Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
THE DEATH OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’ (Circa 944)
Prince Ivar sailed off to Phasis with a third of the war fleet and Prince Hraerik took over the Constanza siege operations in addition to the gold recovery operation. Ivar visited a week with his wife and son in Phasis while the Kievan cataphracts, five thousand men, prepared to head inland. The consul’s wife was pregnant again and hoping for a daughter this time. She was proud of the way she was running the Hraes’ store in Phasis and asked Ivar when she would be able to start up a store in Sinope and if she would be allowed to run both the Phasis and Sinope stores at the same time.
“Yes,” Ivar told her. I want you to manage both stores and a start-up in Trebizond as well if you wish. That should make you the richest consul’s wife in the Eastern Roman Empire.”
“And I love you for it!” She smacked her riding crop on her hand and surveyed Ivar’s naked body on their bed. “You know that!” She was just four months pregnant and fully capable of the rough sex that Ivar seemed to need. The rough sex she was so willing to dispense.
Ivar’s war fleet stopped in at Tiflis to collect up most of the Tmutorokan legion that was stationed there. He left enough legionnaires there to hold the city walls against any large force and they had been storing up provisions all summer against a long siege, should one occur. Once more he bathed in his sulphur springs there and he marvelled at all the tourists that had come there to soak in the spring and cure them of aches and pains and worse. As he was sliding onto his shield to be borne away, he had a passing wish that the springs had the power to grow back legs. But the awe and fear that his four great warriors instilled in the other patrons soon drove that wish away. ‘What would I do with legs,’ he thought, as he strapped Tyrfingr about his waist. ‘Would I be a greater warrior without my famed sword and my infamous battle platform?’
“I think not,” he said, and his men looked up at him and then carried on when no further instructions followed.
The war fleet continued down the Kura River and, as they approached Bardha, they saw a great herd of swine on the open field before the far off city. A few men wanted to kill them and shot some of them with their bows, causing the rest to squeal loudly and run up further on the land. As the fleet beached upon the riverbank, the Hraes’ saw a great army coming down from the land before the city and one man was somewhat ahead of the host and he was waving the Hraes’ legion away. He had a sling and he took a projectile out of a pouch and slung it at Ivar and it landed at his feet. It was an apple, the fruit of healers. He slung another apple and it landed, again, at his feet. Then Ivar decided he wasn’t going to wait for the third apple: “There’s some kind of witchcraft behind this,” he shouted, and he grabbed one of the pig hunter’s bows and he shot an arrow at the apple slinger. The arrow hit the man on the nose and they heard a noise like snapping horn. He flung back his head, and they saw that he wore a hood with a large bird’s beak on it. He screamed loudly and ran back towards the army and suddenly the troops all broke and ran.
The cataphracts had been the first to land, so Ivar told his commanders to chase them down and kill them. “They may have the plague,” Ivar said, “so tell your men to use their lances and not to touch them.” So, the cataphracts set off after them at great speed as Ivar shouted, “And keep your eyes peeled for ambushes!” There was a great slaughter on the field that day and the fleeing troops died by the thousands. They could not run fast, nor long, before they were doubled over in pain and they could not seem to fight back. Ivar’s commanders could see Roman legionary officers amongst their ranks, but the Romans couldn’t put up much of a fight either.
“It’s the plague!” one of Ivar’s commanders rode back and shouted. “I told my men to use spears only and not to dismount for any reason.” As the Hraes’ legions formed up and began marching down the road to the city they could see bodies lying all over the field to the right. Thousands of bodies, tens of thousands of bodies a mile wide and miles long, but the field ran out of bodies before it ran out of miles and soon, they could see the high walls of Bardha off in the distance. As they got closer, they could see tents all around the city walls. There were legionary tents and merchant’s awnings and Ivar told his officers to keep the men away from them. “These weren’t here last spring when we were spying on Bardha. They must be for plague victims, to keep them out of the city. Soon they saw a great crowd of women who were sitting in front of their tents and playing beautiful music. “They are the camp followers of the Romans,” Ivar warned his men, “and they carry the plague. All tents are off limits.”
