Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 890 AD)
“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,
And his followers were called the Hraes’.”
Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler; Skaldskaparmal.
The Eastern Roman Emperor wanted to give the Poljane a chance to re-start Southern Way trade, but Prince Hraerik would not allow any relaxation of his treaty restrictions. The Romans would have liked to give the Khazars a chance to re-establish their control of the Southern Way. Anybody but the Varangians who had nailed a war shield to the main gates of Constantinople, anybody but the Bragning Prince who seemed to have a special relationship with the Alchemists of Chaldea, the Bulghars of the Volga, the Khazars of Atil Kazaran, the Xungarians of the Silk Road, the Arabs of the Caliphate of Baghdad. Hraerik knew there was a centuries old conflict between the philosophical sciences of the Alchemists and the Romans going all the way back to the Roman conquest of Greece. The studies and teachings of Plato and Socrates and Archimedes that had evolved in cooperation with Babylonian and Indian and Oriental schools of alchemy were being sampled and cannibalized by the imperial machine that was Rome – the conqueror, Rome – the enslaver.
The crude science that evolved out of Roman military engineering ruled the world as the Romans knew it, but the world was much bigger than that. And the science much more complex. When Emperor Titian sent the chief scientist of Rome to study Mount Vesuvius and see what Roman engineering could do to stop the impending eruption, Pliny the Elder was caught up in the conflagration that was Pompey and it cost him his life. Their science served the empire. The sciences of the Alchemists served mankind and there were many facets of it that were forbidden to governments and empires. The Eastern Romans, the Byzantines, had pried the terror of Greek fire from the Alchemists of Chaldea and Constantinople would pay for it centuries in the future when the iron tubes Hraerik had envisioned would spew fire and smoke and balls of steel against her cold stone walls until the city would finally fall. And further in the future, Hraerik saw the new Romans in the western lands pry the terror of Democritian theory from their state scientists and use it on their enemies in the Orient. They too would send their scientists to study their own Vesuvius, and many of those scientists would die in the ensuing conflagration. Those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do study history must study and understand it, not just memorize the dates. Hraerik understood the history of the Romans and their blood link with the Khazars, so he called for ambassadors from Khazaria to go to Constantinople and argue his case for him. The Khazars were profiting from the existing Nor’Way trade and Hraerik promised them profits from the reopening of Southern Way trade.
When the Slavs of Kiev, Chernigov and Smolensk learned that the only Southern Way trade going to Constantinople would have to go through the Varangians, they made it known that were willing to talk.
During negotiations it became known that a king who had seized control of Holmgard-Novgorod had, seven years earlier, rebuilt Staraya Russa, and that mysterious king was called Quillanus. The southern Slavs said he was somewhat strange looking because he wore a mask over his face, like King Frodi was wont to do, and that no one had ever seen his bare face. Even the northern Slavs thought this strange. No one knew his family or ancestry or even the land where he was from. The people of the north talked about this a great deal and the news eventually spread, and it came to Oddi’s ears when he returned to Gardariki from Jerusalem. It seemed very strange to Oddi that he should not have heard about this man during his many travels. One night at a Bragarful in honour of his return, Oddi got up in public and made a solemn vow to reconquer Kiev and the northern towns and to learn who now ruled the kingdom of Holmgard in the north. Prince Hraerik put together an army for him and he soon left for Kiev. He sent word to Sirnir, his blood-brother, to meet him in the summer at Surazh on the Dvina east of Wendland and Oddi and his troops left for Kiev in the spring and they started working their way up the Dnieper in one hundred and thirty ships, fully equipped.
When King Odd arrived at the quays of Kiev, the Slav ruler Kaenmarr fled north, leaving the city to the Hraes’. Oddi sent messengers to Gardariki with the news that Kiev had been retaken, the he pushed on north to Chernigov and took that town back from the Drevjane rebels by force, overwhelming the defenders in a matter of days, causing Prince Chernmal to flee north as well. King Odd then took back Smolensk from the Radimichi rebels and then Surazh from the Krivichi rebels. He met up with his comrade Sirnir there who told him he had taken Polotsk on the Dvina, forcing King Paltes to flee inland. His sworn brother added forty ships to the fleet that portaged across to the Lovat River and sailed for Novgorod. Now the Lovat drained into Lake Ilman and Staraya Russa was on its southern shore, but it had been burned by Prince Arngrim years earlier, so King Odd had to rub his eyes twice when he saw that it had been completely rebuilt. He sailed up to the town with his fleet and he found the town gates locked and warriors upon the walls. He learned from a local woodcutter that the town supported the northern rebels but were not prepared for a siege because local crops had failed and the people of the town were near starvation. Oddi saw the town as being of no real strategic importance, so instead of attacking it, he ordered his men to offload a dozen barrels of flour and leave them at the town gates. “It was the home of Vadim the Brave,” Oddi told one of his lieutenants.
