Once in the village, Gisla was tied to a pole in front of the great house for everyone to see her. She had never been more humiliated. She would have rather been slain than be exhibited like an animal in front of those humans she despised. Her pride was hurt and she felt like she was bleeding with shame and despair. She sobbed, tearless and let a scream of agony escape her mouth. She looked at all the villagers who came to see the mermaid, the monster, and saw several children in the crowd. Gisla shut her eyes and repressed all her feelings. She did not want to give them the satisfaction of showing emotions. She had to conceal everything she ever was. It was the only way for her to preserve her pride.
The ropes she was tied to the pole with hurt her entire body. She could feel their pressure on her cracked bones and blood pouring out of the place her skin met her ties. She could also feel her open wounds she received from the men dragged her through the forest bleeding. Her hot blood covering her entire body. She glanced at the ground beneath her and saw that it dripped to the end of her tail and formed a small pool of blood. If she ever survived her wounds, it would take her months to recover and swim again. But she doubted the pain would disappear. She predicted she would suffer all her life.
She swallowed a scream and looked at the crowd beneath her. She saw parents pointing to her and whispering words to their children. She saw them laugh and spit towards her. She saw them look at her with disdain and disgust. Oh! How did she missed Rollo! He would never have looked at her in such a way.
The sun slowly disappeared below the horizon and soon, the villagers lit torches around her. She saw Ragnar and Lagertha being warmly congratulated. She saw the villagers embrace them, chant their names, admire them. She saw Torstein and that tall man drinking. She saw the feast they gave for her capture and torture.
They sang and chanted praises for her captors' bravery. She was spat at, children threw mud and feces to her face, adults threw rotten fruits and meat and all of them did not hesitate to throw the rest of their cup of ale and beer to her. Gisla concealed her tears. She stank alcohol and trash. She lost her very scent. But then people came one by one and cut locks of her hair. Gisla howled in agony as they ravaged Rollo's braids. The only thing left of him.
Her suffering was endless and soon, her long hair was as short as a Thrall's. They stripped her of her freedom, her pride and now her rank. She felt hollow as she saw the feast getting more and more joyful. As if they won a great victory. Now she did not even flinch when she was humiliated. She did not bat an eye. She did not even resist her ropes. She was dead anyway. There was no need for a dead mermaid to resist. Only to embrace the inevitable.
Gisla endured everything. Every humiliation. The night seemed endless. She saw Ragnar look at her with a cruel and cold smile on his face, she saw Lagertha being praised and admired by every woman of the village. She saw her face full of self-satisfaction and disdain when she looked at her. She saw her unsheathe her sword and came to her, her face full of hatred and cut her face on the cheek. She put some of her blood on her fingers and then painted her face with it to give herself a fiercer appearance under Ragnar's amused stare. She saw how the men looked at the shieldmaiden. All of them were in awe. She saw their lust aroused by her action. She saw the women look at her with admiration.
Gisla was hollow. She simply stared into the void, trying to remember what she was a day ago. But all memory faded away as she did so. Her past was erased. If she were still alive, she would have hated them all and curse them. But she was dead and her heart was still beating despite being broken. She was powerless and she had no choice.
The more the night passed, the more people went to sleep, tired out of too much joy and alcohol. Gisla did not sleep. She lost the will to. She stared blankly at the ground, her breathing cut by the ropes. When the sun rose, the hall was empty. Everyone was asleep. Far away, she could hear a wolf howl, or was it Rollo? She felt her strength come back for a second but it went away as fast as it arrived. She lost all hope.
But as soon as this thought crossed her mind a young girl and Aslaug came in front of her. Gisla recalled she saw Aslaug at the feast, looking at her with a pained expression. She recalled with effort that at one point of this dreadful night, she went back to the great hall, Sigurd in her arms and two young children walking beside her. She did not see them afterwards. She guessed they must have gone to sleep. The young girl looked like Ragnar and Lagertha but she was different in the way that her eyes seemed calm and she had a steady and kind attitude. She was holding a bucket full of water and had a bag of mushrooms and berries tied to her belt. Gisla's stomach growled. She had not realized it, but she was hungry. All night; people ate in front of her while she was starving painfully. The sensation had been so familiar she almost forgot it until the girl came with food.
Aslaug stepped toward her and inspected her wounds. She sighed and her face took a sorry expression.
"Gyda." she said. "Give her some water, mushrooms and fruits. Then, you will clean her. I will get some plants to patch her wounds in the forest."
Gyda nodded and took a table to stand on. Once she was at a decent height to take care of Gisla, she poured water down her throat. The cold water descending in her body was for Gisla a revival. Her entire body welcomed this proof of compassion. For the first time in hours she felt a hint of life inside her body. Her dry mouth was now rehydrated and her tongue felt lighter in her mouth. She looked at Gyda and tried to articulate words. But her voice lost itself in her throat and she contented herself of a thankful grunt and weak smile.
