I

Her family hated the Christians – anyone who did not call Odin the Allfather their god, was their enemy. The news had spread after many of the Norsemen heard of Ragnar Lodbrok's raid west to a place called Northumbria. The next raid, her father had said, he would sail to Danmark and go with them to Northumbria. They had raided Lindisfarn (a place where the Christians worshipped, her father added) and found many goods and wealth – something that all Norsemen would enjoy finding.

After hearing the news, Sigrid wanted to join her father in the raids. Her mother had been a shield maiden – often went with her father when Sigrid was young. Now that Sigrid was old enough, she was in training and soon could go. Her father, Sigmund, had been extremely proud that she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps. He encouraged her and taught her everything he knew – how to fight, how to hunt, how to love. Sigmund had told her if a man refused to fight for her, the man did not deserve her heart. He cherished his daughter as one would cherish treasure.

'Father, may I come with you on the next raid?' Sigrid asked, as she put the stew out on the table. 'I have trained well and I am ready for a fight.'

Sigmund smiled and carved into the roast pork. He made a plate of cabbage, potato, carrots and pork for Sigrid and then one for himself. They thanked the gods for the food and ate.

'I suppose you are ready, but first, I wish to see how well you fight. You cannot hesitate in battle; else you will meet your death.'

'Master Torstein has been teaching me much. But he is not as good a teacher as you, Father.'

He smiled again as he drank some ale. Sigrid was more and more beautiful every day – looking so like her mother. They continued their conversation well into the night after they had finished their supper. When Sigrid and Sigmund sat beside the fire, he told her stories of Thor and Loki – the clash of gods and the wars of the nine realms. He'd finished the story of when Loki tricked Thor into becoming his sister to marry a king. Sigrid asked to hear the story of how he and her mother fell in love next.

Though she loved thrilling and exciting tales of wars and battles, like any girl – she loved a good tale of romance and love – women meeting their princes or mysterious hunters and falling in love with them. Sigmund told the story the same way every time. She sat by the fire, her bear skin cloak wrapped warmly around her as Sigrid listened to her father's tale. Though he never told her, Sigmund hoped that one day she would find happiness as he once had. Only a man truly worthy could claim her from him. Thus far no one had been worthy enough in their small village.

As Sigmund finished his story telling, he saw that Sigrid had fallen asleep. No doubt the training exhausted her. But still, she looked forward to fighting with Torstein every day. Sigrid was a true warrior at heart, a battle maiden – a shield maid just like her mother.

Sigmund smiled and chuckled softly. He hoisted his daughter up into his arms. He carried her to her bed as he did when she had been just a small child. He fixed the blanket around her and brushed her hair out of her face. Sigrid appeared a woman but was still the small child he would protect with his life. He kissed her good night and dimmed the candle light in her small room.

'Audhild, I wish you were here to see how beautiful and strong and courageous Sigrid has become.' Sigmund whispered to the air, hoping wherever his wife was that she could hear him. 'She has made both of us proud. Soon, she will go on her first raid – following in your footsteps. Please, Audhild watch over her so she will live. If it is my time to go then I will meet you. Spare our daughter.'

Inside there was silence but the wind lightly whistled outside – sending a slight draft in the house. He almost could hear his wife's whispering words in the wind. However, he realized it was just the whisper of the leaves as they rustled in the distant forest. Sigmund sighed and shifted the log in the small hearth. Soon after, he went to bed as tomorrow would bring an early start for them both.

. . .

The rooster crowed loudly that morning, stirring Sigrid awake.She gasped as she realized that today was the day! She and her father would be traveling with the other warriors to Danmark – to sail with the infamous Ragnar Lodbrok. Sigrid jumped out of bed and dressed herself. She was fully prepared with her wool trousers (despite how itchy they were), a dark wool shirt, a tough leather bodice and a belt strap for her sword at her hip. Sigrid braided her hair in the style of a shield maiden and drew on her face the symbols of war with blue and black paint.

Her father had risen as she got herself ready and prepared their breakfast of salted mutton and potatoes.

'You look like a shield maiden today, Sigrid,' her father said, with an approving nod.

'And you look a handsome warrior as ever. It is no wonder Mother admired you so.' Sigrid replied, grinning.

Her father released a hearty laugh and wrapped his arm around her at the table. After breakfast, they prepared for their journey along with the other men from the town that would be joining them. From Avaldsnes they would go on horseback to the southern coast of Norge. At the harbor they had boats waiting for them to cross the southern sea into Danmark. Sigmund went to gather the other men while his daughter sharpened her sword on the whetstone. The journey would take a week at least, weather permitting. They prayed the gods of the sea would be kind to them when they crossed. Sigmund and the others returned, a few other shield maidens made an appearance after hearing that Sigrid would be joining the raid. Some of them she knew and had been her friends.

With the horses prepared, the Norsemen mounted them and road south. Sigrid urged her horse forward to lead the men with her father. If she was to take her mother's place, it would start here. She and her father shared a smile as she rode up next to him. At last, her dreams of crossing the sea were coming true.

. . .