Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

Harde Knute



King Ivar left an army in Bamburgh under the command of Jarl Biorn and an army in York under the command of his wife, young Princess Blaeja, and her family, then he planned to take his remaining forces to Norway to secure his conquests there, but Prince Hraerik wanted to head south for Frankia to visit his brother, Duke Rollo, first, so that is what they did.  They arrived in northern Frankia with a vast army, which caused great panic amongst the Franks, but Duke Rollo welcomed them in Rouen and there was much feasting and drinking and reading of fortunes.  Witches were rampant in Rouen and the Christians there were worried, but Rollo protected them.  When King Ivar asked Thorbjorg about his holdings in Norway, the witch told him that his wife there was soon to give birth to a baby boy.  “But my wife is in Northumbria,” Ivar said, skeptically.  “I don’t have a wife in Norway.”

“Well you do now,” Thorbjorg claimed.  “Lagertha, the girl you wanted to marry, but raped when she refused you, will soon give birth to your first son in Southmore.  Your Northumbrian son isn’t due for another eight months.  Lagertha shall name him Olaf after the man she plans to marry.”

“She’s planning to marry?” Ivar asked.

“Yes,” she answered.  “Olaf is the Jarl of Northmore.  They are getting married in two weeks.”

“King Harald Fairhair offered me Northmore,” Duke Rollo said, “after King Frodi destroyed all Norway and set Harald up as king.  I was warned by your grandmother’s ghost not to accept his offer.  How did Queen Alfhild put it?” Rollo, paused as he changed the story a bit, “Don’t return to Norway or King Fairhair will make you Earl of No-Head Anymore.  I think you should kill this Jarl Olaf and take both Lagertha and Northmore for yourself.  King Frodi gave it to Harald and you’re the heir of King Frodi, so just take it back.  Besides, King Fairhair offered it to me first and I never really declined the offer, so I give it to you.”

“Is this what your conversion to Christianity has taught you?” Prince Hraerik asked sternly.

“I know!” Duke Rollo exclaimed.  “It’s absolutely wicked!  But that’s the way Christian kings do it.  If you find that you want to do something wicked, then find some sort of justification for it.”

“I like it!” King Ivar exclaimed.  “I had to convert to marry young Princess Blaeja, but like my brother Oddi, I kept my fingers crossed.  But this method is even better!”

“Since you brought up King Oddi,” Duke Rollo started, “and may God rest his soul, he won the Battle of Stiklastad, and had his way with the shield maiden Stikla, I might add, but he didn’t award Trondheim to anyone and King Fairhair gave it to the Jarls of Lade.  But Oddi didn’t give it to Harald and Harald didn’t win it, so it wasn’t his to give.  Since Hraerik is the father of Oddi, perhaps he would like to award it to you as well?”

They all looked at Hraerik pleadingly.  “I should really award it to Queen Silkisif and Princes Asmund and Ingjald.  They’re Oddi’s real heirs but since they’re not here and would not want it anyway, I hereby award you the Kingdom of Trondelag.”

”So now you have justification to attack the Jarls of Lade anytime you see fit.  See how it works?  And Halogaland was named after Helgi Arrow Odd Hraerikson, so that will always be ours, as will Hrafnista.  So now we have family rights to all of Norway from Southmore to Varanger Fjord and, of course, the rights to Sigurd Fafnirsbane Hrae and Hraegunar Lothbrok Sigurdson’s Nor’Way trade route.  And Hraerik has the rights to Tmutorokan and Gardariki and you, Ivar, have Gardar with Novgorod and Kiev as well as Denmark and the Angleland Danelaw.  So we control a swath from Frankia to Constantinople.  Not a bad profit from one Greek fire breathing dragonship called Fafnir.  I think Hraegunar would be proud.”

“Will there be anything else?” the witch Thorbjorg asked.  “I could search into the fate of your son, Olaf.”

“Yes!” Ivar said.  “What will he be like?”

