Ubbe felt the rage within him, a seething fire waiting to be released to burn everything around him.
He was angry with Lagertha for trusting the Bishop in her foolish blindness of love. The very man who had him beaten month ago after the battle of York when Ubbe and his brother Hvitserk had tried to elaborate a peace treaty with the King of Wessex.
He was also angry with Bjorn, who might not agree with his mother’s decision but didn’t speak against her as well.
And at last, he was angry with himself for believing the Bishop to the slightest extend, for not listening to his own heart and head and for not being able change their situation. They were trapped in a vaulted cellar beneath the castle of the English men, waiting for their verdict to be executed by dawn.
The chains against Ubbe’s skin felt hot, reminding him of a tale his mother had told him about the dwarven chain Gleipnir and how it bound the monstrous Fenriswolf to its bones. Ubbe deeply hoped that he won’t stay chained forever until the Fate of the gods, Ragnarök, would come upon their world.
The anger within him grew with the realization that their lives dependent on the mercy of a king that couldn’t even understand the anguish that would come with dying through execution by men that believed in a different god. How could any of them reach Valhalla if they haven’t fought and died in a glorious battle to defend their home and families?
Yes, Ubbe was afraid to die, afraid to die without having made a name for himself.
They had been taken to an audience with the king in his throne room, and Ubbe would lie if he’d say that he wasn’t nervous. But upon seeing the young man sitting on his throne, Ubbe suddenly relaxed. This king seemed not harmful to him, not a man born to be fighter but a politician.
“I’m aware of who you are.”, the boy began to talk with a calm and calculating voice. “I am not foolish enough not to recognize your potential for my kingdom, if you were willing to fight with us against the armies of your countrymen.” His eyes fell on Ubbe for a short time, making the Viking smile in sheer disbelief. Even though Ubbe knew they had to compromise to stay alive.
“We may. On the condition that you allow us to settle in the part of East Anglia King Ecbert gave to us.”, Bjorn answered steadfast. Ubbe watched his older brother, seeing the abhorrence in his face.
“I have every intention of honoring my grandfather’s pledges. But first you must demonstrate your worth and your loyalty to our case, in battle.”, the king replied sounding truthful as far as Ubbe could judge the young man. Bjorn scoffed at this remark.
“We have a legal right to that land.” By now, everyone could hear the anger growing in Bjorn for he was too stubborn to successfully negotiate.
“We accept your offer.”, Lagertha interfered, aware of her son’s temper. Yet, Ubbe was surprised by her answer. Committing to the king’s orders could be worse than being alone in enemy country.
“I’m glad. It was Bishop Heahmund who proposed this solution which seemed to me wise.” Ubbe saw the priest nodding towards Lagertha as a sign of respect. “So as long as we are allies and friends, you are free to use the royal villa as you wish. My servants are also your servants. My kitchen and cellars are there for your use. I believe you have two young children with you.” The king looked at Torvi who nodded for affirmation. “Let us have a care for them also.” Torvi thanked him grateful, she had been worrying so much for her children. “We have fought against you and now we shall fight together, with you.” A man approached Ubbe to release him from his chains. The Viking offered his bonded hands without turning his gaze away from the king. He couldn’t quite sort the young man for it surprised him how generous he offered the Northmen a home and food. Of course, Ubbe was suspicious, knowing that what was given to him, could be taken away in the very next moment, but he hoped, still, for a true ally in king Alfred.
“I know my grandfather, King Ecbert, would approve, for I know the love he bore King Ragnar.”, the king added, watching the Northmen getting freed. Ubbe examined him one last time, the lean figure of the boy covered by brocaded clothes and robes, valiant eyes only giving away little of the intelligence that was hidden behind them, and the way he moved head and lips to appear sophisticated, graceful even at this young age. Ubbe wondered how such a slender boy could have become king of such a big country without having to fight off all his opponents, even his brother seemed more if a warrior. But the Viking knew, that Alfred had given them a chance to survive, to regrow their strength and to maybe receive the land that Ragnar Lothbrok once wanted to cultivate. They might could finally fulfill their father’s dream. With that promising thoughts, Ubbe retreated with his friends, leaving the throne room and the king behind.
Ubbe stood behind the king, watching his back while his brother Bjorn spoke to him about the land they were promised.
