Gisla looked around her. The swarming of the people surrounding her in the middle of the yard barely made her blink. Yet, her ears ached from the noise they made. She put her hand on her big belly without thinking. A movement she made more frequently these past months. She gently rubbed her thumbs on the fabric of her dress, lost in her thoughts. She missed Paris. All the life around her reminded her of her beloved city.
She was sad she left her father alone in his big palace. It tore her heart in two to know him so vulnerable, opened to every threats without her to protect him. It had only been one month since she and her husband arrived in Rouen, the most important town of the northern lands her husband was given, but she still ached from the loss of her father's weak voice. At first, she was angry at him for being so weak, but now she only felt tenderness and affection toward him. After all, he got rid of Odo and Roland as well as his treacherous sister. Perhaps she had been wrong this whole time. Perhaps he was protecting her when she thought she was protecting him. She missed him. He was his only parent left, after all.
She became uncomfortable on the spot she was standing at. She walked a little trying to preserve her muscles and her legs. She had been pregnant for what seemed seven months, if not more. Despite her husband's disapproval and overprotective attitude, she still liked and wished to wander around and keep herself busy. She had done so much in a month. As soon as they set foot on the shore of the island Rouen was built onto, she urged Rollo to go inspect the walls and their castle. The local lord took great care of damaging it before he left as an act of rebellion. Rebellion to which Rollo answered with strength and violence. His punishment was worth the insult. Gisla supposed that her pregnancy had awoken some bestial instincts in him. He seemed like an angry bear who didn't like his lair being destroyed. Especially since it was the place when his cub would be born and grow. She understood. Especially since she started nesting for her child.
She came to stand beside the stables. A section of the protection wall wasn't build yet and the dungeon, the place she and her family would live in was finished. She felt a hint of satisfaction in her body and her mind. It was one thing she wouldn't have to care about anymore. Of course, servants still bustled around the castle to install the furnitures and hang tapestries to the walls to warm up the big rooms of the Duke's castle. Gisla helped them of course. She had spent a lot of time making those tapestries with her maids.
She looked around her once more to find her husband among the crowd. She saw shepherds guiding their herd, flocks and gaggles to the stables and the kitchens, she saw the bakers making bread for the workers who were finishing the wall in the cold of winter. She saw the builders carving the stones, women giving them refreshments and hot wine. The architects drawing on some parchments and soldiers, inspecting the walls and its defenses. All the activity almost made her feel dizzy.
Finally she cought a glimpse of his back. He was giving orders to his soldiers and waving toward the harbor. Apparently he wanted the vikings who came to settle in his lands to be welcomed in peace. Of course, Gisla's disapproval of this did not prevent him to make a truce with them and achieve his idea of how his fiefdom should be. Rollo had a very strong will considering what he wanted and how things should be done.
Gisla kept touching her round belly, admiring how well made her husband was. It was the middle of winter and he was still wearing simple shirts, not wrapping himself in furs when he was outside, as other Frankish lords did. She supposed he was used to colder temperature though his time in Frankia should have made him lost it. Yet, he was wearing a dark purple shirt cut in Frankish fashion mixed with northern embroidery. His collar was opened to his chest. His chest. Gisla was as hypnotized. She never fully realized it, or she did but she repressed it for so long it was like it didn't even existed, but her husband was truly handsome. Every features of his were noble and she caught herself to find his physical flaws as something that made him unique. Something that made him recognizable. She remember how it became a habit of hers to touch the scars on his face and to feel his large nose under her fingers. She could have recognized his face in the darkest of the dark, just by touching him.
Bewitched by the sight of her husband, she didn't noticed his sudden gaze on her and him disappearing in the crowd. He silently walked behind her and wrapped his arms around her belly to feel the moves his child recently made in the whomb of its mother. He gently kissed her ear making her shiver. She turned to him with anger ready to slap the unwise man who dared such an affront. But when she looked at the man, she only saw her husband, chuckling.
"What is it, wife? Don't you recognize your husband?" He teased her.
Gisla contented herself to shoot him a dark stare. Rollo kept roamming her round belly with his large palms and began to kiss her neck, hungry for some sexual activity. Gisla shrugged and scolded him, "How many times should I say it? No!" she said while moving her husband's hands away. "I will not have sex with you until our child is born and one month after that. I think I told you that you have to respect me in my sacred condition."
"You didn't seem to mind a month ago." he casually said implying something. "Ah! I wish you let yourself go into my arms that night."
