Aslaug was there to welcome her in the great hall, sitting next to Ragnar's empty chair. She held her head high, her hair reaching her waist braided as though she was a goddess. She was tall; taller than Lagertha. For a woman of divine descent she showed it well, and the hall displayed a lifetime of wealth with golden carvings, long tables, pelts and furs spattered across benches designed to welcome a hundred warriors. Her dress was of silver, her jewels were of amber and gold; her hall was large and she had made it larger, building a longhouse behind the drinking hall that allowed her to use the former private quarters as more space to welcome guests. When Lagertha lived here, it was a mere jarl's hall, now it had become a king's hall.

A pang of jealousy hit her as she stepped forward. She had not been greeted upon her arrival in Kattegat. She had strode all the way from the harbor to the hall without even an applause, only squinting folks and some whispers, which was only natural considering who she was: a legend, even in the town she had spent many years in.

She was expected to find a mourning town, a shithole of misery but found wealth and prosperity, a dozen merchant stalls lining the shore, foreign merchants selling spices and silver. She had heard them as she made her way across town alone with her guard, whispering about how well Kattegat was, about how the folks here loved Aslaug because she made them rich. It had been the start of a brewing jealousy and resentment. She was Lagertha. Her deeds outdid those of a woman who spinned gold.

Then she saw her, beautiful as always, untouched by time and the news of her husband's death. Lagertha gazed at her, marveling about her soft lips. Would they still be soft after all these years? Would she still be as good as when she slept with her when Ragnar was still a jarl - and alive? Yet still, she hated it; that her deeds were nothing in comparison. She couldn't stand it, this oblivion!

Aslaug gave one of her ever enigmatic calm smiles as she stood up. "Lagertha. Welcome." she beckoned a slave and asked him for mead and ale. "You must be both thirsty and hungry after such a long journey. Please, sit." she motioned benches near the hearth where she came to sit herself.

Lagertha set her jaw. "That is a fine town you have here. A town undefended."

Aslaug's smile grew cold. "I trust that you will enlighten me about it then, just as I know you can; you, the undefeated Lagertha." her face was close, so close. She could almost kiss her. "The living legend." she toyed with a lock of her hair. "You are as beautiful as ever."

Lagertha scoffed. "Not as much as you." without any warmth.

"Where are my sons?" Aslaug grew colder. "Last time they were riding to Hedeby at your invitation." her tone grew angered. "That is, if taking one of my slaves to lure them there was an invitation."

"They are all the same, the sons of Ragnar. They fall for nobody but slaves." Lagertha gave a sour laugh. "My son, then yours. Will they ever learn? They need to find a woman of power equaling theirs, not puppets they can toy with that breaks too easily. "

Aslaug grew fierce, her face as cold as ice, her eyes as blazing as fire. "Thorunn was strong. Her only mistake was looking up to you as who to be and not herself. I have no regrets freeing her. Bjorn loved her and you know it! I'd wager he still does! She was strong so that she brought him a strong daughter!" her eyes grew soft. "Not that any of you – any of us – care about her anyway." she grew fierce again. "I instructed Ubbe that should any of them desire to marry her and put a pup in her belly, she shall be free. I have ordered it at a ting. There is nothing you can't undo."

"Siggy was in your care." said Lagertha while her guard of men and women set themselves to the tables to drink and laugh.

"She was in Bjorn's care. Yet still, when he discarded her you did nothing." she sighed. "I should have kept a better eye on this one." her eyes grew aloof. "But I see I made the right choice. It was her fate."

"You would have trained her to be an obedient wife and that is what my son needs! Not a freed-slave cowering when something happens to her that happens to every warrior here!"

"Tell me," Aslaug smiled, stroking Lagertha's perfect cheeks. "Did it ever happen to you?"

Lagertha turned her hands down. "No. Because I am Lagertha. I do not falter easily."

Aslaug smiled. "Neither does she." she stood up. "Your son has better taste in women that you seem to believe. Thorunn is a strong woman and she begot a strong woman. She had strength in her veins and you shall one day realize that."

