2.0 PRINCE RAGNAR SIGURDSON

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

 

CHAPTER TWO

2.0 PRINCE RAGNAR SIGURDSON  (Circa 810 AD)

 

King Ragnar and Princess Aslaug (Kraka) by A. Malmstrom (c. 1880)

“In ancient times, Norway was called Thule and was thought to be an island instead of a peninsula and we call it Thule in this Chapter and shall explore how it may have first become the Nor’Way and later Norway.”

                                                                                                            Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 810 AD)  Prince Ragnar was the son of King Sigurd ‘Hring’ by his first wife, Alfhild.  After she died, although his father was old, he fell deeply in love with young Princess Alfsol, the daughter of King Alf of Jutland, and, when she became of marriageable age the two old kings arranged a bride-price for her.  But her brothers refused to give over one so young to one so old in matrimony, and, when King Sigurd ‘Hring’ defeated the brothers in battle on a plain near Jelling in Jutland, they poisoned her rather than give her up to become his wife.  The king then carried her sweet young body on board his ship and sailed it out into open sea and plunged his sword into his own broken heart, dying beside the body of his beloved Princess Alfsol.

Prince Ragnar became King Ragnar while still a youth in minority so, a guardianship was set up for his rule in Liere over Skane and Zealand.  At this time, King Frey of Sweden, after slaying Siward, the Vik King of Stavanger Fjord in Rogaland, South Thule, enslaved all the wives and daughters of King Siward’s kinsfolk and put them in a brothel temple he dedicated to Freya, goddess of fertility and delivered them to public outrage.  Princes and great warriors from all over Scandinavia came to the temple to make their dedications and have their way with Thulian royalty.  When King Ragnar heard of this, he wanted to go to Thule to avenge his grandfather, King Siward, but his guardians would not give him leave to go, saying it was too dangerous for one so young.  Once young Ragnar turned twelve, he gained the age of majority and led an army into Thule to drive out the Swedes.  As he came, many of the older matrons and young maidens who had either suffered insult to their persons or feared imminent peril to their chastity, hastened eagerly to his camp, all dressed in male attire, declaring that they would prefer death to outrage.  Nor was young King Ragnar, loath to use the brave shield-maidens against King Frey of Sweden and he welcomed the help of those women whose shame he had come to avenge.  Among them was Princess Ladgerda, a skilled shield-maiden, who, though a young woman, had the courage of a man, and she fought in the front ranks among the bravest of the warriors, with her hair falling freely from under her helm and flowing loosely over her shoulders.  All marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed her gender.

Once King Ragnar had justly cut down King Frey, the murderer of his grandfather, he asked many questions of his fellow soldiers concerning the maiden whom he had seen so forward in the fray, and he declared that he had gained the victory by the might of that one woman.  Ragnar had to return to Liere, but learning that she was of noble birth, he steadfastly wooed her by means of messengers.  She spurned his mission in her heart, but feigned compliance, hoping to offset a betrothal her parents had made for her with a young Jarl of Lade in Trondheim Fjord in the north.  Giving false answers, she made her panting wooer confident that he would gain his desires; but ordered that a ferocious bear and a fierce dog be set at the porch of her longhall, thinking to guard her own chastity against the ardour of a lover by means of beasts to block the way.  Ragnar, comforted by the good news of her false responses, sailed once more across the Skagerrak Sea, and, telling his men to stop in Gaulardale, as her valley was called, he went to the hall of the maiden alone.  There the beasts met him, and he was attacked first by the fierce dog and he wrung its neck, then he was charged by the ferocious bear and he thrust it through with his spear and the bear died face down at his feet.  When Princess Ladgerda saw how easily King Ragnar had destroyed the vicious beasts and she saw the bear lying facedown at his feet, she foresaw that he would give her a son that would be named after the bear.  Thus he wedded the shield-maiden in reward of the peril he had overcome.  By this marriage he had two daughters and a son Ladgerda named Fridleif ‘Bjorn’ , Fridleif after her Anglish Danish father and the byname Bjorn, meaning bear, and they lived three years at peace, but Princess Ladgerda would not leave her Gaulardale Valley in Sogn Fjord and King Ragnar continued his rule in Stavanger Fjord and would visit her when not in Skane or Zealand.  Still, young Jarl Haakon of Lade in Trondheim Fjord would not give up his betrothal claim to Princess Ladgerda and it was a source of friction between them.

