The wind whipped his face and tangled his hair. It appeared the more they moved North, the wilder the weather was. Rollo kept looking around, searching for any danger that might befall him, Roland or his dear Gisla. But he saw none except the strange mist that appeared when they passed the border that king Ragnar swore loyalty to by being a Jarl. The more they sailed forward, the heavier the mist was. It became so thick it was as if they sailed inside a cloud. Rollo tried to catch a hint of scent, of sound and of taste, but his hopes were crushed by the heavy silence and the absence of anything in the mist.
It appeared they were lost in one of those fogs Ran and Aegir loved to set to lost careless sailors. Rollo felt a hint of despair and fear in his heart. What if they truly were lost? What if they never reached their destination? What if he was doomed to wander eternally on the uncertain waters of the sea? He would not take it. He could not bear to wander eternally without achieving anything.
He stood up and released his two crows for the third time this day and sat back near Gisla. In this unbearable wait for the shore he wanted to reach, she kept him occupied. He quickly checked her wounds and noticed with relief she was healing well and that they were not infected. He sighed and grazed his fingers on the bruises the ropes made on her skin. She flinched in her sleep and let out a moan of pain.
Rollo's eyebrows furrowed and he sighed. He could not bear to see her suffer. And he most definitely hated to be the one to have inflicted such a suffering on her. It was his fault she was caught. His fault she was tortured. His fault again she was banished from Ran's kingdom. Had he done something, things would be different. But he did not. He would never forgive himself of this.
He quickly gazed at Roland who was swimming under water and pushed the small boat with one of his spells. Rollo noticed it was less subtle than when Gisla sang. The currents he made were harsher and less precise. But they were strong enough to carry a man and a mermaid at a high speed. Rollo grinned at this. Roland compensated for precision with speed. He couldn't wait to share his thought with Gisla. Surely she would find it interesting.
He looked again at her bruises. He noticed they were now beginning to become yellow. A new source of relief, he thought. But his relief did not last long for as soon as he laid his eyes on her hair, he felt his heart being pierced by a thousand blades. Despite the time that passed between when he rescued her and this moment, her hair was still as short as a thrall's. Rollo felt his stomach tighten under the weight of guilt. It was as if they removed everything that made her regal. As if his brother had wanted to shatter her very identity.
Now guilt was replaced with anger and he clenched his fists so tight his knuckles became white. He felt hatred fill his veins like poison. He wanted to kill. He wanted to strew destruction all around him.
But once again, Gisla's gentle breathing next to him relaxed his soul. He could never thank the gods and the spirits enough for her. He inspected the scales of her blue tail and passed his hand over it following the direction of the scales. He nodded when he observed that all of them were now in their former state and not twisted upside down. It took him the main part of their journey to fix them and he was happy with the result. Her tail was back to how it was before she was tortured.
His contemplation was interrupted by the sounds of two crows coming back to him. He sighed out of disappointment. He took them in his enormous hands and put them back into their cage. He hated to be in the unknown. It was terrifying.
He heard Gisla wake up weakly behind him. He rushed to her to welcome her with a smile. She opened her eyes and for a second she was panicked. But as soon as Rollo's hand covered hers, she relaxed and took a deep breath.
"Hello." he said.
"How long did I sleep?" she asked with a sleepy voice.
"A day or two. I watched over you. I finished fixing your tail."
"Thank you." she said with a weak smile. "Did I sleep well."
Rollo's face clouded with sorrow and pain. He averted his eyes from her and frowned as he was about to cry.
"Rollo?" Gisla asked puzzled and slightly afraid. "What is it? Rollo, tell me, what is wrong?"
Rollo sighed and turned his head to Gisla. For a moment, his face was nothing but sadness and suffering. But it went away as soon as it appeared.
"You screamed a lot when I was healing you." he said with a broken voice. "I was so worried. I was afraid you might not survive this. And you were... you were screaming in your sleep. Even when I was not healing you, you screamed. It was awful."
"I am sorry." Gisla said with a voice filled with regrets.
"Don't be. Don't be Gisla. You have nothing to be sorry about. It is I who should be sorry. It is all my fault." he said, his voice breaking with sorrow.
"You saved me Rollo." Gisla whispered. "You kept me away from further humiliation. Let go of this guilt. You are not to blame. Not entirely. I played an equal part in this dreadful ordeal. If I had not been a fool..."
