Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 862 AD)
“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,
And his followers were called the Hraes’.”
Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler; Skaldskaparmal.
When King Frodi had left Kiev and the Varangians had left Gardar, the local Slav tribes began fighting amongst each other and all trade through the Southern Way ceased. Slav envoys were sent to Constantinople to establish trade, but envoys of Prince Hraerik had already been there, reminding the Emperor of the contract that the Hraes’ had established during the Siege of 860. Prince Vadim the Brave didn’t even bother to send envoys to Baghdad for trade talks. The Slavs knew that the Arabs were only interested in trade talks if slave trade was involved. A constant influx of purchased slaves were required in the markets of Baghdad, because the offspring of slaves were considered as being born free. Eventually Hraerik met with the Slav envoys of the Poljane and Drevjane, bypassing Vadim the Brave, and they worked out a plan for the calling back of the Hraes’ to re-establish the Southern Way. Slav royals and chieftains would be allowed to participate in a new slave free Southern Way trade. Hraerik was to be returned control of all Gardar in return for reopening freer trade.
Vadim the Brave and a few loyal followers fled Kiev and returned to their homes in Staraya Russa in the north of Gardar. They were not included in the new Southern Way, so they hunkered down and prepared for a siege.
Over the winter, King Frodi learned that his Kagan Bek had regained control over Gardar and he made plans to return from Denmark with the vast army he had been raising in the north. He had a great fleet of longships being equipped in the harbour town of Liere and Princess Eyfura was readying her twelve sons for a return to Gardar. Her husband, Jarl Arngrim and young Prince Alf had another fleet of longships to prepare and the prince was excited to get under way.
In the spring King Frodi and his Hraes’ sailed across the Baltic and entered the mouth of the Dvina River into the land of the Sclavs, where he had gained his first victory in a battle of hosts and had slain King Strunick decades ago. It was where he had first earned his byname of Angantyr , ‘the hanging god king’. They sailed past the ruins of the Sclav fortress then on past the town of Polotsk and on to Surazh where they were to be portaged across to Smolensk on the Dnieper River. But they had a side trip to make first. Prince Alf and Jarl Arngrim’s fleet were portaged to the Lovat River which they sailed down and entered Lake Ilmen. King Frodi and Princess Eyfura watched from the lake as the Hraes’ forces under the command of Jarl Arngrim and Prince Alf laid siege to the stockaded town of Staraya Russa.
Prince Vadim the Brave and his men held the town for a few days, but they were outnumbered a hundred to one and whole sections of stockade wall were soon aflame and, once the fires had cooled, the Hraes’ troops poured into the town by the thousands. Jarl Arngrim entered the town with Prince Alf at his side and they surveyed the prisoners but could not pick out Prince Vadim.
“Who is Vadim the Brave!” Jarl Arngrim shouted to the encircled prisoners. A big man with long black hair stepped forward and said, “I am Vadim the Brave!”
Another Slav fighter stepped forward and said, “I am Vadim the Brave!” and another and another. Even a large and beautiful female warrior stepped forward and shouted, “I am Vadim the Brave!”
“Behead all who have stepped forward,” Jarl Arngrim ordered, and his men assembled all twenty four Vadims in a line and had them kneel shoulder to shoulder and two soldiers had a Vadim bow forward and a following axman lopped his head off. When they got to the woman, she offered her beautiful long black locks to one of the soldiers to keep them from tumbling in the bloody soil, while the second soldier made her bow and the axman hesitated momentarily, then lopped her head off. And this carried on until all twenty four had been executed.
“Any more Vadims wishing to step forward?” Jarl Arngrim asked boldly.
Prince Alf sat on his horse, white as a ghost.
Princess Eyfura watched the whole process from her ship on the lake and she fumed.
The Hraes’ then made the townsfolk watch as they burned Staraya Russa to the ground in retribution for the burning of Aldajuborg known as Staraya Ladoga the year before.
When Jarl Arngrim returned to his wife’s ship, Princess Eyfura asked him why he had killed all those people. “Now we’ll never know if Prince Vadim died here!”