"Are you the one who killed my grandfather?" Gyda asked.
Gisla's smile faded and she looked away. She flinched, certain she would be hit and spat at.
"Don't be afraid." Gyda said her voice full of compassion. "I will not harm you. Not like my brothers."
Gisla recalled she saw Gyda at the feast looking disapprovingly to the three eldest sons of Ragnar joining the crowd to torture her. She recalled how Lagertha tried to have her cut her face. But Gyda strongly refused and rejoined Aslaug soon after. Gyda was kind.
"Are you the one who made my uncle happy?" she asked.
Gisla stifled a howl of suffering. Rollo. She missed him so much. She missed him like the moon missed the sun.
"Do not worry. Aslaug will heal you. She is a good healer." Gyda said feeding Gisla. "I might be your captors' daughter, but I do not approve of their methods. I do not like torture." she said with a compassionate smile.
As Gyda was feeding and taking care of Gisla, Aslaug smiled and left for the forest, carefully retrieving an axe and a sword without being noticed. She covered the weapons with her heavy fur cloak and with a last cautious glance at the great house and the village, she entered the dark forest covered with mist. If anything Ragnar told her when he went to lay beside her in their bed was true, then she had to warn and free Rollo. She had to help them. She owed them the birth of her youngest son and the freedom Sigvar's death brought her. It was for the sake of justice and a matter of honor for her to help them. Not to mention her fear of the wrath of the sea if Ran's daughter wasn't returned to the water. The wrath of the gods was to be feared even by the wisest of women. Aslaug had to show bravery; for the village and the survival of all.
She was led to the tree Rollo was tied to by the sound he made when he pulled on the chain. She hastened her steps and almost ran into the woods. After a long hour following the source of the noise and glancing cautiously to the village she reached Rollo's position. She looked around. The mist still did not disappear and her passage through it created twirls in the air. The sky was low and the sun would not wait too long before it vanished behind the heavy clouds. Aslaug frowned. The gods were angry. Something was coming.
She quickly walked to Rollo, grabbing the sword and the axe. She had to free him. All her instincts shouted that Rollo had to save Gisla in order to avoid the storm.
When she finally saw him, she took a step back. She had never seen Rollo in such a state. Not even when Siggy died. He was chained like a wolf and grunted like a feral beast. His eyes lost every hint of humanity and he mechanically pulled on his chains, his head hidden by his messy hair. The sound alone of his chains he weakly pulled was enough to break one's heart.
"Such cruelty" Aslaug murmured.
Rollo looked at her, his eyes tarnished, lifeless. He tilted his head trying to recognize her. When her identity came to his mind he roared in pain and howled in despair. He pulled harder on his chains and when his sight came to what was in front of him, he stopped screaming and returned to his previous ravaged state.
Aslaug turned her head to the thing he saw and noticed a tree with a hollowed-out trunk. She carefully approached it and roamed the wood with her fingers. She gasped when she realized it was a man who did this. Someone punched the tree and created this hole. Aslaug turned her head to Rollo. Was it Rollo who did this? Suddenly it hit her. Yes. It was him. He did it the day before Sigvar's death, when he came to her seeking healing. Aslaug was truly impressed by his strength.
Moved by a sudden determination and strength, Aslaug approached Rollo and dropped the weapons in front of him.
"I will not hurt you more Rollo." she said sternly. "I can assure you."
She took something in the bag tied to her belt and took Rollo's wrists, tied with the heavy chain. Rollo grunted as she did so but Aslaug did not flinch. She carefully turned his wrists and sighed. She had to untie him.
"Rollo. Stop lamenting and listen to me." she said with the usual tone she took to scold her sons.
Rollo looked at her and frowned.
"I need to heal your wrists. Do you know if any of the links of the chain are weakened?" she asked.
"Behind the tree." Rollo said with a feral husky voice.
"Very well. It might be long for me to free you. Be patient. And forgive me for the use of this axe and sword, I am not used to it."
"Just do it." Rollo grunted.
Aslaug took the weapons and reached the weak spot of the chains. Indeed, Rollo was right. His constant pulling on the chains weakened it where it met the trunk.
She waved the sword beneath her head and struck it with efforts and a grunt of relief as the blade touched the ground. But the chain still wouldn't break. So she repeated the action several times until she got tired of the sword and used the axe. She wasn't used to such weapons. She had never waved a sword in her life. It was so unusual to her. She wondered if Lagertha had this much trouble when she began her training.
At last, by dint of striking the chain with the blades she finally heard a cracking sound coming from the impact of the axe on the ice-cold metal. Aslaug did not noticed but the night had been so cold a small layer of frost covered the chain.
Aslaug panted. She was almost there. The chain was almost broken. With a loud scream of effort and courage, she struck her axe for the last time on the metal and had the satisfaction to witness the chain finally cut.
