Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert





Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg by K Donst & H Rossa  (1009)


(1018)  In the early spring, Queen Emma and Prince Hraerik prepared their fleet of tallships to sail once more for the Newfoundland.  Two more tallships had been added to their fleet and the goods they returned with were now extensive enough for the Prince to take furs back to the east with the Hraes’ merchant fleet.  Once the tallships left, Hraerik led the English component of the Hraes’ fleet to Roskilde harbour and he had a passenger on his shieldship with him and she was dressed in black.  He also carried with him a bundle of letters that Princess Estrid had given him to pass on to her brothers in Hraes’.  While the merchant fleet was assembling in the harbour, the woman in black slipped anonymously, invisibly, into the Danish population.  She could speak the languages fluently, both the Low Germanic Danish of the Angles and the High Germanic dialect of the Zealanders.  And she had gold and silver with her and she settled into a comfortable inn near the harbour that allowed her access to sailors and mercenaries and the type of people that could help her get her mission completed.  She also had her poison kit with her.

She planned on using the same slow acting poison she had killed King Edmund with, but she didn’t have to worry about giving food tasters antidotes because Canute had no written contract with Harald.  Canute had precedence over Harald regarding the title, but King Sweyn had left Harald in charge of the kingdom while he and Canute were campaigning in England, and when they’d won the war and then King Sweyn was poisoned, Harald had refused to relinquish control of the army in Denmark and Canute had control of a withdrawing Hraes’ army fleeing England, but Canute didn’t want to squander his men fighting Dane against Dane when he needed all of them to fight the English.  So, he had taken his Hraes’ troops back to Kiev and Tmutorokan for a furlough and then a return to Britain.  And now that he had won his second war with the English, he didn’t want to squander his English silver fighting a war over Denmark when he needed his Danegeld tax on England to pay off his Hraes’ legions and the Scandinavian mercenaries that had joined him.  He had collected over eighty thousand pounds of silver from his English subjects, not without protests either, to pay off some troops and send them home and to pay others to keep them in England.  What was needed in Denmark was a nice quiet economical killing and ‘Gretta’, the persona that the old woman had created for herself in Roskilde, was just the person to get the job done.  If she could just get a job.

Denmark was quite different from the England that Gretta was used to operating in.  So many English people had died or disappeared or had been enslaved during their ten year war with the Danes that people were in short supply everywhere.  A spy or assassin could get a job almost anywhere or in any position they needed to operate in.  But getting a job in the Danish royal palace was near impossible.  Subjects were on long lists waiting for jobs there.  And people abounded everywhere in Denmark and jobs were scarce everywhere.  The women of Denmark truly were more bountiful than the land.  Every year young men and women sailed east with the Hraes’ merchant fleet to earn their fortunes in Novgorod or Kiev or Tmutorokan.  And now Gretta learned that there were young men sailing west to make their fortunes in the Newfoundland.  Hraes’ trading posts were being established up both sides of the great Newfoundland River that ran far inland to a pair of great waterfalls called Nia and Gara, North and South, or Niagara Falls.

As Prince Hraerik sailed off east with the fleet, Gretta decided that she had to reset her plans and adjust her schedule.  King Canute had given her a contact in Roskilde, an Exeyes officer who was in charge of Hraes’ spying in Denmark.  Everything that the Hraes’ did was patterned after the Roman systems that had been in place in ancient times when the empire ran from Northern Britain, south through Gaul and along both north and south coasts of the Mediterranean all the way east into Persia and touching upon India and the Silk Road to Cathay.  But everything the Romans did was concrete and real estate.  The northern Hraes’ empire was a concept and a trading company that had posts and stores stretching from the Newfoundland and Greenland and Iceland in the west to England, Ireland, Normandy, Frankia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden , Finland, Estland, and Hraes’ in the east with further stores in Constantinople and Eastern Roman lands, Baghdad, Ashaval, Mumba and Cathay.  Hraes’ trade was even now extending through Frankish riverways to Italy and the original Rome.  While Roman legions had enforced Roman laws in conquered provinces, Hraes’ legions now enforced trade contracts in partnered countries.

