Jonathan Hession/History
Darren Franich
April 22, 2016 AT 01:08 AM EDT

Ragnar is no god, yet all the gods watch him. They are all here – the gods of Ragnar’s fathers, the God of Athelstan, gods as yet unknown. In Paris, Princess Gisla prays to a statue of the Virgin — and Mary weeps. In faraway Kattegat, the Seer moans with ecstatic sorrow — for all is as he said it would be. Lagertha, childless. Rollo, triumphant. The princess has crowned the bear. In the end, even the greatest warriors are defeated. The victors write history, but no one is victorious forever.

Long ago, Ragnar Lothbrok took a single ship across the sea to a land called England. That raid defied the command of the local earl. For allies, Ragnar had close friends, true warriors. Most of those men are dead. One of them — his own brother, Rollo — has betrayed him, twice.

This new betrayal has brought them here, to the middle of the river. Ragnar’s ships sail into Rollo’s ships. The men of Frankia fight well, but they are not Northmen. The Vikings hack at them, slaughter seeping into water gone red with viscera. The Franks retreat. The Vikings celebrate. Not Ragnar. Made rancid with illness from Yidu’s medicine, he watches his brother. His brother’s lieutenant begs a retreat behind the walls of Paris. Rollo grants him a final retreat, running his sword through the man’s chest. “All of my life and all of your lives have come to this point,” says Duke Rollo. “To be here now is the only thing that matters. So gather all your strength and all your sweetness into an iron ball. For we will attack again and again until we reach and overcome their king or we die in the attempt!”

And the battle is joined. Ragnar takes the last ounce of Yidu’s medicine: Prepared to fight his brother, to kill and to die. They meet on a curious battlefield, a barge floating in the middle of the water. Ragnar scoffs at this man who was once his brother: at his Frankish hair, his Frankish armor. They wage war as only brothers and enemies can: sword and blade, fist and bone. Ragnar’s son sees them fight. So, too, Lagertha: doubly beloved by both of them, betrayed by them both. But Lagertha is laid low, stabbed in her shoulder. Bjorn races to her aid — always he chooses his mother, always.

“One of us will die today,” Ragnar told Rollo. But after long minutes of fighting, after both men are bloodied and battered and bruised, after Ragnar demands his people retreat so that he can fight his brother one final time — after all that, Ragnar’s men carry him away, leaving Rollo victorious.

Thus does Duke Rollo return to Paris, to waiting wife and child yet unborn. Thus does Emperor Charles crown him Caesar, to the joy of the common people. (Charles spent the battle in his throne room, executing traitorous Roland and plotting Therese — thereby choosing Rollo as his true ally.) “God bless Paris!” yells Rollo. Years ago, a young warrior named Rollo agreed to baptism as a joke. Now here he is, a changed man, declaring fealty to a God his father never knew. The people cheer. His wife cries with joy. It is the greatest moment of his life.

On a boat somewhere downriver, the Vikings are silent. King Harald holds his brother, dead. Lagertha lies unconscious, bleeding. Bjorn sits quiet, pondering, or perhaps lacking the strength to think. Ragnar sits alone at the end of the boat, his destiny cheated, his ship come in at last.

NEXT: Time passes 

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