The words of God should have provided ample distraction, but they did not.
The Latin swam in front of his eyes, the cadence of the familiar text no match for the sounds emerging from the pile of furs five feet away.
Athelstan had never known, had never thought on whether the act of lovemaking (of fornication, for this union had never been consecrated in the eyes of God, not truly) could be so noisy. A laugh here, swallowed up by a moan or a growl, and then a thump and a gasp as, well, as something he had no true understanding of happened. Images flowed through his mind without his bidding, his unwilling sight of their prior couplings blending together with memories of their fierce defense during last night's attack.
He was aware that Ragnar has been protecting him, shepherding him to safety much like Lagertha had taken care of the children. The shame he felt at the knowledge that Bjorn, still not much more than a boy despite his arm band, would have been more help than he, a fully grown man, sat poorly in his stomach. It gnawed at him, one more sin to ask forgiveness for.
He was not a warrior. Why should he covet that strength, that ferocity? And yet.
Lagertha was a warrior, that was clear to him. The crowd surrounding him at the thingstead was vocally derisive at her claim of the death of Knut, but he did not doubt that she had both the ability and the will to take someone's life in defense of her own.
He also saw the truth in Ragnar's eyes when she contradicted his story, his eyes fixed on Ragnar's face as his wife staked claim to this death. There was frustration there, to be sure, but also a peculiar mix of fear and pride warring across his features.
The convenient revelation that Rollo had seen it all, has witnessed both the attack and Ragnar's retribution, did nothing to shift his certainty that Lagertha and not her husband was the rightful killer. He lay now mere feet from not one but two heathens who could kill him without breaking a sweat.
Death was not on their minds now, though, nor was it on his own, save for the perpetual concern of salvation and his soul.
He closed his eyes, the text in his hands no match for his distraction, and attempted to recite a prayer from memory. But the sounds invaded his ears, his mind, drowning out his piety, no matter how hard he clung to it. He bowed his head, fists clenched, nails digging into his flesh.
When he opened his eyes again, he felt almost disoriented, and it took him a moment to realize that the room had fallen silent of grunts and gasps. A hand reached out and touched his, and he recoiled back from where Ragnar was standing in front of him.
His master was nude, sweat shining on his skin, the hair on his legs and arms damp. Athelstan did not know where to look, his back up against the wall next to his sleeping pallet.
Ragnar's hand under his chin nudging his face up solved that problem, his blue eyes fixed on him as he said, "My wife would thank you for protecting our children while we were gone."
Athelstan looked over at her still reclined on the furs, her skin glowing in the faint light of the lamp. "I deserve no thanks. Bjorn and his sister took care of themselves."
"Still," Ragnar said, the knuckle of his forefinger dragging under Athelstan's jaw. "It was a comfort to know you were here."
The knowledge that had anyone wanted to attack their farm it would have been lost in a matter of minutes burned through him. He shook his head, as much to make Ragnar stop touching him as to show his refusal. "I cannot join you, I told you before."
Ragnar cocked his head. "Is not obedience demanded by your god?"
Mutely Athelstan nodded.
"Then should you not obey me? I'm not demanding gold or silver for your soul."
"You are asking for my body, which is far worse," Athelstan said angrily. "That is His, not for anyone else to despoil."
A mistake; Ragnar's eyes grew cold. "Be careful what you say about my wife, priest."
Before Athelstan could attempt to stammer out an apology, Lagertha spoke. "Your gaze speaks for you." Athelstan flushed and ducked his head, cursing his own weakness. "I think he would quite like to be despoiled, my love."
"I cannot," he said despairingly. "The touch of a woman--it would unmake me. I would no longer be able to serve God as I do."
"You're in a new world now already, priest," Ragnar said, the gentleness in his voice almost too much to bear. To think that he had been growing comfortable here, settling in like some bastardized member of this family. If he gave into this too, he would be completely lost.
As he looked up to attempt to explain this without once again insulting Ragnar's wife, Ragnar stepped away. "I will not force you to join our bed," he said, tone mocking. "But you may attend to that, if you wish." He waved at Athelstan's lap, where his arousal still lingered, shaming Athelstan. "If you're going to watch us, you might as well enjoy yourself."
"What?" Athelstan's shock burst out of him. The offer to join their bed was appalling but understandable coming from savages, but this-- "I have never."
