When Einar and Arnheid are at the well for a few minutes each morning, they’re in their own little world. Neither is a slave, they are just a kind man and a kind woman making a connection that transcends the brutal, merciless world they were unfortunate enough to be born in. When Arnheid returns to the house, Ketil’s wife slaps her across the face for chatting. Arnheid’s dark expression shows she’s back in that world. Back in the darkness.
Einar and Thorfinn are faring quite well so far. Wheat seedlings have sprouted. Einar insists they pray and pray hard to a god…it doesn’t matter to which. As slaves, they have nothing to offer but their prayer. The dream of buying their freedom is alive and well. But Einar wonders if Arnheid has a similar arrangement (I assume she does not).
In the cold open, Snake and his mercs are investigating petty food theft, and declares that the culprits must be punished. When Ketil returns to the farm with his eldest son Thorgil (who is as terrifying and capable as Olmar…isn’t), they encounter Snake, and the two thieves in tow: mere children.
Tired from their journey, Ketil and his son sit down for a meal before dealing with the thieves. Thorgil regales his father and younger brother with “glorious” tales of battle and plunder, and also informs Ketil how well now-King Canute has done for himself, meaning maybe there’s hope for Olmar.
But Olmar hurts his case when Thorgil gives him a necklace of ears, and once he realizes they are ears, Olmar freaks out. Like a a normal, well-adjusted human would. Thorgil also tells Olmar that their father was once a legend on the battlefield, bare-chested, bare-fisted berserker his peers nicknamed the “Iron Fist”.
That brings us to Ketil’s sad duty as master of the farm to mete out justice against those who stole from him. If he doesn’t, it will encourage more theft, and he’ll be seen as soft to his retainers, the mercs, and his sons. But as soon as Ketil learns their names (12-year-old Sture and his younger sister Thora) and circumstances (ill mother, likely dead father), the man still lauded as the Iron Fist develops leaky eyes.
Thorgil quickly recommends each kid lose an arm. Sture says he’ll take both punishments, so Thorgil is fine taking both of Sture’s arms. Pater almost bails out Ketil by suggesting the kids work off both what they stole and what their father owed in rent. Ketil cannot mask how happy he is a non-violent solution is agreeable to all.
…But it isn’t. Ketil may be the master of this farm and an immensely wealthy and powerful individual, but even he is beholden to an even higher master in this world: the master that is burning through England. That master is violence and it demands its tribute.
Ketil must even go against his better nature in the number of stokes of an axe handle, going from five to ten. Sture again protects his sister, and will take all twenty. Thorgil volunteers, but his first stroke almost kills Sture, and Ketil, almost in a panic, takes the handle and completes the beating.
That night, Thorgil feasts with Olmar the mercs, while Ketil retires to his bed—a bed warmed by Arnheid. He weeps into her lap, confiding in her that the “Iron Fist” legend is a complete lie he made up. In reality, he’s as much a “coward” as Olmar, which is to say he would simply rather not commit violence to further his aims. Further, he fears Thorgil, his own son, for committing it so easily.
Arnheid, with a neutral expression, tells him what he needs to hear in that moment: that admitting to being a kind man can’t be a bad thing. But it is a bad thing in this world where his ultimate master demands payment for the life he lives. And lest we forget, Arnheid is not in that bed or on the farm willingly, she’s a slave, and slavery is a vicious form of violence.
That makes Ketil a hypocrite, and even if he’s a repentant one, if he wishes to maintain his wealth and power, he’ll have to continue to be a hypocrite. Notably absent from this episode was Sverkel, the first person on the farm who treated Einar and Thorfinn as humans, not property, paying them for their chores with his horse and plow.
Of the three generations represented by Thorgil, Ketil, and Sverkel, only the latter both talks the talk and walks the walk. Like Ketil, he’s long lost the taste for the kind of life currently enjoyed by Thorgil. But unlike Ketil, Sverkel trying to live an honest life free of trinkets and exploitation. In the waning years of his life, he has rejected the master that currently tortures Ketil and flatters Thorgil.