Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 896 AD)
“Hraerik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless is Prince Igor of Kiev’, so I researched Ivar the Boneless. It was said in the Sagas that he had no bones in his legs. Then I researched Prince Igor of Kiev, hoping to find a similar nickname, but I could find none. ‘Show me,’ I pleaded with Hraerik. ‘Show me.’ He came to me in a dream again and repeated ‘Ivar the Boneless is Prince Igor of Kiev.’ Then I read: ‘The Drevjane had bent down two birch trees and they tied them to Prince Igor’s feet, and, like great bows, they let the trees loose and they tore the bones right out of his legs. And that is how Prince Igor of Kiev died.’ But Prince Hraerik said ‘Prince Igor of Kiev is Ivar the Boneless.’ Perhaps he did not die.”
Brian Howard Seibert
King Odd had been spotted returning from the north in his longship, Fair Faxi, so a great crowd of Hraes’ people were on the quays of Kiev to greet him. A harbourmaster had brought the message to Prince Hraerik in his palace and soon he would explain to Oddi that over the winter he had married the mother of the twelve berserker brothers that Oddi had killed, and that they were now trying to have a baby together even though it was a little late in life for children.
“I’ll have to leave for Gardariki immediately,” Oddi stated quite emphatically. “It is her family duty to avenge the deaths of her sons, not to mention her father, King Frodi!”
“Princess Eyfura has assured me she has no intention of seeking vengeance,” Hraerik repeated, as Oddi stepped down from the highseat he was sharing with his father and searched the hall for spies, checking behind draperies and statues. He could find no others in the hall, so he rejoined his father on the second highseat.
“You are in love,” Oddi said, “and blinded by it. Princess Eyfura is a royal and will not give up her right to vengeance. That is not how royal bloods operate. They hold all the rights and give up none. They not only support slavery, they depend on it. A free man wouldn’t wear a king’s yoke if he did not have a slave wearing his own yoke first. Where there are slaves, there are royals.”
“You are now a royal, yourself, King Odd, and Princess Eyfura is not like that. She is the spitting image of her mother, and Alfhild was not like that, not vengeance minded.”
“I saw vengeance in the havoc her nails wreaked upon Frodi’s face as he perpetrated his foul deed. How could I have seen that? I have always felt connected with Queen Alfhild somehow…I don’t understand it, but I do understand I cannot stay here!” Oddi again searched about the hall, prodded the tapestries, for a spy.
“There is no one here, son.”
Oddi had arrived late evening in Kiev and Hraerik had sent everyone away from the hall of his palace. Only preparers of food and purveyors of wines entered and left the hall and none were presently in the chamber. “I told all to leave us alone. I wanted to be the first to tell you of my troth with Eyfura. She is the love of my life. She is Alfhild and Gunwar as one. I am afraid I have failed you again. I cleared this with Eyfura, ensuring that she bid you no ill will, but I should have cleared it with you as well. For that neglect I am sorry.”
“You have not failed me,” Oddi reassured his father. “I am glad you have found love again. I hope you have found a love such as I have for Queen Silkisif, or a love such as Hjalmar had found with Princess Ingibjorg. But he paid with his life for that love. Angantyr didn’t kill Hjalmar; your famed blade, Tyrfingr, did. Your arrow of the gods. It bit into Hjalmar sixteen times and, each time, the poison in that blade worked its evil magic on my friend until he could barely stand in the end. Had Angantyr not fully exposed himself to Hjalmar’s final death stroke, Hjalmar would not have had the strength left to kill him. Angantyr deprived me of my victory, deprived me of all twelve berserker brothers. I was so angry I almost didn’t bury the boys. But I promised the brothers full burial with weapons, so I built them a howe and Angantyr sleeps atop Tyrfingr. I’m sorry, I should have brought the blade back to you.”
“I gave the sword to King Frodi,” Hraerik explained, “and he gave it to Prince Arngrim, and Angantyr was given the blade expressly for the holmganger. So, I guess it is fitting that it should rest with him. Tyrfingr is not evil. It is just dangerous. I forged it out of a starstone metal that radiates intense energy like a fire radiates heat. The energy is the poison and any cut from the blade will never heal and will result in death, no matter how slight the wound. I’m sorry it bit your friend, Hjalmar. Tyrfingr is best left buried with Angantyr.”
