Ragnar Lothbrok’s great army of revenge feeds the fish at the bottom of the sea. His boats sink into darkness, never to be seen again by human eyes. Yet Ragnar and Ivar endure. Father and son wash ashore. Some of his men survive, too: A motley crew, not the great warriors of yesteryear, some few desperate Vikings. They know the locals will arrive soon. They must move — but Ivar, little Ivar, cannot walk with his father. “I’m not going to stand around all watching you try to be normal,” says the King. “You never will be. Once you realize that, that is when greatness will happen. Now crawl.”
Ragnar’s first son, Bjorn, isn’t normal, either. Alone among his brothers, he remembers a time when his father was a farmer. Alone among his brothers, he remembers the brighter days of Uncle Rollo, the familiar friend, not the eternal traitor. Bjorn sails southward on his journey to the Mediterranean. The ships pass the Normandy coast, which will host unimaginable bloodshed centuries hence when all the dreams of the Vikings are dust and memory.
This land is overseen by a strange man. He came from the North but can never return. Raised with the old gods, he was baptized into Christianity as a joke. See Rollo, the great warrior, now a Frankish noble. He sees his nephew’s arrival and smiles. There is gray in his beard. He has three children with his trusting wife, Gisla. He welcomes his old friends and old enemies. “I have to sail along your coastline,” says Bjorn. “I need safe passage for my fleet.” Rollo has them held captive. “We have 60 ships outside your port,” says Floki. “Don’t you think they will come knocking soon, if we don’t return?”
Every journey these Vikings take, they know there is the possibility they will never return. But it seems the once-great King Ragnar has a unique plan for his current journey. “I didn’t come here to go back,” he tells Ivar as they cower in the woods, hiding from Prince Aethelwulf and his searchers. “We can no longer travel with our friends. It can only be you and me.”
And so, in the night, the great King Ragnar and his last loyal son sneak about like thieves or serpents, slicing the throats of the warriors. They paid the warriors and now the warriors are paying for it. There is no mercy; a shieldmaiden offers herself to Ivar and he kills her. Is the great Lothbrok family a coalition of traitors? How many more people will trust Ragnar, and how much longer can he betray that trust?
One of the first people Ragnar betrayed was Lagertha, once his wife, then his ally. Lagertha has her own plans. She watches as her warriors prepare for battle; her warriors appear to be mostly or entirely shieldmaidens, strong women supporting one of the strongest. What are they preparing for? “I’m taking Kattegat back,” Lagertha says, a dream given voice at last. “Aslaug isn’t fit to be Queen.”
NEXT: What comes next
Lagertha has her reasons. She must justify herself. She says Aslaug was born of a witch. She points out that three of Ragnar’s sons are gone, leaving only two behind. She meets Margaret, the slave girl. “She was being used,” Lagertha learns, “by the sons of Ragnar.” Lagertha hears Margaret’s tale. She meets with Torvi and begins to plot in earnest.
In Wessex, the great King Ecbert receives his son, Aethelwulf. Mysterious doings are afoot. There are signs of Ragnar Lothbrok — and yet, they found a small remnant of a Viking force slaughtered in their sleep. Ecbert must leave for a Council meeting. Aethelwulf is concerned. He considers Ragnar to be the eternal wolf, assailing the humble lambs of god. Ecbert knows better. “Whatever my son says,” Ecbert notes, “He is, after all, just a man.”
And that man is busy. He carries Ivar on the road to Wessex. “I bet you wish you had killed me when I was born, just like you wanted to,” says Ivar. “Only when you talk,” jokes Ragnar. But then he sets all joking aside:
“I thought your legs were a weakness, and you wouldn’t survive. I was wrong. Your legs have given you a strength, a strength that even your brothers don’t have. You’re like a deaf man whose eyesight is sharper than anyone else. You are special, not in spite of your legs, but because of them.“
In Normandy, King Harald and his brother are not happy. Not happy to be imprisoned; not happy Bjorn has so stupidly walked them into a trap; not happy Bjorn ever thought he could do business with a traitor like Rollo. But Rollo surprises his former brethren. He invites Bjorn into his study; he sent for a librarian, who could explain Bjorn’s map. He tells Bjorn he will have to sail through Saracen Spain, a Muslim Caliphate, and into the bay of Biscayne. And he will not promise Bjorn safe passage – unless Bjorn allows Rollo to join his quest.
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Gisla is not happy with that plan. Not one bit. “You embraced our world and our God and I have had your children,” she tells her husband. “They are not Viking. If I thought they were Viking, I would kill them before killing myself.” Rollo tries to tell her the simple truth: He loves her, loves their children, and yet cannot deny himself his Viking heritage. “If you go away, whether you live or die, this will probably be the end of us,” says Gisla.
And so, on they move, these warriors and dreamers. Ragnar approaches the great city in Wessex, seemingly prepared to be taken captive, set on a mission whose endpoint only he knows. After Astrid captures the remaining two sons of Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha leads her army into Kattegat, an army of invaders helped from within by Torvi, who fires her bow in defiance and unity. Off the coast of Normandy, Rollo sails as a Viking once again, and his brethren tie him up with ropes and toss him into the water. Underneath the ship he is baptized yet again, or perhaps un-baptized, returned to some former state; resurrected, he is pulled back onto the ship and laughs as his lungs fill with air yet again.
In the throne room of Kattegat, where once sat a great earl and then another great earl and then a great King, Aslaug prepares herself for whatever the gods have in store for her. She leaves the great hall with a sword, like the warrior she never was, like the great warrior she has always been.