Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
6.0 KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ FOUNDS THE NOR’WAY (Circa 810 AD)
(Circa 810 AD) King Ragnar renamed Jarl Arthor’s ‘Way’ Fjord the ‘Varanger Fjord’, meaning the Fjord of the Way Wanderers and he declared that only those who made the great stormy Northern Sea crossing from Europe into Asia could call themselves Varangians, Way Wanderers of Hraes’. And he called his company, the Hraes’ Trading Company, and he had all his men and shield-maidens and all the traders swear oaths of fealty to him and his new trading firm. Then the weather turned and the great storm approached and they all went out to their ships, lashed down the awnings and sailed east into the Barents Sea. For two days they were battered by the dark brooding storm and could barely tell if it was day or night and then suddenly the storm passed and they were deposited in the calm of the White Sea.
Ragnar and Ladgerda pulled open the sheepskin awnings of their stout new Nor’Way ship and when his men saw the evergreens on shore, they seemed to be the greenest trees they had ever seen and the water was the bluest of blues and the sunshine was so golden it hurt their eyes. It was Ragnar’s second crossing, but for many of his men it was their first, and it invariably left a deep impression upon them as they realised that they were now Varangians.
They sailed south across the White Sea to the estuary of the Northern Dvina River and they rowed up the river and traded with the local Biarmians and Permians as they sailed south and east and rowed past Giantland. The Biarmians traded rich fine furs for iron goods, knives and kettles and the Permians traded their swords of silver and gold for the Varangians’ swords of steel. King Ragnar named Arthor’s portage Hawknista, for it had as many hawks about it as Hrafnista had ravens, and he left two dozen men there to build a longhall and storage sheds and the rest of them floated their ships down the source of the Kama River and when it got wide enough they rowed and sailed south to the Volga River, trading with the Permians as they went, and some of the Permians spoke Bulgar and some of the freed rowers in Ragnar’s company of men spoke their tongue because the Romans had been fighting and trading with Balkan Bulgars for over a century, and the rowers told him that news had been traversing Scythia about a pirate group who had destroyed an invincible Roman fireship and had kidnapped a Kievan Slav princess, the daughter of King Olmar of Kiev, and both the Romans and the Slavs were scouring the northern lands looking for the pirates.
“Ask them if the Romans have any idea who these pirates could be,” Ragnar told his men. The rowers’ Bulgar wasn’t good, but they learned that the Romans thought the pirates might be Northern Goths of some unknown origin. “Tell them we are only Danes and Norse and that there are no Goths here,” and Ragnar gave Brak a quick look and a wink. After another week of trading and rowing they entered the lands of the Bulgars and some of them spoke Greek, which Brak had been teaching Ragnar, and they learned more about these wanted pirates and of the great searches being made for them. The Bulgars inspected the stout Nor’Way ships of the traders and told them that the pirates had the longships of the Goths and that they should be wary of anybody with that type of ship. The pirates were not just after gold, but were likely slavers as well, for a whole Khazar-Slav embassy had literally been swallowed up by them near the river that a Roman fire breathing bireme had been plundered and burned upon. One of the Goth longships had been attacked and destroyed, but they had fought to the last man and the rest had escaped back to their northern lands.
King Ragnar and his Hraes’ Trading Company spent two weeks trading in the land of the Bulgars, and the Bulgars traded gold Byzants of Rome and silver Dirhams of Baghdad for the rich furs the Varangians brought south with them. And the nomadic Bulgars that came to trade from farther east had horses to exchange for swords. When Ragnar wanted to go further south down the Volga to trade with the Khazars, the Bulgars told them not to. Only they traded with the Khazars. Ragnar and his men still had a few furs left to trade, but not enough to squabble over, so they sailed back up the Volga and traded the rest with the Burtas who lived on the west bank of the great river and they got some wains and wagons from them and loaded them all into their little Nor’Way ships. Perhaps it was because Ragnar had Ladgerda, or perhaps because of other motives, but Arthor even bought himself a nice young Burta girl to keep him company under his Nor’Way ship awnings.
