Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
THE BATTLE OF SARKEL (Circa 962-964 AD)
3. The chained ones churning ay chanted their song:
“Let us right the mill and raise the millstones.”
He gave them no rest, to grind on bade them.
Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda
(962) Prince Svein had the Seventh Kievan Legion out for training on the Don River when Hraerik had gotten back from India. The mobile legion sailed in two hundred ships, one hundred and sixty of the new transport warships and forty support cargo knars. They had left Gardariki and sailed down the Kuban River into the Sea of Azov and up the Don estuary. They were afforded some wind but mostly they were rowing when they came upon the Fortress of Sarkel on the west bank of the Don. The fortress had been rebuilt by the Khazars since it had been destroyed two generations earlier by Prince Hraerik, his brother Hraelauger and Svein’s great grandfather, King Frodi. The Khazar troops watched from the walls and their boats as the massive fleet of Hraes’ warships swept upriver past them. The Seventh Legion sailed all the way up the Don into its eastern tributary and they rowed as far up it as they could before discharging their horses and riding north east to the Oka River. Soon they were in the land of the Vyatichians and when they reached a town, Svein asked the people to whom they paid tithe and they told him they paid the Khazars a silver piece per ploughshare. “Soon you shall pay that tithe to the Hraes,” he told them and they demonstrated some military manoeuvres to the townsfolk over the afternoon and entertained them with riding tricks and stunts and left them on good terms as they headed back for their ships. They set up camp when dusk approached and they built corrals of their shields in the center of a large clearing and kept their horses within it, and they roasted meat over campfires and slept on their horse blankets, using their saddles to rest their heads upon.
When they got back to their ships, each troop loaded their horses aboard their ship and Svein counted off the time it took and they had the whole legion loaded in half an hour. They rowed back down the Don and when they got to Sarkel, they took their time and just drifted down past the Khazars. They sailed south across the Azov and rowed back up the Kuban to Gardariki. Prince Hraerik greeted Svein at the main quay there and they drove antique chariots through the streets of Gardariki to the palace on the heights. “While training our legions,” Svein told his grandfather, “I have been learning who has been paying what to the Khazars. I want to make them pay that amount to us instead.”
“And what do you think the Khazars are going to do about that?” Hraerik asked.
“I don’t think they’ll do a damn thing. And if they do, I’ll attack them.”
“I explained this to your father, Ivar, many years ago and now I’m going to explain it to you,” Hraerik started. “The Khazars are important to us. They hold back the mounted hordes of the eastern plains. Of their seven tribes, the Huns are the most numerous and the hordes east of them fear them and do not try to push through them. Even if we had the power of the Romans, we could not stop the hordes that the Khazars hold back.”
“The Khazars killed my father,” Svein said.
“The plague killed your father, son” Hraerik replied. “He died without wounds.”
“Berserks die without wounds all the time. They fight until their hearts give out and it is still called death in battle. He may have died without wounds, but the Khazars still killed him.”
“The berserks that die in battle without wounds don’t have the plague when they die,” Hraerik explained. “There is nothing I wish more for than to have Ivar join me in Valhall, but I don’t think it will happen. So, your mother and Queen Silkisif have worked hard,” and Hraerik looked at Helga softly, “to ensure they will share him in the Christian heaven.”
“That makes me want to crush the Khazars even more,” Svein spat. “If my father didn’t have to fight them, he would have survived the plague, so they not only killed him, but deprived him of Valhalla!”
“How about you prod the Khazars but don’t crush them?” Hraerik asked.
“Fine. I’ll prod them,” Svein agreed. “I’ll prod them enough to train our legions and if they bark, I’ll back off.”
“What is your plan?”
“The Kasogians to the east of Tmutorokan pay the Khazars a silver piece per hearth. I want to attack them and bring them into the Hraes’ fold instead. Then we’ll see if the Khazars bark. If they don’t, I want to attack the Yasians next and bring them into the fold and then the Vyatichians.”
“I have to lead the merchant fleet south for the trading season so, why don’t you take two legions and bring the Kasogians into the fold and then hold your possession until I get back. This will give the Khazars time to react and we’ll know if they have bark or not.”
“Agreed,” said Svein, smiling. He just wanted to get his plans rolling.
“If Svein is attacking the Kasogians,” Helga said, “then I’m staying in Tmutorokan until I know he’s safe.”
“Why don’t you come up to Kiev with me,” Hraerik offered, “while Svein makes preparations and I’ll bring you back here on my way east?”
“You just want me to help you with the tithes and books,” Helga said.
“No,” Hraerik responded. “I just want you to come visit me in King Frodi’s bedchamber after we do the books.”
“I’ll come then,” Helga said, looking over to Silkisif. “If I’m there, I know Queen Alfhild’s spirit won’t be rocking your steed. I will.”
While they were in Kiev, Svein sent emissaries east to challenge the Kasogians to pay the Hraes’ their Khazar tax or meet him in battle. “I’m coming at you!” was their message from Prince Svein. The Khazars augmented the Kasogian forces and they chose to meet the young untried prince in battle, not knowing that his legionary officers corp was filled with old experienced Varangian Guard officers. Hraerik and Helga made it back from Kiev just as Svein and his legions were about to sail up the Kuban so, Hraerik hugged him and Helga kissed him and Silkisif did both and Svein sailed east to make war upon his neighbour.
Hraerik had planned to spend a week with his wives in Gardariki, but Helga and Silkisif were so nervous about Svein that, for some strange reason, they could not keep their hands off Hraerik and their nervousness seemed to make them come more heavily and more often so, when they asked him to stay until they’d heard news, Hraerik told the two that he would gladly make that sacrifice. Two more weeks passed before they heard news that Svein and his Varangians had gained a great victory over the Kasogians and their Khazar auxiliaries. Hraerik kissed his wives goodbye and sailed along the Black Sea coast to Phasis while he recovered. If Valhalla was anything like that past three weeks, he could see what all the hub bub was about. And next year it would be the Ossetians.