She dropped her weapons with a sigh of relief and staggered, running out of strength. She wiped her sweat off of her forehead and caught a normal breath again. She saw Rollo get rid of his chains from the corner of her eyes. She walked to him and took his wrists in her hands.
"Yes. I knew it." she sighed. "You pulled too hard on your chains. Your wrists are irritated and your circulation was cut for too long. But it won't prevent you from fighting."
"I need to go." Rollo said walking to the forest.
"Not until I heal your wounds. Do not worry. I had Gyda to take care of your Gisla."
"She is still alive then?" Rollo asked, hope lighting his face.
Aslaug sighed and looked away. She silently took her plants and wrapped them around his wounds and bandaged it with a piece of cloth. She was crushed by guilt. How could she confess to Rollo all the torture his beloved had suffered? She was certain he would go mad if she ever revealed the truth; madder than he ever was. And she feared his reaction.
"Aslaug," Rollo said noticing her saddened face. "She is still alive, yes?"
"Yes." Aslaug said hardening her tone. "Or at least her heart still beats."
"What does that mean?" Rollo angrily growled.
"There. You are done" Aslaug said as she finished her bandages.
"Aslaug," Rollo growled out of patience. "What does that mean?"
"Listen Rollo, I do not want you to become mad or angrier than you already are. Promise me to stay calm." she said.
"I promise. Go on."
"It was terrible Rollo. When I saw her this morning her entire body was covered with blood, mud, feces, rotten fruits and alcohol. She is badly injured. I saw multiple cuts due to the way she was dragged to the village. Her bones are weakened and could break at any moment. The ropes they tied her to the pole with..."
"They tied her to a pole?" he asked menacingly, growing mad with ire.
"Yes." Aslaug painfully said. "The ropes are so tight she started bleeding there. Her scales are nasty looking and her hair was cut during the feast yesterday..."
"The feast?" Rollo growled with rage. "They gave a feast for her capture?"
"Yes. Her hair was cut. Everyone came to cut a lock of her hair. Her braids were ravaged and her hair is as short as a Thrall's."
Rollo had to make an immense effort not to destroy everything around him – and that included Aslaug. He clenched his fists, feeling blood rushing through his veins, and gritted his teeth. He gave a feral grunt and nodded to Aslaug for her to continue her story.
"At one point, Lagertha cut her cheek and painted her face with her blood. Rollo, I am so sorry."
"But she is alive, yes?" Rollo growled, his ire growing inside his chest to become a wild fire.
"Her body survived. But when I looked in her eyes, I saw that life had left them. This destroyed her Rollo. She suffered so much she looks like she isn't alive anymore."
"I need to go." he grunted.
"No Rollo. Not yet. First you have to prepare a departure."
"Departure? Why?" Rollo asked with a cold anger at the idea of being stripped from his home.
"You cannot stay here. Once you free Gisla, Ragnar will use every man at his disposal to give chase to you. He will not rest until you both are dead by his hands."
"Forgive me Aslaug, but at the moment, Gisla's safety is more important."
"And I understand, trust me." Aslaug pleaded. "But know that he will not harm her until the sun is at its highest point. Ragnar wants to play with her, to humiliate her more until she is completely broken. Until she is just a shadow of herself. Then, he said he will cut off her hands and put iron on her wrists so that he can have a slave he can easily manipulate. She is a mermaid; and you know how little our people value them."
"He wants to do WHAT?" Rollo yelled.
"You have until midday to save her. But until then, you must prepare your escape and cover your back. I shall head to the village now if I do not want to be suspected of betrayal. Use the sword and the axe. You need it more than I do." she said.
She gave him the weapons and headed to the forest. She was about to disappear into the mist when she turned back to Rollo.
"Why did you not tell Ragnar you both helped me give birth to Sigurd?" she asked intrigued. "He would have forgiven you if he had known."
"You know that isn't true." Rollo said. "It would have made absolutely no difference. Besides, it was not our secret to tell. It would not have been fair to you."
Aslaug smiled and gave a thankful nod before she disappeared into the darkness of the forest. Once she was gone, Rollo looked at the hollowed trunk in front of him. He brushed the wood with his fingers and sighed. How could he let such a thing happen? His guilt was worse than when Siggy died. He was ravaged by grief.
But it was nothing compared to Gisla's agony. Hearing what the villagers did to her was enough to awaken the beast of bloodthirst and wrath that slept inside him. His whole body was now filled with the will to kill, to burn and to destroy his brother and everything he ever made. He would make him pay. He would take the path to vengeance and savor every drop of blood he would shed. He would kill, he would cut, he would pierce and he would tear apart the unfortunate souls who would try to stop him. He would make them suffer twice as much as Gisla suffered; thrice even. He swore it by the gods and more importantly by Ran, he would avenge her.
