Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE FIRST BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH (Circa 921 AD)
In Denmark, King Ivar was preparing his rented Roman cataphracts for battle. There had been reports from Northumbria of military preparations being made in East Anglia against Ivar. The Danish king had planned to winter in Liere, but now he planned to return to York and meet up with Jarl Biorn and his foot soldiers and take his cataphracts south to Lincoln for an engagement with the Angles and Saxons. He was surprised when the elder Princess Blaeja asked if she could return to York with him. He thought she must be homesick but she had other plans. Blaeja had seen bruises on her granddaughter and she knew that Ivar had again been testing boundaries with young Blaeja. She became convinced that Ivar was enacting some form of retribution regarding Hraegunar Lothbrok’s final curse and on the trip to Angleland she selected her plan. Back in Castle York, she had her staff put Ivar’s baggage in a third floor chamber next to hers. “The second floor is for guests,” she told him. “You are family now.”
The night before King Ivar was to lead his cataphracts to Lincoln, he went to bed early and waited for Princess Blaeja to return to her room. She had been drinking wine in the dining hall and was in good spirits as she came up the staircase. Ivar thought she seemed much younger somehow and she had a spring in her step. He gave her some time to get undressed and into bed, then he had his men carry him into her room and his men brought tapers with them. He could see her in bed and he had his men place his shield upon the sheets and he undressed and crawled into bed beside her. He felt her breasts and she almost woke and mumbled in her sleep, then he felt more of her and she mumbled more and when he’d gotten her moist he rolled himself on top of her and he entered her. She woke and she struggled but he was too strong for her. She was not strong like Hervor and she made no sound, as if too embarrassed to scream, and she struggled against him but that just made him plough harder and, when the furrow was seeded, he rolled off of her and pulled her sobbing body next to his. “Now, that is rape,” he whispered to her and he held her close as she cried on his chest.
“This drug,” she thought, “better not get me pregnant, Hraerik, or I’ll be so angry with you,” and she mumbled drunkenly and fell asleep in Ivar’s arms.
The next day King Ivar rode in his carriage at the head of two thousand cataphracts and five thousand foot and Princess Blaeja watched the troop head off toward Lincoln. Ivar met up with Biorn and his five thousand foot soldiers south of the Humber River and he informed his king that an Anglo Saxon army was a day away, so Ivar gave Biorn four long hazel poles and told him to mark out a field of battle and he watched from his carriage as Biorn placed the poles. The field of battle was a large flat moor with a river flowing along one side and a huge forest growing along the other side. The Anglish army must have been larger than the Hraes’ because Biorn placed the poles wider apart than would be required for their own army. When Biorn returned they had a discussion on whether it would be advantageous to bunch up the Anglish rather than spread out their own shield wall. Once Ivar explained his battle plan, Biorn agreed that bunching up the Anglish would be better so he rode out and narrowed the field of battle to suit their forces. If the Anglish wanted it wider, he could adjust it again but they would likely just add another row to their shield wall.
The Northumbrian king, Ivar the Boneless, had a full legion, ten thousand Kievan Hraes’ foot soldiers, formed up in a shield wall between the hazel poles and he had a thousand cataphracts protecting each flank. The Anglo Saxons had twelve thousand foot facing them with two thousand regular cavalry protecting each flank. But at the center of the Hraes’ shield wall sat King Ivar upon his shield and it was borne by his eight legged horse, Sleipnir, and the Anglish had all heard of what this strange battle platform could do, so they had beefed up their middle. When the shield walls charged each other and crashed, Sleipnir pounded down two rows of men and Tyrfinger wailed and glowed as fierce fighters fell. The cavalry fought it out on the flanks but the Anglish regular horse were no match for the Roman cataphracts and their losses were catastrophic. Both ends of the Anglish shield wall began collapsing in to protect the rear from the cataphracts and the extra men in the middle were soon spreading out towards the flanks to defend against attack from behind. Once King Ivar’s battle platform had pounded through the depleted middle, the Saxon’s were encircled on his right and the Angles surrounded on his left. King Ivar the Boneless ordered his cataphracts to combine and attack the Saxons rear and the Angles fled for their lives.
Four Saxon princes were captured that day as well as thousands of foot and hundreds of cavalry officers. Both baggage trains were captured with much gold and silver booty. Fine gold and silver inlaid weapons and armour were recovered from the dead and taken from the Saxons yet living. The princes were to be ransomed and the soldiers were tythed and the camp followers shared out to the victors. Biorn took his army to Lincoln and billeted it in the town and Ivar took the Saxon princes back to York awaiting their hefty ransoms.
“I thought you’d have moved me back down to the second floor,” King Ivar told Princess Blaeja.
“Would that stop you?” she asked.
He answered her question by visiting her that first night back and raping her again. He woke up with her in his arms and she was crying. “I’ve decided to winter here in York,” he told her. “The hostage negotiations will likely drag on.”
