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Athelstan's secret

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Athelstan avoided human contact at all costs, living in a monastery helped a lot with that. He was born with a 'gift' that, at times, could be considered a curse. He was a telepath, and any contact of human skin allowed the priest to communicate with that person, in their mind, over short distances if he needed to, although it drained his energy the further away the person he was trying to communicate with was. Having been born to five older siblings and two already poor and struggling parents who could not afford him, he was left at the monastery of Lindisfarne. His parents and his siblings were unaware of the gift he possessed. However Athelstan was aware at a very young age. He lived in the monastery with his brothers, when he was old enough he was able to travel to most of the discovered lands, spreading the word of God and connecting himself to various minds of different cultures and sometimes different religions as well, but that was rare in itself, as well as learning various languages over the years. Did Athelstan think that his gift would save his life? No, because he didn’t think his life would ever be in danger.

After Athelstan returned back to England with new perspectives, thoughts, languages and connections to other minds he was determined to be able to block other people's thought from his own. It took several months for Athelstan to train his mind and make his mental walls strong enough before he succeed; with this he was able to stop his or other people's thoughts from entering either their or his mind, however there were times when his shield couldn’t be held and snippets from the minds around him would slip in and mix with his. No one else knew about his secret, the threat of death or being cast out from the monastery was a too real threat for him.

Human contact was few and far between within the monastery, the occasional brush of hand on hand if in prayer or when fingers brushed as he reached for the same quill at time as someone else was the only skin-to-skin contact he had. Athelstan grew familiar with the calm and soothing minds of the fellow monks and he let his defences come down of he needed comfort or him being too exhausted to keep up his barriers. Sometimes it lulled him to sleep with the Lord's word in his mind or thought by those around him.

That all changed however the day that the North men attacked the monastery causing chaos and panic to erupt. Athelstan's fellow brothers knocked into him as they tried to find a place to hide and hundreds-possibly thousands-of terrified thoughts bombarded the defences Athelstan had around his mind, soon breaking them down, and flooding his mind with unvoiced pleas of mercy before the thoughts were cut short.

He ducked behind the altar to try and build up the defences around his mind as well as to hide from the men that had killed over half of the religious men in the building. Each time one left to join God in Heaven, the pain in Athelstan's head faded a little but the ache was replaced in his heart as he silently spoke the Lord's Prayer in Latin for all of his fallen brothers, wishing them well in God's kingdom before he was discovered by the North men.

He was soon dragged out by the collar of his habit and was thrown on the floor, clutching the Lord's word against his heart, earning strange looks from the other men in the room. Their voices and language rough and hard as it filled the once silent air of the room. He had heard the tongue that the men were speaking in before but only knew a few words. As he had been thrown out from behind the altar, the one with the harsh face and piercing eyes had brushed the skin around the neck of his habit, allowing Athelstan to look into the North-man’s mind and quickly find the necessary words to spare his life and to possibly find out what the men wanted and what they were doing at Lindisfarne.

“Don’t kill me.” He pleaded, clutching the gospel closer to his chest, the words feeling clumsy on his tongue as he tried to move away slightly from the tall and battle worn warriors. The word struck Athelstan almost by surprise, nearly causing him to miss the words that the North-man in front of him was speaking, able to grasp what he was saying by looking into his mind.

“You speak our language? How do you speak our language?” The North man…no Ragnar; according to the mind that Athelstan was observing, growled at him. Athelstan’s own mind trying to keep his gift a secret from Ragnar and the other North men whilst trying to think of an answer quickly mindful of the blade pressed to his throat.

“I’ve travelled.” Athelstan quickly replied, the truth escaping his lips but only ringing half true in his ears. “We are told to travel…to take the work of God. Please, don’t kill me.” The pleading note was back in his shuddering voice as he coward away from Ragnar, nervously glancing around to see what the other North men were doing before the blade was removed from his skin. He managed to find out the names of the other North-men in the room with Ragnar and himself. Leif and Erik. Leif was the one that had been talking about the North Gods whereas Erik had made the comment about the cross and his God being dead when he was hidden.

“What is that you have in your hand?” Was the next question to be spoken by Ragnar as he straightened.

“The book. The gospel of St. John. I-I wanted to save it…” He took a shuddering breath as the gospel was ripped from his hands and roughly man-handled by Ragnar as he tried to find something in it.

“Of all the treasures I see in this place, you chose to save this?”

“Yes.”

Ragnar hummed before asking the trembling monk why and waiting for a few seconds as Athelstan’s mind rushed to supply an answer, the breath knocked out of him slightly and a twinge of pain in his lower back as he was shoved against the alter. “Why?” Ragnar asked again, gipping the monk’s habit tightly in his hand.

