"The guy of yesterday was so hot." said Kwenthrith, scrolling on her phone on Gisla's bed, trying so eagerly to get his instagram, twitter, or facebook if he was such an old fossil.
"Why are you in my room?" asked Gisla with annoyance.
"Too much clothes in mine. I've been making too many dresses and too many sweet tops."
"Then, tidy up!"
"Later." said Kwenthrith, brushing Gisla's pleas aside with her hand. "For now, I want to talk with you about those sweet guys. Judith is off to paint somewhere downtown with that girl Helga and I have no one to fantasize with except you, my dear, dear fashionable French babe."
"Do you have to call me babe?" asked Gisla, her lips twitching as she tried to suppress a flattered smile.
"Well yes. You are a babe. Babe." she added with a wink.
"Okay, stop." Gisla warned with a finger.
"I'll stop when you'll hear me talk about those dudes. Babe."
"I have homew..."
"No you don't. You have nothing to do but read that weird book. What is this? "she said bending over to look at the cover. "Les.. Les rois mau..."
"Les rois maudits." said Gisla. "One of my dad's favorite books."
"What's it talking about?"
"Mostly courtroom drama and shit. It's kind of like Game of Throne, but with less fantasy." Gisla said, marking where she stopped and putting the book away, pissed that Kwenthrith interrupted her afternoon reading. "But I prefer poetry. You know, Ronsard, Michaux, Shakespeare, Baudelaire... They're the real artists here."
"Cool. Now, will you hear me out?" asked Kwenthrith.
Gisla sighed. "Sure." she capitulated. "Come on, spill it."
"So, there was this guy, Aethelwulf, I guess..."
"Ugh! What is it with this city and people with Saxon names?" groaned Gisla.
"Yeah! Like you name's not weird too!" said Kwenthrith raising an eyebrow.
"Fair enough." Gisla shrugged.
"So Aethelwulf is Judith's girlfriend, of so I heard, but I know he has been pretty shitty to her, if not abusive. And he was drunk. So I told them off because, well, you were sleeping and I did not want anything wrong to happen to Judith. So Aethelwulf left and let me tell you that his butt is out of this world! And he has such gentle eyes! His hair! Oh my God! His hair! It was so ruffled and fluffy and sweet! Girl, I would do him any time!"
Gisla gave a disgusted face. "But you said he was abusive! Don't you wish something less.. violent?"
Kwenthrith giggled and gently stroke Gisla's arm. "Oh honey." she said. "You and I will need to talk about BDSM someday and how it is good for people who enjoy it. Besides," she said, more somber. "I have seen much much worse. I can take Aethelwulf, if he can survive me. In bed, I am almighty."
"Oh! My God!" Gisla said, shocked. "I... I can't even!"
Kwenthrith laughed and gently smiled at Gisla. "You know, Aethelwulf was with another dude, tall, buff and massive. Oh my God! You should have seen his arms! He looked like Chris Hemsworth but dark-haired and more somber. I think he is like a coach, or a personal trainer.. something like that."
"Great! Another health obsessed no-brain." said Gisla sarcastically.
"Well, I don't know about his brain, but let me tell you Gisla; I had never seen a man so hot! I bet his arms could break trunks! I bet his hands are firm and large and I bet he must be a beast in bed! I mean... I can already hear him groan and stuff..." Kwenthrith said almost moaning.
Gisla scoffed. "You want to do him?"
"Hell no! Don't be silly. I am simply pointing out a man's physical qualities."
"Do you want to bone them?" asked Gisla.
"In an alternate universe, I would do Aethelwulf. And the other guy... well... I am just fine drooling. He is a man for fantasies, not real sex."
"God you're weird." said Gisla giving Kwenthrith a look.
"I know." she said with a mischievous smile. "You got any plans for today?"
"Finish reading my book, mostly." Gisla said. "I am not yet fixed on the rest."
"I should take you shopping. You would look so good in a robe de soirée, as you say." Kwenthrith giggled. "You would wear jewelry and diamonds with a red dress and you would seduce all the men and women in the room."