“Angantyr told us before he died that he had no interest in Princess Ingibjorg. That he just wanted my head for King Frodi. Hjalmar and Ingibjorg were in love and both died because King Frodi wanted my head. What makes a man do what Angantyr did just to impress his king?”
“You must not blame yourself,” Hraerik said. “They didn’t call him the Hanging God King for nothing. Angantyr Frodi. Hanging Tyr Frodi. I called my sword Tyr’s Finger, Tyrfingr, after the god of justice. I conquered many lands with that sword for King Frodi, and I did it because I loved his sister, Princess Gunwar, your mother. I am so glad I finally learned the truth of your birth. It is best you buried the thing. The crushing burden of that blade was wearing on me.”
“Then I’m glad it rests between the shoulder blades of Angantyr on Samsey,” Oddi stated, seeming a little less perplexed.
“You left it in its sheath, I hope.”
“Yes. It seemed to glow without it.”
“You could see the glow? That is good. Most people can’t. It is best left buried.”
“But I must leave here. I must return to Gardariki. It will always be your city, yours and my mother’s,” Oddi said. “But I cannot stay here.”
“If I can stay here,” Prince Hraerik said, “then you can stay here, for I too have a connection with Queen Alfhild. Her spirit visited me soon after she had died. She came to me on the battlefield and she warned me that a witch was planning to poison Gunwar and that she was pregnant with you at the time. The witch had already terminated eleven of Gunwar’s pregnancies and you were to be the twelfth and final one, dying together with your mother. I rode back to Gardariki to save your mother and we lost the battle against the Huns while I was gone. I never told your mother this, but I slept with the spirit of Alfhild as repayment for her warning. I would do it again to save you both, but I fear that Kiev is haunted by Queen Alfhild’s spirit, and I don’t want to be here. I told Eyfura this, but she wanted to come live in Kiev anyway.”
“I shall make time and stay for a day or two,” Oddi told his father.
“Timing is the soul of soldiery,” Hraerik started, “and your timing is perfect. We have just received a delegation of the Poljane and Drevjane and they are cooperating with the reopening of the Southern Way. Without the wealth of the Way trade, the Slavs are turning on each other. They do not want to miss another trading season. I would like you to help with the negotiations.”
“Southern Way trade without slave trade, right?”
“They would have it no other way.”
As Hraerik and Oddi went through the details of the new Southern Way trade, Oddi would occasionally look about the hall as if expecting to find spies lurking in the tapestries, but he should have looked up. High above the highseats, in amongst the heavy ochred oak rafters, where the blackened war arrows rested, laid a red war shield, and curled up on it hid Hervor, Princess Eyfura’s young handmaiden.
“Now that you have told me all that was said between Oddi and my husband,” Princess Eyfura started, leaving a long pause, “there is something I must tell you of your birth. Your mother was my handmaiden, but your father was not a slave. He was my eldest son, Prince Angantyr. When your mother died following your birth, I had you raised in our household, but, for your own safety, I kept your true lineage a secret. Your father was too drunk to remember your conception, but your mother would not spare me the details. You must avenge your father’s death, as I must avenge mine. You shall begin training in the morning.”
Hervor, a lithe young woman with green eyes and auburn hair, was happy to learn that she was not slave spawn and of royal blood. She reached out to her grandmother and Eyfura hugged her coldly. “We must keep the truth of your birth a secret until we have avenged our fathers.”
Oddi stayed in Kiev a week before they had a contract hammered out with the Slavs, then he and his crew left for Gardariki in his longship, Fair Faxi. Right after he left, Hervor’s training as a shield maiden began. The more skill she gained, the more independent she became and she would often squabble with Eyfura’s household slaves. When handmaidens refused to believe Prince Angantyr had been her father, Hervor went to her grandmother for support. “My son was drunk when he raped your mother,” Eyfura started, “and your mother tried to kill herself afterwards. I saved her and kept her close while she carried you and after you were born she did kill herself. Is that what you want me to tell them?”
