BOOK FIVE: THE SAGA OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON

THE VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS

(AKA THE LYING SAGAS OF DENMARK)

BOOK FIVE

THE SAGA OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON

THE SAGA OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON

— PRINCE SVIATOSLAV ‘THE BRAVE’ OF KIEV –

— KING SWEYN ‘FORKBEARD’ OF DENMARK —

A Novel By

Brian Howard Seibert

WRITER’S UNCUT EDITION

(Contains Scenes of Violence and Sexuality Consistent with the Viking Period)

(May be Offensive to Some)

Kelowna, B.C.

2018 AD


THE VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS – BOOK FIVE

THE SAGA OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON

Table of Contents

Left Click on Chapter Title Below to GO TO Chapter. Left Click on Table of Contents to RETURN to TOC.

Table of Contents. 3

0.1  THE BIRTH OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON  (Circa 943 AD) 5

1.0  PRINCESS HELGA & THE BURNING OF ISKOROSTEN  (Circa 945 AD) 16

2.0  PRINCESS HELGA & THE CHURCH OF SAINT IVAR  (Circa 946-952 AD) 49

3.0  QUEEN HELGA AND EMPEROR CONSTANTINE  (Circa 953-959 AD) 74

4.0  PRINCE SVEINALD (SVIATOSLAV) THE BRAVE  (Circa 960-962 AD) 106

5.0  THE BATTLE OF SARKEL  (Circa 962-964 AD) 122

6.0  THE ARMY OF THE IMPALERS  (Circa 965 AD) 150

7.0  VLAD THE IMPALER AND THE BATTLE OF RAMNIC  (Circa 965-966 AD) 175

8.0  VYATS, VOLGA BULGARS AND KHAZARS  (Circa 966 AD) 196

9.0  PERESLAVET AND THE BATTLE OF SILISTRA  (Circa 967-968 AD) 214

10.0  THE SIEGE OF KIEV  (Circa 968-969 AD) 244

11.0  EMPEROR JOHN TZIMISKES  (Circa 969-971 AD) 276

12.0  THE PARTITIONING OF HRAES’  (Circa 972-974 AD) 321

13.0  SWEYN FORKBEARD – EAST OF LIERE  (Circa 974 AD) 338

14.0  PRINCE SWEYN – WEST OF LADE  (Circa 975-976 AD) 394

15.0 SPARE  (Circa 999 AD) 431

16.0 SPARE  (Circa 999 AD) 432

APPENDIX A:  SVEIN’SAGA ‘THE OLD’ GLOSSARY OF TERMS.. 434

APPENDIX B:  MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY.. 440

© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information or storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

The author wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to the following works, upon which he has based much of his research and a great deal of his writing:

Saxo Grammaticus.  The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus.  Denmark, c.1200.  As translated by Oliver Elton, B.A. London, 1893, with consideration toward the translation by Peter Fisher.  Cambridge, 1979.

Author unknown.  Arrow-Odd:  A Medieval Novel.  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Paul Edwards and Hermann Palsson.  New York, 1970.

Authors unknown.  The Hrafnista Sagas.  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Ben Waggoner.  Lulu.com, 2012.

Author unknown.  The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (Hervor’s Saga).  Iceland, c.1200.  As translated by Christopher Tolkien.  Oxford, 1960.

Vernadsky, George.  The Origins of Russia.  Oxford, 1959.

Pritsak, Omeljan.  The Origin of Rus’.  Cambridge, Mass., 1981.

Davidson, H.R. Ellis.  The Viking Road to Byzantium.  London, 1976.

Dunlop, D.M.  The History of the Jewish Khazars.  New York, 1967.

Author unknown.  Gautrek’s Saga.  Iceland, c.1200.  Translated by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards.  Middlesex, 1976.

Snorri Sturlason.  The Prose Edda.  Iceland, c.1300.  As translated by Lee Hollander, B.A. London, c.1960.

THE HISTORY OF LEO THE DEACON Byzantine Military Expansion in the Tenth Century Introduction, translation, and annotations by Alice-Mary Talbot and Denis F. Sullivan with the assistance of George T. Dennis and Stamatina McGrath Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection Washington, D.C.

PREVIOUSLY (From Book 4, Chapter 27):

CHAPTER ZERO POINT ONE

0.1  THE BIRTH OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON  (Circa 943 AD)

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Gorm ‘the Old’ Ivarson was his older half-brother in Denmark, but

Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson was born in Kiev, Hraes’, and so too was

his byname from ‘the Old’ Fridlief/Frode Line of Skioldung Kings.

In the Hraes’ Primary Chronicle he was often called Sveinald, but

his Slav subjects knew him as Prince Sviatoslav ‘the Brave’.

Brian Howard Seibert

“Erik 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,’ Erik 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

(943 AD)  “Oh, you are a sight to behold,” Ivar said as Helga met him on the main quay 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 bearer’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 breasts.  When he had sated himself, he worked his way up her neck and began kissing her lips.  She could taste her milk in his moustaches 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, Prince Helgi, 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 Erik, 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 his older brother, King Oddi, had not permitted his father to remove one leg to save his life from the poison of the sword Tyrfingr and that he had died from the bite of a blade rather than survive as a maimed warrior.  Prince Eyfur was not given that choice.  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 the 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 had 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 Erik 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.”

“Still….”

“I have a son in Denmark.”

“I know.”

“I named him Gorm after the poisoned blood snakes that killed Hraegunar.”

“I know.”

“No good will ever come out of what I’ve done.”

“I know.”

“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?” his mother, 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, 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 would call 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’ Erikson in an attack upon the Romans of Constantinople.  The new ships that Erik 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.

CHAPTER ONE

1.0  PRINCESS HELGA & THE BURNING OF ISKOROSTEN  (Circa 945 AD)

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            1.   Now then are come                   to the king’s high hall,

                  the foreknowing twain,             Fenja and Menja,

                  in bondage by Frodi,                 Fridleif’s son,

                  these sisters mighty                  as slaves are held.

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

(945 AD)  After Prince Erik avenged Ivar’s death by having a Roman general, a Roman admiral and four Roman Emperors sentenced to life on the Byzantine Island of Princes for crimes against the Hraes’, he then returned to Kiev to help Helga prepare for the spring trading cycle and the arrival of the merchant fleets.  Then he headed south with the fleets and they stopped in Gardariki to join up with the Tmutorokan merchant fleet there.  Queen Silkisif was waiting for him on the quays of Gardariki and she had her daughter by Ivar with her.  The fleets sailed on without him because he wanted to spend some time with them.  He would catch up with the fleet at Phasis.

As soon as the merchant fleet had left Kiev, Princess Helga was visited by an embassy from Prince Mal of the Drevjane of Iskorosten and they requested Helga’s hand in marriage with their prince.  Whoever controlled Princess Helga, controlled Prince Sviatoslav, and that meant the control of Gardar and the Hraes’.  The embassy was quite large and demanding in their request, telling her that a feast was being prepared for the start of the marriage ritual and Helga, once more, feared being kidnapped.  While she was entertaining the guests, she had her fourth Kievan legion called up and several thousand of them arrested the two hundred emissaries and bound and blindfolded them.  Then the Kievan cataphracts legion was assembled to escort the embassy back to Iskorosten in no polite manner and the emissaries were trotted along behind the heavy horse all the way back west to their town.

The feast had already started when the Kievan cataphracts rode up two thousand strong.  The legion commander had twenty of his cataphracts lead the two hundred emissaries into the middle of a dusty plain in front of the open gates of Iskorosten.  They stood on the plain in the warm spring heat of the afternoon sun as the main gates to the town were closed by ghostly men hidden behind the stockade doors.  Iskorosten was a Slavic name that meant town of wood and the walls that protected the town were of stockade construction, unpeeled logs with pointed tips and bark hanging down in aimless strips.  All the buildings and houses inside the walls were made of wood with shake or thatch roofs.  ‘Might as well not have walls at all,’ the commander thought as he formed up his legion in attack formation on the far end of the plain.  He then grabbed four hazel poles and rode out to the group standing across the middle of the plain and he stabbed the hazel poles into the ground to form a large square around the hostages to mark a field of battle.  When nobody came forth to challenge them, the commander dismounted from his steed in front of the two hundred ambassadors.  Their hands were bound behind their backs and they had long ropes around their necks, ten men to a rope and one rope to a cataphract.  The commander calmly walked up to the foremost cataphract and slapped the heavy horse on the rear with the flat of his sword.  The horse took off suddenly, dragging the ten men off their feet behind it and the knight put spurs to the horse and rode it in a great circle inside the four hazel poles.  He stopped in front of the main gates and cut the rope from his saddle and rode off to join the commander.  The ten men were lying dead in the dust in a long line before the town.  Drevjane warriors watched in horror and shouted insults from the parapets and a few of the dead showed signs of life as they rolled in agony in the dust.

The legion commander waited an appropriate time before calmly walking over to the next cataphract in the line and slapping that horse’s ass with the flat of his sword.  The horse reared up and pawed at the air before the knight bore down and reined him in and the horse took off across the plain with the men running behind it but they were falling and tripping over each other before the cataphract had reached the first pole and they were rolling in the dust and spinning as the cataphract turned toward the next pole and the whipping action of the rope cinched the loops around the men’s necks even tighter and choked the life out of them as they were dragged around the circuit.  The knight cut the rope and rode back to the commander.  This time the gate opened and Drevjane warriors began to filter out onto the plain with their shields and swords and they started to form up into a large rectangle that filled the space between the hazel poles.  The commander walked calmly to the next cataphract and cut the rope with his sword.  He told the ten ambassadors to walk in formation towards their men and that is what they did, dragging their feet across the dust of the plain as they looked forward and then back and then forward and then back until they got close enough to their troops to break into a trot and the line of the ambassadors melted into the warriors.

Soldiers were still pouring out of the gates and the commander was on his horse now, doing a quick estimation of their strength…three thousand and growing he told himself as he cut another line free and ten more ambassadors marched across the dusty plain.  He rode up to the knight and spat, “They haven’t even brought out their spears with them!”  Four thousand and counting the commander told himself as he cut another rope.  When five thousand soldiers had come out from the town, the gates closed and the commander cut the ropes of the remaining emissaries who then trotted across the plain, sensing an attack was imminent.  They were halfway across when the Drevjane warriors charged out into the plain.  The commander sat on his horse, surrounded by his ten knights as he signaled for the legion to attack.  The cataphracts charged en masse and swept through the Drevjane formation like flails through chaff as warriors flew about from the impacts of lances and heavy horse.  They reformed on the other side and charged through them again with the same devastating result.  When they charged the third time, the Drevjane formation broke and ran for the town but were soon overrun and cut down.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the front gates remained closed and barred as the slaughter took place.

“Princess Helga told me that she knows some artists in Kiev that can help with the book translation,” Erik said to Silkisif as he was packing to leave.  “Ivar had many artist friends in the city.”

“He has many artist friends right here in Gardariki,” Silkisif replied.  “I wish you didn’t have to leave in the morning.”

“I could stay but I’ll have to delay the new start-up in Sinope that I was hoping to get up and running on my way to India.”

“Don’t do that,” Silkisif said.  “Ivar conquered Sinope.  It’s only fitting that it should be the first start-up under the new Roman trade agreement.  Where were we at with your translation?”

“I believe we were doing a second draft of Chapter Three: ‘On Kissing’.”

“A whole chapter on kissing?”

“That’s what I thought when I translated the first draft, but now I’m not so sure Vatsyayana actually wrote this chapter.  He may have copied it from an earlier Veda.  I would like us to go through the whole chapter and see if there is more to it than Vatsyayana explains.”

Silkisif read the Norse introduction and said, “I think I would like that,” and she kissed Erik longingly and gently and she slipped him the tongue and they played in each other’s mouths for a time.  “Let’s see Vatsayaya beat that,” she breathed into his ear.

Erik began reading from the book.  “Chapter Three: On Kissing.  It is said by some that there is no fixed time or order between the embrace, the kiss, and the pressing or scratching with the nails or fingers, but that all these things should be done generally before sexual union takes place, while striking and making the various sounds generally takes place at the time of the union.  Vatsyayana, however, thinks that anything may take place at any time, for love does not care for time or order.  On the occasion of the first congress, kissing and the other things mentioned above should be done moderately, they should not be continued for a long time, and should be done alternately.  On subsequent occasions, however, the reverse of all this may take place, and moderation will not be necessary, they may continue for a long time, and for the purpose of kindling love, they may be all done at the same time.”

Erik set the book on the edge of the bed and stroked Silkisif’s long blonde hair.  ‘Aptly named,’ he thought, for her hair felt like strands of silk.

“The following are the places for kissing: the forehead,” and Erik kissed her forehead, “the cheeks,” and he kissed on both her cheeks and could taste the blush, “the throat,” and he spent a bit of time osculating all around her throat and neck, “the bosom,” and Erik placed his head on her chest just above her breasts and he listened to her heart starting to race a bit and he dappled her bosom with his lips then listened again and her heartrate was a bit faster yet, “the breasts,” and Erik spent a great deal of time kissing these all over, but always returning to the nipples, which were very erect by now.  He listened to her heart race faster yet.  “The lips,” he said and left her breasts and began kissing her lips gently, “and the interior of the mouth,” and Erik slipped her the tongue and their tips danced for a very long time and when he stopped, she whispered, “Please, please, please don’t stop”, and he kissed her once more, starting at her forehead.

When he had finished kissing her once more, she whispered,  “there may be something to your theory” then she put her head upon his bosom, breathing heavily.  “I think I came,” she shuddered.

“Moreover, the people of the Lat country,” Erik started reading, “kiss also on the following places: the joints of the thighs,” and he laid Silkisif down on the bed and lifted up her white silk slip and he lifted up one leg and began to kiss her knees and the inside of her knee joint then he placed that leg on his shoulder and took up her other leg and began kissing her knee.  Then he kissed her all the way down her thigh and began to kiss the inside of her hip joint and worked his way across to the other hip joint and began to work his way up her other thigh when he felt her hands on his head pulling him back down.  “Please, please, please,” she cried, “Kiss my yoni, please!” and she pulled his face into her yoni.  “But Vatsyayana is against oral” he protested.  “Fock Vatsayaya,” she cried, “please, please, please kiss my yoni!”  So Erik began kissing Silkisif’s clitoris as she writhed in extasy and when he had spent sufficient time kissing there, she pulled his head up to her bosom and whispered, “I want you in me now!”

Erik slid up and into her and began thrusting deep within her and she writhed some more and wrapped her legs around his buttocks and held him deep within her as he struggled to withdraw and she thrust him in harder and he would withdraw only to be drawn in again and she kept this up as she moaned in orgasm and he could no longer hold off exploding within her.  “Oh, you witch,” he whispered as he collapsed onto her and rolled off to the side.  “I was going to use my glove, my lambskin glove,” he said, referring to his prophylactic sheath of lamb’s intestine.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.  “I guess Vatsayaya won that kissing contest,” and she rolled over on top of him.  “Oh, I have never been kissed like that before!  I don’t think Vatsayaya wrote that!”

“We didn’t even get halfway through it,” Erik said.  “Gods I love you!”

“I have always loved you,” she replied.

The next morning Prince Erik stood on the main quay of Gardariki and he held Queen Silkisif in his arms.  “I’m afraid to kiss you goodbye,” she whispered.  “I’m still shaking from your kiss last night.”  But Erik kissed her long and hard anyway, then sailed off in the shieldship of a squadron of the new, fast dromon warships, on his way to India with many scheduled stops along the way.  “It’s the unscheduled stops that kill you,” he reminded himself.

Princess Helga was riding in her carriage at the head of a long column of the Fourth Kievan Legion, a ten thousand man force of crack Roman trained and equipped foot soldiers as they came upon the legion of Kievan cataphracts camped outside the walls of Iskorosten.  It was a three day march for the legionnaires and a one day carriage ride for the princess before they stood before the siege of the city.  The Kievan cataphracts blocked all access to the gates of the city but could not block access via the Uzh River.  A military camp had been established in the dusty plain before the town and a pavilion had been erected in its center which Princess Helga now entered.  She discussed strategy with the commander of the cataphracts and commended him on the slaughter of five thousand Drevjane warriors a few days prior.  He informed her of the plan to bring in catapults and trebuchets to launch a flaming barrage on the town to set it alight.

The next day, two gravity trebuchets arrived from Kiev and were quickly set up and began launching fiery projectiles into the city.  But the citizens of Iskorosten were very effective in dousing the flames using water drawn from the river, a stream of which flowed into the town.  Even with the high firing rate and range of the trebuchets, the fire brigades of the town managed to keep up.  The faster they put out the blazes that would erupt, the less chance there was of losing control and the people that lived in the wooden town of Iskorosten were very good at keeping fires under control.  The Hraes’ commander even tried launching the fiery projectiles at night, but it just seemed to make it easier to spot where the projectile had landed and there was an added element of danger to his own men in dealing with flammable liquids and ballistae in the darkness.  Princess Helga soon grew tired of the siege and returned to Kiev and her son there, leaving the military affairs to her generals.

Prince Erik caught up to the tail end of his merchant fleet on the Black Sea, just off the coast of Phasis, but he sailed south past them and entered a channel that had been dug to a lake south of Phasis and docked his ships at a quay just outside Ivar’s estate home on the shore.  Ivar had told his father that he planned to do it someday, so Erik had hired a team of Roman engineers from Trebizond to get the job done.  The Roman consul’s wife was waiting for him on the quay.  She kissed him and said, “I saw the fleet coming through so I stayed home today because I knew you would be at the end of it.  What do you think of the works?” she asked, pointing out towards the channel with a wave of her hand.  She held a riding crop in the other and Erik thought it had a look and a feel he was familiar with.  “It works well,” he said.

“We call it Ivar’s Canal,” she added as they walked up to the manse.  “I have everything ready for the start-up,” she announced.  “I’m so excited!  Sinope!  I didn’t think this would ever happen.  Ivar promised me it would, and you’ve made it all happen.  The canal, the Roman trade agreement, the start-up!”

“How is the Phasis store doing?” Erik asked as he entered the house.

“Quite well,” she said.  “So is the Tiflis store.  We help each other out a lot.  The Armenians are quite efficient.”

“Yes,” Erik said.  “So are their generals.”

“I heard about General Kourkouas.  However did you manage that?  A life sentence from his own courts?”

“I whispered in Emperor Constantine’s ear.”

“Remind me never to cross you,” she said as she opened their bedroom doors.

“You’re family,” Erik said, grabbing her around the waist.  Some men came into the room with his trunks as she started to remove his boots.  “Anything in mind?” she said, striking her thigh with the riding crop.  “The children are in school in Phasis, so we have the whole afternoon to ourselves.”

“I started translating the book,” Erik told her.

“Into Latin?” she asked.

“No, Norse,” he answered.

“That’s no good,” she said, striking her thigh with the crop.  “I don’t read Norse any more than I read Sanskrit.”

“I’ll read it to you,” he said, pulling the book out of a trunk.  She began undressing him while he found his place.  “Chapter Three: In Kissing,” he started.

“You’re going to read me a chapter on kissing?” she laughed.  “Am I going to be slipping you some tongue?”

“Don’t laugh,” Erik said.  “It’s a very dangerous chapter.  I think I may have gotten Queen Silkisif pregnant.”

“She’s too old to get pregnant.  What’s the next chapter about?”

“It’s called ‘On Pressing, or Marking, or Scratching With the Nails,” he said.

“And the next one?”

“Chapter Five: On Biting, and the Means to be Employed with Regard to Women of Different Countries.”

“Ivar forbade me from biting,” she said.  “He said it made him look like he couldn’t handle camels.”

“Well, there is that,” Erik replied.  “But if we keep the bites small, they won’t look like camel bites…”

“Excellent!  Let’s do bites and means employed on women of other countries.  Does it cover Roman girls?  Women of the Levant?  Armenian whores?”

“Just Indian girls, I’m afraid.  On Biting:  All the places that can be kissed, are also the places that can be bitten, except the upper lip, the interior of the mouth, and the eyes,” he started.  “You didn’t want to do the kissing chapter, so I’ll start because I know all the kissing parts.”  She started nibbling on Erik as he read.  “The qualities of good teeth are as follows: They should be equal,” and Erik began inspecting her teeth as he was reading, “possessed of a pleasing brightness, capable of being coloured, of proper proportions, unbroken, and with sharp ends.”  ‘But not too sharp,’ he thought.  “The defects of teeth, on the other hand, are: that they are blunt,” and he continued checking her teeth by inserting fingers into her mouth to get a better look, so she started nibling his fingers, “protruding from the gums, rough, soft, large, and loosely set.  You seem to be appropriately equipped.

“The following are the different kinds of biting:

  The hidden bite.

  The swollen bite.

  The point.

  The line of points.

  The coral and the jewel.

  The line of jewels.

  The broken cloud.

  The biting of the boar,” he concluded.

“One:” he started again.  “The biting which is shown only by the excessive redness of the skin that is bitten, is called the ‘hidden bite’.”  He paused.  “This is the type of bite we want,” he whispered, and he began to kiss her tenderly on the forehead.

“The following are the places for biting: the forehead,” and Erik nipped her forehead, “the cheeks,” and he nibbled on both her cheeks and could taste the blush, “the throat,” and he spent a bit of time nipping her all around her throat and neck, “the bosom,” and Erik placed his head on her chest just above her breasts and he listened to her heart starting to race a bit and he grazed her bosom with his teeth then listened again and her heartrate was a bit faster yet, “the breasts,” and Erik spent a great deal of time nibbling these all over, but always returning to nip at the nipples, which were very erect by now.  He listened to her heart race faster yet.  “The lips,” he said and left her breasts and began biting her lower lip gently and then he kissed her intensely on the mouth.  She whispered, “Please, please, please don’t stop”, and he nibbled her once more, only more forcefully this time, starting at her forehead.

She was breathing heavily when he finished the second, more forceful go round and he was about to have her do the biting, but then he remembered the thighs and he pushed her down on the bed and started nibbling at her knees and worked his way up one thigh and began grazing the inside of her hip joint and worked his way over to the other hip and then he felt her hand on his head steering him lower and he began nipping her clitoris as she convulsed on the bed.  Then he slid up her body and entered her and they were both convulsing on the bed until they came together.

“Ohhh…so that’s the biting,” she said, letting out a deep breath.