The front gates to the city were wide open and unattended. The Hraes’ army just marched right in and took over. The streets were empty as were many of the buildings. Ivar took over the satrap’s palace and had his men billet in the empty buildings. Soon a few civilians came out into the streets, but they were all off limits and left free to go about their business. Ivar had his bearers carry him up to the second floor of the palace and they located the satrap’s master suite. They pushed open the double doors and the suite was empty except for a beautiful young girl who was on a small bed in a corner of the huge bedroom. The satrap was long gone and had left one of his concubines behind, likely because she was sick. She was gorgeous, in the Greek sense, with long brown hair, sensuously dark eyes and red pouting lips. She covered her mouth and coughed gently. “Stay in your bed,” Ivar told her in Persian.
Hraerik had gone through the protocols to be followed if plague had indeed afflicted Bardha, as Ivar had suspected. Masks were to be worn, hands were to be washed with strong soaps and fouled surfaces were to be washed or avoided. The healers and medics that were embedded in the Hraes’ legions had been tasked with keeping the troops safe and cloth masks were being made out of fine silk and linen, the absorbent linen to be set between outer layers of fine silk of the type used by the underwater breathers.
Hraerik had servants replace the bedding on the satrap’s large bed and he had them replace the young concubine’s bedding as well. He had food brought in for the girl and, had she not been sick, he would have slept with her too. ‘If she gets better, I think I will,’ he thought.
Some of Ivar’s men had similar ideas and were no match for the charms and enchantments of the Roman camp followers and they snuck out to the tents outside the city walls and laid with them. The next morning, eighteen men were sick with the plague and by the end of the week, lay dead. Ivar ordered their bodies burned along with the thousands who had been slaughtered on the battlefield by the river.
Over the next few weeks, Ivar sent out raiding parties to look for more Romans and to pillage the surrounding countryside, and they found plenty of plunder about. The rich of Bardha had all moved out of the city and into their surrounding estates and, of course, they took their wealth with them. Ivar had sent a ship back to Constanza with a message for his father. He told him that there was plague waning in Bardha and for him not to come and that they were presently raiding to great effect. He asked Hraerik to handle the spring merchant fleet, as he wished to overwinter in Bardha and meet up with it on the way through. And he told him, “Oh yes, we have killed many Romans here.”
The plague was, indeed, waning and the city was returning to normal, but the young girl in Ivar’s bedroom did not seem to be recovering. She kept slowly getting sicker and was soon completely bedridden. She was still very beautiful, thanks to her youth, but she was getting too weak to even cough. One night when Ivar’s bearers had placed him on the satrap’s bed and left, he noticed that the girl had fallen half out of her bed. He tried to call back his men, but they had closed the double doors behind them, so he lowered himself out of the bed and slid across the floor and pushed the girl back up into her bed. He wanted to wash his hands after touching her, but the wash basin was on the other side of the room, so he wiped his hands off on his bedding and climbed back into bed.
Ivar was sleeping in the satrap’s bed and he heard a voice coming from the corner of the room and it was speaking in Anglish. The girl in the corner was calling out to him. “Ivar. Ivar,” she said. “Come, come make love to me,” she said in Anglish and Ivar looked over to the corner and could see by the candlelight that it was Princess Blaeja, Senior, but she looked young and beautiful again. “Come make love to me,” she said again in Anglish. Ivar slid out of bed again and slipped across the floor to Blaeja. She put her hand out and pulled Ivar up into her bed. “Make love to me, Ivar.”
