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These are not the stories I meant to write.

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It happens slowly. She can see it before it happens, the way the priest's flesh will split, the way his knees will buckle when the pain hits him. She'll be too slow to get to him, to where he's standing over Bjorn.

Bandits. Ragnar is away, all the men are away, and Haraldson sends his most craven to her home. She runs another through--ten men attacking her house--and smashes the one behind her with her shield. His head makes a satisfying noise when it breaks.

Bjorn tried, but regardless what his father thinks he's still a boy: he isn't ready to fight, not like this. Not for his life. She doesn't know when he fell, a blow to the head that she hopes sleep will heal, and she doesn't know when Athelstan came out of the house, away from protecting Gyda.

The brute is mean-looking, vicious and snarling, and his blade is ragged as he swings it down over Athelstan, where he's crouched over Bjorn.

Someone screams, perhaps her, in her fury, Lagertha doesn't know. She reaches them, and though she hasn't the strength to cut his head clean off, it hangs awkwardly, fastened by his spine.

Bjorn is rousing, confused to find blood. "You're bleeding!" he tells Athelstan, already pushing away the robe, his fingers careless in his fear.

"Stop," she says. "Gyda!"

Gyda comes out, her eyes surveying the carnage before focusing on them both. She will be a strong shieldmaiden, Lagertha thinks with pride.

"Water. Bjorn, go put your father's knife in the fire."

"Does it--?" he starts, his mind clearly on her needle, but the priest is already too pale, and the dirt around them is too slick.

"Go!" she snarls, and he flees. "You will stay with me," she tells Athelstan, catching him when he falters. She pulls him against her, and his fingers flex on her breast. If it were any other time she'd be laughing about his discomfort, but now. She pulls back to look him in the eye, and he blinks, sluggish.

"This really hurts," he tells her, and she nods.

"It will be worse before it is better."

"With you it usually is," he sighs, and then winces. Bjorn comes out with the blade of the knife a dull orange, and Gyda is back with a pail of water. She leans in, presses her lips to his.

"You are going to live, because I say you will," she tells him. He looks at her, and he's trembling, whether due to the fear of pain or because he's gone into shock. She holds his eyes. "You are going to live," she repeats, and he nods, jerkily.

She takes the knife from Bjorn, and Bjorn lifts Athelstan's shirt. It's deep, but clean, still.

The Æsir themselves could hear him scream, and Bjorn and Gyda hold him firmly while he thrashes before falling to unconsciousness. Lagertha lifts him, grunting and trying not to shift him. There's lanolin to put on the wound and Gyda presses ripped shreds of the priest robes to it, and she puts him into her bed. It's a long night, watching for fever, for the vibrant red to turn into something more sinister, for swelling in the area to start. His dreams are wretched, but he survives the night, and when it is time to wake both children peer in, relief on their faces when they catch the rise and fall of his chest.

She feeds her children, fishes, drills them both. There is weaving to do, bodies to burn downwind, but she finds herself drifting back to the house too often, watching like a frightened babe for the rise and fall of his chest.

"Sleep is the best for him," she tells Gyda, who gives her a dubious look.

"I will sacrifice to Odin," Gyda informs her, as though to imply Lagertha's healing capabilities will be insufficient. It's a terrible thing, that her daughter takes after her husband.

On the third day, he rouses, but cannot stand long. He's worse than a small child, shifting and getting up even when she's told him not to move. She should be glad, she supposes, that he is here to move at all, but mostly she wants to wring his neck.

On the fifth day, Ragnar comes home and starts shouting, seeing the shallow grave and the small armory against the side of the house.

"Shut up!" she snarls as Athelstan shifts against her, restless.

"He's sleeping," Gyda agrees, narrowing her eyes at her father from the loom. Bjorn sighs, scaling fish.

Ragnar walks over to her, and gently pulls down the fur coverings. He's healing well, but it still looks ugly.

"What happened?" he asks, and she wants to say, Your ambitions will get us killed to a one.

"He saved Bjorn," she says instead, and Ragnar's face twists, something complicated and terrible, and she ignores him, instead shifting Athelstan a little. He sleeps better beside her, she's found. "If you ruin this for me," she warns, and Ragnar makes a face before walking to help Bjorn with the fish.

She laughs into Athelstan's hair, kissing it fondly. "He's jealous," she murmurs. "Shall I share?"

He doesn't respond except to huff and shift in his sleep, but she thinks not. Not yet, anyway.