- Rhinegold and the Valkyries by Arthur Rackham
The man and his son felt the warm moisture in the air as they stumbled out of the icy tundra into the giant's corpse. They had travelled here before but something had called them back again - a challenge demanding their attention. The boy was small with piercing eyes and he wore leather armor and furs. The man towered above him, with ash-white skin exposed in places, as if the cold could not touch him. Across his skin there were whirls of red, tattoos of some kind. His strange skin colour and the markings were a curse: they carried the story of a past crime he could never escape. But the past did not matter now. The being hidden behind the door in front of them demanded presence. They entered the chamber, and came face to face with their challenger. They froze in their tracks. This man, who had lived his entire life a warrior, sized up his opponent: A winged woman who was the ultimate judge of all warriors. She held the axe named Mordingi, "The Slayer", which was a gift from the dwarves. She hefted the shield, named Verja, which was made from the fingernail of the ancestor of all giants from whom the very world was fashioned. Her helmet, named Vaenghalm, gave her the power to leap into the air across mountains. Her bracelet, named Styrkband, granted her enormous strength. Her belts, the Dauthbandi, followed her will and could extend and entangle any opponent. The man faced Gunnr, the valkyrie of battle, and she was his equal. He raised his own mighty weapon, the axe named Leviathan, and she raised hers. They both leapt into the space between, the glorious battle echoing far across the frozen north…
A valkyrie is female warrior who, with her sisters, decides the fate of those in battle. They appear as resolute angel-like beings with shining armor. They ride across the sky and are usually only seen by warriors who are fated to die. Gunnr often travels in a trio with her sisters Róta and Skuld. She is particularly good at selecting which warriors should be carried back to paradise - a place called Valhalla where they will feast forever until called to battle at the end of days.
In some exceptional circumstances, valkyrie have been known to appear to other mortals. Those are often the circumstances where gods and mortals intertwine and the world is changed because of it. There is a very famous story, encoded in music, about a cursed ring and a rebellious valkyrie named Brünnhilde. A hero named Siegfried is born when she defies her all-powerful father, and loses her immortality as punishment. She later becomes Siegfried's lover and, in a horrible twist of fate, has to watch him die after he retrieves the ring. She throws herself upon his funeral pyre and her sacrifice is instrumental in the death of the very gods who raised her.
The valkyries are a beautiful and noble sight. They are loved by the gods and they invoke the sounds of trumpets in the orchestra of the mind. Yet they are terrible at the same time. As terrible as gods can be. As terrible as war can be. Their honor and grace will always be accompanied by the horrors of war. Consider this excerpt from the poem called "Darradarljod":
“The valkyries go weaving with drawn swords, Hild and Hjorthrimul, Sanngrid and Svipul. Spears will shatter shields will splinter, Swords will gnaw like wolves through armor.
Let us now wind the web of war Which the young king once waged. Let us advance and wade through the ranks, Where friends of ours are exchanging blows.
Let us now wind the web of war And then follow the king to battle Gunn and Gondul can see there The blood-spattered shields that guarded the king.
Let us now wind the web of war Where the warriors banners are forging forward Let his life not be taken; Only the valkyries can choose the slain.”