The duke happily entered the palace. He was gone for so long and he missed his wife's angry face dearly. He already pictured her angry eyes and her harsh words when she will see that he came back. She probably would insult him and say she never wishes to see him again. Rollo couldn't wait for her to be angry at him. He loved her in that state, even if it was painful to him. He even thought she would throw some daggers at him. But he knew that, the storm passed, his wife and himself would make love and peace. They both would take back their old habits and play with their two children. He smiled thinking how happy they would be to be reunited with each other
Rollo looked at Bjorn. He hoped his nephew and his wife would come to know each other. He beckoned him to follow him as well as Hvitserk, Ivar and Sigurd. Of course, Floki hissed and stayed outside of the castle. Rollo shrugged not paying attention to his former friend's attitude. He couldn't understand. Too bad for him.
The duke enjoyed raiding again, but he had to admit, he dearly missed his home and family. Maybe this raid had been the last. Maybe he wouldn't be in front of a longboat anymore.
As soon as he entered, a servant, one of Gisla's came by his side. He handed her his coat as well as Bjorn. Her face was dark and he could see by her eyes that she cried. But he didn't pay attention. All his thoughts were focused on Gisla.
"Welcome back, my lord." the servant said. "I am afraid I have to announce you an infortunate and terrible event..." she sputtered, trotting along to keep Rollo's pace.
"Later Ermengard. Are my children fine and healthy?" Rollo said with happiness.
"Yes, my lord, your son has begun to learn swordfighting and your daughter is growing more and more. Yet they miss their..."
"Fine, fine. Perhaps they would enjoy to play with their cousins. Go fetch them for me." Rollo said in a authoritarian tone.
"But my lord, your..." Ermengard tried to say.
"Now." he shouted.
The servant bowed and did as he ordered shedding several tears. But to Bjorn's surprised she did not cried out of fear, but sorrow. Something was wrong. Somehow, a familiar sensation invaded him. As if he knew how this situation would end. As if he lived this before. He shot his uncle a preoccupied stare. Rollo didn't look. He was focused on the door of his throne room where he knew his wife would be at such hour.
He opened the door, smiling like a damned, happy to meet his wife again. He closed his eyes, waiting for the first insult she would throw at him but found only silence. He looked around and saw the room was empty. Disappointment invaded him. Where was she? Was she at church? In the gardens? Did she met with the nobles of Rouen? Was she walking among his people doing her usual charity work?
Rollo felt empty. How odd.
"Gisa?" he asked. "Gisla, my love where are you?" he asked again looking around him. He saw no one. "Fredegund!" he shouted.
A young maiden appeared. Gisla's personal maid. Her hair was covered with a dark veil and she was sobbing heavily. She bowed sadly to the duke and asked with a shaking voice: "Yes? My lord ?"
"Where is Gisla? Where is my wife?" he asked harsher than he should have. "Is she in the castle?"
"Yes my lord. She is." Fredegund said crying.
"Then why isn't she here?" he asked. "Gisla!" he shouted. He looked around him. "Gisla!" he shouted louder. "Where are you? Gisla!" he turned to Fredegund. "Why isn't she coming?" "Gisla!"
Fredegund sobbed and cried harder. There was nothing in her tears but suffering. Her face was distorted by sorrow. Rollo looked at her eyes wide opened. Why was she crying? Why was she crying when Gisla was in the castle?
"Uncle..." Bjorn said remembering now how Rollo called for Siggy once. "Uncle..." he called again. Now he knew why the sensation was so familiar. He shot his uncle a concerned glanced.
"No, I know. She is pranking me. This is a joke is it not?" Rollo chuckled nervously. "This is a joke right, Fredegund?"
"My lord," she managed to say between her tears. "Gisla... your wife... she is... she is... she died this very morning." She cried almost falling on the ground.
"LIAR!" Rollo roared. "Gisla! Gisla where are you?" He called out of despair and anger. "Gisla if this is a joke it has to stop right now! GISLA!"
"Uncle." Bjorn said putting his hand gently on Rollo's shoulder. Bjorn's eyes were filled with compassion. Rollo shook his head, eyes wide opened. He was about to cry.
"No." he said. "No. Not again. Not again." he said with a broken voice. He stepped back from Bjorn. "This can't be." he turned back to the door leading to his private appartments. "Gislaaaa! Gisla! Where are you?"
Fredegund fell on the floor, covered with tears. Rollo looked at her and then began to run into the hallways to his bedchambers. Bjorn beckoned his brothers to follow him and they ran after the duke.
"Gisla! Gisla!" he kept calling in despair. "Gisla!"
He brutally opened the door of his bedchambers and his heart fell when he realized his wife was lying on the bed. She was beautiful of course. Her brown hair spreaded around her pale white face. Unusually pale.
Rollo ran to her and took her hand in his. He dropped it immediately, burnt by its cold. Bjorn and his brothers respectfully stayed out of the room, leaving Rollo to his grief.
"Gisla. Gisla wake up." he begged shedding tears. "Gisla, come on, wake up." he begged again caressing her cheek with his hand. "You can't be dead. You can't be." he said crying stroking her hair as he used to do. "Please. Please. Come back and I'll never leave again. Gisla. Gisl..." the end of his sentence lost itself in his throat. His shoulders shook under his sorrow. He felt himself fell. His heart emptied with every tear he shed. He kept stroking her hair desperately, begging her to wake up, hoping she would rise and tell him his behavior was inappropriate. He saw her insulting him and hitting him.
But she didn't. Her eyes stayed close. Her skin didn't warm up. She was cold dead.