“If you recall, I said you would have to prove your value to us first.”, the boy said to Bjorn.
“We don’t have to prove anything! We have the legal right!”, Bjorn shouted angered. “Here, signed by King Ecbert in our presence!” Ubbe stepped closer to the king, handing him the paper Bjorn was talking about. He tapped on the wax seal to prove his point, leaning in over the table and near to Alfred who now looked at him.
“My grandfather had no authority to grant you any land. He had already relinquished the throne to my father who was crowned here a few days before you arrived” Ubbe saw honesty in the boy’s eyes, maybe a little helplessness too.
“So, it was all just a lie?”, Bjorn asked dangerously calm. Alfred sighed defeated, knowing that this farce was no good beginning for this alliance.
“But now, you are king.”, Ubbe finally said, starting to move around, grabbing a feather and ink, and giving it to the king. “So, you can sign it over to us and you can grant us those lands right now.” He looked down at the young man who seemed torn in his decision.
“In theory, yes, I could.”, he only answered.
“What does that meant?”, Bjorn replied immediately, making no effort in hiding his rage for being betrayed.
“There are important people here who do not want me to grant lands to those who, in the past, have attacked and raided us.”, the king tried to defend himself.
“So, why would we fight for you, when everything you say is just a lie?”, Ubbe argued, feeling the same anger as Bjorn.
“I am not lying.”, Alfred looked him dead serious in the eye. “I’ve been more honest with you than you’ve any right to expect! You have thrown yourself upon my mercy! So, do not presume anymore upon my charity.” Alfred stood up. “When I can, I will grant you that land.” Ubbe looked at him, trying to figure out how much he could trust this boy. The king was right about their situation at his mercy, pledging to his will of keeping them alive, and Ubbe was certain that Alfred had no intentions in actually killing the Northmen. Therefore, he was too smart, too diplomatic, to waste the chance of an alliance with his enemies if it was to his advantage. To an extent, Ubbe felt reminded of his brother Ivar who also was more of a strategist than a warrior, yet, lucky them, Alfred wasn’t half as insane as his brother. Ubbe decided to keep quiet, to watch and the to weigh up their options.
“In the meantime, I must go and meet my future wife.”, the king said as a goodbye and left the two Vikings alone. Ubbe leaned on his arms over a chair and watched Alfred go before his eyes felt on Bjorn. His brother looked at him in silence, clearly thinking about their next steps. But only time would bring them answers.
As already announced by Alfred in their short meeting, Ubbe and Bjorn met with Lagertha and Torvi in a hall filled with people to attend a dinner. Ubbe felt uncomfortable surrounded by all these Christians who judged them purely for their appearance and different beliefs.
It was quiet, nothing compared to the feasts held back at home in Kattegat when a wedding would be announced.
Ubbe sat at a table, ate in Torvi’s presence, listening to what she had to say but kept his eyes on the king. How the boy seated on his throne, talking to his brother. The young face wrinkled by what he heard from the men next to him. For a moment, Ubbe couldn’t help himself but admire the fair appearance of the him, the curled, black hair, the dark lively eyes and the pure lineaments on his face making him look too innocent to be a king. And even though Ubbe wasn’t much older, he felt that Alfred was far too young to marry, to bound himself to yet another burden, especially since he didn’t even know the princess sitting next to him.
Ubbe felt pity for him, just a little bit. And he felt something else, deep in his guts, something he couldn’t quite name yet.
After a great breakfast, the next day, Ubbe and Torvi decided to train their fighting skills, fully aware of all the watchful people.
Ubbe felt great this day, not tired anymore, fed and strong again. He enjoyed his fight with Torvi who has grown to a strong warrior just like him, and for that he admired her even more.
They were a great pair, a fitting couple, and Ubbe was sure that Torvi would be the right one to be the mother of his children. She was a warm, heartful yet fierce woman, every Viking could only hope for such a wife. But Ubbe felt the restraint within him to officially marry her because his desires differed greatly from what he knew he should want and need. Ubbe loved Torvi, he really, truly did, there was just an uncertainty about a longing for a man he only recently met. A man he wanted just because he thought him pretty, a man he couldn’t have because he was a king, a man Ubbe felt bad to desire because Torvi deserved so, so much better.
