Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER THIRTEEN POINT ZERO
13.0 THE DEATH OF THORKEL ‘THE TALL’ (CIRCA 1025 AD)
(1025) During Yulefest the increased guards and Exeyes officers that Prince Hraerik had surrounded Gretta with kept her isolated. The Saxon intel officer that had earlier visited her was apprehended when he tried to contact her again and he was imprisoned. The Exeyes officers would be transporting him east with them in the spring. The Prince did some research on whether it was possible for the woman in black to have mentally controlled Gretta into thinking she had known her all her life, but he realised that she would have had to have been an operative, a spy, an assassin, long before she had whored her and her ‘daughter’ out to King Athelred. He had learned that Gretta was English, but he was now beginning to wonder if the old woman in black was. Princess Gytha was allowed to visit Gretta and she brought her children with her, accompanied by Prince Godwin and her foster-father, Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’.
Jarl Thorkel had arrived for Yulefest from Roskilde and he brought young Prince Hardeknute, Queen Emma’s son, back to England with him and he visited with his own son, Harald, that King Canute was fostering for him. Hraerik and Emma spent time with their son, hardeknute, as well. Thorkel’s brother, Jarl Ulf, and his wife Estrid, King Canute’s daughter from Kiev, also came to England from Roskilde. King Canute and Princess Aelfgifu were in great spirits throughout the holidays and the king passed out gold and gifts to his guests from Norway, disaffected princes and jarls that had taken up residence in York and Northumbria, as well as his own English princes and earls and a lot of gold to the Latin church. Some of the gold was from his share of profits from the Hraes’ eastern trade, but a lot of it was now coming from the Newfoundland. Trade had been increasing over the near decade that Prince Hraerik and Queen Emma had been developing direct sailing across the Atlantean Sea and trade across the Mayan Sea had grown as well, and the Mayans had a lot of gold. Some Hraes’ traders claimed that the Mayans had as much gold as the Permians had silver! And all the Hraes’ western traders were sworn to secrecy, but rumours of the gold were leaking out from Norse sources connected with the Greenlanders.
Prince Hraerik wanted to add tallships to the Newfoundland fleet, but Emma’s shipwrights in both Southampton and Normandy were tied up building new warships for Canute, tallships that could be sailed and rowed, with rowers located ‘tween decks operating overlong oars via porthole openings in the side strakes. Emma and her Portsmouth designers had come up with the new ships to meet Canute’s design requests for fixed frame ships that were rowed as well as sailed, but also had the tallship height aspect to make them hard to attack and easy to fight from. They were as long as the super longships that King Alfred had come up with over a hundred years earlier, but the fixed frame, that was unknown thereabouts in Alfred’s time, gave the large ships superior rigidity and strength, but less ability to flex over waves, therefore, a rougher ride. Hraerik tried to convince Canute to allow more tallship construction, but Queen Emma had begun the first English navy in response to the naval attacks of King Sweyn decades earlier and he wanted the queen to continue her efforts in this area.
“I’ve heard reports,” Canute told Hraerik, “that I find concerning.” It seemed the king wanted to change subjects. “Our Exeyes officers report that you are planning a hit in Constantinople on a very high value target.”
“Yes,” the Prince admitted. “The Romans have been using our Varangian Guard to recruit, how shall I put it, some very ruthless officers to return north with violent Christianizing efforts, and have even been funding these efforts with the red gold of Byzantium.”
“Which Olaf has he funded?” Valdy asked.
“Both!” Hraerik answered. “Both Olaf Tryggvason years ago and now Olaf ‘the Stout’ Haraldson.”
“Both?” Valdy asked, sitting forward in his first highseat. “He recruited and funded both?”
“Yes, both! And their forced conversions together have cost thousands of Aesir faithful their lives. I plan to kill them in Constantinople.”
“And not get caught? Are you using more of this Aesir magic of yours? Your last hit cost Princess Myia her life. I don’t want you risking your life for this,” Valdy said looking over at his grandfather.
Prince Hraerik sat forward in his second high seat and said, “Relax. No Aesir magic will be employed in this hit. Just good old Alchemists’ science.”
“You’re using poison,” Valdy guessed.
“No, but I’ll give you a little demonstration of this science if you come with me to Roskilde when I’m assembling the great merchant fleet.”
“Is it exciting, this death you are planning?”
“No. It is quite boring actually. You won’t even see the death. It will happen weeks later in Wolin, Poland. But it will be amazing, just knowing what caused it.”
“It sounds boring, amazingly boring.”
“Last fall I gifted Queen Gyritha with some young handmaidens from India, three Tantric Princesses, and she told me they were quite amazing. She’ll share them with you if you ask nicely.”
“I didn’t know Gyritha was into women,” Valdy responded.
“She isn’t,” Hraerik said, “but for these girls she made an exception. Their tantric sexual mantras are exceptional.”
“Okay, I’m in. What do I have to do?”
“Invite King Boleslaw of Wend to visit you for Easter in Roskilde. He’s recently converted so he’ll likely come, but just to make sure, tell him we’ll allow a dozen of his foremost merchants to join the great merchant fleet. He’s been trying to get on board for years.”
