Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

Indian Band with Sestar, precursor to Guitar



When King Ivar had failed to winter in either Denmark or Northumbria, King Athelstan of Wessex decided it was time to consolidate England under one king and he took an army north and drove Sihtric Ui Imair out of York.  Rather than confront the superior force, Sihtric loaded his Irish and Danish troops into ships and sailed his fleet back to the Ui Imair of Dublin.  He then joined up with the Danish merchant fleet that was heading out for Denmark with the young Irish slaves that had been providing the Hraes’ Trading Company with record profits for the past two years.  In York, Prince Hraegunar and his sister, Princess Hraegunhild, carried on business as usual at their Hraes’ trading station in York Castle.  King Athelstan likewise allowed the Hraes’ trading station in London to prosper, apparently encouraging Viking commerce while discouraging Viking conquest.  Jarl Biorn of Bamburgh locked up his half legion within his castle, awaiting a siege that never came, so he just carried on with business as usual with the Hraes’ of York and the new English leaders there.

Sihtric had expected to find King Ivar wintering in Liere, but when he arrived there he learned that Ivar had wintered in Kiev.  Queen Blaeja of Denmark and her son, young Prince Gorm, were organizing the gathering and supply of the fleet and soon it was working its way across the Baltic, up the Dvina and down the Dnieper to Kiev.

Sihtric and his corps of young officers landed at the main quay of Kiev and went straight to King Frodi’s palace and requested a meeting with King Ivar.  He came down immediately and welcomed his York commander.

“York has fallen to the English,” Sihtric told his king.

“So I’ve heard,” Ivar said as he sat upon his shield between four of the largest men Sihtric had ever seen.  He had seen them before, of course, but he had been used to seeing them last year.  Seeing them suddenly, unexpectedly, they seemed larger than life.  He was envious of Ivar’s handicap.  He wears it well, he conceded mentally.

Ivar leaned out from between his bearers and gave Sihtric a hug, patting him on the back.  “Come join me on my highseat,” he said, as refreshments arrived.  “Men, be seated at those benches,” Ivar said, pointing at a table to the side of the highseats.  “Tell me about the fall of York.”

So, Sihtric told Ivar about the fall of York, about the great army that King Athelstan of Wessex had taken north and how Sihtric had withdrawn his men and his fleet to Dublin.  King Ivar then informed Sihtric that Jarl Biorn still occupied Bamburgh and that the Hraes’ station in York Castle was still buying and selling product.  King Athelstan needs York,” Ivar started.  “By leaving our trading station untouched he is telling us that he can work with us.  He left Bamburgh alone because he doesn’t need it to rule all of England.  If he captured Bamburgh, he would have to have to reinstate the Anglish heir apparent to the district.  An Anglish lord wanting Northumbrian independence would be more trouble to him than a Norwegian lord just sitting there keeping his head down.”

“If you give me an army,” Sihtric offered, “I’ll retake York for you.”

“If we retake York, we’ll be telling King Athelstan that we can’t work with him.  He’ll shut down our Hraes’ station in London, try to retake York and shut down the Hraes’ station there if he succeeds.  Outside of the station, my business in Northumbria has concluded.  I am guessing that King Athelstan has surmised as much and knows that York is now worth more to him than it is to me.  But there is a castle in Strathclyde that I am interested in, called Dumbarton.”

“That castle was taken and destroyed by the Ui Imair a generation ago,” Sihtric said.

“Yes.  It’s abandoned, but it sits between the Britons and the Scots and it will allow your fleet to control the Irish Sea north of Dublin.  We want to be in a strategic position in case King Athelstan decides he no longer wants to work with us.”

“So I should keep a low profile,” Sihtric said.

“Yes.  Be Jarl Biorn.  He has a small legionary army laying low in Bamburgh Castle ready to move on command.  But for now, join me on our upcoming trade mission to Baghdad.”

So Sihtric became King Ivar’s right hand man on the spring sailing to the Caliphate of Baghdad.  He had never been to the east, but he understood Vikings and everything up to Kiev had been very Viking, but as soon as they departed from the Quays of Kiev, they were in Pecheneg territory and it was Pecheneg women and warriors who ran the portages around the Dnieper rapids and on the plains to the south great herds of Pecheneg horse and cattle and sheep roamed and wild hordes of Pecheneg horsemen rode about threateningly.  And on the Black Sea coast he saw the huge city of Cherson on the Crimean peninsula and then they were joined by a thousand more ships as they passed Gardariki and sailed up the Kuban River.

