without breaking a sweat.
So why, if these three women are capable of winning the fight below on their own, are they here seeking warriors? It turns out even the strongest need help sometimes and wars are won by sheer numbers, not individuals.
There is a war coming, and these women intend to build an army that will win it. In the few years they’ve been around they’ve managed to raise an army nearly ten thousand strong, which is nothing compare the army they’ll need to build before the final battle comes. When the forces of darkness start a war, showing up with a small army is guaranteed to fail.
The battle continues for hours, neither side willing to give an inch or cede to the other. Whatever kicked this fight off, some perceived slight or another, was too important to back down on.
At the end, as the sun is setting, a single warrior is left standing. Well, maybe standing is too strong a term. He’s limping out of the battlefield, one leg badly cut, and using the spear from a fallen foe as an improvised crutch.
“He was impressive,” the first woman says.
“Indeed. It is a pity he is still alive, he would have been useful at the final accounting,” the second replies.
The man is almost out the field of battle when an arrow silently strikes him down. Even with a slashed leg and an arrow in his back, piecing his lung, the man doesn’t collapse immediately. He staggers several steps before falling to his knees and crawling forward.
The first two women look at Kára with something similar to shock in their eyes.
Kára lowers her bow and returns their gaze. “He would have died anyway,” she says by way of explanation.
“Yes, but he did not die in battle. We cannot take him,” Ráðgríðr says.
“What you have done is against the orders,” the Sanngriðr adds.
“My orders,” Kára says, “were to find soldiers for the final battle. I just found one.”
“He did not die in battle, though,” Ráðgríðr says again. “He cannot fight in the final battle.”
“Kára,” Sanngriðr says to the woman with the bow. “You know the rules, why would you violate them?”
Kára glares at her sister and lowers the bow. “I have made my choice, Sanngriðr. His wounds would have killed him; therefore he technically died in battle. I just hastened his demise.”
“Kára, he is still alive. You did not kill him,” Sanngriðr says.
“Patience, sister. His heart and will are strong but his wounds are grievous. He will be dead shortly,” Kára tells her.
Together, the three women watch as the man struggles to find his way home. The arrow sticking out of his back makes him wheeze and every breath feels like breathing fire. The slash on his leg, already infected, no longer hurts, but he can tell the wound will cost him his leg. Thormod, the doctor in his village, is all but a miracle worker, but even his skills have limits and he has no doubt the leg will be removed.
The problem is the slash on the man’s leg severed his femoral artery. He just wants to go home, to see his wife and newborn son, but the blood pumping out of his leg won’t stop. His vision darkens, his limbs lose all sensation, but still he keeps crawling forward.
When the end finally comes, he sees a vision of his wife holding his son and knows that he lost. He promised Asta he would come home to her and Einar, but he has failed them. His final thought is a desire for vengeance. Revenge against the king that ordered him into this worthless battle, revenge against the bastard that slashed his leg, and revenge against whatever coward shot him in the back.
The man’s name was Gosta, and, through a technicality, has bought himself a place in Valhalla.