“They’ll be the first Slav merchants outside of Hraes’ to join the fleet. He’ll jump at that opportunity. Why are you killing Duke Boleslaw?”
“He’s King Boleslaw now that he’s converted to Christianity. The Holy Roman Emperor, Henry ‘the Second’ made him a king before he died. Kings of kings can do that.”
“They aren’t real Emperors,” Canute scoffed. “Princess Theophano wasn’t ‘Born of the Purple’. She wasn’t Porphyrogennetos, and they aren’t blood related anyway. Only my children with Princess Anna are Czar material. She was ‘Born of the Purple Blood’!”
“I know,” Hraerik admitted, “but try telling Duke Boleslaw that.”
“Why are you killing him?”
“The Romans were paying him to hide Olaf Tryggvason from us. Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg was in on it as well. I want them all dead!”
“I’ll send out the invite by messenger today,” Valdy assured his grandfather.
With the transition of worldwide warming to cooling came extremes in both hot and cold weather and while returning to Denmark in cold weather in his open longship, Jarl Thorkel became ill and died in Roskilde a few weeks later. He was getting on in years now and had faced the ravages of the winter sea, side by side with his men and had taken a fever. Jarl Ulf and Princess Estrid took over the fostering of Prince Hardeknute. When word got back to England, Prince Hraerik told Queen Emma he didn’t think that Jarl Ulf was a good father figure for their son, but Emma felt that Ulf was up to the task. She liked his determination.
Hraerik lamented the shortage of tallships as the Newfoundland fleet assembled in Southampton and Emma reminded him that at least the tallships each carried a new longship with them to the new world. The shipyards were still building small sturdy Nor’Way type longships for trade on the Great Lakes and the Mis Sis Sippi River because the shell-first shipwrights were not involved with the house-building craftsmen of the fixed frame ships.
“But we need more ocean bearing cargo capacity,” Hraerik responded. “Furs take up a huge volume.”
“That is why the Mayan trade is important,” Emma replied. “Gold doesn’t.”
When Captain Hugh set out with his tallships, he had a new cabin ‘boy’ with him. Both Witch Nadege and Witch Hallveig were needed in the east and would be sailing with Prince Hraerik to perform an exorcism in Chernigov. And his personal assassin, Gretta, would also be sailing with him to help perform the potential hit further south. It was going to be a busy summer. When the English merchant fleet sailed east to Roskilde, Prince Hraerik spent some time with his son, Hardeknute, and he did not like the way Ulf and Estrid were addressing the boy, as King of Denmark. Hardeknute was Prince Regent at best and such talk could be dangerous. Prince Hraerik took Jarl Ulf aside and warned him not to get the boy’s hopes up. “Canute is still King of Denmark,” he warned, “and there are many other qualified prince regents waiting in the wings.”
As the great merchant fleet was assembling in Roskilde harbour, King Boleslaw of Poland sailed up with a merchant fleet of his own and the Prince welcomed him and his twelve foremost Wend merchants to join it. Easter was still a few weeks off and Prince Hraerik would be well on his way through Hraes’ when it occurred so he told King Boleslaw all about the Easter procession that was planned through the palace and grounds of Roskilde. When Canute arrived from England they set up a rehearsal of the procession a few weeks in advance to allow Hraerik the access he needed to the Polish king. The procession would be long and full of European nobles but they used stand-ins for the rehearsal and King Boleslaw, with the Sword of Denmark on a pillow in his arms, paraded well ahead of King Canute, who carried the Sceptre of Denmark on a matching pillow. Prince Hraerik apologized to King Boleslaw about the weight of the sword, but explained that it was traditionally carried about in its heavy scabbard as the blade was exceedingly sharp. He then pulled the sword an inch or two clear of the scabbard to show the king the sharp edge and he left it that way as they paraded through the palace and out into the palace grounds.
King Boleslaw was still complaining about the weight of the heavy scabbard when he gave the sword back to Hraerik, so the Prince re-sheathed the two inches of sword and packed Tyrfingr back into its even heavier lead box and told the king they would give him a dull sword that required no sheath for the actual procession. King Boleslaw thanked the Prince for his understanding.
Once the great merchant fleet was assembled in Roskilde, they sailed off to Kiev, but Prince Hraerik and his personal fleet stopped in Chernigov and the Prince visited Prince Mstislav there as the fleet sailed past and he tried to convince Misty that he should have the spirit of Iry Dada exorcised from his body and he introduced Witches Nadege and Hallveig to the prince and his wife, Princess Nado, the Alan Aesir-Aran witch. But they both claimed the possession was still working for them and they wanted Iry to stay. “He is my Mstiry,” she said, hugging her husband, so Hraerik left both Nadege and Hallveig there to monitor Mstislav and he sailed on to Kiev, which was no longer under siege. Hraerik learned from the legion officers there that Prince Ivaraslav was still ruling Hraes’ from Novgorod and was expecting help from his wife, Princess Ingigerd’s brother, King Anund Jacob of Sweden. He told the officers to remind Czar Ivar, as Ivaraslav was sometimes being called, to be patient and they would try to work out a compromise when the great fleet returned in the fall. Hraerik had warned Ulf that there were numerous princes waiting in the wings in King Canute’s Denmark, but here in Hraes’, there were literally thousands, thanks to the seven hundred or so wives in Canute’s prior life as the profligate Prince Valdamar of Kiev. Prince Hraerik made a mental note to take even more gold out of his vaults in Gardariki and transport it to his vaults in King Sweyn’s castle.
