Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
THE KING OF LIERE (Circa 937 AD)
When King Ivar had completed his rounds, settling up with every Hraes’ Trading Company station and store between Kiev and Dublin, he landed near Liere and was met by his wife, Queen Blaeja, and his son, Prince Gorm. They rode together in a royal carriage from the harbour town to King Frodi’s fortress. “Again, I’m sorry for your grandmother’s passing,” Ivar started. “She ran out of living long before she ran out of life. Your mother and your uncle send their best.”
“You stopped in York?” Blaeja asked. “Isn’t it in Saxon hands now? Wasn’t it dangerous?
“King Athelstan and the Saxons have returned to Wessex. York is in the hands of the local Anglish princes. They were quite hospitable and your mother’s Hraes’ station in York Castle made record profits this year. The Saxon royals may not want Vikings in York, but they do want the Hraes’ silks and spices and Kha Vayar in York Castle.”
“I tried some Khazar Vayar,” Prince Gorm said. “I didn’t really like it much.”
“It’s an acquired taste, son,” King Ivar replied, then he whispered, “I don’t like it that much myself either, but don’t tell the Saxons.”
“We’ve had no luck with a daughter,” Blaeja said.
“Have you been taking the medicine I gave you?”
“Yes. Every day as you instructed.”
“It is every day,” Ivar said, “as your grandmother, Princess Blaeja Senior, had instructed me. And we must try again, as she also instructed.”
Ivar made love to Blaeja all night long and with a gentle hand that he had previously reserved for his love in Kiev. “You are leaving me,” Blaeja said in bed the next morning. “You were kind to me. You have never been kind.”
“I am following your grandmother’s full prescription. The medicine and love.”
“You weren’t loving when you can to Liere last spring with news of her death.”
“I thought the medicine would be enough. Apparently it was not. If you prefer it rough, I can do that as well.”
“I like the new you,” she said, as she mounted him.
The next day, Ivar began preparations for visiting the Hraes’ stations in Denmark. “Would you like to come with me to Hedeby?” he asked his son.
“Can I buy something for mother while we are there?”
“Good plan. We’ll both buy something for mother.”
Normally, King Ivar would have sailed south down the coast of Zealand and past the southern islands to Hedeby on the mainland coast, but he decided to go north and around Zealand and sail down the coast of Samso Isle to Hjalmar’s bay at the south end of the island. “That is where twelve of your uncles died,” Ivar told Prince Gorm, “killed by another one of your uncles, King Oddi, and his friend, Hjalmar the Brave.”
“The Holmganger of Samso Isle,” Gorm added.
“See the howe upon the beach?” Ivar asked. “Forty men are buried in that howe, killed by your twelve berserker uncles. Further inland there is a howe where those twelve uncles rest.”
“Can we go in and explore?” Gorm asked.
“I didn’t think you’d be interested,” Ivar replied.
“Oh…I love exploring…and I’ve learned all about their Holmganger.”
So, King Ivar had his ships pull into Hjalmar’s Bay and the sailors beached the boats while the two went off exploring. “King Oddi built the howes,” Gorm started, “by turning their ships over the bodies of the men, then he paid local farmers to cover the ships with turf.”
“How did you learn this?”
“I’ve read all the sagas that were written about the Holmganger,” Gorm explained. “King Oddi dragged the twelve oared boat that your brothers sailed in further into the forest and built their howe there, but Hjalmar’s thirty oared ship was too large to drag that far, so he built their men’s’ howe at the edge of the forest with a nice view of the bay.”
“That’s very impressive,” Ivar said.
“I like exploring and I like studying the sagas,” Gorm told his father. As they walked into the forest, they saw the smaller howe of the brothers and Ivar pointed out a section where the howe had been opened up and very poorly closed up again. “I think that is where Hervor, Queen Eyfura’s hand maiden, broke into the howe and stole the famed sword Tyrfingr,” he told his son. “She later used it to slay King Oddi as vengeance for his killing of her father, Angantyr, who rests in this howe.”
“The bite of a poisonous blood-snake,” Gorm began, “under the skull of Faxi.” When Ivar looked surprised, Gorm said, “I have read all the saga versions of Arrow Odd, from the official Kievan saga to the many and varied sagas written by all the drunken skalds of Europe.”
“Yes,” said Ivar. “I call it drunken skald syndrome.”
“I like that,” said Gorm. “Drunken skald syndrome. Danish skalds are a lot harsher on Oddi than Norwegian skalds because whoever is buying their mead is who they are writing for, and Oddi was hated by Danish kings and loved by Norwegian princes.”
“Quite profound,” Ivar said patting young Gorm on the back.
“Should we repair the damage?” Gorm asked.
“What do you mean?”
“We should get some of our men up here to re-turf this broken section. It will discourage grave robbers.”
