Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
PRINCES IVAR AND SIWARD ‘SNAKE IN THE EYE’ (Circa 815 AD)
(Circa 815 AD) King Ragnar and his warfleet were met at the harbour town that served Liere by his sons, Ivar and Siward. Messengers had come home and told the boys to expect the return of their father, the king. They had finally won the battle, but had lost the war. King Fridleif had refused to negotiate an amicable peace and had lost his life in that final battle, but King Ragnar had lost so many men winning it, they could not hold the field against fresh Frankish and Anglish Danish troops that were replacing Fridleif’s losses. But Ragnar was confident that King Fridleif’s death would set back the Anglish Dane plans by at least a year so he made plans of his own to lead a spring merchant fleet east across the Baltic and then south through Scythia to Baghdad and Constantinople, while his foremost man in Stavanger, Brak, would lead a second merchant fleet across the Nor’Way for trade with the Volga Bulgars and Khazars. He would leave his sons, Ivar and Siward, in charge of Zealand and Skane while he was off trading and when he got back in the fall it would be with paid Roman mercenaries and he would take the war, once more, back to the Schlei and the Anglish Danes before their beloved Danevirk.
Back in Liere, King Ragnar went through his plans with Princes Ivar and Siward and they thought it a fine strategy and looked forward to seeing the rented legions their father had talked about. For enough gold and prospects of booty, an ally of Rome could rent a legion of five thousand Roman foot or a cataphract legion of three thousand Roman knights or both if required. Ragnar had spent much gold while he had been visiting the Hellespont and this attracted the attention of the Emperor Michael and they’d had discussions of King Ragnar’s Sor’Way venture and the way Slav hurdles could be overcome along the ‘Way. The Romans were particularly interested in serviles, or slaves, to man the oars of their naval fleet, the galleys and biremes and new triremes that gobbled up manpower, and the slaves that the Danes had been bringing from the north, the Anglo-Saxons and Irish and Frisians were all strong and very adept at rowing, so the Emperor was open to supporting the Hraes’ or Rhos, as they put it, Trading Company militarily for repayment in serviles and furs and gold. When the Emperor brought up Roman trade tariffs, Ragnar told him flat out that the Hraes’ Trading Company paid tariffs to no one, that being the main reason that mercenaries might be required to deal with the many intervening kingdoms between the Danes and Romans. Now the Romans were known to tariff anyone who dealt with them, so it looked as though the trade agreement had hit some rocks, but the Romans really needed the serviles, as they were at war in the Levant and a strong naval presence was required, so the Emperor had relented and gave a verbal approval for tariff-free trade.
King Ragnar would have preferred to stay in Zealand and protect his realm, but his victory had bought them some time and he needed to keep his verbal agreement with the Romans so that a contract could follow. International trade was always complicated, but the benefits were very lucrative. And Prince Harald had garnered himself an Emperor of the Franks, so Ragnar needed Imperial support as well, in the Emperor of the Romans. And King Ragnar had just acquired several thousand Anglish Dane and Frankish prisoners of war who were just the types of men the Romans needed to row their war machines. In his haste to depart the continent, Ragnar had not had the time to offer the captives up for ransom, and in his rush to get the spring trading underway, he forgot to send messengers to Jutland with names of men and ransoms requested for each of them and this would prove to be a mistake.