Prince Hraerik had left his witches in Chernigov and could focus more on Gretta now that his forecastle cabin was less busy. “We shall be stopping in Constantinople before we go to Baghdad,” the Prince told her. “I am expecting some information there.” They enjoyed each other as they sailed down the Dnieper River and were portaged around the cataracts by local Pechenegs and they stopped at the Harbour of Cherson while the Prince directed the collection of tithes and fees from the Hraes’ merchants of the fleet. Then they sailed on to Constantinople and Prince Hraerik’s personal fleet beached outside the walls of the Saint Mamas district and his shieldship docked in a private boathouse that had an underground tunnel that led into the city. The Hraes’ prince seldom used it, so as to keep it secret. It was designed and built to get out of the city and it ran from the Red House of Constantinople to the boathouse, where a ship was always waiting. Empress Helga had the tunnel built after she first bought the Red House for her Hraes’ fashion showings. She and her son, Prince Svein, had been caught up in a mob riot after she’d married Emperor Constantine ‘the Seventh’ Porphyrogennetos, and she’d never forgotten the danger she had placed young Svein in.
Princess Sviataslava ran the Red House Of Constantinople, or the RHOC, but she was away with her son, Prince Ivar, in southern Italy, enjoying herself in the heel of the boot, while her son led the Varangian Guard in battle against Norman knights somewhere up the calve. Her manager, Witch Hama, welcomed the Prince and his concubine and set them up in the penthouse bridal suite on the eighth floor. Typically, Roman apartment buildings were limited to four floors because that was a limit that people tended to follow when walking up and down stairs to their flats, but the Red House serviced most of their guests on the first four floors and had the Princess flats in the next two and then larger special suites on the top two floors and the top two floors were serviced by an Archimedes screw that took guests up to the eighth floor in special roller chairs. Prince Hraerik sat in a chair and pulled Gretta onto his lap and a servant loaded the chair into the huge bronze tube of the Archimedes screw and the screw began rotating and the chair rolled up the screw and in a minute or two they were on the eighth floor where another servant helped them out of the tube and led them to their bridal suite. Their bags would follow on the next available chair, which happened to be the very next one, so the servant quickly grabbed their bags as he led them.
“That was amazing!” Gretta exclaimed, as they entered the room. The Prince gave the servant a silver piece as he set out the bags for them and then took the silver and left with many thanks. “Always make sure your first tip is the largest because then you’ll get fine service for the rest of your stay,” he told her. “But how do we get down?” she then asked. “Check out the bed,” he said. “Sometimes guests come up and they never go back down,” he laughed, pushing on the huge silk sheeted mattress with both hands. “No, really,” she said, “how do get down?” “You’ll see when we go down for supper. Meanwhile, we wait. One of my Exeyes officers will be delivering a package this afternoon. So, really, let’s try out the bed!” and he pulled Gretta onto the bed and began tearing off her clothes.
An hour later there was a knock on the door. It was a young Exeyes officer and he was looking back down the hallway and he passed the Prince a briefcase when he opened the door. “That’s quite the staircase they have here,” the officer said. “Why thank you,” Hraerik replied. “I designed it for my late wife, Empress Helga,” Hraerik told him.
“You were married to Empress Helga?” the officer asked. “I’m sorry. It’s just that she died quite a while ago. I mean,” he stammered a bit, “all the legions love her so much still.”
“Well, she did pay for one of our first Kievan legions out of her own pocket. I certainly hope they still love her!”
“Oh, they do! They do!” the officer stammered. “Shall I stay with the files or would you like me to come back for them?”
“Could you come back at supper time and I’ll give you the files I don’t need, and then you can join us for supper here?”
“Thank you! I’ve never eaten here. I’ll be back in four hours.” He then looked about himself and then back down the hall and said, “How do I get down?”
Prince Hraerik held his arm out in the hallway and snapped his fingers three times.
“No, really,” the officer said, “how do I get back down?”
“You ask this man,” Hraerik answered, as the servant he had tipped earlier came running up the hall. Gretta came to the door and she watched the officer walk down the hallway with the servant and she was hoping she could see them go down, but they turned a corner and were gone. “So, really,” she said, looking Hraerik in the eye, “how do they get down?”
“There is a stair going down,” Hraerik said. “It is surprisingly easier to walk down stairs than it is to walk up them.”
“Well, that’s no fun! I was hoping it would surprise me like coming up did!”
“Well, there is another way,” he told her, “and it is a lot more fun than coming up was, and then there’s a way that is downright scary. Which one would you prefer?”
“The fun one!” she said, getting excited.
“Help me go through these files and then we’ll try the fun one.”