Prince Svein collected the tithe from the Kasogians and when Khazar emissaries came to complain, he sent them back to Khazaria ladened with gifts for their Kagan and Kagan-Bek. He told them that his Kagan-Bek was in India, so they would have to wait till spring for their answer. And he knew what that answer was going to be…an attack on the Ossetians and their tithes to the Khazars.
When Hraerik got back to India, all Gujarat had fallen to the Chaulukya Empire. Only Ashaval and Mumba remained as independent provinces.
“The Chauluks call you the Aesir Devil,” Rajan told him as he spent his first weeks in Ashaval. “They want to send you Chauluk princesses for your Aesir blessing.”
“Have they been keeping our peace?” Hraerik asked.
“Yes, but with the war over, there are many more Jat princesses again available for your blessing.”
“For the sake of the peace let us try to make a few Chauluk princesses happy,” Hraerik said. “How old are they?”
“They’re just as young, I’m afraid,” Raj said. He waved to a servant who left the suite. Soon two young Chauluk princesses entered the great room and Raj got up and escorted them out onto the balcony. Hraerik was struck by their innocent beauty. They both had long flowing black hair and fine facial features, but their mahogany skin was smooth and flawless. He introduced himself to them in Chauluk and the girls were soon talking to him freely.
“You’ve learned Chauluk already?” Raj asked him in Jat.
“I learned it from two prisoner poets we captured in the Battle of Mumba,” Hraerik answered back in Jat. “First rule of war, my friend, know your enemy, second, learn his language.”
Raj laughed and as he left the suite he said: “You are the Aesir Devil!”
Hraerik poured the girls some wine. He found that it helped them with the pain a bit. They chatted for a while and Hraerik took out his translation of the Kama Sutra, a deluxe volume and they marvelled at the paintings, not the sexuality of the paintings, for, though virgins, they had seen that all before. Still being Vanir, the Chauluks were more like the Viking Aesir than unlike. It was the quality of the paintings. And, although the girls could not read the Norse, they laughed out excitedly when they could read the bits of Sanskrit that was interspersed, words like cock (lingam) and vagina (yoni) they recognized. The Norse script, however, was new, the runic script given over to the Roman script the Angles of Northumbria had substituted for their Runic version of Danish when they’d converted to Latin Christianity. Saint Alcuin had a much greater impact on the ancient world than given credit for. His conversion of script had gotten him a high position within the Holy Roman Empire of Charles the Great in Germany, the Charlemagne of the Franks. Even the Saxons of southern Angleland had followed his script when they converted the Runes of the Saxons into the Roman script of Alfred the Great. And Princess Blaeja, his Spiritual Assassin, had taught Hraerik the script and how to write it when he had visited her and made her a manager of the Hraes’ station in York. Now the young Chauluk princesses were learning the Norse script from the Sanskrit terms that Hraerik has deemed significant enough to include in the original form in his translation. Hraerik had debated whether to include these original Sanskrit terms or not and now was glad he had made the ‘right’ choice.
He flipped the pages to Chapter Five on Biting, where Vatsyayana had seen fit to include the preferences of the women in different parts of India, and he read to the girls and spoke in Chaulukyan, “The women of the Maharashtra are fond of practising the sixty-four arts, they utter low and harsh words, and like to be spoken to in the same way, and have an impetuous desire of enjoyment.” Hraerik knew the last part to be true of his wives in Mumba, for they were impetuous in their sexual pleasures. Then he read, “The women of Pataliputra (the modern Patna) are of the same nature as the women of the Maharashtra but show their likings only in secret. The women of the Dravida country,” and he could see that the girls recognized this ancient term for Chaulukya, “though they are rubbed and pressed about at the time of sexual enjoyment, have a slow fall of semen, that is they are very slow in the act of coition.” The girls giggled at this and told Hraerik that it was untrue. They had seen acts of coition in Chauluk province and they were by no means slow. Hraerik took out his original draft version of the translation and made a note in the Chauluk script that the statement was incorrect, and he asked the girls what the correct statement should be. They told him that, while Chauluk women might be slow in the fall of semen, meaning they were slow to get wet, their act of coition was as fast as anyone else’s once properly lubricated. So, Hraerik asked them if nominal congress on a female was permitted in Dravidian cultures, because in many areas of India it was not. They told him it was permitted, but that men often refused to practice it, preferring fragranced lubricants instead. The girls were not laughing now and they both gulped in anticipation.
Hraerik wrote down the details because he wanted to get it right for future Chauluk princesses. His son, Ivar, had practiced rough sex with all the Jat princesses that he had been offered and Hraerik had talked with the princesses at Aesir reunions that Rajan arranged from time to time and some of the women had been disturbed or damaged by the treatment they’d received. Hraerik did not want to teach those that he was blessing techniques that were forbidden in the areas of India they would go back to. And he wanted to follow the preferences of the women in the areas the girls were from, reasoning that it would be a good starting point for their first times.
Once Hraerik had made the entries in his draft book he marked it and closed it and carried it in his hand while he led the girls into the bedchamber. There were thick towels upon the bed and he put the book on the edge of it and opened it back up where the place marker was. He then undressed the two girls and had them undress him and he took them onto the bed and they began kissing and pressing or rubbing each other. They did this for a long time and anticipation built up as did Hraerik’s lingam. The girls were surprised at its size and he had them kiss it and fondle it so that they became familiar and comfortable with it. Then he took the oldest girl, Kiara, and began feeling her yoni and he pushed through her membrane with two fingers and he wiped away the blood and he felt her and showed her where her sensitive area was halfway up it and soon had her writhing in pleasure. Then he began kissing her yoni and tickling her clitoris with his tongue until she was writhing again. When he was sure she was wet enough he had her straddle his hips and she lowered herself onto his lingam and began stroking up and down until she came with pleasure. Then Hraerik took Kiran and repeated the process with her. Then he began kissing and pressing them both once more and had Kiara mount him once again and she stroked upon him until he exploded within her.