In both Aesir and Vanir law, people who were captured in war or in raids had to be offered for ransom by relatives for three days or the captives were considered kidnapped, an act of piracy, but if some captives were ransomed and others left because of lack of relatives with wealth, those captives then became legally enslaved and could be kept or sold by their captors at their discretion. When the Irish merchant fleet arrived in Liere from Dublin, Queen Imaira sent along Irish slaves, young men, women and children that had been captured from rival clans and had been offered up for ransom and the ones in Liere were the sorry unransomed. Likewise, when Prince Agnar sent his Anglish merchant fleet to Liere from York, he sent along Anglish and Saxon men, women and children captured in raids upon Mercia and Wessex and also unransomed. Ransoms started at essentially the cost of slaves, but went up in price with the status and standing of the captives and could be quite profitable when it involved princes and royalty, but the value of slaves in Baghdad or Constantinople was just that, the value of a slave. A prince stripped to his waist to show the strength of his back was worth no more than a farmer thus stripped, and perhaps, even quite a bit less. Likewise, a princess stripped naked to show the pleasure that could be had with her was worth no more than that of a maiden equally blessed and her haughtiness could make her worth a whole lot less. So ransoms were a custom well practiced save by pirates and a growing number of Norse Vikings who were raiding European coasts indiscriminately. The Norse Vikings were the small merchant raiding fleets of the Vik Kings of the many fjord petty kingdoms that ranged up the coast of northern Thule and their captives were often not offered for ransom because their fleets were too small to risk sitting offshore for the three days required for legal ransoming. If defending warfleets came upon them, or other Vikings for that matter, they could quickly lose their lives and their goods, so they raided in a hit and run fashion out of necessity rather than choice. When they found themselves raiding in a secure locale, they would always opt to ransom captives, for the profits could be that much greater.
Regardless of the reasons, the Nor’Way trade route was being frequented by more and more traders who were taking kidnapped captives east and selling them as serviles, rather than properly enslaved captives. And now, King Ragnar himself was becoming party to this practice as a result of his war with the Franks and Anglish Danes. When he sailed east with his large merchant fleet, the pirates of the Baltic fled before him while others joined him posing as merchants with slaves to sell beyond Scythia. Thus the crimes of slavery were multiplied. And when they sailed up the Dvina, the fleet stopped and traded with the Sclavs while King Ragnar slept with King Daxo’s daughter and spent time with his son, young King Hwitserk, before leading the fleet on. The Sclavs had traded furs and honey and amber and captured Slav serviles for cloth and woolens and weapons and many Sclav merchants paid Ragnar a tithe and joined up with the Hraes’ merchant fleet and headed south with them.
The fleet stopped along the banks of the Dnieper and traded in the city of Kiev, while King Ragnar visited with King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs. There were Khazar traders in the city and they were surprised to find northern Hraes’ traders there. They all knew of the Hraes’ traders on the Volga and some had even dealt with Ragnar trading in the city of Bulghar on the Volga, but they had not expected to see the Hraes’ trading fleet passing through Khazar controlled territory which included Kiev and all Dnieper lands south to the Scythian Sea and up to Roman Cherson. Ragnar told them he had a verbal agreement with Emperor Michael of Constantinople for his Sor’Way trade route and they seemed happy with that explanation.
Back in Denmark, Prince Harald led an embassy to Liere representing both the Anglish Danes of Jutland and the Emperor of Frankia and he renewed his claim to the Kingdoms of Zealand and Skane, but, more importantly, asked the whereabouts of the Anglish and Frankish prisoners of war he had lost and further inquired as to why they had not been offered up for ransom after the Battle of the Schlei. Princes Ivar and Siward had shown Prince Harald all due respect and Ragnar’s sons shared the highest highseat of the great longhall in Liere, while the visiting prince sat alone on the highest guest highseat. “I think that ransoms were not offered,” Prince Ivar began, “due to the threat of impending attack from fresh Frankish and Danish forces. All captives have been taken east for sale as serviles.”
“Serviles?” Harald repeated, “as in slaves to the Roman Empire?”
“As in slaves to anyone in the east,” Ivar corrected him.
“Emperor Louis is going to go bat shit crazy!” Harald exclaimed. “His army is still occupying King Ragnar’s Roman ring fort. The Frank officers are all copying King Fridleif’s vellum drawing of it and are taking measurements so they can build their own Roman ring forts when they’re on campaign. I think he’ll send them here.”
“Let him!” Prince Siward said. “If the Franks had a tough time fighting Danes on the Schlei, just wait until they come and fight Danes in Denmark.”
“Perhaps we could offer the emperor wergild for his warriors,” Prince Ivar said, a little more practically. His father would be getting gold for them as serviles so he could use the gold to rent Roman legions and Ivar wanted to stall the Frankish emperor until the Roman legions arrived.
