Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE RECLAIMING OF KING FRODI’S REALM (Circa 917 AD)
It took Prince Ivar three months to get well enough to travel. Prince Hraerik led their combined forces ahead of his son and established forts and supply caches. The young prince followed with the two thousand Varangian cavalry from Constantinople. Their polished platemail armour glistened in the sun as they rode, their smooth Greek helmets gleaming as the prince’s carriage was drawn amongst them.
The Hraes’ fleet established a base on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. From there Hraerik and Ivar led half their men to Sweden to gain the promised support from King Halfdan, the grandson of King Bjorn of the Barrows, the king who had spared Hraerik his life for a drapa in his name. They returned to Gotland Isle with five thousand of Sweden’s finest in tow. Bypassing the island of Oland, their fleet landed in Oster Gotland and soon gained tribute from both the Oster and Vaster Goths. For the Tmutorokhan Goths, both the Greutunga Eastern Goths and the Therving Western Goths, it had been over four hundred years since their forefathers had left these Gotland shores, when global cooling had caused vast crop failures, and they went off in search of better prospects near warmer Roman lands. For some, it was a great reunion, for others who had let their family histories slip away, it was not. But the total Gothic forces augmenting the Hraes’ army doubled in size to ten thousand.
Sailing around the southern tip of Gotland, the Hraes’ army landed on the shores of Skane, and Hraerik was reminded of his combat with Skalk the Skanian, so many decades before. While the Skanians provided their share of tribute and troops, it was the stream of Norwegian ships, contributions of chieftains to their fellow Norwegian, Hraerik, that took the army to over sixty thousand men in size.
After the death of King Frodi, the Danes heard that his son, King Alf, who was being reared in Russia, had perished; and, thinking that the sovereignty halted for lack of an heir, and that it could no longer be kept on in the hands of the royal line, they considered that the sceptre would be best deserved by the man who should affix to the grave of Frodi a song of praise in his glorification, and commit the renown of the dead king to later ages by a splendid memorial. Then one Hiarn, very skilled in writing Danish poetry, wishing to give the fame of the hero some notable record of words, and tempted by the enormous prize, composed, after his own fashion, a barbarous stave. Its purport, expressed in four lines, transcribed as follows:
“Frodi, whom the Danes would have wished to live long,
they bore long through their lands when he was dead.
The great chief’s body, with this turf heaped above it,
bare earth covers under the lucid sky.”
When the composer of this song had uttered it, the Danes rewarded him with the crown. Thus they gave a kingdom for an epitaph, and the weight of a whole empire was presented to a churl as huge payment for a little poem.
Now the Danes had long ago had tidings of Frodi’s son’s death, and when they found that his grandson was approaching Denmark with his army, they sent men to fetch him, and ordered Hiarn to quit the sovereignty, because he was thought to be holding it only on sufferance and carelessly. But he could not bring himself to resign such an honour, and chose sooner to spend his life for glory than pass into the dim lot of common men. Therefore he resolved to fight for his present estate, that he might not have to resume his former one stripped of his royal honours. Thus the land was estranged and vexed with the hasty commotion of civil strife.
Prince Ivar told the envoys of the Danes to return to Liere and request Hiarn either to resign the kingdom or meet him in battle. Hiarn thought it more grievous than death to set lust of life before honour, and to seek safety at the cost of glory, so he agreed to meet Prince Ivar in the field of battle.
Reports came back to the harbourtown that serviced Liere that Hiarn had only been able to raise an army of five or six thousand men. “If we take all our men,” Prince Hraerik told his son, “Hiarn will flee for sure. But it could be a trap.”
“I’ll only use my Hraes’ troops,” Prince Ivar offered. “That’s ten thousand men.”
“I’ll follow at a distance with our Varangian cataphracts. If it is a trap, two thousand knights on hooves will unspring it pretty fast. The rest of our forces can wait here and stand ready.”
