Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

Pecheneg Warrior



            The Pechenegs came from the east, from beyond the Khazar Empire, and the Khazars sent emissaries to Prince Hraerik of Gardariki and Queen Silkisif of Tmutorokan warning them of their coming.  “They are numerous beyond numbers,” the Hun envoys claimed, “and they are as fierce as Atli himself.”

Prince Hraerik sent messengers to Kiev to warn his son, Prince Ivar, of their coming and then he gathered his forces and awaited them on the Don Heath.  Hraerik sat at the head of his five thousand cavalry, a thousand light horse consisting of scouts and skirmishers on fast quarter horses, a thousand regulars with lances and bows and heavier horse and three thousand Roman equipped cataphracts, heavily armoured knights and heavy draft horse, who sat in front of his hollow square of twelve thousand Norse equipped foot soldiers.  The hollow square had three thousand men on each side, protecting a baggage train and cavalry command operations in the center, But the Prince wanted his Roman cataphracts front and center and on display as a vaster array of perhaps twenty thousand Turkic horsemen passed by just north of them heading west.  In amongst the warriors could be seen horse drawn carts and wagons carrying women and children.  Round earth mounded steppe forts had been built over the years that were a day’s journey apart , and Prince Hraerik had provisioned the forts with water, food and fodder that was offered to the Pechenegs as they progressed in their migration.  Hraerik led his force well behind the Pechenegs across the great steppe between the Don and Dnieper Rivers until they met up with Prince Ivar’s force that sat at the Dnieper Rapids just north of the Pecheneg migration path.

“You’ve provisioned the steppe forts west as I requested?” was the first thing Hraerik asked his son as the two armies met on a plain south of the rapids.

“Yes,” Ivar answered.  “And at great expense.  I don’t see why we don’t just attack them and drive them back east.”

“Do you trust the Khazars?” the Prince asked.

“No.  Of course not.”

“And you watched the composition of the tribe as it passed?” the Prince asked further.

“Of course.” Ivar answered.  “A vast array of warriors surrounding the carts of their women and children.  Just as one would expect from a migrating horde.”

“Did you happen to notice that the carts looked more like a baggage train, that the women looked more like camp followers and that none of the children were under twelve years of age?”

“Maybe the younger children were being kept in the carts.  They were covered wains, you know.”

“Or maybe this is a scout army for a far larger horde?”

“Like your dreams?” Ivar asked.  “Is this the spear odd of the vast horde you saw in your dreams?  The one that crushes us?”

“No,” the Prince answered.  “That happens long after you and I leave this earth.  But why would the Khazars warn us of their coming?  Perhaps to give us time to prepare to attack them?  It makes no sense.”

“What should we do?”

“I have my best language experts stationed at the steppe forts to learn their language as they passed out supplies.  And we even managed to embed a few guides that rode along with the horde between forts to learn as much about them as possible.  They speak a form of Oguzz Turk that no one has heard before.  They are following the path of the Magyar horde that migrated through here in King Frodi’s time.  They may have learned how well the Magyars are doing on their Zungarian plain west of us and they seek to emulate them.  I think they mean to settle here on this plain south of the Dnieper.”

“That will impact the Dan’Way!” Prince Ivar shouted.  “We have to attack them!”

“We have to see how great this horde actually is first.  I’ve always known this plain wasn’t going to sit idle forever.  We’re lucky it has been left empty as long as it has.  We may have to work with them.  Use them against the Romans, the Bulgars, even the Khazars themselves.  This plain won’t stay empty forever and if we can work with these people we should and if we can’t, we shall drive them back or further west.  But let’s see if we can work with them first.  If we destroy them and another horde follows, the new group may be worse.  The future horde I saw in my dreams were nothing but rapists and murderers and nobody will be able to work with them.  They shall subjugate all great empires that lay before them at the cost of millions of lives and shall only be stopped by their own inherent evil.”

Ivar shook his head in disbelief.  “That is why we call you ‘The Prince’, father,” Ivar said.  “I shall follow your advice in this matter to the letter.  I sense great danger here and I think you are correct in that it emanates from the Khazars.”

