Moment of Truth
and I still know when to stop.
I am lonelier than you are and
I still know when to leave. Caitlyn Siehl
Leading the Valkyries in the second battle of the war, Gwendolyn makes it to the Vanir’s Forward Headquarters, where she takes down the mighty dragon Belial with her Psypher Spear, thus removing a key force from the Vanir’s ranks. The Aesir emerge victorious, notably due to Odin’s personal involvement. All seems to go according to plan when the Crystallization Cauldron finally falls into Odin’s hands — until a mysterious force deactivates the Cauldron. And indeed, shortly before Gwendolyn rejoins Odin on the battlefield, she runs into a hooded figure — Velvet, the Forest Witch — who she lets escape.
Enraged about the now useless Cauldron, which cost a considerable amount of sacrifice to obtain, General Brigan of the Aesir army sets out to hunt down the witch without awaiting his king’s orders. Gwendolyn offers to go after him in her father’s stead, feeling responsible for letting the witch go and wanting to redeem herself. Before she leaves, Odin stops her, and for once, he seems to be at a loss for words:
Odin: …Gwendolyn, wait.
Gwendolyn: Yes, Father?
Odin: Heed my words. Do not cause undue harm to the witch. She’s— Well, she’s— She is special. Be respectful.
Gwendolyn: … As you wish, Your Majesty… Valkyrie: Chapter 2, Act 2. Demon Lord’s Castle
Hearts in Turmoil
Gwendolyn manages to reach Velvet before Brigan does and attempts to bring her back by force, not backing down even when she sees that her opponent wields a Psypher too. According to Velvet, the Crystallization Cauldron isn’t just responsible for the fall of Valentine, but would also eventually doom the entire world — so the ancient Valentine prophecies say. She further explains that Odin’s ambitions are merely a convenient lie, implying that his interpretation of the prophecies — that the winning country in the final all-out war will get to rule over the entire land — is wrong. Hearing that slight against her father, Gwendolyn engages Velvet in combat, swearing to take her life if necessary.
Just when Gwendolyn has managed to overwhelm Velvet, Odin appears on the scene and demands them to cease fighting.
Odin: I cannot allow you to hurt one another. Gwendolyn, step away. Do not interrupt what I have to say… Velvet… You look so much like your mother…
Odin: My dear daughter… Why are you acting against me?
Gwendolyn: …Daughter? Valkyrie: Chapter 2, Act 6. Forest of Elrit
Odin’s voice softens when he speaks to Velvet, more affection in his words than he has ever directed at Gwendolyn. Unlike Gwendolyn, however, Velvet rejects his love, refusing to even be called a daughter of his. From her point of view, Odin seduced her late mother, the previous princess of Valentine, while the two nations were at war, then abandoned her when she became pregnant. Her mother was subsequently executed for her liaison with an enemy, a fate Velvet holds Odin personally accountable for. Though Odin explains that neither of them had known each other’s identity and were torn apart against their will, assuring Velvet that they had truly loved each other, Velvet will have none of it: ”Lies! If you loved my mother, who is this other daughter here?”
By far the most painful part about this scene is how Gwendolyn is completely barred from participating and getting any word in, despite the revelation coming as a big shock to her and affecting her the most. It isn’t just that she suddenly has a half-sister and learns that her father has withheld this truth from her for so long, never having alluded to this important part of his past at all. What hurts much more is the obvious and immense fondness Odin holds for this other daughter of his: a display of affection Gwendolyn can only dream of. Odin’s lack of regard for Gwendolyn in this scene shows itself in how he walks past her and solely addresses Velvet, whereas Gwendolyn’s loss of composure manifests itself in her vocal surprise and her body language, eyes averted, hand clutching chest to keep the hurt inside.
If I Must Choose
The three of them are interrupted by Brigan’s arrival, who has overheard the conversation and refers to Odin’s past acts as ”fraternizing with the enemy”. The group returns to the castle, where Velvet is made to admit that the ring Titrel is the only means to control the Cauldron (as she did before), and that it now rests in the stomach of the almighty Wagner, king of dragons. Hearing that, Brigan makes a big scene in Odin’s court and demands for Velvet to be sacrificed to Wagner so as to retrieve the ring and to punish Velvet both. When he senses Odin’s anticipated hesitance, he taunts his king with the newfound knowledge, asking loudly whether there’s any reason behind Odin’s discontentment. In private, Brigan essentially threatens to spill the truth about Velvet’s identity — and thus Odin’s alleged affiliation with the enemy — to their people if Odin doesn’t go along with his plan of action. Odin has no choice but to stand by quietly as his daughter is taken away.