“Because without the Word of God, there is only darkness.” Athelstan spoke, his fear stronger than ever, however determination started to edge its way into his eyes unknowingly, relaxing as Ragnar let go of him and turned around to see the new man enter the room they were in. Athelstan quickly adjusted his clothing, paying close attention to Ragnar’s thoughts of the man that walked closer to them.

Rollo: Older brother. Frustration; annoyance; calm; family; familiar and home. Was all that Athelstan could pick up from Ragnar’s mind as Rollo wandered closer commenting on the lack of woman in the monetary and that he found the monks strange.

Hearing the word priest come from Ragnar’s mouth made the only monk in the room look up, fear settling stronger in Athelstan’s stomach then before. Hearing Ragnar talk about how the other North men could take what they will and Rollo saying that they came to Lindisfarne to steal the gifts to God made him want to speak up but he wisely kept himself quiet, letting the flow of the remaining monks calm him slightly whilst he kept an eye on Ragnar’s mind.

Rollo’s voice broke Athelstan’s thoughts at the mention of him being killed, relaxing slightly and curious as Ragnar said that he was worth more alive before the word slave sent his thoughts into despair, he had seen slaves during his travels and not all were treated well, he was unsure of how the North slaves were treated, he only hoped it was better than how some of the Eastern slaves were treated.

However Rollo seemed desperate to kill him. ‘Why does he want me dead so much?’ The telepath wondered as he gazed over Ragnar’s shoulder. However hearing that there was no room on the boat made him scared for his life, Rollo’s hard gaze focused on him as he tried to push past his younger brother but was stopped. He quickly prayed for his life, somehow finding strength in Ragnar’s mind. It was calm yet powerful as he reasoned with his brother over whether or not Athelstan lived, only to feel relief when he was allowed to live as Rollo stormed away.

Only to flinch as the wooden Christ on the Cross was axed to pieces by Rollo before being grabbed by the older brother, their hands brushing only slightly as Rollo sneered into his face, his mind sharp with anger at Ragnar and himself and having been denied his right to kill and spill blood in order to please the Gods that he worshiped, making Athelstan cower away from him even more, having never encountered a mind filled with such anger and frustration frightened Athelstan.

He tried desperately to throw up his shields but he was too scared and his mind stayed linked with Rollo as he stormed out, causing the monk to sob as Ragnar was happy about saving Athelstan, chuckling a little at Leif’s exasperated look upwards before he was dragged out and pushed into the crowd of kneeling and cowering monks, finding strength in their familiar thoughts and prayers before they were bound and lead away from their home, forced to follow the North men or be dragged.

The trip to the boat was a blur, the only clear moments for Athelstan was when he saw his home nearly engulfed in smoke as the monastery was burnt down and when Rollo almost drowned a fellow monk because he tried to swim away. Rollo’s mind was still connected to his and he felt Rollo’s joy as he was given another opportunity to be violent before sending the monk back to them.

Most of the journey back was a blur as well, although they spent days out at sea, returning to the North men’s home, he familiarised himself with Ragnar’s, Rollo’s, Erik’s (touched when brushing past him), Leif’s (handing him a small amount of food and their hands accidentally touching) and even Floki the boat maker’s (the touch accompanied with a curious glance and an insane look in his eye) minds as the left England further behind; Scandinavia getting closer to them with every stroke of the boat’s oars.

The rocking of the boat, the spray and the cold were the most constant thing on the boat as they sailed onwards until they reached calmer weather but not necessarily warmer temperatures.

Chapter Text

Happiness, joy and smugness filled the minds that Athelstan was connected to as they drifted closer to the North men’s home. Ragnar’s mind was the brightest Athelstan noted when he observed the new minds that he was able to look into, careful to keep himself from being noticed encase one of the North men were able to detect him.

Rollo’s mind was clouded by anger, hiding much that could be seen around him. Ragnar saw more than what his brother did as his mind was sharpened with calculated fierceness and a hunger to do right by his family. Floki’s mind was bright and colourful, never halting for more than one second before a tangent came from that thought and made his mind interesting to look into. Erik’s and Leif’s were neither as bright Floki’s and Ragnar’s and were also less sharp than Ragnar’s. However their minds were clearer than Rollo’s.

It did not mean that they were not clever; it was that their knowledge was placed in battle and where exactly to place a killing blow and battle field tactics.

The closer they got to Scandinavia, the more joyous Leif, Floki and Erik got, but the Lothbrok brothers were growing concerned over how the Earl of their home would react and found out that they had gone on an unauthorised raid to the West when they were supposed to go East. Athelstan was surprised that the other North men had not noticed nor commented the brother’s concern; even without looking into their minds, Athelstan could see that the body language and even the tones of Ragnar’s and Rollo’s voices had changed.