“Thank you, as always.  We must handle this correctly or we shall pay dearly.”  Prince Hraerik dismounted from his stallion with a grace that belied his age.  The armies were setting up camp for the night and the Kievan forces would take over tailing the Pechenegs on the morrow while the Tmutorokan forces returned east to watch for a larger Pecheneg horde.  The evening overlap gave the two princes a chance to catch up on things.

“How did everything go in Sweden?” Hraerik asked, as they sat around a campfire between the two large command tents.

“King Halfdan sends greetings,” Ivar answered.  “We managed to quell the berserk attack he was under.  But I focked up,” he admitted.

“How so?”

“I drank too much after a minor victory we had against the berserks and I promised to pay the weight in gold for any berserks our champions killed.”

“That sounds like a lot of gold.”

“I know.  I don’t have that much, so I had to sneak into the berserks’ fortress and kill them all myself.  I know what you’ve told me about putting myself in harms way, but I did let down the fortress drawbridge and let my troops inside before I attacked them.”

“Never put yourself in harms way if you can avoid it!”

“Avoid it!” Prince Ivar echoed simultaneously.  “I know.  I know.  I’ll keep my big mouth shut henceforth.  But I did capture one of the berserks, a youth named Biorn, and he serves me now in Kiev.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Speaking of harms way,  King Halfdan told me that King Bjorn of the Barrows named his son, King Erik, after you.  Only after you wrote him his drapa that saved your neck.  I knew that he had spared you, or I wouldn’t be here, but did he actually come to like you so much that he would name his son after you?”

“I know!” Hraerik exclaimed.  “I wrote Gunwar’s Song for your aunt after I learned of her death, then I recited it to him and he considered himself to be a bit of a skald and he wanted a drapa for himself, overnight.  So, I wrote him one and, just between you and me, it wasn’t my finest drapa, but he loved it.  He supported me in every way possible in my struggle against the Huns and we continued to support each other over the years until he died and King Erik took over.  Then Erik sent his brother, Prince Helgi to us and I set him up with a Hraes’ station in Chernigov and we’ve been allies of the Swedes ever since.  And now you’ve married his daughter, Princess Helga, and you have Princess Alfhild.  It’s the things that I don’t foresee that give me the greatest pleasure.”

“King Halfdan said that your writing of the drapa was a turning point in the north…that it brought the Norse together somehow.”

“It was,” Hraerik admitted.  “I didn’t know how I was going to put together a force large enough to avenge the death of Gunwar.  Your grandfather, King Frodi, had all but lost his mind over losing Queen Alfhild, I’m being polite here,” and Ivar nodded, “and I was just a prince trying to get kings to support me in a war against a Hun horde in a far-off land.  But King Bjorn reminded me of my duty and offered me his full support for the price of one drapa overnight and when I delivered he made good on all his promises and then some.  When word of the drapa story spread across the north, all kings were vying with each other in who could offer me the most support and King Bjorn welcomed their retinues and their armies to Sweden at great expense and then even King Frodi arrived in Sweden to help and he brought your mother and uncle with him.  Your mother told me she became infatuated with me as everyone rallied about me to avenge her Aunt Gunwar.  And later, when Vadim the Brave drove her out of Novgorod, she joined me in Gardariki and I fell in love with her.  After I lost Princess Gunwar, I thought I would never fall in love again.  I was infatuated with your grandmother, Princess Alfhild, but then I met your aunt, Princess Gunwar, and I fell head over heels in love.  We were married and King Frodi married Alfhild and your mother was their greatest achievement.  When I met your mother, she was a combination of the best of both Alfhild and Gunwar, the only two women I had ever loved, so what were my chances of my eluding a third greatest love?”

“All that from a drapa!”

“And how did you meet Princess Helga?  Was it love at first sight?”

“It was actually.  I was leading a force into Chernigov and one of my lieutenants saw her walking down the boardwalk and he pointed her out to me and said she was a royal princess of Sweden.  And I looked at her walking and she was so beautiful I almost fell off my horse.  Seriously…I craned around so hard watching her as we went by each other that my saddle slipped a bit and I almost took a tumble.  She is the love of my life and I don’t think I’ll live as long as you to have three such loves.”

The next morning Prince Ivar brought up the matter of King Hiarn of Denmark with his father.  “I told mother she was Princess Eyfura again,” Prince Ivar added.

