Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
PRINCE IVAR AND PRINCESS HELGA (Circa 914 AD)
“I still love your father,” Queen Eyfura told her son, Ivar. “He rules in Gardariki and we rule here in Kiev, as queen and royal regent. Your father is a prince, but you are the grandson of a king. You, too, will be king. It is in your blood.”
“But will father ever join us here?” Prince Ivar asked.
“He will come to Kiev when he is ready,” Eyfura answered. “He thinks Kiev is haunted by the memories of your grandmother, Queen Alfhild. She died here.” Queen Eyfura did not tell her regent son how her mother had died. No one ever talked of that.
“Father will never join us here,” Ivar exclaimed. “And Oddi will never join us again,” he complained. “And Hervor will never…” He set his jaw and shook his head. They were Hraes’, Varangians….Way Wanderers, masters of the Nor`Way and of the Southern Way….the Dan’Way.
“You’ll lead the troops for the first time tomorrow,” his mother started, “and gather tribute from the Poljane, Drevjane and Radimichi. You have the lists for the required slaves, furs, honey and grain. If they are short on tribute, they must be harshly dealt with. Your lieutenants will help you with that. The slaves may be short. Prince Oddi was negligent in collecting the slave tribute. Other goods may be substituted until the practice is fully reinstated.”
Prince Ivar led his troops to the city of Chernigov, a day’s ride north of Kiev, to collect tribute from the Drevjane Slavs who had founded the town. As he was leading his horsemen down the main street, he saw a local Hraes’ princess walking along the sidewalk. She was tall and lithe with long flowing blonde hair and she reminded the prince of Hervor. He learned from one of his men that her name was Helga and her father was a merchant prince from Sweden, so he had her invited to the Hraes’ palace in the town. She fell in love with the prince that night and the inseparable couple were soon married. Late fall in Kiev brought the arrival of a daughter to the royal couple, Princess Alfhild, named after Ivar’s great grandmother. Prince Ivar invited his father to her pagan sprinkling, for Princess Helga was a follower of Freyja and she wanted her son raised in the Aesir faith. Prince Hraerik suggested that perhaps young Princess Alfhild should be sprinkled with water in Tmutorokhan.
“You shall have to overcome your fear of Alfhild’s ghost in Kiev,” Prince Ivar admonished his father, “especially now that your grand-daughter is named after her.”
So little Princess Alfhild was sprinkled with water in the Temple of Freyja at the Grove of the Aesir in Kiev. The ceremony was small and very private in a small wooden temple amongst the oaks of the Aesir and other larger temples dedicated to Odin and Thor and Tyr and many other lesser gods of the Norse pantheon, for Freyja was a goddess of the Vanir who had joined the Aesir, leaving the southern pantheon.
Once Prince Hraerik had left for Gardariki, a Swedish King named Halfdan arrived in Kiev seeking the aid of Prince Ivar and Princess Helga. He was the son of the late King Erik of Sweden, son of King Bjorn of the Barrows, the skaldic king who had spared the life of Prince Ivar’s father many years ago. He had come seeking support in his struggle against twelve Norwegian berserk brothers who were continually attacking his Swedish realm. His father, King Erik, had been a brother of Princess Helga’s father, making them cousins of a sort, so Prince Ivar, eager to experience his first engagement, agreed to lead a force against the Norwegians even though his father was originally from the Nor’Way. He was also a former King of Sweden, Ivar rationalized.
Prince Ivar assembled a fleet of fifty ships and joined King Halfdan’s fleet of thirty ships and they sailed up the Dnieper and down the Dvina and across the Baltic to Uppsala in Sweden. But one of Prince Ivar’s ships slipped away on the way and headed for Denmark. Marching across Sweden, the large army soon had the allies of the Norwegian brothers fleeing back to the Vik, but the twelve Berserks were securely holed up in a castle on a rock in the middle of a raging river that could only be accessed via a drawbridge which they controlled from the castle. The brothers were excellent warriors supported by their own personal retinue and were confident they could hold their small stronghold against any number of foes.
These warriors were of valiant temper, young and stalwart, of splendid bodily presence, renowned for victories over giants, full of trophies of conquered nations, and wealthy with spoil. The names of some of them were recorded as follows, but the rest have perished in antiquity: Gerbiorn, Gunbiorn, Arinbiorn, Stenbiorn, Esbiorn, Thorbiorn, and Biorn, who was said to have had a horse which was splendid and of exceeding speed, so that when all the rest were powerless to cross the river it alone stemmed the roaring eddy without weariness. The rapids came down in so swift and sheer a volume that animals often lost all power of swimming in it, and perished. For, trickling from the topmost crests of the hills, it came down the steep sides, caught on the rocks, and was shattered, falling into the deep valleys with a manifold clamour of waters; but, being straightway rebuffed by the rocks that bar the way, it kept the speed of its current ever at the same rushing pace, and so, along the whole length of the channel, the waves were one turbid mass, and the white foam brimmed over everywhere. But after rolling out of the narrows between the rocks, it spread abroad in a slacker and stiller flood, and turned into an island the rock that supported the brothers’ fortress. On either side of the rock jutted out a sheer ridge, thick with fir trees, that screened the river from distant view. Biorn also had a dog of extraordinary fierceness, a terribly vicious brute, dangerous for people to live with, which had often singly destroyed men by the dozens. Biorn stole the dog from the giant Offot, who had used it to watch his herds amid pastures in Giantland.