In the morning, Hraerik taught them both nominal congress out of the book and made love to them again in reverse order, exploding within Kiran in the end. Then they got up and had breakfast brought in and ate it upon the balcony while watching the merchant ships and traders below. Hraerik learned that the girls were princesses from Kannada in Karnataka Province in southern India and that their parents had brought them to Ashaval to have Aesir babies before they were to marry. The babies would be raised by their parents to improve their family caste status before the girls would be married off to boys of other families. Soon their parents came to the suite to collect their daughters and they thanked Hraerik for his blessing and promised to return with the babies, should they be so blessed, during one of the arranged Aesir reunions. Prince Hraerik thanked the parents for the gifts of their daughters’ virginities and blessed them for following the Hethin faith so devoutly.
After two weeks in Ashaval, Hraerik went to Mumba to spend time with his wives and children. He was in bed with Myia when she asked, “Did Ivar ever know that you were sending alchemists to study in Gujarat long before he ever came to India?”
“I didn’t tell him and I don’t think he ever realized it. I don’t even think Rajan has even realised that it was me sending the alchemists. It’s never come up.”
“I’m so glad you sent them,” Myia said, hugging Hraerik.
“I’m not even sure I sent them. We supported many alchemist guilds in Gardariki because of what I’ve done for them in their rituals, but it was when we switched the Hraes’ business from Roman numerals to the new Arabic numerals that I learned they were actually Indian numerals and then I learned that some of our mathematical alchemists wanted to go to India to learn about zero and the new negative number concepts. So, I gave them gold to go and they found transport with Rajan’s trading company. That started Raj looking to meet the Hraes’ traders in Baghdad and that’s how he met Ivar. And they became best of friends and now Raj and I are best of friends. And through Raj I met you and now we are soul mates.”
(963) In the spring, Prince Svein was preparing to attack the Ossetians when News arrived from Constantinople that, on March fifteenth, Emperor Romanos the Second of the Eastern Roman Empire had died. His wife, Empress Theophano, became regent for her sons, Basil the Second and Constantine the Eighth, who were just young boys. Prince Svein had always maintained that his mother, Empress Helga, remained the true Empress of the Romans and now that Romanos, the last son of Emperor Constantine, was dead, then by rights of Roman succession, he, Svein, as foster son of Constantine, was next in line for the laurel wreath and Empress Helga agreed.
“There is no way on Odin’s Green Earth,” Hraerik started, “that the Romans are going to let you rule in Constantinople. You’d be poisoned within a month!”
“I’ve been cheated out of the Danish crown and now I’m being robbed of the Roman throne!” Svein shouted. “When do I make my claim if not now!”
“We should at least send envoys with our demands,” Empress Helga said.
“Yes,” Hraerik responded. “We should definitely make our claim. Romanos only lasted four years. Who knows how long his sons will last? If some usurper kills them and takes the throne, the Romans may prefer a foster son of Constantine over some interloper.”
“I don’t want to just make a claim,” Svein said. “I want to fight for what is mine.”
“But before we fight,” Helga said, “we must make a claim. Let’s send envoys with our demands and see what happens.”
“What am I supposed to tell the Khazars?” Hraerik asked. “I have to give them a response to your conquest of the Kasogians, as the Kagan-Bek of Tmutorokan. Sorry, Queen Silkisif.”
“That’s fine,” Silkisif said. “I don’t mind being just queen. Svein can at least be Kagan.”
“Tell the Khazars that we continue to rule over the Kasogians,” Svein said.
“We can’t challenge the Khazars and the Romans at the same time,” Hraerik said. “We can’t fight a two front war. Right now, the Khazars and Romans are virtually at war with each other. We don’t want to reunite them with a common enemy…us!”
“This is giving me a headache,” Svein complained.
“We should at least make our claim,” Helga reiterated, “and give them our demands.”
“Perhaps we could play one against the other,” Hraerik thought out loud. “Let us make the Romans an offer instead of a demand. “Let’s offer to attack the Khazars and punish them for their incursions against Cherson if they’ll agree to make young Svein co-Emperor with the sons of Romanos in lieu of our claim to the whole throne.”
“Yes!” Svein said. “co-Emperor would cement my claim in case anything were to happen to the sons of Romanos. As co-Emperor I could probably still rule from Kiev.”
“Isn’t it covered in our new contract with the Romans?” Helga asked. “Aren’t we obligated to help the Romans against the Khazars?”
“It is in the contract,” Hraerik admitted, “but we aren’t obligated to help them for free. co-Emperor would be payment for the aid. Shall we make them the offer?”
“Yes,” Prince Svein replied.
“Yes,” Empress Helga answered.
“Yes,” Queen Silkisif added.
“Good!” Prince Hraerik said. “We’ll take a war fleet with our merchant fleet, stake our claim and make our offer.”
But Empress Theophano was having trouble of her own. It had looked as if she had been responsible for Emperor Constantine’s death by poisoning in 959 and it was starting to look as though someone had poisoned Emperor Romanos in March. While Romanos had already made his young sons, Basil and Constantine, co-Emperors with himself, she knew that Empress Helga and her son, Prince Svein, held a claim to the throne and there were many other aspiring emperors waiting in the wings. She needed help in securing her position as regent for her young sons, and their safety, and she found it in Romanos’ Chief Councillor Joseph Bringas, the palace eunuch, and in the support of General Marianos Argyros. But the Armenian General Nikephoros Phokas, commander of the armies in the east, claimed the throne as co-Emperor from Caesaria in Anatolia. Bringas and Argyros locked down the city of Constantinople, forcing Phokas’ brother, Leo, commander of the western armies to flee the city in disguise and his father, Bardas, to find sanctuary in the Hagia Sophia church.
