Thorfinn knew challenging Askeladd was bad idea; especially after the death of Bjorn. He just couldn't help himself.
Loss of Control:
"Come. I'll play with you." Askeladd's words, spoken so quietly, seemed to have been shouted in Thorfinn's ears. He didn't know why he was challenging Askeladd now, when his shoulder was still broken, but Thorfinn had been around the half Welsh, half Danish Viking for ten years; he would be damned if he couldn't tell when something was off.
Thorfinn readied his stance, amidst his confidence at finally killing his father's murderer, there was a large part of him that was screaming at him to surrender and not fight today. Not after Askeladd had just killed Bjorn, the one person that Askeladd was closest to.
'Shit…He's not his usual self.' Thorfinn's conscious was now fully acknowledging that he had absolutely no chance in this fight. Askeladd was not only completely serious, he was furious and that would not bode well for Thorfinn.
Dimly, Thorfinn heard Thorkell and Canute speak about betting on the outcome of the fight.
'It's not going to be necessary, I'm sure Thorkell already knows. He's a warrior, and can read the tension.' His thoughts were confirmed only moments later.
"What's wrong, Thorfinn?" Askeladd spat out. Oh, Thorfinn was sure, that to everyone else, Askeladd's words sounded like a taunt…but Thorfinn could almost feel the anger oozing out of his lips. His loss of his crew plus Bjorn had affected actually affected him and Thorfinn knew he was going to have to be the scapegoat to work off Askeladd's anger. It wouldn't have been the first time a Viking had taken advantage of Thorfinn's small size to relieve their anger. There would be instances when Thorfinn was younger and Askeladd and Bjorn would have been away from camp, the other Vikings would gang up on Thorfinn and restrain him before brutally using him as some sort of training device.
"Come on. I want to get this over with before it starts snowing harder." Askeladd's words brought Thorfinn out of his memories, those days where Askeladd would find his crew in a merry mood after leaving to secure a new job or get more supplies, and then stumble upon Thorfinn hiding in a corner, binding his wounds to the best of his ability.
The teenager pointed his dagger that was bandaged in his right hand at the man he had sworn vengeance against.
"Guess it can't be helped, then." Askeladd muttered. Thorfinn watched as he threw his sword away from him and opened his arms wide in a taunting, overconfidence pose.
"There, I've made it easier for you, right?" Placing his hands in some strange grappling stance, Askeladd looked gleeful at the prospect of beating someone to a pulp just to relieve his anger. "I don't even need a weapon to fight you. Come one kid."
Thorfinn was not happy about being used like before, but what choice did he have? If he fight Askeladd now, then later Askeladd would get fidgety and restless and he might seek out Thorfinn like the other Vikings who were a part of his crew. Thorfinn had seen it happen personally from most of the Vikings that he traveled with. It wouldn't be much of a fight if that happened, but if Thorfinn fought him here and now; he would still have some of his pride intact. Maybe.
Thorfinn felt a rush of wild desperation fill him, and it was through feeling that despondent sensation in which Thorfinn found himself rushing towards Askeladd with no plans of survival in mind.
So he wasn't very surprised when Askeladd grabbed his arms easily and exclaimed, "See?" to Thorfinn in a mocking tone. The Son of Thors may have allowed himself to be a sacrificing idiot, but his body still possessed survival instincts. It was not going to allow Thorfinn to be in combat without defending as much as possible. His left knee shot up, aiming towards solar plexus, and it was simply blocked by Askeladd's leg before Askeladd gave a crushing head bash to Thorfinn's skull. Black spots raced around Thorfinn's vision as he felt his body drop and he instinctively caught himself from falling onto his back, and swinging back around to punch Askeladd in the face.
The next thing he knew, there was a crushing blow to his ribs, followed with what could only be described as a hailing of blows on his head and chest. During the onslaught, Thorfinn caught sight of Askeladd's face only once, for a brief moment when Askeladd gripped his hair tightly to lift him closer to the former Captain's eye level, and what he saw terrified him. Askeladd had a face impassive boredom, no doubt an act for the other two witnesses to the slaughter. But Thorfinn could see the joy and the gleefulness of having an outlet for his controlled emotions in Askeladd's eyes.
'For all that he claims for hating the Danes, he is exactly the same as them.' Thorfinn thought through his haze, just as Askeladd delivered a pounding blow directly to the side of his head and the world went completely black.
Askeladd was infuriated. The one person he could have called a friend in his entire lifetime was dead by his own hands, and now the blonde brat had the gall to challenge him, with one arm broken as it was. How exasperating his life had become, with having to deal with the Danes, Vikings no less, that he absolutely loathed with every fiber of his being, now saving the Prince of the fucking Danes himself back to his home territory, Thorkell, and of course, the kid that hadn't left his crew for the sole purpose of trying to kill him. But he was a warrior, and if Thorfinn wanted to fight him when he was in a bad mood, then he wasn't going to stop the brat. Thor knows he needed something to take his frustrations out on. He didn't want to fight with a sword, Askeladd wanted to feel the flesh bruise beneath his punches, experience the skin splitting because of his fists, and relish in the blood that Thorfinn would spill all because of him.
Askeladd would admit to himself, he had lost control when beating on Thorfinn; he had not expected to loose power over his emotions. The only saving grace he could thank was that his facial emotions had stayed relatively impersonal; as if he was only doing this to satisfy Thorfinn's need for a fight, and not because he was thoroughly enjoying himself. When he grabbed Thorfinn by the hair to punch him, for some reason the expression in Thorfinn's eyes eluded him. He wasn't being his usual defiant, stupid, and strong self. There was something else present in those young eyes.
