Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
PREVIOUSLY (From Book 3, Chapter 27):
CHAPTER ZERO POINT ONE
THE BIRTH OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON (Circa 943 AD)
“Hraerik came to me in a dream and I told him, ‘I don’t want to write your story, your lying sagas anymore. You’re all slavers! You’re all rapists! You’re not good people at all!’
‘You don’t understand,’ Hraerik said. ‘You don’t know the kind of people we had to deal with!’ And he told me about the Army of the Impalers and the Longitudinal Impalement they specialized in and the Salute of the Impalers and how the number 666 was the Number of the Impalers and then he told me about the war his son, Svein, had with them and the mental trauma they inflicted upon him and his men. Then I understood where he was coming from. I understood what I was writing for and I began writing once more.”
Brian Howard Seibert
“Oh, you are a sight to behold,” Ivar said as Helga met him on the quays of Kiev. Her belly was swollen and heavy and he touched it and felt a small kick.
“Did you feel that one?” Helga laughed as Ivar looked up at her.
“It was a Viking’s kick,” Ivar replied.
“You’re late,” Helga complained. “The healers have been giving me drugs so I don’t pop! I want you here for this, more than ever,” she added and kissed her husband in welcome. “They say that as soon as I stop taking the drug, I shall go into labour.”
“Then stop now!” Ivar exclaimed. “I am so excited. I’m sure it’s a boy.”
“I think you are right,” she agreed. “He’s big,” and she felt her round belly.
She walked beside Ivar as his bearers carried him on his shield up the dock and the people of Kiev lined the streets to welcome him home. “I have a feast ready for you,” she told Ivar, “and all of your men. It will go all night! I am so glad you are back!” And she was. She had killed many good men to get her true love back and this would be their first baby in almost thirty years. They had worked hard for several years just to conceive the baby, she’d taken fertility herbs and they’d taken youthfulness drugs so they could fock like bunnies for three days and three nights once each month over a whole winter and finally the seed caught and sprouted and her pregnancy had been just like the one she’d had thirty years earlier when she gave birth to her daughter, Alfhild. Now Alfhild had children of her own and was staying with her mother to help with the birth of her first sibling. ”I won’t be able to stay up with you long,” she apologized to Ivar. “But feel free to stay up with your men and your people of Kiev.”
“I’ll feast with them,” Ivar said, “but I haven’t been with you in a long time so, I’ll be going early to bed. I haven’t seen you this way in a long, long time,” and he kissed her tenderly and nibbled on her lower lip.
Helga sat with Ivar on their highseat and had a bit of food with him, but soon took her leave to rest. “Remember how we prepared for my nursing Alfhild?” she whispered. “When you come to bed, wake me and we’ll try it.”
Later in the evening she heard Ivar’s carry him into the bedroom. She heard him undress on the edge of the bed. She heard the silk sheets whir as he slid his naked body across them. She was on her side, facing him and she felt his hands on her heavy breasts and she felt pride in how large and firm they had become. Ivar placed his head next to them and began cooing like a baby and he massaged them and sucked on them until Helga started lactating and then he licked them with his warm tongue as they leaked and began to flow. Ivar devoured her flood and she could feel him getting hard as he plundered her chests. When he had sated himself, he worked his way up her neck and began kissing her lips. She could taste her milk in his mustaches and she pulled him nearer and thrust her tongue deep into his mouth as though to take back what she had so freely given up. He sucked longingly of her tongue as though to take back what he had plundered and then he kissed her face all over as though he had missed every square inch. Then he kissed her breasts again but the flow had stopped and he kissed her belly tenderly and put an ear to it and listened. “Young Svein wants to talk,” he whispered and he went down and began to kiss her clitoris and nibble it and he kept kissing it until her body convulsed in orgasm and leaked a bit. He pushed her legs up and across and slid his body across from hers. “Your dike leaked a bit,” he explained. “I must put my finger in it,” and he slipped his penis into her.
“That’s one mighty finger,” she said as he entered her.
“I must have bumped it because it swelled right up. But it helped to stop the leak.” He thrust it in all the way and said, “Svein. Can you hear me Svein? I have my finger in the dam to hold back the waters but tomorrow the dam will burst and the waters will break and you, my son, will have to swim for it!” And Ivar began a gentle stroking of the waters and he rowed gently and would stop, then he rowed gently and would stop and when he heard Helga sleeping, he just stayed inside her for what seemed like forever.
