Tal turned around. Sure enough, a pair of warrior-maidens with winged helms were leading a bemused-looking man into the bath-house. "Woden's blood, that guy certainly does need a bath."
Arndt shrugged. "Didn't we all, when we first got here?"
Schroeder stood up. "Excuse me." He stepped out of the tub and dashed out the door that opened onto the snowy fields. He threw himself into a deep snowbank, causing steam to rise.
The valkyries were bringing the new one over to their tub. Wordlessly, they stripped him and shoved him into the water. He went along passively until his head was submerged, and then he started spluttering. "Hey! What the--"
Arndt put a hand on his shoulder. "Relax, guy. This is Valhalla. For warriors who died bravely in combat, y'know? So what's your name?"
"Shit, I thought I was--dead. Oh. So I am dead. My name? Fiachra."
Tal's brow knitted. "A Celt?"
"Irish, actually. But we consider ourselves mostly Celts, yes."
Schroeder had dug himself out of the snowbank and returned to the tub, hawking a gob of phlegm as he did so. "That's Schroeder," Arndt said, indicating him, "I'm Arndt, and this is Tal. We're mostly Germanics, Goths, and the like over here...the Celts are kinda spread around. You may want to go talk to Cuchulain later--you'll probably be on his team for the battle tomorrow, if you're up to it. And after the feast tonight, you'll be up to it."
"So, tell us, Fiachra, how did you die? What glorious deed of battle brought you to your death?"
Fiachra looked embarrassed. "I didn't think it was too glorious, or heroic, or anything like that. Kind of stupid, really. I got blown up by some terrorists. Perhaps I should explain that I wasn't really a warrior. I was an antidisestablishmentarian."
The other three looked at him blankly. "Explain?" Tal said.
"Oh. Well, the terrorists are against the establishment, so they're disestablishmentarian. And I'm fighting the terrorists, so I'm an antidisestablishmentarian. Oh--and terrorists are people who try to get things done their way by means of threats and coercion--blowing up government buildings, civilians, whatever they can to make the government give in."
Arndt snorted in disgust. "You won't see many of those in Valhalla. Those would perhaps be better fit in Niflheim. But anyway, your death."
"Right. Well, we'd gotten a tip on a terrorist trap in this one building where a bunch of Ministers were supposed to meet."
"No, no. Government Ministers. Anyway, so we were going in there to check the place out. I was on the bomb squad, mainly--defusing bombs. I mean, I been in a firefight or two, but I avoid it if I can. So I find this bomb, set to go off right in the middle of the meeting. I radio my friends and tell 'em what I've found. None of the others found anything, so they tell me to go ahead and try to defuse it. Well, I try, but these guys are tricky. They got it set up that to defuse the thing, you gotta cut this one wire, only that wire starts the countdown for the bomb going faster. Well, once I figure out what's going on, I radio my friends again and tell them to move out, cause the place is gonna blow if they don't, and I don't finish up in time. They don't like it, but they move anyway. So I get this close to getting the bomb disarmed. But not close enough. Another two seconds and I could'a done it, but I guess the two seconds were spent warning everybody else. So that's it."
The three warriors nodded. Arndt said, "A lot of modern warfare seems strange, but the valkyries are never wrong. Fiachra, you died saving your comrades. You gave your life for your fellow warriors, so that the fight would go on. There is glory enow in that." He clapped Fiachra on the shoulder. "Cuchulain will welcome you to his army, I am sure. And I for one am glad that we will not be fighting against you tomorrow."
"No? Who will?"
Arndt looked at Schroeder, who said, "I think it's the Japanese you're scheduled for tomorrow. Japanese vs. Celts, Germans vs. Mongols, and Amerinds have a bye, I think."
"We'll get our chance next week, though. But anyway, we've spent enough time in this tub. Care to dive in the snowdrift? No? Well, there should be an extra robe for you--Cuchulain will take care of the rest of your garb when you talk to him. But if you would do us the honor of sharing our table at the feast tonight..."
<D. challenged me with the following:
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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / email@example.com