That scene from episode 3…'nough said…it pulled me right in…I was practically shouting "Join them!" in my mind…lol. And my goodness: Ragnar's eyes! I could drown in them...lol.
Couldn't think of a good title… Athelstan POV. This takes place immediately after episode 8. Athelstan reflects on his faith and what happened during the pagan rituals at the Temple of Uppsala and Ragnar comes upon him while he is deep in thoughts. A heated conversation takes place and some truths are revealed.
Rated T for imagery
Disclaimer: Don't own Vikings or anyone in it. If I did, I'd be busy having way too much fun doing other stuff. ^_~
The fires lit for the sacrifices had died down and the smoke had cleared and the "celebrations" at Uppsala had concluded for another nine years. Most of the Viking clans had departed and the rest were preparing to do so as well. The sacrificial site was deserted save for one last soul.
Athelstan stood rooted to the ground, unable to move. He had vaguely noticed as everyone had walked past him, but something kept him there. And now, absent hazy smoke, drums and pagan chanting, he saw the stark reality of what had occurred here: senseless death.
Gripping the cross he had secretly worn on his wrist, Athelstan began to walk slowly towards the scaffolds where the sacrifices had been hung, presented to the gods the Norsemen worshipped, including the humans, blood no longer dripping from their corpses, strung up like meat set out to cure in the sun.
If this sight didn't solidify his true beliefs, he didn't know what could. Athelstan didn't know what had come over him these last few days, these last few weeks even. The revelation of how firm his Christian beliefs still were had hit him hard the day before. How could he think he could forsake the Lord? Did he want a place with these pagans so greatly that he actually thought he could change his beliefs? And worse yet, he had denied God thrice to the pagan priest. For that alone, He should strike him down.
As Athelstan looked upon the nine men who all willingly gave up their lives, he told himself that this is not what a true God would want. He recalled the story of Abraham and when God tested him to see if He was first in his heart by commanding the sacrifice of his son Isaac. Though Abraham and Isaac were willing to obey God's will, at the last moment, God sent an angel to stay Abraham's hands. His faith had been proven.
Turning his face to the sky, Athelstan shouted, "Why? Why didn't you stop this? You could have shown yourself true to these people, proven their gods false. These men, they didn't have to die. And for what? For nothing! They had families, friends, loved ones. You could have saved them. You could have given them a sign, any sign…"
Even as the words came from him, Athelstan knew that it could not have been. God should not have to prove Himself to man, it is man who must prove himself to God. And he, Athelstan, had proven himself weak. He could not keep his faith strong in the face of his test. Instead of trying to find a place in Ragnar's world, he should have been trying to show Ragnar his, should have tried to show him the true gospel.
Ragnar, the thought of his...master brought an unfamiliar feeling from inside him. It took a few moments before he recognized it as betrayal. It was a foreign feeling. Even as Lindisfarne was sacked and his brothers slain all around him, Athelstan did not feel as if God had betrayed him. He had felt anger, yes, and confusion as to why God would test him in such ways, but he never felt betrayal. And yet, how could this mortal man make him feel such an emotion. And he knew it could only be because he felt other things for Ragnar.
The feelings must have crept into Athelstan slowly, quietly. He grew to care for Ragnar, Lagertha and their children. He came to trust the man that took his freedom. He became attached to them. He even felt like he could possibly maybe even be considered as part of the family. He had hoped as much, so much so that he had been willing to lie that he believed in Odin and the Norse gods and that he had forgotten his own. All for this one man. Athelstan scoffed at himself. Clearly any fondness and concern he had was not returned. Ragnar only saw him as a possession, something to offer to his gods.
"Oh Lord, forgive me," Athelstan whispered to the heavens. He brought the cross up and kissed it. "Please forgive me. I have realized the error of my ways. I should never have doubted you." He then fell to his knees, closed his eyes, bowed his head and began to recite the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
When he opened his eyes, Athelstan was surprised and gladdened that he was actually able to remember the prayer after all this time. He climbed to his feet and took another look towards the scaffolds. His eyes caught sight of Leif who had offered himself in Athelstan's place. His feet moved towards the man's body of their own accord.
