Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
PRINCE SVEINALD (SVIATOSLAV) THE BRAVE (Circa 960-962 AD)
2A. To moil at the mill the brothers were bid,
to turn the grey stone and grind gold,
lag in their toil he would let them never,
the brothers’ song he would unceasingly hear.
Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda
(960) Young Svein could not really remember his father. When he was two his mother came and told him that his father, Prince Eyfur, had gone to Valhalla and he would not see him for a very long time and, then, only if he became a very great warrior like his father. So that is who Prince Sveinald grew up determined to become from a very early age. His training he’d received from the Varangian Guard in Constantinople really helped him to that end, but he had been learning the warrior craft from a variety of sources for most of his young life. He had thrown his first spear in war as a small boy at the Battle of Iskorosten and the Kievan legions loved him as their Prince. He had also watched the Pecheneg warriors who ran the Dnieper portages whenever he travelled between Kiev and Gardariki and he had taken the time to learn their methods of warfare. So when he came of age and began to take over leadership from his mother, Empress Helga, he had some ideas of what he wanted to develop for a military retinue and it was a little different from the Roman model that his grandfather, Prince Hraerik, had set up for the Hraes’.
“I want to develop a new mobile legion,” Svein told his grandfather, “a legion that has the mobility of the Pechenegs and the positionality of the Romans.”
“But we have that,” Hraerik answered. “We have legions of foot and legions of cataphracts, static force backed by mobile strike force.”
“Yes, but those are two separate legions and they aren’t integrated.”
“So, what did you have in mind?” the older man asked.
“Do you remember when you won the heart of my mother by defeating the Drevjane of Iskorosten by using a child’s toy?”
“Yes,” Hraerik said, smiling as he brought up the memory. “You released the very first sky lantern to start the attack.”
“Yes,” Svein remembered. “It was the night I cast my first war spear. It barely cleared the horse’s nose. My mother fell in love with you that night.”
“It was quite a night,” Hraerik remembered.
“Well, I want to use another one of your children’s toys that you brought back from Cathay to build our new mobile military around, the ‘Kite Shield’. I want to equip our knights and foot with a new kite shaped shield and I want to integrate spears into the design, like the spears you told me my father’s bearers carried attached to their round shields when they bore him about on his battle platform.”
“I think I see what you’re talking about.”
“And I want to emulate the Pechenegs’ mobility, their use of multiple horses per horseman that allows them to keep up the speed of their attacks, while at the same time giving our new legions greater overall mobility. I call it ‘MobCoM’, mobile combat and it works like this: The legion is ten thousand men on ten thousand horse for mobility, six thousand foot that can ride and fight on horseback if required, and four thousand knights that can march and fight on foot if required. The standard shield wall formation would consist of six thousand foot in three ranks with two thousand knights on each flank. The spare horse would be kept in reserve behind the foot and the knights would draw on the spares for fresh mounts like the Pechenegs. The baggage train would be pack horses only, carrying food and weapons only. No tents, no beds, no camp women. Pack horses could be used as spare mounts as well, giving all our knights three horses to use in battle, and all our knights would learn archery and use bows the way the Pechenegs do, shooting from horseback at all times.”
“I don’t know if the legionnaires will go for that,” Hraerik said. “No camp women?”
“If we have to, we can incorporate a fourth line of Valkyries, but no ‘Angels of Death’! These Valkyries would have to be beautiful Brunhildas with elephant yonis.”
And they both broke out in laughter.
“Would you like me to come up with a few kite shield designs,” Hraerik asked, “or would you want to do that?”
“Perhaps your alchemists in Gardariki could help us,” Svein answered. “This is what I had in mind.” And Svein went into the details of his needs. A kite shield that would better protect the knight’s whole left side from his helmet down to his shin guards and that held two spears on the inside of it that could be coupled together butt to butt with a steel sleeve to double the length. This would provide the knights with a jousting lance if needed and provide the foot with a long spear to keep heavy horse at bay. He wanted all knights equipped with the finest horn bows of Turkish design and he wanted them equipped with foot bows that could be drawn and nocked using one leg and the horn of the saddle, then discharged using one arm while still holding the shield with the other. He wanted his knights armed with curved sabres while his foot remained equipped with broad swords. And the list that Hraerik was making went on and on into the night.