He had been reading the gospel he had rescued from Lindisfarne when Ragnar had spoken to him for the first time since leaving England. His shadow blocking the light he had from a gap in the fabric over the boat. He looked up, the connection to Ragnar’s mind slightly stronger that of Erik’s, Floki’s or Leif’s, Rollo’s was only slightly stronger than theirs with him sitting closer to him on the boat.

“What is your name?” Ragnar asked a smirk on his face as knelt down beside the monk.

“Athelstan.” He replied, avoiding Ragnar’s gaze and focusing on a nearby plank of wood on the boat.

“I am Ragnar Lothbrok.” The North man replied, the telepath tried to stoop his lips from pulling up into a slight smile. The words ‘I know’ rested on the tip of his tongue as his eyes flashed up before looking down again, feeling uncomfortable under the intense blue stare.

Whatever questions Ragnar asked, Athelstan answered. With every question the eagerness in Ragnar’s voice and mind increased, as well as the amount of questions demanding to be answered.

“What was that place called?”

“Lindisfarne.”

“England?”

“Yes...It was foretold that divine punishment would fall upon God’s chosen people for all our grievous sins, and so it has happened. That is why I am here.” The usually calm and gentle monk glared at Ragnar as he spoke the words, an unusual spark of anger appeared from within him as well as steely determination not to submit to Ragnar’s mind or will.

“No. You are here because I spared your life.” Ragnar replied his voice slightly cocky and hinted with laughter.

“Why did you spare my life?” The question was returned quickly, less angry but just as steely.

The look to Rollo from Ragnar told Athelstan all he needed to know. Sibling rivalry, he was not on the boat because he was feeling merciful towards him, but because he wanted to stop his older brother from spilling unnecessary blood.

“I don’t know yet.” Was the answer Athelstan received, the tone slightly nervous, as if Ragnar was worried of Rollo hearing which knocked the telepath off balance slightly. If anything it seemed Ragnar would be the last one on the boat, possibly besides Floki and on occasion Rollo to be scared.

Ragnar then stood and left Athelstan alone with the new revelations and a different image of the unofficial leader of the raid.

A few hours later, judging by the sun, the boat was full of noise as the raiders bustled about the boat, getting ready to dock. Athelstan glanced around, his eyes full of guarded wonder at the landscape that surrounded him and confusion at where they were.

It was then that he noticed the dead weight on his left shoulder. He looked down to see brother Cenwulf, pale and still beside him, he hesitated slightly before calling out to Ragnar.

“Ragnar Lothbrok.”

“What is it?” Ragnar replied, looking over his shoulder from where he had been talking with Floki, their minds bright with interest about whatever they had been talking about.

“Brother Cenwulf here, beside me, I think he’s dead.” Athelstan internally shuddered as the word ‘dead’ ran off his tongue. He hoped never to repeat that word when talking about someone he had met and had that become part of his small family.

Ragnar stood and revealed Floki with a slight smirk on his face as the youngest Lothbrok walked over to the centre of the boat and jerked brother Cenwulf’s head sharply before replying, “you are right,” and calling Leif over to help him.

Athelstan tried not to look at what Ragnar and Leif did to brother Cenwulf but could hear in their thoughts anyway about chucking him into the water below them. The monk looked over to his fellow brother’s. Floki’s snigger broke the air around him, leading Athelstan to pray that God would rest brother Cenwulf’s soul before praying and crossing himself.

Later on, Floki’s joy and excitement filled Athelstan’s unguarded mind. He had tried multiple times to throw up his barriers throughout the trip, but he was exhausted, hungry and it effected how long he could hold them up for, so he felt every one’s emotions, whether he liked it or not. But they allowed him to think less of what had happened to him and bathe himself in other people’s emotions and thoughts in order to spare him from his grief.

The exchange from the boat to land was disorientating to say the least for Athelstan; he was shoved from man to man before having a rope wrapped loosely around his neck. Mercifully no one touched his skin during the rough exchange, so he was able to slowly build his barriers back up again as he sat on the docks. He was glad that Erik was happy with his woman and that Ragnar was praised for all he had done, even though it was done with the help of so many others, Athelstan was confused that the others were not getting praise before realising it might have something to do with their culture. However he sensed jealousy from Rollo as his little brother outshone him, and not for the first time, judging from the amount of jealousy raging in the elder Lothbrok’s mind.