“He’s Christian,” Harald said. “He’s not going to accept gold for his warriors. He’s going to want them back!”
“Perhaps we can get them back for him during the next trading cycle?” Ivar pondered.
“That’s a year from now,” Harald replied. “The Franks won’t wait that long. He’ll attack you before that.”
Prince Ivar looked over to his brother for an answer. “Let him!” Prince Siward repeated. “He’ll be on our turf this time. It will go far worse for him.”
“I don’t want Zealand wrecked,” Harald admitted. “There’ll be nothing left for me to claim.”
“The Anglish Danes aren’t going to let you claim Zealand anyway,” Ivar assured him. “They’re only using you and your claim to take it for themselves. They want Ragnar’s Sor’Way. They’re already calling it their Southern Way, their Dan’Way.”
“I have their word,” Harald protested, but he knew Ivar and that he only spoke the truth.
“And they have your Frankish support. Once they have Zealand, they won’t need you or your Franks.”
“Fock!” Harald cursed. “I kissed Emperor Louis’ ass for that support. I even became Christian for it!”
“If you want Zealand, you’re going to have to take it for yourself,” Ivar told him. “Do it without the Jutlanders, with only Louis’ army and the Angles won’t have a claim on you. You’re their ally. You’ll be able to hold it next to them as an equal. Emperor Louis will see to that. What ever Frankish forces you have, we’ll meet you with an equal number of Danes and we’ll fight it out between Zealanders alone. Leave the Angles out of it and it will keep them out of Zealand!”
“I want to include my Skanian allies,” Harald agreed, excitedly.
“Fine,” Ivar answered. “We’ll just meet them with an equal number of Danes. Then we can deal with all the rebels at once.”
“I’ll stall Emperor Louis on his missing men,” Harald assured Ivar, “and I’ll be back with the Franks and Skanes in a week.” He left Liere and took his embassy to Skane.
“Really!” Prince Siward said to Ivar later. “The Skanians?”
“Dividium et Imperium,” Ivar replied. “Divide and Conquer. First we’ll beat the Franks and the Skanes. Harald won’t do this without his relatives in Skane. And then the Angles will come to avenge their dearly departed Prince Harald and we’ll beat them as well. We don’t stand a chance if they come at us all at once, that’s what father was afraid of, but separately, Ragnar would have killed for a chance to deal with those two armies separately.”
“You’re a focking genius, Ivar,” Siward said. “Ragnar will be so proud of us when he gets back!”
The two princes began drilling their warriors to get them into prime battle condition and they prepared a battlefield south of Liere that had come to be called ‘Loth’ and sometimes ‘Laneus’ in the Latin of the Romans, meaning Shaggy or Woolly supposedly after the grass, but it was really named after Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ and they would have put in the ‘Brok’ if breeches or pants could somehow be worked into a field name or perhaps if a brook had run through it. But it was just one big ass shaggy grass field and the two princes and their officers set about placing hazel poles at the corners. Then they trained and marched their men about the field to pack down the shaggy grass and they put floating buoys out past shore so that warships coming from the south would see where the field of battle was. Then they waited for Prince Harald.
Prince Harald soon arrived with his Franks and was met on shore by his Skanian relatives and their forces. It would be another battle of foot soldiers, for Ragnar and his army had wiped out the Frankish cavalry had had come up from Aachen with the Frankish foot. Prince Harald preferred to have his relatives about him during the fighting so he made up his center vanguard with his personal Centuriata and his brothers and uncles and their Skanian troops and he split up the Franks into two formations on his wings. Princes Ivar and Siward combined their personal Centuriatas into one vanguard and they split an equal number of Zealanders into two formations on the wings and they sent the rest of their troops back to Liere as they had agreed.
