Vinland Saga – 06 – Engulfed by the Quarrels of Men

On November 13, 1002, King Æthelred II of orders all Danish immigrants in England killed. The Danish respond by sending troops across the sea, and the Vikings—Danish pirates—serve as the “army’s army.” Askeladd’s crew are right in the middle of this.

When English archers ambush their camp, Thorfinn gets a crash course in mass death, killing, and living with it, taking his first life and letting out a cry of vicious despair that carries through the forest, while Askeladd observes in quiet approval.

The battles with the English continue, and Thorfinn continues to kill and gets better at it, with his enemies continually underestimating him due to his size and youth. Askeladd starts using him as a scout, and he manages to kill two foes who come at him, gaining a second dagger with which he dual-wields henceforth.

While on another scouting mission he takes an arrow to the shoulder and washes up on a branch in a river in East Anglia. A kindly, God-fearing mother and her daughter take him in, clean him up, and feed him. The daughter worries (rightfully) that he’s a Dane, their enemy; but her mom doesn’t think any women or children should be bothered with the quarrels of men.

The mother even combs the fleas and lice from Thorfinn’s unruly hair, with the same comb she used to use on her son, who died of a cold two years ago. An English soldier arrives looking for a pint-sized scout, but the mother covers for Finn.

That night, while the daughter continues to argue with her mother about harboring him, Finn abruptly takes his leave, saying just one word to them in English: Run. He then sets a cottage on the beach aflame; the signal to Askeladd to make his landing.

The mother doesn’t run as Finn urged her; she comes to the beach and sees for herself the boy she nursed back to health and harbored: a rabid killing machine. When Finn spots her among the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks, guilt momentarily washes across his face, as he remembers his own mother and older sister.

Then the mother is simply gobbled up by the charging viking horde, Finn takes a deep breath, and the guilt is replaced by cold detachment as he too gets lost in the crush, joining his fellow fighters in the latest retaliatory raid on a relatively well-off English village. The comb the mother used on him is trod upon and broken, and perhaps with it any possible chance of Thorfinn turning back from his current, blood-soaked path.

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Vinland Saga – 05 – A Duel Deferred

Despite Askeladd and his crew being sure Thorfinn would eventually die of hunger, thirst, and/or exposure on the captured ship, he survives long enough for them to sail into the Humber for a brief stint in England. At first his thirst for revenge outweighs everything, but he slips on some moss and gets knocked out by a tree trunk. Defeated by his surroundings before he’s anywhere near the enemy.

He awakes in a gorgeously lit forest and finally drinks some fresh water. He’s so surprised to still be alive he even manages to smile and laugh, but that cheerful mood doesn’t last when he starts to hear screams and spots flames in the distance. Askeladd’s men have decided to spend their “resting time” doing what they apparently do best: rape, burn, and pillage.

Once things die down Finn sneaks into the village and finds the hut where Askeladd is sleeping, unprotected. Eschewing his dagger for an unwieldy longsword, he raises it in preparation to behead his father’s murderer, but stops and retreats, much to the surprise of Askeladd (who was briefly roused before going back to sleep.

In the morning, it’s confirmed why Finn stayed his hand: he’s his’ father’s son. Stabbing a sleeping man in the back isn’t his style; he wants a proper duel with Askeladd. Unfortunately Finn is absolutely no match for Askeladd, especially when he’s letting his sword swing him. He gets a brutal kick to the gut, but that’s all he gets.

Back in Iceland, Leif and the rest of the crew return and inform Helga and Ylva of Thors’ honorable death, and promise to not rest until they’ve found Thorfinn. Ylva, bypassing several stages of grief, flies straight to detatched acceptance and gets back to work, reacting to the news with little more than a shrug and by admitting she figured he’d get killed one of these days.

Neither Ylva’s friends nor her mother are buying what she’s selling—that she feels nothing for what has happened and merely wants to move on—and this is most powerfully illustrated when Ylva is working on a loom late into the night and Helga puts her hands on hers to stop her.

Only then, when Ylva stops—working, busying her mind, simply stops—do tears start to flow, almost despite herself, from her crystal blue eyes. Then Helga draws her into an embrace of shared grief and comfort. Will Ylva stay with her mother, perhaps the only family she has left, or join Leif on the search for her kid brother?