He averted his sight from the trunk and howled to call Hramr. While he was waiting for his wolf to show up, he went to the pontoon, put his boat in the water, thanking Odin Ragnar forgot to burn it, thankful for his brother's mistake. He grabbed all he had in his house and hastily put it in the boat. He grabbed his long knife, his sword and axe and tied it to his belt. He did not wear his mail coat; or his helmet. He lost those when he last raided. He sighed. It felt like that happened an eternity ago.
He decided it was wiser to bring Gisla here and to set sail at his house. They could easily be stopped at the village, but if he ran fast enough to his house, they had a greater chance to set sail freely. When all was in the boat, Rollo took some of the berries and mushrooms he had left. He swallowed them and drank a large draught of ale. He already felt pain going away.
He tied his messy and filthy hair behind his head and called for Roland. The merman came out of the water at the same moment Hramr arrived. Roland's face showed nothing but worry and his concern did not leave when he saw the wolf standing beside Rollo.
"What happened? I cannot find the princess anywhere." he said with a hint of anger.
"The princess has been captured." Rollo grunted and adjusted his weapons in his belt.
"Captured?" Roland said softly but horrified. "I thought you were watching over her!" he yelled at Rollo, accusing.
"I was!" Rollo said angered by Roland's accusations. "But my brother took her and tortured her."
"I knew it! We should have never trusted you! We should have gone a long time ago!"
"Yes! Yes you should have!" Rollo exploded. "There is no need to remind me of this! I know all of this already!"
Roland moved back in the water, fearing this man's ire and the madness in his eyes.
"Now, do you want to help me save her or cower behind a rock and curse me for falling in love with her?"
"Do you even need to ask?"
"Obviously I do!"
"I will help her of course!"
"Fine! Now I want you to go to the village and stop anyone who would chase us by sea. Can you do that?"
"Of course I can." Roland said. "but who would prevent them to chase you on land?"
"I am mad enough to kill them all if they dared. And my wolf is here to help." Rollo growled. "Now let's go" he said.
Roland nodded and dove below the surface and Rollo left the pontoon half running to preserve his strength. The mushrooms and the ale began to have their effects on him. His pain slowly disappeared and he felt as if he regained all his power. He beckoned Hramr to follow him and the wolf complied hastily.
Rollo ran and ran through the forest in a hurry he had never felt before. He was terrified. Maybe it was too late. Maybe she already had her hands removed. He did not know what was worse. To watch Gisla being taken away from him and tortured, or realizing that his brother had taken and stained the only thing he had never corrupted. Now it felt like Gisla was linked to him and that made him all the more hurt. But pain was soon replaced with anger. He despised his brother instantly. He hated him like he had never hated before. He kept running as fast as he could. Panic and wrath filling his veins and carrying his legs. His speed in the forest created waves of fog and he could feel his muscles gain power and strength. He had never felt so powerful and angry. He even thought his might equaled a god's.
What a chance he knew the forest. What a chance his feet knew where to go. It gave him only more speed. Everything was so familiar; the moss, the leaves, branches, trunks, the place the trees were. He did not have to look around him anymore. He could close his eyes and focus on his feet and legs. He knew every cuts and turns, knew how to be faster than his enemies who did not know the forest as well as him. He felt the forest and sometimes, he felt he became the wind that crossed it from the sea.
At last he saw the exit of the forest. But to his annoyance it was guarded by Lagertha and her shieldmaidens. Rollo grunted. Lagertha still had Gisla's blood on her face and apparently she had shared it with her women. Rollo grew mad with ire. He would kill them. He would kill them and paint the woods, the grass and the earth with their blood.
He saw red and howled to Hramr. The wolf understood and rushed to the humans in front of him to ravage their throats and ripping their lungs out of their chests.
As soon as the women saw the wolf, their eyes grew fearful. Lagertha looked at the wolf beside Rollo and her face grew dark. She was incredulous. Rollo had a wolf. He led a wolf. It was another betrayal. Everyone knew wolves, except Odin's, were messengers of Ragnarok. It was as if Rollo befriended Fenrir. Rollo betrayed his kind twice. Rollo was not faithful to Odin anymore. He was on the wrong side.
Hramr jumped on one of the women and ripped her throat with a feral growl. Blood spattered the grass and the golden leaves covering the ground. Lagertha watched as her shieldmaiden fell under the ferocity, screaming and agonising. Then, her sight went back to Rollo who was running closer and closer to her and her warriors. She inhaled in anger.
"SHIELD WALL!" she shouted to her shieldmaiden.
With a cry of war the warriors complied and all stacked their shields up against one another creating an impassable wall of wood and metal.
But it did not stop the two wolves. Rollo roared and kicked the shield wall making some shieldmaidens fall. From the corner of his eyes he could see Hramr killing the warriors and ripping their bodies in a feast of carnage. All this blood stirred to wake the beast of wrath and destruction inside him and he stuck his axe into the skull of the shieldmaiden beneath him. He grabbed her shield and struck it on the head of another, breaking her skull in a loud cracking sound with the strength of the blow. Then, he slit two throats in a single move.
