We gave it an A-
There are strange people in Kattegat always, riding in from lands far away or sailing in from points further. Yet one man in particular catches Torvi’s eye, as she patrols her fortress-city. He sailed in this morning with the other traders. He looks at the wares being peddled – but he and his men do not want to buy anything. The reason is clear enough: The man calls for an attack, and the battle for Kattegat begins.
It is not the only battle the Northmen are fighting this week. In Wessex, a man arrives from the land of King Aelle, with a dying bishop and a mad tale about an army of heathens sailing with vengeance in their hearts. How many men are there, Aethelwulf asks the bishop. “How many blades are grass are there in a field,” the man says, on his way to meeting whatever gods there are. Aethelwulf rages, mindfully. “Damn you! And may you rest in peace!”
This will be the battle of Aethelwulf’s life. His father demands that he march to the Great Heathen army; the element of surprise is everything. We have always seen Aethelwulf in conflict with those around him: his father, his wife, the Vikings, his own sad self. But there is grace in this dull man. He tells his son Alfred goodbye, and he reminds him that his father watches over him. “I mean your real father,” says Aethelwulf. “The monk they called Athelstan. A very special man.”
Aethelwulf is a fervent Christian, and you wonder if he recognizes something biblical in his peculiar misery. His wife was made pregnant, and so his son is not quite his son. Perhaps Aethelwulf imagines himself a modern Joseph, nobly tasked with protecting the son of God. Perhaps he is simply older than he once was, and tired. “I’ll try to be worthy of you, Judith,” he tells his wife, long-absent from his bed but perhaps not from his heart.
His father the King has harsher words. He quotes Ecclesiastes (not the Byrds) and tells Aethelwulf: “To everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun. A time to love. A time to hate. A time of war. A time of peace. This is the time of war.” Aethelwulf looks at his father and sees only an old man. For Aethelwulf, it has always been the time of war. Poor Aethelwulf, who has never known a time to love.
The Vikings sail on, the sons of Ragnar already quarreling through their victories. Proud Ivar declares himself their father’s anointed one: Why else would he have chosen Ivar to sail with him on his final journey? His brothers laugh, and worry: Of all the things that can defeat them, dissension among themselves is first and foremost. Elsewhere in the Viking camp, the girl Helge stole from the Spanish raid tries to escape. Floki finds her and struggles to communicate. “I’m sorry you hate us,” he tells her. “I don’t know what to do.” Helge greets the girl with a fearful hug. The girl looks more scared of her than of Floki. Surely this can’t end well. (What does?)
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