Ivar was naked and he began tearing off Blaeja’s bedclothes. “I’ve missed you so,” he said. “I love you so much,” he swooned deliriously. He entered her and began to thrust in and out as she moaned. He exploded within her and collapsed on top of her and Blaeja whispered gently into his ear, “It’s not over yet!” in Anglish. He panted for a moment then rolled off her. It was the beautiful young girl that he rolled off of, and she was dead. He lurched off of the bed in shock and slid across the floor and sat back against the wall. He shouted for his men and when they came running, he told them to take him out of the room. He was in a sweat and he told them to sound the alarm.
“We have to leave Bardha at once!” he ordered. “Sound the alarm and ready the men!” Soon alarm bells were clanging all over the city in the middle of the night and the troops packed up and were ready to sail as day broke in the east. One of the last officers to leave Bardha went up one of the city towers to gather his maps and he could see the fleet now in the water getting ready to sail and he was about to leave when he saw Roman legions marching in the west. A lot of them. He called one of the commanders up and he pointed them out to him. There were perhaps ten legions coming up the road from the west. They could see catapults already being set up along the riverbank to the west to block off any retreat by ship and there were cataphracts forming up along a ridge.
“It must be General Kourkouas!” the commander said as they packed up their maps and left the tower. They rode out of Bardha and called out to the fleet as they approached the riverbank. “The red cloaks are coming,” they shouted. “The red cloaks are coming.” The war fleet pulled away from the shore and headed east down the Kura. The officers loaded their horses into the last longship out.
General Kourkouas watched from the ridge and cursed vehemently in Latin.
Once Ivar’s war fleet reached the Caspian, they headed north up the coast to the Kuma River estuary and the Khazar fortress there. It had been built to block off Hraes’ access to the Caspian and was the cause of the Hraes’ building of the Rioni-Kura portage route. Ivar said, “I’ve taken sick, and I see that it will be the death of me, and I’ll be the last of our men to die from the plague. But, before I go, we’ll battle our way through the Khazars here and I’d like to see Queen Silkisif one last time before I die.”
Ivar formed up his legions before the fortress, one on his left and another on his right with his cataphracts on the flanks and his battle platform in the vanguard, dead center. The Khazars sent forth a matching force and the clash began. Ivar pressed forward and found a seam between the Khazar forces and began to drive through the shield wall using mighty strokes from Tyrfingr and felling all enemy before him. As his warriors carried him forward, deep into the enemy vanguard, Ivar suddenly stopped swinging Tyrfingr and the famed blade tumbled from his fingers. Ivar pitched forward and fell from his shield on the ground among his enemies. They reeled back and away from Ivar as he laid upon the ground, dying.
He cried, “Hervor, Hervor,” but the Khazars around him didn’t understand. His bearers stood before him and stopped fighting. The Khazars stood still as well. Ivar was calling out for his mother and his mind went back to the slave quarters in Kiev, when he was raping her. This time he knew it was his mother he was raping and he drove deep inside her, thrusting hard and slow, deeper and deeper, trying to return to her womb and the bliss he knew as her baby. He exploded inside her and sighed, “Hervor”, one more time, then died. He walked by the Christian heaven and he saw his Uncle Rollo there with Gunwar and they waved at him as he walked past and he realized that he had his legs back. Then he walked by Valhall with a noticeable spring in his step and he saw a great many doors there and great stands and an arena for entertainment. He saw Achilles battling Hector on the sands once more and he saw a great many other heroes watching from the spacious stands and quaffing ales and enjoying many other pleasures. He saw his grandfather, Hraegunar Lothbrok, surrounded by Valkyries, and he saw his twelve half-brothers there and he saw Oddi and Hervor waiting for him to join them. Hervor offered Ivar wine and a chair and sat back down between the two sons of Hraerik Bragi. To one she had given life and to the other she had delivered death.
“We didn’t kill him,” the Khazar commander shouted to the Hraes’ officers. “He bears no wounds.”
