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These are not the stories I meant to write.

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The priest shakes and shivers, harder than the others, though they're all equally wet, dressed the same. There is something…frantic about his eyes. About the way the others look at him, beseeching. Their words have the cadence of prayer, but Ragnar does not think that's what it is. Or at least, he does not think that they pray to their god.

Suddenly, five collapse overboard. The men give shouts, reaching their fingers into the waves to try to pull them back, but they sink.

The young priest is still shaking, and blood is trickling from his nose, though he's quick to wipe it on his sleeve.

"They must be diseased!" Rollo shouts, wading through and feeling for pulses. He'll find none, Ragnar can tell. The young priest's eyes roll back in his head, and Ragnar shoves himself up, shoving his fingers under the man's jaw. He finds the heartbeat easily.

"Not diseased," Ragnar says. "They lost the will to live."

Or someone took it from them. He hauls the priest's limp body up to the stern with him, and Floki crouches over him, his eyes flickering green, fingers tinged with it as he presses at the priest's body.

"Well?" Ragnar demands, low.

"He will not make you a boat," Floki says. "But he may make you a blade."

"But he is like you."

"Ehhh," Floki says, weaving his hand through the air. "In a manner of speaking. But no, I do not think that these people treat the Gods-touched well."

"What can he do?"

"That, perhaps, Siggy could see," Floki says. "I see truth only in trees and things which grow from the ground. People are disgusting."

The others seem to have forgotten the priest exists at all. When he regains consciousness he keeps himself small, ducking his head beneath his hood as though it will hide the glowing blue of his eyes.

I see you, Ragnar thinks at him as they sight the shore. And I promise you, no harm will befall you.

The priest's head lifts and he stares at Ragnar, something like the saddest of contempt on his face. He is far too young to look so haunted.

Do not promise what you cannot deliver, the priest thinks back.

"What is your name?" Ragnar asks him as they climb off the boat, home, finally.

"They will arrest you and keep everything," the priest replies, and Ragnar is confused until he looks at the landing and sees Haraldson's men waiting.

"If you keep me alive, Priest," Ragnar says, low, leaning in to catch his eyes so that he will see that Ragnar is telling him the truth, "I will keep you alive. Or could you not do to me what you did to the other priests?"

There is a low pause, and though the men move around them, laughing and excited to be home, victorious, it is very still right here, in this space that they share. The priest meets his eyes, and they are still glowing, but Ragnar isn't afraid. Ragnar is this man's best bet to survive, and he is not stupid.

"Athelstan," he says, finally.

"Come then," Ragnar says, gripping his shoulder and grinning. "Let us tempt fate, Athelstan."