Ch. 2 The Sack of Paris of 845

Circa 845 AD

“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,

                     And his followers were called the Hraes’.”

                         Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler;  Skaldskaparmal.


Viking Attack on Paris of 845 by A.Neuville

It was late spring, 845 AD when Hraerik Bragi Hraegunarson and cousin Grim Hairy-Cheek Ketilson came south from Hrafnista with three longships full of warriors from Halogaland and countless Nor’Way ships full of Varangians from Gardariki.  The war arrow had been passed up and down the Nor’Way coast and east into the Nor’Way trade routes and all were required to respond in some way.  It was a call to arms for an attack on Paris and all the chieftains of the Nor’Way and the Vik and Hraes’ Gardar and Gardariki had responded with dragonships full of fierce men bearing mortal weapons.  Prince Hraerik had returned to Hraegunarstead from the east for the first time in many years and there was something Grim wanted to discuss with him regarding the ship Fair Faxi and Oddi’s future.  Oddi and Asmund were sitting together on the second high seat next to Brak and Grim.

“Is it about Fair Faxi?” Oddi asked.

“Yes.  That and more,” Grim went on.  “I have to talk to him about Brother Gregory, the Goth who brought Faxi over the crossing from the east.”

“Will you be giving Fair Faxi back to Prince Hraerik?”

“No son,”  the Halogalander continued.  “Faxi is a Nor’Way ship and will be on her way back east for the summer’s Nor’Way trading, back east with the rest of the Nor’Way ships, but I’ll be lending our Prince all my longships and my warriors for the raid on Frankia,”

“Can I come?” young Oddi asked.

“Oh no!” Grim exclaimed, laughing.  “You are far too young for that,” and he grabbed Oddi up in his strong arms and gave him a great hug.  Just then the bell from the watchtower at the fjord’s mouth began clanging a message of ships approaching, friendlies.  People began darting about and throwing on cloaks and soon all were running for the bitter green, with Grim and Oddi at the forefront. 

The narrow greensward ran along the south edge of the fjord of Hraegunarstead between the mountains and the bay, a lush meadow the freemen called the bitter green.  At its westernmost point stood a watchtower where a lookout monitored the mouth of the fjord for the arrival of ships and the guard was ringing a bell that had been relocated from a church in Rouen.  Prince Hraerik’s longship was spotted sailing up the fjord toward the stead and the whole household had rushed out onto the bitter green to welcome the prince home.  Grim and Oddi watched as the ship’s bulwarks rose up out of the waters and settled back down into the waves as the oars chomped at the swells.  The prince could be made out on the foredeck as men scampered about mid-deck, gathering up the sail and unfooting the mast.  As the ship passed along the shore, the crewmen at the stern waved to the crowd and the people on shore ran back along the bitter green, following the longship’s progress.  Hraerik barked out orders and the oars were raised as the longship coasted up onto the beach, scudding softly into the salty sand.  Ropes were let out and the multitude grabbed them up and hauled the ship onshore, as the Varangians stowed their oars.  Hraerik was at the forestem, below the fierce dragon’s head, and was the first to leap to land.  He greeted Kraka and Brak, then gave Grim a great hug.  “This is Oddi,” Grim announced and Hraerik shook the boy’s hand vigorously and continued greeting the folk of Hraegunarstead, many of whom he had not seen in years.

Later, in the evening, Grim had a private audience with the prince on the high seats of the main hall.  “Shortly after the fall of Gardariki,” Grim began, cradling a goblet of mead, “Brother Gregory visited us at Hrafnista, bringing the news of the tragic death of your wife, Gunwar.”  Hraerik nodded.  “He also brought his baby, the boy, Oddi, that I introduced you to this afternoon.  And he gave me this,” Grim said, presenting Hraerik with a cross made of iron.  “He said you would recognize it as being his.”  Hraerik took up the cross, speechless.  “He also brought your ship, Fair Faxi, across the ‘Way.  He left the baby with Loefthana and me with instructions to have him raised here in Hraegunarstead.  He also told me that he wanted you to name his son.  Brother Gregory then said he had to return to Gardar late in the season because he expected the Huns to attack his Goths in the spring.  I gave him a new Nor’Way ship with which to attempt such a late crossing, but he never made it.  The ship was found by Sami hunters that winter, crushed and broken in the sea ice, with no sign of the crew.  Young Oddi has been raised here at Hraegunarstead with the family of young Asmund ever since.  The two boys are inseparable.”