When Gretta contacted her man in Roskilde, she learned that he ran a shop that sold Persian carpets in Denmark.  “It gives me ample reasons to travel freely,” the Exeyes officer explained as they talked and drank wine at the back of his shop.  He was a Dane, born in Kiev, trained in Constantinople, and now living with a Zealand wife and Danish children in paid retirement in Roskilde.  He was a pledged for life follower of the Hraes’ Knytling Kings of Jelling.  He was Hraes’, owing no allegiance to any one country, but an allegiance instead to a company, a concept, a cooperation.

Gretta had walked through the shop and had studied the beautiful Persian carpets being sold there and she’d baulked at the prices marked on the rolls, but the store had traffic and carpets were being sold and many were veritable works of art.  “Could we get some of these carpets into the palace?” she asked innocently.

“We do occasionally sell carpets into the palace,” the officer said, “but we can’t jeopardize our whole operation just to support one mission operative.  But I can see where you are going with this and I do know a tapestry shop that has just had a large order placed by the palace, by the queen actually, and they are looking for workers and installers.  You must know how to weave,” he said.

“Not a clue,” she answered.

“Really?” he said, quite surprised by her answer.  “You want an installer position anyway.  It just helps in you know the product, but I can teach you, I can talk you through it.”  He showed her the tapestries he had on hand and explained the warp and woof of them and the various stitches just so she could bluff her way through her lack of knowledge and then he dove straight into explaining the installation of tapestries onto stone and wood and daub walls.  Gretta picked things up very quickly and the next day she went to the tapestry shop down the street from the carpet shop and she managed to get a job as an installer.  She would start in a few days so she bought several tapestries and supports from the shop and took them back to the carpet shop and had the officer show her how to install the tapestries and then she put them up all around his office.  He followed behind her and took them down.

“Put them up there, there and there,” he directed her, and she put them up again and noticed that he had picked some more difficult locations.  He took them down again and said, “There, there and there,” and she installed them in the even harder locations more quickly than she had done in the first locations.  “Come back tomorrow,” he said, “and we’ll install them all over again.”

When Prince Hraerik and the Hraes’ merchant fleet arrived in Novgorod, they learned that King Canute’s son, Prince Ivaraslav had been attacked by his brother Prince Sviatopolk and King Burizleif of Poland and had been driven out of Kiev.  The great merchant fleet was a Varangian army unto itself and when it arrived in Kiev, King Burizleif fled back to Poland and Prince Sviatopolk fled to live amongst the Pechenegs.  The Prince went about Kiev and inspected the damage done by the Lyakhs and Poles and then inspected the progress that had been made on the rebuilding of churches that had been burnt the year before.  He found Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg hard at work supervising the rebuilding of the German Latin Church in Kiev and he sat with him and they talked about the Chronicle he was writing as the work was progressing.  Thietmar passed the Prince his Chronicon, not expecting the Prince to be able to read the High German in which it was written.

“It is written in proper High German,” the bishop said, condescendingly, “not your Low German Anglish of Jutland.”  When Hraerik began reading it aloud, the bishop was visibly impressed.

“In this great city, which is the capital of the kingdom,” Hraerik began, “more than four hundred churches and eight markets are there, but the number of the people are unknown: which, coming there from every other province, the strong Slavs ran, who had come hither from all quarters, and were followed by the swift Danes, had hitherto resisted the great Pechenegs, but were overcome by the others.”

“Where did you learn to read High German?” the bishop asked.

“I learned it while being held captive in the court of Louis ‘the Pious’ in Ingelheim,” Prince Hraerik told him.

“But he reigned over a hundred years ago,” the bishop protested.

“I know.  I was there,” the Prince replied, becoming annoyed.  “Do you know what ‘swift Danes’ means?”

“It is what the Romans call you Hraes’,” he replied.  “They claim you flee from battle and that is exactly what happened here in Kiev when King Burizleif and his Polish army came.”

“It was specifically what the Romans called me,” Hraerik started, “when we Danes and Norwegians fought the Khazars before the Battle of the Goths and the Huns.  They called us ‘Rhos’ after my family byname ‘Hraes’, and they called us ‘those who run fast’ because we retreated before a Khazar army that was twice our size.  We retreated north back up to Novgorod and the Khazar army perished because of its huge size.  Then we chased the survivors back to Khazaria and we conquered Kiev from King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs and we founded Rus’.”

“That must have been before King Louis ‘the Pious’,” the bishop protested.