He was sharply pulled out of his thoughts by Ragnar grabbing the rope around his neck and sharply tugging it. Ragnar paused to talk to a man named Knut who Athelstan guessed he didn’t trust from the way he taunted him. It wasn’t like Floki’s and Ragnar’s friendship where the two sometimes jested with each other light heartedly. Before moving though the crowds where random strangers brushed their skin against Athelstan’s; each touch weakened his already crumbling and freshly constructed barriers, eventually they crumbled and he stumbled a little at the onslaught of new thoughts and feelings, too many to try and sort through so he let them buzz overwhelm him as he was led away from the crowds and into the Great Hall.

He stood motionless as Ragnar talked to the Earl, allowing himself to be pulled and pushed wherever and whenever he needed to, tired and hungry he was dead on his feet , wishing for somewhere where he could lie down and sleep comfortably, and possibly some bread to halt the hunger starting to claw at his body. He looked up surprised as Ragnar told his Earl that he would ‘take the priest for my slave’. Relief and surprise washed over Athelstan, he would prefer to serve Ragnar than anyone else on the boat, although had he been given to Erik or Leif he wouldn’t have minded, but he was grateful that Ragnar had been the one to take him in as a slave.

As Ragnar dragged Athelstan out of the hall; the telepath sensed the mind of Rollo approaching them, angry at what his younger brother had done. He zoned out of the conversation, more interested in the thoughts and emotions gathering in their minds, Ragnar’s empty of anger but steely determination was at the fore front; to make his brother see the point whereas Rollo’s was full of anger because of the outcome that the Earl had given them. However Ragnar was quick to resort to pushing Rollo into the nearest wall and scolding him, ironically, how a big brother would scold his younger siblings. Before giving instruction to his brother and jerking the rope around Athelstan’s neck, breaking his focus and causing him to stumble for a while before being able to straighten up.

The Lothbrok house was slightly different from those near the Great Hall. If anything Athelstan already preferred it, the house was simple but was built well from its outside appearance. He waited like a dog; sifting the bag upon his shoulder nervous about what would happen to him now, as he was tied up to a post whilst Ragnar revealed himself that he was home to his family.

Gyda was the first name that came to Ragnar’s mind as Athelstan watched and focused on how the North man’s mind changed its set. He was a strong and capable leader when people needed him to be, but he was also the kind and compassionate family man when he needed to as well. It was clear that anyone that Ragnar loved his family and that he had missed them on the raids.

A small figure and a voice emerged from the home and ran over to his father, Ragnar’s oldest child. Bjorn. The word was filled with parental love, much like Gyda’s, and was murmured in Ragnar’s mind when he saw her for the first time in however long he had been away. Athelstan watched a little before dropping his eyes, feeling as if he was intruding on a private moment.

He looked up as Ragnar’s mind was filled with love and roaring passion, making a startled Athelstan’s eyes flicked up and smile when husband and wife (Lagertha, was murmured in adoration, love and hints of passion) a little at the scene, then flickering his eyes back to the ground, the various thoughts in Ragnar’s mind allowed Athelstan to listen into the convocation before he slowly started to build up his shields again, hoping he wouldn’t have to rebuild them again that day, the voices of the minds from those in Kattegat whom he had touched, hummed in the back of his mind, making him think of the monks from Lindisfarne when they had murmured the prayers out loud and in their minds.

He heard the word ‘priest’ and he lifted his eyes to see Ragnar walking over and talking about his home. He studied Ragnar’s family in more detail, Lagertha was a strong woman, and anyone was able to see that from the way she carried himself. Bjorn tried to act like his father but was too young to be able to convince anyone, in Athelstan’s opinion, and Gyda was a sweet child, her eyes expressing her, she was young but also wise in her own way, as if she could see something few could and that surprised the telepath.

Athelstan heard Ragnar introducing him to the family he now served, scanning over every face at the same time whilst paying close attention to what the North man was saying.

“Although he is a foreigner, he speaks our language, don’t you?” Ragnar asked, his posture, tone and mind were edging Athelstan to speak. So he did.

“A little, yes.” The hand on the back of the telepath’s neck made him slightly uncomfortable but he avoided voicing how awkward he felt, not used to people touching his skin at all. He was given a second or two to lower his barriers as Ragnar grabbed his son’s hand and placed it on his tonsure, another connection being forged between him and an unfamiliar mind.

Bjorn’s mind was calm, guarded, yet loyal and focused but there was also joy and slightly restless. Slightly surprised that he recognised a little of Rollo’s restlessness he was snapped out of the analysis by Bjorn’s surprised voice and questions bombarding the monk before he could even think of deciphering what they were.

`“What is wrong with your head?”

“When we become monks, they cut out hair. It marks us out.” Athelstan was surprised to feel Ragnar’s curiosity being satisfied by his answer, he hadn’t even realised that the North man had been interested in his tonsure before.

