Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 888 AD)

The Golden Gate of Kiev

The quays of Kiev extended a mile both upstream and downstream of the city and the main quay led to the howe of King Frodi with roads on either side leading to a main gate in the centre of Kiev’s massive wooden riverside wall.  The gate, itself, consisted of a steel portcullis set between two stacked log towers and the walls extending outwards from the towers were huge heavy palisades regularly interrupted by more stacked log towers.  The Hraes’ navy had long quit the quays, hiding along the coasts of the Black Sea, replaced by the monoxylan of the Poljane and Drevjane and Radimichi.  And the walls that surrounded Kiev were, in turn, surrounded by the armies of those tribes.  There were five hills inside the city walls and at the top of each one was a massive stockade fort, with the valleys between the hills teaming with wooden houses and buildings and barns.  And the chinking and the whitewash for the logs were all the same ochre clay, a clay that made the logs impervious to fire, so the city of Kiev had a red dusky hue in the fall air.

In order to test if a material is impervious to fire, take a sample of that material and throw it into a campfire.  When the fire goes out, see what is left of your sample.  If your sample remains there amongst the campfire cinders, it is impervious to fire, if it no longer remains there, it is not.  King Frodi should have tested his ochre painted logs in this fashion, for his lieutenants would soon learn the difference.

Try as they might, the rebel troops could not storm the high palisade walls.  The storm of arrows that would erupt from the double story parapets was too fierce for even the bravest warriors to weather.  So, they fired back volleys of arrows of their own, fire arrows that could not set the tall log walls alight.

The Poljane warriors scoured the countryside for heavy wagons and wains and loaded them up with firewood and lined them along the only road that had a slight downward slope toward the Kievan wall at the eastern gates.  They set a wagon ablaze and rolled it backwards down the road and six men with shields strapped to their backs guided the wagon by its tongue, sometimes pushing and sometimes being pulled along, until the wain crashed into the wall, then they ran back up the road for their lives, as the shields on their backs danced with darts.  Then the next wagon was set ablaze and a fresh team guided it into the wall.  And the next, and the next and then more, until all the wagons that had lined the road were burning at the base of the high palisade.  A stone wall would have cracked under the heat of that conflagration, but at least it would have had a chance to remain standing.  The log wall, ochre clay or not, had no chance at all.  The next day, when the fire died down, all that was left of the gate towers and the palisade were the steel spikes and the portcullis lying red hot in the embers.

The Poljane and Drevjane entered Kiev as King Oddi’s lieutenants and men withdrew to their ships at the quays of Kiev and fled down the Dnieper back to Gardariki.  The Radimichi didn’t even enter the city….they went home to prepare for winter fur trapping.  The Poljane sent emissaries to Constantinople to set up treaties and re-establish slave-less trade.  The Drevjane complained that they, too, should be allowed emissaries.  But Prince Hraerik had already re-negotiated his treaty with the Romans and it did not allow for any Greek trade concessions with the Slavs.  All trade would be conducted through the Nor’Way and it would follow Hjalmar’s rules—no slaves.

The fall weather in Tmutorokan was mild as the last of the Nor’Way ships left the quays of Gardariki and made their way down the Kuban for the Sea of Azov.  The trading season was lasting longer each year as a centuries’ old warming cycle was reaching its peak.  Five hundred years earlier, Hraerik had explained to Oddi, it was so cold that the Nor’Way sea remained frozen all year round and the Glassy Plains became impassable to trade.  A final migration was made by King Eormanrik and his Goths as they marched south in search of food and land, because their northern fields could no longer sustain crops.  Hraerik’s grandfather, Sigurd, was the first to capitalize on the end of the cooling cycle and the return of the warming.  When the Nor’Way sea started to break enough for a trading season, he was there with his warrior merchant fleet, and when it wasn’t warm enough for the ice to break, they would raid: Angleland, Frankland, Ireland, Scotland.  If his fleet couldn’t trade for Roman gold, it would ransom cities for silver.  The fickleness of the warming cycle led to the sporadic pattern of Viking raids of that time.  Trading was always safer than raiding, but often, not by much.

“You wish you were going with them?” Princess Eyfura asked.

“No, not this late in the season,” Hraerik replied.  “It will be starting to freeze by the time they clear Kandalak’s Bay.”

“Nor this late in the season of our lives,” Eyfura added.  “And speaking of late,” she further added, as she slipped her hand into Hraerik’s.  She had news for her husband to be, but she wanted to be sure.  She went to see a healer before telling Prince Hraerik the good news.

“It is a good thing you came to me,” the healer told Princess Eyfura.  “Your period is late because you have started menopause.”

“I’m not old enough for menopause,” the princess protested.

“You are still young and very beautiful for your age,” the healer said, “but you are well within the age for menopause.  “Having a baby now will be very difficult, but I have several fertility potions and spells I can give you.”

“I have used this potion and spell before,” Eyfura said, passing the healer a rune stick.

“This potion is for four sons,” the healing witch said.

“I used it three times.  I had twelve sons in under three years.”

“And are they all healthy?” the healer asked, shaking her head.

“They are all dead.  But it had nothing to do with the potion.  They were all killed in a holmganger,” the princess said, and it looked as if she would cry, but she raised her head proudly and announced, “They were the finest of sons.”

“I’m glad the potion worked well for you in the past, but if I give this to you now, at your age, it will likely kill you.  Let me see what I have here,” she said, going through her rune bag.  “This will give you one son, if it works for you.”