Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
3.0 KING RAGNAR SIGURDSON (Circa 810 AD)
“Beside men-warriors there were “women-warriors” in the North, as Saxo explains. He describes shield-maidens, as Alfhild, Sela, Rusila, Ladgerda and the three she-captains, Wigbiorg, who fell on the field, Hetha, who was made queen of Zealand, and Wisna, whose hand Starkad cut off, all three fighting manfully at the Battle of Bravalla.”
The Nine Books of Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus
(Circa 810 AD) King Ragnar took Princess Aslaug away from Skane and they sailed north up the coast of Thule to Trondheim Fjord with their small fleet and were soon docked just off Jarl Ladgerda’s palace in Lade. Ladgerda came out to greet them and she saw immediately the beauty of the golden haired young girl with Ragnar, and she saw the girl wearing her old golden dress that her king had given her years ago. She had to admit that it now fit her better than it had fit herself because of the muscles she now carried through her training as a shield-maiden.
“Jarl Ladgerda, this is Princess Aslaug,” Ragnar introduced the two women to each other. “She is from the Land of the Volsungs, just north of the Roman lands.”
“Welcome, Princess Aslaug,” Ladgerda said. “I see that King Ragnar has found a use for the golden dress he had given me years ago. I daresay, it fits you well.”
“Thank you,” Princess Aslaug replied, smoothing the dress out against her body. “Your palace looks wonderful from the fjord.”
“Come in then,” Ladgerda continued warmly, realizing just how young the princess was. “It looks even finer from within.”
“I want to take you to Constantinople,” Ragnar started, addressing Ladgerda, “and buy you a new dress of gold.”
“Well, thank you, husband,” Ladgerda said, as though to remind Ragnar that although they were no longer married, they still carried on as though they were. Ladgerda then linked arms with both Aslaug and Ragnar and she walked between them as she led them up the quay and into her longhall. She introduced the princess to young Bjorn and the boy instantly took a liking to the older princess. “Are you my new step-mother?” Bjorn asked Aslaug innocently.
“I hope to be, someday,” Aslaug answered and she looked up at Ragnar and smiled.
“Yes, we hope to be,” Ragnar stammered. “There is a little matter of a dragon to be slain on our way to Constantinople. Apparently it takes a great hero and a great shield-maiden to do it.”
“So I am to earn this Roman dress of gold?” Ladgerda asked.
“Only if you can find it in your heart,” Ragnar started, “to help me save the Greutung Oster-Goths of Volsung from this fire breathing dragonship that threatens them.” And Ragnar went on to explain the events that had unfolded while he was patrolling the coasts of Denmark and Skane.
After a few days of preparation, King Ragnar and Jarl Ladgerda sailed south down the coast of Thule to Zealand and Liere, where they stopped for a few days so King Ragnar could set his kingdom right before setting off on their dragon quest. Then they sailed their small fleet of warships across the Baltic Sea to the Duna (Dvina) River and they sailed south up it into Scythia. There was a portage between two Slavic villages and the fleet was soon sailing down the Danu Apr (Dnieper) River past the Poljane Slav city of Kiev on the right bank, which was ruled by King Olmar of the Poljane, and south past a series of rapids, which were difficult to traverse, until they neared the estuary on the Scythian or Black Sea, and the lands of the Greutung Oster-Goths and Volsungs was on the right bank, stretching past the Boh or Bug River to the Dan-Ister (Dniester) River. The Therving Vaster-Goths then ruled the lands from the right bank of the Dan-Ister to the estuary of the Dan-Istros (Danube) River.
King Ragnar led his fleet into a small tributary of the Danu Apr and left a force to guard the ships and the rest went to a village on the shore and hired horses to ride to the Castle of the Volsungs. As they stood at the front gates they saw that a new palace had been built within it and Ragnar asked to meet Jarl Brak, who was sent for and met them at the entrance.
“Princess Aslaug sends her regards,” Ragnar spoke from horseback, “and her regrets, for your brother Heimer was murdered in the north but has been avenged.”
“I suspected something had happened,” Brak said. “It’s been years. I’m his brother, Brak. Welcome to Volsunga.”
“I’m King Ragnar Sigurdson of Denmark,” Ragnar introduced himself, “betrothed of Princess Aslaug. She has sent me to slay a fire breathing dragonship on her behalf.”