"We are both to blame equally. Let's call it even and get rid of this burden that is guilt and resentment." she murmured with a broken voice, not able to speak more.
Rollo chuckled with gratitude and lightly kissed her forehead. He rubbed his thumb on her cheek and offered her some water which she gladly accepted. Once rehydrated she laid back on the deck of the small ship and looked at the sky – or the mist - above her.
"How long have we been sailing in such fog?" she asked weakly.
"A few days. We entered it as soon as we left my king's territory. The more we went North, the thicker the fog was."
"Then we must be near Jormungand's mouth. The snake will swallow us whole." she said with a tone of despair.
"Not if I can help it."
"He is under water. He is guiding our ship to its destination."
"I would know if I could see the shore clearly. But the fog prevents me from doing so."
"We must offer something to Ran. The goddess will help us if we do." she breathed out of strength.
She tried to sit to talk to him more easily but the pain her broken bones gave her tore a scream from her mouth and she laid back forcefully. Rollo flinched and turned his head to not let her see how sad he was. He did not wish to give her another reason to be unhappy. He did not wish for her to worry and suffer more than she already did.
A ray of sunlight hit Rollo's arm ring around her wrist and was redirected straight into Rollo's eye. He blinked and grunted from discomfort. He turned his head to the arm ring and smiled when he witnessed Gisla's fingers linger on the metallic twirls. She smiled gently at him. Her eyes held nothing but pride and admiration despite their weak spark. He dared to do what no man ever did. He broke his oath to his Jarl and gave her his loyalty.
Rollo blinked as he finally realized what this spark of sunlight meant. He looked at the sky above him and noticed with joy that the thick fog was fading away. He hastily turned his head to the side of the ship and was happy to see the shore. Slowly the view became more precise and he now had a better idea of when they were heading. His mouth widened into a smile. He laughed.
"I think she heard you." he said with a knowing smile.
She smiled back and turned her head while being laid on her back trying to catch a glimpse of the landscape. Clearly they were North. The mountains were sharper, higher, whiter with snow and the fjords seemed more narrow and deep than in the South. She could almost hear ice crack under the keel.
The waves were bigger and the water was darker and less green than in the South. They hit the boat with such a strength that Gisla felt sick. After a few more minutes, the fog vanished completely. As if Ran herself was showing them the direction they were to take. As if she helped them. Gisla giggled and whispered a 'thank you' to the sea.
"There!" Rollo exclaimed. "Roland!"
The merman came out of the water to hear Rollo's instructions. When he saw that Gisla was awake, he bowed to her and inquired of her state. After a weak answer insuring him she was well, he turned to Rollo, who was annoyed he took some precious time to ask for Gisla's state, waiting for his commands.
"Take us there." he said pointing to the snowy shore.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I recognize this landscape. I would never forget those woods. Take us there, please."
Roland nodded and dove back under the surface to push the boat to its destination. Gisla's brows furrowed and her face took a puzzled expression.
"Why here?" she asked still with a weak voice.
"Because I know I can find people to help us. It is there I went when I was banished. I suppose the people I met then still live here."
"But... they are humans... surely they will..." she said fear filling her voice and her heart.
Rollo gave her a look full of compassion. He took her hand in his and covered it as if to shelter her.
"Do not worry." he said with a low and calming voice. "They are friends. They will never do anything to you if I ask them not to. They are not like Ragnar. They do not seek glory in slaying mermaids, but in battle."
Gisla nodded but her eyes showed defiance and mistrust. She was wary of humans. Now more than ever. If it were only for her, she would not seek their company but only Rollo's. Despite what she suffered when she was with him, it was when she was with him that she felt the safest. After all, it was he who saved her and fought his own family and the woman he loved for her.
Her heart sank as she recalled Rollo's face when Lagertha discovered them. His face was the face of a man caught cheating. She saw guilt in his eyes and a longing different from the one he had when she looked at her. Gisla was convinced he still loved her. But even if she did not know the extents of this infatuation, she knew, in her heart, that it was stronger than Rollo might claim.
Gisla's heart tightened in her chest. It hurt. It hurt so much to think he would never love her as much as she did. It hurt as much as a soul being ripped out of a body. She did not know if she ever could overcome the pain it gave her. It was worse than the torture she suffered, but unlike physical wounds, there was nothing that could be done. She wanted him happy. But she was sure she would never give him the happiness he deserved.
