“This is a horrible idea,” Athelstan says for possibly the thousandth time, teeth clenched as tight as Mary’s hand on his arm.
“How will you know if you can resist temptation if you never let it cross your path?” It’s feeble reasoning, but her face is serious, staring him down the instant she shoves him into a chair. He wishes—not for the first time—that he’d never stolen her juice box in kindergarten. They’ve been friends for too long.
“Or do it for me,” she snaps finally, dropping into the seat next to him. “If you still want to join a monastery after tonight, I won’t say another word to try to change your mind.”
“I want to do God’s work,” he tries, but she cuts him off.
“You can do that without signing your life away. I need something alcoholic.” She flags down a waiter wearing what seems to be a speedo made of candy necklaces and nothing else; Athelstan averts his eyes, heat on his cheeks.
When he looks back, she’s staring at him, eyes too wide to be truly innocent. “Boner yet?”
He shakes his head. “I’m completely—“ unaffected, he tries to say, but the music cranks up, and actual flames explode from the stage.
“LAAAADIESSSS, AND A FEW SPECIAL GENTS IN THE HOUSE,” the announcer shouts into his microphone—his eyeliner is smeared and dark, and he movies with the nervous energy of the not-quite-sane. “WELCOME! TO VALHALLA!”
The stage fills with men—mostly naked, loincloth-ed, cheap plastic Viking hats cocked on their heads. Athelstan tries not to look at the rest of their bodies, long muscled legs and, wow, an impressive number of abs which lead to the cut of their hips, their flanks, the bare curve of each round—
“AND NOW! BECAUSE WE KNOW YOU’D LOVE TO RIIIIDE HIS LONGBOAT. WE GIVE YOU! RAAAAAAAGNAAAAAAAAARRRRR!”
He’s golden. Faintly glittering, muscles slick with oil. But most stunning at all—his eyes, bluer than should be natural, and the smirk curling his mouth as he looks directly at Athelstan and grinds his hips in a slow roll.
“AND HIS LOVELY SHIELDMAIDEN, LAAAAAAAGERTHAAAAAAAAAA!”
Athelstan hadn’t even realized she was there. He’s aware of Mary watching him as he slumps lower in his chair, but the woman on stage is barely wearing more than the men, and she grabs Ragnar by his long ponytail and brings him to his knees. Ragnar looks more than willing to be at her feet, smiles up at Lagertha and tips his head toward the audience—no, more specific than that, toward—
Mary toasts her martini to his untouched water glass. “You’re welcome.”