The Jutlanders, a presumptuous race, thinking that because of his recent marriage in Thule he would never return, took the Skanians into alliance, and tried to attack the Zealanders, who preserved the most zealous and affectionate loyalty towards their King Ragnar.  When the king heard of the attack while visiting with his wife in Gaulardale, he returned to Stavanger and equipped thirty ships, and, with the winds favouring his voyage, he set off against the Skanians.  Princess Ladgerda continued raising forces at home, and she went north to Lade and asked Jarl Haakon for his aid, but he reminded her of her betrothal to him and agreed to aid her with ships if she would leave Ragnar and marry him.  She refused, of course, and took a small fleet to Skane to help Ragnar.  When she got there, Ragnar had already defeated the Skanians who’d ventured to fight, near the stead of Whiteby, and when the winter was over, he and Ladgerda fought successfully against the Jutlanders of the Lim Fjord region.  A third and a fourth time he conquered the Skanians and the Hallanders triumphantly as he escorted Ladgerda back to her Gaulardale Valley.

Meanwhile, the Jutes and Skanians were kindled with an unquenchable fire of sedition and they disallowed the title of Ragnar, and gave a certain Harald the sovereign power.  Ragnar sent envoys to Thule, and besought friendly assistance against these men, and Ladgerda, whose love still flowed deep and steadfast, hastily sailed off to her husband with her son, Bjorn. She brought a hundred and twenty ships to her former husband and, when Ragnar asked her how she had gotten so many ships, she told him she’d divorced him and had married Jarl Haakon of Lade and that one hundred of the ships had come from Trondheim Fjord.  “You have been ignoring me!” she claimed.  “And Jarl Haakon would only give me the ships we need if I married him.”

“I’ll kill him!” King Ragnar growled and he put up his hands like claws and made bear noises and tickled his son, Bjorn.  The boy was growing like a bear and would soon be able to fight in battle, but not yet.  “I shall maul Jarl Haakon of Lade to death!” and he made more growling noises until young Bjorn laughed uncontrollably.

“You will not kill him!” Ladgerda told her king.  “I shall handle Jarl Haakon.  But, for now, we need his ships.”  And she was right.  King Ragnar felt destitute of all resources, and took to borrowing aid from folk of every age, crowding the strong and the feeble all together, and he was not too ashamed to insert some old men and older boys among the wedges of the strong.  First he tried to crush the power of the Skanians on a battlefield which, in Latin was called Laneus, meaning Woolly, and there he had a hard fight with the rebels.  Many Danes fell to the Skanians and their spirit would have failed them had not King Ragnar, by his manly deeds and exhortations, spurred them on to hold their lines.  And Queen Ladgerda, through matchless spirit and bravery, led her shield-maidens and Trondelagers onward in a sally about, and charged around to the rear of the enemy, taking them unawares, and thus carried the panic of the Danes into the camp of the enemy Skanians.  At last the lines of the usurping King Harald faltered and Harald, himself, was routed with a great slaughter of his men.  When Ladgerda returned home after the battle, she returned her hundred ships to her Jarl Haakon and he welcomed her home and into his longhall.  The Norwegians she had lost in battle, she’d replaced with staunch Danish warriors and all her soldiers and shield-maidens had then sworn pledges to follow her.  She had been long apart from her new husband and he rushed her inside and made passionate love to her until the wee hours of the morning.  When he had sated his lust, he fell asleep in her arms and she reached up into her gown she had taken off and placed on the headboard and took out a broken spearhead she had recovered from the battlefield and she murdered her husband.  “You should have come to the battle with me as I’d asked,” she told him as he bled out.  “Perhaps then you’d have gone to Valhall on a better stroke.”  Then she usurped the whole of his name and sovereignty; for this most presumptuous maiden thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share his highseat with him.

When King Ragnar heard the good news that his queen had made herself Jarl of Lade, he sailed north to Trondheim Fjord and told Ladgerda that he still loved her and wanted her to re-marry him.  She welcomed him into her longhall and she spent the night showing him that she, too, still loved him, but she never re-married him.  They were lovers and she raised their son, Bjorn, in Lade and trained him to be a fine warrior, but she ruled central Thule, from Trondheim down to Hordaland alone, and when King Ragnar visited Stavanger Fjord, she would visit her beloved Gaulardale and they would meet there and make love there and Ragnar would check up on Bjorn’s progress as a warrior.  One visit, Ragnar gave Bjorn a great fierce Roman war dog as a gift and he told Ladgerda, “Now you once more have a bear and a dog to guard you in your hall.”  To which she responded, “And the bear and the dog shall keep all, save you, away, my love,” and they made passionate love once more.  Yet, they never remarried.

The Danes clamored for King Ragnar to find himself another queen, one that would add a softer side to his rule, so, desiring Princess Thora, the daughter of Herodd, the King of the Swedes, he set out and brought her back to Liere.  They loved each other and by her he begot two nobly gifted sons, Radbard and Dunwat.  These also had brothers; Siward, Bjorn, Agnar, and Ivar.  And Queen Thora did bring peace to Denmark for a time, but she died long before her time.

