Erick stood at the top of a hill surveying the writhing battle below. Enemy warriors retreated, leaving their dead strewn at Erick’s feet, but he did not pursue for now. He was more concerned about the warriors who were cutting their way through his uncle’s flank. That flank needed to hold, or the battle might be lost.
“Alright boys,” Erick said to his men, “let’s see what we can do about that.”
As he and his men marched, the trouble was obvious. The enemy had berserkers. These crazed men frothed at the mouth as they fought and though they were naked and without shields, nothing seemed to harm them. The sight of them running at you with their bloodied axes was enough to make a man hesitate and hesitation made a man easy to kill. Erick’s uncle led many such men.
“Stop the berserkers and we stop the charge,” Erick yelled.
As his men joined the fray, the familiar chaos of battle surrounded him. Some men yelled obscenities. Some men yelled in terror. One man yelled a particularly amusing insult involving one of the berserker’s mother and a dwarf. Men fell on both sides. Most would never rise again. Erick fended off an attack from an enemy with a sword. The poor boy wasn’t very skilled. Erick was merciful and made the death quick. Another warrior tried to engage him but one of Erick’s men stepped in to fight the man. With a clear field in front of him, Erick charged a berserker. The only way to fight these insane men was to be even more insane than they were.
The berserker frothed and growled as he saw Erick coming. He charged with axes raised. Erick got his shield up in front of the initial blows and swung his sword in retaliation. He scored a glancing blow on the man’s bicep, but the berserker did not react. Instead, he swung an axe at Erick’s exposed sword arm. Erick barely managed to block with his shield. Changing tact, Erick put his shoulder into the shield and rammed the man, tumbling with him onto the ground. The berserker lost one axe but hacked at Erick’s sword arm with the other. Erick let his sword fall and grabbed the knife from his belt. He plunged it into the berserker’s ribcage, doing lethal damage. The berserker, however, did not let the fatal wound stop him from attacking. He swung higher now and struck Erick’s neck. The world grew dark.
When Erick came to, he was standing on the same battlefield. Looking around, he saw the bodies of men scattered all over the field. The berserker lay not far from him, with Erick’s knife still stuck in him. Erick tried to walk over to the dead body to reclaim the weapon, but something held his feet in place. He looked down to see his own body lying beneath him. His dead body.
His parents had taught him of this long ago, of the hamr and the ond. The hamr was the body, the physical vessel that held his ond to mortality. His hamr had been broken and his ond was free of it. But what was he supposed to do?
He looked up and now saw that all the bodies had an ond attached. The spirit of every man who fell this day was standing there on that field. Some of them were trying desperately to separate themselves from the body below them. A few were trying to reenter their bodies. Many were still trying to fight with those nearby but, lacking physical presence, were unable to harm each other. The berserker was… was he smiling? The berserker was smiling at Erick.
“That was a glorious battle, my friend,” the berserker said. “You fought extremely well. The way you killed me, that was beautiful.”
“Uh, thanks,” Erick replied.
He looked around the battlefield again, hoping to find something to give him an excuse to look away from the berserker. Talking to the man he had just killed felt a little too awkward for his taste.
Suddenly, a bright light shone in the east. When it subsided, a hoard of tall women appeared. They were each covered in chainmail and carried a long-bladed spear. Watching them move across the field was like watching a fire dance. They were beautiful and graceful, but they were also deadly. The sight of them filled Erick with fear. They were the Valkyries.
The Valkyries moved from body to body. At each one, they would swing their spear very close to the fallen warrior and then point either to the right or to the left. The man would walk in the direction indicated and then vanish. Erick saw one of them point the berserker off to the right.
She came to him next. She looked him in the eye before swinging her spear. As it passed by him, he felt his ond separate from his hamr. She pointed to the right.
“Do I have to go that way?” he asked. “You just sent that berserker over there and I’d rather not go to the same place he goes.”
The Valkyrie smiled slightly but pointed to the right again. Obviously, his preference didn’t influence the decision. He walked in the direction the warrior woman pointed. After a few steps, the battlefield disappeared. In its place stood a large golden building. Its support beams were made from bundles of golden spears, its walls were draped with golden chainmail, and its roof was thatched with golden shields. On each side of the building, stood a tree. One was the most beautiful tree imaginable, with red and gold foliage. The other was a massive yew with dangerous looking needles that seemed to stretch for miles. A massive goat and a sweaty stag nibbled happily at its lower branches. Just to the west, a small mistletoe bush grew. Though it was an unobtrusive shrub, something about it seemed foreboding. Around the building, packs of wolves prowled in what seemed to Erick like military discipline. Eagles circled above in much the same way.
The door of the building opened, and a fully armed man stepped out. He briefly surveyed the gathered warriors before addressing them.
“Brave warriors,” the man spoke, “you are all dead. Congratulations! You have died bravely in battle and impressed Allfather Odin so much that he desired you to be among his einherjar. Before you stands Valhalla, the hall of the honored dead. It will be your home for all eternity or until the Jotun dare march on Asgard, whichever comes first.”
“Tomorrow morning, we will gather on the field behind the hall and divide into armies. You will all fight until you fall in battle. When you do, a Valkyrie will come and revive you. Then you will fight until you fall again. We do this until lunch. After lunch, we resume battle. This is what we do all day. This is what we do every day.”
“Welcome to Hel.”