Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 861 AD)
“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,
And his followers were called the Hraes’.”
Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler; Skaldskaparmal.
King Frodi, the Great Kagan of the Hraes’, returned to his fortress in Kiev with one tenth of the troops he had left with three months earlier. And Prince Hraerik, Kagan-Bek of the Hraes’, returned to Tmutorokan with not too many more. When the Poljane and Drevjane learned the extent of their king’s losses, they rebelled and laid siege to his capital. They hated King Frodi because of his extreme cruelty; his byname, Angantyr, the hanging god king, had been gained by reputation. As the siege of Kiev dragged on over weeks, King Frodi and the remnants of his beleaguered army sought terms from the leader of the rebellion, Vadim the Brave of Novgorod.
About this time, King Hraelauger and his Norse fleet arrived back in Frankia and Hraegunar and his Normans prepared a great feast for their Norwegian allies. The next morning the Norwegian fleet made preparations to carry on east and then north to the Vik Fjord. Arrow Oddi had planned to take his ship of young men straight back to Jaederen Province and Hraegunarstead, but King Hraelauger invited him to join him in the Vik for the summer.
Vadim the Brave had waited patiently in Staraya Ladoga for the remnants of the Danish and Swedish fleets to return to their homes across the Baltic Sea, then rallied the Ilmen Slavs, who then trekked south along the Lovat River, linking up with Dregovichi and Radimichi Slavs along the Dnieper River. Vadim commandeered monoxyla in Smolensk and led these peoples further south down the Dnieper, convincing the Drevjane and then the Poljane to join in the rebellion and they surrounded King Frodi’s fortress in Kiev. They presented the Kievan Hraes’ with a series of demands that included the elimination of the capture and enslavement of Slavic peoples for sale in the slave markets of the Baghdad Caliphate and the Eastern Roman Empire. They also wanted to establish their own trading companies for fur and honey sales in the southern markets.
While the Siege of Kiev wore on, Prince Hraerik of Gardariki continued trade with the Arabs and Greeks through his family’s Nor’Way trade route. For the southern Hraes’ it was business as usual. During the Siege of Constantinople, Prince Hraerik had gained exclusive trade agreements on all Scythian trade for his Hraes’ Trading Company and he now moved to establish exclusive agreements with the Arab Caliphate in Baghdad. The Khazar Empire was still reeling from their defeat by the Hraes’ in the Battle of the Goths and the Huns, so Hraerik only had to worry about containing the Slav threat. But he had lost a great many of his troops in the storm that had preceded the Siege of Constantinople, so he was in no position to relieve the Siege of Kiev. He could only quash their plans of replacing the Hraes’ Trading Company, and he did so by shifting trade from the blockaded Dan’Way to the older established Nor’Way and by sending his fleet of longships up the Dnieper to reinforce the Kievan fleet. King Frodi controlled Kiev and the quays along their side of the river and there was no way that monoxyla could win a river battle against Danish longships, so a stalemate developed.
Arrow Oddi and his ship of boys arrived in the Vik as homecoming heroes. Many of the Norse warriors who had been injured during the sea battle with the Romans were grateful to the young men who had manned Fair Faxi and had saved many lives by performing triage and by ferrying the wounded to shore where tent hospitals had been set up by medical Alchemists from Gardariki. Offers of free drinks and lodgings abounded for the youths and the eligible young women of the Vik were not shy in expressing their gratitude as well.
“The Vik has grown since you were last here,” King Hraelauger said as he shared his highseat and horn of mead with Captain Odd. The young captain looked around the highseat hall and recollected the village of the Vik without and compared it to the cities of Rouen and Pisa and Constantinople and Gardariki that he had just visited and politely said, “I have never been here before.”
“We are having a great feast for our victory over the Romans tonight,” the king went on, “and we would like your entire crew to join us in the square outside my longhall. There will be benches for all in the hall afterwards, but there will be many young ladies at the feast tonight and I suspect they will invite many of your young men to their homes to meet their families.”
“Am I going to lose more of my men to the ladies of the Vik than I did to the Roman fleet?” Oddi asked.
“You remind me of someone,” King Hraelauger said wistfully. “I can’t quite place it but it will come to me.”