The Franks beat a few drums but there were no horns or trumpets, only Roman war whistles for communication within ranks, and no arrows flew and no spears were hurled. This was personal, between princes, and the shield walls crashed and the hacking began. There was hard fighting for about two hours, then the ranks thinned and melee fighting took over. Then a huge Skanian of amazing size fought his way up in front of Prince Siward and promised that Siward should straightaway rejoice and be whole, as he was about to consecrate him to join all the souls the prince had overcome in battle and had sent to Valhalla. Nor did he conceal his name, but said that he was called Rostar ‘the Skanian’. Prince Siward faced off against the giant and was fighting him bravely but had to give up ground in front of him and move about him quickly, as speed was his greatest ally in fighting such a huge man. Prince Ivar saw that Siward was up against more than he could handle, so he started working his way toward his brother to help, but he couldn’t get through the throng between them. Rostar ‘the Skanian’ kept thrusting at Siward with his long sword, but Siward would dart out and evade the thrust and then dart in and give the giant a thrust of his own, but his sword would not bite, or if it did it made a mere flesh wound. The two circled each other and kept up this thrusting dance for a while as Ivar watched and began to suspect that magic of some sort was involved, for, indeed, Siward’s thrusts were not being felt by the giant when they landed. Siward was fast, springing forward, thrusting hard and then bouncing back, but the strokes he landed had no effect on the giant. Ivar called one of his men over and took a weapon off his back and worked on it as he watched his brother.
Siward moved in and jabbed the giant with his sword to no effect and when the giant thrust out with his sword Siward sprang back out of range, but only almost this time. The giant had been holding back a bit on his thrusts so that Siward sprang back less and less each time, then the giant lunged at him and used a full stroke and Siward didn’t move back quite enough and the tip of the blade caught him slightly in the eyeball and cut him across his cornea in an S-curve and it blinded him and for some reason both his eyes watered up and he couldn’t see to dodge the next blow, then he heard a loud crash and he thought he might have fallen, but, no, he was still standing, and when he’d wiped the tears from his good eye he saw that it was the giant that had fallen on his back dead with an arrow in his eye.
Prince Ivar finally got up to his brother and stood next to him, bow in hand, with another arrow nocked and ready. “I had to shoot him in the eye,” Ivar said. “He had some kind of magic spell on his skin that wasn’t allowing you to stab through it. It probably would have stopped arrows too.”
“I think he blinded my eye,” Siward said and he showed his face to Ivar. Ivar took his battle gloves off and pried Siward’s eyelids open and he could see that the cornea was cut but there was no blood flowing, no fluid at all, but the cut was in a squiggle like a snake and Ivar said, “It’s a snake! That focking giant put a snake in your eye! What kind of magic is this?”
But while they were talking, the Skanians were watching, and they saw their champion, Rostar ‘the Skanian’ lying dead on the ground, killed by one lone arrow, and he was supposed to be proof against all battlefield injury and chatter went through the Skanian ranks that the Danes had more powerful magic and some of the Skane troops began to turn tail and run for their ships. They believed that magic could work for you in battle, but it could also be turned against you by a more powerful witch or warlock and the Danes must have found just such a warlock, so they fled. As Prince Harald’s surrounding Skanians melted away from him, his Centuriata took responsibility for the prince’s protection and began marching in reverse, not running, but withdrawing and they took the prince with them. Suddenly the Frank formations on the wings found that they were being attacked from the rear as Danes poured through the center and swept outwards behind them. Many were slaughtered before they could even turn to face them, others were in melee combat with a Dane in front of them and were hacked down from behind. Many others just threw down their weapons and, being young Christians, were completely surprised when the Danish warriors tore off their pants, bent them over their bucklers and plowed them a new furrow on a big ass shaggy grass field that could now be called ‘Lothbrokless’.
Meanwhile, Prince Siward was being tended to by a young witch healer that was helping patch up the wounded. Some thought that he who did this miracle wished to declare, by the manifest token of his eyes, that the young man was to be cruel in future, in order that the more visible part of his body might not lack some omen of his life that was to follow. When the young witch healer saw the curved marking of a little snake in his eye she said, “I don’t think this is magic at all! When the Skanian, this Rostar, thrust at you, the blade was vibrating and as the cut went in the sword vibrated up and down and that is why the cut curves up and down like a snake wriggling across your eye.” She made up a magic poultice and wrapped it in cloth and told Siward to keep it over his eye and perhaps sight would come back to it, but vision would never be very clear through that one eye. Still, there were Danes who claimed that the giant, Rostar ‘the ‘Skanian’, had used magic to put a snake in Siward’s eye. Hence it happened that Siward got the widespread name of Sigurd Snake-Eye, for Sigurd was the Skanian form of the Zealand name Siward and it was a Skanian that had put the snake in him.
