Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE MARRIAGE SUIT OF PRINCE MAL (Circa 931 AD)
Soon after King Ivar had returned to the west to winter in Denmark with his merchant fleet, Prince Mal of the Drevjane Slavs sent envoys, the Chernigov twenty, to Kiev to propose marriage between their prince and Princess Helga of Chernigov. Prince Mal felt that the princess still held feelings for the boys that she had grown up with in Chernigov, even though they had maimed her husband, so he thought them best suited to extend his offer. Queen Helga treated the envoys with respect but reminded them that she was their queen and was married to King Ivar of Denmark and Gardar. When they told her they had been informed that King Ivar had divorced her and remarried a Christian princess in Denmark, Helga sent them away from Kiev and watched from the main quay as they rowed their eight oared boat back up the Dnieper.
Later, in the winter, the Chernigov twenty returned on horseback down the frozen river and petitioned Princess Helga, once more, on behalf of Prince Mal and his proposal of marriage. They were a little more insistent this time. Helga realized the vulnerability of her situation. Twenty armed men were on the front porch of her hall and she only had two armed guards within. She remembered that many Slav groups saw the kidnapping of brides as an approved form of courting. So, she invited the men inside and she treated them like the boys that she had grown up with, offering them mead and food in a friendly manner while secretly sending her handmaiden off for reinforcements.
A squadron of legionnaires soon marched up to her longhall and the officer entered, surveyed the situation and told Queen Helga that the troops were ready for their scheduled inspection. Helga acted as though she had forgotten about the improvised drill and she invited her Drevjane guests to sit on the front porch and observe the manoeuvres the troops were scheduled to perform out in the street. The officer barked out orders and the soldiers went through their training drills and Helga walked out between the troops and corrected the way some of the troops were holding their spears or swinging their swords and she discussed formations with the officers and showed her old friends how familiar she was with war. Both Queen Helga and Queen Mother Eyfura had been shocked at the costs of developing two full legions of foot soldiers and a full legion of cataphracts, so much so that Helga took an active part in the development of the legions. Both women wanted to see where the gold was going. The final manoeuvre was a shield drill called the turtle, in which the soldiers locked their shields together to form a turtle shell above themselves to protect against falling arrows and stones. Helga pointed out to her Chernigov friends the finer points of the manoeuvre.
After the training, the squadron retired to rest in the hall across the road and several of the officers joined their queen in her hall and discussed military strategy with her guests until Queen Helga sent them back to Chernigov with a firm no to Prince Mal’s offer of marriage. But when the Chernigov twenty reported the response to their prince and told him how adept Queen Helga had been at drilling her legions, Prince Mal’s desire for the princess only grew.
The feeling of vulnerability Queen Helga had experienced in her own hall served as a warning to her that she needed to better monitor what was going on with the men of Chernigov, so she sent her trusted handmaiden to the town to contact some old girlfriends she still had there and they spied on the Chernigov twenty, using the Hraes’ station there as their base of operations. In the spring the Chernigov twenty learned that King Ivar was accompanying the Hraes’ merchant fleet coming from the Baltic and Prince Mal ordered the group to take their fastest boat to Kiev and kidnap Princess Helga before the king got back to the capital. The plan was leaked to the spying women by a disgruntled mistress of one of the twenty and Helga’s handmaiden raced back to Kiev with a warning. Queen Helga evacuated her quarter of the city and had her troops pull up the corduroy logs in front of her longhall, then they dug a deep trench where the road had been and put the logs back over top it.
The next morning, the Chernigov twenty arrived in Kiev aboard their sixteen oared boat and Queen Helga and her legionnaires went down to the main quay to meet them. She told them to stay in their boat and that her troops would carry the vessel triumphantly into the city on their shoulders, so the troops took up the oars and passed them through the oarlock openings and they carried the boat with the oar blades on their shoulders into the city and stopped in front of Queen Helga’s highseat hall. Other soldiers waiting on the sidewalks of the street pulled away the corduroy logs and the soldiers carrying the little ship dropped their load into the pit. The soldiers on the sidewalks then grabbed up their shovels and began filling in the hole. As the lumps of earth came crashing down, the Chernigov twenty gathered up their shields from the topstrakes an began to shelter themselves under a turtle formation of sorts. They tried to shake off the falling earth but the soil was raining down too hard upon them and they could only take shelter under their shields and were soon covered up. The soldiers then smoothed out the soil and replaced the corduroy logs and were all sworn to silence upon pain of death.
In the afternoon, King Ivar arrived at the head of his merchant fleet of a thousand ships and they swarmed around the many quays of Kiev and were beached upon the riverbanks for many miles up and downstream. King Ivar entered King Frodi’s palace and Queen Helga had a great feast prepared for him and his merchant princes. After much eating and drinking, musicians and singers came out and set up between the highseats to entertain the king and queen and their guests.
“I have punished the Chernigov twenty,” Queen Helga said to King Ivar as they shared the highseat. “I have buried them alive.”
“Does this mean you want me back?” he asked earnestly, sliding closer beside her on the highseat.
“I have always wanted you back,” she replied. “Here is a shovel. The twenty are still alive and you may save them if you wish.”
“If I had legs, I could dig them up,” he replied. “But they took my legs!” he cried, snapping the shovel handle over the arm of the highseat. No more was ever said about the twenty.
Later that night in bed Ivar said, “I married an Anglish Christian Princess while I was in Denmark.”
“I know,” Helga replied.
“I did it to avenge my grandfather, Hraegunar Lothbrok,” he explained. “Her grandfather executed Hraegunar with a most famous death by the bite of a dozen poisoned blood snakes.”
“Didn’t Princes Hraerik and Hraelauger avenge their father years ago?”
“I did it for Prince Oddi and myself. Arrow Odd truly loved the old man. He would tell me stories of Hraegunar Lothbrok and dragons and caves and tales of Beowulf and Grendal and Heorot.”
“I have a son in Denmark.”
“I named him Gorm after the poisoned blood snakes that killed Hraegunar.”
“No good will ever come out of what I’ve done.”
“And you still want me back?”
“I have always wanted you back. Now lie back. I want to ride you again.”
“I want us to have a son and I want to name him Svein.”
“Your timing is right for having a son,” Helga said and she rode him again. “Life is art!” she exclaimed as she came.
“Art is life!” he exclaimed as he exploded within her. They slept in each other’s arms, a thing they had not done for more than a decade.
King Ivar stayed with his wife in King Frodi’s palace for a week as the merchant fleet was re-equipped and sent off downstream, then he joined his fleet and headed out for Constantinople. There were treaty problems brewing with the Romans, so he had to forego Baghdad and join his father there to renegotiate terms. Prince Mal, who lived in a town called Iskorosten, never learned the fate of the Chernigov twenty, but he did hear rumours out of Chernigov that the twenty had failed in their mission and had fled to Constantinople with the merchant fleet and had joined the Varangian guard rather than once more face the anger of their lord.