But few other aristocrats supported Bringas and General Basil Lekapenos started a campaign rallying the urban mobs of the city to rebel against the triumvirate. They roamed the streets for days, rioting and protesting and Basil armed some three thousand of his attendants one evening and they started and insurrection, murdering Argyros and causing Bringas to seek sanctuary in the Hagia Sophia and then Basil sent a naval force across the Bosporus to carry General Nikephoros into the city. Phokas and his brother snuck into the palace and burst into the master suite of Empress Theophano and Leo and their men guarded the doors while Nikephoros propositioned the empress.
“Please leave immediately,” Theophano hissed, not wanting to awaken her sons next door. Phokas was short and fat with a large head and dark long curly hair and the empress found him revolting.
“If you marry me, I promise to keep your sons safe,” he told her as he approached her bed.
“You’re just another Armenian general!” she hissed.
“And you’re just another Armenian whore!” he hissed back, and he pushed her back on the bed and tore her silks away and unbuttoned his pants and forced his way into her. She struggled against him, but he was powerful and he threw his weight on top of her, driving the air from her lungs as he drove himself deep within her. She wanted to scream, but she knew it was his men outside her door and she didn’t want to wake her sons and the more she struggled the harder he thrust and when he had worn her down he had his way with her and she felt his hot pulsing stream invade her body. He collapsed on top of her and she felt him shrink within her and soon he rolled off her. She tried to escape but he pulled her back and kissed at her and then hugged her as she broke down sobbing. “The marriage is consummated,” he whispered, “and soon the ceremony will bind us as my arms now do.”
The marriage was delayed because Nikephoros was the godfather of one of Theophano’s sons so, that had to be corrected before the ceremony could proceed, and it took a little time and a lot more money. Nikephoros was and ascetic, so he did not rape her often, but he liked to surprise her from time to time and it was always a struggle. Theophano did not like the old general any more than she had liked General Argyros and the struggle kept him at a distance and an infrequency she could cope with. She took potions to keep herself infertile and swore someday she would make him pay and she struggled just enough to keep him away yet keep her sons safe.
Sihtric led the merchant fleet to Baghdad, General Wu to Cathay and Captain Biorn went on to Gujarat with the news that Prince Hraerik would be joining him there as soon as possible. Empress Helga and Prince Svein led a merchant fleet of twelve hundred ships to Constantinople and Prince Hraerik followed with a war fleet of six hundred warships and three new legions, the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Legions. The Roman lawyers that had represented Hraerik in Constantinople last time came out to the Golden Horn harbour to welcome the Prince once more. They escorted Empress Helga and Prince Svein into Constantinople and the Roman populace remembered the beautiful woman they had driven out of the city five years earlier, but the boy that had fled with her returned now as a full grown man who looked the warrior he had become. The Prince remained with his war fleet just outside the harbour and at the ready.
The lawyers set up an audience with Empress Theophano, Emperor Nikephoros and her two co-Emperor sons and they presented Prince Svein’s claim to the throne to them. They next presented his offer of title of co-Emperor in exchange for an attack upon the Khazars. The Empress countered with a future consideration of co-Emperorship and a present payment of ten thousand pounds of gold for the destruction of the Khazar Fortress of Sarkel. Prince Svein had officially staked his claim to the throne and was now being paid to attack the Khazars he had been planning to attack anyway. Empress Helga saw it as twenty chests of gold that pretty much paid for Svein’s three new legions. They asked for a day and Hraerik saw it as averting a war on two fronts. With the Romans paying for the attack, he felt assured that the secret Khazars would be driven even further from the Greek sphere of influence. And future consideration of co-Emperorship was tantamount to admitting that Prince Svein had a justifiable claim to the throne. They accepted the counteroffer, payment in advance, and had the lawyers draught up a contract to which all parties affixed their signatures. Twenty chests of gold were stacked up on the main quay of Constantinople and Prince Hraerik had a white shield of peace mounted on the main mast of his shieldship and had it rowed into the Golden Horn harbour and up to the main quay where the gold was inspected by Hraerik prior to loading. When he opened the first chest he saw that it was the red gold of Byzantium all in fifty Roman pound or libre bars. The Roman pound was already three quarters the weight of the Danish or Anglish pound, which he had expected, but gauging from the red hue of the gold, it was about ten percent copper. Hraerik’s lawyer came up to him on the dock and explained that, this being an Imperial payment, for security reasons ten percent copper was always added to the bars of the Roman treasury to protect it from theft and, once the contract obligations had been met, a Roman metallurgical engineer would be sent to Gardariki to remove the copper from the gold. “The weight of each bar has been increased ten percent, of course,” the lawyer further explained, “and, once removed, the copper is yours. However, it is forbidden that the red gold be spent in Roman territory on pain of death. So, one may want to expedite execution of the contract to have the gold purified. And the purification process is a secret known only to Roman metallurgical engineers.”
