Inspired by Skuldalio by WinterSky101 and Songs Of Sorrow by Funky In Fishnet.
Athelstan watched in amazement as Lagertha patiently listened to each case and judged them accordingly, almost unaware of her body, which was heavy with child.
The woman was meant to rule.
Over the last year, he had grown comfortable with the family he served. Respect was slowly starting to turn to love for them all. Though he had always found a deep sense of care for the children, he found himself growing protective of the pregnant Lagertha with each passing day that he served her.
With Ragnar gone, she was the only companion he had and she had a way of knowing what was on his heart, even before he himself did. After he had earned her trust, she had opened her home to him and taken him in as one of her own. No one messed with him now because they knew he was of the house of Lodbrok.
Lagertha, feeling his eyes on her, quickly looked to him with a small smile before motioning the next couple forward.
The priest blushed and averted his eyes, wringing his hands before him. He found himself praying for his Lady and the child within her.
He knew he could not bear to see pain shatter her icy eyes if the child was stillborn. Besides, she was too good of a person to be dealt that cruel of fate.
As the cases dwindled down, Athelstan left to prepare dinner for the family. The sky grew dark and while he was setting the table a cry broke the stillness of the night. Athelstan froze, a plate still in hand, his dark eyes looking up to the door. Gyda looked up from her work and Bjorn stopped mid thrust of his wood sword.
Siggy burst through the doors, "It's Lagertha." She panted, the stress etched into her pale face. She stepped aside as the healers helped the once shield maiden in.
"Mum!" Gyda tossed her sowing aside and followed to the bedroom. Bjorn remained where he was, nervous as to what he should do. He looked to Athelstan for the answer.
The Priest forced a smile, "I'm sure everything is alright. You might have a younger brother before the day is over." He knew it was a lie. He was a servant to God and he had lied to an innocent child. Albeit, it was to protect him.
Lagertha had yet to reach her seventh month, any babe who came before the ninth month was either doomed to a hard life or destined to perish. Athelstan feared the worst.
Pushing aside his own fear, he continued to set the table, "She will be alright." He said it as much for Bjorn's benefit as for himself, "Go wash for dinner, we will keep something warm for Gyda and your mother."
Different sounds of distress came from the bedroom as they sat down to their meal. People kept running to and from the room and, after a half hour, they had both had enough of pretending to eat. Pushing aside the food, the pair started towards the room which had grown ominously quiet.
Gyda stepped out, keeping the curtain closed tightly behind her. Her soft eyes were raw with tears, "He's…he's gone." As she spoke, one of the other servants walked out with a bloody, wrapped bundle.
His mouth open in shock, Athelstan watched the servant girl walk across the house and out the door. Snow fluttered inside when she left, and the house grew still as the door swung shut. Bjorn rushed into the room to his mother, his sister close behind. Athelstan remained where he was, terrified of the events that had transpired.
How could a day have turned from such bright, happy times to a living nightmare in only a few short hours? He thought of the day the Vikings had first attached his monastery and reality reminded him that life didn't always play fair.
He stayed where he was as people rushed around him; every woman in the house offered Lagertha their sympathies and share in her sorrow while the men threw themselves into their work. Athelstan, the loyal man that he was, remained outside her door, patiently sitting on the floor. That is where he was when Siggy, the last one to comfort his Lady, took her leave of the bedroom and practically tripped over him.
"Oh, Athelstan, you startled me." She pressed her hand to her heart while the other wiped the sweat from her brow.
"I'm sorry." He hastened to get up, desperate for news, "How is she?"
Siggy looked to him, not expecting him to understand, "She lost a son, she lost Ragnar's son."
Athelstan looked to the curtain, "He was her son too." He added softly.
"Ragnar was promised sons." Siggy hissed, trying to get the Priest to see what she meant, "If she cannot carry them, he will find another who can. Can't you see where her heartbreak truly stems from? She lost not only a son, but the heart of her husband."
Athelstan looked sharply to the woman, "Ragnar loves her, he would never discard her." He replied harsher than he meant too.
"No, he will just force her to make room for another in their bed." Siggy snipped, gathering a few things as she spoke, "I am going to go put the children to bed. Don't let anyone disturb her, she needs her sleep."
Once he was convinced Siggy had left, Athelstan carefully pulled back the curtain and stepped into the dark room. Light from the main hall snuck in through the cracks and cast demonic prowlers upon the wall. Death was the sole occupant of the room; but his Lady was stronger than Death and she would live to see tomorrow's light, he was certain. Satisfied that she was safe for tonight, he set to return to his post and leave her to her mourning.
"Athelstan?" A weak voice asked through the shadows. He winced; Lagertha was not a weak woman, "I…I lost Ragnar's son." Her voice was raw, her heart unwillingly torn open.
"He was your son too." Athelstan replied, his voice gentle. He saw her shutter and cling to the pillow, "And it wasn't your fault. Things happen, bad things happen to good people."
She laughed coldly, "Is that what your god says? Is that what your god says to comfort me and the son I lost?"