Princess Helga woke up and went to join Hraerik in King Frodi’s master bedroom but found him still out in the highseat hall with her son, Svein. She sat down with them on the highseats and was soon working out costs for them to enlist, equip, train and field a whole new type of Kievan legion. The cost was prohibitive, so Svein told her he wanted two. Hraerik committed to a third Tmutorokan legion as well. He still had a legion and a half in India and they would not be coming home soon. And Helga and Svein were still grieving the loss of their Emperor in Constantinople and Romanos the Second’s mother was half Armenian and lobbying for the pardon of General John Kourkouas. The only thing keeping Kourkouas on the Island of Princes was Romanos’ fear of him usurping the throne for himself. It seemed to be an Armenian thing. They called themselves the Macedonian line of emperors, but they were all Armenians. The Eastern Roman Empire was competing with the German Holy Roman Empire for the title of successor to Rome so, Macedonia being on the Adriatic Sea was far closer to Rome than Armenia on the Caspian Sea. At any rate, the shaky peace that Hraerik had long enjoyed seemed to have come to an end.
When the northern merchant fleets came down from Liere and Roskilde they brought sad news that Prince Canute was dead. He was shot by an assassin’s arrow in Dublin while visiting relatives there. Thyra had to break the news to her husband and did so cleverly by dressing in black and passing him ruined clothing. King Gorm then asked her if she was telling him that Canute had died and she told him that his words were true, for he had said he would kill whoever told him any of his sons were dead. He took the news very badly and had shut himself up in his bedchamber and was not eating. Prince Harald had bit down on a chess piece so hard on hearing the news that his front tooth had turned blue. All this was told Hraerik and his family by Prince Ane who had returned once more to help them.
So, Hraerik put Captain Biorn in charge of the Roman trade and put Prince Ane in charge of Baghdad, General Wu again in charge of Cathay while he went on to India. Prince Svein remained in Kiev with his mother to start organizing the new legions and he recruited some of the Varangian Guard officers that had helped Empress Helga escape from Constantinople into the new units to lead in the training.
Alchemists came up from Gardariki to help Svein with the design of his new kite shield. They started with a simple high strength forged and tempered cross like the sticks used in the Cathay kites, then filled in the triangular sections with light poplar planks to form a diamond shape with an extended or dropped down lower section. The bottom end of the steel cross was forged into a sharp point that could be used as a weapon by knights to strike down at attacking foot soldiers or could be used by foot soldiers to jab the shield into the ground to help stabilize a shield wall. A slight curve was then forged into the short cross of the shield so it curved around the body a bit and the curve accommodated up to three spears that could be carried within the body of the shield, extending out both the top and bottom of the shield. Handgrip hardware and sling mounts were then installed and then linen and resin plies were glued to the front and back of the shield as armour to keep the shield weight down. This linen armour had been in use since the time of Alexander the Great, although the resin formulation had been improved significantly by the chemical alchemists. It was a requirement of all Viking and Varangian shields that they float because they were so often employed in marine operations, so steel plating could not be used, but a reinforcing steel ring was run around the perimeter of the shield to protect the edges from weapon damage.
The spears that were designed for the shields had to float as well so they were built of round oak shafts, about eight feet in length, with a large slender leaf shaped forged steel tip at the top end, and a threaded steel tip at the bottom. Two spears could be threaded together to form a Macedonian sarissa that could be used by foot to keep horse at bay or by knights to use as lances to joust with and the third spear was for throwing. The three spears could also be clipped together as a tripod with the longer central spear set to keep heavy horse at bay. The shield was equipped with a leather strap that allowed the shield to be slung across a soldier’s back when riding or marching and it held his spears for him as well as having brackets to carry bows and arrows as well.
The shield and spear sets were complex and expensive to fabricate but were soon proving to be the gear for both knights and foot soldiers to carry and fight with. An added benefit in the design allowed for the shields to be stabbed into the ground and tied together with spears through the steel grips to form a protective perimeter fence for camps and sentry points or for corralling the knights’ horses.