Prince Agnar arrived late with some Danish troops he had under his command in Angleland, but arrived too late to help his brothers, Princes Ivar and Sigurd Snake-Eye, but just in time to help them celebrate their great victory with a feast. He had also brought some fresh Saxon captives with him and was planning to take them down the Sor’Way and follow his father to sell them to the Romans during this trading cycle. “We’ve captured another two thousand Franks,” Ivar told Agnar as they celebrated on their highseats in Liere, “and perhaps you could take them along and give them to Ragnar so he can rent more Roman legions.”
Both Agnar and Sigurd thought that was a great idea, so Ivar offered to take Agnar’s Zealand troops back to Angleland and help his herses hold the country while Agnar was traversing the Sor’Way. “Just don’t do any raiding while I’m gone,” Agnar warned his brother. “The Saxons are getting really pissed about all the raiding I’ve been doing.” So, after a few days of preparation, Prince Agnar took his slaves and captives east and then south and Prince Ivar led the Danish troops back to Angleland. When he arrived in York with the troops he found York Castle under siege by a Saxon army. He caught the Saxons by surprise and drove them off temporarily, but the Danes holding the castle told him it was not provisioned for a long siege and recommended a withdrawal to Zealand until they could return with more troops, so that is what they did.
Meanwhile, Prince Agnar sailed across the Baltic with his merchant fleet and visited with his young half-brother Hwitserk in Sclavia before sailing south to Kiev. There he stopped and visited with King Olmar, who warned him that the Khazars were up in arms with the Romans for trading tithe-free with the King Ragnar and the Danes. Because he was passing through Khazar controlled land, they were entitled to a tax on all goods passing through their lands. When Emperor Michael told them that the Romans would pay the Danes’ tithes, the Khazar Kagan refused, and it became apparent that there was more to it than just scat. The Khazars and their Hun tribe felt threatened by the fierce Norsemen and wanted to buy all their furs and slaves and resell them in the southern lands. They wanted to directly control and profit from all Hraes’ trade.
A few weeks later, Prince Agnar and his slaver merchants joined his father, King Ragnar, in the Saint Mamas quarter of Constantinople, the only Polis within the city in which the Hraes’ or Rhos were allowed to stay while trading. Ragnar had rented a great estate just inside the walls and the merchant fleets were beached along the shore outside the walls and the king welcomed his son into his great hall and they dined and had wine together. Ragnar thanked Agnar and blessed his sons, Ivar and Siward, who was now Sigurd Snake-Eye, for the additional Frankish serviles, but he said, “There is some blood bond between the Romans and the Khazars, and I can’t learn what it is, but the Romans are refusing to rent me the legions they’d promised last year because the Khazars are worried I will attack them with the legionnaires.”
“Will the Romans allow us to sell our slaves here?” Agnar asked.
“Oh, yes,” Ragnar confirmed. “They want all our serviles and even more, for which they pay in fine golden Byzants, but they can’t rent us mercenaries because they don’t want trouble with the Kagan of the Khazars.”
“Perhaps we don’t need the legions,” Agnar offered. “Ivar and Sigurd defeated the Franks on the field of ‘Loth’ which they can now call ‘Lothbrok’ thanks to the Franks that were bent over on it.” And he raised his wine goblet and they toasted that success.