“I’d say you were a decade late,” Brak started, “but, surprisingly, you are not. You are just in time. Please come inside and we shall show you hospitality in our fine new palace.”
Brak led them inside the castle to the front porch of the palatial longhall and had stewards tend their horses as he led them through the palace doors and to the guest highseats. Once they’d had some food and wine Brak told them that they’d had no king since the death of King Sigurd and King Atli after him. “The Khazars rule everything now, through one of their tribes, the Huns, but they are nomadic horsemen and traders and do not bother us in our castles and walled cities. They are only interested in establishing their trade route through our lands to the Eastern Roman Empire.”
“Shouldn’t they be trading via the Scythian Sea just south of here?” Ragnar asked, somewhat amazed at a land trade route so close to water. “Ships carry cargo with so much more ease.”
“Like I said,” Brak replied, “the Huns are horsemen, no more at ease on ships than they are in castles. They prefer camels and wains and, I daresay, the Roman Emperor prefers that they forego ships, for the Roman navy rules both the Mediterranean and Scythian Seas and they wish to keep it that way.”
“So there is no more Roman fire breathing dragonship to be slain?” Ladgerda said, as she sat beside Ragnar on the highest guest seat. “So much for my dress of gold,” she lamented.
“Oh, there is still a dragonship and there is still gold, much gold,” Brak said. “The Khazars wish to secure their trade network with Constantinople by building a fortress on the Tanais (Don) River. The Alchemists’ Guild doesn’t want this to happen. The fortress is half finished and the Roman Emperor will soon be sending another fire breathing Byzantine bireme full of gold to Sarkel to finance its completion. The Guild shall be sending me a messenger soon with details of the ship’s departure from Constantinople and they also shall be giving me a book that I am to send north to the farthest reaches of civilized man where it is to be safely kept until they send for it.”
“A book?” Ragnar asked. “You mean a folded scroll?”
“No,” Brak said. “It is an ancient bound book known only to the Guild, except for a new type of folded scroll from Cathay that is quite like it. I only know of this because I am a member of the Steel Guild.”
“Like the Black Smiths’ Guild?”
“Yes, but we specialize in steel, not the black iron of the smiths. We work only with Damascus steel and Indian steel as well as the alloys of it. Very specialized,” Brak said, proudly.
“Why would they want a book taken north?” Ragnar asked.
Brak hummed and hawed a bit then said, “It is supposed to be magical, the magics of the Magi’s.”
“You mean witchcraft?” Ragnar said. “I’m familiar with witchcraft. As king, I am head warlock of Denmark. I look after the Guild healers and witch’s in Denmark.”
“It’s not witchcraft,” Brak replied. “It is Magi science, a different type of magic. I don’t know much about it, but they want the book north to keep it out of someone’s hands for a time. Is Denmark at the ends of the earth?”
“No,” Ragnar said, “but Thule is, and Ladgerda, my shield-maiden, is from what the Greeks call Thule, from Lade in Thule and, by my grandfather, I also rule Stavanger in Thule. We could keep it in Thule for the Guild.”
“That is good, for, to only the northern ruler who takes responsibility for the book, will the Guild give the details on the Byzantine dragonship and the gold it carries. The gold is cursed and will not be able to be used in southern lands.”
“That should not be a problem. I have no intention on staying in southern lands.”
Jarl Brak, thinking that the couple sharing the highseat together, would want to share the palace master suite together, showed them to the unoccupied royal suite of the palace. Ladgerda was about to ask for a separate room until she saw the king’s suite. It had a meeting room with Roman couches, and a dining room with a dozen chairs around a round table and two dressing rooms and a master bedroom with a huge bed that could sleep a cohort of soldiers, or a maniple at least. “You keep to your side of the bed,” she told Ragnar. “I don’t want to have any more of your children. It interferes with my training.”
“Fine!” Ragnar said. “I’m betrothed anyway.”
But while they waited for the Guild messenger to arrive, they enjoyed being waited on by the palace staff and were continually being brought splendid dishes of foods from Rome and Baghdad and even the city of Atil in Khazaria. And with the dishes came the goblets of fine wines from Italy and Spain and Greece and even Frankia, the western land of the Holy Roman Empire. And with the wines came fond recollections of their past times together and the realization that they’d never had a bad time together, only wars and politics and their separate realms had drawn them apart. Each night in bed, they would sleep closer and closer together until one night, when they’d had a bit too much wine, their bodies actually touched, and the friction from it kindled a spark that ignited the lust that had been building up within them, essentially, from the very beginning of their quest together. They made passionate love together all night long, or, at least until the alcohol made them pass out together.