She felt her eyes become wet. All her confidence had been crushed. All she was and once had been was taken away from her as brutally as she ripped away souls. Was it the same feeling her prey felt when she killed them? Was it the same fear and the same pain?
Rollo turned his head to her. She immediately smiled to reassure him but it wasn't convincing enough because he frowned, a saddened expression on his face. Gisla felt guilt strike her like a sword would crash on a shield. Again she made him sad. She did not want him to be sad.
At last the boat reached the sand of a beach whipped by the wind and attacked by powerful waves. Rollo set foot on the sand and sighed with relief and content. How happy he was to not longer be at the mercy of the waves and have his body steady on the ground. After he kissed the shore, he took Gisla with all the delicacy he could in his arms. She tried to wrap her arms around his neck but the effort tore a squeak of pain from her mouth.
Rollo's heart fell when he heard it. How unhappy he was when he knew she was in pain. With all the tenderness and care he could, he put her on the shore. She looked at him, confused, as he was wandering about, apparently looking for something. When he found it he took her again in his arms and gently put her into a large pool of salt water, that was connected straight to the sea.
Gisla shivered at the contact of the cold water with her skin but let out a sigh of content as soon as the surprise of the cold passed. She was glad to be back in her element. She let her body slip into the water with delight and relaxed, forgetting a bit about her wounds.
She looked at the surface beneath her eyes. She suddenly felt struck by a realization. She did not see her hair spreading out on the water like she usually could. Her hair was short now. So short the shape of her skull could easily be seen. She sobbed silently trying not to worry Rollo, but her sadness was such that she felt she could fill the sea with tears.
Rollo bent to her and kissed her forehead. Roland swam to them and stopped at a reasonable distance giving them the intimacy needed for such a move. When Rollo's lips left her skin he looked at Roland.
"Take care of her when I am gone. Please." he said.
"Gone?" Gisla asked with a hint of misery in her voice. "But why? Why must you go? Why can't you stay with me?"
"Do not worry my sweet Gisla." he said looking at her with adoration. "It will only be for a few days or less. How are your bones? Do you still feel pain?"
"My bruises hurt and I feel my bones cracking every move I make but I suppose the pain is less intense than when we left." she said, hiding her pain.
"Fine. I will come back with people who can help – that is if they agree to come with me." he muttered. "Roland, I count on you to watch over her and protect her."
"Nothing will happen to her if we both are underwater. The waves and currents protects their masters. She will be safe. That is a promise Rollo."
Rollo nodded and left with a last encouraging smile to Gisla. As she watched him go away, Gisla couldn't help but feel panic and fear flood her veins. Her heartbeat quickened and she had trouble catching her breath. She panted and the sound of her breathing became rougher. She felt like a fish out of water. He couldn't leave. Not again. She could not take it. She was sacred. She was terrified when he wasn't there with her. She felt she lost her rock in an ocean full of danger and rage. She wanted to stay with him. She did not want to feel lost again. She did not want to be tortured again.
As she tried to catch her breath, Roland gently put his hand on her shoulder. He turned her face to his, inhaled and exhaled as if to show a child how to breathe. Gisla followed his lead and a few breaths later, her breathing went back to normal and she calmed down a bit.
And yet, she still felt anxiety crushing her lungs and her heart when she watched his back slowly disappear into the woods. She was afraid he would never come back. She was afraid she would be tortured by his friends. She was afraid of betrayal.
In an attempt to go after him as he disappeared into the woods, one on her bones cracked and inflicted such a pain she collapsed and was unable to move afterwards. Roland immediately took her in his arms and laid her on the ground, carefully watching over her as she passed out, exhausted and out of strength.
Rollo walked further into the forest trying not to look back, fearing that seeing Gisla would make him go back to her instead of moving forward to the people he needed to meet. He was afraid his determination would crumble down if he saw her face. He was afraid he might never leave the spot he left her and never achieve what his heart desired. He was afraid to stay still.
It was odd for him to be alone for the first time in days. When he was on the boat he was constantly with Gisla, but now he was alone in the woods, with only himself to talk to. It gave him a feeling of loneliness he only experienced when Siggy died. A feeling he wished he never experienced again.