Hraerik sat at the dining table of the suite and Gretta sat across from him and he would look at files and flip some of them over and others he would pass to Gretta. After a few sets of files, Gretta blushed and started sweating. “These files are about mother and me,” she admitted.
“And they are all Roman security files, some going back fifty years to the start of Emperor Basil’s reign.” Then Hraerik passed her a file he had pulled out of one of his bags, an English file. “You’re English, you know. Where did you learn to read Latin?” he asked her.
“Mother taught me,” she said. “But I’ve always been able to speak Greek.”
“No, you haven’t,” he told her. “You are an English orphan of King Sweyn’s Danish war upon the Saxons of England, and for that I apologize. Your mother was not your mother. She bought you as a young slave in London and she used drugs to implant your earliest memories.”
“No!” Gretta protested. “Mother was always my mother. She gave birth to me!”
“Your mother has always been an agent, a spy for Rome. She was a hermaphrodite and they are almost always sterile. Were you aware that she had a man’s package as well?”
‘Yes,” she admitted. “She always told me it was her gift from God.”
Roman security services are always looking for hermaphrodites as agents,” Hraerik explained. “It gives them flexibility. And with King Athelred, it gave her a strange power over him. He was homosexual, but that wouldn’t have given her control. He had all the fine young boys of the wharf to play with. But she was both! A man, and a mother and daughter team, the paired sex slaves that men pay so much extra for.”
“She told me we worked for King Athelred! That we were a hit team for the English nation!”
“She ensnared King Athelred into hiring her into that position, then, using drugs and alcohol and sex, she whispered the idea for the Saint Brice’s Day Massacre into his ear in a way that he actually thought it was something that he’d dreamt up.”
“She told me she was following her king’s direct orders. I wouldn’t have helped her kill anybody had I known otherwise. Even then, I couldn’t kill baby Gytha. That’s why I had to take her with me.”
“Princess Gytha was King Sweyn’s daughter by Queen Gunhild. I thank the gods that you saved her. I thank you. Every day I thank you. Your mother would have killed her without giving it a second thought, because she was doing it under Emperor Basil’s orders and she was a Roman citizen, a blind Roman patriot who would do anything for her Caesar. But you are still an English citizen, just as she told you, only your true mother and father were sold into slavery following Viking raids and she bought you and trained you to be an assassin. Let’s go through these files together and piece together how it was accomplished.”
They went through the Roman files together and they learned that the intelligence operation had been initiated by General John Tzimiskes as soon as Emperor Nicephorus Phokas had announced that Prince Svein would become a Roman co-Emperor on his successful conquest of Bulgaria. Roman legionary security operatives had helped stage the murder of the Emperor. “When Emperor John Tzimiskes failed to kill Prince Svein at the Battle of Dorostolon, they set up an operation to covertly kill him,” Hraerik concluded.
“How did he fail at Dorostolon?” Gretta asked.
“I showed up with the great merchant fleet and I forced them to make peace with each other.”
“But it says in the file that the Emperor had three hundred Greek fire breathing biremes with their fleet at Dorostolon! How could a merchant fleet force them to do anything?”
“You’ve seen it,” he said. “We don’t call it the great merchant fleet for nothing.”
“Mother brought me here to Constantinople to learn Latin and some mid-eastern assassin tricks and I’ve seen their fire ships blowing off steam. The fleet is great in numbers, but to them it would just be more ships to burn.”
“A generation earlier, my son, King Ivar ‘the Boneless’ lost a great many Viking ships to fifteen of those fire breathers and all the men on those ships were Hraes’ Christians because we thought the Romans might treat their fellow Christians more kindly than the Aesir Hraes’. Such was not the case. They burned them alive and those who were saved by the sea’s waters were taken to the Hippodrome and were crucified. Ivar and I took fifteen warships out armed with black powder propelled fire arrows and we found those fifteen fireships in the Roman harbour of Messembria and we attacked them with exploding fire arrows and we blew up every one of those focking fireships without losing a man!
“When I showed up at Dorostolon to save Ivar’s son, Svein, we fired a few warning fire arrows over their firebreathers and their Admiral Dorr had commanded those fifteen fireships from years before and I could see his sphincter tighten up a bit…well, a lot, actually, and we had his whole fleet trapped upriver and we’d only have to blow up the first fifteen or so fireships and the rest of the three hundred would have been trapped upstream of the burning fireships with nowhere to go but further upstream until they ran aground. And when those fireships in Messembria blew up and burned, they really blew up and burned. The Roman admiral had been scarred for life.”
“My God!” Gretta said. “How old are you? King Sweyn was over seventy when he died and you went into battle with his father?”
“And his father was old when he had Svein, and I was old when I had Ivar!”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Anyway,” he started again. “It looks as if they were trying to kill Svein for a long time. Svein always employed body doubles. When Prince Svein was fighting the Bulgarians, he had a double known as Prince Sviatoslav, and he had a double called General Sveinald, and when he was fighting the Romans he had another double called Sphengelos and another called Sphengos. And he always made sure that his look was distinctive so that his doubles could copy him and stand out from all others as Prince Svein. He even selected officers as doubles and they actually commanded battles on one front while he commanded battles on another. He developed a reputation of being capable of being in two places at one time.”
