In These Words


Einar stared back into Thorfinn’s concerned face, having forgotten what they were talking about.

Thorfinn huffed and stood in his usual quiet way, wondering off to grab the axe from the nearest tree beside them. He lifted the axe and began to chop as Einar stared into his weathered hands. With every chop they were both reminded that their time on this farm would be up someday. Soon, they would be free of this nightmare.

Deep down Einar did not feel he would ever be free of the feeling roiling inside of him. He would never be free of the horrors of loss and of war and what it did to him and his family, and there were many others just like him for as far as his heavy feet could carry him. His entire life was upended by greed and corruption of tyrants just to be sold into slavery. If he could turn back time, Einar would have done things differently.

A part of him knew the reality of things. Slavery was rampant, and there was always news of slave traders making their rounds in lands unheard of. There was no escape from death and war. Einar was far away from home, and even if he wanted to go back there would be nothing to go back to.

Einar had very little remorse for warriors, Jomsviking or not. All they did was rape, pillage and steal the lives of others. There was nothing honorable about men who killed on command. He was so convinced they were all murdering dogs without a conscience, and for a time Einar was comfortable believing in that.

“Do you hate me, Einar? I murdered so many people, I cannot even count. I don’t think I remember.” Eyes souless, Thorfinn let Einar in for the first time since he’d met the man, the trees rustling softly as they always do as Thorfinn continued.

“You say there are things in this world that are worth living for? For me there is nothing, Einar. From the moment I could hold a sword, I have had nothing to look forward to but my own death.”

Shock rolled down Einar’s spine as Thorfinn revealed his past to him in the woods. Had he been such a fool for trusting a man like Thorfinn? Struggling to quell his disgust, Einar seethed at those words that day. He remembered them over and over as an unfamiliar darkness took root in his heart that would drive him to do the worst thing when the sun set.

Einar felt the pain of loss driving him as he stood up in the barn to stand over Thorfinn’s still body. He could not fathom how someone who did all those things could sleep so damn peacefully. It enraged him deeply, barely able to contain his rage as he bent a knee, his giant frame shadowing Thorfinn’s small body in comparison.

Einar reached for Thorfinn’s neck. He remembered the sounds of her voice dwindling away as she was hacked to death. A strange light was in Einar’s eyes as his hands reached down to touch Thorfinn’s neck before gripping it with both hands.

It was strange how Thorfinn wasn’t moving, how lost in sleep he was. Einar could easily kill him, and nobody would be none the wiser. Einar tightened his grip, the sound of Thorfinn’s soft gasps in his sleep reaching his ears, only further sending him into a rage.

All Einar could think about were his sister’s shrieks, fully entrenched in the horrors that night as Thorfinn began to choke and splutter under his iron grip.

Just then, what Einar had never counted on was hearing Thorfinn’s screams. He was screaming and wailing in a way that sent Einar up and off the man, startled. Thorfinn kicked and screamed as if something invisible was holding him, weighing him down as if he was possessed. Einar turned away from him, shame finally burrowing into him at this discovery.

There was no hell deep or vast enough for men like Thorfinn. His mind was already broken by the ravages of war, and his sins would catch up to him eventually, if not already. In an instant he realized nothing would be solved if he killed him now. What would he stand to gain taking a man’s life at his most pitiable moment?

Shame radiated in Einar's chest to the pit of his stomach as he heard Thorfinn cry for relief he would never get, hands in the air like an infant seeking his mother as soon as he was conscious. And just like that, the moment had passed.

Einar had never seen the battlefield for himself or what it truly did to men’s minds, but now he had an idea. He hated the idea of pitying a murderer. As Thorfinn grabbed Einar’s tunic, trembling in his own cold sweat and tears, he reached for Thorfinn instinctively. With a softer tone in his voice, he whispered “I’m here...”

It was the strangest thing watching Thorfinn relax after such a mentally draining ordeal, weary eyed, shamelessly holding his hand for comfort, the marks on his neck still fresh. Einar felt the shame of his actions truly hit him like a weight then. He decided he would never do something like this ever again. He would be a better man.