As we know, she still has a brother, who simply refuses to die. While Thorfinn won’t accept scraps from Askeladd’s men when they’re offered, he comes back later to eat what little meat is left and suck out the marrow. He has a chance encounter with Bjorn (collecting mushrooms), who treats him as little more than an irritant, but tells him that while his father was indeed strong, he was also naive. Finn isn’t even strong, not yet, which means he doesn’t have a chance.

Taking that to heart, Thorfinn continues training in the forest, and one night encounters a hungry wolf. Remembering Askeladd’s words about being swung by his own sword, Finn ditches the huge weapon for something much more suited to his size: the dagger Thors gave him. He then kills his first wolf, learns to throw a dagger, kills his first rabbit, feeds himself, recovers some strength.

As Askeladd and his men prepare to depart, having stayed longer than originally planned, Thorfinn confronts him one last time with yet another duel challenge. This time, he shows Askeladd a lot more, and even surprises him with the thrown dagger, but Finn is still nowhere close to being a threat.

Demonstrating he has at least some heart and empathy for the kid’s plight, Askeladd refuses to kill him, and instead makes a promise: if Finn becomes stronger and distinguishes himself in battle, he will honor the duel at a later date. The implication is, he must first join Askeladd’s crew. Knowing that as much as he might want to avenge his father, he’s still too young and weak, Finn agrees, and a truce is struck.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 12 – Who Had The Better Ten Years

Princess Carissa’s mother Queen Elizard remarks how impressively fast her second daughter’s invasion has unfolded, though it’s in no small part due to the power of Curtana Original (woe betide them all if she ever found Curtana Honey BBQ or Salt & Vinegar).

Her knights crawl out of the woodwork, but at every turn are met with resistance, either from witches, nuns, or…Sherry Cromwell. Carissa’s main goal is to legitimize her claim to the throne by killing her mother and sisters and then launching an attack on France (determined thanks to a captive Index’s analysis). She claims to be doing all of this for the survival and independence of her country.

Kanzaki Kaori makes one hell of an entrance by jumping out of a passing plane to stop Carissa, but she more than meets her match in Knight Leader, who let’s just say has a huge homefield advantage.

After quickly dispatching Kaori (making me wonder whether she’s become the Worf of Raildex: a strong character constantly getting owned to demonstrate an enemy’s power) KL and Carissa locate Princess Villian’s coach and prepare to behead her, but she’s saved at the last second by Acqua of the Rear, AKA William Orville, back in Britain after ten years.

Orville flees with Villian, puts her on Bayard, and sends her off to a Necessarius safe house. Knight Leader shows back up, and he and Orville have a duel. Considering how well he fared against Kaori, it’s no surprise even Orville has trouble with him. But as the episode closes he’s still in the fight.

Also in the fight: Touma, who passes Lessar off only to get cornered on a regional train. He finds Lessar’s comrade Floris in a cargo car, undoes her magical binds with Imagine Breaker, then takes her hand and leaps out of the train and off a bridge…into a river far shallower than he expected.

With Touma probably still alive and on the move with Floris, Orville and Knight Leader locked in battle, Villian headed to safety, and Queen Elizard and Laura Stuart also free and making their way back to London, the quick start to Carissa’s coup suddenly isn’t going so smoothly. Better still, there are plenty of players on the board who can make it even rougher.

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 11 – A Blatantly Obvious Explosion of Suspiciousness

After that harrowing flight (during which Touma never answered the “beef or fish”, resulting in Index being served no food at all), Kaori and Knight Leader escort the pair to an audience with the British royal family, led by the very laid-back Queen Elizard (who carries herself more like a mafia don and would rather do business in a track suit) and her three daughters: Rimea, Carissa, and Villian.

The assembled individuals lay out the threats to Britain, both external (from France) and internal (a four-woman group called “New Light”). Index has been summoned to assist in the analysis of the magic used so that they can more properly locate the threats. As for Touma? Kaori doesn’t want civilians involved, but unless he wants to pay room and board in Buckingham Palace, he’s strongly “encouraged” to actively serve the interests of British peace.

