For almost a full moon Rollo had existed in a private prison of agony. A fever had tightened its grip around him, with gnarled fingers both as icy as the waters of the fjord in winter and as hot as the centre of the blacksmith's forge. He had shivered until his bones had almost snapped with the shaking. He had sweated and burned until it seemed he might end up as a pile of grey ash on the damp covers of his bed.
The fever had broken, but he was not convinced that it had not taken his mind when it had left.
He slept fitfully. The arrow that had pierced his left shoulder had rendered the whole arm numb, and he didn't know if he would ever recover use of the limb. Since he could not feel it, it had become a terrible hindrance. The arrow that had been buried in the right side of his torso had damaged his chest in some way. If he tried to lie down, his breath left his body and stubbornly refused to return until he had clawed his way to a more upright position. Lagertha had mounded furs and blankets at the head of his bed, so that he could sleep propped up.
The axe wound at his back caused him the most consternation. Although it seemed the least grievous harm, being fairly shallow, it had affected his legs. He still had the use of those limbs, just, but they were as weak as those of a newborn fawn. Before he could even try to stand, he had to lift them with his one good hand over the edge of the bed. When he did eventually managed to stumble to the hunched pose which resembled upright, he teetered. When he had first woken, he had need of Bjorn to help him piss, an indignity that made Rollo seethe. He had, at least, insisted on holding his own prick, relying on his nephew to keep him vertical.
All in all, Rollo was not grateful to be alive. He should have died out there in that muddy field. He had fought bravely. He had deserved his warriors death. He should now be drinking mead with Odin in the great hall in Valhalla, laughing, fighting and joking with all his old friends who had already been welcomed to that hallowed place. The life of a cripple was too pitiful to contemplate. If he couldn't fight, and he couldn't farm, then he would be nothing more than a burden on the community. Bjorn would not let him starve; Lagertha very well might, but her son had a bigger heart. He would have a roof and food, but it would be charity.
Rollo fought the discomfort of sleep until he slipped into an exhausted unconsciousness, but even then he couldn't relax. He was tormented by the warped visions that he'd seen as he had been taking what he'd been sure were his last gasping breaths.
He remembered a woman. He knew she had not been in the battle. There had been women fighting, but this one had been pristine, perfect, not a speck of gore or grime on her, as if she repelled the dirt by magic. He had been certain that she had been a Valkyrie. He knew, in a prideful way of knowing, that he had earned his place in Valhalla.
But instead of granting him glory, the bitch had stolen it from him.
She had acted as if she were doing him a great favour, granting him a boon, when she had breathed her own breath against his lips and smeared her own blood on his face. All the hurts of all the injuries he had ever sustained since the day he was first able to wield an axe had resurged and coalesced, turning his blood to lava and his bones to jagged rocks, piercing and burning his wretched skin from within.
She had saved him, but she had stolen his life as surely as if she had carried him away on her raven's wings. She had denied him the reward he deserved, that he had earned, and had cursed him to this half-life. Rollo Lothbrook, the once mighty warrior whose mere name weakened the knees of lesser men, was now brought low, always to be dependant on the pity of others.
"Do you know why you have been brought before me?" Odin's voice wasn't unkind, but Kara knew that if she lied, he wouldn't hesitate to banish her... or worse.
"Yes." She dared to raise her eyes. "I gave my essence... I saved a warrior's life." From the corner of her eye, she could see Freya's smirk.
"And you are aware that there will be consequence for your actions?"
"Why would you do such a thing, child?"
Kara shook her head. "Truly, I do not know."
Odin leaned forward. "Rollo Lothbrok is a mighty warrior. You breathed life into him, but you did not heal him. You have denied him of his rightful place in my hall."
His smile was both benevolent and terrifying. "You were jealous of your sister?"
Kara closed her eyes. "Yes."
"Ah, my child. Do you really think I would have allowed her to deny such a man as him, his place by my side?" He leaned back in his throne. "Am I not the most powerful god?" He chuckled, and below them on earth, she could hear a rumble of thunder. "You overestimate her power—and so, I believe, does she." Freya opened her mouth to speak, and he silenced her with a wave of his hand. "What I give, I can also take away."
Kara shuddered. When she'd breathed life into Rollo, she'd believed she could heal him, but his wounds were so great, that it would have taken all of her. "I'm sorry."
"Yes. I believe you are. Never the less, you must be punished." Odin stood. "You will leave this place. No one but Rollo will see you in this form, and it must be you who heals him. If he forgives you and takes you as his woman, you may show yourself to all, and join him here after death. If not, you will sent an eternity pecking at the corpses of the fallen, and be forever remembered as Kara the scavenger."
"How can I heal him?"
Odin shrugged. "You show him how to heal himself. Rollo Lothbrok is fated, but it is for him to reach his destiny."