When Ragnar woke up in the morning, he didn’t have to wonder if they had, while drunk, done it or not, for he was still hard and still inside her when he opened his eyes. He kept very still so as not to disturb her, but she slowly opened her eyes and asked, “Did we?” and then she felt him grow larger within her and she groaned, “Oh, gods!” She realized that he was beside her and had slept in her half the night and she grabbed the headboard and she pulled herself towards it and slid off of him. “You’re still hard!” she said, reaching into her field pack atop the headboard. She pulled out a glove kit and slipped a sheath over his weapon and tied it off. “No sense in letting a good sword go to waste,” she said, climbing atop him, and she rode him for an hour, or much of it, until they both came together again.
They relaxed in each others’ arms, still half cut, and Ladgerda said, “You’d better not have knocked me up!” and she punched him on the arm.
“It’s okay,” Ragnar said. “You married me again last night.”
“No!” Ladgerda stammered. “I must have been drunk.”
“We both were,” Ragnar said, “so I won’t hold you to it. But you whispered, ‘I marry you, I marry you, I marry you,’ three times into my ear while we were just reaching orgasm together. But it wasn’t in public so you’re not bound by it.”
“It’s coming back to me,” she admitted. “I’d take it back, but I think I meant it. I should only take it back if I didn’t mean it. I hope this doesn’t fock up your betrothal with Aslaug.”
“I’ll make her my primus wife, if that’s okay with you. She can’t complain about that and then you can keep up your training and we’ll only visit occasionally like we used to do when you only ruled Gaulardale.”
“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with her.”
They slept very closely together, very closely indeed, in that great bed at nights, until the messenger arrived from the Guild with a book, a departure schedule, and a contract drawn up in both Gothic and Latin script in two copies. King Ragnar signed both copies and tucked one into his wool shirt as he handed the messenger the other, and he took the book and schedule. The messenger then told Brak that the Guild was ordering him to accompany the book north and to protect it upon pain of death. “Fock!” Brak said, and then he nodded his acceptance of the order to the messenger. “I owe all my training to the Guild,” he told Ragnar, once the messenger had left. “And the Guild is our only ally against the Romans and the Khazars.”
They all shared the guest highseats and had some wine while Brak talked. “There has always been something going on between the Romans and the Khazars, some kind of connection, and now the Romans are trying to get the Khazars to accept their Orthodox Christian faith as well. That will bind them together tighter than you two have been this past week.” When Ragnar and Ladgerda sat a bit apart from each other, Brak said, “I’ve heard you down the hall. It’s hard not to.” But then he resumed, “But the Guild is trying to break that alliance and they’re bringing in some Jewish Rabi’s to try and convince the Khazars to become members of that faith and it’s costing the Guild a lot of gold for that, because the Jews don’t often let those not born into the faith join into it. But the Jews would likely do it for free for what the Romans have done to them over the centuries.”
They all knew what the Romans had done to Jerusalem, so Ladgerda asked, “Why are the Romans and the Guild at each others’ throats?”
“I used to think it was because the Romans stole the secret of Greek-fire from the Guild for their fire breathing biremes, but it goes way back farther than that! Back to the times when the Romans were Aesir like us, but the Vanir form of Aesir. Their Odin was Jupiter, or Zeus Pater, their Thor was Mars, and their Frey was Mercury. Back then, the Magi of the Arans, the original Vanir, were the Alchemists’ Guild, but the Romans rejected their science. They had their own science, the science of their engineers in their legions and it grew until, Pliny ‘the Elder’, their head scientist, wrote an encyclopedia of books, the folding scroll type, on their science, and the Romans have claimed their science superior ever since. But the Romans are a martial state, who follow their own fasces beliefs, so, whenever they need a new secret weapon, they steal it from the Guild, including steel! They’re always trying to steal the Guild advances in steel making, especially the rust proofing.”
“The Guild has rust proof steel?” Ragnar asked, and he and Ladgerda looked at each other as though it was an almost sensuous idea.
“The Indian Guild has had some types for centuries,” Brak admitted, “but I’m not allowed to talk about it.”
