That day we fought as our gods have come to expect. Every one of our men hacked and slashed at his enemy, while the mud and water beneath his feet tried in vain to work against him. We threw down our enemy and they too diminished our numbers, but as the battle wore on it became clear that we were in the ascendancy.
At one point I had slain another of my enemy, his name was not important, but as I turned from his body to approach my next target, I noticed a small gathering in the distance. On the western side of the battlefield rose a large knoll overlooking the struggle. A group of horsemen were watching the progress of our conflict; their leader was a large silhouette against the dark skies, his steed had eight legs, and I could just make out a single red eye glowing like a ruby against the shadows of his sheltered face. On his shoulders were perched birds, but even from so far away I knew they were ravens. This was not a horseman, but Odin, the principal deity of my people and he had come to this land to watch over us, to bear witness to our victory.
On the battlefield the tide began to turn. Our men fought on with great valour, but soon our enemy began to outnumber us. Those that retreated were chased down by horsemen and at that moment I understood Odin’s presence here. He was accompanied by a small group of armed riders that must have been the Valkyries and this battle was surely the end for us all. We would not be reclaiming the land of our fathers, we would not be gathering riches, our descendants would not get to hear of our bravery and endeavour, and we would not be going home.
At that moment some of my people looked to me and I knew we were all thinking the same thing. It’s difficult to go on when you know that in the end everything you have achieved will be forgotten. Heroes and victors are the ones that are remembered, it was true of our ancestors that had accomplished the unthinkable and still returned home to us. Never did we hear tales of our people that had shamefully fled from battle. That was not the kind of tradition we passed onto our children. We fought to the end, even if only one of us stood against an entire army; that is why we were greater than any that dared to defy us. So it was, on only my second day in this new land, I fought my first and last battle.
When the remainder of us fell we knew something our enemies did not, that life for us only just began after death. To this day, I cannot recall the feel of my adversary’s blade as it drew the last breath from my lungs, but what I can remember is opening my eyes and finding the stars above looking back at me. It felt almost like a dream; my senses were numb, but my mind felt alive and at ease. In time I found I was not alone, there were voices coming from the cosmos and they were calling my name.
As I climbed to my feet, I found that I was surrounded by darkness, save for the stars that illuminated the sky above. Only the whispers of my name could break the stillness in the air and I waited to be set free, to be released from this enshrouding torment. In time I was borne away from this place, elevated to the stars, which glowed brighter as I approached, seemingly willing to embrace me.
When I reached Asgard I found myself in a throne room and looking down at me as I expected was Odin. Only words had enabled me to picture him before but now he sat before me, his expression revealed little; neither mirth nor sadness and as I rose to my feet he leaned back in anticipation. I could see the two ravens on his shoulders; they looked back at me with a knowing glance, as if my fate was already sealed and they wished to punish me with their eyes.
‘You fought valiantly,’ Odin said, ‘but it is my judgement that determines your passage in the afterlife. Should you reside in Valhalla amongst the Einherjar or will I cast you into Niflheim where only cowards dwell? Can you give me reason why Valhalla should open its doors to you?’
‘For obeying all that I was taught,’ I replied, ‘I did not feign from my duty, nor did I give up when all hope had fled the battlefield.’
‘Indeed, but you were not the victor either.’
‘That may be true, but surely you honour those that prove their worth and fall gloriously in battle.’
‘I have in the past, but most of my heroes are the ones whose death inspires the survivors to victory. Your death was insignificant to the outcome of the battle, your defeat was already inevitable, and yet your bravery and valour did not desert you until the last. For that you should be rewarded, am I right?’
‘That is not for me to answer,’ I said, ‘all I can do is await your decision and graciously accept my fate.’
‘Then so be it,’ Odin replied. He spoke to each of the ravens on his shoulders and listened as they whispered their counsel.
As they mulled over my destiny, I thought of my family and of home. Perhaps I had not achieved all I had wished, but is that not the same for most of us? To fulfil every desire and ambition would have taken me several lifetimes and yet I found some consolation in the short life I had lived. Whatever my fate, I could rest easy knowing that I had served my people with honour and fealty and they could have expected no more.
My people reigned over the oceans, seas and rivers of the world, and as I look back on those days I feel gratitude to have been a part of it. To most we were pagans and marauders, but they were blinded by the truth of our existence. We conquered the seas, throwing down the gauntlet to Mother Nature’s most powerful forces and we overcame the obstacles and hurdles every time. There would come a day when we were subdued forever, but until that bitter time we were the proudest people alive.
Odin now smiled and seemed much pleased, before turning to me.
‘The verdict has been reached,’ he said, then delivered his judgement.