Gisla gave an amused laugh and winked to Kwenthrith. "Been there, done that." she went serious again. "My father used to take me to those balls when I was a bit younger. After my mother died, he stopped, but last year he took me to the Opéra Garnier for the bal de l'X, a fancy ball for those who went to the Polytechnique school. My grandmother went there, so naturally she got invites and gave them to me. I was fabulous. I merely wish we did not rent my dress, it was so gorgeous I would have worn it everyday."
"That sounds so fancy and so French, so elegant and stiff." Kwenthrith said, wrinkling her nose. "I was rather thinking about premieres, opening of shows or even, if you wish, opening of art galleries."
"Oh, I adore those! But there is nothing like a political meeting to turn me on." Gisla laughed, relaxed by Kwenthrith's presence in her room. "It is there I truly shine. Alas, I am not as cultured as you might think. I prefer poetry and political dramas." she hesitated for a moment. "And Game of Thrones. Don't ask me why, I enjoy it that's all."
Kwenthrith's face lit with curiosity. "Really? I didn't think you such a nerd! Not after the talk we had the other day."
Gisla gave a loud laugh. "Yeah! I am a nerd. Believe it or not but my Netflix subscription fee is well spent."
"What else do you watch?"
Gisla gave it a thought. "I enjoy the Last Kingdom, House of Cards, The Newsroom, Veep, Mindhunters and American Horror Story."
"Horror?" asked Kwenthrith with a pleased tone. "I didn't know you were like that."
Gisla shrugged. "I guess there is a lot you do not know about me. Most people merely see that cool calculated facade I use to play for journalists to fuck off." she tucked her brown hair behind her ear. "They don't know me. No one does truly know me."
Kwenthrith's smile fell and she grew more serious. She thought about her family, how she was cast out for kissing a woman, how she tried to make them understand, how she used to play a farce she gagged thinking about; how for years she tore herself from who she was and the rejection of herself she imposed on her life. She reminded the hatred, the sheer hatred of everything she was, and that fated day the bond snapped and she finally broke free, full of hopes, building back herself shreds by shreds like a mender of some sort.
"And I am more a Netflix and chill kind of girl anyway. I don't mind fancy parties if it can lead me where I want, but I love a good evening doing nothing but watching TV." said Gisla.
Kwenthrith rose a brow. "You? Miss I do my homeworks a year early?"
Gisla leaned to her ear, seemingly about to whisper a classified secret. "I'll tell you one thing." she whispered. "I do them early to chill."
Kwenthrith gave a tender smile and giggled. "You clever girl!" she winked.
Gisla's phone rang from her bed-table and she hurried to pick it up. When she answered, she spoke French and Kwenthrith hardly understood anything in spite of remnants of French babbling she learned when she was in primary school.
In spite of her inexperience with the language, she could easily follow the conversation from the way Gisla's eyebrows furrowed and her lips thinned. It began with a smile and a joyful greeting, but the more the conversation went, the more pissed off Gisla appeared. She heard her voice grow colder and angrier, she heard her sigh with annoyance and groan, she almost heard her yell, though she expertly kept calm nerves. When Gisla put back the phone when the conversation was over, Kwenthrith heard her swear a loud: "Sa mère la pute!".
"Anything wrong?" asked Kwenthrith with concern.
"Yes!" Gisla said harshly and impatiently. "Everything's wrong and shit hit the fan! Fucking shit!"
Kwenthrith brushed off Gisla's sudden irritated mood. "That much?" she asked.
Gisla turned brutally and her eyes shot daggers before she realized Kwenthrith had nothing to do with the news he just heard. She took a deep breath and her face grew softer. "I am sorry." she said. "You have nothing to do with it."
"That is true." said Kwenthrith. "But do share. It'll lighten your burden."
Gisla gave a concerned look towards her phone. She didn't know if she could trust Kwenthrith enough with the affair. If it went more public, it would mean her family's death and she did not want it by all means, but she also wanted to share with someone who could understand her dedication just to relieve her of her pain. Gisla gave a hesitant moan and sat back on her bed. "It's my father." she said. "You know how rumors were spread that he had hidden accounts? Well, there are new charges against him and he has been accused of embezzlement and sexual assault. I know it is wrong though. I know my father. I have been watching in his shadow all along and I have entire knowledge of his accounts. I know him. He has been framed and I need to go back to France, the sooner the better."