Gyda’s question came next, again, surprising Athelstan when Bjorn was eager to find out. Although the answer he gave inspired more questions in Bjorn’s and no doubt Gyda’s which he soon found out as he was inspected by the children whilst Ragnar and Lagertha went inside after a few murmured words and a more questions from the children as the day went on.

As night fell, Athelstan threw up his barriers and made them as strong as possible before murmuring his prayers as best he could whilst Lagertha and Ragnar were engaged in…activities that Athelstan really didn’t want to bear witness to. He was disturbed from his nearly silent prayers by Athelstan and Ragnar, the firelight causing shadows to flicker on Ragnar’s scared shoulder. The monk was careful to keep his eyes focused on features that were above the shoulders on Lagertha’s and Ragnar’s body.

“Athelstan, we want to ask you something.” The monk shut his gospel and focused on Ragnar, his barriers still up, not wanting to know what the two were thinking.

“Come and join us, priest.” Athelstan froze at Lagertha’s words, his vows of celibacy rushing to the fore front of his mind. Ragnar’s encouragement made Athelstan feel worse and even more uncomfortable, he looked away as fast as politeness could let him. He looked back at Ragnar’s voice and looked away again.

“I’m a monk.” He said a little sharper than intended but he didn’t falter, “I have taken vows of celibacy. I cannot touch a woman. I never have.” His voice softened slightly before looking away, once at the end of his small speech and again when Lagertha and Ragnar tried to tempt him.

“Wouldn’t you like to?” Ragnar smiled a little cocky, whilst Athelstan quickly looked at Lagertha to see the coy expression on her face before leaning over to Ragnar.

“It would be a sin.”

“Who would know?” Ragnar turned and asked a smile in his eyes.

“God would know.” He explained, scared should he lower his barriers and find out their plans, so he quickly made sure he was sure that they would not shatter like they had done earlier on in the day.

“What if he looked the other way?” Lagertha asked her voice matching the once again coy expression on her face.

Unable to answer Athelstan turned away sighing before almost franticly praying, nearly missing Ragnar’s almost harsh words about sleeping with his God before they both left him alone for the night.

Chapter Text

The morning after was when Athelstan’s world crumbled around him.

He felt like he had lost everything. The peaceful life at the monastery; the familiar tones of his mother tongue; the gentle and simple minds of the monks that he considered family, only to be thrust into the a new land with new customs, new minds and the harsh sounds of a foreign tongue falling from his lips whenever he spoke.

He was knelt by the fjord near the Lothbrok family home and stared out at the land around him with nothing but his undershirt and sandals on, the cold breeze bighting his skin and gently tugging at his hair as he removed the loops of rope around his neck. Athelstan brought the chilled water to his face and smoothed it down only to realise that his supposed smooth face now was rough slightly due to the many days spent on the boat. Fearing the worse he reached up to his tonsure feeling the sharp texture of growing hair. The emotions and wiring thoughts of several weeks broke Athelstan as he started to sob; seemingly unable to stop as almost the last symbol of his monk-hood was slowly erased.

Athelstan stayed out by the fjord until he calmed down and made his way back to Ragnar’s house. On the way therre he made up his mind on what he was going to do, and set the plan into motion as soon as he was back at the house. He checked on what Bjorn, Ragnar, Gyda and Lagertha were doing before picking up a knife and a bowl of water, he sat where he hoped no one would see him and knelt over the water before guiding the knife up to his head and trying to cut tonsure back to how it had been in England.

The pain caused Athelstan to groan lightly as the knife bit into his skin rather than cut the growing hair. Blood soon dripped off of the knife and into the bowl he was knelt over. He heard Bjorn laughing at him which made him look up to see Gyda and Lagertha looking on in interest or weariness respectively. Athelstan sighed slightly weary and looked down before cleaning the knife and draining the water away and re-filling the bowl before going to break his fast with the Lothbrok’s and doing his chores as he was instructed for the rest of the day.

It was later that day when Ragnar offered him endless amounts of ale, his low alcohol tolerance helping Ragnar in his mission to get the monk drunk. He unintentionally lowered his mind barriers but was too drunk to figure out what Ragnar was going to do with the information Athelstan gave him through the questions asked about his God and his country.

“Does it have one King who rules over the whole country?”

Athelstan chuckled drunkenly before answering. “There are four kingdoms with four Kings. You landed in the Kingdom of Northumbria. The King of Northumbria is called Aelle. He is a great King, a powerful King.” Athelstan squinted as he tried to figure out why Ragnar was asking him questions; there was a flash of curiosity, like that of a young child, as well as glee that the questions were being answered.