The look of disbelief on Ragnar's face was humiliating, that he thought so little of Athelstan. "You've never touched yourself? What did you and your monks do all night long then, without women?"
"Certainly nothing like what you're suggesting," Athelstan whispered fiercely, trying to ignore the heat in his belly, the desire to do what Ragnar so casually gave permission for. He shifted his body further back into the corner, which was a foolish mistake, the cloth of his tunic dragging against his hard cock. A gasp escaped his mouth before he could bite his lips shut.
"You cannot touch a woman, you cannot touch yourself," Ragnar mused, his eyes looking over Athelstan's body as he walked closer. "But you have said nothing about the touch of another man."
It was his hesitation that doomed him, the moment he took to consider how to express how entirely unacceptable such an act would be, so beyond the pale that it wasn't necessary to explicitly forbid. Before he knew what was happening, Ragnar sat next to him on the pallet and pulled him onto his lap, spreading his legs so that Athelstan fit between him there.
"Maybe this is where you'll begin," Ragnar said into his ear, his hands running up Athelstan's thighs and then cupping his cock.
Athelstan let out a strangled groan, his hips bucking up into Ragnar's grip without his permission. He trembled at the touch, so long imagined in his darkest hours and then pushed away firmly by his service of God, but this was more than he had ever dreamed of. It was beyond his comprehension, his entire body clamoring for more, and he suddenly knew with a shocking clarity that he was already lost. "Stop, this is a sin--"
"You've no gold or silver to buy your god's favor," Ragnar said calmly, one hand pulling Athelstan's hip against his own body, the other fondling Athelstan's balls. "Perhaps you can buy it with your seed."
"That's not," Athelstan gasped out, his cock growing even harder as Ragnar dragged his hand up his shaft and squeezed the crown. He swallowed hard, blinking up at the roof of the cottage. It was becoming impossible to remember any of this tongue, the words escaping his mind even as he thought them.
"Look at my wife," Ragnar said before he could formulate his next argument. Tilting his head down, he obeyed, unable to resist the command.
She was bare before him, one arm sprawled above her head, her other hand resting lightly on her thigh. Her gaze was steady on him as he looked, his eyes taking in her small breasts, the curve of her hip and the light brown thatch of hair between her legs. Even as he looked her legs parted, the muscles in her thighs flexing as she drew one knee out to the side.
"Lagertha's voracious after a fight, it tires a man out," Ragnar said sorrowfully, his hand stroking steadily on Athelstan's cock. It was too much and not enough at once, his entire body shaking. Without thinking he pressed his hands down on Ragnar's thighs, gripping them when Ragnar bit and tugged on his ear briefly before speaking again. "I could use some help."
"Sad that your wife is too much for you," Lagertha shot back at him, her hand moving up her belly.
Ragnar signed against Athelstan's neck. "You see how she torments me. Don't you wish to help your master?" He went on before Athelstan could think to answer. "You have never felt a woman's skin, how soft it is. My wife may seem as hard as a man in battle, but she is softer than the finest fur."
"I believe it," Athelstan managed, mouth falling open as Ragnar rubbed over his exposed cockhead with his thumb, the callus from his axe dragging against his slit. He was mortified when he felt his prick leak more seed, Ragnar's motion over his flesh slicked by his weakness and need.
"Especially between her thighs," Ragnar added casually, as if he had no idea how his words were affecting Athelstan. The way his cock jumped in his hand at the comment gave Athelstan away, as did his grip on Ragnar's thighs. "She is ready for another round, I can smell it from here."
"Oh, Chr--" He bit off the word just in time, mentally begging for forgiveness, knowing he was already well past that. That previously unknown scent was Lagertha's, her arousal blending with the more familiar male musk; it filled his head, each breath drowning him deeper in it until Ragnar's voice interrupted his thoughts once again.
"Ah, and that is nothing to her taste, priest," Ragnar said. Such a thing had never been in Athelstan's mind before, but now it was all he could see, Ragnar on his knees in front of his wife, his mouth working over her body, perhaps Athelstan waiting his turn--no. "She's as sweet as ripe fruit in the summer, and just as juicy. She opens on your tongue, her flesh as soft and supple as a goddess's."
"I can't say the same for your beard, husband," she said, the tone of her voice betraying no complaint.
