Steadfast was never the right word to describe Canute in Vinland Saga. Instead, he was more of a shrewd schemer. He did not mind resorting underhanded tactics if it eventually helped him gain what he wanted.
The plan to take over Ketil’s farm was one such underhanded tactic that he had come up with. While it was done with the aim of greater good in mind, it still didn’t exempt him from persecuting a section of people, which eventually makes us question his morals and subsequently his end goal.
However, Canute surprisingly takes a U-turn after the unique ‘peace negotiations’ he had with Thorfinn and decides to leave Ketil’s farm alone.
But then, what exactly did Thorfinn say which changed Canute’s mind? Why did he suddenly decide to leave Ketil’s farm? For starters, the conversation between Thorfinn and Canute can be a bit hard to grasp. So we have broken it down for you so that you can understand their reasonings well!
Why did Canute leave Ketil’s farm alone?
To answer in short, Canute decided to leave Ketil’s farm alone because his conversation with Thorfinn made him realize they were both working towards the same ideal of building a peaceful world. This made Canute rethink his ways a bit, and eventually made him give up on Ketil’s farm.
Before I give a detailed explanation, I’d like you to check out the following article so that we both are on the same page!
All caught up? Good!
As mentioned in the above article, the main reason why Canute orchestrated the expropriation of Ketil’s farm was because he needed to generate more funds. Ketil was just the first test case, and he planned to do similar things to other rich farm owners in Denmark.
The reason why he resorted to such methods was because Canute was the King, and he believed it was King’s duty to build a better future for the people even if it meant resorting to a path of blood and steel. It was something he was told time and again.
Even if it was for a noble cause, war was sometimes unavoidable.
Canute believed that he was striving for the greater good, that he was striving for his goal to rebel against God and create Paradise on Earth. He believed that a huge responsibility rested on his shoulders. And in order to carry forward his great work, Canute trampled over the minority.
He felt that by sacrificing the happiness of a few, if he was eventually able to achieve his end goal, then it would still count as a victory. Canute did not expect everyone to understand his morally gray thought process.
The conscience of the crown, which appeared as King Sweyn to Canute, also pushed him further down this path. The sheep and the shepherd analogy used by Sweyn in chapter 98 further explains this.
Canute is called a lonely shepherd by Sweyn’s apparition, which in a way could be Canute’s own consciousness regurgitating his inner monologue, reminding him that he was walking down a road where he could expect no companionship or common group.
Just like a shepherd needs to raise his sheep, and then thin the herd and rear the wool and then harvest their skin, without worrying about what the sheep might think, a King too is supposed to carry forward his duties without revealing his true desires to the ‘lesser men’.
In fact the only one Canute believed to be fighting by his side for his ideals was Wulf. That was until he encountered Thorfinn on Ketil’s farm.
A fateful conversation:
However, Canute’s whole outlook changed following his conversation with Thorfinn. The latter had come to request Canute to leave Ketil’s farm alone. The Emperor of the Vikings refused at first, and stated in no specific terms that he was doing this for the greater good of his people.
So, as a clash of ideals presented itself; as the peace talks truncated; Canute asked Thorfinn what he would do. Would he fight and slaughter to get his way, or would he just obey and submit.
However, Thorfinn’s answer caught Canute off-guard. He said that he would just run and escape the clutches of Canute’s power.
Despite being a strong warrior, despite knowing the way of war, Thorfinn just said he would run away. He took all the beatings, just to get a chance to admonish Canute to his face, and when things didn’t go his way, Thorfinn just accepted it, and tried to escape his fate without resorting to violence or bloodshed.
As Canute points out, the negotiation with Thorfinn was the stupidest peace negotiation he ever had. The reason? Whenever someone tried to deal with Canute in the past, they were either trying to get him to do something, or trying to kill him.
In short, he never could trust the people who came to him.
That describes why he was shouldering the burden of his goals all alone. Even though he had gone a bit astray on his path, even though his actions were a shade of gray, there was no one he could honestly call partners or companions who were fighting for the same goals side by side with him.
However, that changed in this conversation.
Canute saw that Thorfinn bore no ill-will and that he had nothing up his sleeve when he came to negotiate. He straight up stated his request and on realizing that Canute wouldn’t grant his wish, Thorfinn instead of fighting back, came up with a new way to achieve his goal.
But it doesn’t end there, despite having differing views Thorfinn did not try to change Canute’s thought-process. He realized that Canute was working towards saving the many in his own way. He also realized that he was in no position to judge Canute, without completely understanding what he was going through.
Instead, Thorfinn just decides to lessen the burden on Canute in a way. He decides to build a place, where those who couldn’t be saved by Canute could live in peace.
Thorfinn was essentially the cork that plugged the hole in Canute’s grand plan. However, the little viking also had a message in store for the king. He had to make sure that the hole in his plan wouldn’t get too big.
Meaning, Canute had to ensure that he wouldn’t make a lot of people suffer in the name of achieving his goals. There was limit to how many Thorfinn could save, and he wanted Canute’s help in maintaining in the number of people affected by his ‘great work’ to a minimum.
Not only was this one of the weirdest peace negotiations that Canute had, but he also saw the stark contrast in their ideologies.
A change in beliefs:
Thorfinn believed there was no point in violence, or bringing misfortune to others. He’d had enough of it. And there was no way even Canute could force him to go down that path. However, the irony is that even Canute once found himself at the same crossroads. In fact, Canute was soo fed-up of the meaningless slaughter that happened around him that decided to take matters into his own hands and build a paradise for those forsaken by the heavens.
While Canute felt blood and steel was the way ahead to achieve his paradise, believing there was no other option; Thorfinn was working towards a similar goal, but in a vastly different way.
Canute realized that the person in front of him was not so ordinary. Thorfinn stuck to his ideals no matter what, and that too in a good way. He was the perfect juxtaposition of a viking and even his past life.
Thorfinn mirrored the ideals that Canute once wanted to achieve. To make a paradise on earth. To give meaning to the life of Vikings. Thorfinn did both, and arguably in a much better way.
Ofcourse he couldn’t do it at the same level or scale as Canute, his actions won’t have a staggering effects as those of the king, but still Canute felt that he ought to help Thorfinn. The point to note here is that, Canute does not change his ideal, he just decided to believe in Thorfinn and his goal.
Canute was fascinated by what Thorfinn claimed he would do, to be more precise. Here was a man working toward an ideal which Canute believed was not achievable. And so he decided to abide by Thorfinn’s wishes and make his task less difficult for him, to make the hole in his plan less big.
Canute eventually withdrew from Ketil’s farm without capturing it, but he had gained new companions that day who were working towards the same goal of peace, and that made him happy.
It wasn’t a change of beliefs per se, that’s what it feels like. But Canute is more so helping out Thorfinn achieve his goal because of his fascination for wanting to know how it will turn out.
What are your thoughts on Canute’s actions? Why do you think he left Canute’s farm? Let me know in the comments below!