“Then why did his men not protect your temple?”

The telepath scoffed slightly. “Before you came, we had no need to protect our monastery. We lived in peace. Everyone respected it as a place of God.” He looked down as his cup was refilled, blinking heavily to try and get rid of the bleariness as he listened.

“Why does your God need silver and gold? Hmm? He must be greedy. Like Loki. We have greedy Gods, too.” Ragnar chuckled.

”My God is not greedy.” Athelstan corrected gently. “His Kingdom is not of this world.”

”Then why is his Kingdom so full of treasure?” Ragnar asked a little sceptical, his mind bright with what Athelstan, in his drunken state, as curiosity.

”Christian people give away their riches to the churches and monasteries in order to save their souls.” Athelstan’s eyes were clear, despite the amount of ale he had, had that night, full of wonder and love for God and His followers.

”What, are their souls?” Ragnar asked, his mind brightening still in curiosity.

Athelstan squinted, unable to find the words to answer Ragnar’s question. He was about to take another mouthful of ale when Ragnar said something that shocked the monk for several moments.

”I want to learn some of your language. Will you teach me priest?”

Athelstan sighed slightly before Ragnar clanked their cups together and drunk, staring intently at the telepath whilst doing so, even when Athelstan himself was drinking, Ragnar’s eyes were filled with mischief and cunning but that was lost to the drunken monk.

The morning after brought a headache and nervousness for Athelstan. He had been looking over something in the fire when the sound of movement attracted his attention, causing him to hastily stand up and he shifted uncomfortably due to the gazes of the other North men and women looking at him with curiosity. The telepath was grateful that he had not come into contact with them before as he did not want to hear their opinions on him.

He was saved by Ragnar entering the home and asking them what they were staring at.

”Your Christian.” An old looking man from the front answered, gesturing to Athelstan. “We wanted to see if he was different from us.”

”Well, now you have seen him, you can go about your own business.” Ragnar’s voice had an edge of the others being unwelcome but his thoughts were not completely hostile, Ragnar was starting to plan on how he could successfully get rid of the others if they did not leave.

”He’s just like us, but he is a foreigner.” At that Athelstan swallowed nervously at what he realised Ragnar could say and there were a few thoughts on whether or not he would say anymore but he stepped away and shooed the other North men and women out of his home and they reluctantly left.

Athelstan was shaken but relieved about what had happened, he hoped never to be under such scrutiny again but he was relieved that Ragnar had been able to deal with them and got them to hopefully leave him alone.

After the events and chores of the morning Athelstan was taken with Ragnar to the Earl, traveling through Kattegat where he received a few glances but froze when he saw some of the bodies that had belonged to his family at the monastery. He had seen them less than two days before and already they had been beaten, possibly for disobedience or not understanding the tongue that the North men spoke in, beyond recognition. He was yanked out of his horror by Ragnar but for some reason he was unable to look away until his neck muscles screamed at him to stop and to look forward. The rest of the journey to the Earl was a muffled blur, not even Ragnar’s thoughts could help him snap out of it. That was until he was knelt next to Ragnar in front of the Earl.

Athelstan didn’t pay much attention to the exchanges between Ragnar and the Earl until Ragnar’s thoughts changed pace and mood. Panic started to well inside Athelstan as Ragnar talked about sailing west to England again, his nostrils flared slightly as he was hit, but he was not fazed, his worry increasing at what Ragnar was thinking. He hated himself for allowing himself to drink so much and to let himself effectively sell out his own country. He was even more ashamed because he had sold out his parents and his siblings whom he knew still lived near where Lindisfarne had stood.

The large town near Lindisfarne was where his family lived! Athelstan felt betrayed, he had told Ragnar the information in trust and he had been betrayed. He was furious and was tempted, for the first time in his life, to pierce someone else’s mind with his anger and force them to see what he was feeling, but he managed to reign himself in and voice his objection vocally instead.

”No! I was lying! There’s nothing there!” His voice panicked and trying not to express his desperation. Only to be shushed by Ragnar which increased Athelstan’s anger but he was able to keep that under wraps as well.

Ragnar’s next words nearly broke a promise Athelstan had made to himself when he was young and only just learning of his powers. Not to allow anyone else’s mind to feel his own emotions or thoughts and to not use his powers to drive someone to madness or physical harm because of something he had done.

”Very well. I sanction this raid on one condition.” The rest of the Earl’s words faded away as the dread and grief Athelstan had been trying to keep at bay overwhelmed him. He had been the one that had sentenced not only his blood family to die, but also their friends and the church goers that were in that village. He had sentenced himself to spend eternity with the Devil and his demons. The cross that was under his habit felt like a nose around his neck and the prayers he had said the night before weighed heavily on his mind.