"You just don't learn do you?" Stupid brat and his absolutely stubborn pig headiness qualities. "I'm starting to get tired of this." He said staring at the motionless form lying in the snow. He must have said something else, but for the life of him, could not remember what it was that he said. Askeladd just had this exultant rush flowing through the blood in his veins that was wonderful. He had forgotten how much fighting with his bare hands had felt like he was eating the Ambrosia bread of the Greek Gods. Before he knew what it was that he was doing, his foot was pressing into the small of Thorfinn's back. Prince Canute's voice was screaming something at him, but his voice was muffled and Askeladd barely even heard the sound. He had picked up his sword somehow, he didn't remember, didn't want to remember. Remembering meant coming back fully to reality, to leave his moment of paradise, and he didn't want that. The sword in his hand found it's way over the prone form of Thorfinn, and Askeladd stood proudly, like the Roman gladiators of the past, ready to end his prey's life.
"I am having the greatest day of my fucking life, today." Is what Askeladd thought, he might have said it out loud, but he wasn't sure.
"STOP!" Prince Canute's voice was finally loud enough to bring Askeladd back into his own mind, back to the snowy plain, away from the gladiator stadium that Askeladd had conjured up in his mind. He brought the sword down to land beside Thorfinn's head, and raised his eyes to see Prince Canute running towards the former fighting duo yelling something to defend Thorfinn's life. He couldn't stay near the two brats, he was fighting and should have finished his opponent, no matter how weak he was; Askeladd didn't want to stop until his enemy was dead. On his short walk away, Askeladd realized something: he had completely lost control. He had become like Bjorn when he had one of his berserk mushrooms and relished in the power of life and death it had bestowed on him.
'Is this how Thorkell feels all of the time? This loss of control, but the amazing rush that comes along with it?'
"Thorfinn! Hey, Thorfinn!" Canute's voice was what brought Thorfinn back to the realm of the conscious. Once he had regained his bearings, Thorfinn wildly looked around, searching for Askeladd, seeing if he had calmed down, wondering if that had been enough of a session for Askeladd.
"You were knocked unconscious. He would have dealt the finishing blow." Canute's voice grated on Thorfinn's ears: didn't he know that that wasn't the case at all? That Askeladd wouldn't have had killed him just like that without further blows? He was the last of a crew that Askeladd loathed; he was the last remain of a past that Askeladd would love nothing better to do than to torture until he vanished. Askeladd was much more cunning than just any other simple warrior or Viking, and Thorfinn was fully aware of it.
Afterwards, after the story of his past and after he had regained complete and perfect control of his emotions, Askeladd went for walk while Thorkell and Canute sat at their camp. Thorfinn had vanished right after Askeladd had finished speaking, and no one had seen him for all of the hours since then.
As Askeladd walked among the falling snow, the image of Thorfinn and that foreign look in his eyes haunted his mind. Could it really be that hard to identify an emotion in someone he had known for years, especially since he Askeladd prided himself on reading people accurately? And, Thorfinn hadn't put up much of a fight, which was strange. Usually, he would be all over the place, making it slightly difficult to continuously hold him, even if he had an injury. It was like he had resigned himself to the fact that Askeladd had actually wanted to take out his frustrations…
With a jolt, Askeladd knew he had his answer.
Walking towards the only nearby trees, Askeladd had to struggle to see Thorfinn's shadow up on a high branch of a tree that had a slight cover from the falling snow.
"Thorfinn." Askeladd called into the tree. "You let yourself be beaten without much of a fight."
Askeladd took the silence as a confirmation to his suspicions.
"The other crew members would do the same when you were younger, wouldn't they?"
A soft thud was his reply, as Thorfinn jumped down from his perch to directly look at Askeladd.
"I could take the pain. The beatings themselves weren't a problem. It was the fact that they could loose control of themselves so easily. That terrified me."
Askeladd raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know you could read people so well, that you would let them injure you to a point to work off some frustrations."
Thorfinn snorted. "What, you expected them to take it lightly that I had unofficially joined their crew, and was better than most of them at a young age? They had to restrain me and it took several of them to successfully complete it before any of them would begin truly attacking me."
"After I challenged you, I could tell that you were furious. And experience in the past has told me that warriors, who don't release their frustrations as soon as possible, became even more violent and lost even more control of their rational thinking. So I did what was necessary."
Askeladd turned to walk back to their camp. He had gotten all of the answers he needed.
"Just so you know, I don't plan on loosing control like that again." He said as he left Thorfinn to sit alone in his tree. He was not too far away to pick up a faint, "sure you won't." from Thorfinn, before he climbed back up to his perch on the tree.
Thorfinn looked down at the retreating figure of Askeladd. He knew that the half Welsh, half Dane man enjoyed being in control of his rational thoughts, and so it wasn't likely that he would loose himself to the berserk spirit every warrior possessed anytime soon. However, once that state had been reached once, it was almost impossible to not want to feel that rush again. It was addicting, for all of terrifying experiences it brought.
Thorfinn rested his head against the trunk of the tree, starring into the clouds that spread across the sky. One day, he would kill Askeladd; he just didn't know what to do with his life after it happened. Thorfinn grunted under his breathe; he would think about it when that time came. For now, he was content to continue to follow Askeladd just as he had been doing for the last ten years.
A.N. Wow, I didn't expect to go through with this. It was a plot bunny that grew in my head after reading this scene in the manga, and it literally typed itself out. Hope it was a good first attempt at a Vinland Saga story.