There was a long portage between the Kuban and Kuma Rivers and there were Hraes’ portage stations at the ends of both rivers and that is when Sihtric saw his first young Irish slave girl.  Her red hair caught his eye and she was slight and pretty and very pregnant and all of twelve or thirteen years old.  She had been purchased the previous year by the local hetman who was helping run the Kuban portage station and was doing laundry at the river’s edge.  He had been watching her stand on the riverbank with a basket of clothes off her hip and her round swollen belly was almost as big as the basket and he suddenly looked away when he realized that he taken a role in sending her here for sale.  When King Ivar asked him if he had just seen a ghost, Sihtric just said that the sunlight had reflected off the waters.  He saw two more young Irish girls at the Kuma station, one with a baby in her arms and another with one on the way.

The Kuma River flowed east to the Caspian Sea and as the Hraes’ fleet approached the seacoast, there were Hun warriors on horseback riding the plains on either side of the Kuma.  Groups of them would ride up to the riverbank waving their weapons threateningly, let out a few war whoops and then ride off.  “I don’t like the Kuma,” Ivar started, as Sihtric watched the spectacle.  “It is too close to Khazaria for our own good.  We need a more secure trade route.”

“They look a lot like the Pechenegs on either side of the Dnieper,” Sihtric said.

“We can work with the Pechenegs,” Ivar replied.  “Only the Romans seem able to work with the Huns.  And the Romans don’t like us trading in Baghdad.  So, I have to find a more southern route to the Caspian.  One that doesn’t go through Khazar lands.”

Once they were on the Caspian, the Hraes’ fleet feared no one.  Thousands of ships sailed south along the coast and then turned into the mouth of the Araks River and the Varangians rowed west to a portage station run by the Caliph of Baghdad.  The ships were loaded onto wagons and were pulled south by oxen across parched land to the mouth of the Tigris River and the ships were unloaded at a second portage station run by the Caliph.  The merchants paid to get their ships loaded and transported and then paid to get them unloaded as well and the Caliph made a good profit off each ship hauled.  But there was no tithe, no percentage charged against the value of the goods aboard the ships.  King Ivar had negotiated hard with the Caliph to ensure that tithes were not a part of his trade agreement with Baghdad and the matched sets of Irish and Anglish girls he had gifted the Caliph with played no small part in the negotiations.

Once they were in Baghdad, Sihtric saw a few more young Irish slave girls, but almost all women were kept indoors so he knew there were many more that he couldn’t see.  But he did see the odd young Irish slave boy performing guard duties at the entrances of Muslim merchant manses and estates.  The boys were all castrated and would be first trained as guards before being inducted into the eunuch armies of the Caliphate.  King Ivar was leading his merchants straight into the slave markets of Baghdad and Sihtric was not at all prepared for the things he saw going on there.  Slaves were all chained together by their iron neck rings and most of them were naked or wrapped in sheets ready for inspection and testing.  Anywhere there was shade, slaves stood naked and were being inspected and prodded by customers who haggled with merchants and purchased their products and led away people in chains.

Varangian merchants in Baghdad were typically put up by a local sponsoring merchant they did a lot of business with and King Ivar and his retinue were hosted by the Caliph in his palace so, that is where Sihtric ended up.  All day Ivar had been busy beaching ships and hiring transport and arranging for the sale of merchandise and he did it all with ease in many different languages and with their many corresponding gestures.  And Sihtric was a warrior lost in the crowd, following his leader about, often hand on sword as his king bargained, sometimes scowling, sometimes nodding and he was ready to rest once they reached the palace, but Ivar and the Caliph had other ideas.  A welcoming feast had been arranged and there was music and female dancers and wine and food to be enjoyed.  The room was spinning when Sihtric finally got to lay himself down on a bed and when he closed his eyes he could see the new young Irish slaves they had brought with them being sold in the slave markets of Baghdad.  The young girls were snapped up first, touched and squeezed and prodded by rich old men looking to improve their harem or increase the number of wives they had.  Often, the young girls were unchained and taken into the back rooms of shops and were given a test ride by their prospective buyers and the well trained girls were never haggled over.

Sihtric lost a lot of sleep over the things he witnessed in the bazaars of Baghdad and he could see that a lot of the poorer Muslims of the city looked on disapprovingly at the antics of the wealthier citizens.  The next day he decided to ask his king how he felt about the lot of the Irish children they had sold in Baghdad.  Ivar told him that the children had been saved from death by starvation.  When Sihtric asked him if, perhaps, the children would have been better off dead, Ivar responded, “Death by starvation is slow and painful and often violent.  People disappear during famines.  Cannibalism is rampant and children are the first to go missing.”

“I hadn’t thought of it in that way,” Sihtric confessed.