The ancients were wont to consult the Oracles of the Fates concerning the destinies of their children.  In this way Ivar desired to search into the fate of his son Olaf; and, after solemnly offering up his vows, the witch, Thorbjorg, went to the house of the gods in entreaty; where, looking into Valhall, she saw three maidens, sitting on three seats.  The first of them was of a benignant temper, and bestowed upon the boy abundant beauty and ample store of favour in the eyes of men.  The second granted him the gift of surpassing generosity.  But the third, a woman of more mischievous temper and malignant disposition, scorning the unanimous kindness of her sisters, and likewise wishing to mar their gifts, marked the future character of the boy with the slur of being cheap.  Thus the benefits of the others were spoilt by the poison of a lamentable doom; and hence, by virtue of the twofold nature of these gifts Olaf got his surname from the meanness which was mingled with his bounty. So it came about that this blemish which found its way into the gift marred the whole sweetness of its first benignity.

“That’s his fate,” Ivar started, “if I don’t kill Jarl Olaf.  What is his fate, dear Thorbjorg, if I kill Jarl Olaf and take Lagertha as another wife?”

Thorbjorg looked into Valhall and wisely said, “It is much improved my king.  He will be generous in all respects.”  King Ivar gave Thorbjorg a gold Byzant.  “Most generous, my lord,” she said.

“Good then,” Ivar started.  “Let’s kill this Jarl!”  He called over Ane the Archer and, as he was coming, Ivar told his father and uncle, “I don’t want to be involved in this because Lagertha might not forgive me.”

“Yes, my king?” Ane asked as he approached.

“Duke Rollo was offered the rights to Northmore, so I want you to take a fleet of one hundred ships and sail to Northmore and kill Jarl Olaf there and establish Hraes’ rule over the province.  I want a Hraes’ Trading Station set up there in the name of Duke Rollo and we shall install, do you have any station manager in particular that you would like to see there?” he asked Duke Rollo.

“None that I can think of,” Rollo replied.

“Prince Baldwin of Flanders has a son working in our Paris station,” Prince Hraerik interjected, “and I think he is ready to tackle setting up a new station.  Do you mind if we borrow him, Duke Rollo?”

“Not at all,” Rollo answered.  “I think Prince Rupert would be a fine fit.  He’s here in Rouen right now preparing to take another mule train of merchandise to Paris.”

“Is the king still not allowing you a warehouse in Paris?” Hraerik asked.

“The Parisians are still nervous about King Frodi’s attack of 885.”

“That was thirty years ago!” Hraerik exclaimed.

“Thirty four years ago.  They’re still counting.  And Hraegunar’s attack of 845.  They count that too.”

Hraerik raised his hands in disbelief.  “Can you stop in the square, Ane, and ask Prince Rupert to join you?  I don’t want him taking off on us.”

“Yes, Ane,” King Ivar started again.  “Stop in the square for Prince Rupert and then start equipping the ships for battle.  It could be on sea or on land.  I have no idea who Jarl Olaf is and what his battle preferences are, but remember that you are now working for the Hraes’ Trading Company and Duke Rollo in particular, so spare no expense, he’s good for it.”

“Why Prince Rupert?” Rollo whispered to his brother.  “He’ll be like a fish out of water in Norway.”

“Baldwin’s line will be doing great things for our family in the future,” Hraerik answered.

“How far in the future?” Rollo asked.

“Three hundred and a score years in the future.”

“I knew you were going to say something like that,” Rollo said, shaking his head.  Then he made a request of Ivar.  “Could you have your fleet do a little pillaging on their way out?  I’ll have some of my ships chase your fleet out of Normandy.”

“Oh…it’s called Normandy now?” King Ivar asked.

“It will be,” his father answered.

“Welcome to the Big Show!” Duke Rollo added as Ivar and his shield bearers walked out with Ane.

“Sorry I only had a year supply of the Magi’s drug.” Hraerik said as they were drinking at the main highseat of his palace.  “I gave half to Princess Blaeja in York, but I’ll get you more next year.  She’s worried about Ivar marrying her grand-daughter…she thinks he may be trying to act on Hraegunar’s poison blood-snake curse.”