The Romans did not have alchemists. They had their own Roman engineers, and the science developed by Roman engineers belonged to the Roman state. The technologies they developed were usually geared to improving the fighting capabilities of the Imperial Roman Empire, here the imperial meaning conquering and only conquering, and Roman technologies were released to the Roman public only if deemed of no military advantage. Roman science had been at war with the alchemists guilds and their science since the time of Pliny the Elder and the reign of Emperor Tiberius because the alchemists guild judged technological advances by their benefits to mankind and would keep secret only those discoveries that were deemed too inhumane or dangerous to benefit man and the rest were released to the alchemist universities through out the world. That is why Romans had engineers and the rest of the world had alchemists. And that was why, when the alchemist guilds had banned Greek Fire as being inhumane, the Roman engineers stole it from them. Hraerik had seen the death of Pliny the Elder in a vision from the past of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and he had not been vacationing there, as the Romans had claimed, but was with a group of geophysical engineers studying the potential use of Roman concrete to plug volcanoes. They were all, of course, killed when Vesuvius, not so unexpectedly, erupted. Hraerik had also seen a vision from the future where geophysical engineers of the New Rome in the newfoundland were studying a volcano that had been named after Helga’s baptismal name and were also all killed.
Prince Hraerik’s spies had reported to him about the Phokas insurrection and rape and godfather problems and he told Helga about it all and she laughed and enjoyed her time in Constantinople immensely. Prince Svein visited with the Varangian Guard and thanked many of them for their past help and future prospects. Hraerik had paid his lawyers with a gold draught against his bank in Cherson and he asked his lawyer to look for Empress Helga’s handmaiden that she’d left behind during the August sixth insurrection against the Capitol Building a few years earlier. “Helga tried to find her while she was here, but couldn’t for some reason. Her name is Anna, she is Swedish, and looks a lot like Helga,” he explained and they agreed to look into it.
Empress Helga and Prince Svein were walking through the main gate with Empress Theophano and her sons and they were talking and laughing as the warm spring sun heated the waters of the harbour. The gold had all been loaded and they came up to Hraerik and Theophano said she was glad to finally meet the Prince of Gardariki and the Romans saw off Empress Helga and her son with a lot more pomp and ceremony than the last time they had left the city.
The Hraes’ merchant fleet then entered the harbour as the war fleet sailed back to Tmutorokan. Hraerik and Svein stood on either side of Helga at the forestem of the shieldship and Helga said: “That felt sooo good!” Hraerik gave her hand a squeeze and said: “It did feel good, Helene. Empress Helen of Troy, the saint that the New Romans named a mountain after.”
“I’m no saint,” Helga protested.
I’m sure you will be,” Hraerik countered. “Anyone who could get Ivar sainted deserves to be sainted themself.”
While Helga’s title of saint yet awaited, Prince Svein’s justifiable claim to the Roman throne had also been an admission of Helga’s claim to the title of Empress of Rome and her son now gave her hand a squeeze. “Yes, Empress Helen,” he said.
Hraerik spent two weeks in Gardariki before leaving for India. If he had thought that sex with his wives had been great when they were fretting for Svein’s safety the year before, it was even better when done a few floors above the twenty bonus chests of gold sitting in the palace’s basement treasury. But before he left for India, Hraerik sent the Khazars a message that the Kasogians would remain under Hraes’ rule.
“I hear that Empress Helga has finally been recognized by the court of Constantinople,” the Roman consul’s wife told Hraerik when he visited her in Sinope. He had decided once more to take the Halys portage to Baghdad and the travel days he saved he spent in bed with the best station manager that Ivar had ever hired. Then he was a week in Baghdad being entertained by the Caliph, who wanted to make sure Hraerik knew how much he was appreciated by Arab merchants. The Caliphate had heard news of the tons of gold his war fleet had extorted from the Romans and had heard of the Hraes’ attack upon the Khazar lands, Jewish Khazars that were encroaching on Muslim lands. In Gujarat, Prince Hraerik relieved Captain Biorn and sent him back to handle the trading in Constantinople.
“I hope you didn’t ply him with young Jat princesses,” Hraerik told Rajan, “while I was gone.”
“Of course not,” Raj told him. “The princesses I bring you want an Aesir Prince, not a captain.” Then Rajan told Hraerik that the peace had been holding so, Hraerik took his legion with him to Mumba. He spent the rest of the summer between Ashaval and Mumba, spending his time with Jat and Chaulukya princesses in one city and wives and children in the other. When it came time to return to Baghdad Hraerik asked his legionnaires who wanted to stay in Mumba longer and who wanted to go back and almost half wanted to stay so, he combined the half that wanted to stay into the Kievan legion and he took the other half back as the Tmutorokan legion. The troops would be needed in Tmutorokan to fight the Khazars in the spring.
(964) In the early spring, Prince Svein sent out envoys to the Ossetians telling them that their annual tithe was to now be paid to the Hraes’ or they could fight him if they preferred. Again, “I’m coming at you!” was the envoys’ message from their prince. No payments were forthcoming so, Svein took three new legions into the land of the Ossetians and began conquering them one town at a time. Hraerik once more delayed his travel to India because his wives were again fretting for Svein and they were working hard to keep Hraerik in Gardariki until they’d heard news. Finally, word came back from Ossetia that a large Khazar army had been crushed by Svein and his legions and Svein had killed the Khazar commander, the grizzled old general who had fought Prince Ivar at the mouth of the Kuma River when he died of the plague. Hraerik escaped Gardariki and relaxed once he was out on the Black Sea. He was no longer worried about dying in battle. He was worried about dying while having frantic sex with his wives while they fretted about Svein dying in battle.
Late spring was beautiful in Tmutorokan and Prince Svein sent envoys to the Khazars at the Fortress of Sarkel and in the surrounding town of Belaya Vezha and they instructed them to leave to leave or face the wrath of the Prince of the Hraes’. Some of the Khazar people of the town on the Don River left and returned to the Khazar twin city of Atil-Kazaran at the mouth of the Volga River where it flowed into the Caspian Sea. The city of Atil was where Atilla the Hun had been born, if one can ever believe that a nomad such as he was ever born in a city, and the city of Kazaran had been founded by Emperor Valerian of the Western Roman Empire who was captured by the Parthian King Shapur and sent to the farthest reaches of his empire where Valerian built Kaiser’s Ran meaning Caesar’s House.
