Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
BIRTH OF GORM ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON (Circa 920 AD)
When King Ivar got back to York, he was just in time for the birth of his baby with young Princess Blaeja. As Ivar had predicted, it was a boy and Ivar named him Gorm, which meant snake, more in reference to the Midgard worm or serpent than to any curse. But it sent up enough red banners for Princess Blaeja Senior to insist on joining the couple on their honeymoon trip to Denmark.
When the Hraes’ army landed in the port town serving Liere, Ivar learned that Hiarn, the former king of Liere was still on the loose even though he’d had a bounty on his head for almost a year. Ivar marched his Hraes’ Kievan troops and Varangian cavalry into his grandfather’s round Byzantine fortress and the Varangians felt at home, because many had served in just such fortresses across the Anatolian plains. As Ivar’s royal carriage pulled up to Frodi’s longhall, four cavalry officers, huge men, dismounted with one shield between them. All four men grabbed a strap each that ran around the perimeter of the buckler, and Ivar lifted himself from the seat of the carriage and sat on the shield. The four officers slid and lifted King Ivar through the double doors of the carriage and out into the courtyard as his wife and grandmother-in-law, the two Princess Blaejas stepped out and followed behind him carrying baby Gorm between them.
They walked up the steps of the huge front porch and young Princess Blaeja looked up at the high gable peak of the hall and almost got dizzy and her grandmother helped steady her with Baby Gorm. They walked into the open double door entrance and were met with the warmth of the blazing entry hearth fire and they walked between the benches along both walls to the triple highseats on the right side of the hall. Ivar slid himself from the shield onto the center highseat and his wife joined him there with Gorm. Elder Blaeja joined them on the second highseat and they watched as the hall hearths were lit and some cooks carried on to the far end of the hall and disappeared into the scullery. Fine wines and dark ales were served and soon the smell of roasting meats permeated the hall.
“This evening many of the local chieftains will join us to pledge allegiance to you,” King Ivar’s first minister said. “They will offer pledges of tribute and men.”
“Why hasn’t Hiarn been found?” Ivar asked.
“I’m glad to see you are over your fear of Queen Alfhild,” Queen Eyfura chided when Hraerik returned to Kiev. “But you seem to have left your son in Liere.”
“He’ll be back for a medical next year,” her prince replied. “He wanted to consolidate our gains and set up his royal house in Liere. He is a king now.”
“Tales of your great victories are still filtering throughout Gardar. I am so proud of you two. My father’s realm is intact once more.” Eyfura gave her husband a great hug.
“Why don’t you come with me to Tmutorokhan?”
“Stay with me in Kiev for a while. Then I’ll winter in Gardariki with you.”
“How could I not take you up on that?” Hraerik replied. He truly loved his wife and he kissed her passionately. His first love, Alfhild must have approved of the match, for she would have surely kept haunting him in Kiev had she not. And he had a grand-daughter named Alfhild now running around to keep him on his toes. But Hraerik never told these women of Kiev that King Ivar had divorced Helga and remarried, not even when Princess Helga had everyone address her as Queen Helga since Ivar was now a king.
“Queen Mother!” Eyfura exclaimed to Hraerik in their chambers. “Helga has taken to addressing me as Queen Mother!”
“Well…you are a queen and you are a mother…”
“Come to bed,” Hraerik continued. ”I’ll show you how mothers are made again.”
Hraerik returned to Gardariki for the fall trading preparations, leaving both queens to handle the trading in Kiev. Queen Helga had managed the Kievan trade while Queen Eyfura managed Tmutorokan while their men were off making war, but Helga had found it a bit too much, so Eyfura agreed to stay back in Kiev to help and then follow Hraerik to Gardariki after the trading season to spend the winter there with him.
Back in Denmark, Hiarn, feeling his lowly fortune, and seeing himself almost stripped of his forces by the double defeat King Ivar had dealt him, turned his mind to craftiness, and went to King Ivar with his face disguised, meaning to become intimate, and find an occasion to slay him treacherously.
Hiarn was received by the king, hiding his purpose under the pretence of servitude, for he gave himself out as a salt-distiller and he performed base offices among the servants who did the filthiest work. He used also to take the last place at meal-time, and he refrained from the baths, lest his multitude of scars should betray who he was if he stripped. The king, in order to ease his own suspicions, made him wash; and when he knew his enemy by the scars, he said: “Tell me now, thou shameless bandit, how wouldst thou have dealt with me, if thou hadst found out plainly that I wished to murder thee?”
Hiarn, stupefied, said, “Had I caught thee I would have first challenged thee, and then fought thee, to give thee a better chance of wiping out thy reproach.”
King Ivar took him at his word, challenged him to a duel and slew him at the crossroads within King Frodi’s fortress. He had Hiarn’s body buried in a fine barrow outside Liere that still bears the dead man’s name. He showed Hiarn the greatest respect after his death, for he wanted to attach the man’s great luck to his own. Prince Hraerik had thought himself lucky to save his own head by writing a twenty verse drapa of praise overnight, and rightly so, for one’s life is worth more to oneself than a whole kingdom. Still, to win a whole kingdom by writing four lines of verse…that is some luck. King Hiarn’s only bad luck was crossing swords with King Ivar. “I would have given him a fief and the title of Jarl, had he not crossed swords with me,” he told the two Princess Blaejas.