“Is he?” Rollo asked.  “I remember Oddi asking me to ask Kraka if the curse was on-going and she said it was.”

“I don’t think so, but it has given Blaeja a reason to live.  She’s in the guild and she’d heard rumours of the drug and she saw how young you looked last time she saw you.  She put two and two together.  I’m hoping she will help keep Ivar in line with his marriage vows.”

“Good luck with that!  Ivar just sent a hundred ships off to kill a Jarl so he can get himself a third wife.  He doesn’t take his Christian vows seriously.  Blaeja’s not going to kill him, is she?  She’s a healer.  She could probably kill him in a thousand different ways.”

“I made her promise me she wouldn’t or she wouldn’t get the Magi’s drug.  She’s a good Christian girl.  She’ll keep her word.”

“Princess Blaeja’s fine.  She and Oddi’s wife, Princess Olvor are great friends.”

Oh…that reminds me…” and Hraerik told him that Olvor was dead and that he had set up her daughter Hraegunhild with a Hraes’ station in Dublin and the two brothers had a lot of catching up to do, so they drank and they talked.

“A specially designed ship of mine just came in from Gardariki last week bringing a special cargo.  I want you to try this,” he said as he spread a golden paste on a biscuit.

“What is it?” Rollo asked.

“It is the roe of a special sturgeon fish common in the Volga River in the east.  It is a delicacy of the Khazars, but we have used a Cathayan method of preservation to allow it to last long enough for transport to the west.  Try some,” and he pushed the biscuit towards him.

Duke Rollo picked it up and took a bite.  “It’s not bad,” he said, then he took another bite and said, “quite good actually.”  Then he finished off the biscuit and said, “It’s great!”

“We call it Khazar Vayar, because it comes from the Khazar Way.  Do you think we’ll be able to sell it here?  I want to make it available at all our Hraes’ trading stations in the west.  Angleland, Ireland, Frankia, the Holy Roman Empire.”

“I think we may be able to hawk it,” Duke Rollo said enthusiastically.  “But only to royalty.  They aren’t going to share this with their subjects!”

Time passed quickly in Rouen and Ivar was anxious to get back to Denmark.  King Hiarn had escaped in Jutland and was running around loose and his subjects were still clamouring for an heir and the stability that provided.  He wanted to get home and tell them he was married and had an heir on the way.  They would accept an Anglish wife from the Danelaw.  Relatives had maintained contact between the Angles of Jutland and the Angles of Angleland for hundreds of years.  The same went for the Jutes of Cantia and the Jutes of Jutland.  The Saxons were different.  The Saxons of Wessex, Sussex and Essex had all kept in touch with their relatives on the coast of Germany, but Charlemagne felt threatened by the growing power of the Saxons, so he forced all Saxons still living on the coast of Germany to move further inland and he cut off communication with the Saxons of Angleland, so threatened was he by this freedom of movement and nationality.

Back in Denmark, King Ivar got word that the Hraes’ Trading Company had a new trading station in Northmore and that a new Jarl was now sorely needed.  So, Prince Hraerik gathered up the fleet and they sailed to Southmore to console a grieving shield maiden named Lagertha and to welcome a new son into the Hraes’ family.  King Ivar was welcomed there and he made Lagertha Queen of Southmore.  He appointed all of King Amund’s surviving offspring to positions of royal power and he made sure that they all felt more secure with him as king than with Harald Fairhair.  Leaving his new wife to run Southmore, Ivar led his fleet to Northmore and met up with the Hraes’ fleet there and made Ane the new Jarl of Northmore.  Then he sent a challenge to the Jarl of Lade for a battle on the Stiklastad plains and had his messenger explain that Ivar’s brother, King Arrow Odd had defeated Ogmund Tussock and the forces of King Frodi and King Fairhair there so, the Kingdom of Trondelag was his by inheritance and he was hereby laying claim to it.  Now, Sigurd Hakonsson, the Jarl of Lade, was no fool and was no more interested with mixing it up with Ivar the Boneless, as the Angles and Saxons of Angleland were wont to call him, than was King Harald Fairhair, so Sigurd sent a message back to him seeking friendship rather than enmity, and stating that he could be just as good a Jarl under King Ivar as he had been under King Fairhair.  He also added that his relatives had fought under the shield maid Stikla and had supported King Odd in his battle with the warlock Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock.

