© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
ESCAPE AT INGELHEIM (Circa 839 AD)
“…along with his envoys the Emperor sent also
some men who called themselves and their own
people Rhos; they asserted that their king,
Chacanus by name, had sent them to Theophilus
to establish amity.”
Prudentius, Bishop of Troyes; Annales Bertiniani (839).
The embassy that the Roman Emperor, Theophilus, sent to the German King, Louis the Pious, consisted of: two state officials, Theodosius, Bishop of Chalcedon, and Theophanes, Imperial Spatharius, along with a cavalry troop of officers of the Immortals, as well as several Norsemen led by Hraerik, Kagan Bek of the Hraes’.
The two Roman ambassadors carried with them gifts and a sealed letter from their emperor. Theophanes explained to Hraerik, as they travelled the old Roman road through Dacia, that the emperor had written to King Louis the Pious about Hraerik’s situation and begged the western sovereign to assist the Rhos in returning to their homeland. The ambassador even showed Hraerik the sealed letter, but Hraerik made sure he noted into which chest Theophanes returned the document. Later, in the impenetrable darkness of night, Hraerik slipped into Spatharius Theophanes’ pavilion and purloined the letter. Taking it back to his own tent, he gently prized the seal open and he read the parchment. The Emperor Theophilus, true to his Khazar blood, had written a request that Louis the Pious put to death Hraerik and his Varangians. Hraerik put down the letter. Such deception and treachery were the warp and weave of the ancient Roman legends, Hraerik told himself, yet, it had been Theophilus who had taught him the tales, and it had been Theophilus who had expounded upon the duplicity within them. While the wily emperor had wanted Hraerik dead, apparently, he did not want Hraerik’s blood upon his hands. Such were the efforts of a deep mind, Hraerik reflected, and, while his respect for Theophilus, the emperor, waned, his regard for Theophilus, the emissary, waxed.
Hraerik opened his chest with his camera plate in it and he withdrew a pen, some ink and camphor oils, and Hraerik made a minor modification to the personal letter of Emperor Theophilus. The new instructions requested that King Louis the Pious extend to Hraerik and his men all required assistance in returning to their homeland, instead of the former request that he execute them. That was how Theophanes had originally told Hraerik the letter read, and now, indeed, it did. Hraerik studied his handywork and was satisfied it would pass scrutiny. He then carefully heated the back of the wax seal over a candle and reapplied it to the envelope. Stealing out into the night, Hraerik returned the letter to the chest in the Spatharius’ pavilion.
Ingleheim was a small town on the Rhine River in Germany, where Louis the Pious had his palace. It was there that Bishop Theodosius presented his emperor’s letter to the king of the Franks. Although Hraerik’s seal tampering had fooled both Theodosius and Theophanes, King Louis, well-practised in the scrutiny of wax seals and such, became suspicious that the seal had been opened, and when he read the letter he suspected that its contents had been altered. When he questioned the ambassadors on this mystery, they pleaded innocence, having been told only that the Rhos, according to their emperor, were, as noted, to be given safe passage north. King Louis then asked them if Hraerik or any of the Rhos could have altered the letter, but Bishop Theodosius assured the king that they were pagans and barbarians and quite illiterate. Hraerik could make out some of the conversation in German.
“Who are these people, the Rhos?” King Louis asked the bishop. “Who is their king?”
Bishop Theodosius answered, “They are Swedes and their king is called Kagan.”
On hearing that the Rhos were Swedes, King Louis grew very suspicious, for the northern provinces of the Holy Roman Empire were currently suffering from Viking raids executed by Danes, Norwegians and Swedes. The Frankish king ordered Hraerik and his men detained until he could learn their true purpose of being in Germany.
Again, Hraerik found himself imprisoned by an emperor, however, this time he and his men had no treaty with their hosts guaranteeing them proper treatment, so their accommodations consisted of one common cell in the dungeons of the pious one’s palace. And, as with his previous stay in prison, Hraerik was again visited by a stranger. The Frankish king’s court poet visited Hraerik often in his prison cell and Hraerik told him many tales of the Eastern Realm: tales of his grandfather, Sigurd Hrae fighting the fire breathing dragonship of the Roman navy, and tales of the Goths and the Huns on the Asian steppe. Hraerik also taught the poet many poems from the northern lands, including some about Germany, itself, before the advent of Christianity had caused officials to purge the state of pagan poetry and sorcerous tales. It was not without risk that the young Frank poet learned the ancient rhymes of his forefathers, and not without price.
“Teach me the pagan poetry and I promise to help you in any way that I can,” the young German told Hraerik.
“First, you must put in a good word for us to your emperor,” Hraerik had stated when he first began to teach the Frank.
“Now, you must send a message out to my brother, King Hraelauger of Norway,” he added, several weeks into the lessons.
“Finally, you must help us escape,” were Hraerik’s words once he had caught the young man up in the spell of mystic and historic poetry.
Hraerik and the young German had spent many weeks planning Hraerik’s escape from the dungeon confines, when word came to Ingleheim that there was a large Norwegian fleet anchored at the mouth of the Rhine River, and that the Viking leader sent word demanding the release of Hraerik Bragi Boddason. It was said that King Hraelauger of Norway led the raiders. At first, King Louis refused to release Hraerik and the Rhos, for he had not heard any word from Emperor Theophilus on the true meaning of the altered letter, and Hraerik, growing impatient, wanted the young German poet to carry on with their own plan of escape.
“I will help you if you so desire,” the young man offered, “but I shall have to flee with you. The king knows that I visit you daily and I will be the first one they’ll suspect of aiding you. If I am to teach others the poetry of the ancients, I must remain in the court of my king. Let me talk to the king, convince him that you should be returned to your homeland, and, failing that, I shall help you escape,”
Hraerik agreed to the plan, and, when Hraelauger advanced the Norwegian fleet up the Rhine, the young poet’s suggestion to his king was well received. In the dead of the night, the young poet had the guards release Hraerik and his men from their cell and he led them to a waiting troop of Frankish cavalry that would escort them from the courtyard of the palace to the Norwegian fleet on the Rhine. Hraerik rode off to his brother and the young Frank poet was promoted in the court of King Louis, and his recounting of the ancient poetry Hraerik had taught him made him very popular with the local nobility.
“I thought I might never see you again,” Hraelauger said, as Hraerik climbed aboard his longship.
“Never have I been so glad to see a friendly face,” Hraerik answered. “Charlemagne’s son is truly a poor host.”
The two brothers embraced each other on the deck of Hraelauger’s ship as the Frankish cavalry trotted off into the dawn. Boyhood memories came back to Hraerik as he recalled all the times Hraelauger had bailed him out of youthful escapades. Hraerik had thought the days long done whereby he and his brother, Hraelauger, could experience the closeness they had shared in their youth, but the day of their being reunited was so joyous that Hraerik had to admit he had been wrong.
“I must raise an army,” Hraerik told his brother, as they sailed up the west coast of Jutland. “I shall go throughout the northern kingdoms and I shall raise an army to fight the Huns.”
“As I told you before, you have the full support of all my forces,” Hraelauger said. “You must set out, at once, for Gotland and Sweden. I’ll raise armies in Norway and Denmark, and we’ll meet up with the hosts you raise in Sweden.”
“Thank you, brother,” Hraerik answered. “Never have I been so glad to see a friendly face.”
“Bare is the back of the brotherless,” was Hraelauger’s reply.