Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
RAISING PRINCE IVAR (Circa 900 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 and learned that the Slavic name Igor is Ivar in Norse, and I read: ‘The Drevjane had bent down two birch trees and they tied them to the feet of Prince Igor/Ivar and, like great bows, they slipped a knot and let the trees loose and they tore the bones right out of his legs. And that is how Prince Igor of Kiev became Prince Ivar the Boneless of Angleland.’
Brian Howard Seibert
When Prince Ivar was four years old, his mother, Princess Eyfura, was teaching him how to paint and he designed his own coat of arms. It was a lone fir tree growing on a rock, an island. The name Eyfura meant island fir and Ivar, or, more properly, Eyfur, meant the same in the masculine, for his mother had named him after herself. But there was something special about his painting. It had the simple strokes of a four year old in the vibrant greens and browns of a child, but those few strokes said ‘I stand alone in a sea of troubles’ and his mother was touched, for that was her life on vellum. And she told Ivar that that would be his life too. He painted more haunting strokes and, in them, his mother saw a gift, saw a link to the past.
When his brother, Prince Oddi, saw his paintings, he saw caves in Spain and in Giantland and, likely, in the caves of Hraegunar’s youth, in Beowulf’s Heorot, and he knew what that link to the past was and he loved Ivar for it. He told Ivar that as long as he breathed the boy would never stand alone. And Ivar loved his older brother and thought the world of him. But the world kept taking his older brother away from him, away to Kiev or to Constan….far off lands. And Oddi would come back with stories of these mysterious lands and tales of his grandfather, Hraegunar Lothbrok, and great grandfather, King Sigurd Hrae and the slaying of Fafnir, the fire breathing dragonship. And he would tell young Prince Ivar tales about his father, Hraerik and his Battle of the Goths and the Huns, but he would never tell tales about himself.
But his father would. Tales of Arrow Oddi and his Ship of Boys at the Battle of Constantinople and his discovery of a New Ireland and Scotland and Angleland at the far edges of the western sea, the Atlantean Ocean. And of the travels of Saint Brendan before them and even tales of long lost Atlantis itself.
When Prince Ivar was six years old, he began his education, learning other languages besides the Norse tongue, and learning numbers, and learning art and poetry and learning how to play the lyre. A Greek teacher named Artimis had been brought to Kiev from Constantinople and he was charged with young Ivar’s education. And for the lyre, Artimis had selected a local Kievan musician to teach his charge all about stringed instruments, the lyre, the harp and several single stringed instruments that Ivar almost liked. But the lyre he hated with a passion. Bohdan was the local musician teaching him, a young local Poljane man, and he could see that Prince Ivar had talent, but lacked focus.
Bohdan decided one day to take young Prince Ivar into the music quarter of Kiev to let him pick out a lyre of his own choosing. He got permission from both Princess Eyfura and Artimis for a field trip and they set off from the palace with two guards in tow. While Bohdan was examining the lyres, Ivar heard a sound emanating from the back room of the shop. He followed the sound and in the back he saw a young boy, about his own age, playing a lyre most splendidly.
“What are you playing?” Ivar asked the boy in Slav.
“It is a folk song,” the boy replied. He looked about and said, “The shop owner lets me practice here sometimes. I don’t have a lyre of my own.”
“And you learned how to play like this on your own?” Ivar asked.
“Yes. My parents work for the Hraes’ Trading Company, so we are far from our village and our land. My uncle plays, but he didn’t come with us to Kiev.”
“You must come practice with me,” Ivar offered. “I have a great teacher. What is your name?”
“I’m called Darko,” the boy said.
“I am Eyfur,” Ivar said, then he heard a commotion coming from the front of the shop and saw that Bohdan and the guards were searching for him, so he took Darko by the hand and led him to meet Bohdan. “This is Darko,” Prince Ivar said, introducing the boy to a relieved Bohdan. “I would like him to learn the lyre with me.”