Once he got settled in Tmutorokan, Prince Hraerik entered the hall of the Alchemists’ Guild and began the process of removing the copper from the last of the Red Gold Rings of Byzantium, the Hraes’ Gold Hoard. While the Alchemists of Baghdad had a nitric acid process that Hraerik had learned, he had also found the actual process used by the Romans in a scroll written by Pliny the Elder he had purchased in Constantinople. In it Pliny wrote of the purification of gold using the salt cementation process of gold parting. He wrote that the gold is to be roasted with a double weight of salt and three times the weight of misy and again with two portions of salt and one of the stone which is called Schiston. Hraerik learned that the salt and misy, which was sulfurous iron, drew the copper out of the gold and the mica schist absorbed it. He wanted to use the Roman process because there was a certain poetic justice in using their process to cleanse the Emperor’s gold that had been cursed since his grandfather, Sigurd’s time.
Hraerik and two Alchemist apprentices pounded the gold Byzants flat to increase the surface area of each coin, then put them in clay pots with the salt and the sulfates and they sealed the clay lids to the pots with raw clay and used the hall ovens that they used for purifying tonstone to roast the gold. Then they roasted the gold again with salt and mica schist and the copper ended up in the schist. The gold Byzants each lost about ten percent of their weight, but the gold was now ninety nine percent pure. Hraerik planned on using the gold to plate tonstone statuary that craftsmen were preparing using a dual Ark system that stored static sparks in a primary Ark and plated objects placed in the secondary ark filled with Aqua Regia.
The Prince wanted his palace filled with gold statues in honour of his long lost love, Princess Gunwar. Her Gardariki would glow gold like the gold crested helmets of the Huns that took her life on the Don Heath. And the gold would glow like her niece, Eyfura, the third love of his long life. They would not have too many more winters together in Tmutorokan and he wanted to surround her with beautiful things and wonderful times that would hold her in a royal embrace until she returned to Kiev in the spring. But while gold meant beauty to women, it meant power to men and just having gold statuary all over his palace and in all his halls gave him power over ambassadors from Cathay to Constantinople. It said, ‘I have the gold to get things done, be they trade deals or matters of war’. If he had to buy an army, the mercenaries remembered the gold in his halls and would flock to his beck and flood to his calls. If he wanted to rent a legion of Roman cataphracts, the Emperor’s ambassadors would remember the gold in his palace and send the knights first and collect payment after the job was done.
When the fall trading season was over, Queen Eyfura arrived from Kiev with Princess Alfhild beside her and Queen Silkisif came across the Kuban from Tmutorokan. Her sons were grown and off in the Levant making trade deals for the Hraes’ Trading Company and she was bored and heard Alfhild had arrived. The women loved the new golden works of art, but Eyfura thought it a bit ostentatious for a city surrounded by empires. “Now the Huns will be back for sure,” she reproached Hraerik. But he had an answer for that and he introduced her to General Sun Wu formerly of the Tang Dynasty of Cathay. “General Wu is here to train our troops in the Art of War,” Hraerik told his wife. “He is here to make our standing army stand out.”
“I’d be more impressed if he stood out a little more himself,” Queen Eyfura said, referring to the general’s diminutive size.
But the general did stand out. He trained the Varangians in what he called, “the proper use of a double edged sword.” And he taught them to march and manoeuvre in formation, and how to attack in single, time and a half and double time. And he taught them how to attack backwards in formation in single and time and a half. “When they can do it in double time they will be ready for a manoeuvre I call shin shay,” and general Wu began to describe the manoeuvre in Greek. “Often the defined field of battle is along a valley floor, and both armies descend down their respective slopes and engage on the flat floor so no one side has a height advantage. With shin shay, our army charges down the slope but stops before engaging the enemy and then starts charging backwards, back up the slope. The enemy army thinks it is a rout and charges up the slope after our forces who halt halfway up the slope, then start charging back down. The enemy army loses momentum going uphill and our army gains momentum going down, so that, when the shield walls finally do crash, the enemy shield wall collapses.”
Hraerik liked the tactic. He could envision his son, Ivar, on his battle platform, Sleipnir, charging downslope. Oh…the devastation that would wreak! He was glad he had found general Sun Wu available as a mercenary in Baghdad, after the Tang Dynasty had collapsed in Cathay. Hraerik had also hired a retired Roman cataphracts officer to develop a legion of Varangian cataphracts. He was tired of renting Roman knights. They were the best trained, but , first and foremost, they were loyal to the Eastern Roman Empire and, after that, to whomever was paying them. The Prince wanted to develop two legions of foot soldiers, one for Gardariki and one for Tmutorokan and then a legion of cataphracts operating out of both cities and patrolling the lands of Tmutorokan. If this went well he would discuss duplicating the effort for King Ivar and the Kievan Hraes’.