They never spoke about what happened in the barn. Einar still wasn’t sure if Thorfinn knew what he had done, or the dream was so terrible he couldn’t tell what happened. Einar would not look at him for days after, the guilt hitting him in waves when Thorfinn smiled trustingly up at him, or divulged more things from his past when he was comfortable to share. Thorfinn wasn’t a very talkative man, so it elated Einar at times when he would dump information about himself out of the blue.

Thorfinn was unaware of social cues, and was a very awkward man when it came to speaking to others. He was the most uncomfortable when people were animated, finding the shorter blond overwhelmed by Helga’s tears when complaining about Master Ketil.

Einar had come to know more about Thorfinn in the months they worked together plowing the wheat fields. At night, the nightmare episodes did not end for Thorfinn, and Einar found himself unreluctantly becoming a support system despite his conflicted feelings about Thorfinn’s bloody past.

Over time he came to understand that this was more than a sickness, Einar thought. It was like something terrible was happening only in Thorfinn’s mind, and for once Einar found himself empathizing with Thorfinn over the years as he heard more about the battles he fought.

There was nothing impressionable about murdering others for material gains, or status. But, Thorfinn had not mentioned anything about spoils of war. He only spoke of his days being forced as a child to kill as men worse than him set a horrible example. Einar slowly found that Thorfinn’s lust for revenge sent him on a dangerous path in the same way Einar contemplated revenge on him.

It was almost poetic. He was sure whatever gods existed were laughing at him.

Every night Thorfinn screamed, and every night Einar was there. It was a normal occurrence for Einar to be looking over Thorfinn’s shaking body, toil-weathered hands brushing the sweat from Thorfinn’s sweaty forehead. When had he come to care for someone like this? It puzzled Einar that he treated this man far better than any cattle or possession he’d ever owned.

“I’m here,” Einar said slowly as Thorfinn looked around frantically, his hands fisted in Einar’s tunic.

“I-I’m sorry, I--” Thorfinn made a panicked, muffled sob. “It never ends, it--” Einar decided to do something different, reaching to hold him in a way he was sure he would have done with his own son had he been born in this world. A long finger explored blond tresses as Einar rocked Thorfinn back and forth. It seemed to soothe the blond, watching the man go limp with a yawn, suddenly sleepy.

Einar blinked. He had never seen Thorfinn so relaxed, much less yawning. Einar snorted. The idea that Thorfinn could ever harm anyone dispelled in his mind. The man he was holding now could not possibly harm a flea.

Thorfinn looked up at him, a new light in his eyes. “Thank you, Einar.”

He wasn’t sure what Thorfinn was thanking him for. For the first time Einar's cheeks went ruddy with color, so he opted for staring at the moon. “I can’t get any sleep with you making all that noise every night. Somebody’s got to look out for you. You’re practically vulnerable in that state!” He pouted, doing his best to ignore Thorfinn’s curious stare.

Whatever place he was in years ago seemed like a distant memory. And just as he was going to forget it all-together, Thorfinn touched Einar’s cheek, sending the man’s thoughts crashing as he stared at Thorfinn. His heart raced as Thorfinn stared at him, contact unwavering as he traced a finger over Einar’s beard... his lips...

That strange look was in his eyes again, Thorfinn’s hand finding Einar’s as he brought it to his neck. Einar touched along his jugular vein, felt the racing pulse there. The moonlight washed over pale skin and blond hair that seemed to spill everywhere in the hay beneath them.

“I know.” Thorfinn whispered as Einar began to pull his hand back. “You did what you had to. I did terrible things...” The sad look in those eyes caused Einar’s heart to seize. He wanted to run and abandon this cursed place with Thorfinn now more than ever and find a place away from all the madness. He knew Ketil would have other plans.

Einar reached down to kiss him and was more than surprised when Thorfinn kissed back, matching him in ferocity. It was no surprise how lonely they’d both been, and Einar hadn’t touched a woman in ages. In that moment things felt easy to do and nothing seemed off limits. Einar had never kissed a man before, but he also had never been a slave. He never thought he would be utterly changed by someone like Thorfinn or vice versa.

There in the darkness of the hay stables, they shared a kiss so innocent under the waning moon, the stars being their only audience.

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