Biorn stepped forward and said, “Leave us go through in peace and we’ll attest to that. He had the plague.” Biorn used the butt of his spear to flip Ivar’s body onto his shield and his bearers picked the shield up as Ivar lay on his back with his arms dangling out over the edges.
“Take his sword,” the grizzled old Khazar commander said, picking up Tyrfingr by the bloody blade and placing it upon the shield beside him. “Our Kagan saw this sword once and ordered Prince Hlod to return it to the Hraes’. He refused and died in battle soon after.”
“There may be Romans after us,” Biorn warned him.
“Good. We’ll kill them for you,” the old Khazar said. “They are slaughtering all our fellow Jews in Constantinople, just as they crucified your fellow Christian Varangians. Go in peace and tell all we didn’t kill your prince.”
Biorn led the war fleet up the Kuma River and the old portage to the Kuban. There were still a few horses there and some personnel who made a living portaging a few scattered traders across, but all the gear was still there, the wains, the ropes and the grease. They used the heavy horse of the cataphracts to draw the ship laden wains along and they slid the longships into the Kuban River.
While they were portaging the ships, they prepared Ivar’s body with care and laid him in a casket, then continued on their way and landed at the city of Tmutorokan and told Queen Silkisif that it was Ivar’s dying wish to visit her one last time before he left this earth. Queen Silkisif told them that she carried his child and that she wanted to bury him in a Pagan grove inside the city. Biorn told her he had died of the plague and his body should be burned in a stone boat burial in Kiev, but she insisted that they give her the body. “They burned my Oddi in a stone boat burial in Kiev, without consulting with me. Now give me my Ivar!” Biorn turned Ivar’s body over to her, then left and went to Gardariki to tell Prince Hraerik what had happened. Silkisif had Ivar borne into the city with great honour and prepared him for burial with costly unguents.
“Let me deal with Silkisif,” Prince Hraerik told Biorn. “Tell everyone that you burned his body on the Kuban River and I shall make sure it is done.”
Biorn left the Tmutorokan legion in Hraerik’s care and sailed off to Kiev with the rest of the war fleet. He did not look forward to going there with the news he bore, but spring trading would be starting soon and Ivar had been a big part of that effort. Prince Hraerik took the Tmutorokan legion back to the city of Tmutorokan and gave Silkisif a big hug and she cried into his chest for a long while. “I’m not giving him up to you,” she whispered into his shirt.
“I know,” he replied. “Just be careful with his body. It could carry the plague for years. I’ve already instructed Biorn to say his body was burned on the Kuban and I told him I’d see to it that it was done, so he doesn’t have to lie like I will be. Let’s have some wine together. We’ll bury him tomorrow.”
They drank wine together in her hall and she cried the whole time so, Hraerik grabbed a bottle of wine and some goblets and took her up to her suite and they drank some more. When Silkisif was drunk and started nodding off, he took her to her bed and undressed her. He admired her beauty for a moment, then laid her down on her bed and covered her up. He went over to the other side of the bed, unstrapped Tyrfingr and undressed himself. He considered putting Tyrfingr in the bed between them and shook his head. He was well beyond requiring that kind of youthful chivalry. He laid in bed next to Silkisif and he took her in his arms and she slept in the crook of his arm and cried on his shoulder. When she woke up in the morning, she asked him if they had gone too far.
“Too far to go back to how we were before,” he lied. “Do you want to go back to where we were before?”
“If we could go back to where we were before, I still wouldn’t want to. I have always needed you and now I need you more than ever,” and she rubbed her swollen belly. Hraerik tucked her back into his arm and said, “I need you more than ever now, too.”
Prince Hraerik and Queen Silkisif quietly buried Ivar in a secluded corner of a Pagan grove and Hraerik made love to her that evening when she was sober and they shared each other’s sadness and helped refill each other’s hearts and Hraerik spent a week in Tmutorokan with her. When he was getting ready to return to Gardariki, she told him that she felt guilty keeping Ivar all to herself.
