As a teenager, Canute struggles to find his place among differing religions. An unexpected relationship with another Jomsviking, forbidden by the Christians, may force him to choose a god.
Written by Jayden Woods, Edited by Malcolm Pierce
To read this tale in another format, such as Epub, Mobibook (for Kindle Readers), or Pdf, go here: http://www.feedbooks.com/userbook/15097
Though Canute the Great is a real figure of history, and a fascinating one at that, one can only speculate as to his true personality. This story is an important piece of my “fictional” Canute character. My goal is to never contradict what events definitely occurred, but this short story is pure fiction speculation–even moreso than my usual. That said, it arose naturally from my reading of his life story. I expect (and hope) for it to be rather controversial!
Canute’s palms sweated as he stood across from his sparring partner. This was the most formidable opponent, he suspected, that he had ever faced next to Thorkell the Tall himself.
They were of a similar age and height, fifteen or sixteen years old, tall and wiry, though Tosti was a bit broader in the shoulders and hips. His most incredible feature, Canute deduced, was his incredible agility. Every part of his body—all except his fierce silver eyes and unwavering smirk— seemed to be constantly moving at every moment. His feet strolled across the wet earth without leaving an indention in their wake. His fingers fidgeted playfully along the handle of his wooden sword. He tilted his head, back and forth, back and forth, as if to watch Canute from every possible angle. The muscles of his bare torso undulated in the diffused sunshine like rippling water. And all the while, his long blond braids flowed along his chest and back, like snakes writhing about his shoulders.
Canute’s own fighting posture was the exact opposite. He stood very, very still, his boots sinking into the mud, one hand clenching his poised sword until splinters bit into his skin. Nothing moved along his pale chest but for glittering trails of sweat. His blue eyes focused on Tosti through narrowed lids, blinking only when his hair lashed against them, which made him regret cutting it too short to pull back. But beyond this fleeting thought all his concentration centered on Tosti. He tried not to think about the group of young Jomsvikings watching them. He tried not to think about the humiliation he would face should he lose this skirmish.
With very little warning at all, Tosti struck with his wooden sword. Canute lifted his own to block, sinking his weight deeper into his legs. He absorbed the blow and tried to redirect its momentum back on Tosti. The wooden rods creaked as they clashed, and splinters flew as Canute twisted, hoping to offset Tosti’s grip. Tosti reacted quickly, shifting his stance completely. He made another lunge with his weapon, and this one swiped Canute across the side. He winced as the wood scraped his skin, struggling not to move.
“Get him, Tosti!” shouted one of the onlookers, and a resounding cheer echoed him.
Canute gritted his teeth, trying to ignore this insult. How dare they? Though only fifteen years old, he was a leader to these men in almost every conceivable way. His father was Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark and Norway. His grandfather was the great Harald Bluetooth, founder of the Christian church of Roskilde. His ancestor was Gorm the Old, the first king of Denmark. His foster-father was Thorkell the Tall, the greatest and mightiest Jomsviking next to his own brother, Jarl Sigvald. Canute’s own brother, Harald, ruled as regent of Denmark while their father harried the coasts of Engla-lond with Thorkell.
But now was not the time to wonder how these young men dared cheer against him. He would have to ponder that later.
Tosti continued to dash about the field, hopping from one spot to the next as if he would win by dizzying his opponent. Canute just glared, eyes flicking along with Tosti’s movements, and waited for him to make a real advance. He took slow and steady breaths, intent on gathering his energy while Tosti wasted his.
A bird flew through the sky, slicing the glaring sunshine into pieces. Birds were often a sign from the gods.
Canute looked up.
While Canute was distracted, Tosti struck again—this time on Canute’s shoulder. Canute cried out, more from rage than from pain, for the blow was not very hard. Tosti drew back just as Canute tried to swipe back at him. This left him in a vulnerable position.
Tosti smacked Canute’s rump with the flat of his wooden sword, as if with a paddle, then hopped quickly away.
Canute was so shocked by the humiliation of the blow that he stood petrified for a moment, red flushing his torso and face as if he’d been sunburned in a matter of seconds. Tosti had just … spanked him! He could have done it for no other reason than to make fun of Canute. To win the spar, one of them had to knock the other over. So Tosti had nothing to gain from such a ridiculous move.
Meanwhile, the small crowd exploded with laughter and jeers.
“Oh, look at the great Sweynsson now!”
“Where’s Thorkell the Tall when you need him, Canute?”
Seeing through a haze of red, Canute looked dizzily at the faces around him. Is that what they really believed? Did they truly think that without his great fathers and guardians, he was a nobody?
A shout of rage ripped out of his throat, so strong it silenced most of the laughter. Canute didn’t notice, for at last he was advancing on his opponent. He lifted his sword high, pulling his feet from the mud at last to run towards Tosti. The look on his face must have been frightening enough, for Tosti froze with terror. At the last moment, he lifted his sword to block Canute’s onslaught, but his stance was not ample; Canute’s sword knocked Tosti’s aside, then it smacked him hard across the side of the head.
Tosti’s eyes rolled and he crumpled to the earth, his energy cut off like a waterfall dammed from above.
Everyone around Canute grew quiet. Soon he heard nothing but his own heart thumping in his chest, increasing in tempo. He had not meant to hit Tosti quite so hard. Why didn’t he get up?