Sunday, September 13, 2015

Where the brave shall live

I don't really know what it was like before.  Dying.  Discovering that there's more.  The Ride of the Valkyrie.  I don't think the Meadhall has changed - at least - it looks like a Viking Meadhall to me.  On the whole it's like this giant party on the front lines of a battle we're going to fight in the morning, only morning never seems to come.  It's all training and drinking and eating...  Holy shit, the food here is so good!
I never really studied vikings or mythology.  I mean, I watched that show on the History Channel.  My brother DVR'd it and we watched it together the last time I was stateside.
Huh.  I guess I'll never be stateside again.  I wonder why that never occurred to me before.  I hope my brother dies in glorious battle and gets chosen.
Okay, so here's how I died:
In Battle!
Sorry.  Whenever anyone here asks you how you died, the answer is always, "IN BATTLE!"  It's kind of stupid, I know.  We all died in battle.  It's literally the only way to get here.  It's just one of those stupid things *Einherjar* do.  It's like a motivational check - the closest thing I can think of back home in *Midgardr*, would be "oorah."
Also, Einherjar...  That's what we call ourselves.  The one warrior.  Each of us is the One Warrior.  The Single Soldier, the once fighters.
Yeah, I'm learning the Old Norse.  You have to.  There are so many Einherjar - brothers - here from all over the world.  All across the vast expanse of history; and the gods sure as hell aren't going to waste their time learning all the tongues of men.  So the Norse tends to be the common language around here.  I mean...
There are cliques, sure.  But it isn't like High School.  Isn't even like the Corps.  It's fluid, I guess.
I served with this old badass Gunny my first tour in Iraq - **GySgt Starke**.  He was one of the first of the Einherjar to greet me in the Meadhall.  He was in tight with the old-school Americans, his fucking Grandfather is here (how awesome would that be?).  Anyway, I usually end up hanging out with a bunch of American and British World War Vets.  I like to drink with these Hessians, too.  Donar - their unofficial leader - took a liking to me when I called him out on his bullshit this one time, and the Hessians all laugh at the way modern German sounds on my tongue - we communicate alright, though.  I guess I also hang out with these Afghanis sometimes, after I ran into a soldier I sent here myself a few months before punching my own ticket.
**Aarif** is a fucking riot, man.  So funny.  His English is pretty good - a lot better than my Norse, anyway.  He comes running up to me about a week after I got here, and he just punches the shit out of me.  We start fighting, and I didn't have any idea what the hell was going on; but I fought back.  I mean... It's what you do, right?
So here I am in Nordic Heaven fighting for my life against this Afghan Muslim shouting "Allahu Akbar," and shit - shouting about "you killed me, you American sonofabitch," and "why did you send me to Valhalla," - and don't you ever tell him I said it, but he was beating the shit out of me.  And he had me in this crazy leg lock and he just starts laughing, and brushing away my strikes and telling me to calm down.  **Gunny Starke** was there then, laughing.  I was so confused.
We drank mead together, and none of it mattered any more.  I mean, it never mattered, really.  We fight, we died.  Now we're brothers.  Once upon a time, we were Fighters.  I killed this man, **Aarif** - punched his ticket on the Valhalla Express - and somewhere out there, the man - the men - who punched my ticket will show up, if they're lucky.  Maybe the man who killed me is here already.  I didn't get a good look at them, though.
Most of us don't.  And even if you do know who killed you, maybe they won't even show up.  Some go to **Freyja's** war fields.  And the poor bastards who don't get to die in battle - the ones who live long enough to grow old, or sick?  We don't mourn the lost.  We live forever.
But it was real depressing to find out that most of my heroes aren't here.  I don't want to talk about that.  We don't mourn the lost.
So I died in battle.  IED.  Pretty cunning trap, really.  I mean, I think we were on point - heads in the game.  Riding patrol north of Jalalabad, Croft says something about getting laid, Benjamen tells him to shut up and **BOOM**.
The chaos of war.  Ears ringing.  Head foggy and lost and clear and focused all at the same time.  Checking injuries, checking our brothers.  Frankenhummer's dead.  We pile out and assess.  Then the shooting starts.