”O Lord, forgive me for what I have done.” He murmured not that quietly, ignoring the nudge physical and mental nudge from Ragnar to shut up. He let himself be dragged around by Ragnar until he was faced with the bodies of the other dead monks. He stopped despite the yanking of the rope around his neck, Athelstan refused to move. He knelt on the floor, earning a few looks from those gathered in the square and bowed his head, his grief was crashing against him like the sea crashed along the beach in a violet storm. He heard the sound of a blade being unsheathed and Ragnar’s approaching footsteps before he was forced to look up at the North man. He expected his own throat to be cut be Ragnar’s blade but he was surprised to realise that it was the rope around his neck that had taken the force of the knife and not him.

Athelstan was surprised at Ragnar’s actions and the fact that we was allowed to ‘run away’. Athelstan knew that he wouldn’t make it far in the foreign land and he would probably be dead by the end of the week, or the month but that was stretching it. The weight on his back decreased as Athelstan was relieved of some of the possessions he had been forced to carry as Ragnar walked off.

Athelstan looked around before he stood up and jogged to allow him to catch up to Ragnar, not missing the smug flash in his mind as he walked towards him.

The discussion the morning after Athelstan and Ragnar had arrived back from Kattegat was about the second raid on England. Instead of watching Ragnar’s mind, Athelstan decided to focus on the other three members of the family. Lagertha’s moods changed as swiftly as water races down a hill or a mountain. Gyda’s was soft and a little clouded from sleep, but her moods changed like gentle breezes on a summer day, always changing but somehow remaining kind and refreshing. But Bjorn’s anger at the situation made his thoughts like knives and they jabbed uncomfortably against the lighter barriers that Athelstan had set up to cushion the blows of any thoughts like Bjorn’s.

”Please, Ragnar Lothbrok, don’t do this.” The telepath pleaded one last time hoping to try and change the other’s mind. Lagertha’s threat made him fear for his life, not only that but the seriousness and the protectiveness over her children made Athelstan hope that he never got onto Lagertha’s bad side. Ever.

Chapter Text

Seeing Ragnar and Lagertha leave the farm and the children in his hands surprised the telepath, a surreal experience. Very few things had ever been left in his care in the monastery, besides some of the tasks and a small amount of belongings that he had from his family before they had left him at Lindisfarne. He watched them until they left before heading off to do the chores and keep an eye on Gyda and Bjorn until Ragnar and Lagertha returned from his home country.

”Do you have any family Priest?” The question surprised Athelstan, both Bjorn and Gyda had been quiet for a few days, but he answered it truthfully, he let his barriers down, as Gyda’s mind was one of the only ones that reminded him of England and soothed his mind instead or giving him pounding headaches if he listened into it constantly.

I had four brothers and a sister. They all died of a fever, like my mother and father. I was only saved because they had me placed in a monastery when I was just a child.” His tine was wistful and hinted with grief. “They had too many mouths to feed.”

”So you are alone?”

”No.” He replied happily, his eyes bright. “God is my father, so I am never alone.”

”What does your God look like?” Gyda asked, curiosity filling her mind like a river, her thoughts tinted with its waters.

”No one can know what God looks like.” He replied, slightly embarrassed that he was unable to provide a description like the North men could of each and every one of their Gods and Goddesses. “It would be like looking into the sun. It cannot be done. But he did send his only son to live on the Earth and he looked like a man.”

”Odin, Thor and Loki are like men,” Gyda replied, looking around from her task, “although they are Gods.”

”They are not Gods. They don’t exist.” It was only at that moment did he feel Bjorn’s mind revel with disgust as he walked past and heard the final statements that the ex-priest had said. He is expressions angry compared to Athelstan’s which was tinted with horror and guilt.

“Bjorn.” Athelstan called after him as the child walked away, his barriers going up before he would be bombarded with angry thoughts that would have given him headaches for hours.

It was only a few hours later when Bjorn and Athelstan came face to face with each other again and nothing was said about the earlier incident.

”I want to go to Kattegat,” was the first thing Bjorn said to Athelstan at the dinner table. “I want to see my father return soon. He must return soon.”

”I gave your father my word that I would look after you both here.”

”You are not looking after us. We look after ourselves.”

”I cannot allow you to go on your own to Kattegat. Your father would never tolerate such a thing.” Athelstan’s reply was firm enough to tell Bjorn not to continue the matter any further as he sat down.

”Then we should go together.” Bjorn pressed. “The three of us.”

”Then who will look after the farm?” The telepath countered before saying Grace and pouring Bjorn and himself some ale.