Once news of the Way’s reopening got out, it spread like wildfire and many merchant ships returning from Baghdad and Constantinople took the southern route instead of the Nor’Way, paying a double tythe just to save time. Once the fall trading season was complete, and all the merchant ships were plying their various routes, Prince Hraerik had more time to spend with Princess Eyfura. She was so much like the Princess Alfhild he had known a generation earlier and he remembered watching his young queen with child walking with her King Frodi and he and Gunwar had been so envious. He often wondered what would have happened had he not had that moment of anger so many years ago when Alfhild told him she needed a blooded king for a match, that he was not good enough for her, and he had lashed out at her mentally and struck a blow that had ended his love for her. Then he realized that it was his greatest fear that he would repeat that mental bow with Eyfura and ruin it all. That was why he had feared a confrontation between Eyfura and Oddi. That was why he had allowed Oddi to go to Kiev without meeting his new wife. He instinctively knew that his newfound love for Eyfura was a fragile thing that would need protecting, a protection that his love for Alfhild had not received. Eyfura was as proud as her mother had been, perhaps even more so. She had so much more to be proud of.
“What are you thinking?” Eyfura asked her husband as they rested on their bed together. “You’re so deep in thought.”
“I was thinking, you have so much to be proud of,” Hraerik answered. “You have survived so much in this hostile land. I look upon you with so much pride. Our child shall be lucky to have you as a mother.”
“I am afraid to be a mother again,” Eyfura confessed. “What if the potion doesn’t work?”
“If the potion doesn’t work,” he said. “Then we’ll just have to work at it harder. There is an old Roman saying that goes…If you love your work…then your job must be…trying to get your wife focking pregnant!” and he pushed Eyfura onto the bed and kissed her passionately. They made love on the bed and then they made love again. As they rested, Hraerik said, “There are two kinds of sex. There’s having sex while you’re trying your damnedest not to get your woman pregnant, and then there’s having sex while trying to knock up your wife, and I have to say that I, by far, prefer the latter.”
“I can feel the difference,” Eyfura agreed. “You spout like a whale!”
The next morning, Eyfura asked her husband if he was still anxious about living in Kiev. He told her that sometimes he could feel the presence of Queen Alfhild’s spirit in the palace. He told her he was thankful that King Frodi and Queen Alfhild’s bedchamber down the hall was kept shuttered under lock and key.
“You must get over your fear,” Princess Eyfura told Hraerik. “The ghost of my mother doesn’t haunt the palace of Kiev.”
“Queen Alfhild doesn’t frighten me. I told you what happened to me on the battlefield of the Don plain many years ago. We made love shortly after she had died and I still feel bad about it.”
“You shouldn’t feel bad,” Eyfura said. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I don’t feel that kind of bad…”
“What kind of bad do you feel?”
“I feel bad that she was so good! Once you’ve had spirit, well…nothing comes near it.”
And Eyfura pummelled her husband, and then they had sex on the bed.
“But seriously,” Hraerik started, as they rested after. “She was my first love, your mother. But she chose another. A true king. Your father, King Frodi.”
“And I’m glad she did. If you were my father, I could not have married you….even this late in our lives.”
“And I am glad as well,” Hraerik breathed into his wife’s ear as he rolled out of bed. “I shall stay in Kiev then, but I will depend on you to keep me safe here.”
“I will not trust my mother, Alfhild, alone with you,” Eyfura chimed. “Not even her ghost!”
One night Hraerik held on to Eyfura as she slept, fitfully. She tossed and she turned but was asleep when he heard an odd noise down the hall. Hraerik slipped out of bed and crept into the hall and he saw her….Alfhild. She was young again, her wispy blonde hair catching up the light of the tapers as she spun and walked toward the king’s chamber, trailing a hand and a finger as though to compel him to follow. When he entered the room, she was on the bed, so he closed the door behind himself. They never said a word, he just brushed her hair back and kissed her and her silks fell open and he kissed her all over as if to consume her so she could never leave again. He remembered that night on the bed in King Gotar’s high seat hall, with Tyrfingr sheathed between them, and all the nights since fell away like rose petals in the darkness of denial. A lifetime of denying their truth, denying their young love, fell away with each kiss. And they made passionate love for what seemed hours, what seemed days, then Alfhild fell asleep in his arms on the bed and Hraerik slipped his arm out from under her tender throat and he could see by the tapers that there were no strangle marks about her neck like the first time they made love in his campaign tent on the Don Plain, and he realised that she was younger now, from before she had died, and he slipped out of the room and returned to the bed of Eyfura. She was still sleeping fitfully as though in a trance and Hraerik thought this must be a dream.