"Well…" Athelstan moved to a chair in the corner, wishing to see her face in the little light there was, "He lost a son too." That caught the shield maiden's attention, her tears quieted and she looked to him to continue.
Athelstan shifted uncomfortably, not enjoying the attention, "See He…He sent His son to Earth to die for the salvation of all. To restore God's Creation."
"Who would willing give up a son?" Lagertha pondered, her eyes still hurt but her tone softening.
Athelstan leaned forward, finding purpose in his English belief once more, "My God. And He didn't give him up so much as sacrifice him and bring him back to life in the end. See, He loves us so much—"
"Why would a loving god take my son away? To leave me dishonored and alone?" Lagertha replied, the tears staring up once more, "The gods do not love, no god is loving. They are to be respected and honored and left to their own world." She turned onto her side, facing away from him, and Athelstan took that as his excusal.
As he took his leave she spoke, "I do not wish to be alone, Priest."
Athelstan's steps hesitated, and he looked back to her. He had opened the curtain enough for light to fall on her ghostly features. Even with sorrow in her eyes, she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was what he pictured the Magdalen to look like; a woman who had suffered a hard life but was the keeper of a virtuous heart. Her striking, golden hair was an unfaltering halo and her crystal eyes pierced every soul she came across.
"Will you come lie with me?" She requested, her voice restored to its usual strength.
Heat scratched his face and he lowered his eye, "My Lady, that is not…"
"I am not asking you to share my bed as anything more than a companion. I simply wish not to be alone." She replied.
"My Lady, you know of my vow. I am not to touch a woman." He whispered quietly, looking up to her. Her eyes looked into him and he felt exposed; she could see everything he had ever done or thought in that instant. He was sure of it.
"Ragnar has placed you as the steward of our house, to look after the occupants of Lodbrok. Which includes me. I need your friendship, Priest. Come to bed with me." She beckoned again, her voice saying she wasn't asking any more, but requiring it of him. It was an order. Timidly, Athelstan let the leather flap fall close and he moved back towards the bed.
He stood motionless by the bedside as Lagertha moved to make room for him. Athelstan, still fully clothed in his tunic, pants, and shoes, which were coated with the grim of his day's work, nervously lay down and let Lagertha place her furs over him before she settled into her side of the bed, keeping a distance between them. Athelstan, on the other hand, remained as stiff as a starched English shirt.
Soon the day's work caught up to Athelstan and he had drifted off into a deep slumber. Lagertha, however, could not sleep, and took comfort in watching the Englishman dream. She had never seen a man quite like him. He was so dark, from his deep eyes to the color of his hair. He stuck out painfully among the other Norsemen.
She smiled though, thinking of his unfailing loyalty to her and her family even though he had been stolen from his country and forced to be a slave.
No, he isn't a slave any more, she thought with a wrinkle of her nose, But my friend.
And what more could she ask for in a friend than what she had found in the Priest? Once she was certain he was asleep, his chest rising and falling rhythmically, she snuck across the furs until her body was next to his, sharing in his warmth. She remained respectful and didn't touch him as her thoughts turned.
Lagertha remembered the couple she had seen earlier that day, with a bastard child she had deemed to be Heimdallr's. Men were allowed to go out and conquer more than just land, so why were women damned for doing the same?
Deceit tempted her. If she could get the Priest to lie with her and produce a child, Ragnar would get his son. Lagertha was sure she could convince the others in the house to keep the secret and then she wouldn't be dishonored and tossed aside because she couldn't produce good, strong sons.
The Priest had lived with them for a year and adapted quite well to their life; surely his heirs would be strong as well. And, from what she had seen, any child of his would have a mind given to wisdom and a heart for justice. Yes, he would produce great sons.
Besides, it wasn't as if the child would rule one day as Earl; that was a birthright already bestowed to their first born, Bjorn. Any additional son would serve only to secure Ragnar's right to rule and guard his legacy.
She knew her body and the ways of women as she knew a battle axe, which was to say quite well. If only…
Lagertha remembered his rejection to the first invitation to share her bed and his vow. Though she had seen the temptation deep within his eyes that night, he had still told her no. She had never known a man to refuse her, but the Priest had done so with ease.
Huffing, she moved to her back to gaze up to the dark ceiling. Surely, even if he wasn't still under his vows, his god would condemn him for sleeping with another's woman.
The sleeping man beside her shifted onto his side in search of warmth, his eyes were still dreaming as his long lashes dusted his cheeks.
Athelstan is my friend, she thought, looking at his peaceful face, One of my most trusted companions. I cannot be the reason for him to bear such secret against Ragnar. She smiled as a few stray curls fell around him in a dark halo, Nor could I stand the constant prayers for forgiveness.
"Thank you," She whispered to the sleeping Priest, moving to chastely press her lips against his forehead before returning to her place, "For being my friend." And with that, she snuggled back into bed, even more appreciative of the English treasure Ragnar had found worth keeping.