“But Prince Harald and his Skanians escaped,” Ragnar lamented. “He’ll get more troops from Louis ‘the Pious’ and he and the Jutlanders will attack us again. Jutland is thrice the size of Zealand and the Holy Roman Empire is at least thrice the size of Jutland. If we can’t buy Roman support we’ll have to turn Zealand over to Prince Harald. Emperor Louis won’t allow the Angles to take it from him and it will be easier for us to take it back from Harald and his Skanians than from the Angles, should they get their hands on it. Harald may even share the Sor’Way with us if we make sure it grinds gold for him as well.”
“Will the Angles let him let us?” Agnar asked. “They do have their own southern way through Slav lands. The Anglos of Angleland talk about it.”
“And the Angles of Jutland think it is their best kept secret,” Ragnar spat. “No. They want our Sor’Way because the Wends and the Obodrites won’t allow them to run serviles through their Slav trade route, and serviles are where the big money is in both Baghdad and Constantinople.”
“The Christian Frank captives I brought keep claiming that the Christians of Constantinople can’t buy them as slaves because of some Papal Bull or other.”
“They prefer pagan slaves, that’s true enough,” Ragnar said, “but they bond the Christians they buy from us and, by the time they work off their debt, their best years are spent anyway. Then they’ll send them back to Frankia. Their pagan serviles they just kill and grind up for dog food when they’re spent, but they’re not supposed to do that with Christian bonds, so they send them back to burden their relatives.”
“That’s focked!” Agnar said.
“It’s a rough trade,” Ragnar admitted.
Prince Agnar spent the rest of the summer running the trade in Constantinople while his father sailed off with a merchant fleet to Baghdad. This was the Zealand Danes trade secret, for the Romans were at war with the Caliphate of Baghdad and such business would be frowned upon by Emperor Michael. And the Hraes’ trade secret was kept about as long as the Angles.
One day a messenger came from the east and told Prince Agnar to pack up his merchant fleet and meet his father on the Scythian Sea near Cherson. When the two fleets met up, Ragnar explained that he didn’t want to meet him on Roman lands because he had traded slaves for silver Dinars and spices and other Arabic goods that the Romans might try to confiscate. “I think we’ll have to put more focus on our Nor’Way trade,” Ragnar told his son. “At least the Khazars aren’t at war with anyone…yet. They’ve officially converted to Judaism so they can keep clear of this ongoing Christian Muslim conflict. But that’s not likely to work, since the other two followers of their Book can’t seem to get along with the Jews. Thank the gods we’re Aesir!”
“Amon to that!” Agnar agreed using the ancient ‘all-men’ blessing of Zoroaster.
When the two returned to Zealand from the east they learned that the Saxons of Wessex and Anglos of Mercia had driven the Norse Danes out of Anglish Northumbria and a lot of it had to do with Viking raiding and a lot had to do with the Zealanders’ wars with the Anglish Danes and the Franks and their past connection with the scholar Alcuin of York. “Raise a force and retake Angleland!” King Ragnar ordered his sons. “I am going to overwinter in Stavanger with Queen Aslaug, and I want York back before spring. We may have to turn Zealand over to Prince Harald to keep it out of the hands of the Anglish Danes and we can’t lose both!”
After King Ragnar had sailed off to his Vikingdom of Stavanger Fjord, the sons debated over how to accomplish their task of retaking Northumbria while still maintaining a defence of Zealand against a possible attack of the Angles and Franks.
“You lost Angleland,” Sigurd said, “so you should get it back!”
“York was already under siege when I got there,” Ivar argued. “The position was untenable when I got it from Agnar.”
“It was fine when I left,” Agnar interjected. “I even took Saxon and Mercian slaves east with me when I left.”
“But that’s why the Saxons already had York under siege!”
“Then you should both go,” Sigurd said. “I’m still getting treatments for my eye from the young witch that saved it on the ‘Field of Lothbrokless’.”
“You mean the cute young witch that you keep visiting with?” Ivar asked, laughing. “Shall we go retake Angleland, Agnar?”
“Let me check my schedule,” Agnar replied. “I can squeeze it in between a raid upon Ireland and an attack on Frisia.”
After raising an army to plunder and ravage Angleland, the two princes sailed off with their warfleet, leaving Prince Sigurd to hold Zealand and his cute young witch.