In ancient times, there was a great winter that to this day is still known as the White Death that plagued the frozen shores of the Northlands. It was a long cold winter, never seen before by the likes of men and beasts, nor ever again. In the Strawberry Moon of that year it was still so cold that men died in the trails, dying in mere hours from the cold. For forty days and forty nights snow fell in a vast blizzard that collapsed the longhouses and many had no place to go. Many tried to launch their longships, but they froze in place, while others just wandered out into the cold abandoning all hope for life. Even women with new babes walked into the vast frozen ocean wishing for death rather than live in those conditions.
A clan one-hundred strong set out into the blowing flurries through the white sky, fighting to walk through the knee deep drifts of snow and all holding hands to avoid separating in the harsh winter winds. The man in front of them was no more than a grey blurred shadow. It wasn’t an hour after the clan had been made homeless that the first men dropped. With every step they made, a gruelling realization set upon them, the whole clan would never make it to the Castle of Rikiforn alive. The protection of the Winter King could only preserve them after they reached the ancient castle. There was even the chance that they would die long before they reached Rikiforn.
Clan Valdr pressed on, watching more and more of their family die in the white monster the world had become. It was nothing short of amazing when forty-seven of the men made it to the Castle of the Winter King and plead for shelter and food.
A man robed in winter white with a long white beard flowing past his waist came forth beyond he barred doors, his steps floating on the snow rather than sinking through the snows. The man approached the group and spoke with a deep booming voice: “You shall not enter. These doors shall open for no man, even under the command of the Winter Wolf himself no man shall enter.”
Discouraged, the group turned back to what they knew was certain death. For three days the forty-seven walked through the snows, aimlessly walking to their deaths. Forty-seven soon became thirteen, and on the third night there were no snows. Just a still dead cold. The thirteen laid down around a meagre fire and huddled together for warmth, ready to die together.
It was in the dead of night that the youngest heard a loud cry in the sky. She awoke and followed the sound of the cry even though the snow nearly came to her neck. She came upon a tree. Not just any tree, but an old ash that still had life. It had the foliage that any tree in the Strawberry Moon should have, but even that was not the most remarkable thing about this tree. On the highest branch sat a giant golden eagle, larger than the child herself, and he stared her down, eyeing her.
The child was afraid that in this harsh winter that she would be the only meal he was like to have. The child wept and spoke to her gods through the elder tree, telling the Eoli that she was ready to enter into the next life and leave behind this horrible winter.
“Do not prepare to leave just yet, sweet child.”
The child threw her head about looking for the source of the voice, but she found no one. It was the eagle who was speaking to her.
“I am Ari, the Great Eagle and companion to the Great Wolf of Winter. The White Wizard said that no man shall enter his castle even with the permission of the Great Wolf of the North. But fear not, child. If you wish to save your family, I know how you can. All you have to do is leave them behind and follow me to a cave where no man can enter. But you should know, child, when this journey is done, you will not live.”
The child looked back to see her family huddled together by a dying fire and her decision was made. For she had loved her family so much that she would die for the chance that they may live.
The child followed Ari day after day, and night after night, until finally, after all time seemed to blur together, the child came upon a colossal cave and walked into the mouth praying to the Eoli that she would not anger the Great Wolf, for no man had ever seen the guardian of the North.
“But you are no man,” said the Winter Wolf, laying down on the cave floor, and his head was at her standing height.
The child knelt before the Winter Wolf, and gave praise to the Eoli’s Guardian. She pleaded her case to the Great Wolf.
“Your Excellency,” she began with tears stinging her eyes. “My clan was displaced as many were this cruel winter, and my clan began to make their way to seek shelter to the Winter King. Many of us died on the road, uncles, cousins, women with child and tiny babes! There were only forty-seven of us left by the time we got to the castle. Hungry, cold and weary, my mother cried that she wanted to die! Still, we weren’t permitted shelter we needed. The White Wizard appeared before us, and told us the king would never open his gates. Not even under your command! He sentenced us to die!”
“A king is a father to his people,” said the wolf. “The Winter King has his reasons but is still a disgrace in the eyes of the Eoli. He can be redeemed if he makes the right decision, but I promise you that your family shall live.”