Now these warriors, who had often pillaged the neighbourhood, plundering houses, cutting down cattle, sacking everything, making great hauls of booty, rifling rans, then burning them, massacring males and females indiscriminately, were caught off-guard while on a reckless raid, and Prince Ivar, King Halfdan and a large cavalry force drove them in battle back into their stronghold; and managed to seize Biorn’s immensely powerful horse, left behind in the haste of retreat. That night back in camp, while celebrating their small victory, Prince Ivar proclaimed that he would pay the weight of the dead body in gold to any man who slew one of those brothers. The hope of the prize stimulated some of the champions to go secretly the next day to the prince and promise to attempt the task, vowing to sacrifice their lives if they did not bring home the severed heads of the berserks. Prince Ivar praised their valour and their vows, but bid them wait, and went that night to the river with a single companion, a slave. For, not to seem better provided with other men’s valour than with his own, he determined to forestall their aid by his own courage. Thereupon he crushed and killed his companion with a stone and flung his bloodless corpse into the waves, having dressed it in his own clothes; which he stripped off, borrowing the cast-off garb of the other, so that when the corpse was seen it might look as if the prince had perished. He further deliberately drew blood from his horse, on which the slave had ridden, and bespattered it, so that when it returned back to camp he might make them think he himself was dead. Then he set spur to Biorn’s great horse and drove it into the midst of the eddies, crossed the river and alighted, and tried to climb over the rampart that screened the stronghold by steps set up against the mound. When he got over the top and could grasp the battlements with his hand, he quietly put his foot inside, and, without the knowledge of the watch, went lightly on tiptoe to the house into which the bandits had gone to carouse. And when he had reached its hall, he sat down under the porch overhanging the door. Now the strength of their fastness made the warriors feel so safe that they were tempted to a debauch; for they thought that the swiftly rushing river made their garrison inaccessible, since it seemed impossible either to swim over or to cross in boats, for no part of the river allowed fording.
Biorn, moved by the revel, said that in his sleep he had seen a beast come out of the waters, which spouted ghastly fire from its mouth, enveloping everything in a sheet of flame. Therefore the holes and corners of the island should, he said, be searched; nor ought they to trust so much to their position, as rashly to let overweening confidence bring them to utter ruin. No situation was so strong that the mere protection of nature was enough for it without human effort. Moreover they must take great care that the warning of his slumbers was not followed by a yet more gloomy and disastrous fulfilment. So they all sallied forth from the stronghold, and narrowly scanned the whole circuit of the island; and finding Biorn’s horse they surmised that Prince Ivar had been drowned in the waters of the river. They received the horse within the gates with great rejoicing, supposing that it had flung off its rider and swum over. But Biorn, still troubled with the memory of his vision, advised them to keep watch, since it was not safe for them yet to put aside suspicion of danger. Then he went to his room to rest, with the memory of his vision deeply stored in his heart.
Meanwhile the horse which Prince Ivar had besprinkled with blood, burst all bedabbled into the camp of his soldiers. They went straight to the river, and finding the carcase of the slave, took it for the body of the prince; the hissing eddies having cast it on the bank, dressed in royal attire. Nothing helped their mistake so much as the swelling of the battered body; inasmuch as the skin was torn and bruised by the rapids, so that all the features were blotted out, bloodless and wan. This exasperated the champions who had just promised their prince to see that the robbers were extirpated: and they approached the perilous torrent, that they might not seem to tarnish the honour of their promise by a craven neglect of their vow. The rest imitated their boldness, and with equal ardour went to the river, ready to avenge their prince or to endure the worst.
When Ivar saw them, he hastened to lower the bridge to the mainland; and when his champions joined him, they cut down the watch in their initial attack. Prince Ivar went on to attack the rest and put them to the sword, all save Biorn; whom he tended to very carefully and cured of his wounds; whereupon, under pledge of solemn oath, he made him his colleague, thinking it better to use his services than to boast of his death. He also declared it would be shameful if such a flower of bravery were plucked in his first youth and perished by an untimely death.
Back in Uppsala, Prince Ivar met up with the captain of the ship he had sent onwards to Denmark. The captain informed him that he had learned that a King Hiarn now ruled Denmark, the kingdom of Ivar’s grandfather, King Frodi. And all the people of Denmark had elected him king, thinking the line of Frodi had ended with the death of King Alf at the hands of Arrow Odd. “King Hiarn would not likely be giving back his title without a battle,” the captain added, “and that might require a fleet of more than fifty ships.”
Prince Ivar broached the idea of his reclaiming the Danish crown with King Halfdan of Sweden and Halfdan replied, “I have heard of this Hiarn and he is quite the commoner. Being the grandson of King Frodi, your rights to the realm should certainly take precedence and I will support your effort to that end with a hundred ships. My grandfather, King Bjorn of the Barrows, named my father, King Erik, after your father, Hraerik Bragi, and my family has always been supportive of the Hraes’ Trading Company and now that you have married my cousin, Princess Helga, we are blood.”
When Prince Ivar returned to Kiev, he told his mother all about King Hiarn and reminded her that she could no longer call herself Queen Eyfura, as Hiarn’s wife now held that title. This started in motion a movement to support Prince Eyfur in the taking back of the Danish crown. Princess Eyfura reasoned that if Prince Eyfur became king and Princess Helga became queen, at least she would be queen mother. But Prince Ivar would soon have other plans.