“We can’t even give up a part of his body for burial in Kiev,” Hraerik told her. “He died of the plague. His body would have to be burned.”
“Still, I feel terrible about it.”
“I’m glad we have Ivar here in Tmutorokan with us. But perhaps there is something I can do to make everybody feel better.” And he told Silkisif about his plan.
“That is why I love you,” she said. “That is why I have always loved you.”
Prince Hraerik took a large fleet of ships, a legion of troops, a legion of cataphracts and some chests of gold up the Kuban River. They portaged to the Kuma and sailed down it and approached the estuary. A huge Khazar army came out to meet them. Hraerik had a white shield mounted at the top of his shieldship and he met with the grizzled old Khazar commander. “I’m Prince Hraerik,” he said, “Prince Ivar’s father.”
“I know who you are, Prince,” the commander said, bowing respectfully. “All Khazars know who you are. If they don’t, I teach them.”
“I studied my son’s body and have determined that he, indeed, died of the plague. I shall ensure it is written so in our family sagas.”
“Thank you. It will help make sure there are no misunderstandings.”
“I would like to help you seek revenge on the Romans for what Emperor Romanos is doing to your Jewish brothers in Constantinople. The Romans attacked my son in Bardha, causing him to withdraw from the city while he was sick with the plague. This is what resulted in his death. I have six chests of gold, six thousand marks, that I will pay you if you crush the Roman army in Bardha if it is still there. I have a fleet to take you there quickly and I have a legion of foot and a legion of cataphracts that shall remain in reserve at your disposal. I shall accompany you and your army to observe only. We must not be involved in this battle unless it is absolutely necessary. Does this offer work for you?”
“Yes, Prince. It does.”
The Hraes’ fleet took the Khazars down the Caspian to the Kura River and Bardha, where the Jewish Khazars crushed the Roman legions of General Kourkouas, but the general had already left for the Levant a few days prior. He was soon joined by the fleeing remnants of his army. There would be hell to pay at the Imperial palace in Constantinople. Kourkouas had diverted ten legions to Bardha from the army of the Levant without clearing it with the Emperor, and Emperor Romanos was already suspicious of the general’s motives in Armenia. Heads would roll, and it could go all the way up to Romanos. Ten legions. Half of their legionnaires had escaped, but most of their eagles were left in Bardha.
It was early spring when Hraerik went to Kiev, still well before the arrival of the spring merchant fleet. Helga was waiting for him on the main quay of Kiev and she had baby Svein in her arms. He hugged them both and carried Svein as they walked into Kiev and King Frodi’s palace. After lunch they tried to work on requirements for the upcoming trading season, but talk always worked its way back to Ivar.
“I just wish we had a body or even ashes to bury here in Kiev. Just a part of him like King Frodi, a part to bury next to his grandfather.”
“He died of the plague. No part of his body would ever be safe. It had to be burned. But perhaps there is a part of his body that is safe, that has never been exposed to the plague.”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Helga said.
“When is the last time you and I visited Chernigov together?”
“Why it hasn’t been since…,” and she smiled slightly. “Shall we go tomorrow?”
Hraerik and Helga took a carriage and armed escort to Chernigov and they visited a small Pagan grove and cemetery at the edge of town. Some workers dug up a gravesite and hauled up a wooden casket that was well worn with age. In it, they had buried Ivar’s errant legs. After the medics had saved Ivar’s life, his troops went out and searched the woods for his legs and brought them back into the town. While Ivar was recovering in Kiev, Hraerik and Eyfura and Helga went back to Chernigov and had a little burial ceremony for his legs. It was sometimes customary for princes who lost limbs in battle to have them buried with great ceremony, as if the prince himself had died in battle, and the limbs often ended up being buried more ceremoniously than the prince’s body if he had fallen out of favour.
“We should bury one leg next to King Frodi in Kiev,” Hraerik suggested, “and the other next to King Frodi in Denmark, as King Frodi was buried. He was parted out.”