“There’s more,” Erik said.  “We are just beginning.  Two:  When the skin is pressed down on both sides, it is called the ‘swollen bite’.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” he answered.  “Three:  When a small portion of the skin is bitten with two teeth only, it is called the ‘point’.  Four:  When such small portions of the skin are bitten with all the teeth, it is called the ‘line of points’.  Five:  The biting which is done by bringing together the teeth and the lips, is called the ‘coral and the jewel’.  The lip is the coral, and the teeth the jewel.”

“Let me try this one,” she offered.  And she started with Erik’s forehead, which was hard to do with just upper teeth and a lower lip and they fell back on the bed laughing, but she did better with the cheeks and his lower lip was easy so, she played with it a while and switched to kissing then went back to biting before moving on to his throat, which she nibbled at, then put her head onto his bosom and thought of his son.  She moved on to his nipples and sucked on them until she got enough of a rise to nip them between her teeth and then apologetically used her upper teeth and lower lip.  She slid down his body, skin on skin, and began nibbling his navel and slid further down to nibble on the inside of his hip.  She didn’t make it to the other hip, preferring to nibble on his lingam, nibbling on both sides base to tip, before sliding it into her mouth completely.  She moved it in her mouth as though reining it about and then she slid up Erik’s body and mounted her steed.  Erik could tell she was a good rider by her steady gait which she maintained as though looking about for a good place to race and she picked up the pace as though crossing a meadow towards a track and she moaned as she tucked down her head and put heels to his flanks and broke into a gallop and she was breathing hard and moaning often and then her steed erupted into her and she collapsed onto his chest and savoured the pulsing throbbing eruptions within her.  She’d ridden her steed hard and did not want to put it up wet so, she slid back down his body again and licked and kissed his lingam until it was preened to her satisfaction.

“This book is dangerous,” Erik said later and she agreed.  “Again, I couldn’t stop to use my glove.”

“We’re family,” she said.  “I would love nothing more than to have our baby growing up with Ivar’s.”

The next day, Prince Erik and the consul’s wife sailed to Sinope with a fleet of warships and a start-up ship and crew.  They left the children in Phasis because they didn’t know what they would find in Sinope, but the town was bustling, and her estate had been kept for her return.  Ivar had given a neighbour some gold to look after it and he had done just that.  They purchased a building that was soon converted to a store and warehouse and the start-up crew began setting up inventory while the consul’s wife hired locals to train.

“I’ll leave you with the start-up crew and their ship,” Erik started, “and when I get back to Phasis I’ll send the children here with the next Hraes’ ship out.”

“Thank you, Erik!” she said, and she kissed him goodbye.  “This is so exciting!  My own Hraes’ station in Sinope!”

Back in Phasis, Captain Biorn arrived from Tiflis to tell Erik that the portage was almost complete.  The children had left for Sinope that morning, but Erik had decided to leave several warships and their crews to keep things secure at their estate.  Erik and Biorn sailed together up the Rioni and were the last ship portaged to the Kura River.  They caught up with some ships of the merchant fleet in Tiflis that were doing the Cathayan leg and Erik put in an order with one of them for some additional toys and kites and sky lanterns, a lot of sky lanterns.  Erik and Biorn soaked themselves in Ivar’s Sulphur Spring there and after, Erik placed an order for a quantity of local sulphur for his alchemists in Gardariki.  He told the local merchant that he would pick it up on his way back.

“What do you want sulphur for?” Biorn asked.

“Our chemical alchemists are using it for experiments, and I have a little project of my own that will require some.”

They left the sulphur spring and Erik liked to pamper himself before the two week sailing to Baghdad, so he booked himself and several of his officers into a new inn that just opened up in Tiflis to help handle the extra visitors brought in by Ivar’s sulphur spring investments.  Erik felt a little guilty for not patronizing the old inn that he and Ivar used to stay at, but he felt he had to check out the improvements brought about by his own son’s great business acumen.  And, of course, everything was new.  Erik passed Biorn and the other officers the keys to their rooms and they went and had supper in the dining hall.  As they ate and chatted, Erik remembered telling Ivar that he may have made a mistake by sparing Biorn his life because acts of kindness were seldom rewarded in kind.  But Biorn was always at Ivar’s side when he needed him and was even fighting beside him when he died in battle.  And Biorn ran the Baghdad trading while Ivar and Erik took off for trading in India, Ivar’s little piece of heaven on earth.  And now it was Erik’s little piece of heaven and he wondered how Myia and the rest of their family was.

When they arrived in Baghdad, Biorn took command of the fleet and began setting up kiosks in the markets, while Erik located Roxanna and Saleem to catch up on the latest news in the Caliphate.  The Romans and the Arabs were still at war in the Levant, but the Caliphate was gaining ground now that General Kourkouas was no longer leading the Byzantine forces and the Caliph knew it was Erik he had to thank for that favour.  The girls toured Erik around the markets and they met Biorn and Maharaja Rajan at the Caliph’s palace for feasting.  “The Caliph will be very happy to see you this year,” Rajan stated as he greeted the Prince warmly.  “He is actually winning a few battles in the Levant now!”

After the meal, but before entertainments started, the Caliph requested Prince Erik’s presence at the head table.  Erik saw that there was plenty of room there, so he took Biorn, Saleem and Roxanna up with him and introduced them all to the Caliph, who had a fine gift for his guest.  The Caliph knew that Erik was a famous poet and skald from the northern lands so, he had the finest book binders in Baghdad create a gold trimmed and jewel encrusted volume of ‘The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor’ for him.  The folios of the book were made of the newest media available called paper and was a local Baghdadi linen-hemp production and the binding was in the latest book format with the print in the finest Persian script in black and multi coloured inks with numerous hand painted illustrations signed by some very famous local artists and it was the illustrations that really drew Erik to the book.  The Caliph was suddenly embarrassed when he thought for a minute that perhaps Erik couldn’t read Persian, but when Erik began reading out the subtitles and reading out the famous signatures on the illustrations, he relaxed.

Later, while relaxing in his suite, Erik told Roxanna that he would have his own artists back in Gardariki study the illustrations and use the same format for illustrations of his translation of ‘The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana’ that he was working on.  He brought out his manuscript book and compared it with the fine finishing of the Sindbad book that the Caliph had given him.  “I didn’t have the heart to tell the Caliph that paper isn’t new and has been used for hundreds of years in Cathay.”  But the two women were more interested in the Kama Sutra and offered to help Erik with his next chapter.

“Chapter Six:” Erik started.  “Of the Different Ways of Lying Down, and the Various Kinds of Congress.”  The girls gathered around Erik, all sitting at the edge of his bed.  “On the occasion of a ‘high congress’ the Mrigi (Deer) woman should lie down in such a way as to widen her yoni, while in a ‘low congress’ the Hastini (Elephant) woman should lie down so as to contract hers.  But in an ‘equal congress’ they should lie down in the natural position.  What is said above concerning the Mrigi and the Hastini applies also to the Vadawa (Mare) woman.  In a ‘low congress’ the women should particularly make use of medicine, to cause her desires to be satisfied quickly.  The Deer-woman has the following three ways of lying down: The widely opened position, the yawning position, and the position of the wife of Indra.  One: When she lowers her head and raises her middle parts, it is called the ‘widely opened position’.  At such a time the man should apply some unguent, so as to make the entrance easy.  Two: When she raises her thighs and keeps them wide apart and engages in congress, it is called the ‘yawning position’.”

“What is a Yoni?” Roxanna asked.

“And what is a High Congress?” Saleem added.

“This is a lingam,” Erik said, lifting his limp cock up off the bed.  “And it fits into your Yoni with a glove.  Don’t let me forget the glove.”  Erik knew it was going to be a long night, but he also knew he was going to enjoy every minute of it.

After two weeks in Baghdad, Prince Erik and Maharaja Rajan sailed down the Tigris River in Raj’s flagship dhow, followed by hundreds of various ships of their combined merchant fleet.  “You might want to consider staying in Ashaval for the first month,” Raj told the Prince.  “All the births should be over in Mumba by then.”

“By the gods,” Erik asked, “how many are there?”

“Well, there’s Myia and her sister, your wife,” Raj started, grinning.  “And I think both your young acolytes are pregnant as well.”

“Should I head to Mumba right away?”

“You’ll be able to do a week in Ashaval,” Raj said, “and you may have to stay in Mumba for three weeks to be there for all the births, but then you’ll be wanting to spend the next month back in Ashaval, trust me on this.”  And they both laughed.

“Your sons in Jelling want to spend the summer in Kiev and Gardariki,” Erik told Raj, “if it’s okay with you.”

“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with you,” Raj answered.  “Who will they be staying with, if you’re still coming here?”

“They’ll be staying with Princess Helga when they’re in Kiev and with Queen Silkisif when they’re in Gardariki.”

“Princess Helga was King Ivar’s Queen Helga before they got demoted, but who is this Queen Silkisif in Gardariki?” Raj asked suspiciously.

“She was my foster-daughter and had a baby with Ivar and now she’s my foster-wife.  I love her and want to keep her within the family fold, as it were.”

“Very prudent,” Raj said.  ‘It’s fine to have Ivar’s many babies here, out of the way, but babies, heirs at home, must be taken care of or they can be used against you.”

“She’s beautiful,” Erik said.  “All Ivar’s wives are beautiful.”

“How many of his wives are you keeping in the family fold?”

“He had a Roman wife in Phasis, but I’ve moved her back to Sinope to run a new Hraes’ station there.  She’s beautiful as well.  Ivar taught her the business and she’s really good at it.”

“What about Princess Helga?  In the fold as well?”

“No.  She’s different.  She’s Ivar’s first wife, the love of his life.  She’ll never remarry.  A certain Prince Mal in one of our provinces wanted to marry her and she presently has his city under siege and will kill him if she gets the chance.”

“He wants to marry her so he can control young Prince Svein?”

“No doubt,” Erik replied.

“Well, you’d better get her into the fold,” Raj advised.  “Petty princes in control could jeopardize your company and your country.”

“If Helga doesn’t kill him, I will,” Erik said determinedly.  “I have some siege gear coming back from Cathay.  A special project I’ve been working on.”

“I’m glad it’s for Prince Mal’s city and not mine,” Raj mused, putting his hand on Erik’s shoulder.

“Prince Mal will be easy,” Erik said.  “Queen Helga, on the other hand, will be the tough one to rein in.  She is a blue majestic island fir in a sea of princely green tamaracks.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Ivar and I used to always joke about the Swedes,” Erik explained, “and how the only thing they could do with perfection was make Swedish princesses.  They seemed to excel at that and only that.”

“So, Queen Helga is the perfect princess.”

“Yes.”

When they arrived in Ashaval, Erik went directly to the Hraes’ store there and performed a quick inspection.  All imported stock from last year was long gone and only local stock remained as well as that brought in from Mumba.  Prince Erik had brought fifty percent more ships this time, but he didn’t think it was going to be enough.  As long as they couldn’t keep up the supply of merchandise, it gave a reason for not bringing in slaves for sale.  Slavery existed in India, but it was not a prevalent practice and Erik wanted to keep it that way out of respect for his first wife, Princess Gunwar.  And to that end he was planning to introduce Khazar Vayar to India this trading cycle.  Ivar had always provided the Maharaja with gifts of the sturgeon roe,  but now the Hraes’ had sufficient quantities to begin exporting to India.  Prince Erik had decided to punish the Pechenegs for their desertion of his Roman campaign by doubling their required production of the roe from the south Dnieper River.

“How was everything at your store today?” Rajan asked Erik, as he sat on the balcony overlooking his ships at the usual suite in the maharaja’s palace.

“Everything was good.  We got the special ship with the Khazar Vayar unloaded.  The product traveled well, and we started selling it today.”

“Excellent!” Raj said, sitting down.  “Now I won’t be the only royal in India having access to it.  I could swear that some royal visits I was getting was for the Khavayar alone.”

“It will only be sold through the Ashaval store, as requested,” Erik added.

“Just until we have enough for both stores,” Raj laughed.  “Gujarat comes first!  But I have a special treat for you tonight.  Two older princesses and they’re sisters.  Apparently, they’ll be able to go to university together if they have Aesir babies.”

“Really.  I’m glad to help them out then,” Erik said, innocently.  “They’re still virgins, right?  I don’t want to have to glove up.  It’s counterproductive to knocking them up.”

“Of course,” Raj said.  “All the girls are checked by our royal physician, no matter how young they are.  Children can be curious.  How’s your translation coming along?”

“It’s coming along.  Some chapters have sections that deal with the handling of young princesses and I have to check them out too so, young is good as well.”

There was a knock on the door and two older princesses entered and Raj used it as his cue to leave.  The girls were perhaps sixteen, Erik guessed as they entered shyly.  That was older for India, he admitted to himself.  The Prince spent a week in Ashaval tending to trading during the day and making love to young princesses at night as he expanded on his translation of ‘The Kama Sutra’, then he sailed to Mumba and met Myia and her sister Mahara at their parents’ estate on the bay.

“You two are quite the sight!” he said, as he hugged them both together.  They were both very pregnant and Mahara looked ready to pop any day.  Their mother came into the room with refreshments and welcomed Erik into their home.

“I have your suite all ready,” she told him.  “My husband is at the store getting it ready for your inspection tomorrow.”  She passed Erik a glass of cooled orange juice.  “He is really quite nervous about it,” she added.

“It’ll be fine,” he reassured her.

Later, in the privacy of their suite, Erik surveyed the damage.  He sat the sisters beside each other on the edge of their bed and began undressing them.  When they were naked, he listened to their swollen bellies, first Mahara’s and then Myia’s.  He was amazed.  Both babies were very active in their wombs and Mahara’s baby was kicking quite vigorously.  Then the young women undressed Erik and saw that he was hard.  “I think Nominal Congress is required here,” Myia said and Mahara agreed as they pushed him down on the bed and started to devour him.

Mahara was still sleeping when Erik woke the next morning, but Myia was stirring so he turned to that side and kissed her then rolled her onto her other side and whispered in her ear, “I think Anal Congress is required here,” and he spit on his fingers and lubricated her anus before entering her.  Mahara slept through the whole thing and the two were done, dressed and drinking juice by the time she woke up.

Erik and Myia’s father sailed across the bay together to inspect the store and go through inventories.  Erik wanted to be done by noon because his two pregnant acolytes were arriving at the estate that afternoon and he wanted to be there to greet them.  The store was good, but the Indians did not have the inherent efficiency of the Romans.  Erik doubted if anybody could outdo the consul’s wife in that regard and he remembered his son in Sinope, conquering all before him, including the consul’s wife, and he could see how those two must have been instantly attracted to each other.  ‘Oh, to be a fly on the wall watching those two have rough sex,’ Erik thought and immediately drove it out of his mind, trying to focus instead on what Ivar would recommend, to improve their Mumba store.

“There is a certain sensuality,” Erik told Myia, “in India that isn’t to be found in other parts of the world and I don’t think it is being properly reflected in our stores.”

“What do you think we need?” Myia asked.

“Everything is oriented to the old,” he started.  ‘We’re in a country in which girls are married before they’re in their teens and our stores are set up for forty year old mothers to bring their twenty year old daughters in to shop for them.”  Erik looked around the bedroom at his four wives and realized they were all under twenty, some well under that age, and he realized that Ivar’s model of keeping trading in the warehouses and keeping families in the stores needed to be modified to reflect how young Indian families actually were.  “We have mothers that are barely teenagers coming in to shop for their children and we have to make them want to come back.”

“What will make them want to come back?” Myia asked.

“Let’s ask Mahara,” Erik said, and Mahara looked up from her studies.  “Not right now,” he added.  “But after she has her baby, let’s all go shopping with her, to our store and others, to markets and to kiosks and we’ll ask her as we go.  As we leave a market or a store, we’ll ask Mahara, ‘What would you have liked to see there?’ and ‘What would have made your shopping experience better?” and we’ll see what she says.”

“I’m not sure,” Mahara interjected, “that I want to be put on the spot like that.”

“We’ll be buying you an awful lot of really nice stuff,” Erik replied.

“I’m in!” Mahara said and got back to her studies.

A few days later Mahara went into labour and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and they named him Eyfur.  Erik wanted to give him an Indian name, but Mahara’s parents wanted to give him an Aesir name to remind all of whom Mahara’s husband was.  A few days later Meena had a baby boy and a few days after that Misha had a baby boy.  Not much shopping was done that week, but eventually they managed to get out to the markets and bazaars and it rapidly became apparent that young mothers needed more assistance than older mothers.  And they learned that, with Myia still carrying, pregnant mothers needed even greater assistance.  While they worked on ideas that would improve shopping for young mothers, Myia went into labour and had a baby boy as well.  Erik kissed his wives goodbye for a time and sailed back to Ashaval.  Never had the ocean seemed so quiet.  When Erik arrived back at Rajan’s palace the first thing he did was ask the royal physician for a list of ways to make young mothers more comfortable while shopping.

One evening in Ashaval, Prince Erik was enjoying some wine on the balcony overlooking his merchant fleet and Maharaja Rajan asked him if he had had any further visions about the future invasion of horsemen from the eastern Mongolian plain.  “Will they invade India?” Rajan asked.

“I asked that question,” Erik replied, “of my dreams, before I went to sleep one night, and a dream came to me and showed me that they would not.”

“That is good,” Raj said.

“But the dream warned of an imminent invasion of Gujarat coming from the south in just over a decade from now.  We must prepare for it in all our future plans.  We must protect Ashaval and Mumba from this upheaval.”

“How do we do that?”

“We must keep our predominantly Jat cities unaligned and flexible, willing to work with whatever rulers come to power in the south as we now do with the north.  Please forgive me if I use the term ‘we’, but I now have a lot of children here, not as many as Ivar, mind you, but enough to feel a part of your Jat community.”

“Well, we have a decade to prepare for it and with forewarning we…”  There was a knock at the door…”can make plans.  Tomorrow.”  Raj welcomed two young Jat princesses into the suite then said, “Until tomorrow then.”

“Until tomorrow, my friend,” Erik said as he showed the girls into his suite.  One thing he did not tell Raj about the dream he’d had was the sense that it was the financial success of the twin cities of Ashaval and Mumba in his dream that caused the invaders to covet Gujarat.  But he was committed to his new family in Mumba and to his extensive offspring in Ashaval.  He was now as committed to these twin cities as he was to the twin cities of Kiev and Tmutorokan.  It was a commitment he’d accepted as a Brahman of the Aesir by gifting young Jat princesses, such as the two in his suite, with the blood of Hraegunar Lothbrok and he looked up at the red and black raven banner on the wall above the double doors as he led the two young virgins into his bedroom.

Princess Helga was arriving in her carriage again at the dusty little plain in front of the town of Iskorosten, the city of wood that would not burn down.  The legions of Kiev had kept up a siege all spring and summer and had been launching all forms of fiery ordnance into the city, but the better the Hraes’ would barrage the town, the better the Drevjane would get at putting out fires.  It was determined that the Uzh River was providing Prince Mal with an inexhaustible supply of water with which to fight fires, so the engineers attached to the legions proposed to divert the river away from the town by building a series of dams meant to force the flow into an old looping course that the river had followed several hundred years earlier.  And Princess Helga was there to witness the expensive diversion.

The commander of the cataphracts was there to welcome her as was the general in charge of the legion of foot soldiers.  They had a lunch prepared for her in her pavilion and after the late lunch they led her carriage to where the main and diversionary dams were constructed upstream of the town.  As the diversionary dam’s sluice gate was gradually opened, the main dam’s sluice gate was slowly closed, and the flow of the Uzh River was gradually transferred to the old riverbed that had bypassed the town hundreds of years previous.  One of the engineers even suggested that the old riverbed had been naturally bypassed over two thousand years ago.

“When the rivers curve,” the engineer explained, “the outer banks of the curve are eroded and the curves grow longer and longer until the hydraulic forces back the water up to a level where the water overflows the banks and forms a direct stream again.”  He waited for the princess to nod in understanding, so she nodded, and he carried on.  “We are diverting the river back into one of these curving loops that existed before the town was built and it bypasses the town and rejoins the river several miles downstream, where we have built another dam that will prevent water from backflowing up towards the town.  Once the river water is fully diverted through this ancient loop, we shall close the sluice gate on the main dam as well.”  The engineer again waited for an understanding nod and when the princess nodded, he asked, “Shall we begin?”  And to this question, Princess Helga nodded.

The whole process took over two hours and while the engineers and soldiers were adjusting sluice gates and sealing up leaks, Princess Helga wandered along the riverbank, followed by an armed escort, and she walked until she could see the wooden palisade of Iskorosten off in the distance.  Nearby she saw a beaver dam that ran across the river and she pointed it out to one of the officers escorting her.

“It is a beaver dam,” the officer said.  “We could have used it instead of the one we built, but the engineers said it was too far from the old riverbed for us to use it.”

“But won’t the beavers need the water you’re diverting?” the princess asked.

“The engineers said that the beavers will move their dam to the new river location,” the officer told her.

“The dam that your engineers built for me back there cost me a thousand marks of gold.  I hope the beavers don’t charge me a like amount for their efforts.”

The men all laughed at her jest.

Once the diversion was effected, it did not take long to see the drop in water level downstream of the beaver dam.  When Helga got back to her carriage she saw troops of cataphracts and foot soldiers standing guard on either side of the dams.  The commander of the legion told the princess that the Drevjane would try to destroy the dams once they saw what had been accomplished.  It was dark by the time Helga got back to her pavilion.  The commander promised her that fiery barrages would resume on the morrow and that Iskorosten would be burning by nightfall.  Helga retired for the night and slept fitfully.  She didn’t know who to feel sorrier for: the Drevjane of Iskorosten or the beaver of the Uzh River.  She was wakened by a rumbling noise early in the morning.  When she got up and dressed and went outside, she saw officers and men running towards the river.

“Have the Drevjane attacked the dam?” she asked a passing officer who was riding back from the Uzh.

“No,” he said.  “Apparently the beaver have.”

Princess Helga had her driver prepare the carriage and they took it up to the dam works they had visited the day before and the dam was gone, washed away.  The commander was there and when he saw her arrive, he walked over to the carriage and told her, “We were guarding the dam against Drevjane attack, but the beavers snuck in right under our noses and undermined the dam.”  He seemed quite embarrassed by this oversight of the Drevjane Uzh River ally.

“I guess they didn’t want to move,” she said and later in the day she returned to Kiev.