He had lay awake the whole night, thinking about the past few days, knowing that his cravings could cost their lives. Also, Ubbe felt strange to desire someone he actually didn’t know the slightest, apart from the obvious. The gods had to test him, why else, he should feel so torn, whenever he thought of the King of Wessex.
He had been called for a meeting with Alfred, alone. And as much as Ubbe felt not to go, to wait for Bjorn or Torvi or even Lagertha to accompany him, he couldn’t help himself but feeling giddy.
He entered the room quietly, closing the door carefully and approaching the king who stood near the fireplace. The boy turned around, his eyes radiated layers of sadness, uncertainty and shyness, completely different to the last time they have met. Ubbe examined him again, waiting for him to speak. He furrowed his brows, not sure what to do or to say, something wasn’t right.
“You asked to see me.”, the Viking then said as to show Alfred that he should talk and not Ubbe himself.
“Yes.”, the king seemed to have left his trance, moving to a table nearby. “Please, sit.”, he offered but Ubbe remained standing. “Some wine?” Ubbe shook his head, he really didn’t want to make this meeting last longer than needed for he knew his desire would grow, especially now that they were alone. Alfred cleared his throat.
“I think your brother Bjorn has set his heart against me.”, the young man began to talk.
“He feels… betrayed.”, Ubbe answered carefully.
“I understand that. But what can I do? It was not my doing. And for the time being, is it not easy for me to grant you those lands again. Many are against it.” Ubbe almost rolled his eyes, the debate about their lands was really nerving.
“So, what are we supposed to do?”, he asked, showing a fake grin.
“A consilium. You could publicly renounce your pagan gods and be baptized as a Christian.”, Alfred proffered, calm and honest. The despair in his eyes made Ubbe think.
“I can’t imagine Bjorn would ever agree to that.”, he answered truthfully, turning around to leave before Alfred could manage to lure him into something that would definitely split the brothers.
“I am not talking about Bjorn”, the king called. “but about you.” Ubbe stopped, he couldn’t refuse the boy. Flames of anger for himself grew within him again for being so foolish but he turned around anyway, remembering how easily Lagertha trusted Heahmund after the had you admitted their feelings. This was also not long after they first had met.
Alfred gave him a cup of wine before both settled down opposite from each other.
“You do that for me, Ubbe,” Alfred began, emphasizing the Viking’s name which made Ubbe straighten his back. “and a part of my burden is lifted. Ragnar talked to me when I was a boy. And he talked about your people, my people, sharing the land. And I think that, of all his sons, you are the closest to him.” Ubbe watched the king talk, his chest tightening with every word because he knew that Alfred only wanted to convince him for his matters, yet he wanted the words to be truthful. “He told my grandfather that he no longer believed in your gods.” Ubbe exhaled calmly as he heard those last words for, he knew his father had had a Christian friend whom he might had loved the most of all, but it still didn’t seem right to say this about Ragnar.
“That is not true.”, Ubbe answered firm.
“My grandfather told me everything. He wanted to prepare me for times such as this. And he loved your father. I know that. Your father’s death broke him. Destroyed him.”, Alfred carried on. To his own distaste, Ubbe knew that the king was right. He had heard the same stories, never wanting to believe them. His father had been a curious man who loved to learn, and he had been a discoverer, maybe he had discovered this belief in a new god for himself along his journey.
Ubbe lifted his weight forward on his arms when he stood up to lean towards the boy in front of him. They were so close now, Ubbe could tell Alfred’s eye color. The young man showed no movement, he wasn’t intimated by the Viking nor was he afraid of him. Ubbe peered at him, waiting a moment before talking to inspect the immaculate face. No scars slithered across his skin, his lips were full and rosy, he radiated pure innocence. Ubbe felt the twitch in his guts, he couldn’t stay any longer.
“I will need time to think about what you have told me.”, the Viking finally said, turning to leave.
“Ubbe.”, Alfred called for him again. “I value you; I know it doesn't seem like I do but I know you are a man that decides with heart. It would honor me, if we shared the same sides.” The king tried to truly smile. Ubbe bit his lower lip.
“I… am grateful, thank you.”, he answered and for the slightest moment he wanted to reach out for the king because he needed to touch the smooth skin, needed to feel the soft lips against his. But he didn’t move. Ubbe left at the time, Alfred’s mother Judith entered the room through a door behind the king, finding her son flustered and agitated.