“That’s a good idea,” Ivar replied. “How do we know that grave robbers haven’t already trashed the howe?”
“While our men are making the repair, we’ll have to go in and check.”
“We can send a few of our men in to check,” Ivar said.
“They’re our relatives, father,” Gorm said. “We should go in. I love exploring. I’ll go in alone if you wish.”
“No,” Ivar said. “You are right. We are their kin. It should be us and only us.”
A work detail was assigned the job of making the repair while the crews prepared supper on the beach. Once the workers had opened up the damaged area, Ivar and Gorm went into the howe entrance and checked the air for odours that could mean gas and then had the workers pass in torches. They had to stoop, but could see twelve sets of bones beneath armour and clothes and in the center they could see the bones of Angantyr, almost a foot longer than the bones of the others. “Angantyr was the tallest of the lot,” Ivar said. “He stood a head taller than Oddi. Only his bones have been disturbed and the sword that Oddi claims to have placed under his back is gone.”
“But there is dust on the floor,” Gorm said. “Those are the footprints of Hervor just in the entrance, but they stop right here where we are. His bones are disturbed, but there are no footprints around the rowing bench that he sleeps upon. It almost looks as if he sat up at his bench and passed the sword out to her, then collapsed back dead again.”
“Let’s get this repair done, have supper and sail on to Fyn and find ourselves a good inn.” And that’s what they did.
Once they got to Hedeby, King Ivar began squaring up with the manager of the Hraes’ Trading station while Gorm shopped for a gift for his mother. There were silks from China, Constantinople and Tmutorokan and Gorm was trying to pick out a colour.
“Leave the silk selection for me,” Ivar shouted from the back of the store. “Buy her something else. Gorm.” And Ivar got back to business squaring up.
Gorm went to the make-up area and selected several mascaras and a perfume. Then he saw square blockish woollen dresses and the expensive ones were dyed bright expensive colours and the cheap ones were plain washed wool. The manager’s wife finished up with a female client and went over to help Gorm. She put one of Gorm’s mascaras back and brought him a better product, then steered him to the fur coats and stoles. “Winter is coming,” she said. “Your girlfriend or wife will want a fur to stay warm under.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend or wife,” Gorm protested. “This is for my mother.”
“Then I have just the thing for you,” she said. She stepped outside the store and called back the girl she had just sold an ermine stole to. “Princess Thyra,” she said. “This is Prince Gorm. He doesn’t have a girlfriend or wife to help him pick out a stole for his mother, Queen Blaeja. Could you model the stole you just purchased for him?”
Princess Thyra was a very pretty young lady and she told the shopkeeper that she would be pleased to model the stole and she took the stole out of her leather shopping bag and put it around her neck and she posed for Gorm. “Your hair is blonde,” Gorm said, “and my mother’s is auburn, so, while ermine contrasts beautifully with your hair, perhaps this sable would contrast better with my mother’s hair,” and he passed Thyra a very expensive sable stole to try on. “Your blonde hair is very beautiful as well,” he added, lest she feel slighted by the comparison. “The sable goes beautifully with your hair as well,” Gorm complimented Thyra. “I’ll take two sables,” he said, “one for my mother and one for Princess Thyra.”
“I can’t take it,” Thyra protested. “My father would kill me!”
But the old shopkeeper put the sable stole into her shopping bag along with the ermine one. She was fast and did not want to miss a sale. She hushed the young girl up and shooshed her out the door and when they were on the sidewalk she told Thyra that Prince Gorm was the son of their King of Denmark, Harde Knute. Thyra was embarrassed that she had missed his connection with Queen Blaeja and she fled down the street and rejoined her family at a corner inn where they were staying.
Back in the Hraes’ store, King Ivar was chiding Gorm about spending money on a sable stole for his mother. “Do you know how many silks I’m going to have to buy for your mother, just to keep up with you?” So, the manager’s old wife took Ivar to the silk section and began showing him some very sensuous silk outfits and told him that Gorm had purchased a sable stole for the girl that had modelled for him as well. “That’s fine,” Ivar said. “I don’t have to compete with things he buys for princesses. Just things he buys for our queen. Besides…I think that was Princess Thyra. I know her father. I owe him a favour or two. And I can see that you are one of the reasons that Hedeby is one of our top selling stations.” The old shopkeeper blushed at the compliment.
“If you are looking for an inn,” she said, “there is a nice one on the corner just down the street.”
King Ivar asked Prince Gorm if he wanted a ship to take him back to Liere or if he wanted to continue on to the Hraes’ station in Jutland. The old shopkeeper encouraged him to go on with his father and Gorm decided to do that. “That inn is just down the street this way?” Ivar asked, pointing west.
“Yes,” the old woman said. “The same direction the young lady went. Please tell them I sent you. They’ll provide you with good food.”