In the fall, the merchant fleet returned from Baghdad and Princess Helga was waiting on the main quay of Kiev to welcome Prince Erik back from another successful trading mission.

“There’s a rumour,” Erik started, “that you’re having beaver problems in Iskorosten.”

“Nothing we can’t handle, “ Princess Helga replied.

“We always have problems with beavers at our portages,” Erik said.  “It seems we’re always rowing up tributaries by the time we reach another river within portage distance, and beavers love tributaries.”  Erik took young Svein up into his arms.  “You’re getting big!”

“You mean tributaries like the Uzh River?”

“I just mean Varangians know how to take care of beaver.  Let me help you with them.”

“I don’t want to hurt them,” she said.  “Why should beaver suffer just because I want Prince Mal to suffer.”

“We want Prince Mal to suffer.  You’re not in this alone.  Let me help you.”

“I promised Ivar I’d handle the Drevjane myself.”

“Ivar made me promise I’d help you.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No.  I had a prescient dream that I was soon to die, but I wasn’t sure the dream was about me.  I had Ivar’s word on things he would do for me if I died fighting the Romans and I promised him certain things I would do for him just in case my dream missed me and hit him.  Helping you with the Drevjane was one of them.”

“I wish your dream wouldn’t have hit him.”

“I wish my dream would have hit me!”

“Don’t say that!  We all love you, right Svein?” and the child smiled.  “Don’t ever say that.”

“Thank you,” Erik said, stroking the cheek of the child.  “What if I promised you I would defeat the Drevjane for you using only a child’s toy, and no beavers would be hurt in the process.”

“A child’s toy?  A toy that Svein could play with?”

“We’ll take him along and he can play with the toy and start the attack.”  Erik could see that Helga was intrigued by his offer.

“It’s six hours by carriage,” she started, “I don’t know if Svein can handle six hours on the road.”

“I know a short cut that will shave an hour off,” Erik offered.

“And no beavers will be hurt?” she mused.  “Okay.  We’re in, right Svein?”

“Yes, mama,” Svein said proudly.

Erik and Helga worked together going through the Hraes’ books, charging and discharging the northern merchant ships so they could go home.  By the week’s end they were done and ready to venture to Iskorosten and the siege still taking place there.  Several wagons trailed behind Princess Helga’s carriage and in them were the toys that Erik said he would use to crush Prince Mal.  “I told you I would use a child’s toy but, of course, it will take more than one of them to do it.”

“How many have you brought?” the princess asked.

“Five thousand.”

“Five thousand?  What are they?”

“The Cathayans call them sky lanterns and their children use them to worship the spirits of their ancestors.  They’re made of silk paper and you light a candle inside them, and they rise up into the sky and float to their ancestors in their Cathay heaven.”

“It sounds Christian!” Helga spat.

“Oh, there are no Christians in Cathay,” Erik responded.  “There are Buddhists, there are Confucians, there are Hindus, there are Jains, but there are no Christians there.”

“And we need five thousand of these sky lanterns?” Helga asked.

“I thought we’d use them in the traditional Cathayan way and offer them up for the five thousand Drevjane warriors that died in the Battle of Iskorosten.”

“That’s very poetic,” Helga said, looking down at little Svein who was playing with toy soldiers on the floor of the carriage as it trundled along.  “But you are the most famous skald in the north,” she added.  “And this will defeat the Drevjane?”

“If all goes well,” Erik assured her.

By using Erik’s shortcut, they arrived at the camp before the walls of Iskorosten in five hours, so they had a few hours to kill before their planned evening ritual.  Erik wanted to take a force of cataphracts to the other side of the Uzh River to watch the forest there, so they left Svein with Helga’s handmaiden in her pavilion and they rode in Helga’s carriage to the location where the main dam had been.  Erik could see that the troops had built a rickety bridge across the posts that remained of the destroyed dam.

“Don’t worry,” Helga said as they got out of the carriage, “the beavers did a much better job of repairing their dam.”

Erik smiled at Helga and took her hand to help her down the steps.  Then he turned and gave some instructions to the commander of the cataphracts.  As the commander rode off, Helga shouted, “and don’t hurt any of my Drevjane subjects!”  He stopped his steed, turned and said, “we shall spare all we can, my queen.”  There were still officers in the legions who had been in service long enough to remember when Helga was a queen and had funded the formation of the Kievan legions and they all loved her and would follow her wishes to the letter.  And she loved her legions in return.

“Where is the beaver dam?” Erik asked Helga.

“It’s down the river here a bit,” she said.  “Come, I’ll show you,” and she took Erik by the hand and led him to the riverbank and they walked down the bank in the fall afternoon sun and they talked as they walked, of beavers and Varangians and of trade routes and lost sons and husbands.

After an evening feast in honour of the Drevjane dead, five thousand Cathayan sky lanterns were passed out to the legions in camp.  Young Prince Svein was on a cataphract mount and Erik held the horse steady and stood by his grandson’s side.  Princess Helga gave Svein a very small spear and the prince would attempt to launch the spear as a signal of when to light the lanterns.  It was dark enough so Erik nodded to Helga who told Svein to throw the spear.  The prince threw the spear and it just passed between the ears of the horse before sliding down its armoured face and lodging in the ring-mail armour of the horse’s foreleg.  Erik stepped forward, pulled the spear free of the mail and waved it back and forth as a signal to all the men, then he gave the spear to Helga.  “Keep it for Svein,” he said.  “His first spear cast.”

Helga took the spear and watched Erik as he passed Svein a lit lantern and the young boy released it into the night.  The sky lantern was an inverted bag made of very light silk paper with a candle mounted on thin wires below it and the heat from the candle released hot air into the paper balloon and it rose up into the air with thousands of others and a slight breeze swept them all up and they drifted towards Iskorosten.  Then Helga held Svein as Erik lit her lantern with a burning kindle stick put to the wick of the candle, and she saw that, jabbed in every candle, right next to the wick, was a fine stick of sulphur.  He passed the sky lantern to the princess and she and Svein both released it up into the night air.  Then Erik lit a lantern for himself and leaned into the saddle of the horse and into Helga and all three of them released the last sky lantern skywards.

Five thousand sky lanterns were aloft and beaming in the darkness as they drifted over Iskorosten and when the candles ran out of wax the lanterns started to descend into the town.  Many landed in the thatch roofs of the houses and buildings and soon the hot glowing sulphur sticks set the paper balloon bags alight and they, in turn, set the thatch ablaze.  Soon there were thousands of buildings ablaze in the town and bells were clanging and gongs were sounding and the firefighters of Iskorosten were battling blazes once again.  But it seemed all the buildings were burning all at once and the firefighters stood in the streets with their buckets of water and they didn’t know where to throw them because everything was on fire.  The fire chief ran around instructing his men to throw the water on the corduroy logs that covered the streets of the town to keep dust down.  “The roads are our only means of escape,” he shouted.  People streamed out of their houses and into the streets and soon all the sealed gates of Iskorosten were thrown open and the people of the town came out all black with ash and coughing from the smoke and they sat in groups in the dust and the legions of Kiev walked amongst them passing out pitchers and goblets of water and then they began passing out blankets and the people wrapped themselves in blankets against the cool fall air and they turned and watched their city burn.

There were armed warriors within the walls that refused to come out but eventually they came out through the gates and threw down their swords and shields and were bound hand and foot by the legions.  They had a young girl with them about Prince Svein’s age and she was covered in smoke and ash and Prince Erik saw her and took her back to the main pavilion with him and he passed her over to Princess Helga for safekeeping.  “She says her name is Malfrieda,” Erik told Helga as he went back out into the night.

Everybody was watching for Prince Mal, but he never came out of the city.  Later in the night, a group of fighters came out of the city and surrendered.  They were from the grand hall of Prince Mal and they told Erik and Helga that they had all sworn to burn to death in the hall before surrendering but fire is a terrible thing and they all made good their escapes rather than burn.  One man claimed that he had even seen Prince Mal fleeing with his hair and clothes aflame, but the hall collapsed and crushed him.

Erik sent Helga back to check on Svein and Malfrieda in her pavilion and she came back out in tears and Erik rushed over thinking something had happened to the children but Helga said they were fine and sleeping with the handmaiden but it was on coming back out, when she saw her town and her people in such a terrible state that the lanterns of her cheeks flowed tears.  Erik took her into his arms and said, “The town can be rebuilt.  The people, though shaken, are alive and well and it would seem that only Prince Mal has died.”  And he held her for a very long time as they both watched the palisade start burning.  Finally, he took her to her pavilion and tucked her in with her son and the girl.  Then he went out and walked amongst the legions and their captives and made sure that Queen Helga’s orders to her commander were followed to the letter.

“You haven’t slept,” Helga said as she joined him at the command pavilion in the morning.

“I’ll sleep in the carriage on the way back to Kiev.”

“On the way home,” she said, taking him by the arm and walking him over to a mess tent.  They both ate and talked.  “You’ve really impressed me,” Helga said.  “I always wondered why Ivar would talk about you so much after your battles with the Angles and the Saxons and the Romans.  Now I know.  With just a child’s toy you literally crushed Prince Mal.  No rapes, no slaughter.  My commander and my generals would follow you into battle against the gods right now.  And they’d expect to win!  I let you do me this one, how did you put it, one small favour and now I owe you a favour in return.”

“You owe me nothing,” Erik said.  “I made a promise to my son and you allowed me to fulfill it.  It is I who owes you a favour.”

“You poets are so full of it!”

Later in the morning, Princess Helga made a speech to the people of Iskorosten, promising to send them craftsmen to help them rebuild a city of brick and stone.  “It will have no walls,” she added, “for only friendship stands between the Hraes’ and the Drevjane”. 

Helga could see that Erik slept fitfully on the way back to Kiev and, when they arrived there in the evening, she had her staff unlock King Frodi’s great bedchamber and make it up for the Prince, then she rejoined Erik in her highseat hall and they shared her highseat while he ate.  “I’m sorry Prince Svein kept waking you up on the way back,” she apologized.  “He was very excited to learn that he gets to keep his little spear.”

“That’s fine,” he replied.  “I’m going straight back to my hall once we’ve eaten.  I need some rest.”

“I’ve had my staff make you up a bed here,” she said, and she led him down the hall to King Frodi’s bedchamber.

“The last time I was in this room,” Erik said, “the chamber door was locked, and nobody knew where the key was.”

“Don’t worry,” she said as she started undressing him.  “Queen Alfhild won’t be visiting you here tonight.”  When she had him naked, she laid him back on the bed and tucked him under the blankets.  “Only I shall be visiting you here tonight.  I have a sterling reputation to maintain with my people so, it will only be this one night and I will be gone when you wake in the morning.”

When Erik woke up the next morning, Princess Helga was still sleeping.  He woke her up gently by stroking her lean body softly.  He watched her breasts rise and fall through the thin silken sheet and he marvelled at what a perfect Swedish princess she truly was.  Age had not affected her beauty at all.  As she woke up, he took her into his arms.  “I thought you were going to be gone in the morning,” he said.

“You impressed me with your taking of Iskorosten, and you really impressed me with your taking of me last night,” she answered.  “Why don’t you stay here in the palace till the end of the week.”  It was her turn to peek through the sheet and she saw his stiff steed grazing in the silk  “I’ll take my chances with the staff and try to sneak back to my bedroom in half an hour.”

“Why half an hour?” Erik asked, and she climbed atop him.

At the end of the week she told Erik that she and Svein would be overwintering in Gardariki.  She didn’t ask, she just told him.  And then she set to work revising the Hraes’ taxation system.  Previously, taxes were collected over the winter months by the Prince of Kiev and his men.  It was during such a tax collecting effort that her husband, Ivar, had lost his legs during a Drevjane ambuscade.  But Helga now planned on overwintering in Gardariki for the foreseeable future so, she set up a more standardized form of taxation with quarterly payments that were collected by local officials and forwarded to Kiev.

CHAPTER TWO

2.0  PRINCESS HELGA & THE CHURCH OF SAINT IVAR  (Circa 946-952 AD)

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            (1A). Now then are come                to the king’s high hall,

                  the foreknowing twain,             Hraerik and Hraelauger,

                  in service to Frodi,                     King Fridleif’s son,

                  these brothers mighty               as princes are held.

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

(946 AD)  Queen Silkisif walked into her suite and saw Erik with a naked couple and they were performing a sexual act.  “What are you doing?” she asked Erik.

“It’s called the crab,” Erik explained.  “It’s a position that requires practice.  I wanted them to make sure it’s even possible,” and Erik stepped back as the couple held their positions.  There was a painter in the corner of the room trying to quickly capture the moment because ‘the Crab’ did not lend itself well to long poses.  Erik had brought back a painter friend of Ivar’s from Kiev.  He and Silkisif had both determined that the Norse translation of the Kama Sutra required sketches or drawings but, after receiving the exquisite volume of Sindbad the Sailor from the Caliph of Baghdad, Erik felt that the deluxe volumes of the translation should have exquisite little half folio paintings.  Then copyists of regular volumes would do sketches off of the paintings.

Silkisif took Erik by the hand and led him into her bedroom and closed the door.  “You’re working too hard on your deluxe volume,” she complained, “And not nearly hard enough on the deluxe me!”  She grabbed the crotch of his silk pants and said, “Not nearly hard enough!”

“Shall I tell them it’s a day?” Erik asked.

“No,” she answered.  “Let the painter do his strokes and let’s see what he comes up with and let me do my strokes and let’s see what I come up with.”  They made love on the bed and ‘the Crab’ position was not involved.  As they lay on the bed after, Silkisif asked, “Do you know when she will be coming?”

“She didn’t say,” Erik answered.

“How long will she be staying?”

“She didn’t say.”

“Well, did she say anything?”

“Just that she and Svein would be overwintering in Gardariki.”

“I heard what you did in Iskorosten!”

“It was just a childish stunt,” Erik said.

“You conquered Iskorosten!  Helga had been besieging the city for six months and you came and conquered it in six hours!”

“Well, Helga wasn’t going to let me help her and I promised Ivar that I would so, I had to make a game of it.  I told her I would take the town with a child’s toy.”

“You attacked Iskorosten and your own army didn’t even know you were attacking them.  They thought it was a Cathayan rite for the fallen of Iskorosten.”

“I didn’t want any more of them to fall.”

“I know!  I even heard that no beavers were hurt in the taking of the town!  No wonder Ivar would always talk you up after you two would battle the Romans!”

“The Romans are not the Drevjane.  Some of their generals scare me and I think even Ivar was a bit concerned.”

“Nothing ever scared Ivar,” Silkisif said.

“Nothing ever scared Ivar,” Erik agreed sadly and the couple clutched each other fiercely in their grief.  “Please try to show Helga some kindness,” Erik pleaded.  “She still grieves as much as we do.”

“I shall show her nothing but kindness,” Silkisif promised, “as long as she stays in Gardariki.”  Silkisif led Erik out to see the painting progress.  The naked couple were sitting and relaxing in one corner of the great room, drinking juice and eating fruit, and the painter was hard at work in the other corner catching up with their last pose.

“The Crab looks great,” Erik said, “and what is this new position again?” Erik asked the painter.  He looked up, shrugged and looked over to the naked couple.  “The Deer Woman,” the young girl said, putting down her fruit and walking over to see the painting.  “You’re painting my yoni too big,” she told the painter.  “The Elephant Woman has the big yoni!”

“Does it really matter?” the painter asked.

“We’d best do as she says,” Erik told the painter, patting him on the shoulder.

“Yes,” Silkisif agreed.  “She’s a Deer Woman!”

Princess Helga and Prince Svein arrived in Gardariki a week later and Erik had two women to keep happy.  And he would visit the Roman consul’s wife in Sinope every month for a week.  But Princess Helga arrived with a large entourage of seamstresses from Kiev.  They would be working with her on a new line of silk Princess Dresses she was designing.

One week, when Erik was gone, Princess Helga invited Queen Silkisif to visit her and Svein in Gardariki and Silkisif came and she said,” Svein has Ivar’s eyes!”

“I know!” Princess Helga said.  “It’s remarkable.”  Princess Helga had been cold towards Queen Silkisif because she had Christian leanings.  Many of the people in Tmutorokan were Greek and many more were Christians, but this animosity soon melted as they talked of Ivar and how much they both missed him.

“I was so sad to learn that they had to burn his body,” Helga cried, “but he had the plague.  I wanted him buried in Kiev.  All we got was a leg.  But you can come up to Kiev and visit his leg anytime you want,” she offered.  Then Princess Helga showed Queen Silkisif her new line of Princess Dresses and Silkisif was blown away by them.  They were all of bright satiny silk in all colours and many of them took yards and yards of silk and were very expensive.  “Only the wealthiest Romans of Constantinople will be able to afford them,” Helga confided, “but there are many of them in the city.”  Silkisif gave Helga a few design suggestions and they spent the rest of the week on dresses.

The next time that Erik was in Sinope, Queen Silkisif invited Helga and Svein to visit her in Tmutorokan.  Silkisif took Helga to a small stone slab in a corner of an Aesir grove and she swore her to secrecy then told her, “This is the grave of Ivar.  I wouldn’t let them burn his body.”

“Really?” said Helga, falling to her knees and feeling the smooth stone with both her outspread hands.  And she ran her fingers through the grass on either side of the stone and she looked up at Silkisif with tears in her eyes.  “Really?”

“Captain Biorn brought his body back from the east just to show me it and he said it had to be burned because he died of the plague.  I couldn’t let them burn Ivar, so I called on my legions to step in and take Ivar from him.”

“Oh, I do so love our legions,” Helga gasped.  “If it were not for our legions, I’m sure Prince Mal would have kidnapped me and had me as his wife!”

“Thanks to our legions we have Ivar’s body here,” Silkisif said, “and you can visit him anytime you please,” and the two women hugged each other and they sat in the grass near Ivar’s bones and they talked and told stories about him.

“Did he really die of the plague?” Helga asked.  “I was hoping they’d find a wound or someway he might have died in battle.”

“I checked his body myself,” Silkisif said.  “No wounds.  He died of the plague.  I could see the rash.  I wasn’t allowed to touch him.”

“Will he be able to go to Valhall?” Helga asked Silkisif.

“I don’t think so,” Silkisif cried.  “I’ve heard it said that Erik is guaranteed a place in Valhall, but he has sated Odin’s eagles for three generations.  He has killed a lot of men!”

“Is there anything that can be done?” Helga asked.

“I have heard that Princess Gunwar converted to Christianity before she died,” Silkisif started, “and that Prince Hraelauger, Erik’s brother was secretly in love with her and became a Christian so he could be with her in the Christian heaven.  And I mean, to be with her in the Biblical sense, like they’re focking and everything.”

“No!” Helga exclaimed.  “Doing it and everything?”

“Yes!” Silkisif said.  “The ghost of Queen Alfhild visited Erik and told him so!  She told him she would await him in Valhall and that Erik was assured a place there with her and her daughter, Eyfura!”

“No!  Both of them?  They’re going to share him?”

“Like you wouldn’t share him?  In Valhalla?”

“Oh dear,” Helga said.  “I had King Frodi’s bed made up for Erik at the palace in Kiev.”

“So?” Silkisif asked.

“That’s the room that the ghost of Queen Alfhild raped him in,” Helga said.  “I must have caused him so much distress.  His wife, Gunwar, making it with his brother and Alfhild telling him this?”

“You didn’t know,” Silkisif said, comforting her.  “It’s not your fault.”

“I know, but I snuck into his room later and made love to him.  It might have been like the rape all over again.”

“If he got it up, it couldn’t have bothered him too much.”

“Oh, he got it up alright.  Many times, he got it up!”

“It’s those alchemists’ drugs he has.”

“You two do it, right?” Helga asked gently.  She suspected but she asked gently because Erik was her foster-father.

“We’re both adults and we share our grief over Ivar together.”

“You don’t mind sharing Erik with me, do you?” Helga asked.

“No.  I’m actually starting to like you Helga.  I don’t mind sharing Erik at all.”

“Thank you,” Helga breathed.  “You have a great heart and a beautiful soul.”

“Should I check more into this Christian heaven thing?” Silkisif asked.  “Erik’s spoken for in Valhall, but if there were a way of sharing Ivar in the Christian heaven, would you be interested?”

“If you could get me back with Ivar in hell I’d be in!” Helga said.  “If you can share Erik with me on earth, I can share Ivar with you in heaven!”

Silkisif got up and gave Helga a hand, pulling her up.  “This could be the start of a wonderful relationship.”

(947 AD)  In the spring Prince Erik and Princess Helga returned to Kiev to prepare for the merchant fleet from the north and Queen Silkisif and her sons assembled the Tmutorokan fleet in Gardariki.  Prince Erik led the northern fleet south and Princess Helga went with a portion of it off to Constantinople with her new line of silk Princess Dresses to be shown and sold there.  Erik led the rest through the Rioni-Kura portage to the east, sending a portion of the fleet off to the Caspian and Cathay and heading south with the remainder to the Araks-Tigris portage and on to Baghdad.  He left Captain Biorn to run trading with the Caliphate and led a fleet further south to Gujarat.  Queen Silkisif was busy helping raise Svein, but she made time to begin building a Christian church right next to the Aesir grove in Tmutorokan and asked the Orthodox Christian bishop in Cherson to come preach in her city.

When she learned that a bishop named Rodgeir had arrived, she went to meet him and the bishop preached the faith to her, and the bishop had an interpreter but he wasn’t needed, because Queen Silkisif spoke both Goth and Greek.  She soon gained an understanding of spiritual wisdom and let herself be baptised.  And in that same month the whole population of the city was baptised.  But work on the church was slow because many craftsmen from Kiev and Gardariki were busy rebuilding Iskorosten.  She talked with the bishop about dedicating her church to Prince Ivar, who was buried next to it.  The bishop told her that it would be very difficult because Ivar was a pagan who had only been preliminarily baptised, and in the Latin Christian faith at that.  “And it doesn’t help,” the bishop went on, “that he was the most feared Viking in Christendom.”

In the summer, Princess Helga visited Prince Svein and Queen Silkisif in Tmutorokan and she told Helga what the bishop had said.

“What can we do?” Helga asked.  “How can this be?  Ivar was baptised in Angleland so that he could marry that little Christian witch, Queen Blaeja.  No offence intended now that you are Christian.”

“None taken,” Silkisif said.  “You must go to Constantinople next spring and get the Emperor in your debt.  Ply him with gifts or grace.”

“You want me to fock the Emperor?”