Another came to strike him with her axe but Hramr was already targeting her and he closed his fangs on her neck. With a loud scream of pain, the woman fell and Rollo had a clear view of what was in front of him. He saw corpses, more than he counted at first. He saw a pool of blood and trunks colored with red. He saw the women's fair locks spread around their heads, fallen weapons, orphaned shields, ravaged bodies and the most primitive destruction.
But he had no time to stare at his work much longer. He was attacked once more. His sight changed. Now all he saw were places to strike, throats to slash, chest to pierce and heads to destroy. He moved mechanically as a beast made for this kind of carnage. His enemies fell under his blows. Blood spattered his face and his hands. He lost all notion of the time and did not know whether or not he was wounded or if the blood he was covered with was his or his enemies. Hramr growled and spilled as much blood as Rollo, feasting over skin and throats, defending his master and fighting with him.
Rollo instinctively felt someone attacking him from his side and stopped the blade that was going to strike him with a loud noise. He identified his opponent as Lagertha and his face suddenly softened. But not as much as it did when he saw Gisla. Lagertha grunted and tried to repel Rollo and make him fall. But Rollo's feet were strongly planted in the ground. The shieldmaiden looked around and was angered and saddened to see that almost all her shieldmaidens had fallen. So this was all the extent of Rollo's strength? She hardly believed it. Even in battle he wasn't this brutal. But again, it could be explained by the fact that he was mad with anger Ragnar and her captured his precious mermaid. It could be explained by the fact that he betrayed them and their gods. He befriended Fenrir. The wolf gave him his strength to reward his dishonorable betrayal.
Lagertha's eyes grew dark with anger. He denied her for a mermaid! An enemy! What could she have that she did not have? Beauty? Certainly no. Lagertha had seen women far more beautiful than Gisla – the most beautiful being Aslaug – and far more elegant. Strength? Given how little she resisted it surely that wasn't it. She felt insulted to have been rejected in favor of such a creature.
Rollo's eyes hardened and soon his face was as cold and harsh as steel. He grunted, resisting his opponent's strength and trying to make her step back. But she did not. Both were fixed, their blades stuck to one another. They were rocks unable to move the other.
"You stripped me of my pride!" Lagertha yelled.
"How?" Rollo angrily growled.
"You denied my generous offer for this monster who killed your father! You insulted me by choosing her!" she said.
"You insulted me by asking me to marry you. I am not for sale and I will not be patiently waiting for you in your shadow or in my brother's! You never loved me! You always loved Ragnar! Your proposal was an insult! A mockery of the worst sort!" he said with a voice filled with anger.
"It did not give you permission to betray us! To betray Ragnar! Your own brother! Your kin!"
"My own brother who considers himself above all other people, who beat his wife and who would rather see me kiss his boots all my life to thank him for his self-interested generosity!" he growled.
"After everything we did for you, this is how you repay us all?"
"Yes! And I would betray again and again until I get what I want!" Rollo said menacingly.
"You are just a child! An awkward child crying for a new toy!" Lagertha spat. "You will grow tired of her Rollo! This is what you always do! You grow tired of them as soon as you lay your dishonorable hands on their bodies! You are an unfaithful man and you know it!"
Rollo gave a feral growl and was soon joined by Hramr showed his bloody teeth to Lagertha, his fur was painted red with the blood he shed.
"Was I unfaithful to Siggy? I thought it was the opposite!" he said smiling coldly. "Surely you must know that my father fucked her! Surely you must know that my father was so despicable he looked for the company of both his sons' companions!"
Lagertha opened her mouth in shock but did not weaken her grip on Rollo's sword and axe.
"So you did not know about Aslaug?" Rollo said in a cruel laugh. "She did not tell you how he sneaked into her bed and raped her? She did not tell how she kept it secret while fearing for the safety of her children and yours and of how badly Ragnar would treat her if it ever came to be known?"
"It changes nothing!" Lagertha said. "She killed your father, you stripped me of my pride and you don't even truly love her!"
"You are wrong." he calmly but angrily said. "My love for her is endless. I would kill for her! I would die for her! I would betray a hundred brothers for her!"
Lagertha grunted. The more he spoke about how he loved Gisla, the more his advantage over her increased and soon Lagertha began to lose her steadiness on the ground. She was stepping back. She looked at her feet moving and then at Rollo, her eyes piercing his with anger and hate like blades. Now she could truly say he hurt her pride. Her! The great shieldmaiden being beaten by a traitor of the worst sort! She had never been so humiliated!
"She is my everything!" Rollo growled.
As soon as he said this, he pushed her to the ground, knowing that she lost her balance. He punched her in the jaw and kicked her ribs. Lagertha groaned with pain and moved on the ground in agony. Rollo punched her once more and went to grab another sword beside one of the dead bodies of Lagertha's shieldmaidens. Lagertha looked at him waving it, unable to move, all her muscles aching from Rollo's blows.
