By Vera d'Auriac
His mind is different. There is a weaving in and out of a complex pattern that when close looks muddled, but from farther back is revealed as the most magnificent design. A thread from one point winds its way through the others, almost impossible to follow, even though once it arrives over and around the others, the logic and beauty of its journey is so undeniable, you cannot imagine having ever questioned its path. And that is but a single thread. He has hundreds, thousands, of threads on his mental loom at any given time. Only he sees them all at once. Everyone else must hope for the luck that they might understand a corner here, a patch there, later.
The brothers at Lindisfarne would not have believed a heathen who raided and pillaged would possess the most intricate mind Athelstan has ever beheld, but that fact does not make it less true. Standing here, beholding another of Ragnar’s victories that owes more to anticipation, understanding, and sheer tactical genius than brute force, Athelstan cannot help but admire Ragnar more than any abbot or king.
In their time apart, Athelstan weaves his own picture in his mind, a picture of Ragnar: king, killer, farmer, husband, lover. Once he could have been Ragnar’s lover. Why did he say no? He trembles back and forth with a possible answer, much as he waivers between his faiths, other desires of the flesh. He wants Judith. He wants Ragnar. He wants England and God on the Cross and celibacy. He wants Kattegat and Thor and Ragnar’s sweaty body and piercing eyes.
When Ragnar returns, the pattern has expanded, the tapestry that is Ragnar larger, the colors deeper, more subtle, the weave tighter. It is always like this after they have been apart. Ragnar never stops weaving, and Athelstan always finds himself marveling at the additions the man has made to himself. His mind is more dexterous than the most nimble-fingered woman who has spent a lifetime at a loom. And yet, that mind can also be soft and welcoming to those who know where to look.
And so even after being with Judith, and with his love of King Ecbert, whose mental weaving nearly matches Ragnar’s, Athelstan knows what he must do. The words come easy: All my future lies with Ragnar.
Athelstan goes to find Ragnar then. He must stitch himself—body, soul, and spirit—into Ragnar’s tapestry. Ragnar is what he wants most, and he only prays his threads might weave seamlessly into Ragnar. He would not disturb his resplendent design for any desire of his own. He has been celibate before, and he will joyfully be so again before he would mar the glory that is Ragnar.
When he knocks on the door, Ragnar welcomes him. Athelstan must wear his intentions on his face, for Ragnar wraps an arm around his shoulders and pulls him in, the door shutting swiftly behind. A hand snakes up into his hair, loosing his tie, and the strong palm of that hand presses firmly to the back of his head. Athelstan’s eyes do not have a chance to focus before they flutter shut, his lips forced to Ragnar’s.
They say nothing for a long time, their lips exploring the other’s mouth, jaw, neck. And hands roam, sometimes plucking at clothes in a bid to remove them, but more often just mapping the contours of the body beneath. Athelstan has seen Ragnar naked many times. There will be no surprise once tunic, breeches, and the rest are removed. But this, this wanton touching, this is new, this is something Athelstan has long desired, even though he cannot name the date of its beginning. His chest is flush with Ragnar’s chest as they breathe in concert, Ragnar exhaling into Athelstan’s mouth as he inhales Ragnar’s life, and then it cycles through in the other direction and Athelstan finds himself hoping he is enough for Ragnar.
Ragnar asks if Athelstan is coming with him, and Athelstan responds with a ferocious kiss, a kiss with the power to ignite blazes and topple cities. He loosens Ragnar’s belt, reaches inside his breeches. They moan together, and Athelstan knows Ragnar has understood the answer, because his response is hungry joy, not frantic goodbye. Athelstan does not know how he can tell the difference in quality, but he senses Ragnar’s pattern as only a student of his mind could. Someday, he will step back far enough from this moment to see it clearly, and he knows it will be beautiful, a miracle.
They shove and pull through the kisses, yank on straps, snap laces, the urge to get skin to skin now overwhelming them. Athelstan runs the palm of his hand over Ragnar’s nipples; Ragnar scratches a trail down Athelstan’s spine. Their need is all-consuming. The building might collapse around them, but stomach, elbow, hip are all more important than stone and mortar. Beyond their bodies is only need of the bed—once they stand naked before each other, all they wish is to stand no longer.
