Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

The Trouble with Pechenegs



When the Romans had lost Adrianople to the Bulgars, the Pechenegs had returned to the southern plains of Gardar and their tribes began grazing their herds of cattle and sheep on either side of the Dnieper River, just below the rapids.  The Yavdi-Erdem of the shining gold horses under Kagan Baitzas settled on the northwest side of the river, while the Kuerci-Cur of the bluish horses under Kagan Kouel settled on the northeast side.  The Qabugsin-Yula of the bark hued horses under Kagan Kourkoutai settled just south of the Erdem on the west bank and the Suru-Kul-Bey of the silver-grey horses under Kagan Ipaos settled on the east bank across from the Yula.  The Qara-Bey of the black horse under Kagan Kaidoum settled on the southwest bank and the Boru-Tolmac of grey horses under Kagan-Bek Kostas on the southeast.  Furthest south were the Yazi-Qapan of the dark brown horse under Kagan Giazis on the west bank, with the Bula-Copan with piebald horses under Kagan-Bek Batas on the east bank.  They had caused very few problems with the merchant ships travelling up and down the Dnieper, but in the latest spring trade cycle, some Hraes’ portage crews had claimed to be harried and harassed by Pecheneg horsemen.  King Ivar came down from Kiev and confirmed the claims, then rode his carriage across the plain to the Sea of Azov and took a ship to Gardariki to visit with his father.

“There is trouble with the Pechenegs,” he told Hraerik in Pecheneg.

“I heard,” the Prince replied in the same language.  “I think Kagan Baitzas wants a cut of the Dan’Way profits.”

“Well he can just fock off!” Ivar answered.

“We’ll have to at least ask him what he wants.  If it is a token amount, we may be better off paying them off.  It’s the cost of doing business.”

“I don’t like it!” Ivar exclaimed.  “We have legions now.  We should use them.”

“We have legions so we don’t have to use them.”

“This is the Khazars’ doing,” Ivar hissed.  “We should make them pay off the Pechenegs.”

“Maybe we can,” Hraerik said.  Ivar sat down and listened to his father.  “The Khazars have been involved in our Nor’Way trade, you know, portaging ships and now, providing us with Khazar Vayar for preservation and shipping north, but there are sturgeon fish in the Dnieper as well.  The Romans and Arabs are starting to buy our Cathayan preserved Khavayar in preference to their own style of sturgeon roe.  Perhaps we could interest the Pechenegs in procuring sturgeon roe for us and running some of the portages.  We may have to pay them handsomely for their efforts but we could still increase our profits somewhat and it would cost us a lot less than war.”

“The Pechenegs are cattlemen,” Ivar complained.  “If they can’t do it on horseback, they won’t be interested.”

“That is true.  But I have seen their women fish.”

“Sturgeon are big fish,” Ivar continued.

“The sturgeon we are after are a smaller species.  We want the amber roe, not the black.  The Romans will only be interested in the amber Khavayar.”

“Let’s try it,” Ivar agreed.  “How do you want to proceed?”

“With force,” Hraerik said.  “You return to Kiev and meet me at the rapids with a legion of Kievan foot and a legion of Kievan cataphracts.  I’ll bring up the same from Tmutorokan.  We’ll offer sturgeon fishing rights to all the Pecheneg tribes, but we’ll offer the portaging business to Kagan Baitzas and his Yavdi Erdim only.  If they want to share it with other tribes, it is up to Baitzas.”

And that is what the Hraes’ did.  King Ivar returned to Kiev and took a legion of twelve thousand foot soldiers and a legion of five thousand cataphracts south past the Dnieper rapids and Prince Hraerik took a like amount of men by ship up the Dnieper, past the eight tribes of Pechenegs along the banks and met his son on the west bank of the river.  They then marched their combined forces south and were met by Kagan Bay and his Yavdi Erdim cavalry.  Hraes’ warships shadowed the Hraes’ force and provided them with supplies.  Kagan Bay rode out with a small group of his chieftains and King Ivar and Prince Hraerik rode out to meet them in Ivar’s royal carriage.  Kagan Bay slid from his horse and Prince Hraerik stepped out of the carriage to meet him.  King Ivar came out on Hraes’ Ships Round, bourn by his four great warriors called Sleipnir.

“I had heard of tragic news,” Kagan Bay said to Hraerik in Norse.  “I had no idea it was this bad.”

“Our young Kagan survived his wounds,” Hraerik replied in Pecheneg, “and has grown stronger because of them.”

The Pecheneg chieftains began to get edgy as King Ivar approached the two leaders on the ground.  He and his bearers were dressed in full armour and looked very menacing.  Kagan Bay waved his men back and Prince Hraerik made his offer to the Pecheneg leader.  Bay liked the offer, especially the part where the Yavdi Erdim controlled the portaging rights.  It was one of the reasons he had located his tribe on the northwest bank of the river, closest to the portaging inns and stables.  He was a little unsure of the sturgeon fishing rights though.

“You will pay us to have our women fish for you but you don’t want the fish?  You only want the fish eggs?”  It did not make much sense to the Kagan.  So Hraerik offered each tribe a chest of gold as well, until the fishing proved to be profitable.  Kagan Bay accepted the offer, subject to approval by the other Kagans.

“You’ve brought quite a large force with you,” the Kagan stated, as he admired the legions behind the Prince.  “They look Roman but yet not Roman.  Your generals don’t squabble with each other.  And one of your generals looks Tang.”

“They are more for show than go,” Hraerik lied and he waved General Sun Wu forward and introduced him to the Kagan.  “General Wu has prepared a military drill for you, should you care to watch.”

Wine and food was brought out from the longships for the Pecheneg leaders and the Pecheneg cavalry dismounted and watched from the slope of a hill as the two legions of foot soldiers drilled against each other and the two legions of cataphracts sallied forth from within their squares and charged each other and charged their opposing squares of foot.  As the cataphracts approached the squares, long pole lances sprang out from behind legionary shields and the horse were turned aside.  Then a simulated battle took place between the Kievan and Tmutorokan legions, starting with foot bows and fire arrows and culminating in General Wu’s tactic of shu shway, wherein the legions charged each other forwards and backwards at double time.

“If any problems arise with our agreement,” Prince Hraerik concluded, “send messengers to Gardariki and I shall help resolve them as quickly as possible.”

The Tmutorokan Hraes’ forces packed up their equipment and loaded their horses into their ships and rowed south, back down the Dnieper and the Kievan Hraes’ forces began their march north.  Once they were gone, Kagan Bay sent his men across the field to gather up what was left of the fire arrows.  The explosions of the fire arrows had caused the Pecheneg horse to become skitterish and they almost stampeded.  Kagan Bay feared that new weapon above all others he had seen that day.