Hraerik was surprised when Helga thought it was a great idea. She told him that sending out parts of Ivar would explain why they didn’t have all of Ivar. “We should part out some of his leg to Sweden and Norway, as well. Perhaps even Normandy. He has cousins there and they’re even forgetting how to speak Danish there, everything is Frank there, French this and French that! Focking Christians!” she said. “They’re taking over the world!”
“Yes, that is a great idea! I’ll go visit William in Normandy. It’ll give me a reason to visit.”
“William died two years ago,” Helga reminded him.
“Oh…yes! I’ll go visit young Richard.”
Helga knew that Hraerik would be going to Denmark to console Ivar’s Christian wife as well. “Say hello to Queen Mother Blaeja for me,” was her grudging request.
“We’ll have to hire a man to keep track of all this,” Hraerik said. “We have a company book of stores and their managers, but we should set up a book for all our relatives in Normandy and Ireland and Angleland…”
“And Norway and Sweden and Denmark,” Helga said.
“And now Iceland,” Hraerik added. “And,” he thought, “Phasis and Baghdad and Gujarat and Maharashtra.”
“I’ll be coming back with the spring fleet,” Hraerik told Helga once they had completed the planning in Kiev. He sailed north from Kiev with a dozen warships and a cargo of one leg. He had been out of touch with the north and did not want any surprises.
Prince Hraerik visited the Hraes’ station in Birka and the Swedish King Halfdan in Uppsala, where he left a bit of leg, then he visited Queen Mother Blaeja and King Gorm the Old and Queen Thyra and their sons, Prince Knute and young Prince Harald in Liere, where he left a lot of leg, and he visited Thyra’s parents in Jelling before setting off for Norway. In Northmore he met up with Arne and in Southmore, Lagertha and her children and he saw a bit of Ivar in the son of a local Chieftain of Trondheim. In Angleland Hraerik visited York, and Princess Hraegunhild and her family there. In Ireland he visited Hraegunhild and her family in Dublin and in Waterford he visited the Ui Imair and there were a lot of them from the line of Lothbrok.
In Normandy, Hraerik visited Duke Richard, the great grandson of his brother, Hraelauger, or Duke Rollo as he was known there, but Hraerik’s French was better than Richard’s Danish so they conversed mostly in the French. The Franks no longer spoke Frankish and the Normans no longer spoke Norse. They all spoke French, which was a Romance language, the Roman tongue, which Hraerik had also learned to speak. People read Latin, but didn’t speak it, Hraerik had told Ivar in Ashaval, when he was learning Sanskrit from Myia, but he had generalized it. There were still people in the Eastern Roman Empire who spoke Latin. They discussed their laws in Latin and the Emperors all discussed strategies in Latin. It was exclusionary. Property of the Porphyrogeniti. And Hraerik had been taught it by the Emperor Theophilos, himself, while locked up in the dungeons of Constantinople.
Prince Hraerik visited his son, Baldwin, in Flanders and they talked about his mother, the Nun who had been saved by the Viking, and they laughed. They knew Sister Saint Charles and also knew that she needed saving from no one. When he returned to King Gorm in Denmark, he had time to visit the sons of Maharaja Rajan, in Jelling, and in Liere. And he plied their mothers with gifts of gold and jobs and titles. Just how generous Hraerik had become on meeting Raj’s sons, made him suddenly realize what a good friend the Maharaja had become. He joined the spring merchant fleet in Liere and he headed off for India, with a few planned stops along the way, and no unplanned ones. It’s the unplanned ones that kill you.
His first stop was in Kiev, where he helped Princess Helga organize the Hraes’ velum passes for the various trading groups and their destinations, as well as collecting the tithes for the trading. Baby Svein was doing well and was being doted over by his older sister, Alfhild.