Bohdan had Darko play for him and agreed with the prince that he had a gift, so it was arranged for the boy to come to the palace on the days that Ivar was scheduled to learn the lyre.”
Prince Ivar still hated the lyre but he admired the passion that Darko had for the fickle little instrument and the company made the lessons tolerable. When Ivar determined that Darko would stay to learn, he gave the boy his old lyre. One day, Darko brought some music from the little lyre shop in the music quarters and Ivar was surprised that Bohdan could read the music notation but he could not read the Latin words. He then arranged for Bohdan to sit in with him during his Latin lessons with Artimis.
“You’ll soon have an Academy of Plato here,” Artimis declared as Prince Ivar kept adding students to sit in on his classes. But Ivar learned from his experience with Darko that he learned faster with others around him. The competition kept him focused and he was always amazed at how well people learned when they were passionate about the things they studied. These passionate students were always better than he was at their given subjects, but he was always better than he would have been had he been learning on his own. Artimis saw this in Ivar and encouraged it. He saw it as a natural leadership that Ivar wore about himself like a cloak.
At the end of one trading season, Prince Hraerik returned from Gardariki with a group of Alchemists that were going to set up a real Academy in a quarter just outside the palace grounds. He brought several medical Alchemists, a metallurgical Alchemist, an optical Alchemist and a number of academic Alchemists specializing in mathematics, science and philosophy. Artimis did not like this and there seemed to be some real friction building between the academy within the palace and the one without.
“These are two different schools of academia,” Prince Hraerik explained to his son. “The Alchemists believe that knowledge belongs to all men and must be cherished and protected by all, and the Roman academic system comes out of their military engineering and they believe that knowledge belongs to the state. And this difference in philosophy is what causes problems between them.”
“Which one is correct?” Ivar asked his father.
“It’s not so much which one is correct,” Hraerik said, stroking his chin as Ivar sat on his lap, “as it is, which one is safer. For example, chemical Alchemists came up with the formula for Greek fire and were wise enough to keep it from states but Roman scientists used espionage and bribery to get the formulation and to weaponize it. Now it is known as the terrible fire breathing dragonships of the Romans that cause death and destruction upon the seas and it is a very terrible way to die.”
“So Roman science is evil?” Ivar asked.
“Well, not so much evil as turning new scientific discoveries into weapons first, then perhaps beneficial things last. You told me last year that Artimis called your classes Plato’s Academy. Well, Plato was an Alchemist and he started his famous Academy in 428 BC just outside the Greek city of Akedemeia near Athens. The school was the first true Academy and was run for hundreds of years. In the year 86 BC, the Roman General Sulla conquered Athens and burned Plato’s Academy to the ground and the Romans have never allowed its rebuilding. So, while the Romans consider their science to be good, the rest of the world is not quite convinced.”
Prince Ivar went to his mother and asked, “Whats B C?”
“B C?” she asked. “Could it be the Black Sea?”
“Father said Plato’s Academy was started in 428 BC. What’s B C?”
“Oh! That’s Before Christians. That would be four hundred and twenty eight years before the coming of Christians. And now we are nine hundred and three years after the coming of Christians…so that would be over thirteen hundred years ago.”
“Christians have been around that long?” little Ivar asked.
“Yes,” Princess Eyfura said wistfully. “A terribly long time, but I shouldn’t say that. Your grand aunt was the first Scandinavian Christian. Princess Gunwar converted to Christianity and Odin struck her down in battle just days later.” Eyfura put down her quill and ink and rose from her desk and knelt down in front of her son. “Just remember that, Eyfur. Worship gods that give you victory, not gods that give you peace.”
Prince Ivar followed his mother’s advice and continued to worship Odin but he would ask Bohdan about his god, Perun, and he would ask Artimis about his Christian god. And as the friction heated up between the Roman academics and the Alchemists, Ivar took comfort in the local people that he had surrounded himself with and in the one subject at which he stood out from all those around him, his art. He saw it as his art because it was different from the two dimensional iconography of the Romans and the three dimensional carvings and drawings of the Norse and the Slavs. His art was vibrant earthy colours that pushed Roman knighted cataphracts out of the velum, offset by dark disturbing voids that drew the viewer in. Not life against death as much as existence against the abyss, the great ginungagap.