“Ireland isn’t the first famine the Hraes’ Trading Company has profited from,” Ivar said.  “Some of the places we’ve gone to have been pretty far gone in their famines when we got there and the children were all but gone.  We always bring grain and trade it directly for slaves.  We’ve saved many lives doing this and have saved many more by not having to raid when we’re doing this type of work.  In my grandfather’s time, King Frodi raided for all his slaves and he conquered many lands and enslaved many peoples.  I’ve tried to build up the business, the Hraes’ Trading Company, by buying slaves rather than just taking them, conquering them.  War is an expensive form of business and it seldom garners you slaves for free.  Buying them where they are plentiful and reselling them where they are in short supply guarantees good profits.  Famines guarantee great profits, but we save lives too!  And don’t forget…slaves aren’t our only trade.  Furs and silks, grain and honey, Khavayar and spices, weapons and armour, even ships.  We don’t just row them,” Ivar stated, patting Sihtric on the shoulder.  “We buy and sell them.”

King Ivar helped placate Sihtric’s guilt with his business acumen and the day was more tolerable and the markets more bearable for the Irish warrior.  When they returned to the Caliph’s palace in the evening, another feast had been prepared, but it was even larger, for an embassy had arrived in Baghdad from India.  King Ivar could not believe his luck!  He had been wanting to establish direct trade relations with the spice traders of India and an embassy presented itself.  After the meal, several Indian musicians brought out Persian cartars and began playing for the Caliph.  Ivar sent one of his servants to get his lute and he began playing with them.  He then offered to play and sing a song his father had written when he was young and learning how to play lutes and harps and Persian tars and ouds.  “My father called it Infatuation,” he announced in Persian, then began playing a plucked introduction on his lute and he sang in Norse:

“Infatuation can be love,                 infatuation can be…

                         Infatuation can be love,                 infatuate me…………pleas.

                         I fell for Alfhild,        then lost her love.

                         Infatuate me…

                         I loved Gunwar,       and lost her too.

                         Infatuate me…

                         And now I’ve fallen again in love.

                         Infatuate me…

                         I’ve fallen hard,                   so hard for you…

                         Infatuate me too.

                        “Infatuation can be love,                 infatuation can be…

                         Infatuation can be love,                 infatuate me…………pleas.

                         Pulleaeese, pulleaeese, pulleaeeseaeeseaeeseaeese.”

And Ivar ended the song with a plucked exit, followed by much applause.  Then he joined the Indian musicians and they showed him their cartars and sestars.  The leader of the Indian embassy was soon sitting down on the floor on cushions with them and playing along as well.  The Caliph, seeing that his guests were keeping themselves well entertained, begged leave of the feasting and retired.  After a few more songs, the Embassy leader, Rajan, joined Ivar for some wine at his table.  When Ivar saw the Caliph’s musicians and dancers packing up to leave, he excused himself for a moment, leaving Sihtric with Rajan, and went over to the dancers and paid them to stay and two of them went over to the Indian musicians and began to dance for them.  “Sorry my song wasn’t in Persian,” Ivar apologized.  “It’s in Norse and doesn’t translate very well.”

“You sing very well,” Rajan responded in Persian.  Ivar poured him some more wine and began talking business.  He needed contacts and locations for the spice business in India.  His new contract with the Caliph allowed him to tranship tithe free through Baghdad which allowed him to buy Indian spices direct.  Rajan’s family was in the spice business, so they exchanged information before the Ambassador retired as well.  Ivar and Sihtric joined the Indian musicians sitting on the cushioned floor and Ivar played the tars with them some more as they enjoyed the Arab women who were dancing for them.  When Ivar asked Sihtric if he wished to retire, they both got up and began to walk to their wing of the palace and the two young dancers walked with them.

“Her name is Anika and she’ll be staying with you the night,” King Ivar explained to Sihtric as he left him outside his room.  “It’s all taken care of,” Ivar added as he walked off with the other young dancer toward his own room.

The next morning, Sihtric was late joining his king for breakfast.  “How was Anika?” Ivar asked as he sat at the table.

“She is a wonderful dancer,” Sihtric replied.  “Thank you for that.”

“Salim was a good dancer as well,” Ivar said.  “She didn’t like it rough, though.  That was extra.”

Sihtric knew all about Ivar’s ‘rough’ from their time together at York Castle.  “A lot extra,” he thought.

“I know you’ve been bothered about your Irish youths that have been sold here,” Ivar said, “so I’ve arranged a little surprise for you this afternoon.”

“What is it?” Sihtric asked.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Ivar said.  “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.”

 Ivar and Sihtric spent the day arranging for the sale of goods and resolving disputes between Hraes’ merchants and Arab clients.  And Sihtric was a warrior a little more at home with the crowd, joining his leader in resolutions, often hand on sword or scowling as required.  In the afternoon they were joined by an Arab man who was leading a young Irish girl towards them.  The old man passed the chain to King Ivar after receiving two marks of gold.  Ivar then passed the chain to Sihtric.  “I had my merchants ask about any Irish lasses that were not happy to be here instead of starving to death in Ireland,” Ivar started, “and they found this young lady.  She lost her baby and has been very depressed.  We shall return her to Ireland and free her.  Perhaps that will help her recover.”