"Another one of your vision?" Lagertha scoffed, strolling beside Aslaug.

"No. Trust."

To her it matched magic. Here was a woman relying on not shred of former glory, on no divine bloodline weakened with time, on no magic, on no legend. Here was a woman resolutely herself. Lagertha huffed.

"I need to speak to you. Privately." she looked around the drinking hall for slaves, guards and warriors.

Aslaug sighed and nodded, then guided her behind the platform on which stood the thrones and on which the king usually oversaw the whole room. They entered a short corridor that opened on both sides to the pantry and the slaves' sleeping quarters to enter another hall, long and high, though less than the drinking hall. The center of the hall was an hearth, a table and stools circled with high pillars, then came her sons' private quarters, though they tended to sleep in their own cabin in the woods when they felt the need to escape their mother, and then, separated from the rest of the building was Aslaug's bedchamber she usually shared with Ragnar.

Aslaug sat by her hearth, near an impressive loom on which some piece of fabric was being woven. "Angrboda's work." Aslaug said with pride. "She is a fast learner."

Lagertha gave her words no answer.

"I wish I had seen my sons more before they departed to Hedeby. I have found a suitable match for Sigurd. He is to be the first to get married. Hvitserk and Ubbe are still so inconstant in their love and Ivar even less. There is no better match for my son but a princess. She will be terrified of his eye, for sure but she will be faithful to him." she gave a smile. "He will be important, that boy. I hope he still love me a little."

"Not as much as Ivar." Lagertha noted. "I have heard the rumors."

"Rumors. That is all." Aslaug said. "Ivar, my pride. He will be important too. At least I know he loves me. He thinks of me. Fierce warriors my youngests. My father passed onto them great things." things of a time long gone.

"Ragnar is dead!" Lagertha cut her short. "Your son live!" her pride survived, Lagertha's had been rattled. She could not have it. "You said once that you were a Volva, a seeress." she said, hardly hiding her grief and bitterness. "Have you seen his death?"

Aslaug lowered her head and gulped. so this day had come. She sighed and played a sad smile, though it resembled relief, for the man who had beaten her was dead and the son she had saved, the proof of her bravery came back alive. "Yes." she breathed. "I knew. I foresaw that Ragnar would be surrounded by serpents, and that my Valkyrie aunt would guide him through the hall of Valhalla."

"Liar!" spat Lagertha. "He was bitten by serpents! For him there is no such thing as Valhalla! This was no feat of glory, no battle! He died with no sword!"

"I know what I saw. Not all battles must be fought with steel and blood." said Aslaug. "Bravery is not determined by warfare!"

"You foresaw it! You could have prevented it! You could have told him off! You could have done something!" Lagertha's voice was accusing.

Aslaug gave a bitter laugh. "The world is full of 'what ifs'. I see possibilities knowing that I cannot prevent what happens. I am a Volva. My fate, as hard as it is, is to accept what I cannot change and what will be. I am merely a servant for my visions. I cannot be as free as you are, Lagertha, even if I wanted to. I cannot be free." but tonight, she would finally be set free, for this, she foresaw, and it was perhaps her most dreadful yet relieving vision.

"You are the reason he died! You killed him doing nothing!" Lagertha unsheathed the sword, quivering with rage.

Aslaug shrugged. "I told him to go with more ships. As if he would listen to me!" her face grew hard and unforgiving. "Would you truly think that I would try and save the man who spend so long beating and abusing me? You killed your own, Lagertha. I endured mine."

Lagertha panted with ire. "Don't." her tone was menacing. "Don't you dare soil his name with false accusations."

Aslaug grinned and came to face her, towering her with her Jotunn height. "You have not seen the bruises, the neglect, the insults, the lack of care. You, Lagertha, have grown blind by your past, gazing at it, while my eyes have been open to the future for the first time I saw light. You, the great shieldmaiden who killed her trash husband and took his lands as your own saw, knew even, and did nothing, because you chose not to see. But I see." Aslaug's words echoed with Lagertha's sudden fear of the divine in the queen's composure. "I see everything from what has been and what will be. I belong to eternity and what I see, you shall live and endure it."