Kwenthrith gave a sad look and gently pat Gisla's shoulder. "I am sorry Gisla." she looked down. She had wanted to see her at the Halloween party and make her a costume that would have caught all the guys' eyes, but the party was in less than two days and Gisla was already booking a flight for tomorrow. "You won't be there for the party." Kwenthrith sadly deduced.
Gisla put the laptop away and gave Kwenthrith a sadden look. "No. I am sorry Kwenthrith. I know you wanted me to come with you and know that I wanted to see your costume so bad! But my father comes first and I need to fix it for him, if not for me. Take pics of yourself in your Halloween costume for me."
"I'll send you pics of all the cute boys." she said. "Things will get better with your father. Bite them, destroy them, and those hurting him will never stand back."
"I didn't know you could be so fierce." Gisla said, impressed.
Kwenthrith shrugged. "I learned to fend for myself, that is all. If you do not retaliate or attack, use people to your advantage, you are dead."
"I'll try to remember that." Gisla wondered if she had not just found a friend in Kwenthrith. Who knew she could be something other than shallow?
"Good luck in France." Kwenthrith said, standing up and heading towards her own room. "Eat them raw." she winked in the door frame.
Gisla gave a thankful smile and nodded. "They will weep."
Kwenthrith laughed, her so peculiar laugh, so elegant and tempting, almost mad. "That's my girl!" she winked and closed the door behind her.
Gisla looked at the door for a few seconds, feeling Kwenthrith's absence and then looked around. Her room was a mess, which was unlike her. There were empty filthy cups of coffee on her desk, beside the window and on her bed, countless sheets of papers and books scattered across the floor, clothes here and there and an unwashed towel on her chair. Gisla gave a groan. It added more work and she did not need that.
She fetched a luggage and put in it all her clothes that were still clean, put the rest of it in a basket, put all the books on their shelf while carefully marking the pages she stopped at in some and assembled all the sheets of paper to put them on her desk. After an hour of work, her room was finally somewhat cleaner. She put all the cups on a large tray and put them to the kitchen, returned for her unwashed clothes and put them all in the house's only wash-machine. She left a note on it in case someone wanted to use it telling them to return the clothes to her room.
Once her chores done, Gisla changed outfit in her room. She needed to go somewhere out and she did not want to show in some sweater and legging pants. The street was unforgiving regarding outfits and Kwenthrith was more.
Her headphones on her ears, jazz remixes played hard, she sat in the bus and scrolled her phone, reading her all time favorite website. It wasn't the Times, it wasn't the Guardian, it wasn't any newspaper website, nor an essay about law or politics, some constitution or anything related to her professional career; it was a blog, a simple blog with black words against a white background. It was poetry she was reading, each word drawing intense emotion from her and each sentence relaxing her. It was music she was reading and it soothed her mind, although she wondered who could have written it and what their voice sounded like. She only knew of their pseudo: wolfpoet. Gisla sighed with delight reading it. Poetry was music to her and wolfpoet's blog always found her, relaxed her. That was why it was her favorite. It moved her soul.
She read until she reached her station and got out. In front of her was the neon-lit frontage of a large sports hall shining like a treasure cave under the rain and a dull gray sky. On the glass door were posters of jacked up men and women showing muscles, the classic leaflets for kung-fu lessons, personal trainers' address and number, prices for a year, a list of everything the gym offered and the opening hours.
Gisla gave a sigh and closed her eyes not to get a headache with all the flashy colors around her. A gale of wind blew and she resolutely entered the hall which was just as flashy, although much less aggressive. She came by the counter and a tall and slim woman dressed as if she came out of one of those posters, with legging pants and a sport bra, rose her eyes from a fitness magazine.
"Yeah?" she said as she chew a gum.
"I wish to register for self-defense classes." announced Gisla, trying not to be mad at the woman's manners.
The woman put down her magazine with an annoyed groan and handed her a form, whipping her long blond ponytail in the process. "Sign here, here and here. You want a monthly fee or pay for each lessons?" her tone was all but welcoming.