Prince Hraerik continued going through files and he found one on Prince Svein that reported on his plan to reconquer Roman territory for the Eastern Roman Empire once he had been made co-Emperor. “Very few Hraes’ knew of Prince Svein’s plans to rebuild Rome,” he told Gretta. “I don’t know how they got this intel, but now I see that Emperor Basil has been following it to the letter since he took over from Emperor John. But Svein was a military genius. It had taken him twenty weeks to conquer Bulgaria and Basil has spent the last twenty years accomplishing the very same thing. They now call him Emperor Basil ‘the Bulgar-Slayer’.”
“Why do they call him Bulgar slayer?”
“Ten years ago he defeated a Bulgar army and he captured fifteen thousand Bulgars and five thousand Wallachian allies. He had them all blinded, but every hundredth man was spared one eye to lead his cohort back to Bulgaria. When they arrived in Sofia, it is said the sight caused Tzar Simeon to lose his mind and he died shortly after. From this incident comes the saying, ‘In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,’ or so they say. But it was the Wallachian allies that Basil was really punishing.”
“How so?” she asked.
“After Prince Svein conquered the Bulgarians for Eastern Rome, they refused to make him co-Emperor, so Svein attacked the Romans. During the war, Empress Helga died in Gardariki, so Svein came back for her funeral. The Romans attacked while he was gone and they trapped and killed twenty thousand Pecheneg light horsemen with their heavy armoured cataphract knights, so Count Vlad ‘the Impaler’ of Wallachia, our ally, captured Philippopolis and impaled twenty thousand Romans in revenge. The blinding’s were Basil’s revenge. Impaling is a Wallachian thing and blinding is a Byzantine thing!”
Then Prince Hraerik found a file on Jarl Olaf Tryggvason. There had always been a rumour that Jarl Olaf had first been converted to Christianity in Constantinople, but it had never been confirmed until just then. Hraerik read that when Jarl Olaf had first fled Hraes’ after being caught focking Princess Malfrieda, he first fled to the Varangian Guard in Constantinople, where he was recruited into Emperor Basil’s security services and sent back up through Hraes’ to infiltrate Prince Svein’s western forces. By this time Prince Svein was King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ and Olaf presented himself as Ole and offered his services in Sweyn’s Viking raids on England. Olaf had been given orders to assassinate Sweyn at his earliest opportunity, so Ole made contact with Basil’s agents in England and was soon involved with King Athelred’s plans to make Norway an English ally. While King Sweyn was attacking England, Jarl Olaf attacked Norway and made himself king there. Sweyn was proving hard to kill, so the Roman plan shifted to bogging Sweyn down in a long war with the English and for that, the Saint Brice’s Day Massacre was executed. Gretta’s mother had been the agent of Basil who had whispered the plan into King Athelred’s ear during a drunken orgy with the mother-daughter sex team. The file ended by describing the great success the Saint Brice’s Day mission had been.
Prince Hraerik knew the rest of that story. Following the massacre in which King Sweyn had lost his Polish queen, the decade of Viking raids turned into a decade of open warfare and Sweyn had lost twenty years of the conquests he had planned to make to rebuild the Roman Empire and, shortly after conquering England, he lost his life as well.
“I think your security officer is back,” Gretta said, as they heard a tapping on their door. Hraerik looked over at the water clock on the sideboard. “I didn’t realise it was so late,” Hraerik said. “I know!” she replied, as they both got up and walked to the door. They showed the young captain into the room and they excused themselves and went into their bedroom to change for supper. Then they came out and they all went into the hall and Hraerik locked their door and took them back to the Archimedes screw and Hraerik showed Gretta a slide that took them back down to the main floor dining room. They had a fine supper there and were entertained by a lute player as they ate and conversed, then they went down into the Don Jon of the Red House and enjoyed a magic show put on by the Aesir and Vanir witches of the house. Then the Exeyes officer returned with them up the Archimedes screw to fetch the Roman files from the room.
“Our contact at the Roman archives needs these back,” the officer said, “before we can get files on the ongoing mission that the Romans are presently running in Scandinavia. He loves our gold, but he doesn’t fully trust us. Do you need anything copied out of this?”
“No,” Hraerik told him. “That will just delay things. How much gold are these files costing us?”
“I wouldn’t know,” the officer confessed. “That is way above my pay grade!”
“Did you want anything copied?” Hraerik asked Gretta.
“God no!” she replied. “I still can’t believe what I’m reading.”
With that said, the officer left with the files and Hraerik and Gretta went to bed and enjoyed the buzz that the fine wines of their evening had imparted upon them. An hour later, as they relaxed in each other’s arms, Hraerik said, “Once we finish reading reports here I want you to become my cabin girl and I’ll take you to Baghdad and India with me and I’ll show you how The Hraes’ Trading Company operates. Then when we come back to Constantinople in the fall, I would like your assistance with something.”
“Mother made me swear an oath of fealty to Emperor Basil when we were here learning Latin,” Gretta confessed, as she guessed where this was going.
“We can work around that,” Hraerik assured her. “Are you interested?”