“That is the only time the Romans called us ‘the swift Danes’ and their secret Khazar brothers paid for it.  You are not to use this insulting terminology to describe my grandsons!”

“These are only my notes!  In German!” the bishop replied, startled at the Hraes’ prince’s anger.  “I will be rewriting my Chronicon in formal Latin.”

“I want to see your formal Latin version before you leave Hraes’,” Hraerik told the bishop.  “I’ll be back in early fall.  Your church should almost be completed when I get back from Baghdad.”

Before the Prince rejoined the great merchant fleet, he sent a messenger back to Denmark to tell Gretta, the woman in black to meet him in Kiev in the fall.  Then he spent the summer trading in Baghdad and India.

The woman in black finished her tapestry hanging training in Roskilde and left her Exeyes officer handler to work at the tapestry shop that was installing new tapestries in the king’s palace.  She worked for a journeyman hanger who was astonished at how slow she was and bellowed orders to her constantly to “speed it up” and she kept worrying that she would be fired, but the twenty hangers that were doing the job still weren’t enough so she was kept on and her work speed did pick up as she gained experience.  She even began to enjoy working with tapestries and the journeyman would sometimes take the time to explain the different meanings of symbols and drawings that were in the tapestries.  Because Gretta was always dressed in black and seemed to be adept at blending into the background anywhere she went, the journeyman would have her work in the king’s great hall, sometimes even when King Harald sat at his highseat, and Gretta soon learned how the king sat and where he rested his bare arm while he sat.

As the tapestry project began to near completion, Gretta worried that she wouldn’t get a chance to apply her slow acting topical poison to King Harald’s highseat, but one day the journeyman took her into the empty great hall and began to explain some repairs required there and he was called away by another worker and she was left alone in the hall.  She approached the triple highseat from behind and she took a bottle of the poison out from the bosom of her black dress and she used a paste brush to apply the topical poison to the arm of the king’s highseat.  It soaked into the wood and it would slowly absorb into any skin that contacted the wood.  It was slow enough acting to have no effect upon persons who might join the king on his highseat, but over a period of several days, the level of poison that was transferred to the king made him become ill.  The king kept coming and sitting at his highseat to rule over his subjects even though he was gravely ill and the tapestry project was successfully completed before Gretta could learn if she had succeeded in killing the king.  She kept working at the tapestry shop, partly because she found that she enjoyed tapestries, and partly to better monitor the palace as regarded the health of the king.  It took two weeks, but the town heralds and criers began going through Roskilde bellowing, “The king is dead!  Long live the king!”

When she returned to the Persian carpet shop, the Exeyes officer offered her congratulations.  He also passed along a message from the Prince to meet him in Kiev early fall.  She missed her daughter and her grandchildren and wanted to return to England first but the officer recommended she go straight to Kiev via slaver ships that often took captives to Kiev at all times of year.  “They go whenever they have enough poor wretches,” he told her.  “You don’t want to be late for the Prince.  He has a project requiring your special talents.”

She waited a week in Roskilde before several slaver ships full of captive Irish women and children stopped in Roskilde to pay tithes before sailing off to the slave schools of Kiev.  Before leaving she heard that King Canute had been proclaimed King of Denmark in absentia.  It took four weeks to get to Kiev and when she arrived there she reported to the Tmutorokan legion that the Prince had left there to defend the city.  The Exeyes officer in charge of legion intelligence told her that the Prince wanted to set up a hit on Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg who was in town supervising a church rebuild and documenting the recent history of a Polish and German victory over the Hraes’ Danish Princes of Kiev.

“The Prince feels that the bishop’s history contains insults to his grandsons,” the officer informed Gretta.  “You are to get an inside job at the rebuild and collect intel on the bishop’s writing habits: where he writes, where he keeps his journals, where he’s at with his final Latin Chronicon, the usual…”