He stopped after two hours of walking in the dark, misty and snowy woods surrounding him. He sat on a rock dropped his cloak of fur and the bag of supplies he carried on his back and sighed, his warm breath becoming a gentle smoke in the cold air of what was now Winter.
He heard a pack of wolves nearby but did not take his long knife out for all that. Instead of frightening him, their howls reminded him of Hramr's. Hramr. It had been so long since he last thought of him. It was the first time in days he thought about his beloved wolf. As soon as his name crossed his mind, flashes of his death rushed into Rollo's mind.
He recalled how brutally he was shot by Torstein's arrows. How he thought the wolf would manage to get on the boat with them and how disappointed and sad he was when he died in the middle of his jump. His death had been so brutal and unexpected Rollo still could not believe it. It seemed to him that Hramr was alive and was hunting a rabbit or two into the woods and he would come to his house bring him something to eat. He could still hear his paws ambling on the leaves and smell his musky scent. He could still feel his warm breath on his hands, waiting for a treat.
But he wasn't there. Hramr was shot and his blood filled the pool of water beneath the house. Hramr, the only friend he had, the wolf who comforted him and gave him a reason to carry on was dead and his fur was probably keeping his brother warm. Again, he had sacrificed something precious to his eyes to his brother. Rollo shed a tear in silence. He sobbed for a moment, glad to be alone and not being seen by anyone. He hated crying in public.
The tears burned his skin but he did not care. At this moment, he wanted to let go of the sorrow that burdened his heart. Had he have some strong ale, he would have to drink it. He would have drowned himself in alcohol. It was the first time since Hramr died he felt sorrow about his death. Of course he had not been able to grieve him since he was caught up in the middle of the action and had to take care of a wounded mermaid while guiding a merman to their next destination. He had too much on his plate to even think about the wolf.
But now that he was alone, he felt the loss of his wolf fully. And more than loss, he felt guilt crushing him as the sky crushes the sea. He should have mourned him more. He should have kept thinking about him. He should have cried and expressed the grief Hramr the brave deserved. But he did none of those things. Not until now.
He cried for a few long minutes, his face becoming wet with tears that froze when they hit the soil. When all his grief and sorrow left him and he shed all the tears he could, he stood up and sat on the roots of a high tree. He called the gods and the spirits to thank them for Gisla. He thanked the Norns for weaving his destiny with her and he thanked the gods of warfare for his victory in his attempt to save her, the fiercest daughter of Ran. He whispered a prayer to the spirits of the forest and the goddess Skadi for Hramr's rest and wished for him to run freely into the woods with a pack in the afterlife he had no doubt he would get as the bravest wolf of all.
Once Hramr was mourned and the gods were thanked, he stood up, took his stuff and left this spot. While he was walking, he kept thinking about Hramr. He recalled the wolf's fur covered with the blood of their enemies, his red fangs and his flaring mouth seeking throats to rip. He kept recalling Hramr's bravery, his strength, the comfort it was to know him by one's side. Truly, Rollo would miss him. He would miss him dearly.
He looked around him after an intense hour of remembrance. He recognized some trees and the landscape as if they came out of a blurry memory. He had almost reached his destination. He grinned thinking about the time he spent here, that seemed to be ages ago. In a decade, it had not changed very much. He wondered if his friends would still be there.
As if to give him an answer, an arrow came close to touching his face and struck itself deep into a tree. Rollo tried to determine the source it came from but another one came close to touching his face, closer than the previous one. He instantly hid behind a tree and watched as the archer came out of the thicket.
He gasped when he recognized him. It had been ages since he last saw him, but he very much could recall his apprentice. He remembered his red hair, his blue eyes, his freckles and his thin body. But he was different. He had grown a fine beard and he had a broken nose. He wasn't a boy anymore now. He became a man – a man barely out of youth, but a man nevertheless.
Rollo's heart was filled with pride. Just looking at his muscles proved he had gained strength. And yet, he still did not know how to shoot properly. Rollo chuckled thinking about the many times Eirik must have yelled at him during training. He couldn't wait to see his friend.
"Show yourself!" the archer barked.
"By the gods, Herleikr! It is just me!" Rollo said with annoyance in his voice.
He came out of his hiding place and grinned at the young man in front of him. Herleikr's eyes widened and his jaw dropped in sudden realization. He slowly lowered his bow and arrow and walked toward him.