Sihtric beamed his king a wide smile.  “I think the Emerald Isle is a cure for many ailments, but what about the famine?”

“I’ve heard news it is over.  Bumper crops are expected this year.”

Again, Sihtric was beaming.

The Caliph’s palace was again jammed with guests and Ivar and Sihtric sat together at the Norse head table, but a young Irish girl sat beside Sihtric in new clothing of the latest Baghdad style.  Sihtric had tried to buy her clothes that were more Irish, but the young girl had never experienced fashion in Ireland and had only worn finer clothes while living in the Caliphate.  King Ivar had advised Sihtric to leave the slave girl with the other servants or at least in his room, but Sihtric responded with, “A girl has to eat too!”

When the girl was having difficulties eating because of the iron slaver ring about her neck, King Ivar warned Sihtric that the ring would have to stay on until they got her back to Ireland, but Sihtric pulled out his key and said, ‘I’ll free her here in front of all Baghdad,” and he got up and led Brianna into the center of the banquet hall.  King Ivar almost took off after him but had to call his bearers over with his shield.

“I am freeing Brianna,” Sihtric announced, and he used the key to release the iron ring from the young Irish girl’s neck.  By the time Ivar was on his shield, Sihtric and Brianna were already back at their table.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Ivar told Sihtric.  “Now the Caliph thinks you have taken Brianna as your concubine, your wife.”  By this time all banquet guests were standing and applauding the young couple.  The Caliph even sent over a bottle of fine wine from his head table.  “Congratulations!” Ivar chided.  “You are now man and concubine.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Sihtric complained.

“It means,” Ivar explained, “whether free or slave, she is your wife and any child she has is yours and is born free.  Even if she has a child by another man, you are that child’s father, hence the need for so many eunuchs in Baghdad.”

“I don’t want to be married,” Sihtric whined.  “What can I do?”

“You’ll have to at least pretend while we’re in Baghdad, so as not to insult the Caliph.  Then when we get to Ireland, you can free Brianna properly.  She’ll have to stay in your room while here, but you cannot touch her.  That would consummate the marriage.”

The Caliph must have been pleased with how the trading was going with the Hraes’ because he sent gifts for Sihtric and Brianna to their table, fine seductive silks for Brianna and a beautiful knife and sheath for Sihtric.  And a key to a suite in the Norse wing of the palace arrived at their table and Ivar told Sihtric it was likely as large as his own and he would have it for the rest of their stay in Baghdad, likely another full week.

After the feasting, the Caliph, once again, retired early.  It was said that the Caliph was still preoccupied with the gifts of girls that King Ivar had presented him with over the previous years.  But the Caliph’s musicians and dancers were providing entertainment and Ivar saw Saleem, the dancer he had spent the last night with, but she was avoiding eye contact with him.  There were also the cartar players of the Indian embassy gathered about on cushions on the floor and the Indian ambassador soon joined King Ivar at the Norse head table.

“I have heard,” Rajan started, sitting down beside Ivar, “that you can play and sing the northern head ransom song.”

“You mean Gunwar’s Song?” Ivar asked.

“I have heard about it,” Raj continued, “but I have never actually heard it.  The famous Varangian skald, Bragi the Old, was condemned to be beheaded by the king of the Swedes, but he got permission to write a poem of praise for his wife before he was to be executed and when he recited it to the king, it was so beautiful that the king said he would spare Bragi’s head if he would but write such a praise poem for him overnight.  So that was what Bragi the Old did.  He ransomed his own head with a powerful poem of praise.”

“Bragi the Old is my father,” Ivar said.  “He wrote the head ransom song, Gunwar’s Song, and I wrote the music for it.  Bragi means eloquent in speech and the Old is because he married into the old line of Danish kings, the Skioldungs, the King Frodi of Denmark line.  He married Princess Gunwar, the sister of King Frodi, and when she died he married my mother, Princess Eyfura, the daughter of King Frodi.  His full name is Prince Hraerik ‘Bragi the Old’ Hraegunarson.”

“He is also Prince Rurik of Novgorod?” Raj asked.

“That’s his Slav name, but he left Novgorod years ago and moved back to Gardariki, the city he founded with Gunwar in Tmutorokan.  So now he is Prince Hraerik of Gardariki.”

“And he is the son of Ragnar Lothbrok,” Raj stated, “the famous dragon slayer.”

“You seem to know a lot about me and my family,” Ivar said, leaning forward into his face.  “Is there something you want?”