Gisla suddenly blushed and slapped his arm. "You know I wasn't really myself that day! It was... It was..."
"Perfectly normal for a pregnant woman. I saw that kind of attitude in my brother's wives during their pregnancies." he finished. "But I can't help but to enjoy you in such a state."
Gisla shivered and Rollo wrapped his arm around her. "Let's go back inside will you? I do not wish for you to catch a cold." He said it casually but Gisla could tell his voice was shaking. He recently became more worried. He almost seemed fragile. Vulnerable.
"I won't catch a cold Rollo." she said once inside the great hall. "It isn't because I spent five minutes outside in the winter's cold that I will become ill. I shall remind you that I visited the sicks and I didn't catch their diseases."
"I know." he gloomingly said. " But is it not the duty of a husband to worry for his wife and his soon-to-be-born child?"
"It is but not to the point where you shelter me too much." Gisla said sitting on her chair by the fireplace. "I am fine."
Rollo stayed silent. In his mind rushed the memories of those he had lost. Siggy, the woman he loved and who drowned. This memory alone awoken the pain he felt when Bjorn hit him with his fists what seemed ages ago. He still resented himself for letting her die and mistreating her. He still felt guilt as strongly as if someone just hit him with a sharp blade. This wound was still opened and he doubted it would ever fade away. He did not wish the same thing to happen to his beloved wife. She was too young to suffer this and he doubted he would keep his sanity if she were to die. He loved her too much for that. Then, his thoughts went to his mother who died in childbirth despite her strength. He remembered his long lost sister who died of sickness joining their father in Vanaheim and his little brother who died shortly after his mother. He remembered the face of his mother, covered in tears. Her body resting in a pool of blood. He did not wish that to happen to Gisla as well. He could not bear it.
His mother. It was so long since he last thought of her. His future fatherhood suddenly made him think about his parents. He wished they had met Gisla. His mother surely would have loved her temper. And perhaps, perhaps his father would have be proud of him, finally. But Rollo doubted it. He was only a duke and Ragnar was a king. A king with less riches than him but a king nevertheless. What was a duke to a king? Nothing. Rollo felt the familiar hint of jealousy invading his heart. He should have killed him. He should have killed him and yet he was relieved his brother was still alive. As odd as it might be, he still loved him. And that was what tore his heart in two.
Gisla noticed his sudden silence and gently put her hand on his. "Rollo, what's wrong?" she asked.
"I should have killed him." He said in a broken voice.
"My brother. I should have killed him and I let him go. Now, because of me, he will try to come back and when he will, he will... he will..."
"He will do nothing as long as you are here. You are the hero of Frankia. You defeated him once. You can do it twice."
"I don't think you understand. I can't. He is my brother. Despite all he has done to me – to us – I still hold a place for him in my heart. I am relieved I let him go but at the same time I will always resent myself for letting him go without me putting my axe in his head." Rollo bitterly said while gripping his wrists.
"It is true you should have killed him." Gisla admitted quite coldly. "Why didn't you?"
"I suppose I didn't want to. I suppose I am still bonded to him." Rollo sighed. "It is almost as if those chains he tied me with will never break. Like Fenrir's." Gisla frowned at the sound of one of her husband's gods. "He is my brother. He is family."
"I am your family too." Gisla said with anger.
"I know." Rollo said putting his hand on her large belly. "And I am happy. I swear it to you and to God. But this is different. I've known him my entire life. We grew up together. We raided and fought together. This is a bond stronger than you can imagine. Two brothers fighting alongside each other in battle makes things different."
"Don't use God's name in this conversation." Gisla said with calm anger. "You are not allowed to use it."
"And why is that?"
"Because you don't really mean it. Don't swear to God allmighty if you don't believe in him. It makes it dishonest."
"Dishonest." Rollo shrugged and sighed. "Am I dishonest to you, princess ?" he said with anger.
"Is it my dishonesty that made me fight for you and your people? For christian people? Is it my dishonesty that made me kill my own warriors, my friends who I knew for longer than you? Am I dishonest for keeping my words to your father, my king, to protect a realm I was not born in? Am I dishonest? Am I? Am I to you? Did I took a whore when you did not want me? Remind me, wife, because it seems my memory is fading away."
"Then why are you using God's name when you don't believe in him?" Gisla yelled. "I thought you renounced to your gods for me!"