Prince Svein took his three new legions in their new ships across the Sea of Azov and up the Don River, capturing all the towns and villages along the way until he reached Belaya Vezha and faced a large Khazar army of twenty thousand foot soldiers and about two thousand Hun horse on a huge field outside the town. From the marked field of battle Svein could see the town behind the Khazar army and behind the town he could see a white limestone tower that stood in the center of the Fortress of Sarkel on the other side of the town. The baggage train of the army was arranged defensively halfway between the army and the town and Svein guessed that the train was there to communicate by mirror or flag or other method with the tower and keep them informed of how their army was doing on the field. Svein took out the optical scope that his grandfather had given him, rode to the top of a hill that was slightly off to the side and studied the angles. If the baggage train was any closer to the town, the tower would not be able to see any signals over the buildings of the town, so if he attacked the baggage train, which was a common tactic of battle, and got his cavalry units into the cover of the town, he might be able to initiate a surprise attack on the fortress. That was one of the things he had noticed about Sarkel when he had sailed past it two years earlier, the town was built too close to the fortress, making it somewhat akin to a citadel, and citadels were weakened by the close proximity of their surrounding towns. The other thing he noticed was that the white tower seemed to be the only lookout point of the fortress because it was so high and afforded such a good view of the whole surrounding area, except for the view that was blocked by the town. And the main gate of the fortress side that faced the town would most likely be open yet well-guarded so that retreating forces could be quickly let in and attacking forces could be quickly locked out. The kite shields of the Hraes’ horse would be easily seen from a distance, say for a charge between the town and the fortress, but round shields like the Khazar cavalry had might buy the Hraes’ knights some time. The Hraes’ did have round shields on their ships to protect the rowers, but the Khazar round shields had distinctive markings that might buy even more time.
Svein rode to his cavalry commanders and had a discussion with them. During their summers of training, Svein had trained his knights to use some Pecheneg tactics and Pechenegs were particularly good at attacking baggage trains, both when stationary or on the move. He refreshed his officers memories on what tactics were to be used where and he gave each regiment of horse different tasks to execute. And he made sure that all knights would take extra mounts behind them to keep their horses fresh. The distances involved in this battle didn’t require fresh horses but they would add to the dust and the noise and the confusion that Svein required for his plan to work.
The Khazars had formed up in a standard shield wall formation three ranks deep with a fourth rank of pikemen and archers to protect the rear from flanking horse and they put their own Hun horse equally on either flank so, Svein formed up his three legions of foot three ranks deep with no rearward facing fourth rank, only Valkyries, and he put two thousand horse on each flank and kept eight thousand horse behind his foot as archers as well as spare horses and pack horses.
As the armies closed across the great field, Svein’s knights started with several volleys of foot bows, before hand bows came into range and then both sides had arrows flying. Soon spears were flying and then the armies closed in earnest and the shield walls crashed against each other and the hacking began. The Hraes’ troops were bigger and stronger than the Khazar soldiers and began to push them back and the slain and dying on the field were being finished of by the Valkyrie women that followed behind the shield wall just ahead of the horse. And these Valkyries were young and strong with flowing locks and round shields and swords and they certainly were not the Angels of Death that were so often found behind Viking shield walls.
On the flanks, the Hraes’ knights outnumbered the Huns two to one so, they had no trouble tying them up and keeping them fully engaged. Suddenly two thousand horse emerged from behind the right side of the Hraes’ shield wall and one thousand of them attacked the Hun horse from the rear and the other thousand rode off to attack the Khazar baggage train which began to form up in a defensive square protected by archers and pikemen. The first thousand knights wiped out their Hun adversaries from behind while the Huns were busy fighting the Hraes’ knights they were facing and the Hraes’ began stripping off their round shields and gear. The second thousand that rode off to attack the baggage train all had a string of three spare horses behind each of them which made them seem more numerous with all the dust they raised. They rode around the backside of the baggage train, shooting off arrows as they went and then they rode back towards the Hraes’ left flank and attacked the Hun horse as they passed on that side but they continued riding around the rear of the Hraes’ formation and rested while two thousand more Hraes’ knights broke out from the right and circled the baggage train so that it seemed as though the same knights were riding around the whole field of battle just stirring up dust and shooting arrows.
But the one thousand knights who had stripped off the Khazar shields and gear were now carrying them and they rode into this loop of baggage train attackers and, instead of riding around the train they peeled off towards the town, unseen by both the lookout men from the white tower or the signallers in the baggage train. As they rode into the town, another two thousand knights broke out from the right flank of the Hraes’ shield wall and rode for the baggage train with a thousand of them riding around the train and the other thousand peeling off towards the town. Svein was orchestrating the manoeuvres from behind the shield wall and he was finding some of the Valkyries a little distracting. He used his optical scope to monitor the progress of the cavalry units but the dust was still hampering his vision somewhat.
When the first thousand knights broke out of the town and towards the fortress they flashed their Hun shields and helmets and fooled the guards at the gates, who thought a general retreat had just occurred, and their orders were to get as many of their own forces back into the fortress as possible should a retreat be necessary because they didn’t have enough men left in the fortress to properly defend it if the field forces were crushed. So, the first thousand knights rode right through the gate, dismounted, and held it, fighting on foot. And the second thousand Hraes’ knights rode in and took most of the fortress and leaving little for the third thousand to conquer. When the fourth thousand rode in, the Khazar commander surrendered and the knights took him and his senior officers out to the battlefield to order the remaining Khazar foot soldiers out in the field to surrender. The few Hun horse left rode away but Hraes’ knights with spare hoses trailing soon caught up with them and accepted their surrenders.