The next morning Ivar woke and found his head next to Helga’s breasts so he fondled and kissed them until she woke up. She smiled weakly and placed one of her breasts into his mouth. He had started her flowing and he would have to relieve her pressure so, he began cooing like a baby until her breasts began leaking and he drew heavily of one and then the other until Helga was content. Then he took her into his arms and stroked her hair. “I loved you the first moment I saw you. And I’ve never stopped loving you since. Life is art!”
“And art is life!” she responded.
The couple stayed together all day and towards evening, Helga’s dam burst and the waters broke.
“I hate you,” she cried. “I should never have let you back into my life!” She grabbed his hand in both of hers and she crushed with all her might.
“You must concentrate,” Ivar said, as he sat beside his wife. “The longer it takes, the more dangerous it becomes.”
“You must push,” the medical alchemist encouraged. “Your husband is right. The longer you take, the weaker you will get.”
“Now I hate you as well,” Helga cried.
“Now, now,” Ivar cooed gently. “I remember when you gave birth to Alfhild. It took a long time as well, but we were younger then.”
“And what do you remember most about the birth?” she asked.
“My feet hurt,” Ivar replied, and they both burst out laughing as Ivar looked down at his boneless legs. “Now my ass hurts.” It was good that they could laugh about his maiming now….now that the perpetrators had been properly dealt with.
The laughter eased Queen Helga’s tensions somewhat and the contractions soon started in earnest. She tried to focus on pushing, but the pain and the painkillers soon had her mind wandering and she was a young girl in Chernigov again. Her father was a leading merchant lording over the Hraes’ Trading Company station there. She had been born in Sweden, but her family moved east after her father had accepted a permanent posting in Chernigov and, being an only child, she was raised amongst the local Drevjane children of the town. She was a very popular girl in the town and, as she grew older, her father constantly reminded her that he would be picking a match for her and the boy would be from the old country. She told herself that, someday, she would make her own match.
One day she brought her chosen match home to meet her mother and father and, although he had not been from the old country, his mother, Princess Eyfura, had been born nearby and his father, Prince Hraerik, had ruled Sweden for a short while. She married her match, young Prince Eyfur, with the eager approval of her father, and they soon had a daughter and Queen Helga regained her focus and began pushing again. She realised that there must be some powerful herbs in the pain killer the alchemist had given her, for she was soon wandering through her memories again. And the memories were not pleasant this time.
She was outside of Chernigov now, and she saw Prince Ivar and his troops being confronted by a contingent of Drevjane warriors. They went out to meet the prince when they had heard of a second round of tribute being collected and they’d decided to fight rather than pay it. She hadn’t seen the ambush, but she had heard so many accounts of it that she could imagine it. The Drevjane warriors, some of them her friends and suitors, attacked the Kievan Hraes’ troops from the woods on either side of a forest road leading into Chernigov. They used their bows to take down the lead and trailing cavalrymen, then surrounded the main body of horsemen and, with upthrust spears, forced them to surrender. They tore her Prince Ivar from his horse and dragged him, struggling, to the woods edge. There they had bent over and staked down two birch trees, and they tied Ivar’s feet to the birches and threatened to release the stake ropes unless the prince withdrew his orders for a second round of tribute. The prince instinctively clasped closed the riding slit in his mail shirt which protected him to his knees. Princess Helga had seen this form of execution before. It was a Drevjane favourite and she had watched criminals torn apart by the trees in her youth, their torn bodies flung out into the surrounding woods and left for the wolves. She heard that Prince Ivar had bravely countered their demands with an offer to limit the tribute to volunteer warriors only, who would be allowed a full warrior’s share of booty, but something horrible had happened as the two parties were coming to an agreement. One of the knots in the stake ropes let loose and one birch sprang free of the ground and tore one foot and lower leg from the prince and the force of the jolt tore the other stake free and that birch sprang up and, almost simultaneously, tore the bones out of his other lower leg. She had heard that his mail shirt had saved his thighs and only his lower legs were flung out into the surrounding woods. Her Ivar had passed out from the pain and the Drevjane warriors fled in panic, thinking they had killed their prince. A medical alchemist in the main body of the Hraes’ troops saved the prince, twisting nooses tightly around the torn flesh of Ivar’s knees and administering opium to keep the prince from going into shock. She had heard all the details from witnesses at the trial of her Drevjane friends. The prince’s men had lashed two shields to a pair of long lances and they placed their unconscious leader on the shields and transported him, between four horses, into Chernigov and into the new Hraes’ palace in the town square.