"How could your people believe that this is what your gods want? That they would demand the deaths of good men. Why would they ask this of you?" Athelstan asked, knowing that he would not get an answer in return. "My friend, forgive me," he whispered, even though he knew that Leif had given his life willingly, gladly even, for the "honor" of being sacrificed to his gods. But even with this knowledge, Athelstan couldn't help the guilt that bubbled in him.
Leif's death replayed in his mind over and over. Athelstan had watched in horror as King Horik lifted the long blade, lowered it to Leif's neck and sliced open his flesh. He remembered seeing Leif's blood pouring out from him and dripping into the bowls set under the sacrificial table and afterward, watched as one of the pagan priests greedily swept the remaining blood from the table into another bowl. Athelstan was afraid the memories would haunt him for eternity.
Perhaps if he hadn't lied to Ragnar and Bjorn that he believed in Thor, and lied again when King Horik asked if he still believed in his one true God, none of this would have happened. As the seer had said, they needed a willing and truly faithful sacrifice. If Athelstan had not pretended to have belief in the Norse gods, Ragnar would not have offered him as sacrifice and Leif would not have had to offer himself as replacement when he was rejected as sacrifice.
A tear ran down Athelstan's cheeks as he gazed into Leif's lifeless eyes. The pagan priests hadn't even bothered to close them before they hung him in this state. He reached out a hand and gently closed the Viking's eyes and let his fingers drift down the man's cheek. And even though he knew he shouldn't, that the Viking would not want it, Athelstan couldn't help but want to try and save the man's soul. Bowing his head, he began to pray, "Our Father, thou art in heaven. This man, and these others beside him, gave themselves to their beliefs. Please do not allow their souls to wander. Guide them as you would any of your other –"
He was shocked out of his prayer when a voice shouted his name like a clap of thunder. Athelstan whirled around to see Ragnar advance upon him quickly. The Viking's aquamarine blue eyes blazed with anger.
"What are you doing?" Ragnar grabbed Athelstan by his shoulders and shook him. "You are disturbing this sacred ground. If anyone else saw you what you were doing here –"
"They would kill me?" Athelstan interrupted, anger over Ragnar's betrayal coming to the forefront. "Well then, you would get to thank them for completing the task you wanted."
"What are you prattling about, priest?" Ragnar asked. "Yes, your life would be forfeit, but why would I give thanks for your death?"
"Isn't that what you wanted?" Athelstan looked at Ragnar incredulously, eyes flashing with fury. He couldn't believe Ragnar's words. "You brought me here because you wanted me to die."
"That is not true," Ragnar denied. "I never desired your death."
"Lie!" Athelstan shouted angrily and shoved Ragnar away with surprising strength. "You brought me here as a sacrifice to your gods. Treated me like chattel. Like some goat or deer. And you say you never 'desired' my death? And this after everything we've – I even saved your life once!"
"As I saved yours once," Ragnar countered. "So in that respect, our scales are balanced."
"I trusted you, believed in you. And this whole time, everyone knew your intentions except for me. What a fool I am!" Athelstan threw at him. His emotions were so completely overwhelming that he shook from them and he could feel tears about to spill from his eyes.
As if Ragnar could sense Athelstan's emotional state, he did something that the monk never thought could happen, he gathered the younger man gently in his arms and soothed, "Shhh…shhh…you're all right. And I will never offer you as sacrifice again."
"Why did you do it?" Athelstan asked quietly. "Did I do something wrong that made you want to be rid of me?"