Rollo waved it beneath his head and stuck it deep into the ground piercing through Lagertha's shoulder. She had a loud scream of pain and moved her hand to the blade that caused such a pain. She shouted out of rage when she noticed the sword was stuck through her to the pommel of it. She couldn't move. Not on her own. Someone else had to free her. And it certainly wouldn't be Rollo who would do that.
Rollo bent to her and looked at her his eyes burning with a cold anger.
"Now try and stop me." he said.
Lagertha spat at his face. Rollo gave a silent chuckle and turned his back to her to head to the village.
"The gods will never forgive you for this Rollo!" she yelled. "Thor will strike you dead and Freya will have no rest until you are finished!"
"I do not fear them." Rollo said loud enough for her to hear. "There is only Ran to fear. Only the fury of the sea is more terrifying than death itself. You would know it if a mermaid ever tried to drown you."
"May you be cursed Rollo!" she yelled as Rollo walked away.
"Come Hramr!" Rollo said to the wolf still growling at Lagertha. "There is no need for us to be there anymore. Our job is done." he said looking at the forest strewn with corpses.
He then began to run to the village under a rain of insults and curses coming from Lagertha's mouth. Soon, her screams of rage turned into a whisper, drowned out by the wind between the high trees of the woods.
On his way to the village he glanced quickly at the sea between the two huge hills forming the fjord. He was pleased to notice that Roland was already there and that he sank several ships. He saw the whole village running to the shore armed with axes and torches. Rollo praised Ran and Aegir. He had his distraction. He beckoned Hramr to follow him and soon he was inside the village.
He carefully rushed to the main place trying to avoid being seen by any of the people that still were inside the village. He hid behind the houses, glanced around and kept progressing to the place Aslaug said Gisla was tied to. He eventually arrived at that very spot, unnoticed and proceeded with caution. But when he looked up to her, he felt his heart being ripped out of his chest.
"Gisla." he said with a voice broken by the pain he felt looking at her.
The sight alone was terrible. Gisla was tied so tight to the pole her entire body was twisted in such an agonising and painful way that not even the gods could have borne. The scales of her tail were ravaged and he noticed she started bleeding there. Even if she was clean, blood still poured out of the place the ropes met her skin and her multiple cuts were still opened. Her head was turned and she looked down with an infinite sorrow. But her hair and her face were the most heart-wrenching thing of this dreadful vision.
Her hair was cut so short Rollo could see the shape of her skull. The cut on her cheek stopped bleeding but it did not heal correctly. Her entire face was ravaged and when he tried to look at her eyes, he noticed with horror and pain that the spark that created her fire was gone.
Rollo stepped back and panted out of ire. He knew this when Aslaug spoke to him. He knew she was being tortured. But now, now he fully understood how much she suffered. She was broken. Absolutely broken. She was on the verge of destruction and Rollo could not bear it.
"Oh, Gisla." he said weeping. "I am so sorry."
When she heard his voice, she suddenly turned her head to him recognizing the familiar tone of a sepulchral sound. When she realized it was really Rollo in front of him, her face lit and her eyes regained a semblance of a spark. She suddenly felt her heart lighten and release itself from the void Rollo's absence created. Before she even knew it, her face was covered with tears of gratitude. Of course it was terribly painful for her to weep, but Rollo's presence was such a relief pain was easily forgotten. For the first time in hours she felt alive and a wave of hope fill her body.
She tried to articulate a word but her voice lost itself in her throat. She looked behind her, worried someone might come to kill her Rollo. She was so worried, so afraid for him she glanced with panic in every direction. Rollo looked around and told Hramr to create a distraction. The bloody wolf seemed to understand for he ran to the shore and howled. To Rollo's surprise, a few wolves came into the village, following him. He gave him a proud stare. He became an alpha. A leader.
Rollo did not have time to look at Hramr. He knew this distraction would only last a second. He gripped the handle of his axe and came behind the pole to which Gisla was painfully tied to.
"Close your eyes Gisla." he said trying to calm her, not wanting to frighten her with the threat of his axe.
Gisla complied with effort. It took her all her willpower not to panic. She heard a loud sound of a blade cutting through the heavy ropes and the next thing she felt was Rollo's powerful arms.
"Now you can open them." he whispered like a caress.
Gisla did as he said and saw his eyes that were the color of the sea; color of home. Everything about him was familiar. His arms reminded her of the powerful waves she loved to dive into. His scent reminded her of the time they shared food in the tub. His hair reminded her of what was hers once. His smile reminded her of all the time they kissed and his eyes reminded her of home.
For a moment, it felt as if none of this ever happen. When her eyes met him, she was reminded who she was. She was a princess, a daughter of Ran, the great harvester and the mightiest mermaid there was. In one simple second, Rollo reminded her who she was.