“Of course!” she said, hugging him.
“Tomorrow’s files are likely to detail the Roman operation in England right up to the present,” Hraerik started slowly. “I think I shall be reading that you poisoned Jarl Eirik in Southampton.”
“I thought I was doing it for the English security service,” Gretta admitted nervously. “I had no idea the Romans were involved.”
“Hraes’ security agents will also be reading the files,” Hraerik warned her. “King Canute will know. You can never go back to England.”
“Where will I go?” she asked her prince.
“I want you to live with me in Gardariki,” Hraerik told her. “Would you like to try?”
“Are there any English people in Gardariki?” she asked.
“Quite a few, actually,” Hraerik told her to her surprise. English slaves were very prized in both Baghdad and Constantinople and many of them worked hard and bought their own freedom back. We’ve always welcomed the freed English slaves in Gardariki and many of them work in my guild factories there…for pay, of course. No slavery is allowed in Gardariki. Princess Gunwar’s orders.”
“Who’s Princess Gunwar?”
“She was my first wife, and she started the freedom movement.”
“I’ve heard of the freedom movement, but it’s over a hundred years old!”
“Almost two hundred,” Hraerik corrected.
“So you’re the Chief Officer of the world’s largest slave trading company and your city doesn’t allow slavery because your first wife forbade it?”
“You’re a complex man, Prince Hraerik,” she whispered, kissing him. “I thought mother was the most complex being on Terra, but you are far more complex than she ever was. For example, why are you helping me?”
“For two reasons,” he started. “When I was younger, I bought a slave girl as my cabin boy and we worked our way through many issues we had both suffered from,” and he went on to tell her about Sinead.
“And the second reason?” she asked.
“When we were in Kiev together killing Bishop Thietmar, I think I may have fallen in love with you.”
“That’s deep!” she said, tucking her shoulder into his armpit.
While Gretta was sailing through Baghdad to India with her prince, the witches he had left with Prince Mstislav in Chernigov were busy and getting into all kinds of trouble. Prince Ivaraslav’s Varangian help arrived from Sweden when Princess Ingigerd’s father, King Anund Jacob arrived in Novgorod at the head of a Swedish Goth army, wearing a blinding robe of woven gold that had been gifted to him by King Canute. Prince Ivaraslav gathered his Centuriata about himself and raised the Novgorod mobile legion and they sailed south with the Swedes and set up their war-camp just west of Chernigov before the field upon which Princes Ivar and Helgi had battled it out upon just a generation before them. He sent his officers to challenge Prince Mstislav to battle for the city.
Prince Mstislav was holding Chernigov with his Tmutorokan mobile legion, which was sufficient to hold the city, but, in order to fight out on the western plain, he needed more troops, so he was granted a day to call up the local Severian Slav militias. This would still leave him with far fewer troops than Ivaraslav and his Swedish father-in-law had, so Princess Nado volunteered her witchcraft skills to help and Witch Hallveig was not going to be outdone by an Alan witch, so she offered her assistance with the goddess Irpa and Witch Nadege offered to help as well. As the Severian troops streamed into the city, a suitable young boy was purchased from a local prince and, as feasting was taking place throughout the city, Witch Nadege took the young teen into her suite and pleasured him that night. It was his first sex, and the morning sex that followed would be his last.
At dawn, the Tmutorokan mobile legion and the Severian militias began forming up and marching in two columns out of the city. By the time they arrived at the field of battle, the Novgorod legion and the Swedish Varangians were already formed up on the other side of the plain, with the Varangians warriors arranged in a wedge at the center and the mobile legion on horseback on either flank. Mstislav had no choice but to keep his mobile legion fully horsed to meet the rival legion on the flanks and he placed his Severian troops in the center to face the Varangians and he bolstered them with his Centuriata which he would lead personally. He saw the bright gold armour of the Swedish king off in the distance and Prince Ivar was at his side instead of with his troops and Misty smiled at his good fortune. Although the king was Christian, the Swedish troops were Aesir and would be very susceptible to the surprise that was planned for them once the battle was engaged. The two armies left their hazel pole markers and began advancing against each other.
The city was again sealed up behind its walls, with a skeleton force of Chernigov Danes left to man them, and the three witches were out in the central square before the palace and twelve young female chantreusses danced around them in a circle, chanting, and the teen boy stood before them nervously. Spirit entities could almost be seen swirling above the city and dark brooding clouds were gathering in the east and were approaching quickly. Witches Hallveig and Nadege moved to either side of the boy and Witch Nado was chanting before him loudly. Hallveig took her razor sharp seax out of its sheath and she severed the right jugular of the lad and Nadege eased him to his knees over a large silver bowl and his life blood spilled forth into it and the boy died. Witch Hallveig stripped off her black clothes and began swathing the blood all over her body until she was quite red with it, and though her form was already that of a goddess, as the black clouds gathered above her she glowed gold through the red and rose up into a black swirling dust devil and the clouds took her away and blew west towards the battlefield.