King Ivar and Gorm went down the street to the inn and paid for rooms and had their retinue bring their rowing chests up to their rooms. Ivar told Gorm that he wanted to check out some of the competing trading stores in Hedeby before they retired, so, they stepped out and went shopping some more. While they were gone, Princess Thyra’s family checked out of the inn and resumed their travels. Ivar had Gorm take notes as they shopped. No stations or stores had the range of luxury goods that the Hraes’ station had, but each shop would have one or two products that the Hraes’ station did not, and Gorm wrote down each and every one of them. When they got back to the inn they were exhausted and starving. The old woman at the Hraes’ station had been right about the food and they soon got a good rest as well.
The next morning, they sailed north from Hedeby and went past Fyn then sailed west to the town of Jelling in central Jutland. Ivar and Gorm went to the Hraes’ trading station in the center of town so Ivar could square up business with the manager. While Gorm was shopping for his mother he saw Princess Thyra walk into the store. He walked over to her and she was surprised and happy to see him. “My father runs this station,” she said, welcoming the prince to their store. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m shopping for my mother again,” Gorm said, “while my father squares up with…”
“My father,” Thyra said. “Let’s step out before they see us.” The princess took the prince on a short tour of Jelling and then they returned to the store and Gorm had his father introduce him to Thyra’s father, Prince Thorolf. After the store closed they had supper at Prince Thorolf’s longhall in Jelling, where Gorm met Thyra’s mother. Thyra’s two brothers were out on a Viking raid, so Thyra and Gorm spent the evening talking and walking about town, while Ivar and Thorolf talked business. Thyra’s mother, Princess Anna invited their guests to spend the night in their longhall, so Ivar and Gorm shared a chamber for the night and they talked a lot about the Hraes’ Trading Company. Gorm suddenly took an interest in the business side of things, because Thyra and her family were very involved with the company. Gorm figured if he could impress Prince Thorolf, then Princess Thyra might be impressed as well. But Thyra had been impressed by Gorm from the very beginning, when he bought her a sable stole in Hedeby.
King Ivar wanted to head out early the next morning because he felt a storm coming on. “I can feel it in my shins,” he laughed. With a favourable wind they could make Liere by nightfall, but a favourable wind was not forthcoming. They rowed all day and by evening they were just south off the coast of Samso. Prince Gorm wanted the men to pull into Hjalmar’s Bay, but a full moon came out and howe fires started dancing above the trees around the berserk brothers’ barrow, and the men refused. Once they got past Samso a wind picked up and blew them all the way to Zealand and they beached their ships on the western coast, ran out their awnings and slept in their ships as rain pelted the sailcloth. The next morning, they set out and were in Liere by the afternoon.
Prince Gorm’s newfound interest in Hraes’ company business soon found him sailing off to the Jelling station or sometimes Hedeby if he knew that Princess Thyra would be there. They began dating seriously. If Thyra was going to Hedeby, she would send Gorm a message and meet him there on a certain date and they would always stay at the inn down the street from where they had first met. If Thyra was accompanying her father on business around Zealand, Gorm would usually bump into them, often bearing gifts. Eventually Princess Gorm told his mother that he wished to ask for the hand of Princess Thyra and Queen Blaeja told King Ivar, who then discussed the situation with Prince Thorolf who discussed it with his wife, Princess Anna, who then discussed it with her daughter, Princess Thyra, who consented to such a proposal and the discussions went back up the line to Prince Thorolf and King Ivar to determine a dowry and set a date. The dowry was set at a thousand marks of gold, gold that Thyra would bring into the marriage and gold that she would keep if the marriage faltered, and the date was set for the start of the twelve days of Yulefest, the winter solstice. It was a date known for great fertility and fine omens. And the wedding celebrations would extend throughout the twelve days of Yulefest, from the Yule solstice to Mother’s Night to New Year’s day.
“You should make Gorm king,” Blaeja said to Ivar after some particularly tender lovemaking. “If you are going to leave me, make Gorm king before you go.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Ivar protested.
“If you do leave for Kiev and you leave Gorm a prince of Denmark, he will be killed within a year. Denmark is full of pretenders to the throne, princes who think they have as much right to it as Gorm. If you take the crown of Denmark east with you, the people will say you have died and offer a new crown to Gorm and, when he refuses it because he is your son, they will offer it to others. They will offer it to whoever kills your heir.”
“They wouldn’t dare,” Ivar declared. “They fear King Harde Knute as much as the Anglish fear King Ivar the Boneless.”
“Their longing for a king will overcome their fear. They feared King Frodi ‘the Angantyr’ Fridleifson as much as they fear you and they made King Hiarn ‘the Poet’ their king instead of you. It is the life of royalty: if you leave, your people they will say you are dead. A cup will have been made of your skull, by your enemies, and that is why there is no tomb…if they didn’t respect your head, why would they bury your body.”