"I did! I cut every strings tying be to my past! You have no idea how hard it was! You have no idea to what extent I went to please you!" Rollo yelled back. "But there are things hard to let go. Yes, I do still believe in my gods. And yes, I do believe in yours too. You convinced me when you talked about my arm-ring you put at the feet of the Holy mother's statue. But my gods, my gods promised me that I would marry you and that I would defeat my brother. And I did. My gods don't make war with other gods. They mostly make alliances. Alliances by marriage. How could I stop believing in them so easily?"
"I thought you loved me enough to do so."
"I do." Rollo said in a much calmer voice. "Gisla, my love, I do love you. More than you ever know. You have no idea of how much I love you. You are the most important woman of my whole life and the first I said those words. You know me, I am not the kind of man to say things. But I thought I already showed you how I felt about you." Rollo gently stroke her hair. It grew so much in a month.
"Then why don't you renounce to your gods and pagan ways?"
"I can't. I've come to believe that this is who I am. I am Rollo the pagan as much as I am Rollo the christian. But above all that, I am Rollo. Simply Rollo, husband to princess Gisla. I am your husband above all things. I value you far more than gods and kings."
Gisla stayed silent. This confession itself raised her love for her husband and her faith in him. Sure he wasn't fully christian, but who cared when he showed she was more important? He proved himself to be a valuable man and a good husband, so it made his lack of faith in God less important than it really was. Insinctively she put her hands on her belly again and rubbed her fingers on the fabric on her dress. She wondered if she would be a good mother. The loss of hers at such a young age might have erased her motherly side. Maybe she would treat her child badly. Maybe Rollo will resent her. Maybe she would die in childbirth. Maybe her child would die.
Rollo noticed her sad expression and asked "Gisla, what's wrong?"
"What if I am not a good mother? What if I can't love the child?" she said practically sobbing.
"Gisla, you will." He softly said. "I trust you. You are kind, dedicated, loving, loyal and strong. Of course you will be a good mother. And I will be there to help you."
"But I am so afraid my mother would watch and disapprove."
"Your mother? I thought your mother was dead." Rollo said puzzled.
"She is. But we believe our loved ones are watching us from Heaven."
"Then, she must be proud of her daughter already." Rollo said in a smile. "She must be the proudest of the mothers."
Gisla chuckled and looked at her husband with affection. For a pagan, he truly showed some christian virtues.
"I am sure your parents are proud of you too, wherever they might be." she said.
"No. They aren't." Rollo gloomingly said. "I think they must be more proud of Ragnar than me. He was always their favorite. I suppose they still prefer him. He is a king after all."
"A bad one if you want my opinion."
Rollo chuckled. "I swear that I shall treat our children equally." He said holding her hand. "And I swear that I will be with you at every steps of our children. I will be fair to them and to you." He finished, kissing her hand.
"You plan on having more children already? You sure don't doubt a thing!" Gisla teased him. "What if our first born happens to be just like you? You sure will get tired and won't want to have anymore kids in fear."
"I won't. I want kids with you. As much as possible. I have been waiting to be a father for so long. It is a great gift you will give me."
"Did you think of a name?" Gisla asked.
"No. Did you?"
"In Frankia, the first born is supposed to have the same name as his father or her mother. But I highly doubt our child will be well accepted among the other nobles with a pagan name."
"Then, we must give him a name that pleases us both. I noticed how some of your names are similar to ours. Why not have a name like that?"
"It would be good indeed. Why not William?"
"William? Yes, it reminds me of some words. What does it means?"
"'Will' means will and 'am' comes from the word helm who means helmet. This is an old Frankish name. Perhaps older than our kingdom."
"A warrior name." Rollo said with joy. "Yes, I like it. What if it is a girl?"
"Then we shall name her Gisla or Frederuna, like my mother." She turned her head to the fire place and muttered "I hope it will be a boy"
"It will. I know it will." Rollo said with confidence. "But for you and the baby to be healthy, you have to relax and rest more."
"What? Why?" Gisla asked offended.
"Gisla, since we arrived you kept working. You go visit the sick in Rouen everyday, you inspect the defenses of our lands with me when I have to. You practically made all the tapestries of the castle and you have been organizing everything in the duchy. Don't you think you deserve some rest?"
"But I like working. It makes me feel like home."
"I know you miss Paris, but this is our lands. This is Normannia. We do things differently here." he stated, smiling mischieviously.
"Where did you get that from?" Gisla asked amused.
"From a stubborn hardworking and strong princess." He answered looking at her with adoration.
"She seems to have left quite an impression on you." She replied amused.