"Quite the opposite, actually," Ragnar admitted. He looked down into his slave's shining brown eyes. "You really don't understand our ways, do you?" Seeing Athelstan shake his head, Ragnar continued, "A sacrifice isn't just killing animals and people. The animals, they have no choice. It is understandable because they are animals. But the men, they are chosen because they believe it in their souls that it is an honor to offer their lives to the gods. As for you… The gods were angry with me for some reason. Why else would they kill my unborn son? I had to appease them by offering them a sacrifice. Something, someone, I held close to heart. Other than my children, my family, you, Athelstan, are what I prize most in this world."
Athelstan drew in a sharp breath at Ragnar's revelation. "Me?"
"Yes, you," Ragnar nodded. "Whenever I see you, my worries fade, I feel myself smiling, my heart lifting. You brought knowledge and riches of gold into my life. I knew the one I had to sacrifice was you when you were the only one who was able to sooth my aching heart over the death of my son. And though I was willing to sacrifice you, I offered you with a heavy heart as I have never, would never desire to see you dead."
It was then that Athelstan recognized the parallel of their situation to the story of Abraham. Ragnar was willing to sacrifice someone he cherished, prized, for his gods. But that was where the similarities ended. Athelstan's God stopped Abraham, but Ragnar's didn't, couldn't, because they weren't real.
"You could have offered yourself instead as sacrifice to appease your gods," Athelstan said with mock seriousness. "If it is indeed such an 'honor.'"
Ragnar laughed heartily at the return his priest's good humor, the man was always quick to forgive. "How, then, could I sire more sons? And you would miss me." He grinned and clapped Athelstan on the back.
Looking at Ragnar with genuine seriousness, Athelstan admitted, "Yes, I believe I would."
"As I would have sorely missed your company had the gods accepted you and taken you from me," Ragnar said in return. "But I promise to you, I will never again offer you as sacrifice. Even when someday you really do come to realize that my gods are the true rulers of the heavens."
Athelstan just gave Ragnar a small smile, even though in his mind he thought, 'No dear Ragnar. If anyone will come to realize their beliefs are false, it will be you, as mine is the one true God.' Instead he said, "If only I hadn't lied that I believed what you did, you wouldn't have offered and Leif wouldn't have had to die."
"Do not feel guilty, Athelstan," Ragnar told him and gazed at Leif with respect in his eyes. "Even if I had not offered you, our clan would have had to have a volunteer sacrifice. It was common knowledge. So Leif's sacrifice would very well be what happened either way. He was a great warrior and he is in Valhalla now, drinking with the gods."
The words didn't lift Athelstan's heart. He still felt that the man's death was needless. But again, he forced a smile for Ragnar to see.
"Come priest, the hour grows late for us to leave the Temple." Ragnar squeezed Athelstan's shoulder and turned to head back toward the camp. "I would see my children safely down the mountain before nightfall."
Taking one last glance at Leif, Athelstan turned and hurried to catch up to Ragnar. "I would ask one more thing of you Ragnar."
"What is it?" Ragnar halted his stride.
"If I am still with you nine years hence, and you journey here again, may I stay in the village? At the farm?" Athelstan asked nervously.
"When the time comes, should you have no desire to accompany me, then yes, you may stay at home," Ragnar agreed.
Home. Ragnar said home and the word warmed Athelstan. "Thank you, Ragnar."
"I didn't want to say this in front of the others, but I am glad the gods would not have you," Ragnar said with a twinkle in his eye.
"You are?" Athelstan asked. "Because you would have missed my company."
Ragnar canted his head. "There is that, yes. But mostly because it would have been an absolute shame for you to die before I had the chance to take you to my bed." He placed a hand behind Athelstan's neck and pulled the monk against him, pressing a deep, firm kiss upon the younger man's lips. After releasing Athelstan, Ragnar grinned cheekily and continued back towards the camp leaving his priest gaping breathlessly after him.
I couldn't help myself, had to sneak that last bit in at the end… =P Hope you all enjoyed…can't believe the season finale is just a couple days away. Seems like it'll be over way too soon. Probably because I didn't find out about the show until after ep 6 aired...thank goodness for VOD! And I can't wait for next season.
Thanks for reading and reviews would be appreciated.