A flashing, blinding white light, with red sparks drowned out his sight. Something grabbed him and he felt the wind rush past him like he was moving quickly. Then it stopped, as suddenly as it started. He didn’t know where he was. It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust as he stood there, almost feeling himself floating forward every now and then. When they did adjust, he was even more confused. Standing before him, elevated behind a carved wooden podium, stood the tallest, most haggard looking man he had ever seen.
“What? Where am I? Who are you? H...ho...how did I get here?”
“Name please?” a bit more aggressively and with a raised eyebrow.
“No, where am I? What happened? I need to know how I got here. I was just fighting back the Ulaid in Annagassan and…”
The man interrupted him.
“Let’s think about this. You were just locked in combat with the Ulaid along a river. Now, you’re standing at this door in front of me. What do you think happened? But before you answer that question, answer my first one, what’s your name?” nearing anger this time.
Startled by the shocking revelation, he started to look around again. Behind the huge man was a set of large wood doors taller than two men standing one on top of the other and wide enough to fit 5 men on horseback at the same time. He didn’t see any door handles on them, which further confused him. How does someone get in if there are no door handles, he quickly wondered? Against the right wall were benches where dozens of white light globes floated eerily. To the left was a large fireplace, with a bright, warm fire sizzling. The floor was wooden and worn, with a large red stain coming from the other side of the doors protruding out a few feet. Behind him were more floating globes, these had a touch of red in them though and did not shine as bright as the ones over the benches.
“I need your name now! I can’t believe we’re arguing over this. I don’t have all day to sit here and explain anything to you. I have a full schedule as you can see behind you and I want to get back inside before it’s done.”
“Before what’s done? What are you talking about? Where is this place?”
“I’ve had some really slow ones before, but you are by far the slowest. Several more came in right before you, a couple went through, others are waiting on the bench, several went the other way and they were all really quick about it. Did they give me this trouble? No. And, according to my book” he motioned down to a book about as thick as a sheep, “there are dozens more behind you today I need to adjudicate. So, since I want to get back inside, and the ones behind you want to know where they’re going, TELL ME YOUR NAME!!” he shouted
“Waiting on the bench, what?” Looking at the bench and, again seeing only glowing orbs of light. “Who are you? Why do you want my name?”
“Fine, maybe this will help get this moving (so I can get back inside). You can call me The Door, that’s what He calls me. I need to decide if you are going through the doors, waiting on the bench or going the other way. He has entrusted me to judge arrivals and make this decision for him so He can spend more time inside (which is where I want to be right now). So, please, your name.”
“Who is He?”
Leaning over the podium and glaring down upon the man, The Door growled “This is not helping your cause, let me tell you. I am about to just send you the other way regardless of where you should be going.”
“Wait…am I dead?”
“Wow, that took way too long. Yes, you’re dead. And I am trying to figure out where you’re going so…”
“If I’m dead, then why am I not in Valhalla? Why am I standing outside these doors?”
“Did you really think when you die you just ended up in Valhalla?”
“Yes! That’s what we’ve been told. Odin is waiting for his warriors to help him for Ragnarök. I, having died in combat (apparently) am destined to enter the Great Hall, drink all I want, eat all I want, fight all I want and heal at the end of every day. This is the glory we fight for!”
“Ah, yes, I see. You’ve listened to the tales told to you by old women and sick men, too bad. Those tales left out one very important detail. As The Door, He has granted me the wisdom and role to determine who is worthy enough to go through the doors behind me and into Valhalla.”
“Wait, He is Odin? Where is He? Doesn’t He meet us when the Valkyries deliver us to Valhalla?”
“No, I meet you (unfortunately today). And as you can see, there are going to be a lot of you today. According to my book” tapping the open page with a gnarled looking finger “the Ulaid are going to kill an awful lot today. And not all of you are worthy of entering the doors behind me. So, if you give me your name, I can see where you’re headed, in, bench, the other way.”
He wasn’t guaranteed entrance to Valhalla? Worry started to sweep over him.
“What is the bench and the other way?”
Sighing, the Door replied “If you are allowed in, you get all the glory you said and can see everything here. If you get the bench, you’ll see everything outside the doors and you have to wait until you’ve been tested in a battle against the opponent of my choosing to see if you deserve to go inside the doors and see everything. The other way, is, well, not the best place to be. You get a fleeting glimpse behind the doors while I throw you out the other way.”
Apprehensively, he whispered “My name is Soini, son of Ingolf.”