“Only if you have to,” Silkisif consoled her.  “If this is going to work, you, too, shall have to get baptised.  Perhaps if you get baptised in Constantinople, that will be enough.”

“Oh god, I mean gods, I’ll have to fock the Emperor!  Erik is going to be so pissed.”

“Don’t tell him.  If you have to do it, don’t tell Erik.”

“I’ll tell him if I have to do it.  I’ll fock anyone I damn well please.  This is for Ivar.”

“And I can’t hire enough masons to work on the church.  They’re all in Iskorosten rebuilding.  Could you spare me a few?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Helga reassured her.

In the fall, when Erik returned from India, Silkisif told him about her conversion to Christianity.

“Great!” Erik said, getting up on one elbow in the bed.  “I lost my first wife to Christianity and now I’m losing another.”

“Oh, you called me your wife,” Silkisif responded.  “Your wife.  I like that.”

“Well I can hardly call you my foster-daughter anymore,” Erik said, kissing her gently.  “My wife.  I like it too.”

“You haven’t lost me,” she added, “until I have died.  And you’ll be going to Valhall and you have two queens you love already waiting for you there.  Ivar can’t go to Valhall because he died of the plague, but if he can go to the Christian heaven, I want to be there for him.”

“He did get baptised in Angleland,” Erik said.

“I know,” Silkisif replied.  “But that was a Latin baptism and I’m building an Orthodox church.  Bishop Rodgeir says it might cause problems.”

“That damn Christian schism!” Erik cursed.  “It’s causing problems for everybody.  Our Christian traders from Denmark, Angleland, Ireland and Normandy are all being harassed in Constantinople.  Why can’t the Christians just get along?”

“Why can’t the Muslims?  Why can’t the Jews?  They all believe in the same true god.”

“The Zoroastrians too,”  Erik added.

“The Magis?” Silkisif asked.

“Yes, the Magis,” Erik said.  “The prophet Zoroaster came up with the concept of one true god who was so powerful he could take care of everything.  Even the Egyptian true god, Aten, of the Pharaoh Akhenaten was an extension of the Persian god, Ahura Mazda of the Magis.  The Zoroastrians drove the Vanir out of Persia and into India.”

“Helga’s right!” Silkisif said.  “The Christians are taking over.”

“The Christians are only one sect of this true god religion.”

“They’re all Christians to me,” Silkisif said.  “I’m only joining them because of this damn plague.  Anybody can get into Christian heaven, even plague victims, as long as you’ve said enough prayers, and you can pay people to pray for you, so if you’re rich, you’re in!”

“And that is why they are taking over.”

(948 AD)  Princess Helga and Prince Svein overwintered in Gardariki again and Helga would monitor the church’s progress and sometimes stayed over in Tmutorokan with Erik and Silkisif.  It took the Prince back to when Queen Eyfura and young Prince Ivar would overwinter in Gardariki and those were amongst the happiest days of his life.  In the spring, Erik took Helga and Svein back to Kiev and they prepared for the arrival of the northern merchant fleet once more.  But this time, Erik was surprised to learn that Princess Helga wanted to take charge of the merchant fleet that was going to Constantinople and that she was buying her own fashion house in the city.  He was glad she wanted to lead the traders, but he insisted she take a cohort of Kievan legionnaires with her as a personal bodyguard.  “If Constantinople was safe,” he told her, “the Emperor wouldn’t need the Varangian Guard.”

When Princess Helga arrived in Constantinople, she expected to stay in the Saint Mamas district in the city, but the Emperor, Constantine the Seventh Porphyrogennetos, on hearing Queen Helga was visiting, invited her to stay in the palace with her bodyguard.  When she came before the Emperor, he saw that she was a little older than he was and that she was beautiful.  Her long blonde hair danced about her regal shoulders, one of which was bare, and her blue eyes shone radiantly, as Norse eyes often did.  Her nose was upturned and refined, and her lips pouted red.  She was tall and stood remarkably straight and her breasts projected forward as did her glutes backward.  Her long dress was a light blue silk and one could almost see through it.  The Emperor broke into a sweat and was glad his wife was not sitting next to him.

“I hope you had a good journey, Queen Helga,” the Emperor said.

“I led our merchant fleet here,” Princess Helga stated imperiously.  “The journey was refreshing.”

“Yes.  You do look refreshing…refreshed,” the Emperor stammered.

Princess Helga could impress, if she wanted to, and she addressed the Emperor in impeccable Greek.  “Your city is very quaint,” she said in peccable Latin.  “You should show me around,” she said in perfect Persian.

“Yes,” the Emperor said in Latin, stepping down from the throne and taking her arm, the one with the bare shoulder.  “Perhaps we should start with the palace.”  And the Emperor showed her around the palace complex, and he was impressed with her intellect.  He walked her back to her apartments in the palace and commented that perhaps he should have her moved closer to his quarters, but she pointed out that she had a legionary cohort of personal bodyguards with her and they required a lot of room.  By this, she managed to avoid the Emperor, for he had a large nose that took some getting used to.  He was not a handsome man.  He persisted in making advances on her, but she always managed to put him off with one excuse or another.  As the trading season progressed, Helga gathered more and more information from the bishops and patriarch of the city on how a church could be dedicated to Ivar and how he could be accepted into the Orthodox faith, post-mortem.  As the trading season grew to a close, Constantine’s efforts to bed Helga grew increasingly desperate so, she drew her legion officers closely around herself and used them to keep the Emperor at bay and then departed from Constantinople two weeks earlier than the rest of the fleet and sailed to Tmutorokan to report her findings to Silkisif there.

“He is a tall, lanky and ungainly man,” Helga told Silkisif, “with a rather unpleasant looking face.  His nose is long and thin and makes up much of his countenance.”

“Did you fock him?” Silkisif asked.  “Because the bishop in Cherson says he can’t help us.  Any intercession must come from Constantinople through the Emperor or the patriarch.”

“No.  He was begging for it, of course, but I was hoping you had made some progress.  How is the church coming along?”

“It won’t be completed until next year, so we do have some time.”

“I’ll lead the fleet next spring as well then.  I’ll fock him if I have to,” she said, “but I’d really prefer not to.”

“You poor dear,” Silkisif said.  “The things we do for Ivar!”

Princess Helga returned to the Black Sea with her small fleet and met up with her merchant fleet just before the Dnieper estuary.  Erik and his Baghdad fleet caught up with her fleet at the Dnieper rapids portages and they sailed together to Kiev.

“How did you like trading in Constantinople?” Erik asked her.

“I liked it so much, I want to do it next year,” she replied.  “But I can hardly wait to get back to young Svein.”

(949 AD)  Again, Princess Helga and Prince Svein overwintered in Gardariki and Erik spent more time with his grandson, who was starting weapons training and studying languages.  Silkisif started spending more time in Gardariki helping out with Princess Dresses, which were selling very well, and the two women practiced different ways of sharing Erik.  And the carpenters and masons kept making steady progress on the church in Tmutorokan.  Finally, it was time for spring trading and Helga soon found herself back in Constantinople with a request for the Emperor.  “I need your approval on a post-mortem baptism,” Helga explained, leaning over the Emperor as he studied the document.

“I love the fragrance you’re wearing,” the Emperor said as Helga’s breasts brushed his arm.

“I’m not wearing any fragrance,” Helga told him.

“Oh?” the Emperor said.  “Perhaps you could leave the document with me and I’ll come by your apartment this evening and we can sign it together?”

“That would be wonderful!” Helga lied.  She steeled her resolve and said, “Tonight then.”

That evening, Helga dismissed her personal guard for the night and soon there was a quiet knocking at her door.  It was the Emperor, so she let him in, and he posted his own personal guard outside her suite.  She took the document from him and placed it upon the table of her great room and got it ready to be signed.  The Emperor came in and looked about the room.  Helga was wearing a seductive white silk dress as she held out an ink quill that she had freshly dipped.  He took the quill and signed the letter.  “How is your bedroom?” he asked.

“There’s a problem with the bed,” she said, and she led him into the bedroom.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, bending over it and checking the mattress.

“You’re not on it,” she said, and she sat him down, took his pants off and pushed him back onto the bed.  ‘Suck it up, princess,’ she told herself and she took his limp penis in her mouth and began sucking it until it was hard.  Then she stripped off her dress and straddled him on her knees and she took his penis in both her hands and gently inserted it into herself and she began rising and falling on him in a seductive rhythmic motion that soon had the Emperor exploding within her.  She rose off him and bent over beside the bed and she licked him clean, then she put his pants back on and pulled him up off the bed.  She put her dress back on in front of him and she escorted him to the door.  “Thank you for signing that for me,” she whispered.

“There is one thing,” the Emperor said.  “I had the patriarch look at your document, but he mentioned you would be needing a separate document allowing a bishop to dedicate a church to the post-mortem person.  I took the liberty of having him draft up the document.  It should be ready for signing the same time tomorrow evening if that works for you?”

“Thank you for being so helpful,” she whispered, and then she kissed him passionately.  “I look forward to tomorrow evening,” she lied as he left.

The next morning a messenger knocked on Helga’s door and there were several servants bearing gifts.  There were flowers and sweets and some very expensive bottles of fragrances.  There was a velvet box that held a gold cross and chain and a silver box that held a gold and jewel encrusted bible.  In yet another box there were two bottles of very fine wine with accompanying golden goblets and in a final wrapped gift there was a his and hers very sexual white silk sleep set.  ‘It looks as though the Emperor is hoping to sleep over,’ Helga told herself and further steeled her resolve.  ‘And from the looks of the cross and bible,’ she thought, ‘the Emperor has learned from the patriarch that I’m planning to accept baptism on Sunday.’

The next evening, Helga again dismissed her personal guard for the night and soon there was a quiet knocking at her door.  It was the Emperor, and he was carrying roses in one hand and a document in the other.  She let him in, and he again posted his personal guards outside her suite.  She took the flowers and document from him and placed the letter upon the table of her great room and got it ready to be signed and put the flowers in a vase.  Again, the Emperor came in and looked about the room.  Helga was wearing the seductive white silk sleepwear as she held out an ink quill that she had freshly dipped.  He took the quill and signed the letter.  “How is your bedroom?” he asked again.

“Same problem as last time, but I think it will take us all night to fix it properly.  But let’s have some wine by the fireplace first,” she offered.  “We’ll be at it all night.”

The next morning, Constantine asked if he could visit again this evening, but Helga told him she was getting baptised on Sunday by the patriarch and should probably rest.

“But Sunday is two days away,” Constantine complained.  “You can rest Saturday.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Tonight.  But only if you baptise me on Sunday.  It is much more regal to be baptised by a king of kings than by a patriarch.”

“It will be my pleasure to serve you, both tonight and Sunday!” he said gallantly.

After the Emperor left in the morning, more servants showed up bearing even more gifts.  Brocade silk with gold thread by the rolls and gold jewelry brooches and necklaces and rings.  And dozens of flowers and Frankish sparkling wines and even Khazar Vayar.  ‘He’s falling in love with me,’ Helga fretted.  She had to be patient until the baptism, then Constantine would have to respect her privacy.

Constantine showed up that evening and they enjoyed the sparkling wine and the Khazar Vayar and even Helga had to admit she was having a pleasurable night.  A close bond was growing between the two royals and all day Saturday servants kept arriving with gifts of all kinds.  ‘He is smitten,’ Helga thought, and she half expected him to show up unannounced Saturday night, but he respected her privacy and she didn’t see him again until the time of her baptism before mass on Sunday.

There were a number of baptisms taking place that day, but only Helga was being baptised by the Emperor.  The rest were being handled by the Patriarch who sprinkled each of them with water and asked which Christian was each convert’s particular sponsor, and he made the sponsor the convert’s godparent.  When the Emperor sprinkled Helga with water, he asked the multitude who would be her sponsor, but no one responded.  The patriarch asked the Emperor if he wished to be Helga’s sponsor to which he gladly accented, and the patriarch asked the Emperor if he had a Christian name for her and the Emperor said, “Helene”, so the patriarch made Constantine her godfather.

After the baptisms the patriarch held mass and the newly converted got their first bread and wine.  It was a strange custom for Helga as she took communion with the Emperor, but she kind of liked it.  As they were leaving the church, Constantine asked Helga if he could visit her that night.  The patriarch was giving blessings to all as they were leaving but he was giving congratulatory handshakes to the newly converted, so Helga asked him if it was permissible for a new convert to have sex with their godparent.

“Oh, no,” the patriarch said.  “That would be strictly forbidden!”

“I’m sorry,” Helga told Constantine.  “I think you’re like a father to me now.”

The Emperor was in shock, but he kept plying Helga with gifts every day that she was in Constantinople.  And she decided to extend her stay by two weeks this time.

Helga kissed the Emperor passionately on the main quay of the city, just below the gate that her Ivar had nailed his demands to, and as her small fleet left Constantinople, Constantine openly wept.  The people around him thought that he was sorry to see the last of their Hraes’ trader guests leave, but he was crying because the best lover he’d ever had was now forbidden fruit.  However, he promised himself that he would be the best godfather in the world and send Helga gold and alms on every anniversary of her baptism for as long as he lived.

Helga’s small fleet caught up with her merchant fleet at the Dnieper rapids portages and Erik’s merchant fleet caught up with her soon after.

“How was trading this season?” Erik asked.

“It was very profitable,” Helga answered.

“I heard that you were baptised and by the Emperor himself no less.”

“I got baptised for Ivar,” Helga said.

“Did the Emperor give you a baptismal name?”

“Helene,” she said.

“That’s the Empress’s name.  Helena Lekapene.”

“It’s Helene, after the Emperor’s grandmother,” she said.

They were standing beside each other at the forestem of Erik’s shieldship.  “Helene of Troy,” he started.  “The beauty that launched a thousand ships,” and he snuck his hand into hers and held it gently.  “How many ships did you take to Constantinople this year?”

“About a thousand,” she said, squeezing his hand back gently.

(950 AD)  Princess Helga and Prince Svein overwintered in Gardariki once more and the weather on the Black Sea coast was particularly warm that year.  It was excruciatingly cold in Kiev that year, but it was beautiful weather in Tmutorokan.  When Ivar’s church was finally completed, Queen Silkisif invited Bishop Rodgeir to Tmutorokan from Cherson to dedicate it.  But when the bishop was vested up, he asked, “In whose name, my queen, do you wish this church to be dedicated?”

She answered, “To the glory of the holy King Ivar, who rests here, shall this church be dedicated.”

The bishop answered, “Why so, my queen?  Has Ivar shone with miracles after his death?  Because we only call those people saints who shine with miracles when their bodies are buried in the earth.”

She answered, “From your own mouth I have heard that in the eyes of God there is more worth in true steadfast faith and regular practice of holy love, than in the glory of miracles.  But in my opinion, as I saw with my own eyes, Ivar was returned to us here from the east and that was a miracle in itself.  Plus Princess Helga has gotten post-mortem baptismal papers for Ivar in the Orthodox faith to add to the Latin baptism he received while alive and she has received permission from both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Emperor Constantine of the Eastern Roman Empire to dedicate this church to King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Erikson of Angleland, Denmark and Hraes’,” and she passed the paperwork to the bishop.  He perused it quickly and nodded accent.  The bishop then consecrated the temple, dedicating it to the glory of God and all the saints in the name of Ivar.  Then a headstone was placed on top of the stone slab that covered Ivar’s grave next to the church that said, “King Ivar Harde Knute of Denmark”, then below that, “Prince Eyfur Erikson of Hraes” and below that “Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ of Angleland”.  A precious cross was placed atop the headstone, magnificently adorned, that would be kept in the church and placed on the headstone when masses were said for Ivar.  Slabs had been added to the left and right of Ivar’s grave to hold places for Princess Helga and Queen Silkisif so they could join their love in heaven when they died.  Bishop Rodgeir then held mass for the soul of Ivar and even called the place Ivar’s Church during his epistle.

The late winter weather was so fine that after the mass people went outside into the Aesir grove and wandered amongst the trees on the grass that was starting to reawaken from hibernation.  Erik stood in front of Ivar’s grave holding hands with Silkisif on his left and Helga on his right.  Svein was off playing with friends in the trees.  “I’m so proud of you girls,” he said.  “I didn’t think you would be able to do this.  I’m so impressed.”

“I had to sleep with the Emperor,” Helga told him.

“Oooh, that must have been hard for you,” Erik said.  He had met the Emperor occasionally and he was not a handsome man.  “I’ll bet he was impressed!”

“He’s still sending me gifts,” Helga stated.

“I would like you to have the grave on his right, Helga” Silkisif said, not to subtly change the subject, but to just change it.  “You’re his first wife so you should be on the right.”

“I think it should be first come, first served,” Helga responded.

“Fine,” Silkisif said, “if I die first, I want to be buried on the left.”

“Thank you, Silki.”

“You’re welcome, Helen.”

Erik hugged them both under his arms and they held hands around him.

“Can I bring some friends back to Gardariki?” young Svein asked, coming up to the group.  Erik pulled him into the hug and said, “As many as you want.”

Princess Helga told Erik that she would not be leading the fleet to Constantinople during the next spring trading cycle so, Erik asked her if he could take Svein north to visit his cousins while he fetched Captain Sihtric from Ireland to handle Baghdad trade while Captain Biorn handled Constantinople.  “We’ll be back in a month,” Erik promised.  Helga said, “It is important that he meet his relations in the north,” so Erik asked Svein if he wanted to come.

“I would love to come,” Svein said, excitedly.

Heading north, they stopped at the Hraes’ station in Chernigov and met once more with Princess Helga’s parents there.  At the same time that Erik was updating the Hraes’ Trading Company Managers Book, he started a new Hraes’ Family Book in which he planned to record all the blood relatives of both the Frodi/Fridlief and Ragnar/Sigurd family lines.  They did the same at Smolensk and Surazh and went to Polotsk to record Oddi’s wives and offspring there, then they went to Staraja Russa and Novgorod and Staraja Ladoga before sailing along the Gulf of Finland and across the Baltic to the Hraes’ station in Birka and then to Uppsala in Sweden to visit with King Halfdan.  Erik and Svein conveyed greetings from Halfdan’s uncle in Chernigov and they entered Halfdan’s marriage details and offspring into the book.

Erik then visited the Hraes’ stations in Gotland and Skane before arriving in Liere to his daughter-in-law, Queen Mother Blaeja and his grandson, King Gorm and wife, Queen Thyra.  He introduced young Svein to Gorm’s young sons Canute and Harald, his nephews even though Svein was 7 and 5 years younger than they were.  When the boys were playing, they kept calling Svein Frodi.  Blaeja insisted that Erik and Svein stay in her highseat hall so they did as the queen mother wished.  “Princess Blaeja came to me in a dream and asked me to sleep with you,” Queen Blaeja explained, after they had tucked Svein into his chamber.  She led Erik into her bedroom at the back of the hall.  He sat on the bed and said, “Princess Gunwar used to live in this hall.  Her brother, King Frodi, lived in the hall that young Gorm is in and Gunwar slept here, in this very room.  This is where she blessed me with her virginity.”

“This is the room where thirty princes’ heads lined the walls?” Blaeja said, somewhat disturbed.  “We’ll be moving to Roskilde soon anyway.  The harbour here isn’t big enough for the merchant fleets anymore.”

“So they say,” Erik started.  “It happened before I fell in love with her.  Frodi’s champions, the sons of Westmar, didn’t think they were worthy enough for her, so they killed them and nailed their heads to the walls.”

“Well, I’m glad they found you worthy!”

“They didn’t.  My brother, Hraelauger, and I and nine others battled with them out on the ice and we killed them all and then I won the hand of Gunwar.”

“Things were rough back then!” she said.

“I’m sorry Ivar was so rough,” Erik said quietly.

“He was nice to me in the end,” she said.  “That’s when I knew he was leaving me, going back to Helga, when he was nice to me in the end.  So, is it over?”

“The curse?”

“Yes.  Ivar named Gorm snake and then he called Svein swine, so it’s pretty obvious what he intended.  That’s why we call Svein Frodi here, and when we talk of Ivar, he is King Harde Knut or we call him Fridleif, after King Frodi’s father.  I had always feared why Ivar named our son Gorm and as soon as we heard that Ivar named his son in the east Svein, I knew what was up.  Hraegunar’s curse!”

“So, you know that Ivar raped your grandmother?  Just so you know, when Princess Blaeja and I had a relationship, we loved each other.”

“I know that.  Every princess grows up loving you, even now.  The story of Gunwar’s Song and the Head Ransom Song are just so beautiful that all young teenage princesses fall in love with you the minute they hear it.”

“Do you know,” Erik started gently, “that Ivar poisoned your grandmother?”

“Yes.  She just told me.  She tells me everything.  That’s why she had me named after her.  She’s a witch, you know.”

“I knew she was a healer, I didn’t know she was a witch.  I guess you have to become a healer before you can become a witch and, I guess, all healers have a bit of the weird in them.”

“She also told me she killed Ivar,” Blaeja started.  It was her turn to talk gently.  “She told me to tell you she was sorry.  She said you would forgive her one slight for the favour she will be doing you.”

“I figured it would take more than the plague to kill Ivar.  My son, Oddi, was the greatest warrior that ever lived, but Ivar was the greatest leader.  Of course, I forgive her.  And the curse has always been over as far as I was concerned.  It ended when we’d killed King AElla, and Princess Blaeja forgave me that slight.  I would have never had her as a lover had I felt otherwise.”

“She told me ‘It’s not over yet’,” Blaeja said.  “Not until she completes her favour to you.  What are you two up to?  She said she will use her powers as a healer to kill a man for you just like she killed Ivar.  What does she mean?”

“I think Cathay Khan will be dying of the plague,” Erik offered, as Blaeja started unbuttoning his shirt.  She tore it off and stepped back to survey the scars.  “My, my,” she said stroking an old wound, then she knelt down.  “Have you made my grandmother some kind of spiritual assassin?” she asked, as she unbuttoned his pants.

The next morning, Erik asked Queen Mother Blaeja if she would like to go to Hedeby and Jelling with them.  “Only,” she answered, getting up on one elbow, “if we can take Canute and Harald along.  They haven’t seen Thyra’s folks in a while.”