"Oh, is it rough?" Ragnar said, rubbing his cheek along Athelstan's neck. "Perhaps you would like the priest's soft face there instead." He dragged his left hand up Athelstan's belly and brushed his fingers over his cheek.
"Would he know what to do?" Lagertha asked, Athelstan's face flaming hot at the question.
"We could teach him!" Ragnar answered. His right hand, which had stilled while he described these lewd acts, began to move again on his cock. Athelstan closed his eyes, hoping to find strength from within to somehow stop this, praying that if he shut himself off from the temptation in front of him he could pull himself back.
It was an error, he realized, when Ragnar's voice and his hand and her scent combined to take him over completely. He could focus on nothing but the sensations rolling through his body, his muscles tensing towards something, the build in his belly rising like the sea beneath a ship.
"You would do well for her, priest," Ragnar breathed into his ear. "I would show you how to pleasure her, what she likes best. Would it not be in service of your god to be so generous to your betters? On your knees for her, and then for me?" His thumb rubbed across Athelstan's lower lip.
It was too much, his body too weak for such words and feelings, every fiber of his being breaking apart in Ragnar's hands, his seed spilling over his fist. He felt it hit his thighs, hot and damning, as he shook through it, the moan pulled out of him, hot across Ragnar's thumb. His master gripped him tight, one hand clutching his face and the other continuing to obscenely stroke him as he spoiled himself and the pallet, all control lost.
Finally he collapsed back into Ragnar's chest, panting as if he'd never get breath again, waiting to feel the ultimate absence of his Lord. But all he was truly aware of was the heaviness in his limbs, the sensation of guilt and satisfaction warring in his stomach.
He slumped further to the side, his mind whirling, and he made himself open his eyes. Lagertha was watching him, her face solemn, a kind of understanding there he instinctively wished to turn from. He made himself hold her gaze.
When Ragnar shifted him off his thighs, lifting him up and over as easily as if he were a child, he allowed himself to press his face against the linens. His master stood up and brushed his fingers across Athelstan's cheek.
"Sleep now. Perhaps you will find your god there," Ragnar said, his touch lingering on Athelstan's skin even as he turned his gaze back to his wife.
When he dreamed, it was of Ragnar's hands and Lagertha's eyes on him.
* * *
He had never before been so conscious of his body, of how many sensations one could have over the course of a day. Pain had been familiar, pain and discomfort and other physical indignities that he did his best to either bear stoically in the name of his Lord or, when that failed him, ignore until they passed. But this was completely unlike that.
No matter his occupation, whether it was helping Gyda with the goats or sitting quietly with his Bible after the midday meal, he could not help but recall the prior evening's events, the way Ragnar's hands had moved over his skin. He could still feel them there, phantom touches that flooded his belly with heat and stirred his cock once again. And this out in broad daylight, no less, not even the dark veil of night offering some cover in a feeble attempt to conceal his shame from himself and God.
Of course God saw all, always, but surely flaunting his wickedness out here in His glorious world, the sun sparkling on the river, the majesty of the mountains rising above them, was even more egregious a sin.
It would be easier, Athelstan thought, if he could hate Ragnar and Lagertha for exposing how weak he truly was. If he could blame them, accept that he was being tested again, forced to withstand cruelty at the hands of pagans who sought to torment him and punish him in the eyes of God, he thought he could survive it. Such a deliberate torture would be difficult to bear, but what was this life but to suffer?
There was no sign of that intention in Ragnar's touches, though, no hint that he would be so cruel as to attempt to keep Athelstan from his Maker in the Kingdom of Heaven. Athelstan could not understand it. Ragnar knew so much, knew how to pry open Athelstan's mind, drawing out his secrets, seeing clearly the base desires he had carefully stored away for all his life. How could Ragnar perceive so much, have traveled to distant shores, and yet not see God's will?
No. Athelstan could attempt to hate Ragnar and Lagertha for many things--the plunder of God's treasures, the deaths of good men, his own captivity--but he could not lay his own failings at their feet. The memory of his release ricocheted through his flesh again, his body shivering even in the hot sun. His mind drifted unwillingly to the press of Ragnar's own arousal up against his back, Lagertha's body displayed for him, their own need ignored as they pleasured him, a man unworthy of both God's love and such earthly ecstasy.