Hraerik mulled over what Grim had told him, he stepped down from the highseat and paced back and forth as though very troubled and said, “Brother Gregory was like a blood brother to me.  His son must be cared for as though he were my own; he must be kept safe at all times.  I would take him back east with me, but it is far too dangerous there.  He is safer being raised here with family.  As far as naming goes, many years ago King Frodi’s sea king, Spear Odd, claimed he would have Odin name my son after him, just before he died by my sword…and here is Brother Gregory’s son…who we shall keep as Odd!”  Tears began to well up in Prince Hraerik’s eyes. 

“I think that is very wise,” Grim answered.  “And what about your ship, Fair Faxi?”

“Since Brother Gregory brought Oddi across the Nor’Way with it, I think it only fair that we give Fair Faxi to Oddi when he is twelve.  And I’ll pay you for the ship you lost.  It’s the least I can do for my blood brother.  I’ll try to make it back here more often, Just to check up on the boy, but I shall make sure I come back here for Oddi’s twelfth birthday naming feast and his gifting of the ship.”

“That too is very wise.  Old King Gotar was as sagacious giving you the byname Bragi as he was foolish crossing swords with you, cousin Hraerik.”

Grim Hairy-Cheek gripped the forestem of his ship, fighting for balance as he scanned the horizon and the approaching coast.  There, he was sure, was the mouth of the Seine River as his lord, King Hraelauger, had described, a broad mouth between two headlands, one humped like a Bactrian camel and the other a silhouette of a horned recurve bow.  The references were eastern, but Grim was a Varangian, a true Varangian, with many Nor’Way crossings under his belt, so the Seine was but a shadow of the Volga he was used to.  He directed his longship south and led the Norwegian fleet into the main river of Frankia.

Prince Hraerik shook his mane of coal black hair and it danced about his shoulders showing flecks of grey as he stepped forth from the awning that was anchored, midships, to the mast.  “This is it?” he asked and Grim nodded, the noon sun casting a shadow of a dragon’s head across his broad shoulders.  Seventy longships followed in their wake, each casting a dragon shadow of its own upon the waters.  The sails lost their wind with each turn up the river and thirty oars would pierce the waters of the Seine, then thirty more would pierce again, then thirty more till all the ships had entered that wide mouth of the River Seine.  Their king had left the Vik with a similar fleet a week before them and would be in Rouen by now, at the island base of Chieftain Hraegunar Sigurdson, father of the two Hraegunarsons.  King Hraelauger and Prince Hraerik each brought a fleet of dragonships to support their father in his planned assault upon Paris, capital city of the Franks.

“I have to attack Paris,” Hraegunar explained.  “I have to capture a capital of the Holy Roman Empire before my sons conquer the Byzantine Empire’s Constantinople.  How would I ever live it down if my sons were to capture a capital before me?”

“Aye,” were the shouts of all as they raised glasses and goblets in praise.  Rouen was in ruins about them and Viking raiders sauntered down the streets as the city smouldered.  But spoils had been scant, and the populace had been evacuated.  Hraegunar Lothbrok had sacked the city four years earlier and it had never truly recovered.  The victory was a hollow one.

“Perhaps Paris should be handled differently,” Hraerik suggested.

“How so?” Hraelauger responded.

“We don’t sack the city.  We occupy it and force the Franks to ransom her.”

“That’s never been done!” Hraegunar exclaimed.  “I like it!  How much should we demand?”

“Just enough so we can do it again.  Four years later.  Not like Rouen here.”

“I like it too,” Hraelauger added.  “But how will we keep our men from pillaging?”

“My Varangians could occupy the city.  They have all been posted in Constantinople at one time or another and they know restraint and discipline.”

“Now we just have to destroy the Frankish army,” Hraegunar stated, matter of factly.  “Their King Charles is leading his army from Paris as we speak.”