“That was my next question,” Erik said, kissing her.  “We’ll all go together and I’ll bring you right back.”  So, they visited their largest Hraes’ station in Denmark, Hedeby, and then they stayed at the hall of Thyra’s parents while visiting the station in Jelling and Erik picked up the two sons of Maharaja Rajan from their mothers.  He passed on gold to the women that Raj had given him and they gave their blessings to their sons who would be off to India to visit their father.  They dropped Queen Blaeja and her grandsons off in the harbour of Roskilde because she wanted to inspect Thyra’s construction projects there.

“Queen Thyra is the engineer of the family,” she whispered to Erik as she kissed him goodbye.

“Can I stay with you,” Erik whispered back, “when we meet up with the merchant fleet?”

Erik, Svein and Raj’s sons then sailed to Norway and visited the Hraes’ station in Kaupang and then sailed up the coast of the Nor’Way to Southmore, where he visited Ivar’s wife, Lagertha, and Ivar’s son, Frode.  Jarl Ane and Jarl Sigurd met him there and Ane joined him to help out in the east.

From Southmore, Erik sailed to Ireland and met with Princess Hrafnhild in Dublin, then visited with Sihtric of the Ui Imair and his wife Brianna and their many children in Waterford.  Sihtric also joined him to help in the east.  Then they sailed off to Rouen and met with Erik’s great-nephew Richard and introduced him to Svein.  Then they sailed to York to meet Prince Hraegunar and Princess Hraegunhild and all their children and grandchildren before joining up with the great Hraes’ merchant fleet that had assembled in Roskilde harbour in Denmark.  But Erik sailed past it and went on to Liere and they stayed with Queen Blaeja.  “Your mother says ‘Hi’,” Erik told her as he joined her in her bedchamber.

(951 AD)  Erik and Svein were soon meeting Helga on the main quay of Kiev and she was very happy to see them both and had many questions for her son.  While the northern merchant fleet was south, the anniversary of Helga’s baptism came and envoys from Constantine arrived in Kiev bearing rich gifts.  These they gave to Queen Helga along with a message from the Emperor: “You have not come with your fleet this year bringing us furs and wax and slaves.  I miss you so much.  Please come next year and feel free to bring your personal legionnaires and bodyguards.  Your apartments in the palace await you or, if you are unhappy with them, any accommodations you wish shall be granted you.  I must see you again soon.”

Helga sent this message back to the Emperor:  “Dear Constantine (godfather), I stayed in Kiev this trading season to spend more time with my young son.  I miss you as well.  Please come visit me in Kiev.  Any accommodations you require will be granted you.  P.S.: I shall try to lead our merchant fleet to Constantinople next trading season.”

The Emperor was overjoyed that Queen Helga had not forgotten about him and that she was going to try to come to Constantinople the next year.  He made sure that the Varangian traders and their Captain Biorn were given special treatment while in the city.  The other traders from Spain and Italy, Germany and Khazaria all complained about the special treatment given the Varangians and the Emperor made sure Captain Biorn heard their complaints.  Constantine made sure Biorn knew that if Queen Helga accompanied them the next trading season, the Varangian advantages would be multiplied.

When Prince Erik returned from Baghdad with the merchant fleet, Princess Helga and Svein met him on the main quay of Kiev and they both hugged him warmly.  Only one of Rajan’s sons came back with him though because the other wanted to stay longer in India.  Erik sent young Rajan back to Jelling under the care of Prince Ane and the northern fleet.  Sihtric decided to stay in Kiev and Erik, Helga and Svein headed south to overwinter in Tmutorokan.  “I think you’ve forgotten how cold a Kievan winter is,” Erik said as he parted with Sihtric.

“Not as cold as Brianna’s yoni,” Sihtric laughed, “now that she’s had a dozen kids with me.  I think I’ll stay and play in the east for a bit!”

In Tmutorokan, Erik and Helga picked up Silkisif in their carriage and they all went to Saint Eyfur’s Church to visit Ivar’s grave.  “You girls have caused quite the stir in heaven,” Erik told them as he stood, a woman under each arm, in front of the grave.

“Whatever do you mean, Erik?” Helga asked.

“Yes,” Silkisif said, turning and looking up at him.  “Whatever do you mean?”

Erik looked down at her, her hair blonder than blonde and silkier than silk.  Then he looked down at Helga, her eyes bluer than blue, and he started to explain.  “You’ve managed to turn the terror of all Christendom into a Saint.  I didn’t even think you’d be able to get him into Christian hell.  Now he’s in Christian heaven and he’s Saint Eyfur.  Do you wish to explain how you did this miracle?”

“Nope,” they both said in harmony.

“I’ve noticed the Emperor’s gifts are still piling up, faster than ever.  Are things getting serious between you two?” he asked, looking down at bluer than blue.

“I haven’t been encouraging him,” Helga said.  “I don’t think I’m that impressive.”

“Oh, you are Helga,” Erik reassured her.  “You most definitely are,” and he gave her a squeeze.

“Most definitely,” Silkier than silk added, looking across at her and Erik gave Silki a squeeze as well.

“Who told you this?” Helga asked.  “It was that Blaeja, wasn’t it?  Not Queen Blaeja.  Her grandmother, Princess Blaeja.  She’s a witch, sure as hell.  Those Northumbrians!  Christian this and Saint So and So that, and they all practice witchcraft in one form or another.”

“I can’t say,” Erik said.  “There’s one witch in heaven that has agreed to do a job for me.  As a Spiritual Assassin.”

“Who are you whacking?” Silkisif asked.

“Oh, she won’t be using a sword,” he said.  “This witch is a healer.  I thought she was going to use the plague on Cathay Khan, an emperor far in the future, but now I fear it shall be much worse.”

“I knew it was Blaeja!” Helga spat.

(952 AD)  When spring came, Erik took Helga and Svein back to Kiev and sailed south again at the head of the northern merchant fleet.  When the anniversary of Helga’s baptism came again, envoys from Constantine arrived in Kiev once more bearing rich gifts.  These they gave to Queen Helga along with a message from the Emperor: “You have not come with your fleet this year bringing us furs and wax and slaves.  I miss you so much.  I am isolated in Constantinople and if I travel to Kiev, I fear my throne will be usurped as it had been for many years previous.  Please come next year and bring your personal legionnaires and bodyguards.  Your apartments in the palace await you.  You are the only woman that has ever made me feel like a man.  I must see you again soon.  P.S.: I have sent you a deluxe copy of my book, ‘De Administrando Imperio’.  Please come and tell me what you think of it.”

Helga looked through the book and admired the workmanship.  It reminded her of Erik’s translation he was working on in Tmutorokan.  But it was written in Latin and she would need Erik’s help reading it.  Helga sent this message back to the Emperor:  “Dear former godfather Constantine, I stayed in Kiev this trading season to spend more time with my young son, hoping to convert him to Christianity.  But the reverse has happened.  I have fallen away from Christ and I need to be re-baptised by you.  I shall be coming to Constantinople next trading season for sure and I shall have my own Christian sponsor so please arrange for my re-baptism late in the trading season so we can spend some time together in your quaint city.  I miss you as well.  P.S.: I only make you feel like a man.  You make me feel like a queen.  PSS: I shall be bringing my young son, Svein.”

The Emperor was overcome with passion that Queen Helga was no longer his goddaughter and wanted to spend time with him before her re-baptism in Constantinople the next year.  Again, he made sure that the Varangian traders and their Captain Biorn were given special treatment while in the city.  And again, the other traders all complained and again the Emperor made sure Captain Biorn heard their complaints.  Constantine gave Biorn more gifts for Queen Helga and made him promise he would keep his queen safe on their voyage to Constantinople the following year.

CHAPTER THREE

3.0  QUEEN HELGA AND EMPEROR CONSTANTINE  (Circa 953-959 AD)

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2. To moil at the mill                 the maids were bid,

                        to turn the grey stone          as their task was set;

                        lag in their toil                       he would let them never,

                        the slaves’ song he              would unceasing hear.

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

(953 AD)  Queen Helga led the northern merchant fleet south and when she arrived in Constantinople, she went straight to the palace to visit Emperor Constantine with her personal bodyguard.  When she came before the Emperor, she was allowed several of her officers in the throne room, which was never condoned for public audiences, but Constantine wanted Helga to feel as safe and comfortable as possible.  She was still as beautiful as ever.  Her long blonde hair still danced, and her blue eyes still shone radiantly.  She seemed even taller than he remembered, and his eyes fell upon her breasts and he had to force his gaze away from them.  Her long dress was of dark blue wool and she had a beautiful white sable throw around her shoulders.  The weather must have been cooler this trip, he thought, then said, “I hope you had a good journey, Queen Helga.”

“Our fleet was immense so, our journey was safe,” Princess Helga stated imperiously.  “The weather was cooler this time.”

“Yes.  You do look beautiful in your sable,” the Emperor said.

Princess Helga stood straighter still and moved her shoulders so that both her hair and her sable danced, and she addressed the Emperor in impeccable Latin, “Your city is still very quaint.  Could you show me to my apartments?”

“Yes, of course,” the Emperor answered in Latin, stepping down from the throne and taking her by the arm.  “Your Latin has improved,” he said as they began walking through the palace complex.

“Yes,” Helga said.  “I read your book and it improved my Latin.”

“What did you think of it?” Constantine asked.

“I loved it!” she said, enthusiastically.  “It was so interesting I had to share it with Prince Erik in Tmutorokan and he would like to translate it into both Norse and Sanskrit if you’ll allow him to.”

“Why yes, of course,” Constantine said.  “I have met Prince Erik.  I would be honoured to have a worthy skald such as Erik ‘Bragi’ translating my book.”  He walked her to the same apartments in the palace she’d had years earlier.  Her cohort of personal bodyguards began settling into their rooms they’d had previously, and Helga invited Constantine into her suite.  “I cannot stay long,” Constantine said, apologetically.

“Oh, this will not take long,” she responded as she closed the door and gently stepped into his arms and kissed him.  “I have missed you so.”

“I love the fragrance you’re wearing,” the Emperor said as Helga’s breasts brushed against his chest.

“I’m wearing the rose fragrance you sent me,” Helga whispered.  “It’s my favourite.”

“I thought you’d like it,” the Emperor said.  “Perhaps I could come by tonight and visit with you?”

“That would be wonderful!” Helga said.  “Till tonight then.”

“You said you were bringing your son, Svein?” Constantine asked.

“He changed his mind and didn’t want to come,” she said.

“I’m sorry he didn’t come.  I was looking forward to meeting him.”

“He promised to come next trip,” she said, walking him to the door.  She gave him a quick kiss as he left the suite and she closed the door after him.

There was a spring in the Emperor’s step as he walked with his bodyguards.  ‘Next trip!’ he thought as he entered the throne room.

That evening, Helga dismissed her personal guard for the night and soon there was a quiet knocking at her door.  It was Constantine, so she let him in, and he posted his own personal guard outside her suite.  She took his coat and sat him at the table of her great room and poured him some sparkling wine and served him some Khazar Vayar on tasty wafers.  The Emperor could not take his eyes off her as she served him.  Helga was wearing a seductive red silk dress and it hugged her body as she moved, and it fit her curves exactly.  She poured herself some wine and sat down next to him.  “How have you been?” she asked in Greek.  “Your envoys said you missed me.”

“I have missed you,” he said.  “I’ve missed you so much.”

How much have you missed me?”

“How is your bedroom?” he laughed.

“I’m sure there’s still a problem with the bed,” she said.  “Let’s go see,” and she led him into the bedroom.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, bending over the mattress.

“You’re not on it,” she said, and she pushed him onto the bed and began slipping out of her dress.  She was naked in a flash of red and she joined him on the bed and started to tear his clothes off.  He was hard by the time she’d undressed him so, she sucked on his penis to get it wet and comfortable and then she mounted his steed and began riding it.  “It’s been so long,” she whispered as she began to speed up.  Soon he was moaning in pleasure and he came within her, but Helga did not stop and began moaning herself to keep him hard and soon she came and collapsed onto him and she put her cheek upon his as she felt his member dissipate.

She pulled the silk sheet over them both and slid off him as his penis pulled out of her.  She tucked herself into his arm and she felt suddenly tired from her long day and drifted off in his arms.  Constantine held her for hours as she slept and with each passing hour, he loved her more and more.  When she woke up it was dark, as the candles had all burned out and she said, “I’m sorry I fell asleep.  How long have I been out?”

“I’ve been holding you in my arms for a few hours,” he answered.  “You make me feel like a man, my queen.”

“And you make me feel like a queen, my man.”  She felt under the sheet and he was hard.  “How long have you been hard like this?” she asked.

“For a few hours,” he answered.  She pulled him on top of herself and then she pulled him inside herself.  When they woke up in the morning, they cleaned each other up in her dressing closet and they dressed each other in her bedroom, then they returned to the great room and ate the rest of the Khazar Vayar and drank some sparkling wine.  “I have a full slate in court today,” he said, “but can I come tonight bearing gifts?”

“Just come tonight bearing yourself,” she said as she kissed him at the door.  Helga had trading business to take care of, so she put on her sable wrap and put mink muffs on her wrists and left the apartment with her troop of legionnaires following her.  She met up with Captain Biorn in the central market and inspected the booths the Hraes’ traders had set up in choice locations throughout the bazaar.  “These are excellent locations,” she told Biorn.

“We get the best locations,” he replied.  “That’s why all the other merchants complain.”

“They complain about us?”

“They say we get the best spots because the Emperor is in love with you, my queen.”

“And what do you say?”

“I say, given half a chance, the Emperor would be a fool not to love you, my queen.”

“And Emperor Constantine is no fool”, she concluded.

When Queen Helga got back to her apartments after lunch, there were servants waiting outside her great room bearing gifts.  There were flowers and vases and sweets and more bottles of fragrances.  In one box there was another copy of ‘De Administrando Imperio’ and it was addressed to Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ Hraegunarson and the first folio was signed by the Emperor with a note giving Erik permission to translate.  In yet another box there were four bottles of very fine wine with accompanying golden goblets and in a final wrapped gift there was a his and hers very sexual red silk sleep set.’

That evening, Helga again dismissed her personal guard for the night and soon there was a quiet knocking at her door.  It was Constantine, and he was carrying an armful of roses.  She let him in, and he again posted his personal guard outside her suite.  She took the flowers from him and placed them in one of the vases he had gifted her.  He came in and saw that she was wearing the seductive red silk sleepwear that he had given her.  “You are gorgeous!”  “Where is my set?”

“In the bedroom,” she answered, and she led him into the bedroom and removed his clothes.  She put his silk top on and knelt down to put his bottoms on, then looked up and saw his cock in front of her face.  It was circumcised and quite nice looking, so she took it in her mouth and began sucking on it.  As it was growing hard, she looked up at Constantine and he seemed to be enjoying the pleasure so she took it all into her mouth and he began going off against the back of her throat, his hot thick semen splashing against her tonsils as she swallowed it down.  When he was done, she licked him clean and pulled up his new red silk bottoms.  She got up off her knees, stepped back and calmly said, “They look sexy.”

Constantine was still gasping from his orgasm as he threw himself at her and hugged her in his arms.  “I love you,” he whispered, and he picked her up and carried her to the bed.  He pulled her bottoms off and returned the favour.

The next morning, Constantine asked if he could visit her again that evening, and she said yes, and she kept saying yes, all summer long and Constantine kept plying her with gifts until it was time for her re-baptism.  Then Constantine nervously asked her if she would mind if the patriarch re-baptised her this time so that she would be his goddaughter.

“But I enjoy it when your envoys show up on my baptismal anniversary bearing your warm greetings and gifts.  I can always fall away from the faith again.”

“I was hoping to send you greetings and gifts more frequently, as my fiancé.  Say yes and I will send you greetings and gifts on every religious holiday, your birthday and your baptismal anniversary.”

“What about the Empress?” Helga asked.

“Ours was a forced marriage.  We were married to each other while we were still children so that Romanos could become Emperor instead of me.  We are friends, but we have never loved each other.  Not the way we do.”

“You’ll divorce her?”

“Yes, but just before our marriage.”

“I can still only visit you every second summer.  Even when we are married.  I have my own realm to run.”

“I shall die waiting for you,” Constantine said.  “But I would wait forever for just one more night with you.”

“I don’t trust your people.  The Roman people.  Rumours have spread over this summer and your subjects prefer a native Empress to a foreign one.”

“Empress Helena isn’t even Roman.  Her father is Armenian.  The Lekapenos are Armenian.”

“But she was born in Constantinople.  I’m a Varangian.  I was born in Sweden.  If we announce our engagement, your court will scheme and plot until they stop our wedding.”

“We’ll keep our engagement secret,” he said.

“How will we explain all the gifts?”

“I’ll tell everyone that I still consider you to be my goddaughter,” Constantine began.  “Everyone knows how much affection I have for you and I’ll address the gifts to my goddaughter, Helene.”

“Before we seal our secret engagement,” Helga started, “I must confess that I became a Christian so I could share heaven with my husband, Ivar.”

“Perhaps Ivar will share you with me?”

“Ivar likely would not share anything with a Roman.”

“Not even a Roman who supported him?”

“You supported Ivar?”

“I’ve always admired Prince Erik and his son, Prince Ivar.  They gave the Armenians who usurped my throne a good licking.  I was on the walls of Constantinople when Ivar rowed across the Golden Horn in a twelve oared boat, right in front of our fleet of dromons.  The Armenians were too lazy to even come out and watch.  Our navy was going to kill him, but I gave them the signal to back off.  And I’m glad I did.  Were it not for Ivar and Erik, those Armenian princes would still be sitting on my throne as Emperors.”

“Perhaps he would be willing to share me a little.”

“I’ll only ask him for every second summer,” Constantine offered and they both laughed.  “So, in the eyes of God, and only God, we are betrothed to each other in secret.”

“Yes, in secret,” Helga agreed.

So, Helga was baptised by the patriarch a week before she left Constantinople with her fleet, but she continued sleeping with Constantine because the patriarch was now her godfather.  And she decided to stay in Constantinople two weeks longer, for Constantine’s daily gifts had increased in value to match their increased commitment to each other.

Princess Helga caught up to Prince Erik and his Baghdad fleet at the Dnieper Rapids portages and they went to Kiev together , closed out the business season, grabbed Svein and went to Tmutorokan to overwinter.  One morning in Gardariki, Erik woke up and Helga and Silkisif were having an early chat over his chest.  “The Emperor asked you to marry him?” Silkisif repeated.  “What did you tell him?”

“I told him I’d think about it.  What do you think about it, Prince?”

“Do you love him the way I love you?” Erik said.  “Because if you do, you should seriously consider it.  He is, after all, the Roman Emperor.”

“Do you love me, Erik?” Helga asked.  “Really love me?”

“I love you both,” Erik said.  “We are family, we are blood.  I treasure our winters together in Tmutorokan as being the best years of my life.”

In the spring, Erik took Helga and Svein back to Kiev and he led the Hraes’ merchant fleet back south.  Captain Biorn led the Hraes’ Christian and pagan fleets to Constantinople, while General Sun Wu led the Cathayan fleet east and Erik and Sihtric went on to Baghdad and Erik later went on to India.  Trading went well in all sectors, so profits were high, but Erik noticed a growing power emerging in southern India and he wondered if this empire was the one he’d foreseen attacking Mumba and Gujarat in the future.  He warned Maharaja Rajan about it and Raj said he would keep many eyes on it.  All this peace was making Erik nervous.  Even the Levant was quiet, the Arabs and Romans having fought themselves to a standstill.  But Erik would take a shaky peace over war anytime as long as he got his winters in Tmutorokan.

(955 AD)  Helga led the northern merchant fleet south and when she arrived in Constantinople, she went straight to the palace to visit Emperor Constantine with her son, Svein and her personal bodyguard.  When she came before the throne, she introduced Svein to Emperor Constantine of the Eastern Roman Empire in Latin.  Constantine saw that Helga was still as beautiful as ever and he could see a bit of her in Svein, but he saw more of Ivar in the boy.  He had long blonde hair like his mother, but his blue eyes were Ivar’s.  He was tall but not overly so, and he looked powerfully built like one who had started military training at an early age.  His clothes were those of a warrior, a Varangian.  The Emperor asked him how the journey had been in Latin and the teen answered in Latin, “Not long enough.”

“Your son seems to be a young warrior of good intellect,” Constantine told Helga as he walked them to her apartments.  “Svein shall have his own suite,” and he opened the door for Svein to explore it and, as he walked Helga to her suite, he asked, “Is there any language that you speak that Svein does not?”

“He has been taught to speak all the languages I have learned.”

“I’ll have to teach you Armenian,” he said.  Then he said a few words that Helga couldn’t understand.  “That’s Armenian for ‘I love you, my betrothed’.  Can I visit later?”

“Only if it is much later, once Svein has retired.”

“Until much later,” Constantine said and kissed her quickly, then left.

“I love the rooms,” Svein said.  “Are they all for me?”

“The bedroom is all for you,” she said.  “My handmaiden will be sleeping in the great room.  She is responsible for your care, so listen to what she tells you.”  She then gave Svein a tour of the palace and they were followed by a bodyguard of the Kievan legion.  “Don’t go anywhere without them,” she told him.  “We keep a full company at the apartments, so there will always be soldiers available to provide security.  Constantinople can be a dangerous place.”

“Can you show me where the Varangian guard stays?  I heard it was in the palace somewhere.”

“It is in the School of Themes,” Helga said.  “And that will be coming up soon.  Some of our own Kievan legionnaires are now in the Varangian guard.  Once they have completed their service requirements, they are free to join the guard.  Many of them do because the Emperor pays them quite handsomely and he is generous with gifts for gallantry.”

When they got to the school, Svein wanted to talk to all the famed warriors of the guard.  Many of them were highly skilled warriors from Ireland, Angleland, Normandy and all the Scandinavian countries, but the majority of them were from Hraes’.  All the best fighters were from Hraes’, especially from the Kievan and Tmutorokan legions.  Erik, Ivar and General Sun Wu always made sure they were trained to the high Roman standards of discipline, skill and courage.  When Hraes’ legionnaires came to the guard, they meshed in perfectly with the Roman system.  That was the main reason the Varangian Guard was paid so well.  They were as well trained as the best Roman legionnaires only they were bigger, stronger and braver than the Romans and their loyalty was exclusively to the Emperor.

All members of the Varangian Guard knew Queen Helga and they all loved her and were loyal to her, which was one reason the Roman people feared a Varangian Empress and the main reason that she had to keep her engagement to the Emperor secret.  Helga kept it secret from her own family as well.  She didn’t want young Svein to feel responsible for letting the secret slip, as youths often do.

