AN: did anyone else read Askeladd's back story/name meaning and go CINDERELLA?!?!
But this story isn't about Askeladd, sorry.
"Are you angry?" Canute asks Thorfinn.
Thorfinn doesn't know what to say.
There's a part of him that wants to answer, Duh, you took away my chance for revenge for my father and then jailed me.
But that isn't quite strong enough to describe how he feels, and so after he says that, he wants to kill Canute, rip him to pieces and eat his pretty little fucking eyes out.
But his hands aren't moving, his feet feel like stones, and his head hurts like hell. He closes his eyes, and settles for not answering at all. Maybe that will make Canute go away.
"I'm sorry," said Canute. "I wish I'd let you do it. I--I don't like the way this feels. Askeladd shouldn't have died that way."
"Nobody likes the way it feels to kill," said Thorfinn, wondering why his mouth is moving when he's pretty sure he didn't tell it to. "Unless they're psycho... They like the rush of battle--like Thorkell, or they like to play games--like, like... some people. But nobody sane likes to kill."
Canute is silent. He moves closer to the bars of the cell that they put Thorfinn in for the night.
Thorfinn is due on a slave ship in the morning, so he should sleep, but the thought seems ridiculous. Instead, he stares at Canute, who wraps a long-fingered hand on one of the bars and leans against them. The metal of his crown doesn't clink against the bars, because he's not wearing it.
"I'm sorry," Canute says again.
Like hell you are.
Thorfinn jumps up, and suddenly his feet don't feel like stone and his heart is pounding and his head still hurts.
"It was supposed to be me!" he shouts. He sees, in a flash of movement, the guard moving towards them, but Canute gestures for him to leave, with the hand that's not wrapped around the bar. "I was supposed to do it! I was supposed to kill him! Every minute, of every day, that was all I ever thought about--I knew his movements, I knew his techniques--but I could never do it! I was never enough--and you, you just--you just did it, like it was nothing!"
He realizes, with horror, that he's crying, and he's close enough to Canute that there's no way the other boy misses it. But he can't stop talking, and he doesn't want to wipe away the tears, it's not like Canute doesn't already see them anyway.
"Ten years," he says. "And I couldn't avenge my father--but you--you--you hated your father, and you avenge him for show in ten minutes!"
"I'm so sorry," Canute whispers, for the third time. And Thorfinn feels like it doesn't make sense, any of it, not Canute killing Askeladd or Canute apologizing like he's killed Thorfinn, he should be apologizing to Askeladd, if anyone. "But I had to do it."
Canute, the king and the (now) warrior, looks too young. He's gripping the bars with both hands now, and if Thorfinn squints a little it looks like Canute is really the one in the jail cell.
Which is a stupid thing to think, really.
And with that, he is numb again. He wipes away his tears, but he doesn't back down.
"It's done," said Thorfinn.
"I wish I didn't have to punish you," said Canute. Take it back, he looks like he wants to say. Swear allegiance to me, swear that you'll stay by my side--say something, say anything.
Thorfinn would laugh, except it's been years since he's done it and he's not sure how and he wouldn't really mean it anyway.
"Don't be sorry to me," he said. "I was never on your side for you. I was on your side so I could fight Askeladd. Now, there's nothing left of that, so..."
"I know," said Canute. "But I--I trust you..."
But Thorfinn, when he thinks about it--now that maybe he's going to let himself think about things because what the hell else does a slave have of their own?--maybe Canute should trust him. Because when he thinks of Canute, he doesn't think of a king, he thinks of a girly boy with flushed cheeks and a stutter, and he thinks of the best stew he's ever had since he left home. He doesn't think of a leader of armies. He thinks of someone who learned to say "Stop" in a way that makes people absolutely freeze, someone who doesn't flinch when faced with a punch from Thorkell the Tall.
Somebody who is clutching the bars of Thorfinn's jail cell, begging Thorfinn to stay by his side, because any familiar face that cared if he lived or died (and wasn't rooting for the "died" option) is a miracle at the moment. And Thorfinn really isn't, despite his actions earlier.
But Thorfinn isn't who he was yesterday, and he isn't on Canute's side anymore. He's not on anyone's side anymore, without Askeladd to work for...
Without Askeladd to work for, Thorfinn barely even knows himself anymore. He wonders what parts of him, if any, weren't connected to Askeladd in some way, and he can't really think of any. His mother, his sister, his young childhood... All are too far long ago to remember. He knows his sister always wanted a slave, but that's no consolation. Maybe he'll come across Old Leif again, and that'd be good.
But that's a thought that gives him hope, and he doesn't want to be given hope, not right now.
"Well," said Canute, straightening up, and Thorfinn can tell that whatever this was, it was over. Except Canute is still hanging onto the bar. "I hope, that the next time we meet, you learn to respect your king. And not to throw weapons at him."
It's a weak parting sentence. Two hours ago, Thorfinn might have spit in his face. Canute definitely deserves it.
"Goodbye," says Thorfinn. It's not as easy as he thought it would be. Maybe he needs a familiar face, too. But the set of Canute's mouth, and the fact that he lets go of the bar, tell him it's too late now, but the promise that they'll meet again is a real promise, and one that maybe, Thorfinn will hang onto.
Canute leaves, and Thorfinn thinks that maybe he can sleep now.
He doesn't anyway.