A servant of God, indeed.
Thus the day passed for him, the sun arcing high through the sky, the hours counting down until they were gathered once more in the house for the night. Guilt warred with anticipation, blasphemy worming its way into his thoughts--God could not be wrong, but could the Church be so? Could not this be a means of service? And if it was a sin to fornicate with a woman, did it also follow that all touch was forbidden? Perhaps this was merely a new path to God's grace, not a descent into hell. After all, he felt no more alone today than he had the moment Ragnar spared his life at Lindisfarne.
He shook his head, heedless of the concerned looks his masters gave him, furious at himself. The devil truly was always so close at hand, waiting for the smallest stumble in his direction to strike. He resolved himself to sit and wait on his pallet, search for the opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of God as much as he was able, and perhaps do what he could to save Ragnar and Lagertha as well. It was his duty.
While his fingers moved across the pages of his Bible, Ragnar did come and stand before him. But when Athelstan looked up at him, heart already beating hard, Ragnar merely smiled and said, "Good night, priest."
He was left undisturbed for the rest of the night.
Sleep didn't come easily though, his mind racing, returning again and again to the prior night. By the time the sun cracked through the windows he had hardly slept at all, his eyes dry and irritated, stomach unsettled. Perhaps this was his true punishment.
When he stepped out into the yard, blinking at the light, Floki was standing with the children. He was unlike any other man Athelstan had ever encountered, his movements jerky while also almost unnaturally graceful. His eyes were shrewd, wild and yet knowing, and Athelstan avoided his glance. He did not know what Floki could see in him, but it was nothing good.
It wasn't relief he felt at Floki taking the children into the forest with him to find the right wood for building a new boat, he told himself. Ragnar trusted Floki for whatever reason, and therefore Athelstan had nothing to fear. He was a man who protected all that was his, from his farm to his slave.
Still, he breathed easier once he was inside and alone again, mending a pair of Lagertha's breeches that had been ripped during the last raid. It wasn't quite the same as binding books, but his stitches were even and tightly sewed, and he was pleased with his handiwork. His efforts would serve her well.
His solitude was broken by Lagertha and Ragnar stumbling into the house together, his hands firm around her hips, her face bright and open with laughter. It was not even noon, but it was clear that they had decided more work could wait.
They stopped when they saw him on his pallet, her breeches still laid across his lap. He stared back at them for a moment, his face flushing with heat.
Before he could decide what to do, Ragnar flashed him a grin and said, "Don't worry, priest, we won't disturb you again," his hands busy disrobing himself, casually revealing the strength and grace of his body. Athelstan heard much in his voice, pity and mockery and judgment all interwoven in this reprieve.
A reprieve that was above all else unwanted, in the end, an insult coming from a heathen, someone whose supposed gods celebrated and at times participated in such acts with humans. What did he know of Athelstan's strength, his desires, his needs? What courage did it take a man like him to stand naked before Athelstan, his body made for this life on earth, proud and strong?
He pushed Lagertha's breeches off his lap and stood up. He observed Ragnar's surprise as he took two steps towards him and dropped to his knees at his feet. "Perhaps I will disturb you," he said, and reached out to touch Ragnar's cock.
He didn't let himself think or question what he was doing. Instead, he noted the sharp inhalation above him as his hand grasped Ragnar's shaft, marveled at the easy slide of the foreskin over his hard flesh. It was unlike anything he'd ever felt before, Ragnar's body more alive and vital than anything he'd dreamed of experiencing, and he watched, fascinated, as Ragnar responded to his touch. He twitched and pushed forward into Athelstan's hands, seed slowly dripping from the head, the skin flushing a deeper red. An odd sense of triumph filled his chest, that he was more than Ragnar could have expected.
Athelstan heard a sound to the side and glanced over at Lagertha, who was watching them, her mouth open in--shock? Pleasure? He did not know. He only knew that he felt worthy suddenly. He was not so easily understood and mastered.
There was suddenly a hand on top of his, gripping more tightly, and Athelstan looked up at Ragnar's face to find him staring down at him. He looked wild, out of control in a way Athelstan could not have imagined of him. His body flushed hot at how Ragnar looked at him, at the power he felt course through his body as he affected another this way, how much he wanted Ragnar to know the same pleasure that Ragnar had given to him, that overwhelming relief.