As spring approached fleets arrived from Denmark and began to ravage the coasts of Angleland in earnest. Coastal villages were raided and the people were enslaved and offered up for ransom and those with relatives who had silver to spare were set free and those who didn’t were put in chains and prepared for the Hraes’ spring trade missions to Baghdad or Constantinople. Churches were no longer sacked and burned. Their gold crosses and silver chalices were decades long gone. Wonton destruction was replaced by selective harvesting. Christian women were worth gold and silver in Baghdad: the young and the pretty went to harems for gold and the plain and the old went as house slaves for silver. Young Christian men became eunuchs in the Arab armies for gold and old men with skills were enslaved in Arab guilds for silver. Priests were ransomed for gold in Constantinople and were converted to the true Orthodox Christian faith, while strong Anglo Saxon men were bonded for silver and worked off their debts rowing in the bellies of biremes and triremes. Christian girls were ransomed for silver and became bondmaidens working off their debts as well.
King Ivar left York for Liere in the spring. The battered and bruised Princess Blaeja did not go with him. But she did send a handmaiden to help young Queen Blaeja in Liere. “If King Ivar mistreats Queen Blaeja, send me word,” she told the maid.
King Ivar took command of the Southern Way trading fleets and led them across the Baltic and into the rivers of Gardar. Queen Blaeja sent word to her grandmother that Ivar seemed to have changed his disposition after returning from York and she thanked the princess for whatever she had done to change him.
Once the spring trading rush was over in Kiev, King Ivar left Queen Mother Eyfura and Queen Helga to bicker with each other and he headed for Gardariki to visit with his father. Prince Hraerik took him to the Hall of the Alchemists’ Medical Guild and had him checked out by the medical staff there. Ivar got a clean bill of health and the physicians were surprised at Ivar’s physical conditioning. They commented that most people lose physical strength once they lose a limb because it becomes difficult to perform exercises. So, Ivar did not tell them about his shield based battle platform nor of the numerous battles he had been in since leaving Hraes’. He just wanted to get his annual supply of opium based pain killers and return to his father’s palace, but the Prince had a surprise for Ivar. Several medical students wheeled out a chair equipped with a wheel under each leg and two handles on the back. They explained that even a child could now help King Ivar get about. “I have four large men who carry me about and it looks quite powerful. A child pushing me about on a wheeled chair would make me look weak,” Ivar replied and left with his men. Out on the street, Ivar had his men place him in one of Prince Hraerik’s vintage chariots that had been built up for him. It was the rebuilt Roman antique. “Now this wheeled chariot gets me around and has all the power of four horses drawing it!” he shouted to his father. Hraerik was driving the Egyptian knock off. Ivar leaned against the chariot wheel and rocked it back and forth. “Race you to the palace!” Ivar cried, taking off quite suddenly. The Prince saw Ivar rocking the wheel and had an idea and was working on it when his son took off, so he dropped the idea, took up the reins and flicked his team into action.
At the palace, Queen Silkisif was waiting for the men. She had heard that Ivar had arrived and she hadn’t seen him in a few years so, she was excited to meet him again. “Prince…King Ivar,” she cried as he was carried into the hall and she ran up to him and hugged him. “You are all grown up!” she said. She looked at Prince Hraerik as he walked in and whispered, “He has Oddi’s eyes!”
They spent the rest of the afternoon in the palace hall drinking and eating and talking old times. Prince Hraerik steered conversation away from western issues, such as the two wives King Ivar had married there. And when he got a chance to talk with Silkisif alone, he warned her that Ivar liked to have his way with women, so, when evening came she begged her leave and returned to Tmutorokan.
The next day, Hraerik introduced his son to General Sun Wu, who arranged an afternoon demonstration of shield wall and battle tactics by the Gardariki Varangian legionaires. General Wu also put on a demonstration of black powder rockets he had brought with him from Cathay that were duplicated by the Gardariki Alchemists’ Guild. They were fire arrows that were lit and shot from bows that doubled the range of the bows. Then Prince Hraerik brought out his famous foot-bows that had an even greater range and Ivar laughed at the earlier demonstration until Sun Wu brought out more of Hraerik’s foot-bows equipped with larger fire arrows and, when they lit them and shot them, the fire-arrows flew off so far that they could only be seen by their smoke trails and the fiery explosions they made when they landed. Prince Hraerik explained that these fire-arrows had the range to permit incendiary attacks on Constantinople by sea.
Over the summer, King Ivar monitored the progress of the legion of foot soldiers and cataphracts and agreed with his father that Kiev should develop a legion of each for its own defence. When the fall trading rush began its flow back north through Hraes’, Prince Hraerik asked Ivar if he could take additional medicine back north with him and pass it on to Duke Rollo and Princess Blaeja Senior.
“It’s medication for the elderly,” Hraerik started. “You won’t be needing it for many years.”
“No problem,” Ivar replied. “I’m also going to visit mother in Kiev. I want to talk to her about training legions there. She’s going to complain about costs.”
“To that end,” Hraerik said, “I have your share of the Hraes’ gold. It’s all cleaned up and gleaming yellow once more.” He showed Ivar six heavy chests of gold. “You can leave some in Kiev and take the rest back to Denmark with you.”
“Thanks,” Ivar said. “How much gold will it take to get training on those legions started?”
“Three or four chests. The weapons and armour all have to be leading edge. Probably four.”
“Trading has been really good, and the Pechenegs haven’t been a problem, so Hraes’ shares of gold should be great, so, why don’t you keep four chests until I’m ready to start the legions up and I’ll give one chest to mother and another to Helga?”