Out from the bowels of the cave came an Alfarsidhe woman came holding a golden staff with a candle of pearl lighting the darkened cave with a queer blue flickering flame. It is said that even in her aria mail dress and a sword at her hip the Alfarsidhe was the most beautiful woman of man or Elfkind. Her name was Vara and she was the protector of the cave and the link between the world of the fey and the world of men.
“Stare into the flame, child,”
No one quite knows what the child saw in Vara’s magic flame, the child was struck by an inspiration and set out to save her family.
The twelve family members were know camped outside, the child’s mother wept day and night and was near death. The father too mourned the loss of his thirteen-year-old child, but he had to hold hope for his last living child, while the rest of the men attempted to build siege weapons out of the few materials they were able to gather. All hope should have been abandoned, but the twelve had lived through seven days and had regained the will to live.
One of the men looked up and he saw mailed figures march over the horizon on the backs of pale horses that seemed to float over the deep snow and make their way without problem to the frozen moat. The pale horses parted and he saw a beautiful woman with snowy skin and black hair wearing a chainmail dress with a golden staff walk through to the end of the moat. “Unbar the gates or we shall take your castle by force, false king!” she cried.
Again appeared the white wizard, angered by the Alfarsidhe he said again: “You shall not enter. These doors shall open for no man, even under the command of the Winter Wolf himself no man shall enter.”
“You shall regret your unkindness to your people!’”Vara screamed. “The Guardian will not tolerate this!”
That was when through the rolling grey mists emerged a great white beast, twice the size of a horse, more beautiful and majestic than any creature of this world with a mailed knight on his back. “I am the White Wolf, Guardian of the North, and I command that you unbar your doors and care for the people you vowed to protect!”
“Not even you, Great Wolf, can hold sway here. The Winter King shall permit none to pass.”
To which the Winter Wolf replied: “Then you shall fall!”
A great battle broke out then, but the king’s men were half starved for the winter was long and they barely had the strength to lift their swords. The Great Wolf jumped the wide moat and landed mere inches before the white wizard snarling fiercely and the knight lifted drew his sword.
“No man shall pass!” said the wizard knocking the knight off the Great Wolf’s back.
The knight’s helm was knocked off, and it was then the wizard noticed that the black knight was a ten-year-old girl. She ran him threw the stomach as she hissed “But we are not men.”
The castle was stormed, and the Alfarsidhe as well as the child’s family were now able to enter. They made their way to the Winter King’s chambers, the child expected to see a fat man who reserved all rations for himself, but instead she found the old bearded man withering away as the rest of his men. His wife the queen seemed to be no more than a skeleton herself, but on the bed was a child, perhaps three-years-old, her face was grey and each breath she made was a shaky wheeze. It became obvious that the King was hording the few rations they had to keep his sick daughter fed.
“Your child will live,” said Vara sitting down next to the child.
“But you are no longer Winter King.” said the Great Wolf. “A king must make sacrifices for the realm no matter how painful. The Norns will stay their hand and keep your daughter in this world, but I shall only bargain with them to save your daughter if you give up your crown. For the North cannot afford a selfish king.”
The king gave up his crown, and passed it on to the selfless child, who soon became the Warrior Queen. The Norns spared the little girl on the agreement that on the child’s flowering she would leave the mortal world and join the female warrior Alfarsidhe and in defending the North among the Valkyrie.
The Warrior Queen fought many battles in reclaiming the land and trying to settle disputes over the scarce resources and found many were displeased with her distributions of the rations in the year-long winter. Peace was kept in her immediate kingdom, elsewhere she had to fight to keep the children still living alive. She fought with great valour and always rode out with her warriors as a ruler must walk with their subjects.
The next Strawberry Moon the winter was finally beginning to thaw, the Warrior Queen was cut down at fourteen-years-old without heirs. Upon dying the Warrior Queen saw Vara come to her with a lantern in her hand, leading her from the battle field. “Selfless and fierce you shall ride with the Valkyrie bands until the North’s sons are no longer at war. A Valkyrie is selfless and practical, peace-loving but with the heart of the warrior. We are mothers to all mortals of this world and unbiased for we are not men.”