Unlike Denmark, there were plenty of open positions in Kiev.  The Polish attack and sack had left a lot of damage and had killed a lot of people, so workers for rebuilds and repairs were in short supply.  Gretta got a job working directly under the bishop’s supervision, developing tapestries to his tastes and then hanging them in the church.  She was a Latin Christian herself so, she had no problem understanding exactly what he wanted, unlike the Orthodox Christian Danes and Slavs working on the church rebuild.  She spent most of her time working in the church rectory, which was exactly where the bishop did most of his writing and kept some of his books.  When he was away she would go through his journals and she could almost read his High German well enough to get the gist of what he was documenting.  Later, a Latin version of his work had been placed there by the bishop and she had been trained by King Athelred’s court staff to read Latin.  Most other languages the women in black were trained in required speech only or speech as well as reading, but she had enjoyed learning Latin because nobody spoke the language, all priests mouthed it, of course, but nobody conversed in it.  He had been writing his Chronicon since his youth in the 990’s, but she was reading when she should be working so she started with the year he had become a bishop in 1009 and she skimmed through his writings about the Holy Roman Emperors and the Eastern Roman Emperors until she got to 1016 and she found a passage that directly addressed King Canute’s conquest of England and his defeat of King Athelred and his son, King Edmund, and she learned that Jarl Eirik had beheaded Prince Uhtred and a Jarl Nefja, who had been a half brother of King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway.  She had heard about the slaying of Uhtred, but she hadn’t known anything about Jarl Nefja even existing.

She was about to put the book away when she noticed that there had been an entry made below it that had been blotted out and overwritten by another entry.  She held the book up to the light and could make out some of what had been erased.  It seemed that when King Olaf had heard that his brother had been killed, he pleaded with King Burizleif to avenge him.  Poland had been at war with the Germans, but when Princess Estrid joined in the pleas, Burizleif made peace with the Germans and asked them to join in on the plundering of Kiev while the Hraes’ legions were in the west conquering England.  She had done the prep work for King Athelred’s support of Jarl Olaf in his seizing of the Kingdom of Norway, and she knew that Olaf had brothers and sisters in Norway, but she had no idea that two of the Tryggvasons had survived the Battle of Svolder.  She knew this was a war crime and that was probably the reason the lines had been blotted out.  Kiev had been blatantly attacked and plundered for the death of some Jarl in a country thousands of miles away.  Thousands had died, thousands more were raped and many Slav women had been kidnapped and were, even now, being plundered in Germany and Poland.  She got back to work hanging tapestries and gave some thought as to what type of poison she would be giving the bishop before he left Kiev.  There would be no saving him from the anger of the Prince now.

When the Prince returned to Kiev with the great merchant fleet, Gretta had a meeting with him and went through all information she had uncovered from the Latin Chronicon entry for 1016 and the entry for 1018 which she had gone through the next day.  She started with the last entry first and it was pretty much the same as what Hraerik had read out of Thietmar’s High German journal.  It still attributed the Polish victory to the flight of the Slav troops followed by the ‘swift Danes’.  “I’ll discuss what actually happened in more detail with King Canute’s son, Prince Ivaraslav,” Hraerik told Gretta.  Then Gretta told the Prince about the entry she had read for 1016, where Olaf Tryggvason had pleaded with King Burizleif to attack Kiev while the Hraes’ legions were in England to avenge the death of his brother, Jarl Nefja.  Prince Hraerik grew red around his neck when he heard the words and grew angrier yet when he learned that Burizleif had made peace in his war with the Germans and invited them to plunder Kiev with him.  “We need a poison,” the Prince said, “that will allow Bishop Thietmar to get back to Merseburg and live there for a few weeks before he dies.  I don’t want his death to be traced back to Kiev because it may cause another attack and some Hraes’ legions are still in England.”

“I have slow acting poisons,” Gretta answered, “but nothing that will last more than a week before causing death.  He would die in Merseburg, but pretty much as soon as he got back.”

“This was an unprovoked attack that took thousands of lives.  Let me talk with Prince Ivaraslav and see what can be done at my end and could you double check your poisons for a way to make them slower acting.”

Prince Hraerik had a discussion the next day with Prince Ivaraslav and, after a light talk about Princess Estrid’s unhappiness in Normandy, as outlined in her letters, he told him that the Poles had learned about the Hraes’ attack on King Athelred and England and that they decided to attack Kiev while many of the Hraes’ legions were thus engaged.  Then he asked the young prince about his withdrawal from Kiev before the army of King Burizleif.  “The Polish army entered Hraes’ from the border between Poland and Germany,” Ivar started, “picking up German units as they progressed and they approached Kiev from the west.  At night, many of the Poljane and Drevjane Slav soldiers would abandon their posts and flee over the walls for their villages.  By the time the Poles neared, we had only one Hraes’ legion of Danish troops left protecting the walls of Kiev, and even with our Danish citizens, the walls were just too long for our numbers to defend.  I ordered our Danish soldiers to withdraw to Chernigov because the city is smaller and we had enough men to cover the walls there.  We evacuated the Hraes’ men, women and children to Chernigov with us, but we didn’t have the time, the ships and the supplies needed to evacuate the Slav women and children their men had abandoned.  We surrendered Kiev to the Poles, but they sacked and plundered the city anyway.  All the women were raped, even some of the children, and Burizleif’s troops foraged through Kiev for any women that were hiding and any valuables they could get their hands on.

