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On the World Tree

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The priest is not the same. It is something that everyone realizes in time.

 

Lagertha and Bjorn know immediately of course and think nothing of it. Four years is a long time for a man as young as Athelstan.

 

The others take longer to notice. Aslaug stares in shock when he bathes at the waters edges. His entire torso is marred by crossing lines.

 

“They whipped me.” he tells her. “within an inch of my life. They thought me a traitor, and would have killed me, but their king knew I could be of use and saved me.”

 

She smiles and reaches up to cup his cheek. Whereas before he might have smiled softly or lowered his gaze, now he stares impassively into the distance, not reacting at all to the touch.

 

Floki sees the way the priest winces one day, holding his hands close to his body. He swoops down and grabs one. There is a mark in the centre of his palm and at the back.

“ohhh priest. Have you given yourselves the marks of the god?” He grins in the young man's face, expecting defensive posturing, denial and fear.

 

Athelstan shrugs, uncaring. “I was to be put to death. They said I had betrayed my Christian god.”

 

“A prick to your hand won't kill you.”

 

“No, with traitors to the christian god, we kill them as our dead god was killed. Foot and hand nailed to the cross, scourged and lashed. They leave you hanging there, for however long it takes you to die. Usually a few days.”

 

The priest rubs his palm. “The damp makes them ache. I'm lucky there wasn't more damage.”

 

He moves away. Floki frowns.

 

“Tell me what do you know of the punishment the priest suffered?” Floki asks Ragnar that night. Ragnar frowns.

 

“It is something like the blood eagle among our people. When a man commits a crime too grave to ever be forgiven, they whip him, put a crown of thorns on his head and nail him to a cross of wood. Like their dead god. Then they leave him there, supported where his flesh is nailed to wood, until he dies. Athelstan says that may take many days.”

 

Floki snorts. “They think that worthy of Valhalla?”

 

“No, those who may yet be redeemed by a good death they burn alive. Only those who have no hope of even that are put upon the cross.”

 

Floki finds he watches the priest now.

 

Odin hung upon Yggdrasil for 9 days and 9 nights to gain knowledge.

 

The priest only hung for less than a day, but then Odin was not whipped before he was hung.

 

Floki still does not like the priest, but he knows that to such a death is a powerful thing, even if the man does not die. Especially then.

 

The ravens don't just follow Ragnar now.