While Empress Helga fretted over costs, Svein and his alchemists started work on the horn bows and foot bows. Svein brought in some Pecheneg experts to assist the alchemists in their work and the Pechenegs fell in love with the kite shields, but they pointed out that their round steel reinforced shields were ambidextrous and that Pechenegs were taught from childhood to shoot their bows both left and right handed so that they could attack their enemy from either side of their horse. Even the way the Pecheneg shield was slung on their backs accommodated shifting the shield onto either the right or left arms depending on where the attack might be coming from. Once the kite shield was set on the left side of the horse, it was difficult for the Pechenegs to hump it over to the other side of the horse, especially with the sharp tip that could injure their mount.
All the points that the Pecheneg experts were bringing up were giving Svein a headache. He had only ever been trained to fight with a shield on his left and a sword or spear in his right hand. Both Aesir and Vanir warriors had fought this way from before the times of the ancient Greeks, and Macedonian phalanxes were known to be weaker when attacked from the right, but only Alexander the Great had worked on this problem by establishing left handed phalanxes that could take advantage of the weakness. This Svein had learned in his history lessons in Tmutorokan while overwintering there. He decided it was something he would have to broach with his grandfather when he got back from India. But, for now, ambidextrous warriors were in the warming kettle.
Over the summer ten thousand men were enlisted into a new Kievan legion, the Fifth Hraes’ Legion, and ten thousand horses were purchased for them, many from the Pechenegs, who preferred lighter horse and would often sell or eat their heavier horses. Their new kite shields were fabricated in the alchemist works in Gardariki and their spears and swords were forged in the smith shops of Kiev. Their bows and arrows were manufactured in new weapons shops that Empress Helga had built in Chernigov and Iskorosten. The people of Novgorod felt left out until Prince Svein ordered ships built there that were of special design for simultaneously transporting horses and troops. The ships were large enough to transport a whole troop each, but were built light enough to still be portaged on two wains. They were a hybrid between a warship and a cargo knar, more like the old fashion Viking ship rather than the new Varangian dromon. And the new recruits trained all summer on foot, on horse and on ships.
In Liere, things had gotten so bad with King Gorm and his grief that Queen Thyra left to live with her parents in Jelling. Finally, Gorm came out of his bedchamber and sailed to Jelling after her. When he arrived there, he commissioned a memorial stone to be erected and a mound to be built and everyone thought the stone was for Canute. Once the mound was completed, King Gorm had the runic inscription added to the stone and it turned out it was for Queen Thyra Haraldsdottir. Then King Gorm accidentally fell upon his sword and died. Queen Thyra was mortified. This was Gorm’s way of telling her that he wanted her to practice suttee and join him in the pagan heaven. She had used symbols to tell him that Canute had died and now he had used a symbol to ask her to join him in death. She chose, instead, to have one of her slave handmaidens accompany him to heaven and the girl was strangled and placed in the mound with her king. But over the summer the hue and cry of the Hethin Danes grew by and by until Thyra, the famed builder of the Dane Work and the Roskilde harbour, built herself a fine mound beside Gorm’s and took a nice hot bath with some sleeping potion, drifted off in her bath and drowned. She was buried next to her husband.
Back in Liere, Queen Mother Blaeja passed the crown onto Prince Harald, who took over the throne and proclaimed himself king. When Prince Ane returned from trading in Baghdad, he stopped in at Liere on his way back to Norway, learned all that had transpired and sailed straight back to Kiev. Prince Svein was King Gorm’s half-brother by King Ivar and, by Scandinavian rights of succession, was entitled to the crown of Denmark before any of Gorm’s children were. Prince Ane arrived in Kiev just before Hraerik, Helga and Svein were to sail to Tmutorokan for the winter and he told them that King Gorm was dead and that Queen Blaeja had passed the crown to her grandson, Harald.
“That focking witch!” Helga cried. “That crown is Svein’s!”
“I don’t think Harald will give it up without a fight,” Ane said. “Roskilde harbour was full of warships when I was there.”
“I don’t think we want an internal war right now,” Hraerik said. “Not until we know which way the Romans will swing.”
Svein agreed with his grandfather. “We have two more new legions to train before we do anything,” he said, but he had far more important objectives planned than the tiny country of Denmark.