Princess Helga and Ivar’s mother, Queen Eyfura, arrived in Chernigov by carriage two days later with more medical alchemists and medicinal supplies. When she first saw her prince, the man she had fallen in love with, he was barely alive and in great pain. His eyes were dark as he lay in bed, a blanket covering what was left of his legs. She sat down beside him and she held his hand. Once more she regained her focus and she started pushing again, but the pain made her stop. She couldn’t remember if she had been given any herbs during her first childbirth, but she wanted more now.
They had transported their prince back to Kiev, where he regained full consciousness and began to stabilize. When her prince learned that his lower legs were gone and that all flesh from his knees down had been torn or cut away, he pleaded with her for poison, but she told him that the gods would not permit his suicide. She told him that Odin, the warrior god that he followed would not permit it, not if he wanted to go to Valhall following death. He told her that he wanted to recover so he could die in battle and get his legs back in Valhalla. But first, he wanted his Drevjane perpetrators punished. So, Ivar let the alchemists work their magics and practiced at his therapies while the culprits were rounded up and put on trial in Kiev.
During the trial it became apparent that the young Drevjane warriors had not intended to harm their prince, but only to elicit a better deal from him. Even the cavalry officers that they had subjected to darts were, for the most part, only wounded. Had that knot on the stake not slipped, all the warriors would have been accompanying their prince westward to attack Denmark. But it was a harsh knot that slipped on the stake that day and it was a harsh punishment that was being called for. The Drevjane called it ‘Death by Sprung Trees’ and it was their own form of capital punishment. It had been used by the Romans since the time of Christ, but the Romans had always preferred the crueller ‘Death by Crucifixion’ or the even crueller ‘Death by Impalement’. The defence stated that the maiming was accidental, that the knot, that harsh knot, had failed on its own or by the will of the gods. But an expert on knots was brought in, an expert particularly on the special type of knot that was used on sprung trees, and, depending on weather conditions, the wear of the ropes and even the type of oil used to preserve the ropes, the two special knots would have had to be tied by an expert on executions by sprung trees or a maiming could result instead of a quick death, therefore the incident was not accidental, but caused by the inexperience of the young warrior who had tied the knots. It was the expert’s opinion that, given the training, a malfunction of one sort or another was likely to have occurred.
When the Drevjane warriors would not give up who had tied that knot, all were found equally guilty and Helga pleaded with her prince that their lives be spared. All the warriors even pledged their undying support for their prince and his efforts in the west. The people of Chernigov and of Iskorosten rallied behind their young warriors and even the Slavs in Kiev and the surrounding Poljane Slavs began to support them. Finally, Prince Ivar decided to let Princess Helga choose the punishment for the Chernigov Twenty, as the warriors came to be called, but he warned her that she might be choosing her friends over her husband if she was too lenient with them. But her love and respect for the Drevjane people would not allow her to entertain any form of capital punishment. She sentenced the warriors to be publicly flogged, twenty lashes each for the Chernigov Twenty. Following their punishments, all twenty of the warriors volunteered to fight for Prince Ivar in his upcoming campaign, but their prince refused their offer and told his young wife that he was going to Denmark and would not be back.
Queen Helga felt a sharp pain in her back and she began to push again. She had been at it for hours, but it felt like days, and it was, as an evening’s labour slipped past midnight and slid into the early morning. The alchemist plied her with herbs once more. She arched her back and pushed.
He did come back to Kiev and Tmutorokhan once every year…Kiev to visit his daughter and Tmutorokhan to visit his mother and father and the alchemists who kept him alive. He would talk to her if he had to, but only to see how his daughter was doing. She had even heard that he had taken a wife in the west. His religion allowed him to do that, but it hurt just the same. She never confirmed the rumours. She was afraid to. But her husband did not divorce her and she refused to divorce him. She still loved him, but she could not turn on her Drevjane subjects. She was still young and beautiful and the Drevjane began to see her as their Princess Olga. Every year they would send one of their princes or chieftains to Kiev to court her, but she turned them all away and they could not understand why she had to live alone and could never remarry.