He licked over his lips, mouth suddenly dry with want, and Ragnar gave a little cry as his release spilled over their hands together. Athelstan could feel it coating his fingers, feel the way Ragnar's body responded to his touch. He could not do much in this land, could barely fish or hunt or farm and was even less capable of protecting the farm and the children from harm's way, but this he could provide. His body flushed hot with pride, mingling with his own arousal, which had receded in the background while he--served his master. Desire, hot and demanding, flooded back into his awareness now.
In a daze, he looked up at Ragnar, who had let his hand fall to his side. He was still staring down at Athelstan, his face uncomprehending. And then he smiled, his satisfaction breaking through his confusion.
That was enough to bring Athelstan suddenly back to himself, his hands twitching away from Ragnar's still-hard cock, fingers sticky and smelling of sex. He dropped back onto his heels, unable to even look at Ragnar any longer, or at Lagertha, whose husband he had just pleasured like a whore.
Heart pounding, he scrambled to his feet, thinking only of his shame.
* * *
There was no place for him to go, he knew. He was entirely dependent on them--he would not survive long without their care.
And even if he did, he couldn't outrun God.
Turning his gaze from the forest, he stared at the river, which was calm and easy this far inland. It was no longer summer, the days growing shorter already, but it was only early autumn, not yet winter.
The water still felt like a shock against his bare skin when he crashed into the river, his tunic left on the shore. He gasped at the cold, his chest tight, each breath pulled hard into his lungs. Teeth chattering, he dropped low in the water, only his head exposed to the open air.
He let his hands float to the surface, watched as Ragnar's seed was washed away. No one would know from looking at him what Athelstan had done.
But he had done it, and worse, he had done so gladly, almost joyfully.
He shook his head at the thought, dragging his right hand out of the river and over his head. Water streamed down the sides of his face. He felt the stubble on the top of his head and realized it had been days, perhaps even a week, since he had last bothered to shave his hair with a dull knife. There had been other duties that were more important, to be sure, but in truth he had simply forgotten. One more failing.
His body shivered uncontrollably. He could not stay out here much longer. In addition to the cold, other people were on the shore, some of them casting curious eyes at what Ragnar's slave was doing.
Athelstan stood up fully, shaking out his arms and walking back to the shore. His tunic stuck to his wet skin but he ignored it. There were fish to be gutted.
He didn't know whether they left him alone intentionally or if their own afternoon chores were so numerous that they had no time to deal with him. Whatever the reason, he had no company but his own thoughts, and then Bjorn and Gyda after they returned with Floki.
It was not until late in the evening, the children asleep after Athelstan had told them stories of his home, that Ragnar spoke to him again.
"You are good with them," he said, not looking up from where his hands were busy in Lagertha's hair, carefully braiding it back from her face.
Athelstan flushed and stared down at his hands. "I was often in charge of the young members of the monastery, before," he said, glancing back at his masters.
Ragnar nodded. His thick fingers worked easily, confidently through his wife's hair. Lagertha moved with him, her eyes half-open, content as a well-fed cat. She sat between his legs on their furs and blankets, leaning forward so he could finish his task.
It was an odd skill for a man who earned his living through war and battle to possess; yet one more thing that didn't slot into the understanding of the world Athelstan used to have. So much had changed, though. What was this detail, in the grand scheme of things?
"You left in a hurry this afternoon," Ragnar said, abruptly jarring him out of his ruminations.
"I--" He stopped, unsure of what he wanted to say. Or what he could say.
Ragnar's gaze never left Lagertha's hair. "It's bad behavior to leave before all your partners are satisfied," he continued. Lagertha's gaze was on him now, relaxed yet alert.
Athelstan swallowed hard. "I am sorry," he said finally. That at least was true.
Shrugging, Ragnar finally looked up at Athelstan. "Lucky for you, I have many years of experience of making her happy with my hands. Or my tongue," he added, eyes bright, a smirk across his face.
"Lucky for me," Lagertha said. "I outlast you, always."
Her cheeks flushed and her mouth dropped open when Ragnar tugged her hair in response. Athelstan felt like he was once again in the middle of a labyrinth, no exit in sight. "Why do you think I asked for help?" Ragnar asked his wife. His eyes were fixed on Athelstan. "You looked well on your knees for me. It would be rude to not extend the same courtesy to my wife."