"Why? Why? Why, why why WHY?" he cried. "Why gods? Why her and not me?" he roared in his tongue. "Why did you take her from me? Wasn't she my destiny? Why did you promised her to me and still took her? How can you be so cruel?" He said crying. "DON'T PISS AT ME GODS!"he roared. He buried his face in her hair wetting her face with his tears. "Give her back, please. Please." his voice broke and soon only his sobbing could be heard.
After a few time, Bjorn stepped into the room, hesitant. "Uncle. I am sorry. I know how it feels."
"No. No you don't." Rollo growled. Bjorn stayed silent. "Leave." Rollo angrily said.
"I said LEAVE!" Rollo roared throwing a bowl of water at his nephew. Bjorn dodged it and realized he never saw his uncle so hurt and sad. Rollo's eyes were glowing with despair and madness. He was the scariest he had ever been. He feared he might end his days for good this time. "Leave me with her. She is the only one... the only one that ever mattered. You shouldn't have come to ask my aid. I should never have gone with you." he said. "Now, leave. Or kill me for all I care! Take me to Ragnar and blood-eagle me! Nothing could be more painful! I dare you! Leave!"
Bjorn shot him a last stare full of sorrow and sadness and then took his brothers to leave the duke's castle. As they crossed the gates out of the fortress, they heard what seemed a wolf baying at the moon. Bjorn hesitated to shed a tear. His uncle's sorrow broke his heart and reminded him of how he lost Porunn. He stared one last time at the sad palace and spurred on his horse.
Rollo's voice was inaudible now. His begging and bargaining shut him and damaged his voice. His hand kept stroking his beloved's hair. His eyes were buldging and were red from his tears. Never had he cried so much. Not even for Siggy. His wife was dead. The mother of his children was dead. It was as if he died himself.
The door suddenly opened to Ermengard and his children. She carefully approached him and put her warm hand on his shoulder. "My lord." she said. "Your children are here. Do you wish to see them?" she asked in a soft voice.
Rollo seemed to fully realize where he was and that people needed him. He stood up and to his surprise and Ermengard's, hugged the servant. The old lady pat his back, whispering comforting words. Rollo shed his last remaining tears and then stepped back. He whispered a small thank you and turned to his children.
William was tall for a nine years old and Geirlaug already looked like a pretty girl for a seven years old. The duke wiped his tears and undertook to smile warmly to them. After all, they lost their mother just as he lost his wife. He knew how it felt.
He bended on his knees and opened his arms to his children. William ran into his, his face covered with tears. Geirlaug cried harder though. She loudly sobbed, calling for her mother. Rollo embraced them both, trying to make them feel all the love he felt for them.
"Why won't mother wake up?" William said. "Why is she in Heaven?" he sobbed.
"Shhh... Shhhh... It's alright, my boy. It's alright." Rollo said stroking his hair. "God simply wanted your mother by His side. God loves your mother. As do I." his voice broke.
Geirlaug touched her father's eyes and face and cried harder. Rollo stood up, took his son and daughter in his arms and left the room. They couldn't stay in that room. He had to protect them from grief and death. He could never forgive himself if they suffered more than he did when his mother died.
"I will go in the throne room, Ermengard. May I ask you not to be bothered by anything today. I have to take care of my children." he said with a tired voice.
"Yes, my lord. Take your time to recover. We will take care of your house." the servant said with a soft voice.
"Thank you." Rollo mumbled.
Ermengard gently smiled to him and then left the room after the duke to give her orders for the day.
Rollo was sitting on the floor, his back laid on his throne, holding his children close to him. Night had fallen. The castle was calm and silent. Asleep. He gently rubbed his children's back. All three of them cried out all their sorrow and now his children were sleeping in his arms sometimes calling for their mother. Everytime they did, Rollo gently pat their backs and kissed their forehead. He didn't have the courage to put them to bed. He needed their presence as much as they needed him.
Rollo looked at the ceiling. "You told me, one day, that our loved ones are watching us from Heaven. I hope you do. I hope you can hear my voice from where you are now. I hope you are well and that you and God have a wonderful time." he said shedding a tear. "It seems we will never see each other again. I am a viking. A heathen, as you used to call me. I didn't stop believing in my gods. How I wish you would yell at me right now. How I wish you would insult me and burn me with your fire. But if I can feel any consolation, it is that our children are christians, and thus, as christians, they will one day join you. But tell God not to take them now. I need them. I love them. I want them to enjoy life at its fullest. Tell him to wait. Tell him they are mine."
Rollo stroke Geirlaug's hair. She was shivering. Fortunately, Rollo had kept his fur coat with him. He put it on his children. "I hope Odin will let me come and visit you in Heaven. I know I will never reach you. For me it will only be Hell or Valhalla. I am sorry, my love. This is all my fault. I should never have gone with Bjorn. The gods punished me good this time. I swear to you and our children not to ever raid again. I swear to always stay in this land and rule it as good as you could have. This is all I can promise now. I hope you can, in your heart, forgive me for what I have done for I will never let go of this guilt. I love you. Forever and always."
He shed one last tear and finally fell asleep. He began to dream Gisla was still alive and they grew old together with their children at their side.
You can thank snailfrog on tumblr because she actually inspired me this scene. I hope I depicted Rollo's sorrow good enough to make some of you sad ^^ (I am sadistic af lol). But I tried to end this in a lighter tone. After all, he still has his children right?
You'll excuse the quality of the writing and errors. I feel like it should have been more powerful. To my eyes, this piece is not worthy of what I can really do. But so be it.
Comments are most very welcome ^^