King Ivar read the message to his father and told him he had never received better arguments for an alliance.

“You should still kill him’, Prince Hraerik said.  “He’s King Fairhair’s man and will turn on you when he gets a chance.  You have others that you can put in his place.”

“I’m not so sure about that.  I conquered King Amund of Southmore and ended up marrying his daughter and now all Amund’s offspring rule over it for me.  I conquered Northumbria and I married the princess there and now all her relatives are ruling over it for me.  And, quite frankly, I’m happy with both my choices.  Perhaps I should see if this Jarl Sigurd has a daughter or two?”

“Invite him and his family here under truce and discuss an alliance.  If it works out fine, if not, kill him.  Justify breaking the truce and kill him.”

So, that is what King Ivar did.  Sigurd, who was only four years older than Ivar, was recently married and had been trying to pry a child from his beautiful wife for almost two years.  So there were no daughters with which to bind an alliance.  But Ivar learned that his other claims were true.  His family had helped King Oddi at the Battle of Stiklastad and many of his relatives were long time friends of his father’s relatives in the north, including the offspring of Grim Hairy-Cheek, who had fostered Oddi.  Sigurd’s family was also very wealthy and they had supplied King Harald Fairhair with many war ships for which he allowed them much freedom in their rule over Lade, but there had been no blood ties in that alliance.  Just the provision of money for ships.  They stayed in Northmore an extra week and during the two weeks, Ivar developed a true liking for the Ladejarler and a true friendship was sparked between them.

Meantime, his Norwegian wife, Lagertha, was due so Ivar returned to Southmore just as she bore him a son they named Frode, who got his surname from his noble munificence. And thus Frode, because of the memory of his grandsire’s prosperity, which he recalled by his name, became from his very cradle and earliest childhood such a darling of all men, that he was not suffered even to step or stand on the ground, but was continually cherished in people’s laps and kissed. Thus he was not assigned to one upbringer only, but was in a manner everybody’s fosterling.

When King Ivar had returned from Norway, and was traveling through Sweden to visit his friend, King Halfdan, he took it upon himself to act as ambassador for the Swedish king, and sued successfully for Hythin’s daughter, whom he had once rescued from a monster, to be the wife of Halfdan, he still being unwedded.  Following the wedding feast and celebrations, Prince Hraerik had a final discussion with his son, Ivar.

“Don’t tell Princess Helga,” Ivar pleaded.  “She’ll kill me if she finds out I married a Christian princess here.”

“And a Pagan princess as well,” Hraerik reminded him.

“But I did divorce Helga in the old fashion first.”  Ivar had repeated ‘I divorce thee’ three times to free himself of Princess Helga.  But he knew that this would not satisfy the Christians.  “Helga chose the Drevjane people over me when she barely punished them for the mayhem they inflicted upon me.  I’m never going back to Kiev.  In Angleland I am the great warrior, Ivar the Boneless.  In Denmark I am King Harde Knute, victim of a hard knot.  And in Norway I’m the King that isn’t Harald Fairhair.  Back in Kiev I am a ruler attacked and maimed by his own people.  I shall rule Frodi’s realm from Denmark.  You rule our eastern lands from Tmutorokhan.  And mother and Helga can squabble with each other in Kiev.”

“I could see that you were in your element here,” Hraerik replied.  “You were so angry and depressed in Kiev and here, you are unfettered and alive.  Still, you will have to return to Tmutorokhan annually to have your legs checked out.  We shall keep a medical alchemist in your staff here and we should maintain the medics already embedded in your army.”  Then Prince Hraerik took his Tmutorokan Hraes’ fleet across the Baltic and into Gardar, while King Ivar returned to York.