The next day, the Norse fleets left Rouen and sailed up the Seine.  Halfway to Paris they saw the Frank army, half of it on one side of the river and the other half on the other side.  Prince Hraerik led his Varangian fleet up the right side of the Seine and his brother, King Hraelauger, led his Norwegian fleet up the left.  Hraegunar Lothbrok sailed his Viking fleet straight up the middle.  The Varangians beached along the right riverbank and assembled into a wedge formation five thousand strong to engage the ten thousand strong Frankish army on an open field just beyond the river.  King Hraelauger’s fleet nosed into the sand on the left riverbank but did not disembark.  King Hraegunar’s smaller fleet kept sailing upriver around a bend and out of sight.  Once the Hraes’ Varangian troops had fully engaged the Franks in a shield wall battle, Hraelauger led his Norwegian fleet away from the riverbank and they sailed further upstream and across river to attack the rear of the Frank army as it battled the Varangians.  The Frank army on the left bank of the river watched as the two Norse armies enveloped their countrymen.  Most could not swim, but the few thousand that could, stripped off their armour, lashed their swords about their necks and swam out into the river to help their fellow Franks.       

The Viking fleet soon reappeared from around the bend upriver, oars splashing with the downstream current and attacked the swimmers in the water.  Prince Hraerik watched from behind his shield wall lines and found it difficult to ascertain which Franks were dying faster, those upon the right riverbank or those in the water.  King Charles and the remaining half of his army continued to watch the slaughter on the opposite bank of the River Seine.  The swimmers in the river were all gone by then, dead and floating downstream, while the Viking fleet beached on the right bank and joined in on the massacre.  A few hundred Franks remained and they threw down their arms and surrendered to this third assault.

“We should hang the captives as a sacrifice to Odin,” Hraegunar started.

“There has been enough blood shed today,” Hraerik protested.

“That’s very Christian of you,” Hraelauger laughed.  “King Frodi once wanted to sacrifice the Sclavs to Odin at the whim of old Gotwar, that witch you spared from the House of Westmar.  You came up with a test for them back then.  Perhaps you can come up with a new test now.”

Prince Hraerik decided that they would tell their prisoners that any of them who would convert back to the old pagan faith would be spared and the remaining Christians would be hanged.  One hundred and eleven men broke off into a group willing to convert and one hundred and twenty moved off into a group unwilling to give up Christianity.  One man remained between them, unable to decide what to do.

“What is your wish?” Prince Hraerik asked in French.

“I have heard that King Hraegunar Lothbrok has marked himself with a spear as a sacrifice to Odin,” the Frank started, a little startled that the Viking could speak his language.  “I would convert to the old religion, but I fear your king plans to sacrifice the converts to Odin, not the Christians.”

“What is your name?” Hraerik asked.

“I am Varrin,” the Frank answered.

“Well Varrin, my wife converted to Christianity and she died in battle staying true to her new faith.”

Varrin joined the group remaining faithful to Christ.

King Hraegunar took the group of prisoners that were willing to convert onto his Viking ships and they rowed to a small island in the middle of the Seine and in sight of the remaining Frankish army he marked the hundred and eleven men with a spear and had them hanged as a sacrifice to Odin.  The Norse fleets then sailed off toward Paris, leaving the stalwart Christians standing on the right riverbank, the Frankish army frozen on the left and the new converts dangling in between them.

The fleets arrived outside Paris on Easter Sunday and the Varangian troops entered the city without resistance while most of the citizens attended mass.  They were so orderly as they marched up the riverbank and across the island city’s northern bridge that the watchtower sentries mistook them for the Frankish troops of King Charles and failed to raise the alarm.  The sentries were dispatched for their sloth and the city guard was captured and locked up.  The Norwegian and Viking armies then surrounded the island city with their ships to keep the populace on the island and when the Mayor returned to city hall after mass, he found Prince Hraerik and King Hraegunar Lothbrok awaiting him.  They demanded seven thousand pounds of silver and gold as ransom for their capital city plus the return of all trading settlement lands that Hraegunar had been deprived of years earlier.

It took King Charles several weeks to raise the ransom and the Varangian Hraes’ troops got less orderly as time wore on.  A plague broke out in the Viking camp outside the city and King Hraelauger kept that camp isolated from the Norwegian camp until the affliction had run its course.  They held Paris hostage for over a month before they got their ransom.  King Hraelauger returned to the Vik with his fleet, King Hraegunar remained at one of his trading settlements on the coast of Frankia and Prince Hraerik returned to Jaederen to visit with Oddi before leading his Varangian Hraes’ fleet across the Baltic and back to Gardar.