A smiling Sven came back from inspecting the building works. The new barracks were receiving the finishing touches, and the bathhouse was ready for use. They would need another one in the village, but this could wait a little. He sighed in relief; his men hadn’t complained about the cramped living conditions yet, but sooner or later dissensions would have arisen, and he had no time for that. He had considered using the mead hall but rejected the idea; he didn’t trust the villagers and it would have been too easy to set fire to the place after blocking the unique door, eliminating a vast part of his troop at once.
The hunters had returned after noon, proudly bringing back their catch: four wild boars and a deer. They had been boasting about how they followed the tracks of a sounder of boars, found them foraging in a clearing and shot arrows at them after approaching stealthily against the wind, before stepping in and spearing the first three. Then, while chasing the wounded fourth, they had stumbled upon a deer and got a lucky shot through the heart. Sven had congratulated them warmly; he hadn’t expected such a bountiful hunt. Not only would they be fed for a few days, but also they could afford to add some meat to the meager offerings they had spared for the dead warriors. A sacrifice to Skadi and Ullr would also be needed, to ensure their enduring benevolence for the hunt.
He glanced at the sun: it was time. The funerals would start at dusk. Summoning those of his men who were friends or relatives of the deceased warriors, he led them across the village, towards the field chosen for the ceremony. Two shallow graves had already been dug, and the decapitated remains of the foes he had killed were laid inside, feet to the South. They were getting buried without any goods beside their weapons. Sven smirked; he very much doubted that the Valkyries would bother collecting their foul souls. There were only three men around, ready to close the earth on them; apparently they were not very popular either. Standing aside, brass and jewels adorned staff in hand, Groa was reciting incantations, binding them to their graves so that they wouldn’t come back as draugr (zombies), before tying their big toes together and sticking needles in the sole of their feet.
Sven stared at the Volva: she seemed taller and powerful in her long blue cloak, hooded in black lamb skin with a border and assorted gloves of white cat fur. A pouch hung at her belt, filled with her magic tools. She signalled to the waiting men that she was done, and they started filling the pits.
When she turned towards Sven, he bowed respectfully; as a Witch, her status was above his. She smiled and walked majestically to the side, guiding them to the two pyres, erected for the worthy warriors. Around them were large stones, disposed in the shape of a boat. The bodies were comfortably installed on cushions, and surrounded by ceremonial offerings: grains, jugs of ale and mead, strips of meat and dried fish. Edwina stood aside. Despite being Christian, she had assisted Groa in the preparation of the funerals, willing to help her people in any way possible. Sven nodded at her in acknowledgment; he didn’t expect any less of her.
The group took position around the cremation site in an orderly manner.
Facing the dead, Groa began to chant a prayer to Odin and Thor, asking them to welcome the defunct in Valhalla and reminding them of their merits.
“…Hail to you and good thoughts. May Thor receive you, may Odin own you. May Thor protect you with that hammer which came from out of the sea and may the lightning hold all evil away from you.”
She turned to Olaf, bowing slightly to him. He stepped forward along with fifteen others, encircling the stone drawing. He started singing and the men joined in, hailing the Valkyries who would harvest the souls:
“Then burst forth light at Logafell
And from those lights flashes leaped forth.
The maidens rode sublime under helmets on Heaven's Plain;
Their byrnies were spattered with blood
And beams stood forth from their spear-points.
Loud were they, lo
When they rode over the barrow.
Bold were they, when they rode over the land.
When the mighty women
Made ready their strength
And they sent forth the screaming spears.”
Once they were finished, Sven lit two torches, handling them to Olaf and a relative of the other man. Groa chanted again, and at her signal, they lit up the pyres. The warriors sang and beat their shields, attracting the Gods’ attention, and screamed in marvel when a strong gust of wind lifted the smoke and ashes to the night sky, creating a volatilesparkling comet.