“The Poles attacked us in Chernigov but we successfully defended her walls and they returned to pillage Kiev some more.  When you approached with the merchant fleet, they took their spoils and all the pretty young Slav women back to Poland and Germany.  Most of the women that they left in Kiev are now learning they are pregnant.  In the spring, the Dnieper will be littered with sinking sacks of new-borns.  None of the women will want to keep their Polish or German babies.  It is criminal what King Burizleif has done.”

“I heard that the rebuilding of Bishop Thietmar’s German church continued on through the occupation unmolested,” the Prince told his great grandson, “and I have learned that he is adding a description of the Polish attack to his Chronicle of Merseburg, and in it, he calls your troops ‘swift Danes’.”

“As in ‘swift Hraes’?” Ivar asked, turning red around his neck.  “We made a strategic withdrawal and continued to fight the Poles to a draw!  Only our Slav troops ran and only because they were green and wanted to protect their villages in Dereva.  The bishop has no right to write that!”

“That is what I have told him.  I was hoping he would change his wording, but apparently he has not.  I’m planning on having him poisoned, but I want him to die in Germany so we are not blamed.  What are your views on this?”

“I think we should have Bishop Thietmar impaled in front of King Frodi’s palace, but your right, that would just bring Burizleif back with his Polish army and a far larger German army with it.  A nice quiet death in Merseburg would be best.  Do you have Exeyes officers there to do it?”

“No,” Hraerik said.  “We are planning to give him a very slow acting poison before he leaves Kiev, slow enough for him to be home a few weeks before he drops dead.”

“Do you have such a poison?”

“We’re working on it.”

“I’m just thankful the walls of Chernigov proved effective against the Polish ballistae or we’d have died there,” Ivar said.  “And the moat!”

“You have your great Uncle Helgi to thank for that,” Hraerik said.  “When Prince Ivar was threatening to take Princess Sviataslava from him, he reinforced the walls and constructed the moat.”

“Wasn’t it the moat that killed Uncle Helgi?”

“Some say so, but others say it was a lie, that Prince Ivar murdered him and threw his body into the moat so it looked like he was killed in his general retreat.”

“More ‘swift Danes’, Bishop Thietmar would write,” Ivar complained.

“It turns out that it was a lie.  A Varangian prince took Uncle Ivar’s life to protect your father from further fratricide.”

“You should write this all down,” Ivar pleaded, “like our bishop does, in Latin.”

“We have our family sagas,” Hraerik said, “in Danish in the miniscule font of Alcuin.  “That should suffice.”

“But they’re all separate!  You should write one complete ‘Chronicle of Hraes’!”

“I have had visions and the future Christian Danish kings call our family sagas ‘The Lying Sagas of Denmark’ and they burn most of them.”

“That’s why you should write a Latin ‘Chronicle of Hraes’ and keep copies in Kiev where the Danish kings dare not come.”

“They’d be kept in churches here and we’ve already seen how many churches have been burnt lately.”

“There is a monastery nearby,” Ivar offered, “that is in caves that will never burn.  Your Chronicle copies can be kept there and they will never be burnt.”

“I’ll think about it,” Hraerik replied.  “Perhaps I will start with the story about Ivar and Helgi’s battle at Chernigov?”

“If you write it, I want to be the first to read it!” Ivar said, excitedly.

