He lowered the sword uneasily as Ljot Flatnose, a warrior of Tyrker’s house, approached. An old woman with snow-white hair and deep wrinkles on her shriveled face accompanied him.
“Who is the crone with Ljot?” Thorstein asked softly, feeling power surrounding her.
“She’s the appointed Angel of Death for the funeral ceremony,” Walfgar replied. “I wonder what they want.”
Ljot and the crone stopped in front of them. “Tyrker the Courageous needs a woman to accompany his journey to Valhalla,” Ljot said, puffing out his barrel chest. He gestured to Annoure. “The Angel of Death has chosen this thrall.”
“Nei!” Thorstein exclaimed, tightening his hand on his sword hilt as he stood. “It’s custom to use one of the war leader’s own thralls for the ceremony.”
The crone’s eyes narrowed angrily. “I cast the stones and the oracle said she is the one to accompany him.”
Thorstein stammered, “There must be a mistake. She is my woman.” Annoure rose and he put his left arm protectively around her.
“There is no mistake.”
“What exactly did the oracle say?” Herjulf asked, also standing.
“That a woman who is not from our land will make the journey with Tyrker,” the Angel of Death said.
“Annoure is not the only woman from another land,” Herjulf said.
“It’s an honor to accompany a great warrior on his final journey,” said the crone. “It is the only way a woman can get to Valhalla. Give her to me.”
“A woman is never forced to perform the ceremony unless there are none willing,” Thorstein said. “Tyrker was a great warrior, but we are all great warriors. Ask among his thralls before demanding mine.”
“The oracle must be followed or you will be cursed!” spat the crone.
Thorstein broke into a sweat. His whole being rebelled at the idea of Annoure being sacrificed. “You can’t have her! I’ll fight for her if I have to!”
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