That evening the feast started in the square and everybody of any importance for miles around was there. Young warriors and maidens, poets and musicians, parents and grandparents, Swedes and Danes, Angles and Jutes from Britain and Vikings from Frankia. Several steers had been roasted and numerous pigs were on spits; ales and meads were flowing freely. Crowds circulated through the tables and benches in the square and people moved in and out of the three longhalls that bordered the square. There were hearthfires in the longhalls and bonfires in the square and torches appeared at each table as the evening wore on. Oddi was sharing the highseat with his king but stepped away from it to check on his men in the square. Asmund was there at the tables of his crew and he could see that all his young men were sharing their benches and entertaining ladies. Asmund had a beautiful girl on either side of him on his bench and he saw Oddi coming and said, “Captain Arrow Odd, I’d like you to meet Sigrid and her sister Gudrun,” and Gudrun looked up at him and it happened. A shiver coursed through his body and he felt as though he was standing too close to one of the distant bonfires and he could only nod. He could no longer speak. “Please join us, Captain Odd,” Gudrun said, patting the bench beside her. “Asmund has told us so much about you. Our father is a merchant for the Hraes’ Trading Company.” And Oddi sat down beside Gudrun as she offered him food and drink that was in abundance at their table. Eventually he found his voice and said, “We have much in common then, for I captain a Nor’Way ship for the Hraes’ Trading Company. When I’m not fighting the Romans in Constantinople that is…,” and it was Gudrun’s turn as a great shiver coursed through her body.
When the feasting was over the skalds began their recitations of past and present stories of valour and great victories, often accompanied by musicians when the drapas were of the cadence for ring dancing. All the people got up for those recitations and joined hands and danced in lines that flowed in and out of the tables in the square. Once the poetry was over, King Hraelauger invited Oddi, Asmund and their ladies into his highseat hall for some fine Frankish wines.
“I’ve never been here before,” Gudrun started. “In our king’s highseat hall, I mean.”
“I should give you a tour,” Oddi said. “Come Asmund. Let’s give Gudrun and Sigrid a tour.” The king’s longhall was twice the size of a standard longhall but pretty much followed the standard layout, front double door entry with six massive hearths running down the hall, twenty four sleeping benches down either side then triple highseats on a raised dais on the right and guest triple highseats on a raised dais on the left, then another twenty four sleeping benches per side further down the hall and at the back a hallway set between numerous bedchambers on either side and the king’s bedchamber with double doors across the back of the hall. When they reached the back of the hall, Oddi said, “This is my bedchamber, right next to the king’s,” and he pushed open the door and Gudrun could see a massive goose down bed from the hallway, “and this one is Asmund’s, right next to mine.” As they were returning down the hall Oddi stopped and warned the girls, “At night there will be two warriors posted in front of the king’s bedchamber, so don’t let them startle you if we stay up later than expected.”
“There you are,” King Hraelauger said, as they re-entered the main hall. “I have some Devil’s Wine, as the Christians call it, that I acquired in Constantinople. They call it that because it sparkles and foams,” and he prized the cork from the bottle with a loud pop and it flowed on its own for a bit. He filled some Frank wine glasses and passed them out to his young guests and they sampled the fizzy white wine.
The next morning Gudrun asked Oddi if he had ever heard of the freedom movement. “I only ask you this, because you have been to Gardariki and the movement was founded by Princess Gunwar of Gardariki.”
“Not only have I heard of it, I have discussed it with Prince Hraerik of Gardariki, Princess Gunwar’s husband. He still grieves for her. He knew that she secretly started the movement but he chose not to stop her. His mother was a captive, taken during a slave raid. Her name was Boddi, but her family was never given a chance to ransom her, so she remained a captive, not a slave. And her father was King Olmar of Kiev, so she would have been ransomed. Prince Hraerik only learned of all this after he conquered Kiev.”
“And what do you think of the movement she started?”
“I think I could support it. I’m glad Prince Hraerik had the wisdom not to try to stop her. But he doesn’t think the movement will succeed, not in our lifetimes anyway.”
“Why would he think that?” she whispered, drawing herself closer to him. “All he would have to do is order slavery to stop and it would stop.”
“He says that sudden change is always fleeting. Even if his orders were followed, as soon as he was gone, slavery would come back and likely in a worse form. He is seeking a more permanent solution.”
“Spoken like a true king!” Gudrun said. “What if I told you that your fellow Norwegians were being raided right now and enslaved without right to ransom?”
“I would be compelled to stop it!”
“There is a Viking raider called Halfdan and he has thirty ships.”
The siege of Kiev carried on over the summer and King Frodi bargained for safe passage for all Varangians back to Denmark before winter. There were not enough provisions to carry the siege through the brutally cold winter months, so a retreat was the only option for the Kievan Hraes’. They packed up their wealth and belongings into their ships at the quays of Kiev and set off up the Danepar as per their negotiated terms. Vadim the Brave and his Slav forces moved into Kiev and began to set up the first pan-Slavic state. King Frodi arrived back in Liere in the fall and began preparations for the retaking of Kiev. Prince Hraerik of Gardariki moved his fleet of blockading longships to the mouth of the Dnieper on the Black Sea and he welcomed his returning merchant fleets from Constantinople and Baghdad. Most of them began their return trek north up the Don River, past the ruins of the Khazar Fortress of Sarkel and onward to the Nor’Way trade route of Hraegunar Lothbrok.