"Rollo? Is that you? Is that really you?" he asked in disbelief. "Is this not a dream?"
Rollo chuckled. "It is me Herleikr. By the gods! I cannot believe how well you've grown!" he said grasping his shoulder as to seize the size of his muscles. "Where is the silly boy I used to push into the mud?" he chuckled.
"He is far gone now." Herleikr said smiling. "I cannot believe you came back! I can't wait to tell Eirik and Thorbjorn! I am sure they will be happy. We really missed you, you know."
"Thank you. It always feels good to know that one is missed. I missed you too. Is the camp nearby?"
"Yes. Yes it is. By the gods! They will be so happy! We have so much to tell you!" he exclaimed with joy.
"Did I miss a lot?" Rollo asked with a happy grin.
"A lot?" Herleikr scoffed. "Rollo, you were gone for six years. Of course you missed a lot!"
Rollo's eyes widened for a second and his face melted with affection. Herleikr had matured so much. Truly, he was happy he had come back. The boy beckoned him to follow him to the camp and after a few minutes of walking when Herleikr shot him glances they finally emerged from the woods to a large glade covered with tents, huts and where fifty men were either training, skinning what they hunted, repairing clothes, washing some, weaving new ones, sharpening blades or forging them.
Rollo recognized some of them and was happy to meet new faces among the men. It appeared many men came to join the group. Rollo was delighted to know that the brotherhood had grown while he was gone. He noticed Thorbjorn making jewelry in the tent in front of him. He was stunned to notice how much he had improved. He searched for Eirik and noticed him, sitting on a fallen tree, watching two young girls train with bow, arrows and spears.
Girls... that was unusual. The brotherhood never welcomed girls among its ranks. Indeed, Rollo thought, he had missed a lot.
Herleikr led Rollo to Eirik, a wide impatient smile on his face. Both men went to stand beside him. Rollo smiled. Eirik had not changed. If anything, he only looked older than before but that was about it. His dark hair was divided in multiple long braids that reached the middle of his back. His bushy beard was carefully brushed. His blue eyes were focused on the two girls and he noticed a smile full of pride and affection on his lips.
"So did you catch something this time? Or should I ask Sigrid to go hunting next time?" Eirik asked with mockery.
"Well, I did not catch something, but someone." Herleikr said with mischief, not paying attention to the joke Eirik made of him.
"What are you talking abou..." Eirik stopped when his eyes met Rollo.
His face lightened and his mouth spread into the widest of smiles. He stood up and hugged his friend tightly. Rollo grunted. Eirik had such a strength he was afraid he might break his bones.
"ROLLO!" Eirik roared with joy. "It has been ages!"
"I missed you too." Rollo said with a strained voice.
Eirik released him from his grip. And seized him up.
"You're old." he noted with a joking voice.
"And you're an old man." Rollo chuckled.
Eirik grinned. He turned his head to Thorbjorn, still working on a piece of jewelry Rollo had no doubt would be magnificent.
"Thorbjorn!" he shouted. "Look who's back!"
The jewelry maker raised his eyes to them and dropped what he was working on when he realized who was standing in front of him. He gave a pleased laugh and stood up to join them.
Like Eirik, Thorbjorn had not changed much. He was still the same old berserker Rollo learned so much with. He was taller, stronger and had larger muscles than him. His body was covered with tattoos and countless scars that he had gained on the battlefield. He still missed one finger at his left hand, but Rollo knew from experience that it did not stop him from being the deadliest and most fearsome warrior on Midgard. One blow of his Dane axe was enough to cut a man in half and one punch of his massive fists was enough to knock out a bear.
Thorbjorn slapped Rollo's back, making him cough. He laughed. His hazel eyes were shining with happiness and joy. His blonde hair was tied into a messy knot and Rollo noticed some bronze rings in his beard.
"Rollo." he said in his voice deep as thunder. "Don't tell me you are banished again."
Rollo chuckled. "I am afraid I am."
"Ah! I am sorry Rollo."
"Don't be. I am glad I am banished."
"Truly. Now I have the freedom I always longed for. Now that I am free, I can achieve whatever my heart desire."
"You will tell us that around a cup of mead later." Eirik said. "I want to introduce you to my daughters."
Rollo's eyes widened. "Daughters?" he asked in shock.
"Told you. You missed a lot." Herleikr said.