King Ragnar sorely missed his love when he was ruling in Zealand or Skane so, he determined to patrol the coasts of his kingdoms with a fleet of warships to safeguard the seas from pirates and slavers who might seek to profit from the Danes and Skanes and Thulealanders.  While patrolling the coast of southern Skane, the king and his men put into shore to bake some bread, as they’d run out and had only barrels of flour to comfort them.

When Kraka had lived with the wicked old couple for almost a dozen years, several Viking ships sailed up the creek near their stead and a number of men came ashore carrying barrels and kettles.  When the men saw the house they went to it and introduced themselves to old Ake and Grima and told them they were with King Ragnar’s fleet and they paid the couple silver to bake their bread in the oven of the house as well as over fires in their kettles.  When the cooks returned to the ships with the bread, some of it was overcooked and hard, while others of it were undercooked and still soft and Ragnar was about to have his cooks punished for their sloth, but they claimed it not to be their faults, as in the house there dwelled a servant girl so beautiful that they’d found it hard to concentrate on their baking.  They all claimed that her exquisite beauty was that of a princess and not of a bondmaiden and that her fine looks had bewitched them all.

King Ragnar had been lonely a long time and took interest in their tale and asked his chef who the girl might be.  “The old couple said she was their daughter, Kraka,” the cook replied, “but I found it hard to believe, as the young girl’s eyes seemed to throw daggers at her parents when they weren’t watching her.  I think she has been enslaved by them.  She is of much finer bearing than that lot!”  Ragnar guessed that his men were exaggerating her beauty to stave off their deserved punishment, however he was intrigued by their tale so, Ragnar ordered that this Kraka should immediately be brought in front of her king, but they were bidden to bring her to him neither dressed nor undressed, neither full nor fasting, neither alone nor in company.  The messengers found the maiden as fair as the cooks had said and repeated the king’s demand.

“Your king must be out of his mind, to send such a message,” said old Grima, Ake’s wife; but Kraka told them that she would come as their king wished, but not until the next morning.

The next day she came to the shore where the ship lay.  She was completely covered with her splendid hair, worn like a net around her, and carried only a small purse.  She had eaten a leek before coming, and had with her the old couple’s sheep dog, so that she had fulfilled Ragnar’s three demands.

Kraka’s wit impressed Ragnar almost as much as her divine beauty, her golden locks and her bright blue eyes which shone like the heavens in morning’s light.  He asked her to come on board, but she would not do so until she had been promised peace and safety.  When she was promised sanctity and came aboard, Ragnar looked at her in delight.  He thought that she surpassed all women in beauty, and offered a prayer to Odin, asking for the love of the young maiden.  He welcomed her under the awning of his ship and then he offered her a gold-embroidered dress which Ladgerda had once worn and he offered it to Kraka in verse:

“Will you have this golden dress?

 It suits you well, a princess blessed.

 Your hair of gold, it matches well.

 How in coarse abode do you now dwell?

Kraka answered, also in verse:

“I dare not take the golden dress.

 It suits not me, I must confess,

 for Kraka am I and will always be,

 a herder of goats down by the sea.”

Ragnar knew then, by her verse, that she’d had some training by a skald or bard and he promised her any help she needed or desired.  “Anything?” she asked as she set her purse upon a small table.  She put the golden dress on in front of her king and then withdrew her long hair from within the dress and she smoothed it out on her body most properly.

“Who are you?” Ragnar asked this amazing young woman who had been neither clothed nor unclothed, but now stood fully dressed before him without baring a glimmer of her smooth white skin.  “And don’t tell me Kraka, Princess…?”

“Princess Aslaug,” she answered, “and I shall tell you my tale if you’re serious in your offer to help me.”

Ragnar told her he was most serious in his offer and even offered to marry her now that he’d learned she was of royalty.

“I am the daughter of King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ Fafnirsbane of the Volsungs of the Greutungs, the Oster-Goths that migrated south to Roman lands centuries ago.”  Ragnar nodded that he knew who her people were, for the Vaster-Goths bordered on Skane and the Oster-Goths bordered on them, straight east of where they were sitting.  “My father was murdered and my mother, Princess Brynhild, is dead and our skald, Jarl Heimer, brought me north as a child, carrying me secretly in his harp casement.  The two inhabitants of this stead, thinking dear Heimer carried gold in his harp, murdered him for it, but found me inside instead.  We were going to Oster-Gotland to get help for the Land of the Volsungs, but I was enslaved here and my guardian Heimer has watched the waves roll from a grave by the sea for nigh on twelve years while I have toiled in slavery.”