“Can I stay and train with them?” Svein asked his mother.

“I can ask the Guard commander,” she offered.  I have to help Captain Biorn set up our merchants so, perhaps you can train for a few hours and I could come back for you.  But I’ll leave you two bodyguards to stay with you at all times.”  Helga received permission from the commander for Svein to train and she left him in the hands of his bodyguards.

“Excellent locations, Biorn,” Helga complimented.

“It is all your doing, my queen,” Biorn said.  “Rumour has it that the Emperor loves you more than ever!”

“Of course,” Helga said, holding her chin up.  “Emperor Constantine is no fool.”  She looked about the market and tried to come up with some improvements but Biorn had handled everything well.  “What we need here,” she said, “is a Hraes’ station and store!”

“That is not going to happen,” Biorn said.  “Not in Constantinople.”

“We’ve recently opened up stores in Sinope and Trebizond and those are Roman cities.”

“Yes,” Biorn said gingerly, “but we have a Roman consul’s wife running those operations for us.”

“Perhaps an opportunity shall present itself and we’ll see just how enamored the Emperor is with me,” the princess said, imperiously.

When Helga returned to the School of Themes, she found Prince Svein still training hard and several famous guardsmen were helping him with his sword skill.  The commander even gave Svein some advice that might someday save his life.  “The commander said I could come tomorrow if you approve,” Svein said.  “Can I?”

“You’ll have to go to bed early then,” Helga said.  “Your body will need rest to rebuild itself or your training will be squandered.”

There were servants waiting in the hall bearing gifts when Helga and Svein got back to their suites.  They even had some new training gear for Svein.  “I told you the Emperor was very generous with gifts,” Helga told her son.  “And he seems to have known what you were up to this afternoon.”  Later, servants arrived with platters of food and drink for the suites and the bodyguards.  Svein took his supper in his mother’s suite and they ate and talked together.

“I wish I would have come here two years ago!” Svein told her.  “I’m learning from the best of the best!”

“Don’t tell your grandfather that.”

“Grampa’s old,” Svein replied.

“He’s still the best ever!” Helga said, and she meant it.

Svein went to bed in his suite shortly after supper.  He had trained hard all afternoon and the Varangians in the Guard could see that their young prince was driven.  He was a natural born warrior.

The Emperor arrived late and was about to tap when Helga opened the door.  “Come in, Constantine,” she whispered.  “I’ve missed you,” and she gave him a warm kiss.  They went straight to the bedroom to show themselves how much they had missed each other and after an hour their lust was temporarily sated.

“I take it you haven’t told Svein about us?”

“Our betrothal is our secret,” she said.  “Children are terrible at keeping secrets.”

“Will we have to be sneaking around all summer?” he asked.

“We have been sneaking around all summers.  You’re still a married man.  Svein just adds another element of challenge.  Or we could just go back to Kiev if you wish.”

‘Emperors, on the other hand, are terrific at keeping secrets.  Just tell me where to sneak and I’ll be sneaking,” he said, and he pulled her under his arm, and they cuddled before falling asleep.  Helga woke up early and felt her sleeping fiancé and, finding him hard, she commenced to ride him in his sleep and he moaned, “Helga, Helga” then he woke to the pleasure he felt and he knew it was her.  He came deep and long within her, as only an unexpected morning ride can evoke, and then he hugged her close to himself and whispered, “God I love you!”

As it turned out, Helga and Constantine didn’t have to do any more than the usual amount of sneaking around.  Svein spent most of his summer training with the Varangian Guard and Helga’s handmaiden, Malfrieda, made sure he stayed out of trouble and kept up his language studies.  Svein built up muscles over the summer’s training and both Helga and Constantine complimented him on his growing physique.  And Constantine was continually plying both Helga and Svein with gifts and entertainment.  Svein loved the chariot races in the Hippodrome and Malfrieda often took him to them while Helga and Constantine snuck off someplace private.

“Marry me!” Constantine begged.  “Let’s make plans to marry the next summer you are here.”

“I still don’t trust your people,” Helga said, “and I don’t think they trust me yet.  Let’s talk about marriage next time I am here.”

“So, the next time you are here we will make plans to marry the next time you are here,” Constantine said.

“Something like that,” Helga said, coyly.

At the end of summer, Constantine took Svein to an antiques dealer and let him pick out a totally rebuilt Roman chariot from 450 AD Rome.  “I heard your grandfather collects them,” Constantine said.  “He will love to see you driving it while you winter in Tmutorokan.”

“I love it!” Svein exclaimed.  “And I think my mother loves you.”

“And what do you think of that?”

“I think if she marries you, the Hraes’ Trading Company will be the biggest trading company in the world!”

“The Hraes’ Trading Company already is the biggest trading company in the world,” Constantine replied.  “If your mother marries me, I will be the happiest Emperor in the world.”

When the trading season ended, Constantine plied Helga and her son with even more gifts and he gave Svein a matched team of four Arabian quarter horses with which to pull his chariot.

“His grandfather, Prince Erik, will be so envious,” Helga said, and she kissed Constantine goodbye and her small fleet sailed hard to catch up with her main merchant fleet.  She caught up with it at the Dnieper Rapids portages and she led it to Kiev, half expecting Prince Erik to catch her at any time, but they were late.  When Erik finally arrived in Kiev, he told Helga that Maharashtra province in India had been attacked from the south.  He told her he would be taking a legion to Mumba during the next trading season.  They all overwintered together again in Tmutorokan and they hoped that they would be able to do so into the foreseeable future.  But in the spring, Erik took a legion of foot and a legion of cataphracts south with him and snuck them through the Caliphate as merchants and slaves going to India for the first time.  He told the Caliph that he was opening two new stations in India that would deal exclusively in agricultural slave labour.  Once Sihtric had finished his trading in Baghdad and General Sun Wu had returned from Cathay, Erik put them both in charge of the defence of Mumba.  He met Captain Biorn on the Black Sea coming back from Constantinople and told him about the war preparations.  Erik was able to overwinter in Tmutorokan, but he left in the early spring to sneak more soldiers and equipment through the Caliphate into India.  The rest of the merchant fleets followed a few weeks behind him.  When he got to India, Mumba was already under siege.  He arrived with his forces by sea and immediately attacked the naval blockade that had isolated the city of Mumba.  The new Varangian dromons crushed the Indian dhows and relieved the blockade.  He then landed his troops well outside the city and they attacked the army that was laying siege and Sihtric led another army out from within the city and they drove the siege army into the sea.

The terrible naval and land defeats caught the attention of the leaders and generals of the new empire and they sent emissaries to Mumba for talks.  Erik bought off the attackers with gold and overwintered in Mumba to ensure that the purchased peace was kept.  In the spring he returned to Kiev to lead his northern merchant fleet south.

(957 AD)  Helga led her northern merchant fleet south once more and when she arrived in Constantinople, she went straight to her apartments with her son, Svein and her handmaiden, Malfrieda.  Her personal bodyguard put themselves up in their usual apartments and two of them took Svein to the School of Themes to train with the Varangian Guard.  When the Emperor came to visit her in the afternoon, Svein was still at training and Malfrieda was in Svein’s suite still setting up the rooms.

“I have missed you so much,” she told Constantine and he replied, “Not as much as I have missed you!”  They each enjoyed the opportunity of undressing each other in the middle of the afternoon in the peace and quiet of the day, but they did not know that Malfrieda had let herself into Helga’s great room and she watched them having sex on the bed and it stirred something up within the young woman.  Malfrieda watched until Helga began moaning in ecstasy and she let herself out under the cover of the noise that the Emperor began making as he came within her.

Svein walked into the great room of his suite after his training and he noticed Malfrieda looking at him funny.  “What is it,” he asked her, and she said, “You look so much bigger after training.  I didn’t realize how strong you’ve become.”

“I’m fourteen now,” Svein said with pride.  “I’m almost old enough to join the guard,” he said, sitting down at the table to the supper Malfrieda had prepared for him.  “Did you make this?” he asked.  “Usually they just bring it from the palace kitchen.”

“I made it just for you,” she said, feeling the muscles in his shoulders.  “You’re certainly strong enough to join the guard now.  But good Hraes’ food will make you stronger than the Greek food they prepare.  I am going to help you with your training this summer.”

“It’s good!” Svein said.  “You’re a good cook, Malfrieda.”

“Thank you, Svein,” she said, coyly.  “Do you mind if I change in your dressing room while you are eating?  I have a new dress I want to try on.”  She went into the bedroom and entered the dressing room, stripped off her dark black woolen dress and put on a pale blue silk dress that was very light and perhaps even tight.  She came out of the bedroom and said, “What do you think?” and she spun around, and the dress hem spun up and Svein thought for a second, she wasn’t wearing anything under the dress.

“You’re getting bigger as well,” he stammered.  “In your chest, I mean,” and he flushed awkwardly, and it stirred something up within the young man.

“I know,” she said, and she put her chest out proudly.  “They just took off over winter.”

Svein could see where her nipples were through the dress.  And he knew she wasn’t wearing anything under her skirt.  He pulled his chair closer to the table as his member swelled up in his pants.  He watched her as she walked across the room and her long blonde hair was almost to her waist behind her.  She sat down on the Roman couch along the wall.  It was long and hard and tapered at the ends and had a row of soft cushions along the wall.  Malfrieda sat on one cushion while propping up another against her back, then she crossed her legs and began to read one of Svein’s language books.  She had one shapely leg over the other and she flexed it in a rhythmic motion.  “The Emperor is teaching your mother to speak Armenian, you know.  Why are you learning Khazar?” she asked as Svein was chewing and watching.

“I am learning Khazar so I can tell them to go fock themselves as I crush them with my armies.”

Malfrieda was a little shocked, but excited by Svein’s use of the word fock.  It was her native Swedish.  The Danes said fuck and the Anglish said fuck, but the Swedes pronounced it fock for some unknown reason and it excited her when the half Dane, Svein, swore in her language.  “Why do you want to crush the Khazars?” she asked her prince.

“They killed my father!” Svein said and a tear trickled down his cheek as his member began a retreat.

“I’m so sorry!” she said, getting up and walking towards him.  She stood in front of him and put his head on her bosom.  She was wearing the same fragrance Helga often wore for the Emperor.  Svein rested his head on her breasts and the silk was like satin and he could feel her nipple against his cheek and his member started a slow advance.  Malfried watched the bulge in his pants grow and when it seemed that he had recovered enough she stepped back and told him she had to take the dress off.  “I just wanted to see how it fit,” and she spun around once more, and her hem took off even more and Svein definitely knew she was bare under her skirt and he knew she was definitely blonde.  “I’ll be in your dressing room.”

Svein wanted to follow her into the bedroom but he mustered up his military self-discipline.  The guardsmen were talking about focking all the time.  Some of them spent all their gold on Roman whores and all their silver on drink.  They saved nothing.  They just wanted to fight and die in battle and go to Valhall so they could fock and drink for free while waiting for Ragnarok, the great final battle.  But in the meantime, working for the Emperor meant better whores and finer ales.  The guardsmen treated young Svein as one of their own.  Many of them had served in the Kievan legions, ready to die for his mother at her command.  They loved her and they loved her son.  And young Svein had not yet loved anyone.

Malfrieda came back out of the bedroom in her dark woolen dress with double broaches at her shoulders and the look was dramatically different as Svein’s member beat a hasty retreat again.  She got the Khazar language book and sat beside Svein at the table and they began studying it together.  Soon, there was a knock at the door and Helga walked in.  “I just wanted to say good night,” she said.  “Don’t study too long.  You need your rest if you’re training.”  And Helga popped out as quickly as she had popped in.

‘The Emperor,’ Malfrieda thought, ‘must be on his way.’

Svein finished his studies and went to bed.  There was a subtle tap on his bedroom door.  Malfrieda stuck her head in and said, “I forgot my dress in your dressing room,” and she tiptoed across the bedroom and entered the dressing room.  She popped her head out and said, “I think I’ll just throw it on,” and she popped back into the room.  When she came back out, she had a candle in one hand and some towels in the other.  “I brought you some towels for your bed,” she said.  She set the candle on a dresser and she threw back the sheets.  Svein was laying on his back, naked, and his physique was that of a warrior and she saw his member start to swell again, but when she started putting the towels on the bed and sliding them under his buttocks it grew instantly.  “I’m a virgin,” she explained, “and we don’t want to make a mess of the bed or your mother could find out.  And we don’t want your mother to find out, right?” and Svein nodded.  Malfrieda stood in front of him and started to take her dress off and stopped.  “It seems like such a waste,” she said.  “I just put it on.”  So, she started doing a soft seductive dance for Svein and his member got so hard it started hurting.  She kept dancing and began unbuttoning her dress between her breasts and as she started to slip the dress down her body her breasts slipped out one at a time and he saw the nipple that had pressed against his cheek and he fell in love with it.  The pale blue silk dropped down to her feet and she stepped one foot out of it and used the other to kick her dress up onto a corner of the bed.  Then she danced naked for Svein and finally asked, “May I join you in bed?”

“Oh…please come,” he said as his cock grew even harder.

She crawled onto the bed and her breasts swung below her and she worked her way over to him and swung her leg over his hip and straddled his body, then straightened hers up.  She watched him as he got more excited and she kept watching him as she felt for his cock and stuffed it into herself.  She lowered herself onto his member until she met with some resistance and she could feel that it was her membrane that was resisting.  She lowered herself quickly and his member burst through her membrane and blood flowed out across his flat belly and onto the towels.  She rose up and down and it hurt a bit, but Svein began to erupt and she got off him just in time to watch his semen shoot straight up three feet before landing on the bloody towel.  She quickly grabbed his cock and began stroking it with her hand until the rest came out in pulsing spurts.

“Oh…gods!” Svein whispered in exhalation.  She began wiping him off with a towel and even that excited him.  He couldn’t move.  Malfrieda finished cleaning up and put the towels in a bag in the dressing room, then rejoined Svein on the bed.  As she laid beside him, she pulled him over into her breasts and he saw the left one, the one that had pressed against his cheek and he drew it into his mouth and began sucking on it.

Malfrieda had taken something out of the bag she had put the towels in.  “This is a lambs gut glove for your cock,” she said.  “I will put it on your cock for you and then it will be your turn to fock me.”

“I’m not hard yet,” Svein said, but she slid down his body and took his member into her mouth and sucked it like a teat and it grew suddenly hard again.  She slid the glove onto his thick hard member and tied it off and slid back up his body and pulled him on top of herself.  He bumped around a bit but he could feel through the membrane of the glove and he found her warm wet vagina and slid his penis deep inside her and began thrusting in and out for a much longer time this time before he suddenly erupted within her.  They laid in each other’s arms for a long time and then Malfrieda began cleaning Svein up again.  “Now it’s my turn,” she said, after she’d put the glove back on.  She straddled him once more and put his gloved cock into herself and began to ride him hard and fast and, even though it hurt a bit, she rode him and moaned as she climaxed and she kept riding him and climaxed two more times before he exploded within her again.  She cleaned him up one last time and then they slept in each other’s arms until early light.  Then Malfrieda got out of the bed and slept on the Roman couch in the great room.  She didn’t want Helga coming in early and finding her ‘not on the couch’.

All summer long Helga snuck around with Constantine and they had sex in her apartment late at night or they snuck off and had sex in the private sequestered parts of the palace while Malfrieda had sex with young Svein every night after training when he retired early.  But sometimes young Svein went out on field maneuvers with the Varangian Guard and they could be gone for days and sometimes Constantine had to sleep with the Empress, but not often.  And the whole while Constantine plied them all with rich gifts, Malfrieda included.  Sometimes Helga’s bodyguard even received gifts from the Emperor and the Varangian Guard even received more gifts than usual when Svein trained with them.  As summer grew to a close, Constantine received a commitment from Helga on their marriage and he started to set up wedding plans for the next trading season Helga would be down from Kiev.  Constantine would divorce Empress Helena a month before Helga arrived and they would have a quiet wedding in the Hagia Sophia Church and a short honeymoon in Cherson, a place they would establish for future clandestine meetings.

The last week before the Hraes’ merchant fleet was to leave Constantinople, Malfrieda began to vomit in the mornings.  “I won’t be able to stay an extra two weeks,” Helga told Constantine, as they relaxed in bed.  “Svein has gotten Malfrieda pregnant.”

“Svein?” he asked.  “When?”

“All summer, according to both of them.”

“Please stay,” he pleaded.  “We’ll make her comfortable.  There’s no reason to rush off.”

“I’m angry with them,” Helga said.  “And I don’t want anybody finding out about it.”

“If we can all keep our relationships a secret,” he argued, “I’m sure we can keep one little pregnancy quiet.”

“Apparently we didn’t keep our relationship secret enough.  Malfrieda saw us focking the first day in, and she says it stirred her passions.  She took complete responsibility for offering her virginity to Svein.  She says she loves him.”

“They can get married here,” Constantine offered, “before you leave, three weeks from now!”

“Svein is not marrying my handmaiden!” Helga said.  “He shall marry a queen or an Empress.  Besides, they’re both Aesir and Svein has already told me he will not convert.  He wants to be a warrior in the Varangian Guard.  He says he wants to serve you until he is old enough to rule in Kiev.”

“Well, let him serve me now!” Constantine said.  “If you want to keep the pregnancy a secret, have Malfrieda stay in Constantinople with Svein.  They both deserve the right to experience the birth of their child without pressure or shame.”

Helga gave it some thought and said, “Now I know why you are Emperor,” and she kissed him for a long time, even slipping him the tongue and getting one back in turn.  She felt for his crotch under the sheets and said, “I knew you were getting hard,” and they had sex under the sheets and when they had done their little romp under the covers they talked more about the pregnancy.

“I’d like Malfrieda to stay in Constantinople, but I’m taking Svein back to Kiev with me.  He’s too young to join the guard.”

“He doesn’t have to join the guard to serve me,” Constantine said.  “He can just train with them.  When you sail to Tmutorokan, I’ll take him to Cherson and we can spend a week there together and you can take him to Gardariki for the winter and I’ll meet you back in Cherson in the spring and I can take Svein back to Constantinople for the birth.”

“Or, if Malfrieda has just gotten pregnant, I send Svein back to Constantinople with the merchant fleet.”

“Let’s not even chance it,” Constantine said.  “Meet me in Cherson on your way back.  We can get more practice for our honeymoon there.”

“You just want to fock me in Cherson again!” Helga laughed.  “See…I was so distraught that Svein had knocked up Malfrieda, and one good fock and one good talk with you and I’m now looking forward to it.  That is why you are the Emperor!”

“And one good fock and one good talk with you makes all the years I was kept from my throne well worth the wait just to have found you!”  And Constantine gave Helga a long kiss this time.

Princess Helga once again left Constantinople two weeks after the merchant fleet and Constantine plied her and Svein and Malfrieda with rich gifts even though the latter two were staying in the capital city.  He wanted all of them to love him and he retained Prince Svein to liaison between him and his Varangian Guard and Malfrieda was given run of both suites in Helga’s apartments and the one hundred legionnaires in the palace remained to protect Svein and her.  And the young couple loved their fall together in Constantinople.  They were both young and strong and could have unprotected sex anywhere in their end of the palace complex, and they did.  When the Varangian guard learned that they would be training with their prince for two more months because he had knocked up a Swedish princess, they were proud of him and they showed it when they were training with him.  Each of them taught Svein their secrets, their moves that had kept them alive through many battles both for the Hraes’ and for the Romans.  And they could see that Malfrieda loved their prince as well.  She came down and watched the training when she could, when she wasn’t too ill.  And the commander of the guard told her that Princess Helga had instructed him to protect her at any cost.

Once again, Princess Helga caught up to Prince Erik and his Baghdad fleet at the Dnieper Rapids portages and they went to Kiev together.  Helga told Erik that Svein had knocked up Malfrieda, but she didn’t tell him that Malfrieda was ‘stirred’ while watching Helga and the Emperor having sex.  “How are they handling it?” Erik asked as he mentally worked out Svein’s age and reassured himself that it was a normal marriage age for India.

“They’re both handling it a little too well for my liking,” Helga said.

“In some countries we do business, they’re both of marrying age.”

“Svein is not marrying my handmaiden!” Helga said firmly.  “Svein is staying in Constantinople until we winter in Tmutorokan and Malfrieda will be having her baby in Constantinople.  To the rest of the world, Svein will have knocked up a Roman princess and we shall be raising the baby in Kiev.”

“And who exactly is this Roman princess?”

“Princess Sviataslava,” Helga said.  “Malfrieda is half Swede and half Slav, so the name fits.”

“Isn’t that what the Slavs call Svein?  Sviatoslav?”

‘Exactly,” Helga spat.  “Maybe they’ll stop calling him that now.”

Helga and Erik closed out the business cycle in Kiev and headed to Tmutorokan to overwinter.  Erik offered to sail by Constantinople to pick up Svein, but Helga told him she was meeting Svein in Cherson at the end of the month to give the couple more time together.  “Do you think more time together is good?” Erik asked, but Helga ignored him.

At the end of the month, Helga met the Emperor in Cherson as part of a state visit and they spent a week in the Byzantine Palace together and Svein was in command of the Varangian Guard cohort that was protecting the Emperor.  When the week was up, Svein was the Varangian Guard officer designated to escort Princess Helga back to Tmutorokan.  Queen Silkisif complimented Svein in his Roman legion officer’s uniform and told him he looked just like Ivar might have looked if he had worn the Roman red.  Erik told him he should be wearing a commander’s uniform of the Kievan legions.  “He has Ivar’s eyes,” Silki whispered to Helga and Erik.  They were all thankful that they were back together again enjoying the mild weather of Tmutorokan together.

In the spring, Erik sailed with Helga and Svein to Cherson and dropped them off at the harbour there with three warships.  He saw the Emperor’s flagship trireme sitting there surrounded by Roman dromonds but said nothing and sailed on to Kiev himself.  Helga arrived in Kiev a week later without Svein.  “He is in Constantinople for the birth,” Helga told him.  “He’ll spend the summer with Malfrieda and the baby, training with the guard and he’ll join us in Tmutorokan for the winter.”

“He’ll be spending the summer in Constantinople with the Roman Princess Sviataslava, you mean?” Erik asked.

“Exactly,” she replied, squeezing his hand in appreciation.