“I should have told you this last night,” Raj started, “but I came to Baghdad just to meet you.  I knew you and your Hraes’ Trading Company have been trading with the Caliphate for years so, I did my research and arranged an embassy here through my king so I could meet with you and talk business.  You brought up spice trade last night, but there is so much more we can do together.  We have Indian steel, the finest carpets and tapestries in the world and, of course, spices and gold and gemstones.  You have slaves and furs and Khazar Vayar and you have connected with the Silk Road and Cathay.  I have even heard that you are making your own silks in Tmutorokan.  We even believe in the same Pagan gods.  You are the Aesir, we are the Vanir.  Our Brahma is your Odin and our Indra is your Thor and our Vishnu is your Tyr.  I’d like to draw up some contracts between us now if you are willing.”

“Why don’t I play you Gunwar’s Song and then we’ll see if you still want to do business,” Ivar said laughing.  He took up his lute and called his four huge bearers over and he sat upon his shield.  “I am a Skjoldung, a shield king,” he told Rajan as his bearers took him to the center of the banquet hall.  His men hiked Ivar up to their shoulders and stood with him on the shield in the middle of the room and he began  Gunwar’s Song with a verbal explanation.

“When King Bjorn of the Barrows played the part of a fool to entrap my father, Prince Hraerik ‘Bragi the Old’ Hraegunarson, the prince spent his days locked up and he attempted to compose a poem in memory of his slain wife.  But the writing was going slow and, as days drew into weeks, a date was set for his beheading.  The last few days, Hraerik worked feverishly on his poem for his wife, but the words wouldn’t come.  It was the day before his execution when Hraerik finally completed the work, and when King Bjorn heard that it was done, he had Hraerik brought to his hall to recite it.

Hraerik was brought forth to the highseat hall and given a place of honour opposite King Bjorn.  Swedish maidens brought him ale, and a fine feast was spread before him.  Once Hraerik had had his fill, he strode out into the open area between the high seats and began to recite his poem:

I sit (A) down and I try

 to (C) write a song how you’ve (G) left me now,

 but the (D) words won’t come,

 the (A) words won’t come.

 And my (A) memories,

 they (C) flow like white water, (G) echoing…

 how it (D) used to be,

 it (A) used to be.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 My mind’s (A) eye, it sees

 the (C) radiant glow of your (G) beauty

 through (D) the dust of

 the (A) Don plain.

 Soul (A) wandering

 all alone (C) as you wait for your (G) lover

 to (D) join you

 in (A) heaven.

 But the (A) God of gods will

 look (C) down, my life fades on the (G) morrow,

 and (D) cast my soul

 to the (A) winds.  Tween

 earth and (C) stars, I shall always (G) remember

 the (D) dream of your love

 in my (A) heart.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 Take me (A) back through time,

 (C) back to the day that I (G) met you;

 Westmar’s (D) champions,

 how they (A) baited me.

 Hraelauger (A) saved me,

 and (C) I won the hand of my (G) lover;

 Oh, the (D) fates did bless,

 my guile(A)fulness.

 But the (A) god of storms

 threatened (C) snow and my father did (G) sacrifice

 his (D) life to stem

 the (A) tide, and

 the (C) storm’s depart will (G) always bring back

 the (D) dream of your

 love in my (A) heart.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 On foot(A)-blades of bone

 we (C) razed the house of (G) Westmar,

 and old (D) Gotwar

 did (A) curse me.

 Twelve sons (A) swept up in time,

 she (C) tried to poison my (G) lover,

 but, with (D) Odin’s aid,

 my (A) wife I saved.

 But (A) fate would not

 be (C) denied fruition in (G) vengeance,

 and her (D) nephew

 blind(A)sided my wife,

 With (C) golden spear, fratri(G)cidally,

 He snuck (D) up and took her

 sweet (A) life.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 The (A) lands of

 Tmutoro(C)kan, they cried out (G) in anguish,

 for my (D) wife’s blood

 wet the (A) sands of.

 As she (A) died out

upon the (C) Don Plain, my blade died (G) beside her;

 ’twas the (D) curse of


 And the (A) cycle has gone

 near full (C) round, for I die on the (G) morrow,

 her (D) vengeance is

 gone to the (A) winds. Though

 gods (C) keep us apart, I shall always (G) remember

 the (D) dream of her love

 in my (A) heart.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 I sit (A) down and I try

 to (C) write a song how you’ve (G) left me now,

 but the (D) words won’t come,

 the (A) words won’t come….

When my father’s poem was finished, everyone in the hall, King Bjorn included, rose up and applauded his work.  ‘A poem such as this,’ the Swedish King said, ‘shall commend your fair Princess Gunwar’s memory to the ends of time.  If you could but write such a fine poem on my behalf, I’d be inclined to pardon you.’  So that is what the Prince did, he wrote a poem that compared King Bjorn with the wily Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic, and the head ransom poem saved my father his head.”