”Can I have some ale?” Gyda asked, hopeful but slightly timid at the same time.

”You’re too young, Gyda, to drink ale.” Only to be surprised when Bjorn gave his ale to his sister and she took a mouthful before giving it back.

”I want to make a sacrifice to Thor, for my father’s safe return.”

”What will you sacrifice?” Athelstan asked, an almost teasing tone to his voice, thoughts jabbing at his defences from Bjorn’s direction.

”You!” The thought increased in rapid numbers before the barrier was weakened enough for pain to start building behind his eyes as Bjorn scurried off and the pain lessened. Gyda and the telepath chose to eat the rest of their meal in silence before clearing up and heading to bed.

Once the children were asleep Athelstan reached for his bible and opened the slightly weathered pages until coming across a drawing of Christ. “Where are you Lord?” The telepath wondered quietly aloud, his fingers lingering on the drawing. “Tell me.” He almost pleaded. “Is it your will that I am here with these heathens? How does it serve you? I don’t understand. For the first time in my life, I am angry with you. You allow my brothers to be slaughtered and sold. Is this really your will? For the first time, I feel lonely. Where are you, Lord? Where are you? Why don’t you answer me?”

He hears a soft rustling from above and looked towards the noise only to see an owl perched in the rafters of the Lothbrok house. “It’s just an owl.” Athelstan reassured himself before walking over to Ragnar’s son.

”Bjorn? Bjorn, wake up.”

A bleary eyed Bjorn stared at Athelstan, too tired to be annoyed. “What is it?”

”We’ll go to Kattegat. All of us, tomorrow.” The ex-priest promised before heading off to bed himself, his own restless thought calming down before he slipped off to sleep.

Voices clamoured gently in Athelstan’s mind as he stood behind Lagertha, Bjorn and Gyda at Ragnar’s trial in front of the population of Kattegat. The minds that drew the most attention were the five Lothbroks at various points in the room. Rollo’s attracted his curiosity the most but he changed his attention to Ragnar as he was brought before the Earl and his wife.

The trial ran smoothly even with the doubt in everyone’s mind that Ragnar would be found guilty and killed. The relief was overwhelming and swamped Athelstan’s own joy that Ragnar was proven innocent, even though Lagertha had spoken the truth when she admitted the killing of Knut, and Rollo’s lie of being there, but the twisting of the truth allowed Ragnar to be free and for the Lothbroks to gain half of the hoard, which made Athelstan forget about the sin and allowed him to enjoy the celebrations afterwards.

The boisterous laughter and drunken actions filled Athelstan with joy as he also celebrated Ragnar’s freedom. He smiled widely when his fri-Ragnar walked over.

“Will you drink with me?”

”Of course.” Athelstan replied, his smile brightening as he took a swig.

”Thank you for looking after my children. You’re a good Christian.” Athelstan laughed lightly at Ragnar’s statement and Floki’s impression of the Earl.

Athelstan was alerted to the danger approaching when Erik’s mind darkened and his consciousness suddenly cut off, a hole was left where Erik’s thoughts used to be and it scared him. It was only when the other’s started to notice could he act like he knew the threat wasn’t coming, it was made realistic when the men started attacking everyone and the sadness he felt when he learnt that Erik was dead was enough to numb him to the minds of everyone else and their grief filled thoughts as the registered somewhere in his clouded mind and it only added to his grief.

The angry and grief filled thoughts that pervaded Ragnar’s mind the following mind when the ex-monk had been doing his chores was enough to alert the telepath of the strength of Ragnar’s anger. It overtook Ragnar’s mind and his body, wiping out everything but anger filled thoughts and vows of death and revenge as he chopped the wood needed for a fire. Athelstan also noted Bjorn’s concern for his father as he watched him ruthlessly chop the wood.

Athelstan looked over at Gyda and forced a smile that didn’t reach his eyes before he looked up again and the expression faded into one of concern as Ragnar started lobbing the wood around the property, which scared Bjorn, before he stalked into the house without saying a word.

Later that day when the telepath was drawing water from the well did Athelstan see Ragnar as he stalked out of the door with a blanket on his back. Scared and curious as to what the man would do, Athelstan followed, his barriers strengthened as he watched Ragnar disappear into the distance and perching up on the hillside.

The question that Athelstan had been wondering escaped his mouth at the table. “What is Ragnar doing on the hillside?” It only earned him concerned glances from Lagertha and Gyda, but the telepath could sense the worry in Bjorn’s mind and see it in his eyes, and after he had finished eating Athelstan checked on Ragnar and heard glimmers of the thoughts in Ragnar’s head so he turned and went to Lagertha.

”I know what he’s doing. He’s preparing himself.”