Emotionally devastated, Odin retreats to the throne room, where Gwendolyn approaches him. When she cautiously asks him whether Velvet is someone special to him, he says that Velvet resembles the person he once loved, and that he can’t bear to lose her once more. Not wanting Gwendolyn to see him in this state, he asks her to leave him be. Seeing her father so vulnerable, Gwendolyn takes a moment to reflect on the situation.
Gwendolyn: My mother and sister devoted their lives to the king… I never heard him devote so many words of affection to me… ever.
Bird: …If you leave her, she will be executed. That will make you the king’s only surviving daughter. You will no longer have to compete for his love.
Gwendolyn: True… If only she were gone… … But if she dies… Father will suffer even more.
Bird: Are you saying you will save her? This girl who cares nothing for you? …If you do, you are committing treason. You will no longer be welcome here. Will you persist in this folly? There will be no way to redeem yourself… How can you willingly choose to walk the path to your own death…? Valkyrie: Chapter 3, Act 2. Demon Lord’s Throne
I love this quiet moment for how ugly and genuine it is: For one brief moment, Gwendolyn — the buried part of hers that takes the shape of the bird — considers what it would be like with Velvet out of the picture. She considers leaving Velvet to die in order to gain the attention and love she so craves. In this context, even Griselda is regarded as an obstacle, as yet another daughter favoured by Odin in some way.
Of interest here is that the bird argues in favour of winning Odin’s love, whereas in its first appearance, it seems to have argued against it. What remains the same in both situations is its wish for Gwendolyn to live — in other words, Gwendolyn’s desire to live. Regardless how keen Gwendolyn is on finding a meaningful death, deep down, she wishes to live.
And although Gwendolyn has good reasons to be envious, or to be bitter about Velvet’s rejection of the very thing Gwendolyn dearly wants, it is not those emotions that determine her actions. In this scene, she turns her literal back to her inner voice multiple times, closing off her body and her eyes as she makes her decision. Once she has, she holds her hand over her heart and silently heads out, as if steeling herself and in a rush to act before she changes her mind.
Gwendolyn may be full of self-doubt and contradictions, but above that, and in this crucial moment in particular, she is compassionate: She doesn’t begrudge Velvet Odin’s love, but only bemoans his lack thereof for her mother and sister as well as herself. And the reason she decides to save Velvet is not for an ulterior motive such as hoping to gain Odin’s gratitude and love, but solely because she wishes to spare her father the grief. It is this — her acting on someone else’s behalf rather than for herself — that sets this scene apart from her mindless search for death earlier on.
Sacrifice and Punishment
Brigan’s intention never was to endanger his own life by crossing paths with a dragon not even Odin could defeat. He considered the ring to be lost from the start; his actual plan is to execute Velvet himself and to report it as the dragon’s deed. After that, he would inform the nation of the connection between Velvet and Odin so as to shock them twofold: Not only did their king have a child with the enemy, he was also monstrous enough to kill said child. By doing so, the people would question Odin’s qualities as a king, and instate Brigan, who is second-in-command, on the throne in response.
Gwendolyn arrives in time to take Brigan’s life, thus saving both Velvet from death as well as her father from losing his position. A scene that is revealed in the fifth book shows Gwendolyn’s courage, determination and compassion as she helps Velvet get past Ragnanival’s soldiers:
Velvet: Why are you helping me?