"Sigrid! Alfrid!" Eirik called the two girls training in the yard. "Come and say hello to Rollo. He is one of daddy's friends."
The two girls stopped their training and removed their helmet. Rollo stepped back in shock and surprise when he saw their face. They were exactly the same. If it wasn't for the way their hair was braided, he never would have been able to distinguish them from one another.
Herleikr smiled when he noticed Rollo's surprise and Eirik laughed at his face. Thorbjorn simply patted Rollo's shoulder.
"Twins?" Rollo asked with disbelief.
"Yes." Eirik said with pride. "They are sixteen Springs. The last thing I have from Bikka."
The two girls stopped in front of the small group. They both had ice blue eyes, a sharp jaw and dark hair. Both were small. They were so alike and yet so different in the way they stood and behaved. One was rather shy and the other one was much more outgoing. The shy one gave Herleikr a stare and he blushed.
"This is Sigrid," Eirik said pointing at the shy one. "And this is Alfrid." he said pointing the other one.
"They took a lot from you." Rollo noted.
"You're a friend of our father?" Alfrid asked rather harshly.
Alfrid nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer.
"They arrived five years ago. I have taken care of them ever since." Eirik explained.
"That is very brave of you." Rollo noted.
"Eirik, can I borrow Sigrid for a moment?" Herleikr said. "I wish for her to teach me how to be a better archer."
Eirik nodded. "You can."
Alfrid gave a smug smile. She looked at them giggling, her hand hiding her mouth. "Can I go with them, dad? I want to see him struggle to shoot as well as Sig."
"I see no objection. Perhaps you could teach him how the wield a spear properly. It has been a while since he last practiced with such weapons." Eirik said.
"Thank you Alfrid, but I wanted to be alone with your sister." Herleikr said with a cold voice.
"Nonsense! If you wish to train, then it is better if both of us take care of you. Isn't that right, sister?" Alfrid said with mischief, apparently enjoying the whole situation.
"I agree." Sigrid said with a calm voice. "Come Herleikr. With any luck, you'll have improved your aim by the evening."
Herleikr blushed and shot Alfrid an 'I hate you' kind of stare. He followed the two twins back to the yard, trying to catch a whiff of Sigrid's scent. Alfrid noticed and giggled while poking him. Sigrid gave Herleikr a tender stare from time to time which made him blush even harder.
"They are close." Rollo noted as he watched the three of them train loudly.
"I often suspect that Herleikr pretends to be bad at archery just to borrow Sigrid for himself and have intimate lessons with her. But his schemes always fail because of Alfrid. She loves teasing them. She never leaves her sister's side. I don't complain about that. I don't like for Sigrid to be alone with him. She is too young for those kinds of things."
Rollo chuckled. He was so amused by how protective Eirik was of his daughters. It was amusing to know one of the fiercest and deadliest warriors he knew, to be this caring.
"I can tell you that he does not pretend anything." Rollo said. "He missed me twice."
"Ah, well, no one can be as good as my Sigrid." Eirik said. "My daughters are both very good. A father couldn't be prouder."
"Let's not linger over this." Thorbjorn said. "It is time to celebrate. It is not every day a friend comes back after six years."
"I agree with Thorbjorn." Eirik said joyfully. "Everyone!" he shouted. "In honor of our long-lost friend, I declare a feast be held tonight!"
His declaration was welcomed with a loud cheer from the men. It was so loud and enthusiastic it sounded like thunder. Eirik and Thorbjorn led Rollo to a fallen tree near the alcohol they had. Thorbjorn took a skinned rabbit, covered it with herbs and lit a fire to roast it. Eirik took three pints of strong ale and handed two to his friends.
Rollo looked around and witnessed all the men starting to feast, drink, eat, sing, dance and wrestle. When he saw this, his heart felt at peace. It was as if he had come home. As if he were a warrior returning to his loving family. Had Gisla been there, he would have been the happiest man in Midgard.
From the corner of his eyes, he saw Alfrid wrestling Herleikr, helped by her sister Sigrid. He laughed. Sigrid took her sister by the arm and both began to dance, laughing out loud, happy to feast. Rollo glanced at Eirik and witnessed all the tenderness and affection of a father on his face. He was happy for his friend. He was happy but also a little jealous. He also wanted children, but the only one he wanted to have children with was a mermaid.