“And how did Queen Eyfura take that?” Prince Hraerik asked.

“She was not happy,” Ivar said.  “Not happy at all.”

“We’ll have to see what we can do about that.  It seems to put more importance on how we handle the Pechenegs.  If we can work with them, it will free us up to deal with the Danes.”

By noon, the camps broke up and the armies headed their respective ways, one west following the Pecheneg horde and one east, watching for another.  As the Tmutorokan Hraes’ retraced their steps east through their steppe forts, Prince Hraerik gathered up his linguistic experts and they all conversed in Pecheneg as they progressed back across the steppe.  By the time they reached the Don Heath, Prince Hraerik was getting a feel for the language and was shouting out orders in Pecheneg as he organized the restocking of the steppe forts for the larger horde he was expecting.  A few days later, Queen Silkisif arrived on the heath in a royal carriage with a caravan of supplies and toys in tow and announced to her father-in-law that a larger Pecheneg horde had been spotted by scouts and this horde had plenty of young children running about the carts and wains of the women.  

“This is the horde we shall intercept,” Prince Hraerik said in Pecheneg to the widow of his son Arrow Oddi.

“What?” Queen Silkisif replied.  “Is that Pecheneg?”

“All of my officers have been learning it.  I said this is the horde we shall intercept and introduce ourselves to.  I’m glad you brought toys with you,” Hraerik said, admiring the carved horse and rider Silkisif pushed into his hands.  “If the mothers and children approve of us, half the battle is won.”

“How did young Prince Ivar handle himself?” the queen asked.

“He is learning,” Hraerik answered.

“He wanted to attack the scout army, didn’t he,” Silkisif stated, a worried look on her beautiful face.

“Like I said, he is learning.”

When the main horde arrived on the Don Heath one warm afternoon, Prince Hraerik, surrounded by his officers, rode out to meet and welcome the Pechenegs in their own language.  They halted there and began setting up camp and supply wagons came out from behind the Hraes’ army and food and water was offered.  Queen Silkisif rode out with her carriages of toys and in short time they ran out of gifts for the children.

“How many are there?” she asked Hraerik, as she prepared to return to Tmutorokan. 

“There were about twenty thousand in the advance group,” Hraerik estimated, “and this main horde is about four times as big, so…a hundred thousand, give or take a few.

“And twenty thousand or so would be children,” Silkisif said.  “I’m going to need more toys.”

Hraerik could see that the sheer numbers were overwhelming his daughter.  “Go to Gardariki and help yourself to the Hraes’ warehouse there.  We received a big shipment from Cathay and it includes toys and kites and sky lanterns.  Also, I had some Raven banners made up in silk, and I may have a new use for the ones with a gold background, so bring them all as well.  This was a great idea you had, we just need more.  Much more.”

Queen Silkisif led her carriage caravan south to Gardariki while Prince Hraerik rode north for a feast at the main Pecheneg camp.  There he was to meet with the Pecheneg Kagans, for there were eight Pecheneg tribes in this migration with the same number of great princes or kagans.  The tribes were these: the name of the first tribe was Yavdi-Erdem of the shining gold horses under Kagan Baitzas; second was Kuerci-Cur of the bluish horses under Kagan Kouel; third was Qabugsin-Yula of the bark hued horses under Kagan Kourkoutai; fourth was Suru-Kul-Bey of the silver-grey horses under Ipaos; fifth, Qara-Bey of the black horse under Kagan Kaidoum; sixth, Boru-Tolmac of grey horses under Kagan-Bek Kostas; seventh, Yazi-Qapan of the dark brown horse under Kagan Giazis; eighth, Bula-Copan with piebald horses under Kagan-Bek Batas.  After Prince Hraerik was introduced to the Pecheneg leaders he introduced himself as Kagan-Bek Hraerik Bragi of the Hraes’ in the Pecheneg language.  When one of the princes asked him where the Hraes’ Kagan was, Hraerik told him that their great kagan had died and his grandson, Kagan Ivar, was being trained to replace him.  The princes all laughed and repeated, ‘a kagan in training,’ and they all laughed some more as they entered the huge yurt of Kagan Baitzas and began their feast.