The next morning Prince Hraerik got up early to check King Frodi’s bedchamber but it was still locked. He asked some of the handmaidens and servants if anyone had been in the room and they all answered not in years. It was a dream, Hraerik thought. Just a dream. What a dream.
The next night Prince Hraerik went to sleep with Eyfura as before and he drifted off holding her in his arms and she woke him up with her tossing and turning once more. Again, he heard an indistinct noise out in the hallway. Hraerik slipped out of bed and crept into the hall and he saw her….young Alfhild. She was at the door of King Frodi’s bedchamber and she was waving him to hurry to her and they entered the room together and she stripped off her silks and as she slowly peeled away Hraerik’s linen bedclothes he could see she was younger now and she wore her hair as it had looked when he visited her in her mother’s hall when the matron was sick and coughing in her room. Again, they never said a word. He just brushed his naked body up against hers and he held her and kissed her and then he hugged her and lifted her off the floor and he slid her onto himself and she touched the floor with her toes and she went up on her toe tips and she went back down then up on her toe tips and down again and she did this until waves crashed through their bodies and they held each other for what seemed hours and Alfhild fell asleep standing in his arms. He picked her up and they disengaged and he laid her out upon the bed and he stroked her beautiful blonde hair and he stroked her beautiful young face and then he stroked her beautiful lithe body and he covered her in her shimmering silks and then covered her with a sheet and he left the room and returned to the bed of Eyfura, who was still sleeping fitfully as though in a trance. Hraerik slid into bed beside Eyfura and he realised that this was not a dream.
The next morning Prince Hraerik got up early to check King Frodi’s bedchamber but it was still locked. He asked the handmaidens if anyone knew where the key to the chamber was kept, but nobody seemed to know. It was not a dream, Hraerik thought. But it is not a dream that I don’t want to stop.
The third night Prince Hraerik went to sleep with Eyfura as before but he didn’t drift off, staying awake as she fell asleep in his arms, and when she started tossing and turning as though in a trance, he slipped his arm out from under her and slid out of bed. He stood by their chamber door until he heard that undefinable noise out in the hallway. He stepped out into the hall and he saw her again….youngest Alfhild. The Alfhild he had seen his first time entering the Vik when she stood high upon a headland and the sun played and danced with her wispy blonde hair and drove away the shadows casting in the cliffs. She entered the king’s bedchamber and Hraerik did follow, and she kept her silks on and she stripped Hraerik naked and she led him onto the bed and she sat him against the headboard and she kissed his forehead and she kissed his lips and she kissed his chin and she kissed his throat ever so gently and she kissed his chest three times working her way down and she kissed him and had him in her mouth, as much as she could take, and when he was wet enough she rose and sat astride him and took up the rest and she bounced high in her saddle like a princess riding out to a picnic in the woods and he exploded within her and hugged her so she would stop. But she had a nice gait going and she was still riding Hraerik when Princess Eyfura walked into the room and saw her handmaiden, Hervor, riding her husband’s steed.
“Eyfura, you must leave the room at once,” Hervor cried, but the voice wasn’t her’s….it was Queen Alfhild’s. And Hraerik woke and he pushed Hervor away from himself, as though he had seen a ghost, and Hervor said in Alfhild’s voice, “I tried to scratch his eyes out in this very bed, I clawed his face to the very end.” Then Hervor awoke and she was a frightened young woman tearing away the silks and then pulling them around her again to cover up her nakedness.
“What have you done, Hervor?” Eyfura whispered hoarsely. “You are possessed!”
Hervor sat upon the bed, hugging her knees and crying, with no idea how she had gotten there.
“It is the ghost of Alfhild,” Hraerik lamented. “She has tricked me. Please forgive me, Eyfura. I should have never come to Kiev!”
“Hush, girl,” Eyfura cooed, trying to calm the young woman. “How long has this been happening?” she asked her handmaiden, but the young woman had no recollection.
“I think it has been happening three nights,” Hraerik answered. “I remember it happening now, as one recollects a dream. Three nights! I should have not come here,” and he sat on the bed with his head in his hands. “Three nights in a row and you’ll get a Bo. When did you last have your period, Hervor?”