They got back to Hawknista a little earlier than they had expected, so Ragnar paid his traders gold to work on the portage station and they built a barn for the horses and they cut hay from meadows and they modified the wains to carry their ships, a towing wain on the front and a tag wain on the back end of the ships and, for the first time, Arthor was portaging ships without manpower and log rollers. Ragnar paid volunteers gold to overwinter and care for the station and he left Danish troops to provide security. He left them a few of his new Nor’Way ships and Ladgerda told his commanding officer to show the Romans the ships if they came looking for pirate longships.
Ragnar and Ladgerda enjoyed their last night together in the new Hraes’ longhall and they shared the highseats with Brak and Arthor and everyone was in high spirits as the trading had gone very well and even Arthor’s old traders were impressed with the profits they had all made. Jarl Arthor was so impressed with the longhall that King Ragnar’s gold had enabled that he asked Ragnar’s permission to be put in charge of Hawknista and overwinter there.
“Is that why you bought yourself a fine young lass?” Ladgerda asked. “She shouldn’t be down there serving the men their ale,” she added. “She should be up here sharing the highseat with you!”
“I saw her and I liked her,” Arthor admitted, “and I talked with her some in the Bulgar tongue and I wanted to take her back to Halogaland so she could teach me Burta over the winter, but now I think my primus wife would be too jealous to let me keep her.”
“Ah, the real reason,” Ragnar said, beaming with the ale he’d been drinking.
“That is true,” Arthor said, “but I never expected this longhall to be so fine and so large.”
It was true, Ragnar saw, as he looked about the hall. There were sixty benches for the men down each side of the over-long longhall and bedchambers at the one end for Jarls and officers and a master suite at the very end for Ragnar and Ladgerda, but the men had added an extra touch, a second master suite above the first, tucked up into the rafters, and Ragnar had assigned it to Arthor and his new concubine and he and Ladgerda had enjoyed hearing the new floorboards squeak and creak above them as the Jarl broke in his new Burta wife and fresh sawdust had drifted down from the ceiling above them. It had been heartwarming for Ladgerda and she had shown her approval of it in her own lovemaking with Ragnar.
“Well, Arthor,” Ragnar declared, “I make you Jarl of Hawknista, to rule as long as you wish. Now we all have to leave early in the morning, so Ladgerda and I shall be retiring early and so should you and yours.”
Looking out about the hall had warmed Ragnar’s nether regions, so he got up and waved his men good evening and he extended his hand and guided Ladgerda down the highest highseat steps and he escorted her arm in arm to their master suite. They got undressed and hurried under their sheets and blankets and waited to hear Arthor and his concubine tiptoeing up their stairs and they waited excitedly for the creaking to begin and they, too, began making love to the cadence of the floorboards. As they later rested in each others’ arms, Ragnar said, “The life of a trader like Arthor can be hard on a marriage. If the ice-free season isn’t long enough for the trader to sail out and then back home in one summer, if he has to overwinter in another land, his marriage withers and he loses his family. Arthor started traversing this route too soon and had to overwinter for several seasons and it was hard on his marriage.”
Ladgerda thought about their own marriage and said, “Being a trader king can be even harder on a marriage. Take more care of Aslaug than you did of me!” and she punched him on the arm and they cuddled some more.
The next day, the Varangians sailed down the Northern Dvina and were soon crossing the White Sea and awaiting their storm off the Kola Peninsula. It came and took them away for two days and then deposited them at the mouth of Varanger Fjord and they stayed there another two days and repaired ships and awnings before sailing around the North Cape and down the coast of the Nor’Way. Ragnar took Ladgerda to her realm in Trondheim and Prince Fridleif ‘Bjorn’ and his sisters were waiting there for them. He spent a few days in her longhall palace and visited with his children before sailing off to Ireland.
Queen Imaira was waiting for him at Longphort Dub-Lin with a shield-maiden named Rusila and Ragnar gave Imaira the armoured shirt of a Byzantine fire officer, which the red haired warrior maiden found appealing. He spent time there with his son, Imair, by the queen and with his daughter by Ladgerda, and Ragnar, Imaira and Rusila shared the highseats together in their longhall palace before Ragnar had to leave for his own palace in Liere.