“That is just a story,” Ivar waned.
“History is just stories,” Blaeja waxed, “stories of kings whose skulls became cups, encrusted with gold and toasted afar. And the prince who supports such a skull cup king is soon poisoned or stabbed and barrow bound.”
Ivar stroked Blaeja’s cheek. “I’m not leaving you.”
Blaeja persisted in asking Ivar to make Prince Gorm the King of Denmark and often mentioned that it would make a fine wedding gift for their son, but something plagued Ivar about that, a story or a history he had heard about, and it came to him in a dream one night. He and Blaeja had been working hard to ensure the fertility medicine worked and Blaeja collapsed into his arms after riding his steed for hours. As they slept together, entangled in each other, a ghost came to Ivar and it was the ghost of King Leir, an ancient Danish king from eighth century Zealand, the founder of the royal city of Liere. The ghost bemoaned to Ivar that he has no sons. King Leir reigned for sixty years and he has no sons, so the ghost tells Ivar that upon reaching old age he decided to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. “They were always after me to give up my title of King,” the ghost explained. “There was Angleland and Jutland and Zealand going on into Skane, and who should get the biggest share, so I decided to ask my daughters how much they loved me. Goneril and Regan professed emphatic love for me, but Cordelia answered me simply and kindly, so I gave Cordelia no land. I gave Goneril Angleland and Jutland and to Regan I gave Zealand and Skane, all this I gave them to share with their husbands. My beautiful Cordelia ran off and married Aganippus, King of the Franks. Soon Goneril and Regan stripped me of my wealth and my attendants, so I sailed to Frankia and made up with my Cordelia. She replaced my royal robes and my retinue and her husband, Aganippus, raised a Gaulish army for me and I returned to Denmark and took back my crown.”
“You are warning me not to give up my crown,” Ivar said to the ghost.
But the ghost of King Leir just walked away and mumbled, “It’s not over yet!”
Prince Gorm and Princess Thyra were married on the day of the winter solstice, the first day of the twelve days of Yulefest. The timing was perfect. The couple spent the next three days feasting and celebrating and consummating their vows, and on Mother’s Night eve they retired early and worked hard all night long at making Thyra a mother. “Wait fifteen days,” Ivar had told Gorm, “after Thyra’s period ends, then three nights in a row make love with your wife and you’ll have a boy.” Three nights ended on Mother’s Night eve. Then followed Yuletide Day, a day for family sharing followed by a quiet family dinner. The following week was for visiting friends and allies. Owners and managers from all Hraes’ Trading Company stations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and as far away as York and Rouen congregated in Liere to celebrate and bring in the New Year. It was a gathering of the finest merchant minds of the western end of the Hraes’ trade routes that connected Iceland with Cathay and the Arctic Ocean with the Arabian Sea. The Hraes’ Trading Company had grown stronger under the guidance of King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Hraerikson of Denmark than under any other king, including his grandfather, King Frodi ‘Angantyr’ Fridleifson. Business was up, profits were up, the range of products traded was greater than ever and customers ranged from kings to paupers. And in the spring, the Hraes’ merchants were ready to start a new cycle all over again, with thousands of merchant ships sailing east for a trade that was becoming more stable and predictable with each passing season.
When spring first pried a few warm sunny days out of bleak winter, both Queen Blaeja and Princess Thyra found themselves hugging their chamber pots as they threw up into them and Ivar and Gorm congratulated each other on Yuletide successes. Slaver ships from Dublin were the first to arrive in the harbour town of Liere, followed by merchant ships from Rouen and a fleet from York.
“What do you think of your handling the western end of the Hraes’ Trading Company?” Ivar asked his son Gorm. “Your father-in-law, Prince Thorolf, will help you.”
“What will you be doing?” Gorm asked.
“I have to develop our Indian business and tie it into our Silk Road trade. That’s what will be taking us into the future: silks, spices, gold and gemstones.”
“I’ve been helping you with the western end of things since I was a child. I’d be proud to take it over for you.”
“And what do you think about taking over as king of Denmark for me?”
“Thyra would be queen?”
“Yes. And your mother would continue as queen mother.”
“I would be proud and honoured to take over as king.”
So, prior to the Hraes’ merchant fleet heading east, there was a coronation ceremony held for King Gorm and Queen Thyra, attended by all the leading merchants that had spent Yulefest in Liere as well as all the merchant princes in the gathering merchant fleet. The more Scandinavian princes who witnessed and attested to the coronation of King Gorm, the safer his standing as king became. Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ of Kiev kissed Queen Mother Blaeja goodbye and sailed east with the Hraes’ merchant fleet.