After a few pints, Rollo was in the mood for a song. He began to sing under his friends' laughter. He raised his pint, spattering his shirt with alcohol. He sang for more than an hour and was forced to stop by Thorbjorn who threatened to punch him in the guts if he sang one more melody.
He sat back, laughing hysterically and gulped the remaining ale in his pint.
"So will you tell us how you were banished this time? Does it have something to do with rebellion and warfare?" Eirik asked a bit drunk and a wide smile on his face.
"Ah! I am afraid to disappoint you." Rollo said with a grin.
"Come on! How could you ever disappoint us?" Eirik said.
"My banishment has something to do with my brother. Again." he gloomily said. "But it is not like last time."
"How so?" Thorbjorn asked.
Rollo looked at the fire in front of him. In the flames he saw Gisla's eyes. He wondered if it was good for him to talk about her. He wondered if his friends would react as Ragnar did. He wondered if he had pushed her into another danger. He would never be able to forgive himself if that was the case. All along he thought his friends would help him, but what if he was wrong?
"Rollo." Thorbjorn asked noticing his friend's sudden state. "Are you alright?"
"If I tell you the story, will you both promise me to keep calm?"
"We swear it on our honor." Eirik said. "Now speak."
Rollo sighed. Before he spoke, he looked at the starry sky above. He wondered if Gisla was looking at them missing him as much as he missed her.
"I took someone from him." he said.
"Was it that Lagertha? The famous shieldmaiden?" Eirik asked.
Rollo laughed. "No. in my attempt to get that someone, I stuck a sword through her shoulder and deep into the ground. It wasn't her I was trying to save."
"Then who was it?" Thorbjorn asked slightly out of patience.
"Her name is Gisla. She is as fierce as she is fascinating. She is noble of blood and fierce of heart. I met her when I was drowning a few months ago. I fell for her and she fell for me."
"Oh I see. And your brother wanted her for himself and you had to get her back." Eirik said.
Rollo laughed again. "No. Do you recall how I told you about my father and how he was famous for having slain a mermaid?"
"Yes." both replied.
"Well, Ragnar, in order to gain more fame than he already possessed, wanted to slay a mermaid. And the mermaid he wanted to slay was Gisla."
Both men gasped, in shock. Thorbjorn spat the mead that was in his mouth and Eirik coughed, choking on his rabbit.
"Rollo..." Thorbjorn said with concern.
"She tried to drown me. I kissed her and since then she kept trying to kill me and feed my soul to Ran. Eventually we came to know each other and we fell for each other. Aslaug, my brother's second wife, told us that our destinies were woven together long before our birth by the Norns."
"Aslaug? The Aslaug? The great seeress?" Thorbjorn asked in awe.
"I understand now why you envy your brother so much." Thorbjorn said. "First Lagertha, the most famous and strongest shieldmaiden of all and then Aslaug, the greatest Volva the gods ever blessed!"
"Oh trust me," Rollo said with a grin. "I do not envy him regarding women since I met my Gisla. She is so powerful and fearsome she is considered Ran's fiercest daughter. Not to mention she is a princess."
Eirik whistled. "A princess... well that is an improvement, my dear Rollo. What happened to Siggy?"
Rollo's face became clouded with sadness and sorrow. But it only lasted a second. "She died. About a year ago."
"I am sorry." Eirik said.
Thorbjorn patted Rollo's back to give him support. Rollo gave a smile but it wasn't cheerful. It was nothing but a bittersweet smile.
"So how did you end up banished?" Thorbjorn asked again.
"Gisla heard that my father killed her mother. She killed him and ripped his soul out of his body for Ran to feast on it. Afterwards, my brother swore to kill her. I hid her, helped by Aslaug. I lied to my brother. I protected Gisla. Ragnar offered me a wife, lands and riches and I denied it out of love for Gisla. Lagertha proposed to me and I rejected her out of love for Gisla. A few days ago, Ragnar discovered the truth. He chained me to a tree, took her, tortured and humiliated her. I was freed by Aslaug and I went to get her with the help of Hramr, a wolf I took as a pet when Siggy died. I killed Lagertha's shieldmaidens in the process. I immediately left with Gisla on a boat pushed by her guard. A merman named Roland. Ragnar shouted that I was forever banished and Hramr died a hero." With a hint of sorrow in his voice, Rollo finished his story.