Witch Hallveig was fully possessed by the goddess Irpa as she approached the two fully engaged armies from above and she came out of the clouds as Irpa and hovered above Prince Mstislav and his Centuriata and she began shooting bolts from each finger of both hands and every bolt killed a Varangian and brave Swedes filed in behind the dead and replaced them. But as quickly as the gallant Varangians came on, the goddess Irpa dispatched them until the Swedes began moving back just to get clear of the bodies to fight the Severians. Beyond the center, the Varangians were slaying Severians all about them, but they had to fall back with the center to keep some semblance of formation and soon Varangians from the ends had to go to the center as a long swath of bolt shot bodies trailed in the field behind the advancing Centuriata of Prince Mstislav. The legions on the flanks fought melee style from horseback, but the Novgorodians had to fall back with the Swedes to protect them. Then the black clouds above the Varangians and Novgorodians began flashing bolts of lightning and thunder peeled across the battlefield and cold rain and hail was blown into the faces of the Northmen to add to their misery. As the Varangians were driven back, they began to approach the hazel poles they had started from and once beyond them, the old Roman laws of war would no longer protect them, so many of the exhausted warriors began surrendering and could not be killed, but were taken by their captives to the back of the lines and were bent over their shields and raped before being tied to scaling ladders in groups.
King Anund watched as his men began to melt away and he called for Prince Ivar to sound a general retreat. Once they withdrew outside the hazel poles, acceptance of surrenders were no longer required by Roman law and the fleeing could be slaughtered wholesale, so the retreat had to be coordinated to minimize losses as the northern troops fought their way back to their ships. Once Prince Mstislav saw that the Novgorodians and Varangians were fleeing, he called a halt to his army’s advance. He knew that the Prince would want to broker peace between the two younger princes and any further slaughter would just foment bitterness. So the army of Chernigov watched as the northern army fled and only the black raining clouds followed them out over the Dnieper as they rowed off in their ships and then the clouds came back lighter and passed clearly over Prince Mstislav and blew back to Chernigov and a white twister deposited a prone Witch Hallveig at the feet of the two witches who were still being circled by the dancing chanting chantreusses. They wrapped a heavy blanket around the sleeping Hallveig and had soldiers carry her and the boy back into the palace. The victorious troops would soon be arriving in the square and the exhausted witches didn’t want to be there.
The summer in Denmark was not without incidence either. Jarl Ulf had declared young Prince Hardeknute as King of Denmark in place of Canute and had wrested control of the army from Queen Gyritha, who immediately fled to England. Jarl Ulf then joined an alliance that King Olaf ‘the Stout’ of Norway had already established with King Anund Jakob of Sweden and they set up a meeting that was to take place in Kingscrag, Skane when King Anund returned from Hraes’. King Olaf wanted to change the defensive alliance into an offensive arrangement and King Anund was just getting back from his defeat in Chernigov, and he arrived at the meeting place with half the army that he had set out with in the spring. He was angry because it was his Swedes that had suffered most of the losses during the battle, slaughtered by a witch, and his son-in-law, Prince Ivar had hardly lost any men. He gave the offensive arrangement his blessing because it would give him a chance to exact revenge out of Ivar and Mstislav’s father, Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’, who was now masquerading around as King Canute ‘the Great’ of England. He learned at the meeting that Canute was no longer King of Denmark, but it would take an offensive measure to keep it that way.
Prince Hraerik and Gretta had enjoyed each other immensely over the summer, trading in Baghdad and Ashaval and Mumba and she had met his wives there and she began to experience the full scope of his trading empire. If the Caesar of the Eastern Roman Empire was king of kings, then Prince Hraerik was chief merchant officer of all merchants and she appreciated the peace of trading over the wars of empire. Hraerik’s personal fleet took one last shipment of untouchables bound for Constantinople and they sailed back north to where they had started. The untouchables sold quickly as the Prince arranged for an audience with the Emperors Basil and Constantine, and he came bearing gifts. He had lavished much gold about since arriving in the capitol and a lot of it was sent in the Caesars’ direction. When he stood before the seated Emperors in their throne room, a place he had visited occasionally over the past two centuries, he had three gifts to show Emperor Basil ‘the Second’, the Bulgar-Slayer. And Princess Sviataslava stood on one side of him and Princess Gretta on the other.
“Princess Gretta has told me that she swore an oath of fealty to you, Emperor Basil, and I wish to offer you one of these three gifts if you release her from that pledge,” the Prince said grandly as he waved his arm back to reveal the boxes that were being wheeled into the room. “They have all been checked by your security,” he added, as several Varangian Guard officers stood armed on either side of the crates. “Will you accept one of these gifts, should you choose it, in exchange for Gretta?”
Emperor Basil nodded an interest in the offering.
Prince Hraerik then opened the lid of the smallest box and in it was a small keg of black flour. “This is the black powder we use to propel our rocket arrows that your Greek fire breathing biremes find so dangerous. My Alchemists of Gardariki have reverse engineered the Cathayan formulation of it and have even improved upon it and with this gift comes the MUD Book for its manufacture, should you choose to accept this gift.”
Emperor Basil nodded his interest in the next offering.
