Find part II of the Saga here.
“Welp, that’s one way to stand out.”
Thus spake the youngest Valkyrie, her lambent eyes dancing with mirth. For so it was, that the three fair ladies were garbed in cloth unlike that of other riders come to choose their noble steeds. Not tall boots nor fine linens, not helmets black as raven’s feather. Of the far West their colors sing, of lands beyond the waves…
“Hej! Olaf’s Americans?”
“I sense a theme here.”
“Hush, you. Yes, ma’am, the very same.”
“No madam. Just Helga.”
“Oh, like Floki’s…”
“Sister heart, if you start humming the Vikings theme song I shall clobber you with the poop rake I see hence!”
“It is well,” spake fair Helga “I rather like the series.”
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
Picture it: Rømø, 2016. A sunlit courtyard, a dozen-and-four horse people milling about, taking in the beauty of their surroundings. Barns and stables painted a cheerful red, a little house containing a break room and another which holds the saddles, bridles, brushes and myriad minutiae of the horse world. And an Olaf. One who, unbeknownst to the happily exploring ladies outside, is picking three cards from a shelf to reserve the horses pictured thereon. With the solemn gravity of a warrior preparing for battle, he checks stirrups and reins, saddle pads and girths.
The ladies meanwhile are busy admiring the 60 horse strong herd beyond the barns. Dozing or lazily nibbling at the grass in the afternoon’s heat, there are Icelandic Horses of every color known to man. A Shire Horse, peeking shyly at the humans from behind a cluster of little Vikings half her size. Two familiar donkeys, heads buried in a pile of hay, their clever eyes picking out the apple-donating humans from earlier. ‘No bicycles with baskets’, one admonishes with a swish of his tail. ‘Still’, the other thoughtfully twists his ears ‘one never knows with bipeds. If one falls down, check for carrots. But quickly, before the horses catch on’.
Effortlessly switching between three languages, tall Helga with the eyes blue as summer skies sorts the bipedal herd into three groups: beginner, intermediate, advanced. Shiny black boots, sturdy paddock boots, and a lone pair of Wellies attached to a sprightly Briton shuffle obediently. Who needs longboats and axes when you have a Helga with a cheerful smile and firm contralto voice? The Americans, already set apart by their cotton shirts and soft, worn jeans falling over robust Western boots, are gently herded towards the tack room. “Olaf has the halters for your ponies. He does advanced group today.”
Advanced. Oh, dear.
Mother’s meek protest dies in her throat as the youngest Valkyrie drags her onward by the elbow with a satisfied harrumph. She for one hasn’t come to sedately plod along the worn paths. Oh, no! It is adventure she seeks, elated flight across the endless horizons! Older daughter, once more the image of her grandsire’s equanimity and aplomb, follows with a quiet smile. This should be interesting.
(Denmark Lesson the Third: Thou shalt not underestimate the Dane’s capacity for mischief. Even if your trusted coach called ahead to inform her old friend of your riding abilities and preferences. Especially then.)
“So, little one. You take the little stallion. He’s a very nice boy. And you, you have Happy. Not so fast as your mare back home I think, but who is?”
Two down, mother yet to go. Two cards are laid out on the table, one depicting a sleek black horse with proud eyes and a mane that would make a Friesian eat his own halter in a fit of envy; one showing a tall, flaxen-maned chestnut with a cheerful expression. Incidentally, all three cards bear a small red mark on the back. This can’t be good, can it?
“For mother I have Little Red. She likes quiet hands. Then she flies like a greased owl.”
“I’m not sure I want to know what that means.”
The third card is unveiled. Another chestnut mare, blonde mane over auburn coat, and the devil in her eyes.
(Non-Horse-People note: Quiet Hands as opposed to Loud Hands describes a rider with a light, calm touch on the reins, and a tendency to give subtle cues rather than wave brightly colored signaling flags while the horse is shouting “I heard you the first time dammit!!”. Not surprisingly horses tend to prefer Quiet Hands, and it has been mine own consistent and often only saving grace when otherwise I’ve annoyed my horses in each and every other way possible).
Greased Owl (/ɡriːs aʊl/): Not a nocturnal bird of prey after an encounter with a vat of butter. Rather, a five-gaited equine exhibiting an ability to fly low and at great velocity, giving the impression of gliding across the landscape like a merciless hunter, while any fortunate and/or terrified passenger holds on for dear life. Reaches full Grease potential in the Flugskeið on account of smoothly achieving speeds to which the Laws of Physics shrug and declare “Don’t look at us, we had nothing to do with it!”
It is a small group that leaves the courtyard under the guidance of fair Olaf and his jovial grey gelding. Having properly introduced themselves to their fine steeds with a friendly brushing and a careful pre-flight check under Helga’s approving gaze, the Valkyries have saddled up and mounted. They are joined by two more riders, an elegant German lady and a merry Swede with an amazing gift of foresight -he brought snacks!
A slight breeze from the east ruffles hair and manes as they turn inland, seeking the shade of tall trees. A crosswalk specifically marked for horses allows them to cross the main road, indulgently watched by Danish drivers. As their small group leisurely walks and tölts through groves of Scotch pine and birch, mother Valkyrie begins to relax. The harmony between elder daughter and her spirited mare is obvious, and youngest bringing up the rear with her lively stallion is glowing brightly enough to put the summer sun to shame. A match made in Valhalla, those two are. Or rather, two bundles of mischief who have found their soulmate. Mighty Loki himself better hold on to his shirt, for those two would steal the apples straight from his pockets and leave him in the dust.