"She did. She is extraordinary." Rollo bent dow to kiss her. It was a simple but passionate kiss and Gisla could feel his love for her.
"Tell me something, husband, how would Normannia be different from Frankia? After all, your lands are part of the kingdom and you owe your loyalty to my father."
"This... this is complicated. I don't know if I could put it in Frankish words..."
"What would you say if I told you that... oh gods, this is so silly... What would you say if I told you that I always looked for a place where I belonged and wanted to find myself?"
"I would tell you that this is a noble thing to look for. Some of my teachers told me that this is a quest every man purchase but never fully achieve. I'd say you are right to focus on such an important thing."
"An old friend of mine once mocked this wish. He is dead now." Rollo said remembering with pain Jarl Borg's mockery. "On this quest to find myself, I had time to think. I had come to the point I believed nothing good could come up in my life. Then, I met you. I married you. On my many travels, I came to understand that war among us and christians wasn't necessary. That there was a way to coexist. And I want that for our lands. I want to make it a land of peace and understanding. I admire your culture. I adopted the Frankish way of life with joy. Everything was new and it thrilled me. But at the end, I thought that a few things were better in my culture. I want to forge a duchy to my image. The image of a pagan who married a christian. I shall take the good sides of both our culture and make it as one."
"Like our child?" Gisla asked.
"Exactly. I want to carve a new culture. Not truly Frankish but not truly Viking. I want my people to come here and settle in harmony with yours. Just like I did."
"This is a noble purpose. There are indeed some things I think appealing in your culture. For instance, women are more free. Free to fight and free to rule. I suppose it would benefit our reputation to embrace some sides of your culture. But you must not forget that we are christians. Your people might not like it."
"As long as they are free to worship Odin, Ran, Njord, Thor, Freya and Freyr and they have good lands to farm, they won't see any objection to stay here. Besides I know for sure that a lot of my people already settled here. I had words they married christian women and are happy. This is the future, Gisla. Carved in love and understanding."
"If those women manage to convert them to christianity, then I see no objection."
"Thank you. You know I value your advice above any other one."
"I know." Gisla said smiling. She gently stroke his hair. It was getting long. She remembered to make it cut as soon as winter would go away. His bushy beard reminded her of the first time she saw him. She couldn't help but to smile tenderly.
"What is it?" He asked noticing her smile.
"Nothing. I just thought about how much your beard grew."
"Ah, yes. I didn't have the time to cut it. There are so many things I need to take care of. But you knew that already. You did your share of work."
"Your current appearance sort of remind me the first time we met." She said not paying attention to his last words.
"The day you insulted me?" Rollo said in a tender chuckle.
"No. Before that. On that wall."
"Aaaah! The wall! The wall." Rollo said with wonder. "I remember it precisely. How could I ever forget?" he said looking at her with nothing but adoration in his dark green eyes. "You were so beautiful there. Like a Valkyrie."
"What is a Valkyrie?"
"Valkyries are warrior godesses. They harvest warriors souls when they die on the battlefield. It is said that they are beautiful. More than any woman on earth."
"So you think me beautiful?" Gisla said smiling.
"I think you strong. I think you fierce. I know you would do anything for your people and I admire that." Rollo said making Gisla blush. "When I first saw you, on that wall, I knew I wanted you. It seemed like you were a Valkyrie looking at me and it made me feel important. Of all vikings you looked at me."
"It was hard not to look at you. You made such a noise and your shouting turned everyone's attention to you. I have to say, you were really frightening in such a state."
"Well that means I am a good warrior don't you think?"
"Yes. After all, you are the hero of Frankia. The man who repulsed the vikings invaders."
"The second I crossed your eyes, I knew you were the princess who I was fated to marry. And quite frankly I hoped so. You are everything I love in women. You are strong, fierce, brave, clever, fearless. You are a Valkyrie. My Valkyrie." Rollo said putting his hand on hers. "Then, when your father introduced you to me, you insulted me. I can't tell you how happy I was to realize you were the princess of the prophecy I had been told many years ago. I love your spirit. I desired you when I first crossed your eyes, but I deeply fell for you when you insulted me. You bewitched me. I love you Gisla."
Moved by his words, Gisla took her husband's face in her arms and put her forehead on his and rubbed her nose tenderly on his. How was she supposed to stay still when his words sounded like a charm of some sort? She smiled and kissed him. Surprised, Rollo let her do whatever she wanted with his lips. He gently stroke her hair. A habit he had taken a long time ago. He was pleased to see that he still felt his love for her consume his heart like the first day he met her. Her lips claimed his and lingered for a moment before she broke the spell.