That night (or thereabouts) New Light springs into action, which involves the four of them splitting up and taking up positions while carrying checkered magical storage cases. The clumsiest of the quartet, Lessar, nearly mixes her case up with that of a drunk at a pub where she’s enjoying a repast of fish and chips (good thing Index wasn’t watching), and ends up being chased by the always lovely Oriana Thompson, backed up by Touma.

Meanwhile, the New Light leader is cornered by Amakusa then chased through the London Underground by Itsuwa, before brandishing the weapons of Thor (though not his famous hammer) and slipping away. The two other members are taken down, so Touma and Oriana believe they only have to deal with two more.

They then learn that the four were carrying out a relay, magically transferring the true contents from one to the other. Before the relay can be broken by Oriana and Touma, Lessar completes it to a fifth case, which is held by Knight Leader, working for the second princess, Carissa.

The box contains “Curtana Original”, the powerful ceremonial sword wielded by Britain’s sovereign which contains the power of the Angel Michael (her mother only has “Curtana Second”, which presumably isn’t as powerful).

And so, Touma finds himself in the middle of a battle between British princesses and their allies for control of the kingdom, and with both Curtana and the legendary Norse ship Skidbladnir, Carissa seems to have the upper hand, having used New Light as glorified couriers.

It’s an exciting, action-packed romp in a vibrant new London setting where none the players, not even the royal ones (I liked their selfie with Touma) take themselves or anything else too seriously. This is all a bit goofy and ridiculous, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun!

To Aru Majutsu no Index III – 10 – Next Time, Just Use Tsuchimikado’s Quinjet

As Itsuwa searches the internet for a sexy outfit to counter Kaori’s maid assault, Knight Leader stands ready to instruct Kaori on how to act like “a proper English lady” (and presumably dress like one, neither of which appeal to her), while a chance encounter between Touma and Misaka results in the latter getting “overcharged” at the vending machine.

Touma comes home to Index with instant yakisoba, but their meager repast is interrupted by a call from Tsuchimikado, whom Touma demands to keep it short, and he does: “Get your ass to Britain.” A moment later a knockout gas grenade is thrown into the apartment, and Touma and Index pass out.

At some point between then and when we next see the pair, they were given a choice to board Tsuchimikado’s supersonic jet for travel to Britain, but Touma chose the more comfortable alternative of commercial air travel aboard “Air Bus 365” (which sounds more like a make and model of plane than a flight number).

This would be fine, with the biggest problem keeping Index fed and quiet, but due to Touma’s boundless misfortune, the airliner they happen to board has been infiltrated by anti-Britain terrorists with agendas related to heightening tensions between the magical forces of Britain and France.

When Touma discovers something is amiss when searching for (what else) Index’s meal (we’ll never know—beef or fish?!) the flight crew arrests him lest a panic brew in the cabin. One of the terrorists then captures Index and tries to kill her, but Touma manages to rescue her. It’s a tense, claustrophobic situation and the flight crew seems ill-equipped to stop the terrorists, leaving it up to Touma.

On the ground in Britain, Laura Stuart and her logistics nuns represent at least one of the groups trying to bring the plane down (in her case, allowing it to land safely on a closed-off country highway). But their magical manipulation of the plane’s fuel gauges are overridden and the terrorist gets the pilot to regain altitude, so Laura has to switch to Plan S…for Stiyl Magnus, making his first appearance in the trequel.

Touma manages to track down the first terrorist and punches him out, but it isn’t long before he realizes there’s definitely a second, armed terrorist in the cargo hold. He uses hot tea to expand the ductwork so he can slip into the hold undetected, just like they do in the movies! Unfortunately the second terrorist is less of a pushover and has a grenade in his hand.

That’s when Stiyl arrives, perched atop a second plane below Air Bus 365. He uses his cards to neutralize the second terrorist, scolds Touma for not doing the bare minimum to protect Index, then departs as quickly as he arrived. Hi Stiyl, Bye Stiyl!

Air Bus 365 lands safely at Edinburgh; this is reported on the radio being listened to by what looks like another new group of magical users who are about to initiate a plan that will “break up the paradigm that is Britain,” suggesting they’ll be a key part of the complex magical conflict to unfold in this new arc, with Touma right in the middle of it.