Gisla's eyes grew cold, so did her voice. "Per lessons." she said. "I do not intend on staying here long." she announced, voluntarily provocative although she deemed it unwise.
The woman gave a cold glare and waited, loudly chewing her gum while Gisla angrily signed the forms, nearly ripping the papers apart. As soon as the pen left the last page, the blond woman sharply took away the forms and ignored Gisla's outraged eyes by reading her fitness magazine.
Gisla threw the pen on her desk which made the fitness woman yelp with fright and Gisla smile with satisfaction. She exited the gym with pride and satisfaction, her headphones on, under the silent insults of fitness girl. Gisla didn't care. At the moment she had bigger fish to fry than an impolite and unmannered fitness girl.
It was Rollo's first day. It had been all but a bad day so far. He found out that he was actually good as a personal trainer and that people actually listened to him, respected him even. Rollo was pleased. He had not drank, his head was free from hangovers and he had written in the morning for a secret project he wished no one would ever uncover.
After he gave a few classes, covered with sweat, the muscles of his arms glistening with the gym's neons, he decided to take a most welcome shower. The steaming hot water against his skin drew him groans of sheer delight. It felt so good; like a bath after weeks of not showering. Rollo wished he could never get out of the shower. He shampooed his hair and looked at himself in the mirror. He still looked tired and depressed, but he found himself somehow more contend with life as it was. He did not even resent Ragnar anymore and forgot all about his parents. He was doing something for himself only and no one would take that from him.
Rollo carefully dried his skin and put back clean clothes on. He combed his hair he wrapped a towel around of and sat back, taking his phone, scrolling through instagram facebook and twitter. Nothing interesting though. He decided to thank Aslaug for the job opportunity and texted her to let her know that his first day went better than expected. He received an answer a second after he sent his text and chuckled when he saw that Aslaug sent champagne emojis and that Lagertha was congratulating him on Aslaug's phone with a meme from Taken.
His hair dry, Rollo put back all his stuff in his bag and prepared himself to face Anna, the girl in the hall. The first time she saw him, she had made comments about his body and Rollo, although he knew he could have sex with that girl easily, didn't want to get in a relationship like that. Not when he was still with Siggy and his mind wandered to another girl.
Mechanically he took back his phone and re-read that same message Siggy sent him: Aslaug invited me for the Halloween party and I decided to come. I have something to tell you and we must talk then. Norway's fine, although the weather is colder than in Denmark and I am well. I wish you all the success for your new job. Vi ses snart. Bye.
What did she want to talk about? Rollo felt he knew it already, but he was afraid to name it. He had seen the pictures of her in Norway with her boss. He had seen the way he looked at her and the way she looked at him. He had seen their touches on TV, on Internet, on newspaper and even on twitter, where he stalked their every move. Siggy had stopped loving him and Rollo could hardly blame her. Perhaps that way, he thought, he would get to freely feel for another.
Just as he formulated the thought, he saw her; her and her chestnut hair, her sharp jaw and her fierce eyes. He saw that woman he had seen twice and for whom he felt a growing infatuation threwing a pen onto Ana's desk and he nearly laughed when he saw Anna yelp. Suit her well. She was disagreeable with all the clients.
Rollo watched that woman he forgot the name of walking out the gym with a confidence that impressed him. No one had ever dared to stand up to Anna and that woman had done it in a manner that was almost elegant.
"What is she doing here?" he asked himself as he approached the counter, and a hint of self-loathing struck him from thinking about an other woman than Siggy.
Anna turned to him, playing a hurt face. "I don't know. She came to sign in for self-defense class and then she attacked me. She's a psycho!"
Rollo gave her a look and rolled his eyes. "See you tomorrow." he said as he prepared to exit the gym. He was secretly hoping to see the woman again.
Anna stood up as though she was about to take his arm and hold him back. "Do you do anything for Halloween?" she swiftly asked.
Rollo gave a laugh. "Yes, I do. My brother is throwing a party with some friends."
Anna played with her ponytail. "Great!" her enthusiastic voice sounded fake. "Can I come?" she asked.