At first, discussions were quite reserved but, as the mead flowed, Hraerik was able to learn that the Khazars had brokered a deal whereby the Pechenegs were to support the Romans as light cavalry in an upcoming war on the Balkan Bulgars in exchange for land grants in the conquered Bulgaria.  The Pechenegs were looking to emulate the Magyar success on their Zungarian plains.  And the Khazars had attempted to double up their own benefits by not telling the Hraes’ the vast size of the Pecheneg horde in the hopes the Hraes’ would attack the smaller Pecheneg scout army.

Kagan Baitzas had noticed the Black Raven on red background banner of the Hraes’ standards and said: “If the Raven is your sky spirit then I know we shall get along, for the Magpie is our bird and they always get on together.”

It took Hraerik and a few of his officers a bit of discussion about what had been said in Pecheneg and then the Prince had eight Raven banners brought in and presented one to each Pecheneg prince.  One of Prince Hraerik’s officers then went out to his horse and pulled a jar of signal paint out of a saddle bag and showed the Kagan how easy a black raven could be turned into a Magpie with a few dabs of white paint in the right places.  He immediately had a line of Kagans and Kagan-Beks all wanting their Ravens painted into Magpies.  The Pechenegs were unfamiliar with heraldry but were quick to appreciate the art form.

The next day the Pechenegs were packing up their camp and moving on as Prince Hraerik began organizing the re-provisioning of the steppe forts to assist them in their migration.  His legion of cataphracts and legion of foot-soldiers continued tailing the migrating horde under the command of a Goth general, the son of Yggerus, but Hraerik headed back to Gardariki to see how his daughter-in-law was coming along with her toys.  He met up with her carriage caravan a day’s ride out of Gardariki.

“Did you find everything you needed at our Hraes’ warehouse?” he asked her.

“That and more,” she answered.  “I took the liberty of getting silk dresses for the wives of the Kagans and implements to help all the wives in their migration.”

“Excellent,” Hraerik stated.  “I thought as much when I saw that your carriage train had doubled in length.”  Prince Hraerik had his retinue set up camp and make lunch for the train drivers.  “I’d like you to return to Gardariki with me,” he told the queen as he went through the Raven Banner standards she had brought him.  He gave all the one hundred gold background standards to one of his officers and asked, “If you ride in one of these carriages, can you turn these ravens into magpies before you reach the Dnieper?”

“No problem,” the lieutenant replied.

“Good,” Hraerik said, turning to Silkisif.  “Now we just have to make seven hundred more in different background colours and we’ll present each tribe with Magpie Banner standards in their own clan colours.”  Prince Hraerik and Queen Silkisif rode back to Gardariki in her royal carriage and he told her about his conversation in Pecheneg with the Kagans about Prince Ivar being a Kagan in training.  “They found it quite amusing,” he told her.  “But I think he is being trained by his mother, and that may not be enough.”

“How so?” Silkisif asked curiously.

“She is a royal, just like her father!” Hraerik exclaimed.  “She is a ‘my blood is blue even though it is red’ royal who believes she is above all others and others are above the slaves they own.

“I’m a royal,” Silkisif said, “and I don’t believe that”.

“But you are half Slav, just like me, and Slavs will always be against slavery.  She is a royal who depends upon slavery.  Her free subjects can take the lives of their slaves without consequence, just as she can take the lives of her subjects as she sees fit.  Without slavery, her subjects would not stand for such a social contract.”

“But you’ve said yourself that slavery will end when the time is right,” Silkisif reminded her father.  “Has something changed?”

“I had a dream about my brother, Duke Rollo, when I was in Kiev.  He has become a royal, and from him shall arise a great line of Norman kings and one grandson shall conquer the Saxons of Angleland and he shall lord over them as a true king and make slaves of them all and he shall take their lands and property for himself and he shall give vast tracts of this land to his Norman lords and the Angles and Saxons shall spend the next thousand years buying back their lands from their Norman overlords one small parcel at a time.  And even after they have bought it all back and can elect their own Anglo Saxon leaders, anything they do must first be approved by a Norman House of Lords.”

“That is such a sad dream,” Silkisif said.  “But at least they do find freedom.”

“Do they find freedom?” Hraerik asked.  “Or do they just find slavery in a newer subtler form?”

“Well at least that place is far from here,” Silkisif said, looking out a carriage window.