“Are you allowed to talk about Pliny ‘the Elder’?” Ragnar asked, challengingly. “How can you be so sure his science doesn’t work as well?”
“Have you heard of Mount Vesuvius?”
“Of course,” Ragnar said. “That’s the volcano that erupted near Rome.”
“Back in 79 AD,” Brak began, “when Mount Vesuvius began belching out black smoke, Emperor Tiberius sent Pliny ‘the Elder’ to the city of Pompey to see what science could be done to stop the volcano. It was going to cost a fortune to move all the people away and rebuild Pompey and Herculaneum in new locations, so Pliny came up with the idea of filling Mount Vesuvius’s crater full of Roman concrete. He assured the Emperor there would be no need to evacuate the cities and he took sixty of Rome’s top scientists to Pompey to do the engineering required to get the job started,” and Brak drank some wine and continued, “but before they could pour one cubic yard of cement, Mount Vesuvius blew up and killed Pliny and half his scientists! And it killed a whole lot of other people too! Roman citizens were pissed off about it, so the Emperor claimed that Pliny ‘the Elder’ was in Pompey while on holidays and anything he did was on his own time and not official government policy.”
“What about the thirty scientists that died with him?” Ladgerda asked. “Were they on holidays with Old Pliny too?”
“Exactly!” said Brak. “The Guild would never have attempted something so foolish. Just try putting a cork in a steaming kettle and then you’d have second thoughts about pouring concrete into a steaming volcano. Safety comes first with the Guild. They would have evacuated the people. They even had Guild scientists there right up to the last few days trying to get people to leave on their own. A few did, so a few lives were saved.”
Ragnar was glad that Brak was so heartily defending the Guild, because he was the one who had just signed a contract with them.
A few days later, King Ragnar’s small fleet of warships were all packed up with gear and ready to sail into the Scythian Sea. It had taken a few days to freshly slaughter all the black sheep in the Land of the Volsungs, most of them at least. The raw sheep skins were then sewn together to form rawhide awnings for Ragnar’s shieldship and then the awnings were packed into tanned leather bags and sealed and then barrel after barrel of sour wine (vinegar) were loaded into the ship. Ladgerda and her shield-maidens had spent days sewing up rawhide clothes for the first wave assault team that were to take the Roman ship. The sheep skin clothes were sewn woolly side out and consisted of head dresses to cover their helmets, and Ladgerda included rams horns on the toques, and loose fitting shirts that could be quickly doffed, and shaggy loose fitting pants that could be quickly shed if on fire and the legs were long, to cover their boots as well. The maidens even sewed shaggy wool covers to go over their shields and Ragnar and his team painted their shields with magic charms and symbols, on the advice of the old head witch of the Volsungs. But Ragnar, himself, was a very poor warlock, for he wanted to paint legends upon his shield instead. He wanted something special, something different.
“Wasn’t Princess Aslaug’s mother, Brynhild, a shield-maiden?” Ladgerda asked Ragnar. “Wouldn’t she have had a shield? Perhaps you should paint charms on that?”
“Princess Aslaug would love it if I brought back her mother’s shield with many a story painted upon it. The old witch loved the idea and she located Princess Brynhild’s old shield and had it taken down from a wall of the new palace.
King Ragnar rejoined his men and he painted the legends of his Denmark upon it:
There was an oxen plowing away the island of Zealand from the coast of Skane on one quadrant,
And there was Hedin and Hogni battling in Valhall on another quadrant,
And there was Beowulf fighting with Grendal on another quadrant,
And then there was Thor battling the Midgard serpent as it encircled the world on the last quadrant, but for some reason Ragnar painted the serpent encircling the world via the riverways of Scythia that he had just so recently traversed.
The old witch had several beautiful young witches with her who were helping the men paint their magical symbols on their shields and the old woman took the girls to Ragnar’s shield and she said, “There is a message painted on this shield, and the one of you who can tell me what it is shall serve the king his supper tonight should he so wish.”