That night, Hraerik thought about Helgi dying in Chernigov and how Ivar’s father, King Canute, no, Prince Valdamar avenged him by defeating the eldest Prince Ivar and how Jarl Eirik had helped him by executing Ivar with a sword-stroke.  Now Jarl Eirik had caused the sacking of Kiev by executing Jarl Olaf’s younger brother, Nefja, and now Bishop Thietmar had been dragged into the fray and was soon to die, somehow.  Prince Hraerik did start writing ‘The Chronicle of Hraes’ that very night and he wrote about the Battle of Chernigov before falling asleep with a quill in his hand.  And he dreamed as he slept and he dreamt of a village near Chernigov called Chernobyl and it was the future and there were a thousand Tyrfingrs in a building there, immersed in water and the water turned to steam and made great machines turn.  Hraerik had seen these turning machines in Rome where a fire heated the water in a pot and spouts on the pot released steam and the pots spun about an axle at high speed and grinding wheels sharpened the swords of the legions of Constantinople, but these machines in Chernobyl were much bigger and were powered by the strange glow of Tyrfingr, of a thousand Tyrfingrs, and one of the machines exploded and the glow of hundreds of Tyrfingrs killed many men and Hraerik remembered his friend, the dwarf Dvalin, who had helped him forge Tyrfingr, and had died for it, far off in Giantland.

He tossed and turned because of the dream and he woke up Gretta, who was sleeping with him.  He had fallen asleep with the quill in his hand, but Gretta had gotten up and helped him back to bed and they’d had sex again before falling asleep in each other’s arms.  She noted that Hraerik was much like Canute, only not as big and not as rough, and she brushed his long hair from his face and said, “You must’ve been dreaming, my Prince.”

And the Prince answered, “I think I know how we can poison Bishop Thietmar very slowly!”  He looked across the captain’s cabin of his shieldship to the heavy lead box that held the ever more dangerous Tyrfingr.  “We’ll do it tomorrow!”

The next day, Prince Hraerik met with Bishop Thietmar and they went outside in the warm fall sun and Hraerik read the Latin and he said, without thinking, “You have changed it a bit,” in Latin, “but ‘high velocity Danes’ is still here.”

“What?” Bishop Thietmar asked, and Prince Hraerik realized that, because he was reading in Latin, he had talked in Latin.  “You speak Latin?” the bishop asked.

“I learned Latin from Emperor Theophilus while his ‘guest’ in Constantinople.”

“But Emperor Theophilus lived two hundred years ago!” the bishop protested.  “He’s in my earliest Chronicon!”

“I know! I was there!” Hraerik repeated.  “I am a writer of Sagas and Chronicles myself,” he went on, “so I’m not going to tell you how to write yours, but I don’t think it properly depicts the strategic withdrawal my grandson had to make.  He fought off King Burizleif in Chernigov.  It’s very close to the village of Chernobyl.”

“I’ll give that due consideration,” the bishop lied.

While the bishop was outside the rectory, Gretta installed the sword Tyrfingr under the desktop of Thietmar’s writing station.  She had taken it out of the lead box Hraerik had set upon the floor before going outside and she left it in its scabbard to hide the glow.  It was now so dangerous that the rays of the sword escaped the leaden scabbard, so Hraerik told her to come out of the rectory when she was done and to not spend too much in the room for the rest of the day.  When she came out, Hraerik led the bishop back inside and he picked up his lead box, saying he had to deliver it to one of the locals nearby, and as he was leaving the rectory he saw the bishop sit at his desk and begin to write some more.

“If he stays in there and writes most of the afternoon, we can come back for the sword tonight,” Hraerik told his assistant assassin.  “Keep track of him.  If he leaves for a time, we’ll have to leave the sword there longer.  But not too long or it will kill him in three weeks!”

As Hraerik walked away from the church with the lead box over his shoulder, Gretta watched his taut ass sway as he strode.  She would report the bishop’s movements to Hraerik that night, in bed.  Then, after some sex, they would return to the church with the lead box and reclaim the sword with the strange glow, this ‘Tyrfingr of Chernobyl’ the Prince had called it.  If the bishop stepped out in the afternoon, they’d have to leave the sword till next day, so they would just stay on the shieldship and have more sex.  Gretta was hoping the bishop would step out for a bit.  The bishop did step out, but he quickly returned with two young boys who seemed familiar, somehow, to Gretta and he had some of his people take the boys to his carriage staging area.  The bishop would be leaving soon, apparently with the two young boys.  Perhaps they were his ‘alter boys’, she thought, but she could not picture the bishop taking young boys from behind.