I couldn't tell you if I was the first or even the only one to go down.  The initial impact hit my body armor.  It's like being punched in the chest.  I got riddled with bullets, though. Shoulder, arm, twice, leg.  The one in my head shut it all down.  I was cold.  There was a motorcycle or something - like one of the big Harleys.  I don't know.  Maybe the engine on the humvee was still going.  I think I tried to raise my rifle; but there was a big piece of my wrist missing when I looked down at the hand holding it.  I couldn't grip my weapon right.  I didn't hear it drop in the dirt; but I remember thinking about how pissed Staff Sergeant Burroughs was gonna be.  Disrespecting the rifle.  I fell down.
That motorcycle was getting louder.  Everything was kind of grey.  Or red.  Hazy.  I was trying to stand up.  There was gunfire around us, and I could here my brothers shouting something - yelling at me, I think - but it was like listening from underwater.
"I'm good," I said, lying.  "Drive on."  They didn't hear me.  I mean, I get it now.  I was already dead.
Her name is **Alex** - uh - *Something*.  As the sounds of battle faded and her bike got louder and closer, I found some strength.  I pushed myself up to my knees in time to see her ride up on me.  Glorious.
The bike was huge.  Way too big for her 5-foot frame, with these big ape-hangers and all this chrome and steel that didn't belong in the desert.  At first I thought she was American - she was wearing desert fatigues, but she was out of uniform.  No armor, no battle rattle.  Long-ass blonde hair in this sexy braid that went all the way down her back.  Just a rifle slung over her shoulder, sunglasses, these big, goofy leather bracers.  This big ass sword was strapped to her hog, like something out of one of my sister's anime movies.  Even in steel toes, her feet were tiny.
"*Get up,*" she said, climbing off the motorbike.  She pulled a black bottle from one of the saddlebags, and tossed it to me.  "*Drink*."
I did as I was told.  The fighting seemed to have stopped, we were just standing there in the desert wreckage.  The sounds of my brothers arguing about something, yelling at someone - I think they were trying wake him up.  Damn.  Someone else must've gotten hit.  It was all kind of distant, though.
The bottle was ceramic, stoppered with a cork.  It was sweet, like apples or honey.  Kind of tart too.  Good.  That was the first time I ever drank Mjød.  It's like bread and butter now.  Mother's Milk.  I took another big swig, and noticed the girl looking at me.
I wiped my mouth on the back of my hand.  My wrist...
I still hadn't figured it out, really.  Until I saw that my wrist was fine.  I asked the Valkyrie if she was an angel; but she laughed at that.  That was how I learned what a Valkyrie was. We rode across the desert on her monster bike.  We rode through forests that couldn't exist - vast and beautiful and untouched by the 21st century, and along a beach at one point - before turning inland and then up into the mountains.
The Meadhall - it's not just a Meadhall.  It's this whole massive compound.  **Alex** told me it isn't the only one.  Isn't even the biggest.  It's ours though.  Barracks, Mess, Armory, Stables, Garage.  We have these bivouac party stations set up all over.
Most of my time is spent training with weapons I haven't imagined using since I was 9.  Swords and axes.  Shields.  Fucking spears.  The new guys help the old guys get better with modern tech.  The old guys help the new guys improve their archaic weapon skills.
This guy Tanaka-San.  He says he's a farmer; and I know the Samurai in the East Field don't like him; but I swear to god - or Odin... whatever - I swear he's a fucking real life ninja!  He's teaching me how to fight with whatever.  A bunch of us spend time up on the high plain learning how to look at every tool as a weapon.  Recognizing its effectiveness, it's weakness.  Internalizing principles that will allow us to use any weapon or tool or rock or stick as if we were born to it.
But here's the thing that scares me - the thing we shout down with our drinking and revelry.  Here's the thing that wakes me screaming in the night.
What the hell are we fighting.  Ragnarok is coming.  What the hell is Ragnarok?  We have here the bravest, the mightiest, the quickest, the strongest warriors in the entire history of humanity - and all we do is train and practice and drink and party.  Then we train some more.
It seems like a party, I threw that in there, because I don't want you to get the wrong idea.  It's not a bummer.  But every warrior here.  Every Einharjar is learning how to be a better fighter.  We distract ourselves with mead and Valkyries (when they'll have us), and we boast and talk and lie to ourselves that we're not scared shitless; but what the hell are we doing this for?  And what's going to happen when it's over?  What's going to happen when we win?
Because I don't ever want this to end.

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