Lagertha's eyes grew dark and she stepped forward, haughty, sure of herself and too filled with pride to even care about looking good. She was in the right. she knew she was in the right. she had been chosen by the gods for glory, her son would be just as great as herself, and Aslaug was nothing when once she could have been everything. "And what do you see?" her voice alone belittled her and her words.

Aslaug gave a smirk and calmly played with Lagertha's hair, entrancing her with her eyes, with her beguiling looks. "I see you, old, whacked and alone in a world where you are no longer relevant. I see a decay of glory, I see blood, ugliness." she stopped and closed her eyes, breathing. "I see a change I cannot bend. It does not bode well for you. I see a red wolf and your wretched body in its fangs and I see your blood feed a golden tree, while mine feeds a much larger one whose leaves will reach the stars. I see fire. I see death." she opened her eyes again, haunted and tired. "That is what I see. When you will come back from this room, you shall bend the knee for the first time and you will be but defeated. When it will all be done, you shall never be true again and people will call you deceitful."

"Is that so?" scoffed Lagertha. "Your words don't matter. I know who I am and I shall be greater than you! My son will be greater than yours, for he is a true son of Ragnar! Your Ubbe, as much as he resembles his father will never be as great a man as he was."

"Then I am glad." Aslaug said. "For he shall be greater and his name ripple through centuries." she gave a sad smile. "You son, on the other hand, you shall be his torment."

"I am his mother!" Lagertha seethed. "I will protect him from your magic! I will protect him from your sons! You took Ragnar away from me! You took my home away from me! You took my son away from me! You took my life away from me!"

"Did I?" Aslaug scoffed. "You walked away from those things on your own. It is easier blaming others for your own choices than blaming yourself." she gave a cruel smile. "How disappointing of you."

"I am the sole guardian of Ragnar's dream! You cannot even fathom it!" spat Lagertha. "You shall never be a part of it! You will never again be an obstacle!"

Aslaug closed her eyes and smiled, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Do what you must." she breathed. As a seeress, she could but embrace her fate, for she knew it inevitable.

Lagertha's eyes grew wet with tears of anger. "You took him away from me twice. It is the last wrong you shall ever do to our world." With a prideful glare, a haughty stance, she thrust her blade in Aslaug's chest, drawing her closer, twisting the blade in her flesh, bearing a fierce and hateful face, her battle face. Aslaug smiled at her and pulled herself closer. Puzzled and confused as to why she would smile dying, Lagertha's confidence faltered and finally she released her on the floor of the hall, for her to die out in a pool of blood.

Lagertha knelt to her, torn between guilt that she had killed an unarmed woman who surrendered her throne to her, but also sadness that she had killed a woman who was once her friend. But she killed and she persuaded herself that it was for the best, that her reasons were certainty and truth.

Aslaug touched her cheek, marking her with her own divine blood. Lagertha flinched and Aslaug's hand dropped. The torments of guilt and turmoils of hatred and warcraft came to overcome Lagertha and above Aslaug, all she could do was show certainty with a face conveying that she had always been the better woman. It couldn't be otherwise.

Her foe lying on the floor gave a smile and it faded as her sight wandered far beyond the moment. She gave a ragged breathing full of blood. "The hall is ablaze." she hoarsely said, in a final breath, tears rolling down her cheeks as her eyes riveted on the ceiling.

Lagertha stood up and glowered at the dead seeress, her last words lingering to form questions and worries that scratched her certainty. the hall was fine, and no fire had started. Lagertha left the room, her blade soaked with blood. 'The hall is ablaze'. This was perhaps Aslaug's last prediction and it would haunt the shieldmaiden until the day of the fire.

Lagertha looked at the massive hall in front of her, a mix of guilt and pain in her chest. The walls around Kattegat had taken a good shape but the town was forever stifled in between those walls. As she had stridden through the town towards the great hall, she had been welcomed with taut smiles and hasty greetings. They were still wary of her, she could feel it.