That night, after sex, the two assassins went back to the church with the lead box and uninstalled Tyrfingr and sealed it in the box and returned it to its shelf in the captain’s cabin and they had more sex.  Hraerik woke up in the middle of the night and he got out of bed and went into his dressing room and took a nice long piss in a toilet jar.  At his age, he seldom slept all night without having to piss, but, at least after sex, he enjoyed a nice long piss.  He was glad his life extending Alchemist’s drug made him randyer because he liked the sex and he loved the long piss that followed.  He got back into bed and he watched Gretta sleep and he thought she must have been a real looker in her youth.  Valdy had told him she was a whore with her mother, a mother daughter team that had impressed King Athelred.  He could see it.  He just hoped that Valdy knew what he was getting himself into with his women in black.  Gretta was so good at killing she was like a snake that crawls into your campaign bedroll.  It sleeps with you to stay warm but it can also bite you.  The Prince was sleeping with her to keep her warm within the Hraes’ bedroll so she wouldn’t bite his grandson.  ‘So far, so good,’ he thought as he snuggled up to her for warmth, ‘she really likes my sword.’

He looked at the lead box that once more held Tyrfingr and he was glad it was a whole ships width away from him.  He’d keep it further away, but he didn’t like to have it out of sight.  It was getting too dangerous.  If it got into the wrong hands and he thought of his dream about Chernobyl.

A few days later, Bishop Thietmar completed his supervision of the church construction.  He gathered up his Latin ecclesiastic entourage and the two boys and they rode in carriages back to Merseburg.  The Prince had some Exeyes officers shadow him into Germany to report on the poisoning results and Hraerik and Gretta headed back to England, hoping to catch up with the merchant fleet on the way.  When they arrived in Southampton, the tallships were waiting in the harbour, back from trade in the Newfoundland.  Queen Emma was in a jubilant mood.  Her new baby was healthy, her latest trade endeavour was a success and her Aesir husband was back safely.  She knew he must have been on a dangerous mission because King Canute was nervous the whole time the Prince and his assassin were gone.  Valdamar knew they had succeeded in the first mission when he was informed that he was the new King of Denmark, but he’d heard of the Polish attack on Kiev and he didn’t know how things would go with the Merseburg bishop.

The Prince stayed in Southampton with his new wife, but he sent Gretta on to Winchester to give an update report to King Canute.  They were still waiting on a report from Exeyes officers on the success of the Chernobyl poison, so Gretta stayed in Winchester and visited with her daughter and garndchildren as they waited.  Just before Yule, a report came in and Hraerik and Emma went to Winchester and the Prince read it to Canute and Gretta.  The Exeyes officers followed the Bishop for three weeks to Merseburg and, posing as traders, the officers got news that the bishop was first ill three weeks later.  Another three weeks and the bishop was dead, his blood soured and his skin quite pale and grey.

From Winchester, the royal entourage headed for Yulefest and Christmas in London.  The woman in black returned to her palace in the Tower of London.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:

A.D. 1018.  This year was the payment of the tribute over all

England; that was, altogether, two and seventy thousand pounds,

besides that which the citizens of London paid; and that was ten

thousand five hundred pounds.  The army then went partly to

Denmark; and forty ships were left with King Knute.  The Danes

and Angles were united at Oxford under Edgar’s law; and this year

died Abbot Ethelsy at Abingdon, to whom Ethelwine succeeded.

The Prince Hraerik’s New Chronicle of the Hraes’ for the year read:

(1018 AD)  King Burizleif of Poland attacked Ivaraslav with Sviatopolk’s aid.

After collecting Hraes’, Varangian, and Slav troops, Ivaraslav marched forth

against them, and upon arriving at Volyn’, they camped on either side of the

River Bug.  Ivaraslav and his forces lost the Battle of the Bug and retreated to

Kiev, driving off attacking Pechenegs, and they defended the walls.  On the

approach of the Polish army, the Slav troops ran away over the walls and the

Hraes’ were not strong enough in numbers to defend the walls so they retreated

to Chernigov, which they could defend.  King Burizleif, Sviatopolk and his Poles

sacked Kiev and raped and pillaged the Slav women and children who were left

there, defenceless.  Then Ivaraslav fled with four men to Novgorod, and returned

with the great merchant fleet.  King Burizleif fled before the fleet, taking much

plunder and many Slav women with him back to Poland, and Sviatopolk fled

among the Pechenegs.