Over the years the Drevjane pressured Princess Olga to marry their Prince Mal, which would have made him the ruler of Kiev. And Prince Mal would often come to Kiev as a suitor, but never when Grand Prince Eyfur of Kiev, the King Harde Knute of Denmark, the Prince Ivar the Boneless of Angleland, was in Gardar. And Queen Helga always turned Prince Mal away. Finally, the prince of the Drevjane sent the famous Chernigov Twenty, the warriors who had maimed her prince, to represent his suit for her in Kiev and they arrived just before Prince Ivar was expected. Helga was incensed at this affront but, because her love for them would not allow her to execute them, she had them buried alive.
When Prince Ivar arrived on the main quay of Kiev, she told him what had transpired and they went to the Palace of King Frodi to talk about it. “Does this mean you want me back?” he asked earnestly, sitting beside her on the highseat.
“I have always wanted you back,” she replied. “Here is a shovel. The twenty are still alive.”
“If I had legs, I could dig them up,” he replied. “But they took my legs!” he cried, snapping the shovel handle over the arm of the highseat. No more was ever said about the twenty.
Later that night in bed Ivar said, “I married an Anglish Christian Princess while I was in Denmark.”
“I know,” she replied.
“I did it to avenge my grandfather, Hraegunar Lothbrok,” he explained. “Her grandfather executed Hraegunar with death by poisoned blood snakes.”
“Didn’t Princes Hraerik and Hraelauger avenge their father years ago?”
“I did it for Prince Oddi and myself. Arrow Odd loved the old man. He would tell me stories of giants and caves and Hraegunar, tales of Beowulf and Grendal and Heorot.”
“I have a son in Denmark.”
“I named him Gorm after the poisoned blood snakes that killed Hraegunar.”
“No good will ever come out of what I’ve done.”
“And you still want me back?”
“I have always wanted you back. Now lie back. I want to ride you again.”
“Don’t lie back,” the Alchemist said. “You must sit up a bit and push. The baby is crowning. One more push and….it’s a boy,” he announced. ”Our young prince!”
Prince Ivar pulled his seax from his belt and cut the cord. It had been almost thirty years since he’d done that.
“How do you feel?” he asked his wife, passing her the baby.
“I had dreams,” she answered, cooing the baby gently and putting a teat into his mouth. Ivar watched the baby instinctively start suckling. Her other breast was leaking so, Ivar bent over her and licked it clean, then kissed her warmly. She could taste her breast milk on his lips.
Ivar told his mother that they were naming their son Svein in respect of Hraegunar Lothbrok and ‘the Old’ in deference to King Frodi’s old Skjoldung line of kings. “Svein,” he announced. “Svein ‘the Old’ or Sveinald!”
“Swine? You want to call your son swine?” Queen Eyfura replied incredulously.
“It is a good name,” Ivar responded patiently.
“It is not a prince’s name. It is a pig farmer’s name!”
“The famous witch, Kraka, came to me in a vision and praised me for naming my first son Gorm, meaning snake. But she warned me that I must name my second son Svein, for the swine is proof against the serpent.” And what Ivar said was true. If snakes were found to be taking over the fields about a farm, the hogs were allowed to roam and soon the serpents would be gone. “This she warned me to do to gain favour with the gods.”
Even Queen Eyfura, grand-daughter of King Frodi, knew better than to provoke the gods. “You must always call him by Sveinald,” she replied. “Svein ‘the Old’ in respect of his Frodi Fridleif Skjoldung lineage.”
“Yes,” Ivar agreed. “Sveinald, in homage to his heritage.”
But Ivar later told Helga that the Hraes’ would call him Svein instead of Sveinald and that the Slavs were already calling him Sviatoslav, just as they called his father Ivar and Igor instead of Eyfur.
Helga helped Ivar work on the fall fleet accounts. Gold was collected and gold was paid out and then the merchant fleets headed north for the winter, but their warships stayed. They would be heading back south with Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Hraerikson in an attack upon the Romans of Constantinople. The new ships that Hraerik and Ivar had designed and built were being tested on the Sea of Azov and were being kept out of sight along the quays of Gardariki.Ivar kissed Helga and baby Svein goodbye and left with his warships and his legions, never to return again. He died fighting in the east, died of the plague, and his body had to be burned, so they dug up his interred legs in Chernigov and buried one in Kiev and the other in Denmark and other parts of his far flung empire.