A line of her shieldmaiden made an alley for her to enter the hall and she found Bjorn, sitting on a bench, eating with Torvi and his children. She noticed little Gyda and gave her a grin. She was so much like hers, yet so different. She was a reminder that her Gyda was dead, as well as a part of herself. So much had changed and as much as she expected Siggy to come and embrace her, Aslaug to greet her, they weren't there and it added to her guilt that she had killed Aslaug and not mourned Siggy enough. She tried to forget it. She had her reasons and they were just. They must be just.

Torvi rushed to greet her, her dress a fine example of good silk, her apron lined with gold, her jewels golden and her hair braided much like Lagertha's. "Lagertha, welcome." she asked servants to bring ale.

Lagertha looked down, recalling Aslaug's warm welcome and warm blood. She recalled Gyda dying on this very floor. She ruled over it now, ruled over the constant longing for her daughter's voice and laughter. Everything was gone now. Even warmth. Now it always felt cold.

"You are most kind Torvi. How are the children?" as always Lagertha gently placed her hand on Torvi's arm, her faithful shieldmaiden.

"Refil and Erik are growing restless. I am afraid I can no longer handle them as much as I used to." Torvi said coyly.

Lagertha gave a smile. "Children are often like that. Boys more than girls. At least you have Gyda."

Torvi chuckled. "They are fit for their mother."

"And their father." Bjorn added entering the room, Refil under his left arm, Erik over his shoulder giggling. "Mother!" He handed his sons to a slave and strode to clasp Lagertha in a long embrace. "It has been too long."

Lagertha closed her eyes, inhaling her son's musk, so different from the softness of his young years. A yearning suddenly sprang, a yearning for all those happy years, when the world had seemed more simple. She released him and eyed him head to toes. "You have grown burlier, Bjorn. Is that a man I see? What of my little boy?"

Bjorn rolled his eyes with frustration. "Must you tell me that always? I am a man, mother. I have been for a long time."

Lagertha's eyes fluttered, She shook her head with a nervous smile. "Yes. Yes, of course."

"I have heard you were coming days ago. I have been told you were inspecting your stronghold to ensure the jarls' allegiances. Why come here in the middle of Winter instead of remaining south in Hedeby?" Bjorn squinted.

Lagertha faltered for a moment, unused to her son's mistrust. "I came to see my son and my grandchildren." Her eyes traveled round the hall. "I don't see Siggy." her tone suggesting rebuke.

"It's being taken care of."

"Good. You know how much we need this alliance." she almost seethed.

"Why have you come here?" Bjorn asked again, arms crossed on his chest.

Lagertha made a quick motion of her head and warriors spread out to every corner of the hall while slaves carried chests. She had decided to set her winter quarters there and there was no telling the high queen no.

"Come with me. I need to entertain you with many things, my son."

Reluctantly, Bjorn followed her behind the throne, through the corridor and into the very same hall Aslaug used to sit at her loom. The loom was gone, now. Instead, wooden swords lay across the ground while bedsheet hung loose over the beds. Lagertha gestured to a stool as to welcome Bjorn to sit.

"This is my hearth." Bjorn snarled.

"I know."

"What do you want to tell me?" he crossed his arms on his chest defiantly.

Lagertha sighed a heavy breath. "Are you happy?"

Bjorn rolled his eyes. "My father, long ago, told me that happiness is nothing if not a lie. There is no happiness here."

"And yet you have a wife, a daughter."

Bjorn scoffed. As if it was enough for happiness. Happiness was a thing of the legends, a thing of the peasants, not a thing fit for mighty heroes whose deeds would one day rest in unfading sagas. "Which one would that be, mother?"

Lagertha's eyes hardened. "Torvi." she said. "And Gyda."

"Torvi is not my wife." Bjorn's teeth grated as he uttered the words.

"She could be."


"Then she must be." her voice suddenly lost all warmth to retain only steel.

Bjorn squinted, glowering. "Is that so?"

