Ragnar Lothbrok is sixteen years old and he’s going to die.
Sixteen years old, and his first raid ever is looking like it’s also going to be his last.
He spares a thought to think that Rollo will never let him hear the end of it and that his father will be very disappointed in him, but then remembers that their feelings won’t matter after much longer.
Their shield wall had collapsed and in the melee an enormous Slav had appeared out of nowhere, attacking him like an angry bear, slamming his axe into Ragnar’s shield over and over, driving him away from the others. He’s getting tired now, stumbling over the uneven ground, struggling to lift his shield to block blow after blow, not even bothering to lift his hand-me-down sword anymore to try and strike back.
Eventually, he’s too slow in blocking another swing from his opponent, and the Slav hooks the head of his axe over the rim of Ragnar’s shield and yanks it out of his grip. He follows it with a blow that sends his sword flying and a kick to Ragnar’s ribs that sends him hurtling to the ground, knocking the breath out of him.
The last thing that Ragnar sees before he closes his eyes is the Slav raising his axe overhead for the killing blow, and he hopes that Odin will be merciful with him, send a Valkyrie to take him to Valhalla once the axe falls. The next thing he hears is the sound of tearing flesh and cracking bone and he thinks to himself that dying surprisingly doesn’t hurt at all. He tastes warm blood on his lips and opens his eyes to find that his Valkyrie has indeed come for him.
She’s breathtaking. Golden hair braided around her head like a crown and eyes as blue as the sea in summer. She reaches a hand down to him, but instead of gently taking him by the hand she grabs a fistful of his shirt.
“Get up idiot,” she snarls and yanks him to his feet.
It’s then that Ragnar realizes that this girl in not his Valkyrie at all, that he’s still very much alive. He realizes that the beautiful Valkyrie that was supposed to bring him to Valhalla is in fact one of the shield maidens who’d come with them on the raid, but he doesn't know her name.
He watches, dumbfounded, as she steps over the corpse of the Slav who was about to murder him, who she’d just killed, and retrieves his shield.
“You hesitated,” she chastises him as she shoves it back into his hands. “You could have hit him multiple times, but you hesitated, I saw you.”
Ragnar finally comes back to himself enough to answer her. “You were watching me? For how long?” He gives her his best smile and something flickers in her eyes - a hint of embarrassment perhaps? But it’s gone after just a moment as she grabs him by the shoulder and spins him in the direction of his fallen sword.
“Don’t make me save you again Ragnar,” she whispers in his ear. “I might not be so quick next time.”
The last thing he hears before she shoves him away is her laughter, and it sounds like music and birdsong and forever.