“This is the famous sword Tyrfingr,” he said, opening up the lead lined crate he carried the dangerous weapon in. He made sure the open box was pointed towards the Emperor and he was hoping that Basil would be so intrigued by it that the warrior within him would come close to inspect it. Emperor Constantine was not interested in it, not being a warrior like his brother. “It guarantees victory for all who carry it into battle, but must always be sheathed in the blood of its last victim.” And the Prince reached into the box with one hand only and pulled the sword out of its lead scabbard enough to show the Emperor the glow of the blade and that peaked enough of Basil’s interest for him to come down from his dais and inspect the thing. He walked up and studied the sword intently and even moved to touch it, but then returned to his throne. The Prince left the crate open and moved on to the last gift, a tall box which he flipped open and held out a hand to steady the man who stepped out of it.
Gretta gasped as she saw that it was her handler who had visited her at the Tower of London. Hraerik stood and steadied the man and said, “And this is my last offering, your head of security for Operation Brice with King Athelred ‘the Unready’ of England. Please select your choice of gift if you find any worthy of exchange for Princess Gretta.”
Emperor Basil had not seen the creator of Operation Brice for almost two decades so he got up and came down to look at him closer and he stood in front of Tyrfingr for several minutes while he assured himself that it was his security officer. Then he returned to his throne and he made his selection.
“I will not accept your black powder,” he started, “because Rome doesn’t need anything that was created by the Alchemists Guild. Our Roman science is vastly superior to the Guild science.” Then he moved on to the next gift. “I will not accept your sword, as it is of Aesir magic and we are a Christian Empire.” Then he moved on to the last. “I have no idea who this man is,” he said, “but he looks in need of aid and, as we are a Christian Empire, I find it necessary to show him kindness and care, as he seems somewhat dishevelled at being carted about in a crate. In exchange for this man, I release Gretta from her oath, whatever it may have been for.”
“Thank you, Emperor Basil ‘the Bulgar-Slayer’,” Prince Hraerik said, and he had his men pack up the rest of the gifts. As they were sailing across the Scythian Sea to Tmutorokan, the Prince took the crate that held the sword Tyrfingr and he dropped it into the waters. “It was getting far too dangerous,” Hraerik told Gretta.
“Did Emperor Basil get enough exposure?” she asked.
“He’ll be dead before the year is out,” he answered and he instinctively rubbed his hand, the one he had used to expose the blade a bit more. “Emperor Constantine didn’t get as much of a blast. He’ll last a year or two.”
It is said that the Scythian Sea came to be called the Black Sea because, at a certain depth, the lead weights of sounding lines turned black from something in the lower waters. Perhaps that something is Tyrfingr.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:
A.D. 1025. The entry for this year has been moved to A.D. 1026,
As it appears to have been wrongly dated.
The Prince Hraerik’s New Knytling Saga Chronicle for the year read:
Burislafs Final (Boleslaw I ‘the Brave’ 967- June 17th 1025)
Chapter 130: In the spring before Easter, Burislaf came to King Knud in Roskilde,
and was with him at Easter, and enjoyed many accolades, and carried the sword
before the king. And when Burislaf returned home, the king gave him good gifts,
whereupon they parted with friendship. The spring after Lent, Burislaf fell ill; he
then sent messengers to his advisers, consulted with them, and said that if he
recovered from this disease, he would visit King Knud, but if it did not fall into his
lot, then he asked the king himself to make a decision with the country that he liked
best. He also asked the king, for God’s sake, to grant his children friendship, and to
change everything between them, as he wished, for he saw that his brother Jarismar
had been well served by the fact that he had always been faithful to King Knud.
From this same disease Duke Burislaf died in Lent.
The Prince Hraerik’s New Chronicle of the Hraes’ for the year read:
(1025 AD) King Anund came over with his Varangian followers. Now this
Anund was blinded by a robe he had been given all woven with gold. He allied
Himself with Ivaraslav, and with his support Ivar marched against Mstislav who,
hearing the news of their coming, proceeded to meet them at Listven’.
At eventide Mstislav marshalled his troops, placing the Severians
in the centre opposite the Varangians, while he himself and his personal
retainers took up their position on the flanks. When battle commenced,
there was darkness with lightning, thunder, and rain. Mstislav thus
ordered his followers to attack. Then Mstislav came up with
his retainers to attack the Varangians, and the combat was violent.
As the lightnings flashed, the weapons gleamed and the thunder roared,
and the fight was violent and fearsome. Now when Ivaraslav saw that
he was overpowered, he fled from the field with Anund, the Varangian
king, who lost his gold-woven robe in his flight. Ivaraslav arrived
safely at Novgorod, but Anund departed beyond the sea.
Then Mstislav proposed to Ivaraslav that the latter, as the
eldest brother, should remain in Kiev, while the Chernigov district
should belong to Mstislav. But Ivaraslav did not dare to return to Kiev
until they were properly reconciled. So Mstislav settled in Chernigov,
and Ivaraslav in Novgorod, though Kiev was occupied by subjects of
Ivaraslav. In this year was born to Ivaraslav a second son, and he was
christened Izyaslav. Also, on December 15 of this year Emperor Basil the Second, ‘the Bulgar Slayer’, died after a brief but painful illness.