Hervor answered in a weird Alfhild voice, “Three nights in a row and you’ll get no Mo.”
“Ask her!” Hraerik demanded. “Ask her when she last had her period,” and Hraerik held out one finger on one hand and five fingers on the other where only Eyfura could see them.
So Princess Eyfura asked Hervor how long it had been.
“Just over two weeks,” she said.
Then Prince Hraerik recited this verse:
“Wait fifteen days, then three nights in a row
Fock your wife and you’ll have a Bo.
Wait only days, and have your way,
And a girl will come, come birthing day.
“It is a Warlock Song,” the Prince said. “And why did you wake up?” Hraerik asked Eyfura. “You were tossing and turning like you were in a trance when I left you.”
“I remember tossing and turning, but then I stopped and I woke up and then I heard a noise in the hallway.”
“What kind of noise?”
“I don’t know. It was just a noise.”
“Ghosts can’t make noises,” Hraerik explained. “They can only make you think you’ve heard a noise, so it’s always just a noise, but can never be described.”
“We shall never talk about this again,” Eyfura said, as a shiver coursed through her body. “Ever!” And she sent Hraerik back to their room as she escorted Hervor back to the servants’ chambers.
When she got back she found Hraerik asleep in their bed, exhausted. “Sometimes I think my mother was a witch,” she complained, sliding into bed next to her husband.
The ghost of Queen Alfhild did not return, but Princess Eyfura had no doubt that the affair was the work of her mother and bought charms and potions to keep her ghost away. She loved her mother, but she loved her husband even more.
They all stayed in Kiev together over the winter; Hervor was with child and they wanted to keep it quiet. Prince Hraerik went to Gardariki after the spring trading rush, but Eyfura stayed at home with her granddaughter as Hervor’s belly swelled. Eyfura kept Hervor under lock and key, ‘for the good of the baby’, she claimed. Princess Eyfura became inordinately determined that the child be born in Kiev and that no one learn that it was Hervor’s. Secretly born in the summer, Eyfura passed the baby off as her own, naming the boy Eyfur, or Ivar, after herself. And Hraerik and Hervor did not dispute her choices. The Poljane Slavs around Kiev called him Igor Rurikslavich in line with the naming and they called him Prince Igor of Kiev because he was their prince.
When Arrow Odd got back to Tmutorokhan from Khwarizm for the fall trading rush, he learned he had a younger brother named Eyfur. And when he visited Kiev he noticed a distinct difference in the way Princess Eyfura addressed him. It was ‘King Oddi Hraerikson this’ and ‘Prince Eyfur Hraerikson that’ and he was astonished at how her pregnancy had changed the princess. She seemed to want to make sure that all knew they were brothers, even though there was a great age difference between them. But he was still nervous with the princess being around him; he had, after all, killed eleven of her sons, and so was relieved when it was time for him to return to Gardariki for the spring trading season.
Back in Gardariki, King Odd learned that Queen Silkisif was again pregnant. Their firstborn was a son named Asmund, after Oddi’s long lost best friend, and when their second child came, they named him Hraerauld Olmar, or Hilmar, after Silkisif’s father. When Oddi had reopened the Southern Way, his favourite sisters, Gudrun and Sigrid, with their sons, had followed their father north, back to Polotsk and their family Hraes’ Trading Company station there, but they soon returned to Oddi’s longhall in Gardariki to take care of their little foster-sister, Silkisif.
“Our father is retiring,” Gudrun explained in bed, “and our sons are taking over the family’s Hraes’ station, so we must get back to help.”
“Prince Hraerik says hi to your father and please say hi to our boys for me.”
“We will,” Gudrun and Sigrid both chimed in.
“I talked to the Prince about your father, and Hraerik told me that he has been a member of the company right from the start, so we have decided that when our sons take over, it shall be as family, Hraes’ family. So, the Prince has awarded our boys prenames and the shall henceforth be called Hraesmund and Hraevalodd and all their offspring shall have the right to Hraes’ prenames.”
“Thank you!” both sisters cried, and they both hugged Oddi. The titles meant that Polotsk was theirs, that they could never lose their Hraes’ rights there, and they could never be fired.