Ambition is dangerous. Love, moreso. Ambition sends warriors to grand deaths – and to Valhalla, where they can sing eternal with their ancestors and descendants yet to be. But love can blind even the most powerful women, even the bravest men. Love can weaken them when they need their strength. And when love is coupled with ambition: Well, things get complicated.
Just ask Kalf. All goes well in Hedeby. Ally Erlendur has modified the Frankish bow with unique Viking improvements: A devastating new weapon, for what will surely be a devastating Frankish campaign. And his fellow Earl has news. “I am with child,” says Lagertha — in defiance of the Seer, no less. “That makes me so happy,” says Kalf. “Marry me, Lagertha. Marry me. I’ve always know we were fated to be together.” Kalf has everything he has ever wanted — and that is dangerous, too. A man who has everything is a man without ambition — and such a man is a target for the ambitions of others.
How do you solve a problem like Mercia? It’s a question that bedevils the Kings of Northumbria and Wessex, to say nothing of their vassal refugee-royal Kwenthrith. The Kings clearly consider that it might be time to seek a deal with someone besides the tempestuous Queen.
But Aethelwulf sides with Kwenthrith. They have become lovers, after all. And the truth is known to all. Judith won’t get into bed with her husband, no matter how he threatens her. “Then go sleep with my father, you whore!” screams Aethelwulf. “Why don’t you go sleep with your mistress, the Queen?” she fires back at him.
Judith does go to see Ecbert, who seems rather sanguine about the whole “my son knows that I’m sleeping with his wife” thing. He gives Judith the ring that belonged to Ecbert’s wife. She died in childbirth. “I cannot tell you the pain of it. I was resolved to never marry again. But I would like you to wear it.” The scandal of it all: Have Ecbert and Judith found some true connection? She, beloved of the dead monk Athelstan? He, the hedonist philosopher, bedmate of Queens and shieldmaidens?
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Uneasy lies the head that wears Ecbert’s crown. He visits a church for a talk with his savior. “Lord, you know me for a sinner,” he prays. “And I think you have already decided to cast me out into the darkness, like a fallen angel. To suffer in purgatory or the fires of Hell for all eternity.” Ecbert knows what awaits him after death — but he also knows what he has now, what he must live with. “Your kingdom, as you have said is not of this world,” he says. “But my kingdom is.” We might remember that Christ died for his kingdom; we might ponder whether Ecbert would do the same.
All seems happy for Rollo and Gisla. Her loathing and his disinterest have warmed into something like love. Rollo looks forward to his brother’s return, and beyond. “I cannot wait to take control of my Northern lands, and set up my court.” Hard to imagine Rollo ever returning to the North — with his civilized wife? Leaving Paris behind? — and Gisla considers another path, where Duke Rollo becomes the Emperor’s lead assistant.
What of Count Odo? Gisla muses: “It is possible that he could die in the fighting, slain by some unknown assailant.” Perhaps — or perhaps Odo’s time will come even sooner. Roland meets privately with the Emperor, informing the lord of Frankia that Odo has ambitions to the throne. (That Roland is himself ambitious is a fact that even the coward King can’t miss.)
NEXT: Another royal affair