Rollo laughed harder, amused at her clumsy seduction. He wasn't the kind of guy to fall for that. Either a woman was enthralling, either she was not and her effort were doomed to fail. "Come if you want, but let me warn you that you won't enter without an invite. My brother's ex and girlfriend were clear about that."
Anna suddenly looked jealous. "You live with two women?" she asked.
"I do. They are truly beautiful and admirable." he shrugged. "Come if you want to meet them, but don't if you are looking for a one night stand. I am all but interested."
With that said, he walked out under Anna's shocked face and her pouting attitude. Screw her if she was mad. Rollo didn't care. In his mind were only the faces of two women, one being Siggy and the other being a French woman with a sharp jaw and brown hair whose attitude Rollo admired and whom, he hoped, he would teach some self-defense tricks to.
Rollo left full of hopes, of regrets, of resentment and of pride. That day under the rain and lit by some overwhelming colored neon lights Rollo felt full, almost alive.
Aethelwulf awoke with doleful pangs in his bed. He didn't know what time it was, what day it was and what year it was. All he knew was that he was hangover and that even the most silent whisper was to him a screech against his ear. Aethelwulf groaned in his large room, in his large flat bought by his father's large fortune. He woke up alone, reaching for Judith beside him until he realized she wasn't there. Judith was somewhere else and she hated him.
Aethelwulf gagged at the thought and immediately went to the bathroom to vomit. He drank some water and went back to bed, reading the Guardian and the Economist on his laptop. His father was yet again on the cover. They were all about him and he talked of all but his son. Aethelwulf knew his father hated him. He knew he wished he was never born and his beloved wife was still alive.
Aethelwulf had cherished his mother's memory as a shield against his father. He needed to believe that she was still beside him and when anger strikes arose, Aethelwulf resented himself thinking that his mother would be ashamed. He wanted to be better for her. He wanted to be better to Judith and he wanted to love her, but sometimes, he saw in her only what his father wanted her to be and Aethelwulf hated it.
Sometimes, he hated her. She was kind and joyful and full of hopes. She was dutiful and knew what she wanted in life and it drew admiration from many including Aethelwulf, but he couldn't help raging against the symbol of all his father's contempt. Maybe Aethelwulf should break-up with her, but it would anger his father and Aethelwulf would never gain his pride.
Aethelwulf resented him. He resented Judith.
A loud sound of bells almost gave him a heart attack and he ran to his phone to see who was the imbecile who sent him a text in the... in the middle of the afternoon? Was it that late? Aethelwulf closed his eyes and gave a hurt groan at the light the phone cast.
"Why is that so bright? Fuck it looks like the beacons of Gondor! Shit!" he heard himself yelling.
It was a text. A simple text and Aethelwulf suddenly recalled everything from the previous night; the pub, Ian the bartender and Rollo, his newfound drinking buddy.
Hey Aethelwulf, it read, I hope your hangover is not too bad and that you feel batter than last night. My brother is throwing a Halloween party with some friends in two days. Needless to say you're invited. A man needs his drinking buddy. See you mate. Drink water.
Aethelwulf laid back on his large empty bed and closed his eyes. He was glad he met Rollo. He felt a connection for the first time and this friendship was no pawn-play of his father. For the first time, Aethelwulf was given a taste of freedom and how amazing it was not to owe anything to anyone.
Then he came to a breakthrough and possibly the greatest decision in all his miserable life: he would come out of his father's shadow, discard his words, quit the job of a pawn, stop living for him, stop trying to win his pride. From now on, he would live for himself.
Just so you know, the bal de l'X is a real thing and my cousins went once. It was at the opéra Garnier and it looked so awesome. Since my grandfather went to Polytechnique he got invites every year and his grandchildren used them to go to the ball. Unfortunately he died before me and my sisters decided it would be cool to go. Also interesting, Les rois maudits is a big inspiration to GRR Martin and it deals with the french capetian monarchy (although real Gisla is a carolingian). Who do you think is wolfpoet? Do you think Aethelwulf will ever step out of his father's shadow? What's happening for Ragnar, Laggy, Aslaug and all the others? See you next year (maybe) to read what is next!