But then, his expression hit her. He looked so pained, so sorrowed. She could feel the resentment he felt towards himself. Gisla hated it when he resented himself. And she most hated to be the reason why he did so. Suddenly it all came back. The humiliation, the torture, the void, the endless pain. She wept again and buried her head in his neck, seeking love and compassion.
Rollo whispered some words to her, sang something and stroked what she had left of her hair. She felt his muscles in action, his arms lifting her and pressing her body on his as a shield of the best sort. She felt his head turning to the shore. She heard the sound of a wolf kicked and another being slain. She buried her head deeper in Rollo's hair afraid to look and see that Hramr had been killed. But she was slightly reassured when Rollo cursed something and growled in anger. He called Hramr and dashed towards the forest.
Gisla could feel the burning rage in Rollo's chest. She could feel his bloodthirst and wrath. She could feel the beast of carnage that had awakened in his body. But oddly she was relieved to feel it. She knew he would never hurt her. She knew his destruction was for his enemies. She knew it was a strength he put at her disposal. Gisla was not afraid, on the contrary. She rejoiced.
But Rollo's run had a terrible effect on her wounds. Her cracking bones hurt and almost broke under Rollo's movements. The pain was so intense she gave a loud scream of pain. Her neck arched and her eyes let out so many tears that it only added to the pain she was already feeling. She gave a howl of agony which Rollo answered by a groan of self-resentment.
"Hang on! Hang on Gisla" she said noticing she was beginning to lose consciousness out of pain.
Hramr howled as he came to run beside Rollo, followed by Ragnar armed with a sword, Floki and his hatchets and Torstein with his bow and arrow. Rollo turned back and noticed with sadness that Bjorn and Ubbe were among the people chasing them.
He groaned out of rage and ran faster and deeper into the forest, passing near the place he slaughtered Lagertha' shieldmaidens. He did not want to risk being stopped by Lagertha; although he doubted she could since she was stuck to the ground with a blade piercing her shoulder.
Gisla cried and cried. She shed so many tears it could feed the ocean. She cried out of pain, out of love and out of relief.
"Hang on my Gisla!" he said his voice filled with despair. "Hang on!"
Gisla tried to speak but all her strength washed away as she did so. She closed her eyes and lost conscousness, out of strength.
"NO!" Rollo roared his face soaked with tears and sweat.
He howled and ran faster. He needed to get to the shore. If he managed to set sail, Gisla would survive. If he managed to set sail, they would be free. He knew that once in the water, Roland could heal her. He knew merpeople had this gift. He experienced it when he last raided.
At last, after what seemed an eternity he reached his house. He quickly put Gisla on his boat with all the delicacy he could given the circumstances and shouted to Hramr, begging him to run faster and to get on the boat. But the end of his sentence died in his mouth when he watched with horror the wolf being shot by one of Torstein's arrows in the middle of a jump. The wolf fell with a wrecking scream of pain and his body fell, empty, dead, with a deafening thud on the grass, his hollowed body trampled by the men.
"HRAMR!" Rollo howled, his eyes, locked on his beloved wolf.
So fell Hramr the wolf. So fell the brave wolf of the forest; the wolf turned alpha, the wolf who gained a pack. Hramr was dead and with it a part of what Rollo was.
He roared out of rage and sadness. Hramr was the last memory he had of Siggy. The thing that kept him going for so long. The reason he survived his own darkness. The wolf fell in the middle of his run with a loud thud, and that made Rollo sad. Hramr deserved a better death. He was an alpha. He should have died with his pack suurounding him. Rollo looked at his warm and thick blood flood the ground and flowing into the pool of salt water he often went to be petted by Gisla, fighting tears and sorrow. Hramr was dead.
Rollo watched his house being burnt by the villagers, erasing all memory of him. He watched all his belongings being consumed by the fire. He watched as he felt he was dying with every inch of wood and fur destroyed. He stepped away; and took a shield into his boat. Then glanced at the sea looking for Roland to set sail as fast as possible. But there was no sign of the merman. Rollo had to wait. He was at the end of the pontoon when Ragnar approached him, a sword in his hand, his eyes half sorry, half angry.
Rollo hated those eyes; so soft and yet so cruel. He loved his brother but his actions had made him suffer. He wished things were different. Now that he had saved Gisla, he wished peace. He wanted reconciliation with his brother. But none of those things were possible. Not in a world where he fell in love with a mermaid. Not in this world of carnage and vengeance. He betrayed his kin; Rollo knew that. He knew how the gods disapproved of this. But Rollo did not care. He had sacrificed enough to Ragnar and those gods who never noticed him and never gave him what he longed for. He loved his brother, but he had had enough.
Instinctively Rollo raised his shield, his last rampart against his brother. Torstein shot an arrow at Rollo which struck the wood of the shield.
"Needless to say that you are forever banished." Ragnar said. "You betrayed us twice. You fell in love with her and you helped her escape a justified punishment. You betrayed your kind brother. You hurt me!" he said trying to weaken Rollo's defense.
