“Norsemen won’t follow a weakling”, says King Canute’s Gunnar as he and a worried-sick Estrid watch her brother sparring with Wurf, the head of his royal guard and a much larger, stronger man. Estrid is just shocked to see Canute even handling a sword, he used to fear touching them. And while Canute ends up using Wurf’s crush on Estrid to distract and beat him, impressing his subjects, Estrid can tell her brother is in pain.
The late King Harald’s body is barely cold when Canute assumes the throne and gets to the work of keeping the kingdom financially solvent; no mean feat when he insists (probably with good reason) on keeping a native Danish force under his direct command in England, at the cost of all of the English taxes. Raising the Danes’ taxes will only foment unrest and resentment, so Canute has a different plan in mind: requisitioning lands from wealthy owners.
Right on cue, one of the men singularly equipped to benefit the very least from Canute’s imminent policy, Ketil, arrives in Jelling, three days after Harald died. Ketil, who didn’t even know the old king was that ill, is suddenly in the position of having to win favor with the new one. His elder son Thorgil, one of the king’s guards, will ask for an audience on Ketil’s behalf. As for Olmar? He’s in town acting like a pathetic gangster, bumping into a simple merchant and soiling his cloths.
Ketil arrives to de-escalate the situation, and the young merchant’s father also appears…and it’s Leif Erikson. The lad’s name is Thorfinn, AKA “Bug Eyes”, and we can surmise pretty easily that he was the product of Leif’s search for Thors’ son. Rather than abandon him, Leif ended up more or less adopting him. When Ketil mentions one of his people has the same name, hair, and eyes, Leif suspects that Ketil’s slave may be the Thorfinn he’s been looking for for years.
Ketil gets an audience with Canute almost immediately, which should be a red flag to him. The meet initially goes well, with Canute accepting Ketil’s fine gifts (the bounty of his vast farms) and assuring him of the necessity of strong farmers to keep the kingdom strong. Then Olmar stands (which you’re not supposed to do before the king) and starts to unsheath his sword (which you’re definitely not supposed to do before the king) and asks if he can join his brother in the royal guard.
Canute humors Olmar, and brings him before a freshly roasted pig to show his prowess with the blade. Olmar makes a lot of martial noises that startle the folks outside, leading to perhaps the funniest goddamn jump cut in Vinland’s history, as he is barely able to pierce the pig’s skin, let alone its bones. Even so, Canute says he’ll consider adding Olmar to his ranks. But it’s a bad look overall for the Ketil family.
Not that it matters. As soon as Canute learns that Ketil is a wealthy landowner, Ketil was doomed to be the first victim of the king’s requisition plan. Call it bad luck. Canute also identifies Olmar’s usefulness, not as anything resembling a warrior (he’s “all pride, no skill, as Wurf says), but as someone who can be easily manipulated into facilitating the land takeover. I’d feel bad for Ketil…if he wasn’t a damn slaveowner.
How will the impending takeover affect Ketil’s plans to free Thorfinn and Einar? I imagine all bets will be off, to say nothing of Arnheid’s freedom (or even safety). That said, it’s possible that Lief, or Canute, or both of them may soon find themselves in the presence of the real Thorfinn once more. They may not recognize the man he’s become.