"Yes," Lagertha seethed back. "You must marry Torvi." said Lagertha. "I ask you not as your mother, but as a queen. Your sons must be legitimized and inherit her lands. she is a fine woman, a beautiful one, young and strong, a good chieftain, loyal and a good shieldmaiden. She is rich and can provide space to plow. With her as a queen, your father's old dream of a unified Denmark under single flag, of a united empire reaching even Saxlands to Uppsala, with more space to farm than any king ever had since the reign of the old kings of then who settled in Seeland will be true. Bjorn, you must marry her. For your father's dream, for his legacy, you must."

"What of mine?" asked Bjorn with sadness and rage. "What of my dreams, mother? What of my legacy? why can't you set me free of your shadow?" he turned his arm ring around his wrist, its weight too overbearing to stand. "You cast your shadows too high. around me it feels night." he said so almost as a child, the anguish of a cage filling his voice.

"Your sons legitimized, your legacy will be insured. with her as a queen, you shall raid again and avenge your father in England." she ruffled his hair like she used to when he still was a whiny boy. "No matter what, I am proud of you, my son. You shall be a great king. and Torvi must be your queen, for she will rule when you are away, raiding." such as she had been when she still warmed Ragnar's bed, such as Aslaug had when she was still alive. the memory gave her a pang of guilt.

"My brothers will never let me set foot in England. they are far too engulfed in grievance for their mother's death." Bjorn said, almost accusing. "You had your revenge and it might have stripped me of mine. If I cannot kill Aelle, or even shed his blood, it will be on you."

"You will go still. I can see the ache for raiding on your face. You'll promise them this and that and they will accept you. Ubbe is temperable. He will not object and given proof of good faith, you will coax him to your side. The rest will follow well enough and you can count on Sigurd to do the reasonable thing. You must not let them steer you. It must be you who steer them. You are their king." She clasped his hands around hers. "I have kept you from the sea for far too long."

"What of my crown? If I am king, what of my kingdom? What of my liege?"

Lagertha's hand travelled up to her son's cheek. "Everything I do, I do for you and for your father. I must unite Denmark and Sweden soon so that my son inherit a kingdom far larger than his father's. Once you marry Torvi, I'll set to conquer her lands in her name and that of your sons."

"And Guthrum?"

"He will be a jarl and your sons shall seek council to him. They will be his king and he shall foster their sons." her hand hovered over the pommel of her sword. "First, your marriage, then the conquest, then Uppsala."

Bjorn flinched. "Uppsala?"

"The closer to the gods, the more legitimate to their realm. If we are to overshadow the Christian kingdoms of Frankia and Wessex, we must show them something to be reckoned with. A force to match their own. Our own empire."

"Is this truly about my father?" Bjorn's eyes narrowed.

"It is. It is my way of honoring him, of avenging him."

"Does Torvi know?"

"I do." Torvi said while entering the room. "So long as my eldest rules over his father's lands, I will stand by Lagertha. My sons will not be denied what is rightfully theirs. And I will not relinquish what is mine by right."

Bjorn closed his eyes, a heavy sigh blown away in exhaustion, "I am married already."

"She abandoned you and your child. Thorunn is lost." Lagertha stood up and came by Torvi's side. "It is time you look what is in front of you. Torvi is nobility. Thorunn was a slave. One is gone, the other is right here." her face grew sharp as a blade. "A marriage in exchange for your freedom."

Bjorn stood, eyes hard and icy, heart icier. They were right. Thorunn was lost. It was highly time he forgot her.

"So be it."

HOHOHO! Long time no see y'all! My finals being behind me I finally had time to write a bit about this story and I know it has been a long time since I last updated but between that and my fantasy original fiction and the assignments and my studying - and the slow draining of my sould and energy - I guess I wasn't quite in the mood. But I'm back! This time with a long chapter I judged better to split in half so have this part now and the next one will come tomorrow hopefully. Not a lot of Sig and Boda in here but I write what I want to write and that's that. Anywhoo! Enjoy the chapter!