"Does it look like I care?" Rollo growled.
Taken aback Ragnar stepped brother had never gone this far in rebellion. This was unexpected.
"Your face is priceless brother." Rollo chuckled. "Did you finally realize how determined I am? Did you finally realize you lost your grip is on me? You thought you could chain me like a dog? Well I have some news for you. I am not your dog. I am the wolf. No chains can imprison me forever. Not even my love for you."
"Love?" Ragnar scoffed. "If you truly loved me, you would not have betrayed me!"
"And if you loved me," Rollo said. "you would never have chained me and used me as you wished. I am not a pawn."
"You swore you would always be loyal to me! You swore it on your arm ring! You dishonored yourself by breaking this oath!" Ragnar shouted as Torstein shot another arrow at Rollo.
"Yes! And I would do this again if it meant to have my freedom and save her! I would betray you again and again for her!"
"Are you so crushed by my shadow, Rollo?" Ragnar said mockingly.
"No. I left it the second I met her. You cannot chain me anymore. I belong with her. The Norns have decided so. Our destinies are linked. We have been woven together before even our birth. It was fate." Rollo said as another arrow struck in his shield.
Ragnar fulminated with anger. He hated the fact that Rollo escaped the power he had over him. Suddenly a merman came out of the sea.
"ROLLO!" he shouted.
Instantly, Rollo got into the boat with one large step. Once he was in it, he raised his shield protecting himself as well as Gisla from a rain of arrows.
"NOW ROLAND!" Rollo shouted.
"YOU ARE BANISHED ROLLO!" Ragnar yelled out in rage. "NEVER COME BACK EVER AGAIN OR YOU WILL BE SLAIN LIKE THE DOG YOU ARE!"
But his screams lost themselves in the sound of the strokes Roland made underwater. Roland sang a spell and the small boat glided forward on the churning water. Rollo looked at the last remaining of what his life once was, his wolf, his burning house, his family, as he was covered by a rain of insults and arrows. He saw the shore became smaller and smaller the more the boat move away into the open sea. He saw the clouds slowly lightening and going away. He saw the sun appear in the grey sky, a hint of blue between the clouds, seagulls chanting his departure and freedom and the waves gently pushing his boat away.
When he was far enough for what was once his life to be all blurry and a memory, he lowered his shield and put it at his feet. He turned to Gisla and noticed she started to regain consciousness. He gave a sigh of relief and sat next to her.
He grazed her skin with his calloused fingers to identify where the bones that were broken. His simple contact made her shiver with pain. Rollo sighed. He would need a healer for her. What a chance he knew someone who could heal her.
"Roland" he said.
"Yes?" the merman said his head out of the water.
"Can you heal her?"
Roland sighed. "Sadly no. I do not know how to heal. I never learned."
Rollo grunted a curse.
"Very well then. Lead us North."
"But North is..."
"I know. She told me how dangerous it is. But trust me. We have to go North."
"What of your brother?"
"He won't follow us. The place we are going is unknown to him. I will tell you when to go ashore."
Roland nodded and then complied. Gisla slowly moved and looked at Rollo her eyes becoming wet with tears. Rollo instantly rushed to her and calmed her by singing a song. When she calmed down, he took his arm ring off his wrist.
"This is my arm ring. I swear all my oath on it." he said under Gisla's puzzled gaze. "I want you to have it. Now I will only pledge loyalty to you and only to you." he said.
He then put it around her wrist and looked at her with utter devotion. Gisla looked at him and smiled for the first time in days.
"Rollo. My Rollo." she managed to say. "I accept your loyalty and promise to always treat you as an equal."
Rollo smiled and kissed her forehead. He then undertook patching her many wounds with some plants and ointment Aslaug gave him. Each of his touches hurt her but he had no choice if he wanted her to be better.
When he was done, he wrapped a fur cloak around her, gave her food and went to sit at the front of the boat and gaze at the horizon. Now that he was finally free it seemed the world opened to an infinity of possibilities. And in these possibilities, Gisla was always the very heart of it. He looked at her. He swore to Ran and Aegir to avenge her. He would one day avenge himself upon his brother. But not now. Now was the time to rest, to patch their wounds and to regain some strength for the upcoming battles. And in truth, Rollo knew there were to be many in his future.
And THIS concludes the first part of our story! Pretty dramatic huh? Since the second part is not yet fully written, expect a lot of time between the two parts of Crashing Waves (and delays between the chapters because although the chapters are written, they need editing). Speaking of Editing, I would like to thank Rachel with all my heart for her hard work on editing this. Her constant support helped me grow as a writer and it is thanks to her that this story is readable. I hope you enjoyed this first part and I hope you will enjoy the next. Thanks for reading. It means a lot to me.
FYI I wrote a small piece; a rolisla valkyrie AU but this fanfic is a paper printed fic only, so if you ever wish to read it, message me your adress and I'll have it sent to you as well as a letter to keep things personal.