Erik led the Hraes’ merchant fleet back south, Captain Biorn led the Hraes’ Christian and pagan fleets to Constantinople and General Wu led the Cathayan fleet east.  Erik left Sihtric in charge of Baghdad and went on to India.  Trading again went well in all sectors and Erik felt that the empire that had conquered all of Maharashtra province, save Mumba, seemed content to leave the Jat city alone as  long as they paid their tax in gold.  But he warned Maharaja Rajan that Gujarat was next and would soon be attacked and that Mumba’s sister Jat city of Ashaval would have to be saved using the same tactic of strength, diplomacy and gold.  It was costly, but necessary.  Prince Erik was at his happiest when he was spending time with his wives and children in Mumba, but he was still keeping young princesses happy in Gujarat knowing that this flow of Jat girls wanting to be Aesir mothers would soon cease.  Prince Erik was soon back overwintering in Tmutorokan and he decided he was happiest in Gardariki.  And when he was in Mumba, he was happiest there.  He realized that he now had two heavens on earth.

(959 AD)  Helga led the northern merchant fleet south to Constantinople once more, this time to marry the Emperor.  She had received news that Constantine had divorced Empress Helena a month earlier and when she arrived in the city, she went straight to Constantine, who was waiting for her with her son, Svein and her handmaiden, Malfrieda, and their second baby, Helgi, named after Svein’s great uncle.  “Where is Eyfur?” Malfrieda said, starting to panic.

“Relax,” Helga said.  “The nursemaid is feeding him in the antechamber.”  She stepped forward and took baby Helgi from her and Malfrieda ran out into the outer chamber of the throne room.  “How is little baby Helgi?” she said, coo cooing him.

Constantine watched the love of his life and it was with a pang of regret that he realised they were both too old to have a baby of their own.  But at least they had found each other.  “How was your journey?” he asked Helga.

“It was fine,” Helga answered.  “I half expected Malfrieda to be knocked up again.  I told you to keep them apart.  They’re like animals.  The whole last summer I was here, I thought there were beavers in the walls and here it was them focking!”

“Look at him,” Svein said.  “How could I not knock her up again?”

Helga coo cooed the baby again.

“Those two are not easy to keep apart,” Constantine complained.  “I had to start a war in Italy so I could send Svein and the Varangian Guard off to lead the campaign, or I’m sure she’d be back in ‘the way’ by now.”  And he smiled and came down from his throne and put his arm around Helga.  “I’ve missed you so much!” he whispered.

“I’m going to fock you good,” she whispered back, “for sending my son off to war!”

“There’s only thing that is harder than stopping him from focking,” Constantine said, and Helga chimed in with him and they both said, “And that’s stopping him from fighting!”  Constantine laughed and patted Svein on the back.  “Svein promised me he wouldn’t put himself in danger.  He observed only, right?”

“The Guard would only let me watch,” Svein lied, and they all left the throne room and joined Malfrieda in the antechamber, then they all headed off for Helga’s apartments together.

Svein had to go back to the School of Themes to train and Malfrieda thanked the nursemaid for taking care of the babies while she went with him to watch.  Constantine had to drag Helga out of Svein’s apartment full of babies and he took her into her own apartment.  “I have missed you so much,” he said.

“Not as much as I have missed you!”  she replied and they undressed each other and had sex on the bed until Helga was moaning in ecstasy and Constantine cried out in relief as he came within her.  They laid together on the bed for a long time and enjoyed each other’s just being there.

“How are we going to keep those two apart?” Helga asked.

“My physician has trained them in the proper use of prophylactics,” Constantine explained.  “He told them that a lambs gut glove can only be reused for a week, then it becomes unreliable.  Apparently Malfrieda thought they were good until they showed signs of wear.  That explained the first pregnancy.”

“And what explained the second pregnancy?’ she asked, and she realized that she liked saying the word.  It was a beautiful word and she had enjoyed saying it when she told Ivar she was pregnant with Alfhild, and she really enjoyed telling Ivar that she was pregnant with Svein.

“Malfrieda had heard that one couldn’t get pregnant for two weeks after having a baby, which is an old wives’ tale.  They started humping two days after the birth of little Eyfur and I imagine she was pregnant before the third day.”

“How can it be so easy for them?  Ivar and I had to fock so hard for both our babies.  My honey well still aches when I think of the pounding it took.  We have an Aesir custom that says you’ll have a boy if you wait two weeks after the period and you fock for three days straight.  And Ivar could fock for three days straight!”

“The old Roman religion had the same saying,” Constantine said, curiously.  “There’s an ancient book by Virgil that claims our old religion was Vanir and the founders of Rome were Persian and fled Troy as it was sacked by the Greeks.  We still follow that saying today.”

“Damn Greeks!” Helga said in Latin.  She had been talking with Constantine in Greek up to that point but thought it more polite to curse the Greeks in Latin instead of in their own tongue.

“Damn Greeks!” Constantine shouted in Latin.  “I like that,” he said.  “I’ve only ever cursed them in Greek, but it feels better to curse them in Latin for some reason.”

“That is why I shall soon be Empress,” Helga said.  “I understand the Greeks.”

“Okay, queen know it all,” he said, “if you followed the Aesir saying, why was your first child still a girl?”

“That’s easy,” she replied.  “When you’re young it is easy to fock hard for three days but hard to stop focking after the three days.  When you’re older it is hard to fock hard for three days and easy to stop focking after the three days.  I remember praying to gods for that third day to end so that my bruised and battered bottom could heal.”

“You shall be the wisest Empress ever!” Constantine exclaimed.  “How is your honey well right now?  Can my honey dipper give it a good stir?”

“You Romans!” Helga said.  “You’re our biggest importer of Hraes’ honey.  How could I ever say no to you?”

They had planned for a quiet wedding for next month, June, the Roman month Junius, for Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Roman Republic, just as July is named after Julius Caesar, destroyer of the Roman Republic and August is named after Augustus, the first Caesar or king of kings of Imperial Rome of whom Constantine Porphyrogennetos was a direct descendant.  Porphyrogennetos means ‘born of the purple’, meaning born of the purple blood that flows through the veins of all royals who were direct descendants of the first Caesar, Augustus Caesar.  Some people believed that it meant born in the purple room of the palace in Constantinople while one’s father reigned as Emperor, after all, who could remember and prove that they were a direct descendant of Augustus Caesar who had ruled almost a millennia earlier.  But royals remember and they go to great pains to retain the documents and the family tree to prove who they are.  And Constantine and his family had that paperwork all stamped and certified and sealed, going right back through the ages.

It was hard for Helga to fathom how one could prove who their great great grandfather had been a thousand years ago, but she was just a royal princess of Sweden with no known blood ties to the famous Yngling line of kings of Sweden that could trace their family trees back at least half that far.  But she knew her former husband, Ivar had been a direct descendant of the Fridleif/Frodi line of kings that could trace their Danish heritage back to the original Danish Skioldung line that went back as far as Augustus.  And King Frodi had memorized that line of kings and Queen Eyfura had memorized it after him and Ivar had memorized it after her.  He was dead now, had died too early to teach it to Svein, but Prince Erik had memorized it because he had married Princess Gunwar, the sister of King Frodi and, while it didn’t make him a Skioldung blooded prince, it did make his son by Gunwar, Helgi Arrow Odd Erikson, a blooded prince of that line and later, when Oddi married Queen Silkisif, daughter of King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs, a blooded king of that line, Helgi’s sons by Silkisif were blooded princes of both lines.  After Ivar had died, Erik had taught Helga the long list of names for the Skioldung line while she overwintered with him in Gardariki, the city he had founded with Princess Gunwar.  He also wrote it down for her in a stamped and sealed document in the Roman fashion.  But Helga had enjoyed memorizing it with Erik.  He had focked it into her.  One mistake and they’d have to take it from the top again.  Sometimes she made mistakes on purpose.

There was also a legend that the month was named after the Roman goddess Juno, the goddess of marriage and the wife of the supreme deity Jupiter, meaning Zeus Father.  Helga put her faith in the goddess of marriage and chose to believe that June was for Juno and she looked forward to her upcoming nuptials.  But there were many in Constantinople who did not want a Swedish Hraes’ princess for their Empress.  Both Constantine and Helga had known there would be resistance.  That was one reason Constantine was glad he had given Helga the baptismal name of Helene.  It would be an easy transition from the name Empress Helena to Empress Helene, so he hoped the physical transition would be as smooth.  But he was surprised to learn that the staunchest opponent to his marrying Helga was his own son Romanos the Second, whom he had made co-Emperor with himself.  Former Empress Helena had filled his head with empty claims that Helga wanted to put her own son Svein on the throne of the Roman Empire and while Helena laid low, Romanos began whipping up anti Hraes’ sentiment within the people of Constantinople.

There were even Hraes’ traders who were against Helga becoming Empress, especially the Hraes’ traders that worked the markets and bazaars of Baghdad.  The Caliphate was still at war with the Romans and a Hraes’ princess at the helm in Constantinople could severely affect their business with the Arabs.  So it was easy for Romanos to dig up dirt on Helga.  Romanos gave speeches in which he said that Helga had only ever actually been a queen of the Hraes for one year.  He’d learned that Prince Ivar had actually gone back to Denmark to reclaim his title of king and once he had accomplished that he’d married young Princess Blaeja and had made her his queen without bothering to tell Helga about it.  So for the twenty years that Helga claimed to be queen, she was only queen the first year Ivar had reclaimed his throne and had not yet married Princess Blaeja of York.  Even worse, Romanos claimed that when Ivar had passed his kingly title on to his son, Gorm the Old of Denmark, Helga continued to use the title of queen even though her husband was no longer a king, but a king father.  What made these claims hurt was the fact that they were all true.  Princess Helga had told Constantine she was no longer a queen, but she didn’t mention that perhaps she had only been a queen for one year.  It didn’t matter anyway because as long as Helga was of royal blood, she could be Empress.  But even that was called into question.  And with so many holes in her queenly history it was easy to imagine such holes in her position as princess.

Soon there were rallies being held against the marriage and there were even death threats against Helga.  There were other traders in Constantinople who were angry about the special treatment that the Hraes’ Trading Company had been getting while Helga had been committing adultery with the Emperor and they began to attack Hraes’ merchants in the markets and the Hraes’ traders were warriors first and traders second so, soon the streets were flowing with the blood of Khazar and Spanish and Italian traders, but the Genoese and Venetians let some blood flow themselves and Helga’s cohort of Kievan legionnaires got involved as well.

Helga convinced Constantine to cancel the Hagia Sophia and they settled for a quiet wedding in the palace but when the protests ran into the heat of July, mobs began roaming the city and the couple had to cancel their planned honeymoon in Cherson.  When the heat of August set in, the mobs began chanting ‘Hang Helga’ and some even chanted ‘Crucify Her’ even though she was now a Christian and such an act could get them excommunicated from the church.  On August sixth, Romanos held a rally against his own father and soon the crowd was chanting ‘Hang Constantine’ and ‘Hang Helga’ and Romanos whipped up the crowd and sent them off against the Capitol Building just inside the palace complex.  Romanos even promised the angry mob that he would go down there with them, but he went, instead, to the Hippodrome to watch the mob from a safe position.  Twenty thousand angry Romans descended on the Capitol Building and overwhelmed the guards that were stationed there.  The Emperor’s administrative staff had to flee the building for the safer depths of the palace complex while the mob smashed out windows and doors and tore offices apart and entered speaking chambers and tore Roman Imperial emblems off the walls and burned them, all the time shouting ‘Hang Constantine’ and ‘Hang Helga’.

Helga heard the noise out on the streets from her apartment deep within the palace complex.  She sent a messenger to get Svein, who was training with the Varangian guard and she sent her new handmaiden, a young Swedish woman named Anna she had hired, next door to help Malfrieda with packing and the babies.  Once they had packed everything into trunks, they had the legionnaires carry the trunks out into the hall.  Helga told Anna she was to stay in her apartment and help Emperor Constantine in any way she could.  If he wanted to send her messages to Kiev, Anna was to take them to Hraes’ traders in Constantinople and they would forward them.

Constantine left the throne room and rushed with his bodyguards to Helga’s apartments.  They were met there by Helga’s legionnaires and then by the Varangian Guards.  They formed a plan to get Helga and her family out of Constantinople before the mob entered the palace complex and came face to face with the Guard.  The commander of the Guard assured Helga that the Guard could decimate the mob, but the civilian lives lost would be reprehensible so an aggressive exit would be the best strategy.  They would not be sneaking her out but, rather, would be visibly marching her out to the Golden Horn harbour and to the Hraes’ fleet that awaited her there.  But it was important that the mob see her leave so they would not try to search the palace for her and then the Guard would be forced to kill a lot of the rioters.  Svein wanted to help the Guard fight but the commander said it would be better if he was armed and protecting his mother if any of the mob should sneak through.

Constantine and Helga led the family group of Svein, Malfrieda, two babies and a nursemaid, sheltered by Helga’s hundred man guard and a thousand warriors of the Varangian Guard.  The rest of the Guard would hold the palace on pain of death.  So the group headed out of the palace complex and along some side streets that contained few rioters, but the rioters called out to the mob and soon there was a marching battle of Varangian Guardsmen who were trading sword blows with the armed mob and the Varangians began cutting the rioters down like wheat before a Hraes’ scythe.  They were protecting the Emperor but, more importantly they were protecting their Queen Helga.  The mob followed them down the Mese to the front gates at the harbour and those that ventured too close to the Varangians felt the razor edge of steel.

Hraes’ traders were fighting their way through the mob to join the fleeing family and as they poured through the main gates the Varangians formed a shield wall and kept the mob back.  Ships were waiting for them by the main quay and Empress Helene kissed her new husband, Emperor Constantine, a quick goodbye, then stepped regally onto her shieldship.  Half her legionnaires followed her family onto the ship and others protected the Hraes’ traders that had fled the city with them.  They sailed north to Messembria where they would buy supplies for their return to Kiev.

“Focking Romans!” Svein told his mother at the forestem of her ship.  “They’re going to pay for this!”

Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos died in Constantinople in November, 959 AD and was succeeded by his son Romanos II.  It was rumored that Constantine had been poisoned by his son and his daughter-in-law Theophano.

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0  PRINCE SVEINALD (SVIATOSLAV) THE BRAVE  (Circa 960-962 AD)

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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 AD)  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.  The 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 Erik, 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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.  And I met Malfrieda.”

“It was quite a night,” Erik 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,” Erik 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 Brynhildas with elephant yonis.”

And they both broke out in laughter.

“Would you like me to come up with a few kite shield designs,” Erik 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 Erik was making went on and on into the night.

Princess Helga woke up and went to join Erik 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.  Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik and his family by Prince Ane who had returned once more to help them.

So, Erik 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 couched 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 Aesir 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 Erik, 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,’ Erik 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,” Erik 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?” Erik asked.

“No.”

“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, Erik had a dream about horsemen riding towards Hraes’ from the Mongolian plains and they were all 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik continued.  “He said ‘that Ivar agreed to every second summer’, whatever that means.”  And Helga just smiled and relaxed on Erik’s shoulder.

“What does it mean?” Silkisif asked, putting her arm over Erik, 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 AD)  In the spring, Svein and his Varangian Guard officers began training a new legion for Tmutorokan, the Sixth, and Erik 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.  Erik left a Hraes’ legion in Ashaval to augment the legion Maharaja Rajan had developed there and Erik joined his legion already stationed in Mumba.  Myia was almost complete in her studies and her sister already had half a dozen children with Erik.  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 Erik 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 Erik 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,” Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik would be overwintering in India.

Once the siege had settled in, a relative calm followed so, Erik sailed to Mumba and met Myia and her sister Mahara at their parents’ estate on the bay.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes” Erik 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 Erik put the children down and felt her belly.

“They’re at the university,” Myia answered.  “How goes the siege of Ashaval?”

“It drags on,” Erik 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?” Erik said, kissing Mahara’s swelling belly.  “Can we?”

“I’ll watch the children,” Myia said.  “You two go first.”

Mahara led Erik into their master suite and they undressed each other beside the bed.  Erik 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 Erik exploding within her.  The position was Erik’s favourite when Mahara was pregnant because he could use it in her ninth month.

Later, it was Myia’s turn to lead Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik said, trying to focus his thoughts, “and I don’t think it started.  I think it ‘was’ started.”

“Started by whom?” Myia asked.

“By us.”

“By man?”

“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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik said.  Myia was a polymath and she helped Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik had not destroyed the Chaulukyan forces, for they would soon be unleashed upon them, but Erik 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 Erik had warned about their coming a full decade earlier.

(962 AD)  Erik 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 Erik 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?” Erik 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 Erik a strange look and then Ivar recognised him and ran to the highseats.  Erik grabbed him up and gave him a big hug and then hugged Malfrieda warmly as she held Helgi in her arms.

CHAPTER FIVE

5.0  THE BATTLE OF SARKEL  (Circa 962-964 AD)

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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 AD)  Prince Svein had the Seventh Kievan Legion out for training on the Don River when Erik 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 Erik, his brother Roller 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 northeast 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 Erik 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?” Erik 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,” Erik 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” Erik 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,” Erik 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 Erik 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?” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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.  Erik and Helga made it back from Kiev just as Svein and his legions were about to sail up the Kuban so, Erik hugged him and Helga kissed him and Silkisif did both and Svein sailed east to make war upon his neighbour.

Erik 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 Erik 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, Erik 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.  Erik 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 Yasians, also called 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 Erik 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?” Erik 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,” Erik 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.  Erik 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,” Erik 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!”

Erik poured the girls some wine.  He found that it helped them with the pain a bit.  They chatted for a while and Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik had deemed significant enough to include in the original form in his translation.  Erik 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.”  Erik 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 Erik that it was untrue.  They had seen acts of coition in Chauluk province and they were by no means slow.  Erik 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, Erik 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.

Erik 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 Erik 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.  Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik’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 Erik 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, Erik 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.  Erik 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 Erik for his blessing and promised to return with the babies, should they be so blessed, during one of the arranged Aesir reunions.  Prince Erik 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, Erik 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 Erik.

“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 AD)  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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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?” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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 Erik 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 an 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 an 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 Erik 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 Erik followed with a war fleet of six hundred warships and three new divisions, the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Legions.  The Roman lawyers that had represented Erik 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 every bit 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 Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik 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.  Erik’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 throughout 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.  Erik 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.  Erik 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 Erik’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.  Erik 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 there, but couldn’t for some reason.  Her name is Anna, she is Swedish, and looks a lot like Empress 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 Erik 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.  Erik and Svein stood on either side of Helga at the forestem of the shieldship and Helga said: “That felt sooo good!”  Erik 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,” Erik 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.

Erik 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, Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik 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 Erik relieved Captain Biorn and sent him back to handle the trading in Constantinople.

“I hope you didn’t ply him with young Jat princesses,” Erik 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 Erik that the peace had been holding so, Erik 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 Erik 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 AD)  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.  Erik once more delayed his travel to India because his wives were again fretting for Svein and they were working hard to keep Erik 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 had died of the plague.  Erik 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 the envoys instructed the Khazars 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 footbows, before handbows 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 off 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 bent and held 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, Erik 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 Erik had developed to purify the red gold hoard of Ragnar ‘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 many of the Christians of Wallachia had converted to Christianity during early 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 northwest to the extreme southeast 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 Erik 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 Erik 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!”

“Erik 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 Erik 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?” Erik 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 Erik 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 she 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 off to her suite to rest, Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,” Erik 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,’ Erik 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.”

CHAPTER SIX

6.0  THE ARMY OF THE IMPALERS  (Circa 965 AD)

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4. They sang as they swung   the swift-wheeling stone,

                        till of Frodi’s maids               most fell asleep.

                        Then Menja quoth,              at the quern standing:

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

(965 AD)  In the fall, Prince Svein sailed to Cherson where he was paid fifteen thousand pounds of gold to attack the Wallachians, so he led thirty thousand Hraes’ troops, his three new legions, west to the Danube.  The Greeks also provided sixteen thousand Byzantine troops under the command of Magistrate Kalokyras of Cherson.

“We don’t need your legions,” Svein told the magistrate.

“I like you, Prince Svein,” he replied.  “I don’t think you need us either.  But the Empress wants to be sure you destroy the Army of the Impalers and Count Vlad with them.  She didn’t really care if you destroyed Sarkel as long as you attacked the Khazars and at least bloodied their noses.  I suspect there was a part of her that even wanted you to fail and wished the Khazars had killed you.”

“I had that suspicion myself,” Svein said.  “It would resolve my claim to be Emperor.”

“But this time, she wants Count Vladimir of Wallachia dead.  And he has eight legions of the finest trained Romanian troops and you have only three.  So, I’m to add another three to your forces, but you shall be in full command.”

“I have three legions of ten thousand men,” Svein explained.  “Your Roman legions are only five thousand, with very little horse.  So, my three are actually six.”

“I realise this,” the magistrate replied.  “But against the Army of the Impalers, they are just three.  Don’t you think the first thing our Armenian Empress did was to ask her very competent Armenian generals to attack the Army of the Impalers?  The Armenian generals are all afraid of Count Vlad and his Impalers.  They don’t want to end up on the wrong end of a stake like a toad on a stick.”

“They’re all shitting themselves,” Svein spat contemptuously.

“As am I,” the magistrate admitted.  “I only packed my brown pants.”

Svein laughed at this.  “You know what, Magistrate Kalokyras,” Svein started, “I’m starting to like you too!”

“Just don’t expect any heroics from me,” he replied.  “My legions are well trained and brave, but I am just a court official here to help.”

“Are they really that bad?” Svein asked.

“They are worse.  Half the power of the Army of the Impalers comes from the fact that they have never lost.  Armies going up against them are all shitting themselves going in and thinking they are soon to die.  And the other half of their power comes from their enemies knowing how they are going to die.  Impalement is a horrible way to die and the Wallachians have perfected its execution.  They can keep you dying on a stake for a full week and the pain you feel keeps getting worse the whole time.  I’ve heard it starts in your skin and it gets into your muscles, all your muscles, and when it gets into your bones it’s the worst pain any human has ever felt.  You spend your last few days just screaming and screaming and when your voice goes, you scream in silence.  They can still see you screaming and they can see the force of your scream, but no sound comes out.  They’d think they’d gone deaf, except everyone around you is still screaming, a legion of soldiers naked and up on stakes, screaming until their lungs are bleeding and they’ve all gone mad by then.  By the sixth day the voices are all gone and on the seventh day they rest, some dying of pain, some dying of poison, their skin all yellow and green and purple in patches.  But most die when their hip bones break and they pass over the burls and the sharp stakes drive up through their bodies and past their silent throats and pierce into their brains and are stopped by their skulls.  They leave the dead out upon their stakes for the eagles and the ravens and the crows to feast upon.”