“We have to take the crown back!” Helga hissed, thinking only of the title.
“We don’t have to hurry,” Hraerik said. “Svein’s right of succession is protected by Scandinavian law. Let’s mull it over while we overwinter on the Black Sea coast.” And they all agreed that their quality time together was more important than any kingly crown or an emperor’s laurel wreath. When they got to Tmutorokan, Silkisif welcomed them and completely agreed.
Soon after arriving the group went to visit the church that Ivar built and were standing in front of his grave when Svein asked, “Was my father left handed?”
“He was right handed,” Helga said.
“When he was young,” Hraerik elaborated, “he started favouring his left, but we managed to get him back to his right hand.”
“Perhaps that was why he was the way he was,” Helga said.
“What do mean ‘he was the way he was’?” Svein asked her.
“He could be rough with people,” Helga explained.
‘That ain’t the half of it,’ Hraerik thought but, instead, said, “Sometimes it’s better to let people develop naturally. Perhaps if Ivar wanted to be left-handed, I should have let him develop that way. Why do you ask?”
“I hired a Pecheneg bow maker to help with our new horn bows and he told me that all of their warriors are ambidextrous and can fight with their shields and swords and bows with either hand equally well.”
“Ahh,” Hraerik said. “He was criticizing your kite shield?”
“Yes. He said it was difficult to switch from side to side on horseback.”
“The Pechenegs are great warriors and they train to be ambidextrous from an early age and work at it all their lives.”
“Can’t we do that?”
“Did he happen to tell you why he is a bow maker?” Hraerik asked.
“Perhaps he had difficulty mastering weapons ambidextrously? The harder we make the warrior’s path, the fewer the people that can follow it and the more dedicated to it the warrior has to be. The Pechenegs have no warrior skalds or warrior smiths or warrior farmers because they are totally devoted to being warriors.”
“But can’t we do that?” Svein asked again.
“Not without giving up a lot of other things we want to be. By training with our dominant hands, we become great warriors and still have time to become great poets and great smiths and great farmers. And by standardizing on the right hand, most people can become warriors, even the lefties if they work at it. This standardization gives us the greater numbers we need.”
“And trying to train ten thousand new warriors to be ambidextrous,” Helga interjected, “would be cost prohibitive. And we have two more legions yet to go.”
That night, Hraerik had a dream about horsemen riding towards Hraes’ from the Mongolian plains and they were ambidextrous. He woke up and hugged Helga and Silkisif as they slept in his arms. The next day he began training with Svein using their left hands.
“I had a dream last night,” Hraerik told Helga a month later. “Emperor Constantine came to me and said he had been poisoned by his son, Romanos, and Empress Helena.”
“Those Roman shits!”, she whispered, getting up on one elbow. “And I thought he died of a broken heart.”
“Is it true that he waved his ships back,” Hraerik asked, “when Ivar rowed across the Golden Horn and nailed his demands to the gate of Constantinople?”
“I think he did mention that once,” she answered innocently.
“He did say one other thing that I couldn’t understand,” Hraerik continued. “He said ‘that Ivar agreed to every second summer’, whatever that means.” And Helga just smiled and relaxed on Hraerik’s shoulder.
“What does it mean?” Silkisif asked, putting her arm over Hraerik, and placing her hand on Helga’s shoulder and shaking it.
“You’ll find out when we’re in heaven sharing Ivar,” Helga said as she stared up at the ceiling still smiling.
(961) In the spring, Svein and his Varangian Guard officers began training a new legion for Tmutorokan, the Sixth, and Hraerik took the merchant fleet and half a legion south once more and he arrived in India to learn that the Chaulukya Empire from southern India was now attacking Gujarat. Ashaval was safe for now because there were many cities in Gujarat that were closer to the fighting. Hraerik left a Hraes’ legion in Ashaval to augment the legion Maharaja Rajan had developed there and Hraerik joined his legion already stationed in Mumba. Myia was almost complete in her studies and her sister already had half a dozen children with Hraerik. The Hraes’ trading station was doing very well there and being run by Myia’s parents. And because Gujarat was at war and the independent city of Mumba wasn’t, the Underwater Breathers Festival was being held in Mumba. Attendance was expected to be low because of the war but the finals were usually between teams from Ashaval and Mumba anyway and the two sister Jat cities would be fully there.