King Ivar took a bow upon his shield and the crowd in the hall applauded him.  They wanted an encore so Ivar caught Saleem’s eye and waved the Arab dancing girls over and paid them to take over for him.  Then his men took him back to the Norse head table and he sat across from Rajan once more.  “Still want to do business?” he asked the ambassador.

“That was the song that set sail to a thousand ships.  I think I understand now.  Where do I sign?” Raj asked, smiling with pride.  “I am familiar with the Roman tale of Brutus.  So, King Bjorn played a fool in order to survive?”

“My father slew King Alrik of Sweden in a personal duel and took the country for himself, so, Prince Bjorn built a howe for his dead king and would sit upon the howe and throw rocks at birds and play the harmless fool and was called Bjorn of the Barrows.  But my father had been savagely slashed in the duel and when he was overcome by the injury, Prince Bjorn led and uprising and made himself king.  When my father came out of his fever, he was Bjorn’s prisoner, sentenced to death for slaying their King Alrik.  That is when Prince Hraerik began writing a song for Gunwar, who had fallen in battle before the walls of Gardariki.  When King Bjorn heard the poem, he made Prince Hraerik the head ransom offer: a drapa of praise for freedom, plus support in my father’s war with the Huns, but there was a problem…King Bjorn was young and had no accomplishments for which to praise him.  My father was familiar with the Roman tale of Lucius Junius Brutus as well, so, he incorporated Brutus’ efforts of playing the fool to save his life at the hands of King Tarquin of Rome into his poem of praise for King Bjorn of the Barrows and that is what saved his head.”

“Ahh,” Rajan said, nodding his head.  “Now I understand.”

“Later, my father incorporated the tale of Brutus into a saga in which a Danish Prince named Amleth played the fool to save his own life.  King Bjorn of the Barrows fulfilled all his promises to my father and they became the best of friends, so my father didn’t want to insult him with the saga.”

“So, the Swedish king became a Danish prince,” Rajan said, “to protect a friendship.”

“Exactly,” Ivar replied.  “Tomorrow we should start on contracts.  We can be trading next year.”  He then waved over Saleem and Anika and the dancing girls sat down with the merchants.

Sihtric poured his king some more wine then told him that Brianna wanted to check out their new suite and the new couple got up and left.  Soon after, Rajan and his Indian embassy retired as well.  So, King Ivar took Saleem and Anika back to his suite and Saleem found that she didn’t mind it rough as much with a girlfriend beside her.

For two days Brianna had followed behind Sihtric as a dutiful slave, but on the third morning they were walking together arm in arm.  Sihtric lasted two days, then he consummated their marriage.  “It was Anika that caused this,” Sihtric explained to his king.  “She could really dance and I just had to find out if Brianna could dance too!”

“Well…can she?” Ivar asked.

“She can dance a fine Irish horizontal jig,” Sihtric confessed, “but her Baghdad belly dance is by far her best!  She put on the silks the Caliph gave her and I was done!”

The rest of the week passed quickly and the Hraes’ merchants were soon winding their way back to Gardariki.  There, King Ivar met with his father, Prince Hraerik, who was already back from Constantinople and he learned that talks were still stalled with the Romans.  Ivar told him about the Indian embassy he had met up with in Baghdad and about the contract signings he had made with both the Caliphate and the Indian ambassador.

“Do you think next year,” Hraerik started, “you could take a few Alchemists to Baghdad with you and pass them off to the Indian embassy you’ll be meeting with there?  The Indians have come up with some new mathematical concepts for their negative numbers and zero.  It would be great if we can get some of our mathematical Alchemists into India to study for a year.”

“I think I should be able to get them attached to the Indian embassy,” Ivar answered.  “Is it for your science?”

“It’s more for simplifying our merchant accounts.  But if it’s known, we want to know about it.”

Just then Queen Silkisif walked into Hraerik’s longhall and saw Ivar.  “Ivar,” Silkisif said, casually, “you have your brother’s eyes.”

“King Oddi’s eyes?” Ivar replied.

“Unless you have other brothers,” Silkisif said.

“Well, I did have twelve other half-brothers,” Ivar said, “But Oddi killed eleven of them and Hjalmar the Brave killed the twelfth one, Angantyr, at the Holmganger on Samsoe.”

“I’m sooo sorry,” Silkisif gushed.  “I only remember Oddi as being your brother.  Please forgive my mistake.”

“It’s okay,” Ivar reassured her.  “I only knew and loved Oddi.  The other brothers died long before I was born.”

“I’m still so sorry.  I mis-spoke.”

“Our family is complicated,” Hraerik added.  “Please come join us for lunch,” he said, patting the highseat beside himself.