“Yes, son of Ingolf, finally, hold on while I find you” looking down the list of names “Ingolf … Ingolf … Ingvar? nope, not Ingvar, Ingolf, there we go, Vali, son of Ingolf. Impressive. Very impressive, maybe I should’ve been a bit more patience with you.”
“Wait, did you say Vali? No, I’m Soini, not Vali. Vali’s my brother…is he going to die too?”
Leaning a bit to the right side, “Oh, sorry, yup, I see you back there, sorry Vali, I’ll get to you in a second. Yes, now back to you, Soini, son of Ingolf…yes, here we go, there you are…hmm, interesting. You probably should have said you were Vali, but we have the right information now so no trying to lie. Let’s see, there’s not too much bad here. Not a whole lotta’ good either, but at least it looks like it outweighs the bad. But you did give me trouble, so that’s a mark against you…hmmm.”
Looking down to Soini, The Door pointed and proclaimed “Bench.”
In an instant, the white orbs dissolved, the room expanded to be the size of a small hall and he now saw hundreds of men sitting on the benches. Behind him he saw dozens of his fellow Vikings waiting to meet The Door, including his brother Vali, who was holding his severed left arm in his right hand. Soini, wondering more about what happened to himself, looked down and saw a gapping and bloody slash across his chest.
He wandered over to the closest bench, sat down and hung his head. He was not allowed in Valhalla, the stories (and the old women) lied. How long would he wait to get in? What happens if he losses the battle?
“Welcome to the benches youngin’. Don’t look so down, we get halfway decent drink and food here, and on slow days The Door will let us try to battle our way in.”
“How long have you been waiting to get in? When will you face your battle? I plan on winning my battle right away, the sooner the better. I’ll show The Door why he should judge me worthy.”
“Battle? Ha! I don’t think anyone has ever won glory in their first battle or their first 10 battles for all I know. I have been waiting 14 years and have battled hundreds of times. I’ve even bested many men here, but it wasn’t good enough for The Door. He likes good competition and sometimes loves when we try to argue our way in after a battle. It helps some, not all. Odin made him judge and jury for the fallen since Odin has no time for little people like us.”
“Like I said, welcome to the benches!” The old man smiled, realizing Soini didn’t hear a word he said after telling him he’s been on the bench for 14 years.
Looking up, Soini saw The Door proclaim other outcomes; 6 more sat on the benches, 17 sent the other way, and finally he saw his brother step up.
“Yes, Vali, son of Ingolf. Sorry to keep you waiting. You have a very impressive record. He will be glad to see you. Please enter The Hall.”
Vali smiled at The Door, looked over towards Soini where he could see him now, nodded and proudly walked through the doors that a pair of Valkyries opened from within. All Soini saw as he tried to see inside The Hall was a bright light, but he heard laughter, shouting, and clinking of glasses. Then the doors closed.
“I need to get in there. I must get in there. I will. I will be the first one to win my glory on the first battle. I’ll show The Door!”
The old man sitting next to him just shook his head. Even after 14 years, things never change. Newbies always thought naïvely, only to quickly understand reality. At least they didn’t go the other way, so they could battle for eternal glory. The Door was fair in his decisions and they needed to wait and respect the process.
“Door! I want to battle now! I deserve to be inside Valhalla and I demand my battle now! It’s my right to gain entrance to Valhalla.” Soini shouted, standing and walking towards The Door.
“Ásgeirr, have fun.”
Soini didn’t know who The Door spoke to, but a wooden hammer appeared in his hands, then he felt a shove from behind. Turning he saw the same old man standing there with a similar hammer and a scowl replaced the earlier smile. Before Soini even understood, the old man raised the hammer and viciously struck Soini, then again, and again, and again and again. Soini fell into a heap, dropping his hammer while the blows fell like lighting.
“STOP. Enough.” The blows stopped. Soini looked up and saw the old man staring down at him with narrowed eyes, panting hard.
“Ásgeirr, for teaching this welp a lesson for me, and on behalf of a thankful Odin, you have earned the right to go In, enjoy.”
Ásgeirr bowed, dropped the hammer and leaned down to Soini “Your time will come youngin’, just be patient and shut your damn mouth, no one wants an impertinent jackass around. You need to earn it.”
Soini watched as Ásgeirr walked through the doors, and after the doors closed, he looked at The Door. The Door looked back at him, and simply pointed at the bench again, Soini’s home for however long The Door judged he needed to stay and earn Valhalla.