Athelstan could end this, he was fairly certain. He could turn away from them, retrieve his bible from where he had set it down earlier, and focus on his Lord. Neither of them seemed inclined to take an unwilling partner to bed, but then they had no reason to think he was one now. Not after today.
"You would not have to use your hands," she said softly, leaning towards him. Ragnar's hands had lifted from her head, finished with the braids, and were stroking down her shoulders to the swell of her breasts. "Your mouth alone would not be too much for your god, would it?"
His mouth alone. That which had expressed God's glory, sang His praises and spoke of the mercy He showed His human children. The thought was at once the most blasphemous yet and like it could be one more celebration of God's creation.
Complicating this argument between his mind and his heart was his body's increasingly insistent desire. The thump of his heart, his sudden awareness of his lips and tongue, the urge to press his palm against his swelling cock--all of his body yearned for this. Perhaps there could be something to be found in this need, if it was in the service of another.
He had spent much of his life this far on his knees. How would this truly be different?
When he looked back at them, he saw that Ragnar had removed Lagertha's shift, his hands cupping her bare breasts, legs still tangled in the blanket barely covering them both. The roar of his pulse in his head drowned out any other possible response.
"Yes," he breathed.
She smiled at him then, warm and open. He realized suddenly that he had never before been the recipient of that particular expression from her, or anyone. There was nothing mocking or challenging in her glance; it was much simpler, more genuine.
Her voice matched it. "Come here, then," she said, extending an arm to him. The shift in her position caused the blankets to reveal more of her skin, the lean lines of her thighs. She was completely relaxed against Ragnar's chest, cradled there between his strong arms and legs.
Athelstan obeyed, folding down onto his knees and moving toward them. They watched him as he stopped at the edge of their sleeping corner, furs soft under his bare knees.
The eagerness he felt in his heart hit upon a stumbling block. He flushed, ashamed in a way he had never been before. "I don't know--that is, I--"
"Relax, priest." Ragnar saved him from his struggle. Even his mocking was welcome. "I wouldn't send you off to hunt alone, either. I can tell you what you need to know."
Ragnar's words did little to relieve the anxiety in his stomach, but then Lagertha swiftly moved aside the corner of blanket covering the tops of her thighs and her belly, and Athelstan forgot everything else.
She spread her legs further, hooking one ankle on the outside of Ragnar's calf. "Lie on your belly," she said, one hand reaching out and gripping Athelstan's hair, tugging him down.
He did so, his shoulders pressing up against her thighs, closer to a woman than he had ever dared imagine. He wanted to look away but couldn't, his eyes exploring her sex.
Her own patience outlasted her husband's, for Ragnar gripped the back of Athelstan's neck and pulled him closer. "Start here," he said, the fingers of his other hand holding her open, revealing soft pink folds. "Use your whole tongue."
He took a deep breath, her scent washing over him, and did.
The taste exploded on his tongue, the source of that musk, and he felt like he was drowning in it, would never forget it or escape it.
He could feel Ragnar's fingers up against his face, guiding his attention. That provided some answers, as did her moans, and her hips pressing up against his mouth, but his lack of knowledge still ate away at him.
Ragnar's hand was steady at the back his neck, though, and soon his voice gave further instruction. "She likes it deep, priest, but for now just stay up here," he said, fingers rubbing over a hard nub. Athelstan followed his fingers there, licking and then sucking around them.
Her legs flexed against his face, one thigh hooking over his shoulder, pinning him there. He was caught, captured again, but with no desire at all to escape, his entire world narrowed down to this. The sounds of Lagertha taking her pleasure from him rolled over him, setting his tempo as much as her movements or Ragnar's hands.
He had to pull away for a moment when Ragnar's hand explored further down, two fingers pushing inside, his thumb still holding her open for him.
Above him she swore. "Ragnar, that is cheating," she panted.
Athelstan leaned back in and began to lick again when Ragnar's hand pressed him closer. "I thought you had missed my cock earlier today," Ragnar said.
"That is not your cock," Lagertha said, the apparent anger in her voice belied by the moan that followed. Athelstan closed his eyes, overwhelmed by everything, and focused on how she responded to his mouth. Ragnar's hand and her leg anchored him there, as he gave himself over to the wonders of the body, the divine presence he felt there.