“Yes, foster-father,” she replied, sitting beside him on the highseat.  “It is complicated.”  Prince Hraerik was her foster-father only because he had helped foster her as she was growing up, for her father, King Olmar of Tmutorokan was Hraerik’s grandfather on his mother’s side, making her actually his aunt, not his foster-daughter.  “Very complicated.”

King Ivar had lunch with his father and great aunt, then joined his merchant fleet as it embarked for Kiev.  Sihtric and Brianna sailed with him and seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time together under the ship’s awnings.  “You’re going to get her pregnant,” Ivar warned his Ui Imair friend.

“She wants another baby,” Sihtric said.  “I’m worried.  If she loses this one, it will be very difficult for her.”

“She’s a year older.  Should be good.”

When they reached the Dnieper Rapids, King Ivar told the Pecheneg warriors that were assisting with the portages that he had a gift for the kagan of the Yavdi Erdem clan.  Later that day Kagan Baitzas rode about inspecting the portage progress and called out to King Ivar, whose ship was on wains being drawn by oxen.  Ivar put spurs to his horse and rode over to the Kagan who said: “Kagan in Training Ivar, how was Baghdad?”

“It was great!” Ivar answered in fluent Pecheneg.  “I have some gifts for you,” he said, halting the ship’s progress and leaping out of his saddle and into his ship.  “It was given to me by the King of India and I thought of you,” Ivar lied, pulling a beautiful leather and gold saddle from the hold of the ship.  He also had his men pull a chest of gold Byzants and two chests of silver Kufas from the hold.  “These also are for you.”

The kagan dismounted and started removing the saddle from his horse.  Ivar took the Indian saddle and slapped it onto the back of the horse and they both worked to cinch it up.  “It is a fine saddle,” the kagan praised.  “And the gold?  You have already paid us for the portage.”

“It is my way of thanking you for working with us so well,” Ivar lied again.

The kagan had his men load and strap the chests to the saddles of his spare mounts and as he rode away he thought: “Is it trouble coming up with the Romans or the Bulghars?”  He guessed it would be the Romans.

Princess Helga was waiting on the main quay of Kiev when King Ivar’s ship was rowed up to it.  Sihtric was beside him with what looked like an Irish slave girl under his arm.  She had seen lots of them taken south, but this was the first one she was seeing travelling north.  “Helga!” Ivar shouted as he disembarked on his shield.  “You remember Sihtric, and this is his new wife, Brianna.”

“Praise Odin you have returned safely,” Helga said, giving Sihtric and his wife a wide berth.  “Business was good?”

“Business was very good!” Ivar said.  “Even better than last year.”

“Good,” she replied, “because I was worried you were coming back with last year’s product.”

“No, no, no,” Ivar repeated.  “There was a bit of a misunderstanding with the Caliph of Baghdad.  He accidentally married Sihtric and Brianna and we had to keep up appearances so the Caliph wouldn’t feel insulted.”

“Good,” Helga said.  “We can put her up in my longhall.  We wouldn’t want a slave, freed or otherwise, sleeping in the palace of your grandfather, King Frodi.”

“I don’t think King Frodi would mind if…”

But Sihtric interrupted and said, “That’s fine.  I’ll stay with her there so I can keep an eye on her.  We wouldn’t want her running off to the Caliphate to insult the Caliph.”

“Okay,” Ivar said, “but you’re welcome in the palace.”

“I smell death here,” Brianna said as they were unpacking their clothes in the main bedchamber of Helga’s longhall.  Helga was going to give them a side chamber, but Ivar insisted they take Helga’s old bedchamber and Helga grudgingly agreed.

“I don’t smell anything,” Sihtric replied.

“I smelled death in the street when we rode up in the royal carriage.  My nose is never wrong.  The smell has worked its way into this building,” she maintained.  Once they had unpacked, Brianna took Sihtric back out the front double doors of the longhall and down the wooden sidewalk.  “I can smell it carrying from across the street,” she said.  “Perhaps it is coming from the building across the street?”

“I think that’s a military barracks,” Sihtric said.  “It has Hraes’ legionary markings.”  So, they walked across the street and stood in front of the barracks.  Brianna couldn’t smell an increase in the odour so she walked back out into the street.

“The smell of death is coming from the street,” she said.  It’s coming from under the street!”

“Let’s go back to the longhall,” Sihtric said.

The servants of the longhall prepared a great feast for the merchants and the new couple that were billeted there and after supper Sihtric told Brianna to remain in their room while he went across the street to talk with the few legionnaires he had seen over there.  The cohort of legion troops were out on training, but there were a few sick and injured young men who had remained in Kiev.  Sihtric put some mead into a large pitcher and took some drinking horns with him across the street.  He told the men there that he had commanded the half legion that was stationed in Northumbria, in Bamburgh Castle.  The fifth legion they asked and said it was more like a quarter of a legion there.