Gwendolyn: Your execution would deeply upset my father. It frustrates me… But my father loves you. So please, don’t hate him…
Velvet: … Fate: Chapter 5, Act 2. Winterhorn Ridge
Even though she doesn’t know Velvet, even though Velvet holds all of Odin’s love, and, most of all, even though Gwendolyn is throwing away everything — including her only link to Odin: her role as one of his loyal soldiers — in this moment in order to save the other girl, Gwendolyn still cares: Gwendolyn still cares about what becomes of her father’s feelings, and wishes for him to be thought of well, if not for his love to be returned, for that would mean her father’s happiness. Gwendolyn holds a tremendous amount of love for someone who won’t love her back, nor care about her feelings. She wants to make that one person happy, and if it costs her her own chance at attaining happiness, so be it.
When Ragnanival’s soldiers catch up and realize what’s happening, Gwendolyn bravely puts herself between them and Velvet to secure the escape route. Odin arrives and threatens her with consequences for opposing him, prompting Velvet to speak up on Gwendolyn’s behalf (”This girl rescued me for your sake…”), but Gwendolyn only shushes her so that the soldiers won’t think less of her father.
Odin: Gwendolyn, do you realize what you have done…?
Gwendolyn: My heart knows why you are acting this way. That is why I am doing this.
Gwendolyn: Hear me, everyone. I am a traitor who opposes the king’s commands. Until this girl escapes, none shall pass — not even the king.
Warrior: What disrespect…
Gwendolyn: Take one more step, and I shall run you through. Fate: Chapter 5, Act 2. Winterhorn Ridge
Back at the royal court after Velvet has successfully made her escape. Odin sees himself forced to punish his own daughter for disobeying him and killing his chief vassal to save face. Unlike her father, Gwendolyn bravely faces the consequences of her actions, ready to ”endure any form of punishment” even as the phantom bird points out that she’s trembling, and asks her whether she regrets her actions.
The Valkyries’ customary punishment is exceptionally harsh, specifically targeted at their core values: their honour and their pride. Valkyries, once unfit to fight or if they’ve dared to rebel, are put under a sleeping spell from which they’ll awaken with their heart belonging to a stranger. Stripped of what makes them Valkyries, they are to devote their life to said person, bear their children and grow old, far away from any battle.
Gwendolyn: I care not… My actions spared you from suffering.
Odin: Oh, my dear… What have I done…? You are most certainly my precious daughter…
Gwendolyn: I… I have longed to hear you say those words. Oh, Father… Valkyrie: Chapter 3, Act 6. Demon Lord’s Throne
Only as Odin personally casts the spell on his daughter does he finally acknowledge her, cradling her in his arms as he feels and shows affection for her for the very first time. To Gwendolyn, there is no better figurative death than this, but for Odin, this realization comes too late: He’s losing her, this daughter he has let down time and again, and who yet remained fiercely loyal to him through everything.
The entirety of Chapter 2 and 3 in Book Valkyrie illustrates the stark contrast between father and daughter: Whereas Odin only manages to muster up love for Gwendolyn once she has sacrificed everything to be of use to him, Gwendolyn loves him unconditionally despite all the neglect and loneliness. Whereas Odin won’t take responsibility for his own actions, and denies his past love affair as well as his other daughter in public to guard his reputation and position, Gwendolyn stands up for the things dear to her even if it means destroying the entire nation’s image of her and losing her place. Though usually bold and daring, Odin shrinks into passivity in crucial moments; though usually quiet and reserved, Gwendolyn sparks into action when it counts.
Because Odin doesn’t acknowledge the needs of those around him and considers them tools in his plans, he only knows how to act in his own interest: his hunger for power. Because Gwendolyn knows what it’s like to be passed by, and perhaps because she holds such little regard for herself, she is considerate of others and will act on their behalf, even if she can’t do so for her own interest: her hunger for love. Father and daughter are tested again and again in this episode, and by the end of it, they both have their moment of truth: Gwendolyn makes a choice, just as Odin makes a choice — and Gwendolyn chooses love and family, the very things Odin is willing to sacrifice.
All these events highlight Gwendolyn’s defining traits that will become more and more pronounced in later chapters. Gwendolyn has strong beliefs and equally strong love, for which she’d do anything — even if the person she does it for might not be deserving of it. She may implicitly berate herself for being selfish and calculating in her inner monologues, but the truth is that she is fundamentally kind, unable of holding back her compassion for others. Gwendolyn’s true courage shows itself not when she storms into death to gain love, but when she fearlessly faces any threat for love — for love’s own sake.