Monday, July 6, 2398
His face bruised and nose bloodied, Corwin Ravenhair stormed down one of the Golden Hall of Heroes' innumerable corridors, in the grip of the kind of pique only a seven-year-old can pull off with conviction. A younger child might not have had the depth of focus to achieve it; an older one would probably have felt self-conscious and not given it full reign. Corwin, though, was in the complete seven-year-old towering rage. As he shoved his way through the door at the end of the corridor and out into one of the Valhalla complex's many courtyards, he gave a snarl of disgust that seemed to encompass not just the door, but the entire world.
A few paces past the threshold, he slung his kit bag to the ground next to a large rock as though it had personally offended him, dug around in it until he found his baseball glove, took a ball out of a five-gallon pail full of them that stood by the rock, and threw it at a tire hanging by a rope from the branch of a large tree nearby.
He'd been at this for perhaps half an hour, the level of balls in the bucket never seeming to diminish, when the door opened again and a man emerged. Corwin heard the door as he was preparing to throw, but ignored it until he'd sent the ball on its way. Then, and only then, did he turn to see who was intruding on his mood.
It was one of the Einherjar, a tall, lanky, youthful man, tanned and cheerful. He was one of Corwin's favorites among the heroes of Valhalla, in fact - though at this point in his day Corwin would have been pleased to see only a tiny handful of people, and this man wasn't among them.
So all he said was, "Oh. Hi," and then went back to angrily hurling baseballs at (only occasionally through) the tire swing.
The man didn't seem bothered by Corwin's curtness. He sauntered over with an easy, loose-limbed gait, sat down on the rock by the bucket of balls, and said, "Hey, kiddo. I hear you're pretty ticked about something."
"I don't wanna talk about it," Corwin replied, not looking at him.
"I bet you don't," the man agreed with a sage nod. "But if you don't, the same thing's just gonna happen to you that happens to me when I don't wanna talk to anyone about something that's bothering me."
Corwin felt curious about that in spite of himself. He resisted for two more throws, then couldn't stop himself from asking, "What?"
"My sister," said his visitor gravely, "will be concerned."
In the act of picking up another baseball, Corwin paused to consider that for a second, then sighed and just sat down on the ground next to the ball bucket.
"I don't think I wanna do this Valkyrie thing," he said, as if admitting to a great and terrible crime.
His visitor arched an eyebrow. "Why not?" he asked.
For a few seconds Corwin scowled at his hands - big for his age, with prominent knuckles, and at the moment also marred by a number of scrapes and bruises. "Because the training hurts," he said finally.
Having come across with that fact seemed to break something loose within him. He jumped to his feet and went on, with furious gestures culminating in what could generously be described as a wild pitch of the ball he'd been holding, "Because it hurts and it's hard and they're all girls and they pick on me!" His fury spent, he sat down again, put his chin on his knees, and sighed. "I don't think I wanna be a stupid warrior anyway. Maybe I'll be a pitcher."
The Einherjar chuckled, not unkindly. "I think people probably pick on pitchers too," he said.
"It's not funny!" Corwin protested. "You dunno what it's like."
"Actually, I do," the man said. At Corwin's look of puzzlement, he grinned and got to his feet. "You came to the right place, brother, because boy, do I know that feeling. C'mon and walk with me a minute," he said. "Let me tell you a little story. It just so happens that I'm perfectly positioned to tell you what you need to do about this problem."
Skeptical but interested, Corwin got to his feet, put his baseball glove back in his bag, shouldered the bag, and followed his visitor out into the meadow beyond the tree as he began,
"When I was just a kid, not that much older than you... "
"... so that's what you gotta do," the elder warrior finished. By this time they were sitting side by side partway down a long, gentle hill, overlooking a couple of the outdoor practice fields. The nearer one was empty. In the further one, individually indistinguishable at this distance, the Valkyrie were at sword drill.
"The key thing is," he said, "you gotta not be a jerk about it. They're good at what they do and they can teach you a lot. But," he went on, raising an admonishing finger. "Whatever happens, always listen, always be respectful, but hold your ground, man. Show 'em you're not gonna let 'em push you around. If you do it right, they'll respect you for it. It'll take a while to find the right balance point, but once you do?" He grinned and leaned back against the hillside, hands behind his head. "It's all good. Hear what I'm saying?"
Corwin sat and looked thoughtfully across the fields at the Valkyrie training formation for nearly a minute, processing all he'd been told. Then, slowly, he smiled.
"Yeah," he said, and then, with more conviction, "Yeah!"
Now grinning broadly - even eagerly - he sprang to his feet and began running down the shallow slope toward the Valkyrie. Partway down the hill he turned back, waved a hand gaily above his head, and cried,
"Go get 'em, champ!" Sokka replied, sitting up and giving the young demigod a cheerful salute.
A moment later, another figure came down the upper part of the hill behind Sokka and sat down beside him.
"That was nicely done," said Katara with a smile.
"What can I say?" Sokka replied casually as he leaned back against the hillside again. "I'm a natural mentor."
"Career Counseling" - a Future Imperfect Micro-Story by Benjamin D. Hutchins
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