“The first man I picked out of the group was Vadim. The rest were just lying and that’s all we would have gotten from them.”
“We could have tortured them until we got to the truth of the matter. Now they’re dead! Now we can’t!”
“Well,” Jarl Arngrim started, “we could go back and grab another twenty four townsfolk and torture them until we get an answer. They’ve all been living with Vadim the Brave for the past year. I’m sure any one of them can tell us which real Vadim head belongs to which real Vadim body!” And he ordered the sailors to weigh the anchor and unfurl the sail.
The Hraes’ fleet then sailed across Lake Ilmen and founded the town of Holmgard or Novgorod on the site of the army camp the Danes had set up during their war with the Khazars decades earlier. They left a large troop of soldiers and craftsmen to get the town construction under way and the small fleet rejoined the large one at Surazh just in time to join in on the portaging and soon all ships were sailing down the Dnieper River. Princess Eyfura and her husband would return in the fall with their sons once construction had been completed. Until then, she planned on their staying in Kiev with her father.
Further down the Dnieper was Chernigov, the main town of the Drevjane, a Slav woodland tribe that had supported the revolt. King Frodi and his army laid siege to that town as well, but it was larger and better defended. Prince Hraerik had just arrived in Kiev for his meeting with his king when he learned of the attack from distraught Poljane princes. He did not like staying in Kiev in the best of times, wanting to avoid the ghost of Queen Alfhild, so he left a troop of Tmutorokan soldiers in charge of the city and left for Chernigov at the head of five hundred Varangian cataphracts. He met with King Frodi outside the walls of Chernigov and the king was in a rage. “They have shut their own king out of their town,” he complained. “I want them to send out all traitorous rebel leaders immediately!”
“I have arranged a truce with the Slavs,” Prince Hraerik explained. “We must respect the terms or there will be bloodshed.”
“That is why I brought an army with me!” King Frodi replied incredulously.
Prince Hraerik looked to Princess Eyfura and Jarl Arngrim for aid.
“I’m with him,” the Jarl said, but Eyfura stepped in and said, “We must at least show some respect for the terms of Prince Hraerik’s truce until we can get the Danepar trade established.”
This settled the king down somewhat and he agreed to considering a more political approach. Hraerik set up negotiations between the Drevjane princes and King Frodi and a few concessions by both parties soon had the town doors open for business. There was a trading season to be salvaged. Later, Prince Hraerik thanked Princess Eyfura for her support. He told her that her words had saved lives and when she blushed, he saw a bit of Queen Alfhild in her.
When King Frodi and his Hraes’ arrived at the quays of Kiev, they found the doors to the city bolted as well. Prince Hraerik’s troops let him in and he went through negotiations with the local Poljane princes and arrived at pretty much the same concessions and the doors to the city were opened as well.
Prince Hraerik asked his Tmutorokan Hraes’ officers why they had let the local Slavs lock the doors and they told their prince that they came to an agreement with the Slavs that as long as they were allowed to stay inside and move around freely, they would let the locals bar the doors. “We felt you would want us to prevent bloodshed rather than instigate it,” the lieutenants said in unison. Prince Hraerik wondered if he had given their action enough thought, because they were so right.
When Prince Hraerik was leaving Kiev at the head of a thousand Varangian cataphracts, Princess Eyfura rode up to the Prince, dressed in her best riding outfit, and asked, “When you told my father that we must respect the terms of your agreement or there will be bloodshed, did you mean his blood?”
“By the gods, no,” Hraerik lied. “You saved Drevjane lives that day, my princess.” She was her father’s daughter, the Prince mused, as she rode away, just as her mother, Queen Alfhild had been King Gotar’s daughter right to the end. He watched her ride away until she disappeared behind a crowd and he could swear he was watching Alfhild, then he looked back on his regiment of Cataphracts in their golden raiment and their plate-mail armour and he could see where she might think that. “Death on hooves,” he thought. “Forward!” he shouted.