In Ashaval, trading was brisk and clients came in from the north in droves because the war was causing shortages everywhere. The Chaulukyans were making slow but steady progress in their conquest of the province and Hraerik hoped the war came to Ashaval before he had to return to Gardar. He wanted to do the same for Ashaval that he’d done for Mumba, fight off, negotiate, and pay off the Chaulukyans, and the sooner he got that done, the better it would be. Rajan and his son were getting more nervous as the Chaulukyans approached, but Hraerik had fought them before and knew what they would do and had confidence in his ability to counter them. His warships already controlled the trade route between Mumba and Ashaval, but they didn’t interfere with Chauluk dhows that traversed the way.
“We just have to hold our walls,” Hraerik told Raj, “until they are ready to negotiate and I’ve already cleared it through Chaulukyan back channels that we will be paying the same tax here as in Mumba, if we can get their generals to the table.”
“Thanks, my friend,” Raj said. “Will you be able to stay longer if this drags on?”
“My legion will be overwintering here, even if we get a deal done. It will take a while to build up trust with them. I’ll stay as long as I’m needed, Raj.” It was not long before Hraerik was needed. A Chaulukyan army suddenly broke off and turned south, made a bee line for Ashaval, and set up a siege around the city. A Chauluk naval squadron showed up to blockade the city but the Varangian dromon warships rammed and boarded a few dhows, exchanged a few prisoners and the squadron sailed back south. The Chaulukyan generals couldn’t execute an effective siege without blockading the port, so they settled in for a long siege. This tied up a lot of their troops and slowed down their advance across Gujarat, but it meant Hraerik would be overwintering in India.
Once the siege had settled in, a relative calm followed so, Hraerik sailed to Mumba and met Myia and her sister Mahara at their parents’ estate on the bay.
“You’re a sight for sore eyes” Hraerik said when he saw the two sisters and a sea of young children flowed his way. He gathered them up in his arms and carried them over to his wives. “Where are Meena and Misha?” he asked. Mahara was pregnant again so Hraerik put the children down and felt her belly.
“They’re at the university,” Myia answered. “How goes the siege of Ashaval?”
“It drags on,” Hraerik told her. “Are your parents at the store?”
“Yes,” Mahara replied. “They are getting it ready for your inspection tomorrow, and they’re both nervous!”
“So, we’re home alone?” Hraerik said, kissing Mahara’s swelling belly. “Can we?”
“I’ll watch the children,” Myia said. “You two go first.”
Mahara led Hraerik into their master suite and they undressed each other beside the bed. Hraerik lifted her onto the bed and laid her back, then put her legs up on his shoulders as he stood at the edge of the bed and he entered her. He called it rocking the longship and it was Mahara’s favourite position when she was pregnant because it helped her legs relax. He withdrew a bit and thrust into her and he leaned forward over her belly and her legs rocked over her head as he thrust harder. Mahara was soon moaning in delight and her cries soon had Hraerik exploding within her. The position was Hraerik’s favourite when Mahara was pregnant because he could use it in her ninth month.
Later, it was Myia’s turn to lead Hraerik into the suite and she undressed him as he sat on the bed. He knew she was in the mood for nominal congress so he sat back as she helped herself to his lingam and she kissed and sucked and nibbled to her heart’s delight and then she took it all in and swallowed deeply, then swallowed again and again and she did this for as long as she dared, then she pushed him back on the bed and she straddled his hips and he thrust his way inside her and she rode him for a long time before she came and he followed. “You last a long time the second time around,” she said, falling on the bed next to him. “That’s why I let Mahara go first. I’m greedy like that.”
“You’re just smart,” Hraerik said. How does it feel to have your Doctorate Degree in Cosmology?”
“It’s wonderful to finally be out of school,” she said. “But they want me back to teach.”
“What will you be teaching?” he asked.
“Aesir cosmology,” she told him. “You know, the Viking skull within a skull cosmology.”
