Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 907
When Prince Ivar was eleven, his brother was called away again, this time to Constantinople, and, for the first time, his father went as well. They sailed together on a huge dragonship at the head of a great fleet of ships and his mother wept when they left Kiev. There had been a trade dispute between the Hraes’ and the Romans, who were engaged in a war with Baghdad. Word had come in the early spring that the Great Fleet of the Greeks was engaged in sea battles off the Levant, so the time to settle the dispute was at hand. The Hraes’ planned to raid the areas around Constantinople and force the Greeks to grant them trade concessions. And they hoped to be back in time for the trading season. That was their plan.
As soon as the troops left Kiev, Princess Eyfura had her son begin his military training. He had always practised with weapons, wooden weapons at first, then bronze and then steel, but it was all informal and fun. Now, Hraerik had arranged for the finest swordsman from Liere to train his son in the use of the broadsword and buckler. He had hired a master archer to train his son in the use of all bows, from Mongolian hornbows to Anglish longbows to Turkish footbows. He even arranged for an engineer from Cathay to train his son in the design and use of siege engines. And he still had to maintain his studies in painting and poetry as well as arithmetic and languages, both oral and written. Many languages….and, unlike his father, he did not learn them easily. His mother would monitor his training and, when she could not, her handmaiden, Hervor, would.
Prince Ivar had always liked Hervor. She had always treated him as though he was important and she always took a special interest in him. So, he always worked harder at his studies when she was watching and now that he was older, harder at his training, for she was a beautiful woman in her prime and Ivar was becoming interested in women. She was tall and lithe with long blonde hair and hard blue eyes and her lips were full, as were her breasts. In the close quarters of the palace, Ivar would sometimes catch a glimpse of her partially clad and things within would begin to stir.
Hervor soon began training as well. Princess Eyfura arranged for her to learn riding skills and languages and weapons training and sailing. These were unusual skills to be teaching a handmaiden, but his mother told Ivar it was for the family’s protection. While the men were gone, it was the women of the household that would have to take care of things and they should all be prepared and trained to do so.
In Constantinople, the Hraes’ had the great Roman walled city surrounded. King Oddi sent cavalry units out into the surrounding farms and estates to pillage. They loaded livestock and valuables onto the farmers’ heavy wains and wagons and drove them into the shoreline camp of the Hraes’ fleet. The goods were loaded onto ships, the livestock fed the troops and the wagons were modified to transport the Nor’Way longships overland, just as some ships were portaged around a rapid of the Dnieper River called Essoupi. Two weeks of pillaging and modifications led to two hundred Nor’Way ships being portaged from their shoreline anchorages through the surrounding village roads to the northern end of the Golden Horn port, thus bypassing the massive chain that barred the southern entrance of the port from the sea. As the ships slipped into the water from the streets leading down to the port, the Greek fleet was caught by surprise. All the Greek fire breathing biremes were at the other end of the Roman fleet, facing the chained off sea, and in the congested harbour, they had no way of getting to the Hraes’ fleet that was attacking their rear. The Nor’Way longships drove the Byzantine biremes away from the main gates of the city and a longship called Fair Faxi was tied off at the main quay of the gates. Oddi leapt onto the dock and extended a hand to his father as he stepped over the top strake.
King Oddi nailed a shield to the left gate and Prince Hraerik tacked the vellum list of their demands, written in his best Greek, onto the shield. The rest of the Varangian fleet kept the Byzantine fleet hemmed in at the south end of the port while Fair Faxi was sailed off to the north end of the port and was portaged back to the main Hraes’ camp.
The next day Hraerik and Oddi returned to the quay of the main gates and found a treaty tacked to the shield still nailed upon the left gate. Two camp chairs were carried to the main gates and Hraerik and Oddi sat and went through the details of the treaty, which was written in both Latin and Greek, as the shield wall sheltered them from the sun. Hraerik crumpled up the Latin documents, even though he was more fluent in reading that language and he perused and signed the Greek documents. He then passed one copy of the treaty to Oddi, who tacked it to the shield upon the gate.
The treaty provided for twelve grivna per rowlock for the two thousand ships that were participating in the campaign, five hundred dragonships, five hundred Nor’Way ships and a thousand merchant monoxylan that had arrived for trade prior to the signing. Special trading funds were to be set up by the Emperor for each major city of the Hraes’: Kiev, Chernigov, Pereiaslav, Polotsk, Rostov, Liubech and “others”, the others being Tmutorokan, Atil-Kazaran and Greutunga, typically cities involved in Nor’Way trade. These funds would provide food, lodging and baths for all merchants from those cities while in Constantinople. They were allowed to enter the city in unarmed groups of up to fifty under the care of a Byzantine officer or Emperor’s merchant. Most importantly, all Hraes’ merchants were exempt from tithes or duties.
The raid on Constantinople lasted longer than anticipated, so Princess Eyfura handled the spring trading in Kiev with the help of Hervor and young Prince Ivar. Queen Silkisif handled the eastern trade in Gardariki. Hervor enjoyed their new responsibilities together and she took pride in how young Ivar handled himself. When the men came back from the raid with a new trade agreement, they resumed all the trading duties, but nobody ever wondered at Hervor’s training anymore. She just continued it.
When Princess Eyfura had finished handing over her duties to Prince Hraerik, she met with Hervor in private and said “There is something I must tell you of your birth. Your mother was my handmaiden, but your father was not a slave. He was my eldest son, Prince Angantyr. When your mother died following your birth, I had you raised in our household, but, for your own safety, I kept your true lineage a secret. Your father was too drunk to remember your conception, but your mother would not spare me the details. You must avenge your father’s death, as I must avenge mine. You shall continue your training to that end.”
Hervor was happy to learn that she was not a slave and of royal blood. She reached out to her grandmother and Eyfura hugged her coldly. “We must keep the truth of your birth a secret until we have avenged our fathers. When my son was killed by Hjalmar the Brave and Prince Oddi,” Eyfura started, “your mother tried to kill herself but I saved her and kept her close while she carried you and after you were born she did kill herself.”