Prince Hraerik did not like the plan they had concocted. He had wanted to accompany his son into his first battle, not ride with the cavalry. He had devised a battle platform from which his son had been training to fight on, and he wanted to be there to see how well it worked. First Hraerik had given his son the shield, the Hraes’ ship’s round, that his father, Hraegunar Lothbrok had given him, and he put a steel ring around it with four equally spaced iron handles. Then they got the four biggest and strongest soldiers in the Hraes’ army to carry it in full armour, each of them with a gloved hand on the shield platform and a shield in their own defence held in the other hand and on each of these defensive shields was riveted, inside the shield boss, a deadly spear for offensive use instead of a wooden handle. Prince Ivar wore King Frodi’s chain-mail trimmed battle helmet, Prince Oddi’s Roman plate-mail shirt and carried the famed sword, Tyrfingr, that Hervor had given him. Hraerik called the battle platform Sleipnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, and Prince Ivar planned to have it front and center in the Hraes’ shield wall. Training had shown the platform to be effective, but Ivar couldn’t train with Tyrfingr unsheathed because the blade was just too dangerous.
Prince Ivar and his four horsemen rode into battle in his carriage and dismounted from it as a unit so the Danes never really could figure out what they faced. Hiarn had already set out hazel poles for the battle so Sleipnir was front and center in the Hraes’ shield wall. When the Hraes’ and the Dane foot-soldiers charged each other, the battle platform was right in line with the Danish vanguard that surrounded Hiarn, the flower of his Danish troops and when Sleipnir collided with the vanguard’s shield wall, Prince Ivar began hacking with Tyrfingr and shields were shredding in front of him and the blade was wreaking havoc on the men behind them. A panic set upon the vanguard as they staggered back from the blows and the rest of the Hraes’ shield wall pressed forward trying the keep up with the platform. Tyrfingr shone like a beacon and began to whine as it tore through helmets and chain-mail. Hiarn sat upon a horse and watched the battle platform as it turned red with spurting blood and he saw Prince Ivar’s face at his horseback level with a crazed berserker rage on his countenance as he worked his way towards the horse and Hiarn turned his steed and bolted. Sleipnir was propelling itself so fast through the Danish ranks that only the nearest shield wall troopers could keep up by following in the wake of blood and the Hraes’ formation took on the shape of a wedge that seemed more like a ploughshare that furrowed over the Danish ranks and the army was crushed completely. Only Hiarn on his horse managed to escape.
Prince Hraerik and his son Ivar rode west past the field of battle to the fortress King Frodi had built himself decades earlier, a circular fortress patterned after Eastern Roman outposts upon the great Asian steppe. Frodi’s fortress stood a short distance out of Liere, in the middle of a broad low plain, where it controlled the main north-south road of Zealand as well as the harbour link. The fortification consisted of a twelve foot high by thirty foot wide circular embankment four hundred feet in diameter, with a twelve foot high post palisade at its crest and a further twelve foot deep outer trench extending beyond its base. The dilapidated earthen work was pierced by four gateways in the four directions, the continuous palisade vaulting over these, with massive double gates blocking the openings. The eastern gates were swung open and Danish soldiers welcomed the victorious Hraes’ army through them. Zealand’s two main roads intersected within Frodi’s fortress, dividing the interior into four equal quadrants. Inside the fortress, the crossroads were paved with logs, and there was another dirt road running around the inside of the embankment. All four quadrants were developed with various groupings of rundown longhalls sorely in need of work, but the palace of King Frodi, on the north-east quadrant, seemed to be in reasonable condition. Prince Hraerik saw Gunwar’s old longhall just across the road from it and memories came flooding back. Prince Ivar’s carriage stopped at the front steps of Frodi’s longhall and Hraerik passed Hraes’ ship’s round to the four giants who had carried Ivar into battle and they now carried Prince Ivar into his grandfather’s longhall.
“Where has Hiarn fled?” Prince Ivar demanded as two courtiers directed the giants toward the highseats.
Hraerik surveyed the longhall. It was much the same as he remembered it and was still dark and sinister, with light coming mainly from the smoke-holes in the roof and from candles mounted on the walls and pillars. Three long hearths ran down the centre of the near end of the hall with twelve benches on either side, the centre of the hall was open with a set of triple high seats on either wall and a further three hearths and twenty-four benches made up the far end of the room. Beyond that was a hallway that Hraerik knew led to the bedchambers and, at the very back, a scullery. As their men began hanging up weapons and outer garments on pegs at the entrance wall, a Danish official stepped out of the shadows and welcomed Prince Ivar and his father.