Of course, mother should have known better than to dismiss Murphy and his Law quite so quickly.
(Denmark Lesson the Fourth: Thou shalt not fall asleep at the reins! Not even if you’ve gotten along with your horse in such spectacular fashion that the bold little mare seems to respond to a fleeting thought. Especially then).
No sooner does the merry group emerge from the trees onto a flat expanse where tall grass sways in the lazy breeze, than Olaf turns in the saddle with a grin, and six little horses prick their ears. Some words float through the air that seems to shimmer in a warm, golden light – “…ok to pass,” it sounds like in Olaf’s pleasant baritone, and “…line up again at dunes”. There might be more words, but they’re drowned by a triumphant yee-HAAAW and the sudden thundering of hooves as something sleek, black, and fleet-footed whooshes past mother Valkyrie. Proud Sörli Jonakrson and his Shieldmaiden, it seems, did not need to be told twice.
Meanwhile, mother’s noble steed gives a few experimental canter hops, and when no negating signal from her nonplussed rider counters her initiative, Little Red concludes it is Go Time. As in, “I’ll show that swaggering stallion how it’s done!” Go Time.
There is a sound one makes, usually involuntarily, when sudden and unexpectedly rapid acceleration occurs. The kind of acceleration that presses you into your seat as a jetplane’s engines roar full throttle at liftoff. The kind that makes you instinctively and desperately seek a deeper seat in the saddle as a five gaited Viking ignites the afterburner and switches to Flying Pace. No, not this sound. The “HHNFFNNNFFF!!” one. Somehow, some way, it must have sounded like “Hraðar!”, or “Hurtig!” To the fiery blonde, already vexed by the sight of five luxurious tails waving in front of her, it is all the encouragement she needs. And besides, her rider’s seat moved into excellent alignment upon the switch to flugskeið, so she must be in full agreement that more speed is called for. Right? Right.
Somehow that plain looked a lot larger 10 seconds ago. And where did the other horses go? The black one is still there, and the chipper pinto with his Swede is just ahead… never mind. Was ahead. As mother finally wraps her head around the idea that a gentle tug on the reins might not go amiss, a bunch of hardy shrubs that looked a lot smaller 15 seconds ago loom larger and larger with worrisome speed. In order to overtake the proud stallion who is so joyously stretching his legs, Little Red must swerve just a tad to the right…
“Shrub!” the laughing elder Shieldmaiden warns from somewhere not far behind.
“Aih know!” Mother Valkyrie attempts to holler back, but opening her mouth at this juncture was precisely the wrong thing to do. As impromptu snacks go, Danish shrubbery leaves somewhat to be desired.
Little Red for her part has elegantly ducked beneath the twigs and is now expressing her extreme satisfaction at having her nose level with stallion’s withers by ways of a cheerful snort. Absentmindedly chewing on a leaf, mother realizes several things at once:
Those dunes look awfully close.
This is what Olaf meant with “greased”.
This is a fast horse.
I am an idiot.
Right. Reins. Tug. “But I almost had him!” (reluctant reduction of speed) – Sternly brace lower back. Tug. “Unh, fine. Don’t come crying to me when he gloats, though!” (smooth transition to tölt, walk) – Relax. Praise. “That’s right. I am the wind, the flame, the buttered owl! You may worship my magnificence!” (soft snort, nod).
It is astonishingly easy to come to a gentle halt to await the arrival of the rest of the cavalry once one remembers how to ride, rather than be a delighted yet utterly befuddled passenger. With twigs in her hair.
“Shrubs to left of her, shrubs to right of her, volleyed and thundered…”
“… boldly she rode and well, into the jaws of … uh, shrubs.”
“Yes?” – “Ja?”
Six horses, an endless beach, hooves splashing in the surf. A little stallion prances and nickers playfully. The riders are chatting and laughing after an hour long trek along the coastline, cantering, trotting, walking, tölting. There has been another brief race, and a most welcome break in the dunes when a smart Swede handed out cookies (instantly becoming elder Valkyrie’s new best buddy) and Olaf produced bottles of water and paper cups from his saddlebag (instantly becoming mother Valkyrie’s hero). Far too soon, it feels, they are turning back. Through another copse of trees, through meadows, eastwards across the isle, down another beach.
“So. Greased owl, huh?”
“With extra grease” Olaf smiles, “when she likes you.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
The mighty Dane with the golden beard shrugs. “Last one she put in the roses.”
Now he tells me.
“Glath and Gyllir, | Gler and Skeithbrimir,
Silfrintopp and Sinir,
Gisl and Falhofnir, | Golltopp and Lettfeti,
On these steeds the gods shall go
When dooms to give | each day they ride
To the ash-tree Yggdrasil.”
The Saga continues as the fair Valkyries continue to explore the isle, brave mighty storms and Thor’s own wrath, discover priceless treasures, and somehow find the time for mead, song, and romantic interludes characterized by much confusion, Bells and Alarums, and in one case, an unexpected bath.