“Those focking Pechenegs!” Svein shouted to the cavalry officer that had led the charge into the fortress. “You just gotta love ‘em!” Svein had found his style, his way of handling hosts. He wanted his armies fluid and moving in the Pecheneg way, but powerful and driving when they had to be and he wanted to instil in his men the instinct of spotting any weakness that might be exploited. A blind spot in a fortress defence, a weak town gate, a marshy area of a battlefield just waiting to be exploited. Once the prisoners had been contained for ransom, Svein held a meeting with all his officers and they discussed ways in which their attack could have been improved, ways that their opponents had failed and any weaknesses or improvements needed for their own new gear.
When news came back to Tmutorokan that Svein had captured Sarkel in a day, Hraerik decided to delay his departure a few more days and celebrated the great victory with his wives. Svein, meanwhile took his forces north up the Don and told the Vyatichians he had visited two years earlier that they were to pay their silver piece per ploughshare tithe to him and no longer to the Khazars. He then travelled east with his legions to the land of the Volga Bulgars and told them they would have to pay him a tithe rather than the Khazars. The Bulgars told him that they paid tithes to no one. Svein then arrayed his three new legions in front of their city, Bulghar on the Volga and he challenged them to fight. They stayed within their walls so, he told them he would be back in the spring to collect his tithe.
Hraes’ traders left for Constantinople with the news that the Fortress of Sarkel had been taken and destroyed as requested and they asked the Romans to send engineers to take the red out of the red gold of Byzantium. A Roman ship left Cherson and sailed up the Don and the Roman Magistrate Kalokyras confirmed the destruction of the fortress and then sailed to Gardariki with a metallurgical engineer, who proceeded to purify the gold there. He had furnaces on the deck of the Roman dromon but he required help handling the gold as it was brought aboard ship so, several metallurgical alchemists volunteered to act as labourers and they surveyed his procedure as they helped transport the gold. He used a slightly faster process than the one Prince Hraerik had developed to purify the red gold hoard of Hraegunar Lothbrok years earlier so, they documented the procedure with the engineer none the wiser.
Magistrate Kalokyras also brought some disturbing news from the Empire with him. Empress Theophano had sent Orthodox Christian missionaries to Bulgaria to try to convert an area of Latin Christians to the true faith. The Balkan Bulgars were Orthodox Christians, but the many of the Christians of Wallachia had converted to Christianity during Western Roman times and were Latin Christians. They had been part of the Roman Empire before there was a split within the empire between east and west and they had been Christians before there was a split in Christianity between Orthodox and Latin, but the rites they followed had come out of Rome, not Constantinople. They also considered themselves true Romans of the Empire and, although suzerain to the Bulgars, they still fielded their own Roman legions and followed the old Roman laws and methods of executing them so, when the Orthodox missionaries arrived and began berating the Latin Christians, their Prince, Count Vladimir, ordered them to be impaled as heretics.
Of the sixty missionaries, only the youngest priest was spared, the rest were stripped naked and Wallachian troops, a cohort of the Army of the Impalers, began to impale them on burled short stakes in the true Roman fashion, along the road in front of the Roman fortress in the city of Ramnic. Count Vlad had been riding along, inspecting the progress and precision of the impalements, when his troops stripped off the habit of a young nun and, as she stood there naked in the sunlight of noon, he realized that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and he began to be aroused and pulled his sword and sash over to his right to hide the fact. He told his men to put the habit back on her because he had just decided that they needed another witness in case something happened to the young priest. “She has witnessed enough!” he had told them. “Send her to my great hall in the fortress and then send the priest there once this unpleasantness is over.” Count Vlad had then carried on with his inspection. Soon after, all fifty eight missionaries had been mounted upon their stakes and the first lucky few were dying within hours of having been impaled. The last few lasted a week.
Once the gold had all been purified, Magistrate Kalokyras then passed a sealed scroll to Prince Svein. “It is from Empress Theophano,” he said, imperiously. “I am to take back your response.” So Svein broke the seal and read the scroll, which was written in Latin, and he saw the Magistrate smile, fully expecting the prince would ask him to decipher the message. Svein took his time going through the message and the Magistrate started to get impatient so, Svein gave him a reply to the message in Latin.
“I’m sorry,” the Magistrate stammered. “I only read Latin. Even the Empress only reads Latin. Only Emperor Constantine and a few of his Roman generals ever spoke Latin.”
So Svein repeated his response in Greek, “Please tell Empress Theophano that I would be pleased to attack the Wallachians for her. I shall be in Constantinople in a few weeks. We can discuss contract details and amounts then, but apparently no longer in Latin.”
“Thank you, my prince,” Magistrate Kalokyras said with true humility. “I shall give her your reply.”
‘I can write it out in Latin for you,’ Svein thought, but just said, “Thank you, Magistrate Kalokyras.” The Magistrate had been surprised by the language aptitude that Svein had just demonstrated, but to the Hraes’ traders, language was everything. Some monarchs learned many languages to impress, but Hraes’ traders learned many different languages just to survive. Trading from the extreme north west to the extreme south east of the known world required a knowledge of various languages along any given way on any given day. And a major owner of the Hraes’ Trading Company just happened to be a poet and a writer and a world famous skald, so language training was an important focus of the company from top to bottom.
“I told Theophano that I would be in Constantinople in a few weeks to discuss the attack and to sign contracts,” Svein told his mother.
“It’s Empress Theophano,” Helga corrected. “She is not your mother, as I am, so you should use her full title.”
“But you call her an Armenian bitch!” Svein protested.
“But I’m an Empress, too,” she replied. “It’s allowed. And we should really wait until your grandfather gets back from India before we get involved in this. Impalements? A nun being held and raped? He’ll know how to respond.”
“I already know how to respond,” Svein said, overconfidently. “I’ll tell Empress Theophano that I want twenty thousand pounds of gold this time.”