"I love you too." Gisla murmured. "I have to confess something." She said looking straight into his eyes.
"I am no priest but go on." Rollo joked.
"I have to confess that I too was attracted to you when we first met."
"What? I thought you hated me." Rollo said surprised.
"I did. But also I couldn't help but be fascinated by you. You were so brutal, so strong. I could hardly divert my eyes from your sight. I supposed I felt some kind of attraction. I hated you. I hated everything you stood for. To me you were just a pagan. A mere animal without a soul. You killed my soldiers and your people pillaged and violated my precious city. I hated you for this. To me you were the incarnation of all the northmen. I fought against my attraction to you as much as I could. I tried to push you away but you didn't. Instead, you learnt our langage and stayed despite every insults I made to you. You stayed and decided to fight for me and my people. There, I realized there was no use for me to keep fighting against my feelings. I fully embraced it and I began to love you. I began to love the man instead of hating the heathen."
"You were attracted to me?"
"Yes." she said in a breath. "You had such strenght and were so tall. Everything in you fascinated me. The marks on your body, your height, the way you are build, everything was new. I never saw a man fight with such strength and violence. I remember when you stopped the machine on your own. It was as if you were an army yourself. I never saw something like this. And to tell the truth, it was hard not to look at you. You seemed so passionate."
"What else do you like about me?" Rollo asked with a low voice.
"I like your smile. I love your voice, deep and calming. The way you chuckle when you look at me. The shade of your eyes, your beard and your nose. Your scars and as odd as it may be, the marking on your body. I love everything that makes you you."
"Are you sure you don't want to have sex?" Rollo mischieviously asked.
"Yes. And stop asking when you know the answer is no."
"A man can try." Rollo shrugged. "I received news from Wessex." he changed subject. "Prince Aethelwulf is mourning queen Kwenthrith and his unborn child."
"The queen died? Did she died in childbirth?"
"No. She was murdered. It is said that princess Judith did it."
"Then I hope she will be punished by God."
"Ecbert took control over Mercia and is now the most powerful king in England. Of course, king Aelle is furious. I have no doubt he will try to avenge himself of this injustice. But I suppose they will have to wait until my people stop raiding. After all, it is almost spring and my people usually raid at this period."
"This is problematic. If he gains more power he might want to conquer the kingdom despite his adoration for Charlemagne. And if he did, he would attack us first. We have to pay attention and be vigilant."
"Shall we send spies?"
"Yes. That seems the right thing to do. And we shall wait until his heir, prince Aethelwulf ascend the throne of Wessex."
"What if he gave the throne to one of his grandsons directly? Like Alfred, for example."
"Oh I know prince Aethelwulf will be a good guide to him. Surely he will prevent him from invading our lands."
"Then it is fine. I know that with you by my side, we are invincible." Rollo said to his wife.
"You flatter me Rollo. But this won't grant you sex."
"I know. And I respect your wish. But I have to admit that this is quite hard not being tempted." Rollo said in a grin.
"Yeah. I can see that." Gisla replied smiling back at him.
"I can't wait for our son to show up. I wish he was here with us already." Rollo said touching the place that his his heir. "Will we wait any longer?" he asked looking at her.
"I don't know. My midwife informed me that pregnancies last at least eight months. As far as I know I've been pregnant for seven months. So I guess your wait is almost over."
Rollo grinned and kissed his wife's forehead. "Then, I am happy."
"I am happy too." Gisla said in a smile. "Now, can you please go and fetch me some apples? I am beginning to starve."
"But you ate two hours ago." Rollo chuckled. "What are you? An ogre?"
"I am hungry. That is all. Go fetch me some apples or I'll eat you." Gisla joked.
"Fine. Fine, your highness." Rollo said bowing to Gisla. "would you like anything else, my darling?"
Gisla froze. Rollo noticed and asked "What's wrong,"
"Nothing. You just never called me this before."
Rollo smiled. "Well, don't you think it's time?"
Then, after a sarcastic bow, he joyfully went to the kitchens grab his weight in apples for his pregnant starving wife.
New one-shot! I figured it would be nice to have Rollo and Gisla talk about important life choices because we never got to see them talk about those kind of things. Especially since they come from two different cultures. Thanks for your suggestions!
I hope you enjoyed it! Leave a review if you feel like it ;)