In the grey beginnings of the world, or ever the flower of justice had rooted in the heart, there lived among the daughters of men two children, sisters, of one house.
In childhood did they leap and climb and swim with the men children of their race, and were nurtured on the same stories of gods and heroes.
In maidenhood they could do all that a maiden might and more— delve could they no less than spin, hunt no less than weave, brew pottage and helm ships, wake the harp and tell the stars, face all danger and laugh at all pain.
Joyous in toil-time and rest-time were they as the days and years of their youth came and went. Death had spared their house, and unhappiness knew they none.
Yet often as at falling day they sat before sleep round the hearth of red fire, listening with the household to the brave songs of gods and heroes, there would surely creep into their hearts a shadow—the thought that whatever the years of their lives, and whatever the generous deeds, there would for them, as women, be no escape at the last from the dire mists of Hela, the fogland beyond the grave for all such as die not in battle; no escape for them from Hela, and no place for ever for them or for their kind among the glory- crowned, sword-shriven heroes of echoing Valhalla.
That shadow had first fallen in their lusty childhood, had slowly gathered darkness through the overflowing days of maidenhood, and now, in the strong tide of full womanhood, often lay upon their future as the moon Odin's wrath lies upon the sun.
But stout were they to face danger and laugh at pain, and for all the shadow upon their hope they lived brave and songful days—the one a homekeeper and in her turn a mother of men: the other unhusbanded, but gentle to ignorance and sickness and sorrow through the width and length of the land.
And thus, facing life fearlessly and ever with a smile, those two women lived even unto extreme old age, unto the one's children's children's children, labouring truly unto the end and keeping strong hearts against the dread day of Hela, and the fate-locked gates of Valhalla.
But at the end a wonder.
As these sisters looked their last upon the sun, the one in the ancestral homestead under the eyes of love, the other in a distant land among strange faces, behold the wind of Thor, and out of the deep of heaven the white horses of Odin, All- Father, bearing Valkyrie, shining messengers of Valhalla. And those two worldworn women, faithful in all their lives, were caught up in death in divine arms and borne far from the fogs of Hela to golden thrones among the battle heroes, upon which the Nornir, sitting at the loom of life, had from all eternity graven their names.
And from that hour have the gates of Valhalla been thrown wide to all faithful endeavour whether of man or woman.
JOHN RUSSELL Headmaster of the King Alfred School.
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