“Not far enough,” Hraerik responded.  “When the Normans conquer Angleland all the freedom loving warriors of the Angles and Saxons will be joining us here, joining the Varangian guard with our Danes and Swedes in Constantinople, or joining us here in Tmutorokan.”

“Thank the gods you have dreamed of a future Tmutorokan,” Silkisif cried.  “With all these Pechenegs hordes roaming about, I was beginning to worry.”

Hraerik took Silkisif under his arm and she leaned against him and slept all the way back to Gardariki.  “We shall never get off this rock,” he thought and he wondered from where that thought had come…what dream…what vision.

The Pechenegs continued on their western migration and made their way to the Danube River.  The war between the Romans and the Bulgars had already begun and Tzar Symeon and his Bulgar forces had already subjugated Thrace.  Kagan Baitzas led his Pechenegs to Adrianople where they found their Roman employers fighting among themselves over strategies and priorities.  “These are not serious people,” the Kagan told the other Kagans and Kagan-Beks.  “I can’t see them winning a war together.”  So, the Pechenegs started a trek back east.  When the Bulgars came to blows with the Romans, the Romans were cut to pieces in a disastrous battle and Adrianople fell.

Word of the Roman defeat arrived quickly by sea at Cherson, the Greek city on the Crimean peninsula, and from there it spread to Tmutorokan and Gardariki.  The Romans blamed their defeat on the Pechenegs who abandoned them and returned east, so Prince Hraerik knew they would not be settling in Bulgaria anytime soon, which would likely be bad for the Hraes’ trade routes.  He equipped his army for war and they sailed across the Sea of Azov and marched to the Dnieper Heath.  There they watched from a hilltop as, miles away, Prince Ivar and his Kievan legions engaged in a battle with a large Pecheneg force and from the black and white colour of their horses, it looked to be the Bula Copan tribe of the piebald horse.

Prince Ivar’s cavalry would move out from the center of his hollow square of foot soldiers and clash with the Pecheneg horse and the Pechenegs would retreat, shooting their bows as they did, then they would turn and attack again then retreat, slowly drawing the Hraes’ cavalry further away from the security of their hollow square of foot soldiers.  Prince Hraerik couldn’t make out his son, but he could see the Raven Banner standards he was riding under.  A small party of Pecheneg horse came riding towards Prince Hraerik and his army and they were the golden horse of the Yavdi-Erdem and Kagan Baitzas rode with them.  Hraerik gathered an equal number of officers about himself and they rode out to meet him.

“We came to observe your Kagan in training,” Kagan Baitzas shouted in Pecheneg.

“He is being drawn away from his main force,” Kagan-Bek Hraerik shouted back in like tongue.

“He will learn,” Baitzas said, riding up.  “The Bula Copan are learning as well.”

“How did this start?” Hraerik asked.

“The Romans lost their war,” Baitzas shrugged.

“They claim it was because you abandoned them.”

“The Romans were fighting amongst each other before we even got there.  It was, how do you Rhos say it, ‘focked up’ long before we got there.”

They watched the Bula Copan of the piebald horse bait the Kievan Hraes’ cavalry further away from their hollow square.  The Pechenegs would take a beating when they attacked the Hraes’, but would inflict casualties with their bows while retreating again.

“We were returning east when the young ‘Kagan in training’ attacked our lead force, of the Bula Copan.”  When Kagan Baitzas had judged that the Hraes’ cavalry was far enough away from their foot soldiers, he signaled for his men to begin waving the golden Magpie standards that Hraerik had sent them.  Over a distant hill rode the Yavdi-Erdem of the golden horse horde and they charged across the valley between the Hraes cavalry and their square of foot soldiers and took a position atop a hill while another horde took a position atop the hill the Erdem had just vacated.  Prince Ivar halted his attack on the Bula Copan and began a cautious retreat along the valley floor between the two hilltop hordes and rejoined the hollow square of foot soldiers.

“Now the Bula Copan know how to set a trap,” Kagan Baitzas began, “and your young ‘Kagan in training’ has learned how to avoid being caught up in one.  Thank you for the banners by the way.” “I have more for you,” Hraerik offered, as he waved some wagons forward from his baggage train.  “We have colour banners for each of your tribes.  And gifts for you and your people.”