With the smoke of the last battle still rising around them, the Heroes of Asgard sat around the ruins of the Longhouse Table of their defeated enemy. There, between the smoldering walls of what was once a Great Hall, they dined on the spoils of the vanquished - roasted stag, cups of mead and a dark brown liqueur they called Koskenkorva.
Gunar, Mani, Jarl, and Thor shared boisterous stories of their personal victories in the day’s battle. There was much cursing, singing and laughter from this spirited group. But ultimately, the gaps between the stories and songs lengthened. And, in these gaps, an unusual and unsettling quietness engulfed the triumphant warriors.
Gunar tried to puncture the silence with another of his self-aggrandizing stories, but even he seemed to lose interest in his own magnificence, and cut off his story with a self-effacing “ blah, blah, blah. And that’s the way that goes.”
Something about “and that’s the way that goes” spoke to a feeling they all shared and they acknowledged it with unanimous affirmation: “That’s the way it goes, indeed”, “Right you are,” and “Well said Gunar.”
And then it was back to that overwhelming silence.
As they sat there, Odin chanced to pass through the ruined Hall and saw his mighty warriors sitting quietly in the charred oak chairs of their defeated enemy. This curious sight puzzled the old King. “What ails this company of heroes?” he queried in his thunderous voice. “Have we not triumphed over the dark powers of Loki once again?”
“Indeed we have,” said Thor.
“And is that not cause for celebration and song?”
“It is, except…”
“Except we did that yesterday,” said Thor.
“And the day before that,” said Gunar.
“And twice last week before the Holy Day of Rest,” said Mani.
“By the severed hand of Tyr, you dishonor us all by complaining about your victories,” wailed their mighty King. “Blood was spilled, lives were lost, but we prevailed against the forces of darkness. I will not tolerate this kind of misery in the face of victory.”
“Our blood wasn’t spilled. None of us lost our lives,” said Gunar.
Odin was beside himself. “What is happening here? Do you wish for defeat?”
Jarl spoke first. “My Lord, tomorrow, we will battle with Baldar on the plains of Mímameiðr. And Thursday we face Ormet and his armies from the south in Útgarðar. We will fight, we will win and we will celebrate because that’s the way that goes.” said Jarl.
“That’s the way it always goes.” said Mani.
Gunar added, “There is a sameness to our days that sits heavily with us.”
Odin surveyed his stalwarts thoughtfully. He was wise enough to know when something was real and when it was imagined. It was his role as King of Æsir to lead these men, and he knew that you can’t lead a goat if you don’t listen. So he took an empty chair and sat with them.
And he listened.
“What is this sameness?” asked Thor. Is it an evil spell? Or have we been poisoned, once again, by the mushrooms of Fólkvangr?”
“Can we fight it?” asked Gunar.
Jarl leaned in, confidentially, “I fear that the sameness is impervious to the sword and the axe. And I fear if we try to fight it, we may not win.”
“Maybe that would be good – you know - to lose for once,” said Mani.
“Lose?” roared Thor.
He rose to his feet and raised his massive hammer. “We are warriors, not philosophers. Point us to an enemy and we will fight. But do not confound us with riddles. Odin, you are our King. Give us your wisdom.”
Odin smiled at Thor. “Sit, Thor.” And Thor sat – as obedient as a dog. Odin was King not just by birthright. Odin was King because he had a greater wisdom than any of them. He knew he could command his warriors to stop asking these questions. He knew that asking questions like this are often the undoing of any Hero. But these warriors were old friends and, through the many battles they had waged together, they had earned the right to ask questions and, where possible, even get answers.
“What I think ails us, my friends,” said Odin “is old age. When we were young all the enemies were new and all the battles were different. But as we got older, we began to see similarities. New foes reminded us of old foes, the situations of battle began to repeat themselves. The victories that elevated us to the status of heroes became our duty. Mankind looked to us to fight whenever evil showed its face. We accepted this. And so now, we fight. And when we win, of course, we celebrate. And when another enemy dares to rise up, we fight and—“
“—win, and when we win, we celebrate?” asked Mani.
Odin nodded, “Yes.”
“So that’s the way that goes?” asked Jarl.
“Yes. That’s the way that goes.”
“We just keep doing this over and over?” asked Gunar.
“It is what we do.”
“Will this ‘sameness’ get worse?” asked Mani.
“I believe it will,” said Odin, his head bowed thoughtfully. “As we get older, I think most things will become more and more predictable.”
“Then what is the point of fighting?” asked Thor.
Odin shrugged. “Do you want to let evil run amok in the world?”
“Of course not.”
“Then we fight,“
Checkmate. Odin was always right.
“And when we win, we celebrate?” queried Gunar, who was now getting upset.
“Yes,” replied Odin.
“Do we have to celebrate?” challenged Jarl.
“If we fight and win, why wouldn’t we celebrate?” countered Odin.
The others nodded in agreement. “It’s true. If we win, it would be wrong not to celebrate.”
“And so we will do this forever?” asked Thor.
Odin thought for a moment before answering, “I suppose, at some point, we will slip from this reality to the whispery realm of myth and legend. But even there, in that shadowy existence, some other version of ourselves will continue to fight, win and celebrate. So the answer is, yes. We will do this forever.”
“Is there anything we can do to stop this endless cycle of sameness?” asked Gunar, tears now streaming down his craggy face.
“No. There is nothing to do but play it out,” said Odin sadly. “Ours is to fight, win, and celebrate -- for eternity.”
“Then that’s the way that goes?” added Thor solemnly.
“Yes, that is indeed the way it goes.”
There was a moment of silence as they all considered this and--
“Then let’s drink to that,” said Gunar, raising his cup. “If this sameness is an enemy we cannot defeat, then let’s embrace him and make him our friend.”
“To that’s the way that goes!”
And with that, a rousing chorus of cheers rang out in the hall as this group of old warriors raised their cups defiantly in celebration of something they didn’t really understand.
It was an existential moment for the mighty Nordic heroes. But they were determined to face it like the true heroes that they were.
Today, tomorrow, and for all eternity.