“Twenty thousand pounds!” Helga breathed. “Constantine once told me it cost twenty thousand pounds of gold to build the Hagia Sophia church, but that included repairs for an earthquake and several riots.”
“She’ll come back with an offer of fifteen thousand, which is what I want anyway.”
“Still, you should wait for your grandfather.”
“Do you want to come with me?” Svein asked. “It will feel sooo good!”
“It will!” she said. “I’d love to come and help you wipe that Armenian bitch’s nose in it. You know, I think she thought it would take a year’s siege to capture Sarkel.”
“And it took me a day!” Svein said. “Ten thousand pounds of gold for a day’s work. You know, I think she may have even been hoping the Khazars killed me. Let’s go see how my co-Emperorship is progressing, shall we?”
“We shall,” Empress Helga answered, kissing Svein on the forehead. “Can I arrange for your lunch?”
When Prince Hraerik got back from India he learned that Empress Helga and Prince Svein had spent August in Constantinople visiting Constantine’s grave once more and pressing for Svein’s co-Emperorship and signing a contract to attack and destroy the Wallachian Army of the Impalers and kill Count Vladimir of Wallachia. And Helga gave Hraerik a bill from his Roman lawyers. “They found her!” Helga said. “They located my handmaiden, being held in some nunnery, and they hired mercenaries to break her out and they gave her to me in Messembria on the way back. They didn’t want anybody finding out that I’d gotten her back and, once you hear her story, you’ll know why!”
“Hraerik had wanted to tell them why they cannot kill the Count of Wallachia, but he looked at his bill and said, “There better be one hell of a story behind this bill!” So, after lunch Helga had her handmaiden, Anna, come before the Prince in his highseat hall and recite what had happened to her after the August sixth riot of ’59.
“After Empress Helga had left Constantinople,” Anna started, “I was to stay in her apartments and make sure that Emperor Constantine stayed safe and if he had any messages for Empress Helga, I was to pass them on to Hraes’ traders to forward to Kiev. The Emperor would visit me once a week just to see how I was doing and we would talk and he was worried that his son or the Empress would try to poison him to take full control so I offered to taste his food for him, but he said he had people for that already. Then after a few months he would tell me that he wasn’t worried about poison anymore because they had full control of him. He couldn’t leave the palace and he was no longer involved in decision making. He said they already had full control.”
Anna paused and Svein went and got her a highchair and some wine, then she continued. “Emperor Constantine started getting depressed and would pace during his visits like a caged tiger. He started talking like he was going to kill himself, poison himself, and make his son and daughter-in-law look like they’d done it. One week he came to me all upset and he asked me to make love with him, out of respect for you, Empress Helga,” and Anna looked towards Helga but her eyes looked down to her own feet. “He’s an Emperor and he made an Aesir request. I could not refuse him.” Anna drank more wine for courage. “We made love all afternoon and he slept with me and then we made love in the evening and he left. I learned the next day that someone had found him dead in the morning, that someone had poisoned him.” She stopped and it looked as though she would cry, but she gulped down more wine and went on.
“I went to his funeral as a Hraes’ representative and a few days later I felt like I was pregnant. I tried to hide it and I stayed in your apartment all the time, but the servants who brought me food and cleaned the basins in the dressing room must have realised my condition, because I was soon visited by Empress Theophano. She knew Constantine was the father because she’d had spies everywhere. She knew when he’d come, how long he came and when he left. They let me have the baby and they let me nurse her and they even let me name her Anna, but after a year, they had me placed in a nunnery and the nuns watched me day and night as they did many other women that were there. Many of Constantine’s own daughters were locked up there with me. One night, some men snuck into the convent and took me away with them and made it look like I’d run off somehow.
“The men looked like, acted like professional assassins and they never told me who they were or who they worked for, but one of them said lawyer once and I knew it was you, my Prince,” and she looked at Hraerik this time and she looked him in the eye. “Then they took me out of Constantinople and next thing I was back with my Empress,” she said and did a polite curtsey.
“Is there anything about your baby that we could identify her by?” Hraerik asked.
“She looked like me, but she had the Emperor’s brown hair and she didn’t have his nose,” she said. “Not that there was anything wrong with his nose,” she apologised.
“Quite the little tale!” Prince Hraerik said. “Well worth the price of that bill!” And they all agreed on it and Anna kept thanking the Prince for saving her.
“Those nuns were just awful!” Anna said and broke down crying. Helga got up and hugged her warmly. “I don’t ever want to be Christian!” Anna cried, then apologised to Helga for saying that. She’d been there when Helga was baptised in the Hagia Sophia church. After Helga took Anna of to her suite to rest, Hraerik looked at Svein and said, “We can’t kill Count Vladimir of Wallachia.”
“Why not?” Svein asked.
“Because his great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson stops Turkic nomads from conquering Europe.”
“Are these the same nomads you’re always going off about conquering the whole world?” Svein asked.
No. Those nomads are off the Mongolian plains,” Hraerik said, wringing his hands. These Turkic nomads only conquer Anatolia and all of Europe!”
“Well,” Svein said, as he watched his grandfather fretting, “can I at least destroy the Army of the Impalers?”
“I hope you’re up for it,” Hraerik said. “The only reason that Armenian bitch gave you this job is because all her Armenian generals are afraid of the Army of the Impalers.”
“Well, I’m not afraid of them,” Svein said. “I’ll crush them like I did the Khazars!”
“The Army of the Impalers isn’t the Khazars,” Hraerik said, fretting again. “They’re Praetorian Guard possessed by demons. Perhaps I should come with you.”
“You’re my grandfather,” Svein protested. “You’re almost a hundred!”
‘I wish I was almost a hundred,’ Hraerik thought, then said, “If you need me, just say Kraka.”
“Kraka?” Svein said.
“She was your great grandmother. She was a witch. If you need my help, just say her name and I will come.”