Prince Hraerik noticed that his son seemed to be favouring his Roman tutors over Hraerik’s Alchemists and one day he asked his son why.
“Mother told me to worship gods that grant victory,” the young boy explained, “over gods that give peace. In kind, I prefer to follow science that gives me victories over science that gives mankind peace.”
“Well spoken,” his father responded, then thought, ‘someday he shall be a great leader of men.’
That evening, when Prince Hraerik and Princess Eyfura went to bed, he told her he thought that Eyfur’s academy should have a concert.
Eyfura thought it a great idea, “But only if you recite Gunwar’s Song. I slighted my aunt and now you must make up for it by reciting her song of praise. I can’t have her spirit mad at me.”
“How did you slight her?”
“I told young Eyfur that she became Christian and, days later, Odin let her die in battle. I told him to follow gods that give victory, not gods that give peace. I slighted my aunt, may she rest in peace.”
“Prince Eyfur did mention something like that. He told me he prefers to follow science that grants victory, not science that gives world peace, so now he is following the science of emperors, the science of Rome. I almost told him that the gods were invented for women and children and that real men knew there was nothing after death…only the vast Ginungagap.”
“Don’t tell him that,” Eyfura said, jabbing him in the ribs. “He’s still a child.”
“It’s already in his paintings,” Hraerik replied, pushing her down on the bed and kissing her breasts. “The vast Ginungagap. But I will recite her song,” he added, “and I’ll recite a song of praise for you.”
”You’ve written a song of praise for me?”
“I’m still working on it. Do you remember when we first made love and you told me you’d been infatuated with me since you were a young virgin girl?”
“I don’t remember the virgin part being in there, but I was. I was so infatuated with you. You were my hero. My mother had died. Gunwar had just died in battle and you were in Sweden trying to rally the north to bring vengeance upon the Huns. You wrote Gunwar’s song while wracked in grief and you saved your neck by writing a full drapa overnight in praise of…who was it? King Bjorn of the Barrows? You gained the full support of Sweden overnight. Kings flocked to your aid. My father, King Frodi, asshole that he was, even packed up Prince Alf and myself and we left Kiev to support you in Uppsala. I wasn’t infatuated. I worshipped the ground you walked on. I still do,” she said and her eyes watered as she looked up at him.
Hraerik stroked her cheek and kissed her forehead then whispered:
“Infatuation can be love, infatuation can be…
Infatuation can be love, infatuate me…pleas.
I fell for Alfhild, then lost her love.
I loved Gunwar, and lost her too.
And now I’ve fallen again in love.
I’ve fallen hard, so hard for you…
Infatuate me too.
“Infatuation can be love, infatuation can be…
Infatuation can be love, infatuate me…pleas.”
“I’d say there was too much infatuation in the song,” Princess Eyfura started, “but there’s not. I married Prince Arngrim, but it was you I loved. When you avenged the death of Gunwar, I pretended that you avenged the murder of my mother as well. You gave me great comfort and I was still young enough to believe in the gods again. That’s why I invited you to come live with us in Novgorod while you searched for your lost son. I loved you and wanted you near me. Prince Arngrim was hard, but he was a good man and I loved him. But he was not you.
“I still remember you sitting with my sons and telling them your tale of that Danish prince, that Amleth. They all loved you so. We all did. Even Arngrim. He would have fought for you to the ends of the earth.”
It was Hraerik’s turn for watering eyes and he said, “I hope I’ll have your song of praise done in time for the concert.”
“If you can do a drapa overnight for a barrows king, you can do this song for me!” she exclaimed and began kissing him all over his body.
“King Bjorn didn’t distract me,” he complained, pulling her against himself.