Gardar is a vast land and many of its kingdoms were vassals to King Quillanus of Novgorod. Marron was the name of one king and he ruled Murom. Rodstaff was the name of another king, and Rostov was the city he ruled. Eddval was the name of a king who ruled in Sursdal and Holmgeir was the name of the king who had ruled Holmgard before Quillanus. Paltes and Kaenmarr and Chernmal were in Novgorod as well, hiving fled the forces of King Odd. All these kings and princes paid tribute to King Quillanus.
Before Odd had even imagined coming to Novgorod, Quillanus had been busy mustering troops for the last three winters, preparing for the Slavic uprising. Some thought that he had somehow gained foreknowledge of Oddi’s coming. All his tribute kings were with him in Novgorod. Svart Geirridson was also there. He was so-called after Ogmund Eythjofs Bane had disappeared years ago. There were also hosts of Karelia, Tafestland, Refaland, Virland, Estonia, Livonia, Vitland, Kurland, Lanland, Ermland and Poland. Quillanus’ army was so large that it could not be counted in hundreds and men couldn’t imagine how it could have been gathered. When Oddi’s army beached their ships on the riverbank of the Volkov, he sent messengers to Novgorod to challenge King Quillanus to a tournament. Quillanus responded quickly and went forth to meet him with his army. He wore a mask on his face, as he was wont to do, and when they met, they immediately prepared for the tournament. They both had long strong lances, but they broke four of them in the first four charges. They jousted for three days and they both failed to unseat each other. “It seems to me,” Quillanus said, “that we’ve tested each other and I believe we are equals.”
“I believe you are right,” said Oddi.
“It seems to me that we agree,” said Quillanus, “and should fight no longer. I wish to invite you to a banquet.”
“There’s just one thing,” said Odd, “that I must know first.”
“What is that?” Quillanus asked.
“I made a solemn vow to my people that I would learn who is king in Holmgard.”
Then Quillanus took off his mask, asking, “Do you know who owns this ugly face?” And Oddi realized that this man was Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock, because he bore the scars given him when Oddi had torn off his beard, his face and forelock in Bjarmaland. The skin had healed over most grotesquely and no hair grew where his famed black tussock had been.
“No, Ogmund,” he cried, “I will never come to terms with you. You have done so much to harm me, and I challenge you to battle on the morrow.” Ogmund accepted the offer, and the next day their armies met in battle on a nearby plain. It was violent and brutal, and as the day wore on, many men were killed on both sides. Sirnir fought valiantly and killed many men, because his sword, Snidil, bit hard all that stood before him. But when Svart Ogmundson faced him, they battled very hard, but Snidil just wouldn’t bite, even though Svart wore no armour. The duel concluded when Sirnir, with much honour, fell dead. Oddi killed all the vassal kings of Quillanus, shooting some, and hewing down others, but when he saw Sirnir fall, the anger boiled up in him, as it seemed to be happening all over again, a personal loss of life at the hands of Ogmund and his company. He nocked an arrow and shot at Svart, but the youth put up the palm of his hand, and it would not bite. He shot another and a third and while shooting, he felt great loss now Gusir’s Gifts were gone, so he grabbed up his club and went to battle against Svart with it and Odd struck him with the club again and again and did not stop until he had broken every bone in Svart’s body and left him there dead. Quillanus had been busy, as well, and he shot arrows out of his fingers and a man was killed by each one, and with his men he killed every man of Oddi’s. But many had fallen on Quillanus’ side, too, so many that he could not count the dead. Oddi was still up and fighting, protected by his Roman plate-mail shirt. Night fell upon them, and it was too dark to fight, so Quillanus and his men went into Novgorod, about sixty in total, all tired and wounded. Oddi retreated to his ships and the small force he had stationed as guards there and he carried with him the body of his sworn brother Sirnir. After this battle, Ogmund garnered the byname Blaze, Quillanus Blaze, and he ruled in Novgorod for a long time.
Odd had barely enough men to sail one ship and he returned to Gautland in Fair Faxi, carrying the body of Sirnir, and he erected a howe over his friend there. As he passed through Polotsk on his way back to Kiev, he wondered how his sisters were doing in Gardariki. He had married Princess Silkisif, but he would often leave the palace and visit the sisters and his sons in his longhall. As Duke Rollo had told him years earlier, his life was complicated.
At Surazh, he was approached by an embassy as he prepared to portage Fair Faxi overland to Smolensk. King Quillanus sent Oddi rich gifts of both gold and silver and many valued objects and with them messages of friendship and reconciliation. He told Oddi that he had withdrawn from Novgorod and would remain in Staraya Russa if that would end the enmity between them. Oddi accepted the gifts, being, at last, wise enough to see that Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock, now called Quillanus Blaze, had also lost so much and was unbeatable, being no less a wraith than a man.
Then Oddi and his men sailed back to Kiev only to find that Prince Hraerik and Princess Eyfura were there settling in, Eyfura claiming King Frodi’s inheritance from her brother, King Alf. King Oddi told the Prince what had transpired in the north and that the Southern Way was ready to be re-opened. And Prince Hraerik told him that Queen Silkisif was pregnant and being tended to by the sisters, Gudrun and Sigrid, so he needn’t rush to get back.