“It’s not Aesir,” Hraerik laughed, “but it may be Viking. I did see it while hanging on the tree of knowledge, Yggdrasil. So, the Indian cosmologists liked the vision?”
“No,” Myia said. “They hated it. But the mathematicians love it. They think they’ll be able to mathematically model it.”
“How can they model infinite numbers?”
“They think that because the infinite numbers are sequential, they are relatively infinite, but not quite. So, theoretically they can model it.”
“What was it that the cosmologists didn’t like,” Hraerik asked.
“Your universe is too big. A universe that is layered like an onion and all the stars we see at night are in one small circle on one little layer is just too much. They have to work with what they can see.”
“Well, that’s what I saw when I was up on the tree,” Hraerik said. “A growing sphere of layers bisected by an infinite two dimensional plane that was dissected by a single dimensional line that went off forever. And it all started from a zero dimensional point in the center of the sphere.”
“That’s where they have the problem,” Myia said. “It all started from a zero dimensional point. How did it start?”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Hraerik said, trying to focus his thoughts, “and I don’t think it started. I think it ‘was’ started.”
“Started by whom?” Myia asked.
“No. We’ll never get off this rock. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s something wrong with us.”
“Don’t say that,” Myia whispered. “We have beautiful children. I hope it’s us.”
“India was my Ivar’s heaven,” Hraerik said bitterly. “It was my heaven, and now this is the second war I’ve fought here. My heaven is burning!”
“I’m sorry you have to fight,” Myia said. “Our babies need you.”
“I know,” Hraerik said, reassuring her. “It won’t be started by us, but someone out there gets it right because we are here. There is a universe full of universes out there that don’t get it right and they’re not here because of it.”
“Well, I’m glad someone gets it right,” Myia said. “I’m glad I’m here, even if it is for the briefest while. And I’m glad I’m here with you and thank you for giving me two beautiful babies and letting me do what I do.”
“Thank you for doing what you do,” Hraerik said. Myia was a polymath and she helped Hraerik figure out his visions. She was the only one who truly understood him when he talked about his visions. And she was the kindest soul he had ever met, save perhaps for Silkisif. But he’d shared Silkisif with Oddi and then with Ivar and Myia was all his. Gunwar had been all his at the start and if Myia was all his at the finish, then he felt he’d finished well.
When Prince Hraerik felt that enough time had passed, he returned to Ashaval with the Tmutorokan legion he had sequestered in Mumba and they landed outside of Ashaval and caught the Chaulukyan forces in another pincer move that had the potential of driving them into the sea. When the Kievan legion came out of Ashaval, he had the enemy backed up to the sea with a Varangian fleet sitting out upon the waters. He sent envoys to the Chauluk general and offered him the same terms he’d offered at the start of the siege and the general gladly took them. He knew what had happened at Mumba a few years earlier. The other Maharajas of Gujarat were disappointed that Hraerik had not destroyed the Chaulukyan forces, for they would soon be unleashed upon them, but Hraerik had foreseen the Chauluk victory years before and he knew that another crushing defeat would have been too much for the young empire and that they would have come back with all their armies to make an example of Ashaval. Maharaja Rajan knew this as well because it was he that Hraerik had warned about their coming a full decade earlier.
(962) Hraerik took the Tmutorokan legion back to Mumba and spent a week with his wives before heading back to Baghdad. Winter was almost over, and he could make it back to Kiev in time for this year’s trade cycle. But he broke away from the rest of the fleet at Baghdad and took six fast warships up the Euphrates and across the Halys River portage and visited the Roman consul’s wife in Sinope for a week. Then he went to Gardariki and met Helga and Silkisif there and they told him that Svein was out training with the three new legions in Tmutorokan. Svein had been busy while Hraerik was stuck in India and most of the new transport warships were docked along the quays of Gardariki and the legions had been training with them all winter.
“Where are little Ivar and Helgi?” Hraerik asked just as Malfrieda led the boys into the hall. They were both old enough to walk and they followed her into the hall and the boys gave Hraerik a strange look and then Ivar recognised him and ran to the highseats. Hraerik grabbed him up and gave him a big hug and then hugged Malfrieda warmly as she held Helgi in her arms.