His next stop was in Tmutorokan, where he visited with Queen Silkisif and upped their doses of his Alchemists’ drug using the portions Ivar and Helga were consuming to bolster both Silkisif’s and his own share. He would be needing it, he thought, if he was going to keep up with the pace Ivar had set for himself over the years. He was a driven man. “I have a book for you,” Hraerik said, “but it’s not finished. I’m translating the Kama Sutra from Sanskrit into Norse.”
Silkisif began reading it and asked, “Will you be providing pictures?”
“That’s a great idea!” Hraerik said. “I wish I had Ivar’s artistic talents.”
“It’s going to be hard to follow these positions without pictures,” she said.
“I’ll teach you the positions,” Hraerik offered. “You just have to bone up on this section,” and he turned to the pages on Nominal Congress and Congress of the Crows. “It helps me bone up.”
“I like step six,” she replied.
“You’re going to like it a lot more when I do it on you!”
Hraerik spent a week with Silkisif in Tmutorokan and, thanks to the Congress of Crows, they made it through the first twelve pages of the translation. The Prince knew a lot of Ivar’s artistic friends in Kiev, so he made a mental note to add drawings and paintings to his translation. Myia had artist friends in Maharashtra as well, he thought.
His third stop was Phasis, and he just caught up with the tail end of the merchant fleet by the time he arrived. He made it there in time for the birth of Ivar’s daughter by the consul’s wife. He consoled her and plied her with gifts and gold and reassured her that Ivar had told him their plans about the Sinope and Trebizond start-ups. She asked him to stay longer in Phasis. “I have to catch up with the rest of the fleet,” Hraerik explained. “I’ll spend more time here on the way back,” he promised. He felt it was important to keep her well within the family fold. She now had two of Ivar’s children and he could see that they were unmistakably his. He did not want her returning to the Romans, so her success with Hraes’ stores was suddenly a priority. And the Phasis store was well organized and surprisingly well run. Not so surprising, he reminded himself…she was, after all, Roman and they were known for their efficiency.
The fourth stop was Tiflis, but that was short, just a quick inspection of the store and a soak in Ivar’s hot spring. He stayed overnight in the inn he had shared with Ivar and he missed his son and he felt so alone on this trade mission without him.
The fifth stop was Bardha. He had watched the Khazars beat the Romans outside the city and he watched from a distance as the Byzantines were driven from the field, but he didn’t enter the city. This time he inspected the city of Bardha to see how much damage the Khazars had done there. But they were saved from much of the ravages and pillaging of a city being sacked because they had just had a plague there. The Khazar troops were afraid to enter the city. They had seen firsthand what the plague did to Prince Ivar. They had all seen him fall from his shield, even the ones who hadn’t. Hraerik talked with the city elders about starting a store in Bardha and he cited the successes of the Tiflis trade merchants since the Hraes’ store was established there. But it was too soon. The city was still reeling. Struck by a plague carried in by the Roman trainers from the Levant legions, then sacked by Varangians who slaughtered their plague ridden home militia and their Roman officers. They had even killed their Indian elephant, a gift from some Maharaja. Then recaptured by Armenian Roman legions only to be sacked again by an army of Khazars. Hraerik left them his offer and had a distinct feeling that somehow, someway, Ivar would have closed the deal.
The sixth stop found him in Baghdad being consoled by the Caliph who blamed the Roman intruders for the death of a king and a trading magnate. Hraerik was comforted by both Roxanna and Saleem and was glad to have them help keep the grief he had felt in Tiflis at bay. He found that he really needed them.
The seventh stop was Ashaval, in the province of Gujarat, and Hraerik met Rajan there. “I’m sorry,” Raj apologized. “I just couldn’t go to Baghdad knowing Ivar would not be there to meet me.”
“I know what you mean,” Hraerik replied. “It took both Saleem and Roxanna to keep me on an even keel there.” They were sitting on the balcony of Ivar’s suite in the palace. “Now that I’m here, I’m going to throw myself into my work here for two weeks, then I’ll meet Myia in Mumba for two weeks and come back here for two weeks and bounce between stations all summer.”
