chapter one ; wild things

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The wind howelled through Kattegat that winter morning, sleet and snow pummeling the ground as the sun rose on the eastern horizon. The wooden houses were dark, men and women sleeping underneath fur skins, pressing against each other to keep warm. Children snuggled underneath the arms of their mothers, and infants were tucked with care into the crevice between their parents, being the most delicate and most likely to freeze in the harsh cold.

Snow crunched underneath the boots of King Horik and his men as they marched towards the hall where Earl Ragnar Lothbrok awaited them, along with his son. Horik was determined to reach the hall before the sun rose too high in the sky; he had many plans for the day, and wanted to get an answer from his ally before he had any more time to simmer.

The party entered the hall without introduction, barging in quickly and hurrying to close the doors to keep the cold out. The inside of the hall was lit only by a dim fire, barely illuminating the faces of Ragnar Lothbrok, his brother Rollo, and Ragnar's adolescent son, Bjorn.

Bjorn was just barely a young man, no older than eighteen. His blonde hair was cropped close to the front of his head, the base of his skull shaved. He was still young, still naive, but strong nonetheless. His father, meanwhile, was much more wisened by his many years as a warrior.

Ragnar sat in front of the fire, swinging a live mouse by the tail. As Horik entered he smacked the skull of the mouse against the wooden pit of the fire, killing it instantly.

"Are you going to proceed with the execution of Jarl Borg?" Horik saw no point in dancing around the topic. He had known Ragnar for many years, and knew that the man did not consider himself much of a noble - there was no real use for formalities.

"I am." Ragnar answered without looking up. He jabbed his knife into the mouse, being careful to only cut the skin and avoid the meat. He carefully peeled the mouse of its flesh, leaving the muscle and meat underneath exposed.

Horik pursed his lips, trying not to appear annoyed at his ally's clear apathy for the situation.

"I understand your reasons," Horik searched for the right words. "At the same time, without Jarl Borg's ships and warriors, we cannot hope to mount a successful raid on Wessex."

Ragnar pulled free the flesh from the mouse as if he was peeling a banana. "We will find another ally."

"When?"

"Soon. I have sent out word." 

Noticing Horik's dissatisfaction, Rollo stood up from his seat beside Bjorn.

"Are you suggesting that my brother should reprieve Jarl Borg as if nothing has happened?"

Horik stiffened.

"No. I am merely suggesting you stay the execution until a new ally is found," He paused. "The execution of Jarl Borg made public would surely would discourage and deter any possible partners."

Ragnar and Rollo exchanged a look, seeming to communicate silently. Finally, Ragnar sighed.

"Fine. We shall wait."

King Horik nodded and turned towards the door. Ragnar smirked.

"But at least we are still allies, King Horik!"

Horik froze and turned to Ragnar. His jaw set.

"I want my revenge on King Ecbert and I shall have it, come what may. I trust you are not fooling me with your promise of new allies."

Ragnar gave a cat-like smile.

"Trust in me, old friend," He mused. "I will find us an ally unlike any other."

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