It was strange, having the kid on board his ship.
Only six, or seven, and he was already determined that all he wanted to do with his life was personally avenge his father's death. It would have been admirable were the boy not so young or so much of a fool. With that sort of mindset at that age he was never going to recover and move on, and Askellad found himself guilty about the fact for more than one reason. He shouldn't have cared; so long as the boy was broken then he wasn't going to be able to exact said revenge, which worked out perfectly good for the pirate captain. It meant he got to live. But on the other hand, when he grew up and if he ever learned how to properly handle a blade, perhaps as well as his father did, then he would be a danger not only to his father's murderer but to the rest of the crew. The odd death wasn't uncommon on a ship such as theirs but from within the crew and from one so young it was only likely to inspire a mutiny, and Askellad was loath to lose his crew all because of Thorfinn, son of Thor the Troll.
But although Askellad's actions were always to favour himself, he couldn't help but feel responsible. He hadn't loosed any of the arrows that had killed the Jomsvikingr but he had been the one to command the fire. It was his men – his loyal crew – who had acted as Floki's mercenaries and committed the deed, all in the pursuit of gold and the ale and women it could buy them. And when this boy, no more than a child, had staggered out of the bloodshed, evaded the well-meaning eyes of his father's crew, and stowed aboard the pirate ship it was he – Askellad – who had roared with laughter instead of chasing him off home to Iceland. He really should have put the kid off at the first port, and he still wasn't sure if he wanted to keep him aboard like he wanted or sell him into slavery as soon as he could. Hel, the whole ship wanted him to, and he'd bring in a pretty penny in a few years time. But not all treasure was silver and gold, by far, and with a mentality like he was shaping up to have Askellad had no doubt that the boy could come in useful.
He was asleep now, curled up between sacks of wheat and coils of rope. A barrel of ale had nearly fallen on him at one point but Askellad had been quick to move it, and empty it down the throats of his ramshackle crew before they tried to ask any more questions about what was going to happen. Askellad was far from the sentimental type but the kid looked so small and almost lonely, and something about him tugged at Askellad. At Thorfinn's age he'd been a slave, his mother had been killed. From there on he'd been nothing but the boy who worked in the ashes and with the horses, and nobody even knew what his first name was. When he'd finally met his mother he'd tried to kill him, been adopted, and then hated by all in the family court. When he'd finally killed his father he'd had to flee for his life and his mother's honour and recreate his life. Like Thorfinn, he'd not had any options in life. Now, he almost felt responsible for the kid.
He sat down on one of the crates, watching as the kid rolled over in some sort of nightmare, reaching out for the thin air. Should he wake him up? Tell him straight what had to happen to him, and what he should have done to him as soon as he'd seen him on the ship? Thorfinn had been there for a fortnight now, eating whatever was thrown at him out of sheer desperation, and Askellad still hadn't made any decision. After all, the passage back to England was a long one. Unless they stopped somewhere – where he wasn't sure – just to get rid of the kid there wasn't much he could say until they came to port. So he'd been putting off the inevitable.
Thorfinn's nightmares seemed to get worse, and Askellad snorted, turning his back. He wasn't a nurse; he didn't know how to deal with small children and he didn't want to know how either. If anyone ever got pregnant by him he'd be out of Nordic waters before they could even point the accusatory finger. He should have been less blasé on the matter given his own illegitimate parentage but he couldn't find it in himself to care. He wasn't the fatherly type and that was that. He was more the drinking, pillaging and avenging type, and even if that meant he saw something in the youngster it didn't mean he had to take the child under his wing. But when the kid started to half sob Askellad turned his head, rolling his eyes as Thorfinn curled into a tighter ball on his bed of ropes, all arms and legs.
"What am I going to do with you."
It wasn't a question.