“Would you like,” Raj started, “would you like one princess while you are in Gujarat? Just for the company?”
“No thanks, my friend,” the Prince replied. “I’ll need the usual two princesses, if at all possible.”
“It is our pleasure,” Rajan assured him. For hours they talked and then there was a gentle knock at the door and Raj let himself out as he let the two young Jat princesses in.
The eighth stop was in Hraerik’s heavenly city of Mumba, in Maharashtra province.
“How was spring trading?” Myia asked, hugging Hraerik warmly. Thank you for sending a messenger with the news.” She was staying at her parents’ estate on the bay. “I’m so sorry for your loss!”
Hraerik could feel her swollen belly as they hugged and he kissed her, then knelt down and kissed her belly. “We have to stop meeting like this.”
“Our two young acolytes have already given birth to their boys,” Myia announced. “I’m still a week off.” She took Hraerik into the nursery and they visited the girls and their sons. Soon Myia’s parents joined them and they were carrying baby Kura with them and it was evident that they were very proud of the little Aesir cluster they were developing in Mumba. A week later, as predicted, Myia gave birth to a baby boy as well and they named him Eyfur.
Prince Hraerik spent the summer sailing between the City of Seven Islands, Mumba, and the first city of the Jats, Ashaval, and spent time with his babies and with the young children of his son, Ivar. The children seemed so numerous last year, but with their father now gone, it was comforting to have so many about. Soon the summer was waning and in his last two weeks in Mumba, Princess Myia had another favour to ask of him. “I would like you to marry my younger sister, Mahara, if it pleases you?” she asked. “She loves you as family and she is almost as pretty as I am.”
“No one is almost as pretty as you, Myia,” Hraerik said. “Does she want to go to the university as well?”
“No,” Myia answered. “She wants children and thinks you are a great father. I am your Aesir wife, but she would be your Hindu wife.”
“And how do my university wives feel about it?”
“They support the idea,” Myia said.
“And your parents?”
“They love the idea.”
“How many children does Mahara want to have?”
“At least twelve,” Myia said. “I know I am asking a lot.”
“I have spent time with Ivar’s children in Gujarat, and he has a lot. Twelve is not that many. I would be happy to marry Mahara, but only if it pleases you.”
“Yes, it pleases me!” Myia said, hugging him. “Now we must get back to the book,” she said. “I’ve found a position that is most recommended for first night. We should practice it.”
Prince Hraerik learned that he must get married right away if the newlyweds are to try for a boy. So that is what they did.
Prince Hraerik retraced his steps back north and spent a week in Gujarat, then a week in Baghdad and two weeks in Phasis, where he went to great pains to keep his new Roman wife within the family fold. In Tmutorokan, Silkisif had just given birth to a baby girl by Ivar and she promised to work on his translation of the book when he got back from Kiev, so he carried on to Kiev and helped Princess Helga close out the trading season. It was strictly business with Helga. She was Ivar’s wife and always would be. But books had to be balanced and Indian zeros incorporated and Indian negative numbers used for stores suffering from conflicts and famines. Then Kievan legions had to be released to Prince Hraerik’s command in an upcoming attack upon the Romans and warships that stayed to fight had to be equipped and paid. And there were many of them and more coming from the north. Prince Hraerik’s quick circuit through the allied kingdoms of the northern lands the previous spring had paid dividends. Helga agreed to send the gathering fleet south in two weeks to meet the Tmutorokan fleet at Cherson.
“I have a week off to spend with you, and only you,” Hraerik told Silkisif once he got back to Tmutorokan. “Where were we on the book?”
“I was to study the Nominal Congress and the Congress of Crows,” she answered. “It took a while to get over the gagging reflex, but I think I have it under control.”