“Are you a god?”
Little Ivar the Boneless is crying. His shrieks of unfathomable pain haunt wintry Kattegat. No wonder half the city took off for England: Better to die in battle in the land of the Christ-God than try to sleep through the screams of that little broken child. But now here is Harbard the Wanderer, bringing peace to this sad little boy. Harbard is not a great man like Ivar’s father: Not a conqueror, not a king. But when he calms Ivar’s soul—when he brings Ivar’s pain into his own being—Aslaug gazes at Harbard the way she wishes Ragnar would gaze at her.
“Are you a god?”
That’s what Siggy asks Harbard. Siggy is no fool. You don’t survive what’s she’s survived—the death of your husband, the death of all your children, the death of your entire way of life—without gaining a little bit of wisdom. But the Northmen know that the gods exist. Not in some unearthly heaven; not high on some mountaintop. Their gods walk the Earth—like the Christ-God, except they preach with a sword. Could this mysterious wanderer be a god? Could he be the god? Vikings began with Ragnar, in battle, seeing a vision of Odin the Allfather. Has he returned? Or is Barnard just a confidence man—a talented Mr. Ripley for an age when there weren’t even signatures to forge?
Across the water, the alliance between Ragnar’s men and Wessex has successfully squashed the Mercians. The wounded are tended to: Poor Thorunn lays wounded in her tent, one side of her face missing. Some men are blood sick, mourning the dead. But others are ebullient. See stalwart Aethelwulf, always so skeptical of his Viking allies, attempting to make peace. “Friends!” he declares to Rollo and Floki, speaking their pagan tongue. “No more enemies, but friends.” They fight together; they win. Rollo agrees.
Floki is disgusted, as always. For all his eccentricity, Floki is fundamentally a conservative soul. We raid; we fight; we die; the gods reward us. Rollo believes in the new way, the Ragnar way: “We cannot fight everyone. There must be cooperation, alliance.” The central paradox of Vikings is how it establishes a civilization built on warfare and then imagines how some of those great warriors might yearn for a better world. This is human history—from hunter-gatherer to farmer. But to Floki, it is heresy. He remembers when Rollo accepted his Christian baptism; he sees now how this demon Christ has infected his brothers. How do you solve a problem like Floki? For whenever Ragnar takes a step forward, Floki can only see it as a step backward. To raid, to fight, to die: Is there anything else?
In the woods, Ragnar nurses his wound. He hasn’t sought care for it; perhaps he embraces the pain. Kwenthrith finds him, says that she can help him. “Lie back,” she says. Ragnar obeys…and she urinates on his wound. Surprise! One recalls another forest, another princess. When Ragnar first met Aslaug, she was an ethereal figure, somehow more than human. Their first meeting was the stuff of legend, complete with a riddle. How far Ragnar has come since then; now he lies wounded along a river bank, another princess from another kingdom sterilizing his wound in the least expected way possible.
“I suppose I should thank you,” says Ragnar. He thanks her with advice: Kwenthrith’s brother will be her downfall. Kwenthrith’s no fool. She knows that Ecbert wants power over herself, over Mercia. (She wonders if Ragnar knows Ecbert half as well as she does.) “Lie back,” she tells him. She promised him a reward.
NEXT: The cuckoldry is mutual.