Under The Hrafnsmerki
A Gift From The Heart
- The Annals of St. Neots ( Jacob Grimm translation.)
Ashildr studied the intricate detail that her older sister Reginleifr had just completed with close scrutiny. She wanted the banner to be perfect in every way, and it appeared to her practiced eye that her sister had done a superb job with every stitch on the material. So well done was the embroidery in fact that it made her nervous to think that it was her duty to finish the banner that their youngest sister Gylla had begun by weaving and dyeing the material.
As she held the cloth closer to the torch, that lit her work space, Ashildr was amazed at the great detail her sister had embroidered upon the the triangular shaped flag. The raven, which stood upon the branch of an ash tree, looked skyward with watchful eyes as though it were waiting for Odin himself. The great black symbol of the Rafnagud was so well stitched by Reginleifr that Ashildr swore that it would fly off of the cloth if it were not surrounded by a border of golden sky.
The golden sky, or heaven, was encased in between two beautiful edgings of beautiful thick red stitching. To Ashildr this red border represented the blood, or soul, of the slain as they left the earth and were carried up into the great golden hall in Asgard, known as Valhalla, by Odin's shield maidens.
Her part of the design was to make the raven claws, or tassels of cloth, that hung down from the rounded side of the flag. All of the Hrafnsmerki that she had seen had these tassels made in the color of black to represent the raven's claws. She had already decided to use the same blood - red color that her older sister had used in the embroidering to represent the talons of the raven, which were always associated with the blood of the battle slain.
Gylla slept soundly while Reginleifr sat nervously, on the table bench near the fire pit, for what seemed like a ridiculously long time, as her sister examined her work as though it were a piece of precious jewelry. When she could stand it no longer she pounded her hand on the table and asked her sister the question that had been burning a whole in her heart and pride.
" Well ! Do you like it ?! " she inquired impatiently.
While Gylla rolled over, half awakened by the noise, Ashildr at first pretented as though she did not hear her older sister. She was tired of being told by those around her that Reginleifr was prettier than she, a better cook than she was, and how her older sister was a much better shield maiden than she could ever be.
" Was it her fault that her sister was larger and stronger, while she was born into a petite frame? " she asked herself as she ignored her sister.
To add sewing to her list of great accomplishments would be too much for her to tolerate. When Ashildr felt that she had made her sister wait long enough, she finally responded.
" Yes,.... well,.... I believe that this will do. At least you made the stitching thick which will help make the design hold up as the flag becomes weathered. " she explained to her older sister.
Reginleifr angrily pursed her lips.
" Was I really expecting a compliment from my sister !? " she asked herself out loud before replying to Ashildr.
" I think that Ubba will like the Hrafnsmerki that we have made for him very much ! " she told her sister.
Then Reginleifr quickly added :
" That is if you don't ruin it with your finishing touches ! " she said sarcastically.
Ashildr tried to ignore her sister's angry remark. She could not disagree with Reginleifr that Ubba would like the symbolic image that had come to represent the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok. Ubba, who had come over with his brothers to attack the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex, with the Danes, Frisians, and other Heathens, had not gained the same glory as the other leaders of what the Anglo Saxons called The Great Heathen Army. Now, he would finally be allowed to lead an army of his own against the peoples of Britain, and she was certain that he would be greatly honored to do so under the Hrafnsmerki that his three sisters had made for him.
For years they had felt sorry for the brother of Ivar and Halfdan, for it appeared that he would forever live in their long shadows. But after the death of Ivar, known as the Boneless, and the departure of Halfdan with part of The Great Heathen Army to Northumbria, Guthrum had taken control of of the remaining Heathens in Mercia, and generously gave Ubba an army of his own to help him attack Alfred, the king of Wessex.
As she began to sew the blood red claws onto the banner, Ashildr smiled. Soon her brother would be leaving their camp here in Dyfed, Wales, to attack the Christian Anglo Saxon forces in Wessex. If all went well Ubba would meet up with Guthrum and together they would defeat Alfred, and Wessex, the last major kingdom left to conquer, would be added to the Danelaw. And of course, as the sisters of Ubba, they would be granted great wealth and honor.
With dreams of grandeur dancing in her head Ashildr worked through the midday to attach the "claws" to the Raven Banner. By the time Sunna began to sink over the Welsh countryside the great flag was finished. And by the time the napping Gylla finally managed to get up from her bed, Ashildr proudly showed off the completed banner to her sisters.
" It is splendid ! " Reginleifr announced as she clapped her hands together.
" It's wonderful ! " Gylla added as she rubbed the sand from her eyes.
Ashildr, though tired from her laborious work, could not help but grin from ear to ear.
" Yes ! it is grand ! But our work is not yet done sisters. We must seek out a witch and have a victory spell cast upon the Hrafnsmerki. " she reminded her sisters.
Reginleifr frowned and giggled at the same time, while Gylla stared at Ashildr with her eyes wide with excitement.
" A witch ! " Gylla blurted out.
Reginleifr shook her head at Gylla's innocence before responding to what Ashildr had suggested.
" And where, sister, shall we find a witch here in this Christian land ? " she asked.
Ashildr's grin did not diminish one single bit as she replied to her sister's skepticism.
" I have heard that such a sorceress lives in the woods just a few miles outside of Dyfed. " she informed her older sister.
Reginleifr placed her hands on her hips and smacked her lips with disgust.
" And why would a Welsh woman help anyone from an army that has invaded their land ? " she asked sarcastically.
Ashildr's face took on a more serious look as she stared into her sister's eyes.
" Because, my dear Reginleifr, as Heathens we both have a common enemy ! " she explained.
It was Reginleifr's turn to grin as she finally realized what her sister was trying to tell her.
" Ah yes,.... the Christians ! " she replied happily.
Gylla remained silent, with a worried look etched on her face, as she listened to her older sisters speak of finding a witch. She did not dare to say so, but she did not like the idea of seeking out a sorceress who lived in what the people here in Wales called " The Dark Forest " !
- End Chapter 1
- Next : Chapter 2 : The Dark Forest
- Glenn Bergen, ( Ravensheart ), © Copyright, 2017.