All too soon she was shaking against him, his face dripping with her pleasure. He kept his tongue moving against her--Ragnar had not released him, and his fingers were still moving in and out of his wife. Athelstan's devotion would last as long as she required it of him.
The push against his forehead was all that released him from her, the palm of her hand firm against his face. When her leg dropped from around his shoulders, he knelt back onto his knees. He was suddenly aware of the strain in his neck and his lower back from being pressed up against her, but he didn't care.
She was covered in a sheen of sweat, her skin supple and glowing in the dim light. Ragnar's arm was tight across her body, his fingers still pressing inside her. He imagined what that must feel like, to be sheathed in such soft warmth, in a body as powerful as hers. It was a thought that would have been appalling, even repulsive in another life, a life he had once lived, but now he could find no such fault in that image.
His eyes finally locked with hers. When she smiled at him, looking almost shy, he could not help smiling back. The kiss she gave him was still unexpected, her hand grasping his tunic and pulling him toward her.
Her lips were soft, tongue gently pressing into his mouth, and he braced himself with his hands on her bare legs. His heart was beating rapidly again, his arousal suddenly rushing to the forefront of his mind. He gasped into her mouth when he felt Ragnar's hand stroking up his thigh, fingers sticky from Lagertha.
Moaning, he dropped his head down to her shoulder when Ragnar closed his hand around Athelstan's cock. He gasped as he stared down at her breasts, his entire body suddenly flushed with heat, with the desire to touch them both. He kept his hands to himself, though, fingers clenching the fabric of his tunic, hips thrusting forward into Ragnar's hand.
He thought he might be more prepared for his release this time, now that he knew what it was to feel such a thing. But his defenses had been destroyed by Ragnar and Lagertha, and he could no longer see the virtue in rebuilding them. There was a crack he had never before known existed in his faith--not in God, but in how He should be worshiped, and bit by bit it had grown. His body responded before his mind did, without heeding his thoughts, and he gave himself over to this, to the two of them as he spilled over Ragnar's hand and her belly.
Athelstan kept his head down for a moment, unable to look at either of them, staring at his seed covering them. Finally he pulled away, sitting up as much as his body would allow, spent and suddenly exhausted.
It was Ragnar who kissed him next, tongue sweeping across his lips before taking his lower lip between his. He was gentler than Athelstan could have expected, the bristle of his beard sparking something in Athelstan's belly. Ragnar's attention was almost lazy and yet all-encompassing, like he knew Athelstan could not turn away from him.
And he was right, Athelstan's entire body lit up in a way he had never known possible. He was no warrior, nor an artisan or a craftsman, creating or destroying with his hands and strength. But there was more to him than his mind, his piety.
In a new world, it was necessary to worship his God in a new way.
When Ragnar released him, he was ready for it. He knelt back onto his heels, hands on his thighs, observing the evidence of his actions. Ragnar stared back at him, eyes appraising, and Lagertha smiled before drawing her hand up through the mess he had made on her stomach.
He cleared his throat. "I could clean that for you?" he offered.
Ragnar shook his head. "No need, she'll only get messy again," he said, pulling her up and around until she straddled his waist. Kissing over her breasts, he did not look up as he said, "Good night, priest."
"Good night," he echoed back, still caught in her gaze. Ragnar caught one of her nipples in his mouth and glanced at Athelstan once more. He winked before rolling them over, his wife laughing up at him.
* * *
His morning was spent helping Gyda with the animals, which was how he had expected to spend the afternoon as well. But Ragnar stopped him in the yard, nodding at the boat.
"Are you afraid of the water, priest?" he asked.
Athelstan stared. "After the sea voyage to arrive here, how could you ask me that?"
Ragnar shrugged. "I can take Bjorn if you'd rather not. Or if you don't know how to row hard. Or swim," he added, eyes bright in the midday sun.
Athelstan started to walk down to the shore. "I can row," he said, untying the boat from its post.
Ragnar's footsteps came from behind him. "Good," he said, jumping into the boat, and Athelstan pushed off.
It was a beautiful day for fishing, the light sparkling on the water, the air crisp but the sun warm on his shoulders as he rowed. His body would bring them home, where Lagertha and the children would be waiting. The rush of the water over the oars filled his ears, drowning out all doubt.