Author’s note: It’s not the tale of his demise, but I think it adhered to the spirit of the prompt. Close enough.
In life, I never drank. In death, it was merriment and partying, and there was no work or reputation to worry about. I drank experimentally at first, then more freely. Soon I was drunker than I’d ever been, though that didn’t say much. Then the man at the head of the table – after all I’d seen, was it possible he was truly Odin? – slammed his cup down, making me jump.
“I look at our newest member, and I don’t see a warrior!” His voice carried down the hall of Valhalla, resonant and booming. “I see a paper-pusher! A functionary!” He spat the word as if it were a curse.
“Approach!” I didn’t have any choice. I was torn from my seat and thrown at the dais by some invisible force. Odin had turned and stepped out of my path, not even sparing a glance for my body’s passage through the air. I struck the wall and fell to the ground. By the time I struggled to my feet, surprisingly undamaged, Odin was already taking his seat. “Regale us, so-called warrior! Amaze us with your tales of so-called ‘battle’!
My head was suddenly, oddly clear, from the moment I had struck the stage floor. Something about just standing here swept my drunkenness away. I coughed, looking around, adjusting the glasses perched on my nose. I didn’t know what I was doing here in the first place. These men, they were hard men. I’d been in two fights in my life, and been beaten up four times. After the first two fights, I had learned that you sometimes took less damage if you just fell down.
An approach came to mind, though. I straightened my suit jacket. It was my job, after all, to weave a narrative, support it, and to make people believe it. And I was really good at my job. With that in mind, I put on my game face. I envisioned the audience as my prey, and I stepped up to the podium with calm assurance, like a tiger deciding whether he wanted to eat his prey or play with it.
“I find myself in the most esteemed company today! Warriors, legends–” Here, I glanced at Odin. “– gods. Obviously, I am not worthy to be here. Obviously, I can’t belong in such company. Yet I’ve been asked for a tale, and what do you do when Odin himself asks? You tell a damn tale.”
“Now, you have no doubt observed that I am not built for combat. I have no tales of war and killing. My battle is with the concept of law itself.”
I saw some of my audience had begun to lose interest, and moved on, struggling to regain a little lost ground. “I go before the courts and fight for men and women trying to keep their homes and lives. I know the many blades of the law just as many of you know the blades you use in combat. I have spent my life learning to hone those blades, and learning to blunt the blades in my enemy’s hand.”
“And that is the beginning of the battle, not the end. You no doubt noticed that I claim to fight for the poor, and nobody can eat when they are paid by the poor. My office, my employees, every pen and pencil comes from donations. Every day our office fights for its very survival. On the day I died, I had been investing my own money for eight months, instead of taking a salary. There was no other way to pay my employees and keep the lights on.”
“All the monsters I captured are men. I would tell you of the monster that wanted to devour sixty years, the life’s work, of three hundred men and women. But my weapon was an improperly signed document, an error, that permitted them to break contract without consequence. I would tell you of the monster that would have demolished the only affordable housing left in my city, but my blade was a letter, a letter that showed he entered a contract intending to break it.”
“My daily struggles would bore you. I do not deliver a blade to a beast’s heart, I put my enemy’s blade to a grindstone and blunt it for months, until they have nothing left to fight with. But, ladies and gentlemen, I fight!”
I began to get carried away with my own speech, and I felt emotion cresting. I seized it. It was raw magic in a speech like this, and I let it overwhelm me. Suddenly, the speech seemed to be in control, with me helplessly carrying it to its conclusion. “I do battle! I slay monsters as mighty as any hydra or dragon! I! Am! A! warrior!”
The hall was silent for a few moments, then Odin began to clap. With that, the entire room broke into applause. Men and women in hides, in armor, soldiers with their swords, with their crossbows and rifles. I spent a moment catching my breath, and a woman in plate mail climbed up to the dais, shaking my hand. I let her lead me down, and I let her put a drink in my hand. I noticed that she had a limp, but she seemed nimble despite her apparent injury. “I am Vishpala. You did well up there.”
“I am Desmond Quinn. What happened? I can’t be the best lawyer ever, so I can’t be the only one here. So why did he pick me out? Is this some hazing ritual?”
She looked aside at me over the collar of her armor, which stood tall and protective around her neck. “Not just a pretty face. You truly fight for the poor?”
I looked at this woman, wondering where she was going with her questions. She had skin the color of coffee milk, warm hazel eyes, small lips, and dark hair, barely long enough for her to keep tied back. She was slender and her armor unflattering, but she was not unattractive. I moved a little closer, wondering if something was there. She shifted her stance, and her armored knee casually struck my unprotected kneecap.
Nope, nothing there. I backed off a step and bent to rub my knee. “Nobody else will fight for them. And you are changing the subject.”
She didn’t seem to take notice of my pain. “Don’t let him scare you. He’s especially hard on people who didn’t put their lives on the line. But after that, nobody can doubt that you belong among us.”