They trip and stumble across the room, fall on the mattress, finally tangle their limbs together as Athelstan needs. He can feel himself being stitched into the tapestry of Ragnar with the pressure at his entrance, the filthy Norse words Ragnar spews into his mouth. Athelstan rubs, searches for friction, finds Ragnar’s thigh, thrusts against it, clutches at Ragnar’s shoulder blades, prays he will last, never wanting release if he can have this for eternity.
Ragnar pulls him up the bed, and Athelstan goes meekly, as he vows always to go with Ragnar. He has sailed the wide sea many times for Ragnar, and he will do so again. He even sees now he would never come ashore if Ragnar also did not. Whatever shall befall him from this night forth, it will come at Ragnar’s side, for Ragnar is all. To be near him is to live with the possibility of becoming part of his weaving. Ragnar knows how to use those around him to make his pattern perfect, and all Athelstan can wish for is to be close enough to Ragnar that he might become a slim thread in that plan.
Where do you want me? Athelstan believes he said the words aloud, but he was so lost in Ragnar, he cannot say for certain. But Ragnar pushes him over onto his stomach, runs his fingers over Athelstan’s backside, purrs obscenities into his ear, the light goes out, and Athelstan hears a smash. Soon those same fingers are covered in oil from the lamp. One breaches him. Athelstan loses himself in the sensation. He does not know when the second joins the first, is unaware of it, until fingers curl to find the spot within that blots out the sun.
Athelstan mewls, pushes back against those fingers, delights in the rub against the wool blanket, needs more, needs Ragnar.
He begs. He tells Ragnar of his need. Offers his mouth to make Ragnar slicker to ease his entrance into what he is preparing. He promises anything—fealty, favors, whatever tasks and sacrifices Ragnar may devise—but he needs Ragnar now. As a response, Ragnar sinks his teeth into Athelstan’s shoulder and fucks him harder with those fingers, spreading, twisting, aching inside him, but not enough. Athelstan thrusts back, pleads in Norse, English, and Latin. Fuck me, Ragnar, he thinks he says. Make me a part of you.
Ragnar shifts. A delay. Athelstan does not know why, his face buried in the mattress. Then Ragnar lays atop him, the weight glorious. The chest and thighs, his breath on Athelstan’s neck, the knees pressing against his, forcing them apart. And then he is in. Just the tip. They both shudder, the sensation too much and not nearly enough. Slow and smooth, Ragnar pushes deeper, and Athelstan welcomes him as he once welcomed the body and blood of Christ. Is Ragnar his new religion? He will no longer find a place in Heaven. Will the halls of Odin and Thor, the glories of Valhalla, have a seat for him at their tables? He must fight more. Go into battle. Put his worthless body at risk, so he might earn the right to spend eternity with Ragnar.
Who is your saint of love?
The question confuses Athelstan. Saint of Love. Athelstan has no saint of love but Ragnar. But then he understands—Ragnar means the church. Not that it matters. The church has no saint for the love they share that can shatter mountains and change destinies because of its pure carnal power.
Athelstan answers what first came to his mind: You, Ragnar. You are my Saint of Love. My God of Pleasure. My Everything and All. I worship you, Ragnar.
Ragnar clutches Athelstan, crushes him with ecstatic pain. But he meets each thrust, reveling in warmth and nearing true rapture for the first time in his life. Ragnar returns to his endless wave of Norse obscenities, and Athelstan aches as his swollen cock grinds into the blanket. Soon Athelstan is cursing and praising Christ, Thor, and the stars in the sky. Ragnar’s grip tightens. They pant each other’s name—call out to their true divinity—and the climax washes over, through, around them together, a new world being born of their love.
Ragnar turns gentle in the aftermath, light kisses sprinkling Athelstan’s neck, feathery caresses up and down his arms. Athelstan knows both Ragnars—the fierce and passionate, the soft and thoughtful. It is by weaving these threads together that he has crafted the most beautiful life. And now Athelstan is a portion of the pattern. The tapestry labeled Ragnar Lothbrok now has a strand of Athelstan. How many more he will work into the picture, Athelstan cannot say, but leaving Ragnar’s side again will be impossible. Athelstan is tied to Ragnar, bound to his fate and design. And now that he lets his eyes relax, refocus, look at the pattern again, he can see that Ragnar always intended to weave him in, and to do so in just this manner. God the Father nor Odin could have prevented this fate, for it is Ragnar’s design, and Athelstan rejoices at his place in it.