The girls all studied the paintings on the shield and they all agreed that the quadrant with the giant Midgard serpent was the one with the message, but none could figure out the meaning. The old witch mixed up a potion that would cause the girls to have hallucinations and she told all that Thor would give the message to the chosen one. The girls all began hallucinating, but only one girl began speaking. “The serpent is a trade route that our king shall found and slaves shall be fed the serpent in Zealand and, for every slave sold at the other end, a small gold egg shall be laid here, in Kiev,” and she stood in front of the shield and pointed out where Kiev would have been had it been drawn upon it. The old witch took some paint and marked a dot where Kiev had been pointed out. “And why is Zealand plowed away from the mainland?” the old witch asked the girl. “Because only the Danes shall rule Kiev,” the girl said, still in her trance. “And why are Hedin and Hogni shown battling in Valhall?” “Because King Ragnar has a spot reserved for him in Valhall in the distant future, after having fallen from the bites of a dozen blood snakes.” “And what of Beowulf and his struggle with Grendal?” the old witch finally asked the girl. “Because King Ragnar’s own trade route shall not go through Kiev. He has drawn the way he has come here, but he shall return another way, a Nor’Way, and his trade route shall go through Giantland.”
“Is there anything else?” the old witch asked the girl.
“Yes. I shall serve King Ragnar his supper tonight in Volsung, and I shall serve King Ragnar his mead in Valhall.”
“Who shall rule the route through Kiev?” Ragnar asked the girl quickly.
“Your son,” she answered staring up at the sky. “Your Volsung son yet to be born.”
“What is the name of this son?” Ragnar asked.
“Your shield shall be called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,” she answered.
“No. My son. What shall my..”
Then the girl snapped out of her trance and couldn’t remember why she was standing in front of the shield or why everyone was standing around her, staring at her.
That night, in the palace, in the master suite dining room, the young witch named Gerda served Ragnar and Ladgerda their supper and they asked her to join them and they shared their meals and their wine with her. Then after supper they took the girl into the master bedroom and Ladgerda undressed both Gerda and Ragnar and she went to the dressing room and came back out with towels, for Gerda was a young virgin witch, who was not being trained in spells that required sex. Ladgerda laid Ragnar upon the bed and she got him wet and hard and she showed Gerda how to ride him like a Valkyrie. Then Ladgerda had her straddle his hips and Gerda lowered herself onto his sword until her shield was pierced and her blood flowed out upon the towels and Ladgerda had the girl do everything at her own pace and comfort level and King Ragnar soon flowed inside the young witch. Then shield-maiden Ladgerda joined them in bed and they enjoyed each other long into the night.
The next morning, the palace cooks brought breakfast up to the master suite and Witch Gerda once again served King Ragnar and Jarl Ladgerda their meal and joined with them. In the afternoon, King Ragnar led his small fleet of warships down the Dan Apr River and out into the Scythian Sea. Ragnar stood at the forestem of his shieldship with Ladgerda on his right and Brak on his left and he asked them, “Why did the young Witch Gerda call Princess Brynhild’s shield, Hrae’s Ship’s Round?” While a shield was commonly called a ship’s round, or the leaf of a sea tree, or a sea wain’s wheels, Hrae was a very uncommon name that Ragnar had never heard before.
“I would have called it Brynhild’s Ship’s Round,” Brak admitted.
“Or Hild’s Wheel,” Ladgerda chimed in.
“Wasn’t Princess Brynhild’s husband called Gunnar?” Ragnar asked, and Brak confirmed that, indeed, it was. “We ancient Oster-Goths don’t have the name Ragnar,” Brak added. “Perhaps she meant Hrae-Gunnar, as in your shield’s name?”
“Perhaps,” Ragnar said. “She was in a hallucinogenic trance. Hrae-Gunnar,” he repeated. “I like it!”
After they had left the Land of the Volsungs, the old witch gave Witch Gerda some more of the potion she had wrought the day before and she was again in a hallucinogenic trance. The old witch and her young followers then led Witch Gerda to a small ship on the creek nearby and they laid her upon a cot under the ship’s awnings and a dozen warlocks of Volsunga took their turns going into the tent and they each drank mead with her and made love offerings with the young witch to Odin for the success of King Ragnar’s quest and, when they’d done, the old witch and her girls went into the tent and the girls held Gerda down as the old witch wrapped a cord around Gerda’s throat and strangled the life out of her, and young Gerda died the proper bloodless death of a witch and went to Valhalla to await and serve her king.
The twelve warlocks each carried a torch and they lit the kindling and firewood that were already in the small ship and then they went into a twelve oared boat and they rowed it and towed the burning ship down the tributary and out into the main river and towards the Scythian Sea, but the ship burned down to the waterline long before they made the sea and it slipped under the waves of the Dan Apr.