“He has fled to Jutland,” the minister answered, “no doubt to raise another army and repeat his disaster of this morning. Your Danish subjects have called for his abdication but he has not yet accepted his fate.”
“His fate will be death when I find him in Jutland,” the young Prince stated.
“We have prepared a great banquet in your honour,” the minister started, and he clapped his hands and lute players began playing from the back of the hall and young Danish women, all blonde and beautiful, began serving ale in horns and cups. Hraerik gave subtle orders to the four men who protected the young prince to drink half his ale before allowing him access to it and to eat half his food. They protected their prince as quietly as they could and at evening’s end they carried their prince and escorted two young Danish beauties to the chamber of King Frodi.
The Danish minister approached Prince Hraerik on the highseat and said: “I noticed your men were tasting the young prince’s food and drink. That is good. Unnecessary, but good.”
“I shall determine what is necessary and what is not,” Hraerik replied.
“Yes, of course. But we are not your enemy. Most Danes acknowledge that the son of Princess Eyfura is the legitimate king of Denmark. Very few Danes still support Hiarn and, unsurprisingly, it is only the Danes who shall profit from retaining Hiarn as a king.”
“Yes,” Hraerik agreed. “It is a flaw we humans possess as a species, that we believe in anything that is to our financial advantage. Please…join me on the highseat and tell me more about what Danes believe. You’re called Galen, I believe.”
“Thank you , Prince,” Galen responded. “Galen Gerhardson.”
The two men talked late into the evening and Galen finally felt trusted enough to ask one question. To ask the one question which Denmark was begging to have answered.
“How did the young prince lose his legs?”
“In the land of the Hraes’,” Hraerik started, “we fight many shield wall battles and, in the tight confines of the shield wall, edged weapons play havoc upon human limbs. Hands are hacked, arms are axed and legs are lost but we can’t afford to lose warriors because of lost limbs, so we have medical alchemists embedded into our military units. When King Ivar lost his lower legs in an attack, medics were able to save his life and he has lived to fight again. In Hraes’ we have whole fighting units of warriors who have lost limbs and have been saved and retrained to fight again. Some retrained warriors reach their prior level of effectiveness and some do not. In King Ivar’s case he has doubled his prior prowess.”
While Prince Hraerik’s explanation did not elaborate on the type of attack Prince Ivar had lost his legs in, it did explain how the young prince had survived it. When Prince Ivar was asked what happened to his legs by the two Danish beauties that had accompanied him to his bed chamber, he was not nearly as discreet in his explanation of events. He concluded it by saying, “It was a hard knot that had slipped and cost him his legs”. Word went around Liere the next day on how their future king had lost his legs and the people called him King Harde Knute or Hard Knot. The next day all of Denmark knew him as King Harde Knute.
Two days later, Prince Ivar was crowned King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Eyfurason of Denmark, grandson of King Frodi, great grandson of King Fridleif of the Old Line of Skioldungs.
A week later, Prince Hraerik received news of Hiarn’s location on Jutland from his property managers of his land holdings on that peninsula. King Frodi had long ago awarded Hraerik some farms and steads and to the people there he was known as Rorik of Jutland. The Danes of Jutland had come a lot closer to pronouncing his name correctly than the Danes of Zealand had during the coronation of his son. King Ivar led a force of ten thousand of his Kievan Hraes’ foot soldiers and Prince Hraerik brought his legion of Tmutorokan cataphracts and they went to Jutland and made short work of another five thousand man army that Hiarn had fielded from a distance, for when the outnumbered Danes quickly surrendered it was found that Hiarn had not followed his men out onto the field of battle and had slinked off to hide on an island called Hiarno after him.
When King Harde Knute returned to his fortress outside the royal city of Liere, the Danish people began to call for the marriage of their king, hoping to prolong his lineage by his marrying one of the Danish beauties he was wont to sleep with. But King Ivar looked about himself and told his father that they had gone to much trouble and expense to bring a large army west and had really put it to very little use.
“If I am going to marry here, I want to make it a strategic alliance. Two years ago, I helped King Halfdan conquer twelve Norwegian Berserk brothers that were attacking him. Now I would like to use our large and expensive army to conquer Norway itself and if things go well we can tackle Angleland, starting in Northumbria. Then I would like to find a worthy princess from either land and make an alliance.”