“It’s the fourth legion that’s stationed there,” Sihtric corrected, “and we like to say it’s a half legion so the Anglish are twice as fearful.  You’re testing me, aren’t you?”

They told him he had passed the test so now he could pass the mead, and he did.  As they were drinking and telling stories about training, Sihtric casually brought up the smell of death that was in the street.  The soldiers told him that they were all new to the legion, but they had heard a story that could only be told to legionary members.  Sihtric reminded them that he had commanded a part of the fourth under a commission directly given him by King Ivar ‘the Boneless’, himself.  “But only the Anglish call him ‘the Boneless’ there”, he said, “because they fear him so much.”  So, the men relaxed and told him the story of what had happened to the Chernigov Twenty.  The tale sent a shiver up Sihtric’s spine and he had killed many men in battle over the years.

“What did you learn?” Brianna asked, when Sihtric returned to their room.

“The soldiers told me that a horse had died out in the street in the heat of summer and, because the legion was out on manoeuvres, it had lain there a few days.”  

“Well, that smell of death wasn’t horse,” she said.  It was men, and more than just a few of them.”

Sihtric told Brianna that he was going to step out for an hour.  She asked him where he was going at such a late hour and he said, “I’m taking the royal carriage to the bath house.  I want to make love to you all night and that’s quite a discerning nose you have.”

“It’s late,” Brianna said, “so nobody will be there.  Can I come with you?”

“You’d better come with me,” Sihtric said, “and only come with me!” and they left the longhall together and didn’t get back till the wee hours of the morning.

The next day Sihtric was provisioning the Hraes’ Anglish fleet he had brought to Kiev, for their return voyage to Angleland and Dumbarton Rock, so he didn’t see much of King Frodi, who was going through accounts and weighing chests of gold in the Kievan treasury, but they finally bumped into each other and Sihtric mentioned that Brianna had smelled death coming up from the street in front of Helga’s longhall.

“Is it bothering her?” Ivar asked.  “Come, stay at the palace.”

“I told her it was probably a horse that might have died out in the street.  It’s not too bad, but she insists it is the deathly smell of men and more than just a few.”

“Come.  Stay at the palace.”

“We’re fine at the longhall,” Sihtric said.

“If you come stay at the palace, we’ll stay up late one night drinking, just you and me, and, after swearing you to secrecy, I’ll tell you why that street smells of death.”

Ivar had made Sihtric an offer he couldn’t refuse, so Sihtric and Brianna moved into a chamber in King Frodi’s palace.  That night, Ivar and Sihtric stayed up late drinking and Sihtric heard the tale of the Chernigov Twenty from a more expansive point of view.  He heard how the Chernigov Twenty had maimed their prince and how Princess Helga had given them light punishment and how a later court thing had punished them a little bit more, so Ivar had conquered and remarried in the west.  Prince Mal of Dereva, on hearing of Ivar’s marriage, began propositioning Helga and had used the Chernigov Twenty to enforce his demands just a day before Ivar was to return to Kiev.  Helga had learned that the twenty men planned to kidnap her, so she welcomed them to Kiev and had them carried into the city in their boat and, as they relaxed in their boat, she had her legionnaires drop the boat into a pit she’d had dug into the street in front of her longhall.  Her troops then filled in the hole, but the twenty had formed a testudo shell with their shields to provide themselves with an air pocket.

“When I arrived in Kiev,” Ivar concluded, “Helga gave me a drink and, as we shared the highseat, she told me how she had punished the Chernigov Twenty in the hopes of getting me back and she passed me a shovel and said, ‘Dig them up if you want,’ and I said, I’d dig them up if I only had some legs!” and Ivar laughed and slapped his thigh repeatedly.  “Now you must keep your secret,” Ivar said, “because, to this day, Prince Mal hasn’t figured out what happened to his Chernigov Twenty.  Don’t even tell Brianna!”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Sihtric assured him.  “Does this mean you will be moving back to Kiev?”

“Yes.  I’m afraid it is time I moved back with the woman I love.  She is the only woman I have never been rough with.  That is why I need you at Dumbarton Rock, to control the Irish Sea and to keep an eye on the Anglish.  They can hold York, as long as they don’t interfere with our Hraes’ trading there.  But I need you there to move against them if they try to stop our trading.  Ally yourself with the Scots and the Strathclyde Britons if possible.  They’ll always be ready to throw off the English yoke.”

“The Ui Imair will be sad to see you go, as will I.”

“I’ll be overwintering in Liere for the last time, then after I come east for spring trading, I’ll be overwintering in Kiev or in Tmutorokan if it gets too cold.  My time in the west as Ivar the Traveller will be coming to an end.  I am going to focus on the east, India and the Silk Road to Cathay.”

“King Harde Knute of Denmark,” Sihtric said sadly, “is now King Harde Gone.”