“Beautifully said,” Ragnar whispered.  “Jarl Heimer taught you well.”  Then Ragnar called out to his chef and the cook came in with savoury food and wine for the two.  There had been a reason for Ragnar’s strange requests.  “Thank you, Henri,” Ragnar told his chef, for he had been captured in a raid in Brittany and was quite good at his job.  “You were right to suspect that Princess Aslaug here was a princess who was kidnapped by the couple in that house.”  Then he turned to Aslaug and said, “Eat up.  There was a reason for each and every request I made of you today.”

“Ahh,” Aslaug agreed.  “Dressed or undressed so I could wear this dress,” and she pressed the dress smoothly to her body once more, “and fed yet not fed so I can eat this fine cuisine.  But what of the couple’s sheep dog?”

“Two out of three isn’t bad,” Ragnar replied and they made small talk as they ate.  “Now, how may I help you, for I suspect the task will be a large one, judging from your tale thus far?”

Princess Aslaug opened her purse and took out the silver plate exposure of her mother and father together.  “Have you ever seen one of these before?” she asked.

“Yes I have,” Ragnar said, and the princess was visibly surprised.  “It’s by the Guild, is it not?  The Alchemists’ Guild if I’m not mistaken.  I have met several times with the King of Oster-Gotland here and he has several of these from the Guild in Baghdad.”

“Jarl Heimer was taking me to the King of Oster-Gotland for help!  Can you take me to him?” Princess Aslaug asked him excitedly.

“No!” King Ragnar told her flatly.  Her mouth fell open in shock.  “I’m going to help you,” Ragnar added.  “I am more powerful than the King of Oster-Gotland.  I am the King of Denmark and I shall help you with your task and for that you shall marry me…should you find me worthy,” he added, ‘of the task,’ he thought.

“They allowed me to also keep my mother’s wedding ring and this letter which she wrote for me before her tragic death.  I guess I have that to thank them for.”  She passed the ring to Ragnar and she began reading him the letter:

“Dear Aslaug,

            I know I have been acting strange lately, but I have learned that Queen Gudrun’s mother used a magic love spell to steal your father, King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ from me and I have just learned that there is now another fire-breathing dragon that threatens our land and Sigurd is under her spell and must be freed from it so we can go fight the dragon.  I am afraid I must have Gudrun killed to free your father from the spell, but if something goes wrong with my plan, Jarl Heimer has instructions on what must be done and how he must save you.  Please follow his instructions to the letter and know that your father and I shall love you always, even in death.

Love,

Your mother, Brynhild”

Ragnar took the letter from Aslaug and re-read it.  It was written in Old Gothic runic script that Ragnar could just make out, but it said exactly what Aslaug had read.  “Your evil couple up there,” he said, nodding towards the house, “let you keep the silver plate exposure because they thought it sorcery, which they feared to take from you, and the ring because they thought it was copper, for it is of the Red Gold of Byzantium, which has copper in it, and the letter?  They could not read.  You owe them nothing.”

“Jarl Heimer brought me north so we could fetch a great warrior to slay that dragon my mother was warning us of.  It is a fire-breather.  His brother Brak stayed behind in Volsung to help the hero fight the dragon when Heimer was to send the warrior south.  Will you still help me?”

“Your father killed one of these?” Ragnar asked.

“Yes.  But my mother was a shield-maiden.  She helped him.”

“Well, it so happens that my former wife just happens to be a shield-maiden, a great shield-maiden, and if your father killed one of these fire-breathers, then so shall I.”

“You’ll go to our Land of the Volsungs and kill this fire breathing dragonship, this sea snake?”

“If you will give me the chance of marrying you.”

“Then I will now go home and await you,” she added. “If my king’s mind does not change and you slay the dragon you can send for me and I shall come to marry you.”  She was about to go back to the evil couple’s cottage, but Ragnar said, “I really can’t leave you behind with these evil people!”

“Oh, I can handle them,” she replied, getting up, “besides, I have their dog.”

“No.  I mean I really really really can’t let you stay with these people!”

“And I said, I really really really can handle them.”

“My third request,” Ragnar said, “the dog.  I didn’t want the dog getting hurt protecting them.”

“The dog!” she said, sitting back down.  “Three out of three?”

“Yes, three out of three.  When I told chef Henri that he was correct, he sent men up to the house.  I didn’t want the dog to get hurt protecting them.  I thought it was your dog.”

“I guess it is now.  You were right.  He has always protected me, and he would have protected them too.”

“I’m sorry.  It’s what we do.  We patrol the coast looking for pirates and slavers, and that includes enslavers as well.  Come north with me to Thule and meet my shield-maiden ex-wife, Ladgerda.  You can stay in her palace in Lade and look after our young son Bjorn while we are off slaying your dragon and we’ll be back in the fall.”