Magistrate Kalokyras looked out at the silent sea as he held the topstrake of the ship.  “It is the screams that keep the birds away, but the sounds of the screams all stop on the sixth day and some of the birds start feasting before the poor souls are dead.  But the wracking pain inside their bodies far exceeds any pain the birds could inflict upon them by merely plucking out a bloodshot eyeball or tearing out a still screaming tongue.”  Kalokyras stopped, then asked, “Do you know how I know all this?”

“No, magistrate,” Svein answered dryly.  He had no voice.  It was gone.

“Every hundredth man, they cut the sharpened point off his stake so it doesn’t pierce his intestines and they allow him to survive the impaling so he can live to talk about it.  I had to interview the survivors of a legion that went into Wallachia once, for the Emperor’s records.  I had to document their testimonies, in Latin, I might add.  Five thousand men went in and only twenty five came out, all as mad as the hats they’d half eaten.  Half of them killed themselves the first chance they got and the other half all sit in a row on a street in Constantinople and they beg for their living.  Whenever I visit our capital I always visit that street and I give each of them a gold coin.  There aren’t very many of them left alive now.  My visits to Constantinople get cheaper by the year.”

Prince Erik and a small war fleet had accompanied Svein to Cherson and had picked up the gold there and had taken it back to Gardariki.  Erik wanted to have his own metallurgical alchemists purify it using the improved process they had witnessed and documented.  Years ago, he’d learned of their process and purified his father’s red gold hoard once, but the Roman Emperor’s metallurgists did it all the time so, they’d made improvements on the process over the years.  Empress Helga was overwintering with him in Gardariki and Queen Silkisif was visiting from Tmutorokan and they were both fretting over young Svein off in Bulgaria and the sex was pretty good.  He’d found that focking his wives two floors above ten thousand additional pounds of gold in his basement treasury was very good and an additional fifteen thousand pounds of gold made it all that much better.

Straight west of Cherson, across the Black Sea, was the mouth of the Danube River that wound its way halfway across Europe.  Svein’s fleet of a thousand war ships entered the estuary and they camped along the Black Sea coast and the Danube riverbanks.  The Roman city of Constanza was south of them on the coast, but once they began their journey up the Danube they would soon be out of Roman controlled territory.  The Balkan Bulgarians controlled the territory on the south side of the Danube and they were distant relatives of the Volga Bulgars that Svein was going to tithe in the spring, so he planned to deal with Count Vlad quickly, so as not to disappoint them.  The Romanians and then the Wallachians controlled the territory on the north side of the river and most of them had lived there for thousands of years and had been Roman citizens for the last millennia.  Some of them felt more Roman than the present Romans because they followed the old ways of the western Romans and still considered Rome to be the capital of the Romans even though it had been controlled by Goths for the last half millennia and, most importantly, they followed a form of the Latin Christianity of the Vatican in Rome, but they still included the witchcraft of their old Vanir religion in their faith.

The next few days were spent rowing up the Danube and no ships or boats came out to challenge them from either shore.  A few Roman officers were familiar with the Danube and pointed out to Kalokyras and Svein the mouth of the Olt River that fed into the Danube and they said that the Wallachians lived up that great river valley.  So, they turned up the estuary and there was a road that ran along the right side of the Olt River and beyond the road was a town and the officers said it was called Turnu and that in Roman times it was called Turnis and the estuary had been a bustling port a thousand years earlier.  The estuary was deserted now and the town, but a shadow of its former city.  When they looked further upriver they could see smoke and there were crosses burning along the road and there were heavy brooding clouds in the valley.

“We should take the town and leave a garrison there,” Svein said.  “Why is the town so focking far from the river if it once served a harbour here!”

One of the Roman officers answered, “It was a harbour a thousand years ago.  Rivers wander as the banks erode, so my guess is this river has been wandering west.”

“I think you’re right!” Svein said.  “There’s a river in Iceland that wanders so much they called it the Rang River, which means wandering or ranging river.  That’s why we’re called Varangians.  It means we are Way Wanderers, and that’s what we were when we first opened the Nor’Way for trade with the east.  It used to be, that to be a Varangian, you had to have made the great northern crossing across the Arctic Ocean.  It was so cold you had to have awnings over your ship while you sailed or you’d freeze to death.”

“Sounds like it was a very harsh crossing,” the Roman officer said.

“That it was.  I heard a story that there was a rudderman that kept his right arm out from under the awning too long as he held the great oar and when he came back under the awning one of his mates slapped him on the shoulder and his arm snapped off!”  All the officers laughed, but it was a true story.

Thirty two ships beached along the right riverbank and a regiment of two thousand foot marched over to take the town while the rest of the fleet rowed upriver to a great clearing on the right and the legions began to set up a camp on the shore between the river and the road that ran along it.  There were crosses burning on the other side of the road, crosses of the type that Romans would crucify a man upon.  As the troops set up camp and ate lunch they watched the crosses burn down to their bases and it left burnt off stakes that projected out of the ground about six feet all along the road going north as far as the eye could see.

The regiment that was ordered to take the town had walked by the burnt down stakes and they judged that the crosses had been set alight from south to north, for these stakes were out and the crosses further north were still burning.  The town had no walls and it looked deserted so, there was not much to be done in taking the town, but as the men entered they saw that about a dozen of the townfolk had been impaled on stakes that had boards across them to act as seats and they sat naked upon their stakes and watched the troops with hatred in their eyes.  Their bodies had been painted with swatches of blues and reds and greens and strange Vanir symbols had been drawn on them and red Roman banners fluttered between them.  “Take them down,” one of the Hraes’ officers shouted and the men began lifting the people up off their stakes and they were all bleeding from their anuses and a medical officer said that they would all still die within a week due to sepsis poisoning.  There were men and women and a few children that they had taken down and they laid them out on blankets.  They all looked at the soldiers with hate in their eyes except for two young women who thanked the soldiers for saving them.

This act of kindness by the troops soon brought out townsfolk who had been hiding in buildings, perhaps two dozen, and they were fully clothed and a man wearing richer clothing than the others told the soldiers that he had been the mayor of the town.  The people on the stakes had been hiding, but had been caught by troops of the Army of the Impalers.  They had not hidden themselves well enough.  When the Hraes’ officer asked him where the rest of the towns people were he told him that the Impalers had taken them away.  The officer told the inhabitants that they could return to their houses, as no harm would come to them and the medical officer had the impalement victims carried to one of the ships and they took them upstream to the military camp for treatment.  The two young women asked the two soldiers that had saved them to come along with them in Greek.  The medical officer allowed them to join the medical party and they went along to the camp.

After lunch it was decided that only a cohort of troops, four hundred and eighty men would be required to hold the town, so the rest of the regiment rejoined the war fleet and they kept rowing upriver.  Soon the line of burning crosses ended and the fleet progressed upriver with no sign of people anywhere along the river, just abandoned farms and buildings and boats sitting along the shores on both sides.  Then they saw some things standing in the water along the right riverbank and, as they got closer they could see it was the townsfolk from Turnu and they were all naked and sitting upon boarded stakes that had been erected in the water just offshore.  And their bodies were painted with witchcraft symbols and the regalia of the Army of the Impalers and blood red banners of the Roman army fluttered in the breeze between them.  The fleet rowed past them and the horrible spectacle went on for miles and the whole time all the impaled were shouting curses at the passing ships.  Svein ordered the ships at the back of the fleet to take them down and ships rowed up to the people upon the stakes and they pulled them off them and laid them on blankets on the decks of the ships.  They had been out on their impalement poles all night and most of the day and they were in bad condition.  It was fall and the night had been cool and the following day had been sunny and hot so they were all dehydrated and some were sunburnt and the lips of all were cracked and bleeding.  And still they shouted curses at the soldiers that were saving them and some had to be subdued before they could be saved.  Except for the young women, who were all thankful to the soldiers for saving them.

The fleet set up night camp on the right bank of the river on a great expanse of prairie and the camp went from the shore and spilled over the road and extended deeply into the field.  Kite shields were erected around the perimeter and enclosures were built of them for the horse.  The two soldiers who had saved the two women in Turnu now took the girls into their borrowed Roman tent and lay with them.  The girls were more than thankful that they’d been saved and they rewarded their saviours by blessing them with their virginity.  In the morning great columns of smoke were seen rising up into the sky from the south towards Turnu, and the regiment that had been assigned to take the town sailed south to meet up with the cohort they had left guarding the town.  As they approached the town they saw the burnt crosses on their left, the charred stakes that remained of them but then they saw their comrades impaled upon the charred remains all in a row, all the way to the town.  The ship with the medical officer went to shore and the men aboard rushed out to pull the men off of the charred stakes, but there were no burls or boards to stop the impalements so the men settled on the stakes as far as their hipbones would allow and the diameters of the stakes were all varied with the way they had burned so there were impalements in all stages of progression so that some were naked and alive, suspended three feet off the ground and some were naked and dead sitting on the ground with the charred stake sticking out the left or right bases of their necks and, pretty much, every combination in between.  A lucky few had died in battle and were impaled post-mortem but most had been alive when they were stripped naked and yarded onto the poles and their anuses were set on the points before they were released.  And all this had been done at night by impalement experts under torchlight, by the Army of the Impalers.  There began speculation that the Impalers could see in the dark.

Prince Svein and Magistrate Kalokyras arrived a few hours later to survey the carnage.  Some of the dead were still being pulled off the poles and when Svein went into the town, the townsfolk in hiding that had been spared by the Hraes’ were now naked and alive on impalement stakes with board seats.  They were crying and moaning and, for once, weren’t cursing the soldiers.

“Why are they still up there?” Svein shouted.  “Take them down and have them treated!”  He looked at the magistrate and said, “What manner of men could have done this?”

The magistrate looked down at his feet and said, “Some of the survivors I interviewed had talked about a ghost unit, a ghost cohort of the Army of the Impalers that only operates at night, that can see in the dark.  I thought they were all mad.”

“And you didn’t bother to tell me about this possible ghost unit?” Svein said.

“I’d already told you too much.  If you refused to come to Wallachia, I’d ’ve been blamed.”

“Is there anything else I should know?” Svein asked.

The magistrate shuffled from foot to foot, then said, “I don’t think we’ll be leaving Wallachia alive.”  Svein saw the disease setting into the magistrate, a deadly disease of self-fulfilling fear or what Vikings called ‘the fetters of Odin’, an inexplicable feeling of doom, and the Wallachians were creating it, spreading it like a plague, like the plague that had killed his father, and he thought of his grandfather and his offer of help.  He wanted to call Kraka, but he fought it off.

Prince Erik was enjoying Helga’s overwintering this year.  She was fretting about her son and she handled it by taking very special care of Erik.  His wants, his needs, almost as if pleasing Erik would please Odin and thereby protect her son.  And when Silkisif saw this happening, it was almost as if her affections, too, would add to this, so pleasing Erik became, not a competition, but more of a group effort.  One night, after Erik’s wives had been treating him sensuously with fragranced breasts and Khazar Vayar spread yonis and silk swathed dances, he fell asleep with a wife under each arm and he dreamed about the Army of the Impalers and he learned how they fought and he learned how they won and he understood why Eastern Rome’s Armenian generals were afraid of them.  When Rome was faltering before the hordes of barbarians in the fifth century, the Praetorian Guard fled the city to Romania and established a Western Roman Empire there and they used all the weapons of war and rules of law that the Romans had used for a thousand years to defend their empire for the next five hundred.  Once Erik saw their tactics he knew that Svein was in danger.

The next morning, he woke up, had sex with both his wives at the same time and then he told them he was going to Wallachia.  When he had left the master suite Helga said, “I told you all the sex would please Odin and cause Erik to help Svein!”

“That’s not very Christian of you,” Silkisif said.

“Fock the Christians!” Helga said.  “And excuse my Swedish.”

“How many of our legions do you think he’ll be taking?” Silkisif asked.

“Another three at least,” Helga responded.

But Erik didn’t take any legions.  He took all the rams in Tmutorokan and all the cattle with great horns and he took all the tents that the Tmutorokan legions had, over a thousand campaign pavilions.  He had all the chemical alchemists in Gardariki mixing up potions and cranking out drugs and he loaded ten thousand cattle and ten thousand sheep into ships and he took a new product along from Cathay and only enough sailors and marines to row and sail the dromons and knars.  The night before he left, both Helga and Silkisif gave him an evening worthy of Odin’s Valhall.  The next morning he sailed for Romania.

Prince Svein left the whole regiment to guard Turnu and they took precautions not to be surprised by any ghost units.  Then he led his fleet up the Olt River and, as they approached the city of Dragonesti, they were greeted by more naked and impaled citizens shouting curses from their stakes along the water’s edge.  They were again painted with Vanir symbols and surrounded by Roman red banners.  “Leave them,” Svein ordered.  “Post guards to protect them and we’ll see if they want help tomorrow.”

Dragonesti was walled and looked to be well defended, but the Army of the Impalers was nowhere to be found.  There were perhaps a thousand armed soldiers on the walls and, Svein presumed, civilians within, less the dying citizens staked above the waters of the Olt.  The fortifications were old and of a style that bespoke ancient Rome.  Svein sent for his Roman officers and they stood in front of the city walls as the troops began setting up their gravity trebuchets.  He then turned to the Roman officer who had talked about wandering rivers and he told him that the fortress looked ancient and Roman.  “I’d guess the design is from fifty years before Christ,” the officer replied, “and it’s patterned after the Roman design but it isn’t Roman.”

“That’s incredible!” Svein said.  “How does he know all this?” Svein asked the magistrate.

“He was a history teacher before joining our legions,” the magistrate replied.

“I know it’s not Roman because of the quality of the work,” the historian said.  “No Roman mason would fit up stones like that.  It’s shoddy.”

“Is there anything that you remember about turn of the millennia Roman fortresses that might be a weakness we can use?”

“I think we can use what is right in front of you,” the officer said.  “Roman gear back then was good but technology and science have advanced a lot since that time.  Steel is better, so armour is better, stronger and swords are longer and lighter and back then they didn’t have trebuchets or the heavy catapults that we have today, so the walls didn’t have to be as thick.  As ballistae improved, this weakness became apparent and they solved it by moving reinforcing towers closer together.  It was faster than making the walls thicker as towers could be built on one side of an existing wall.  Whoever copied the design in this non-Roman work wasn’t aware of the later design changes.  The wall on the left side of the main gates is too long and should have had a tower added to it by, say, two hundred Anno Domini, to keep up with advances in ballistae.  So, I’d concentrate your trebuchet shot on the middle of that one wall, knock a hole in it and work your way out and you’ll be in the city by tomorrow noon.”

“See,” Svein said to the magistrate, “a history teacher who had a stone mason for a father.”  And the officer said, “Yes sir, I did.” and he was just as impressed that Svein had guessed it.  So, they did as the history teacher advised and they set up all their trebuchets on the left side and the officer watched as twenty men climbed up ladders and jumped to cause a trebuchet to whip its tonstone shot around and propel it against the shoddy stonework of the wall.  The shot hit the wall near the top and two castellations tumbled forward and landed thirty feet down.  The Hraes’ ballisteers shouted in triumph as other trebuchets added to the destruction.

“Let’s do a ride about around the fortress,” Svein offered, “and look for more weaknesses.”  So, they rounded up a regiment of heavy horse and did an armed ride about around the fortress but could find no better weaknesses.

“I’ve never seen such trebuchets,” the officer said, as they returned to the front of the fortress.  “I’ve only seen the pull type.  Not this jumping off the scaling ladder type.  It has more velocity.”

“And we use tonstone from Sweden,” Svein told him.  “It’s as heavy as gold, so its penetrating power almost matches my lingam.”

“I’m not sure I follow, but where did you get these?”

“My grandfather got the hardware from Cathay for pull types, but he wanted our troops to get scaling ladder practice while they took down the walls to scaling ladder height so, he came up with the gravity trebuchet.”

“It shoots faster than the pull type.”

“You should see how fast they get when they’ve had a three month siege’s worth of practice.  If that wall comes down as fast as you predict, I’ll have to change out my men faster so they can all get a bit of practice.”

“So, who came up with the kite shield we’re starting to copy?” the officer asked.

“That was me,” Svein said.  “But I patterned them after kites my grandfather imports from Cathay.  I noticed your legion has kite shields while the others have the rectangular.”

“They don’t make them as well as you, though.  Ours are shoddy.”

“So, you’re mother made linen shields, then?” Svein joked.

“No, no,” he replied.  “She taught.”

“You should come see me when your tour of duty is over.  I’ll put you in charge of a legion instead of a regiment.”

“Kiev is far too cold for a history teacher.”

“We have legions in Tmutorokan as well.  I overwinter there.”

The trebuchets hammered away at the walls all day and the damage was extensive.  The walls would soon be down to the workable height of scaling ladders, perhaps even by noon on the morrow.  But the damage was apparent to the Army of the Impalers ghost unit which had four cohorts comprising a full regiment and they were following the Hraes’ army.  They planned a surprise attack for that night and their target wasn’t the camp, but the trebuchets.  If they could destroy the trebuchets they could stop tomorrow’s conquest of the city.

Prince Svein had his men keep the trebuchets shooting until well into the evening to ensure that the morrow’s noon deadline was met.  He liked the Roman history teacher and he wanted him to be right on the nose.  When they shut down the ballistae, guards were posted all around the twenty four units and the guard stations ran all the way down to the river to protect the ships as well.  And the ships had guards stationed on each one as well as the sailors and crew that never left the ships.  So, each guard shift comprised a full regiment and, each shift change, a new regiment replaced the guards going off duty.  Each guard had a torch and the new regiments would bring their own torches and light them off the retiring guards’ torches.

The Army of the Impalers ghost regiment came out of the darkness at two hours after midnight and had crept up in complete silence and attacked the guards that stood watch around the trebuchets.  The guards sounded alarms and were overwhelmed and were driven back across the field towards their camp, but the timing was bad for an attack because the guard shift changed at two and the Roman history officer was leading his retiring regiment back into the camp when Svein came riding up on a horse to see what the commotion was about and he almost ran the officer over.  “I’ll lead my men against them,” the officer offered, but Svein told him to lead his men down along the riverbank and come out inland behind the attackers.  “But they’ll burn the trebuchets,” the officer protested.

“If this is the ghost regiment,” Svein hissed, “they’re more important than the trebuchets.  I’ll come back with a regiment and I’ll drive them back, right into your arms.”  So, the officer led his regiment back to the riverbank and they ran downstream and came out across the field in a line, each man with a torch.  Svein then rode to the staging area where the next shift was donning their armour and eating and resting before their guard shift.  Svein liked to have lots of overlap between shifts so there were always lots of men around camp at night with weapons and armour.  He roused the regiment and led them out in front of the city to where the trebuchets were burning and they saw the attackers by the light of the burning ballistae and not a one of them carried torches.  This was the ghost regiment and apparently they could see in the dark.  All Svein’s men carried torches with them and they formed a shield wall and charged towards the towering flames.  The ghost regiment formed up to face them, but orders were shouted and they melted into the darkness.  Svein and his men kept charging and, once they got past the burning ordnance, they could finally see out into the darkness and they saw a row of torches approaching them from the other side of the field and they could make out the men of the ghost regiment when they blocked out the torchlight behind them.  Svein was on his horse with a few other officers and they hurried their men along in their charge.  The retreating ghost warriors soon clashed with the history officer’s regiment and a full blown battle erupted the width of the field.  Soon Svein’s men joined in the fray and they had the ghost regiment pinned between them and outnumbered two to one.  The trapped soldiers started falling, but they fought well and caused heavy casualties among the Hraes’ and Romans, then those that could, melted into the darkness once more.  But those that couldn’t fought on and the battle went on for thirty minutes and the torches danced across the field as the lines swayed back and forth.  Men were coming out from the camp and joining in the fray and half armoured knights were riding out, but couldn’t tell who was who.  Finally, the torches stopped dancing and all that were going to die were dead.  Svein was off his horse, inspecting an officer he had just killed and the man was wearing a black Praetor’s uniform of the Praetorian Guard.  The Praetor’s steel armour was painted a flat black to eliminate reflections and even his horsehair brush that swept his helmet from front to back was dyed a dark red instead of the usual blood red of the Romans.  Only on seeing the uniform of the dead Praetor was Svein finally sure that they had destroyed the ghost regiment.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t save the trebuchets,” the Roman history officer said as he came up to Svein’s horse and studied the dead Praetor.  “The uniform design is almost a thousand years old,” he added, whistling softly.

“We have six hundred Hraes’ troop transport warships out there on the river,” Svein said.  “And, because they are warships as well as transports, each one of them has a disassembled trebuchet stowed under its deck.  It is far more important that we crushed the ghost regiment for massacring our cohort in Turnu.  They would have done us a lot more harm, but they made the mistake of trying to save the Dragon’s nest.” and he nodded his head towards Dragonesti.  “How about we add four hours to that noon attack you’d predicted?”

A regiment was posted to protect the fallen on the field of what was being called the Battle of the Torches and Svein retired to his tent and slept.  The two Hraes’ soldiers that were sleeping with the two women from Turnu were lucky enough to have slept right through the whole battle, just as they had been lucky enough to leave their cohort in Turnu to attend to the needs of the young women and thereby missed being impaled by the fallen of the ghost regiment.  When one of them woke up in the morning, he rolled on top of one of the girls and began focking her, and when he was done and lying on top of her she whispered in Greek into his ear, “I’m pregnant with your son and I will take satisfaction in carrying this young Hraes’ warrior to the grave with me.”  She expected him to get angry and kill her, but he was the Hraes’ soldier that didn’t understand Greek.  When she realized this she added:

“Our baby will die inside me,” she said,

“soon after I’ve breathed my last breath and am dead.

I’ll go to heaven and God and kin,

While our baby slowly suffocates within,

And he’ll go to Hell or the place in between,

But likely to Hell with the deeds you’ve seen,

Likely to Hell with the deeds you’ve wrought,

Such has Christ said, such has he taught.”

Beside them, her partner in deed was now dead, and the Viking inside her was dying instead of the Viking who held her in his arms.

In the light of the morning, Svein surveyed the fallen of the Battle of the Torches and his men counted three cohorts of fallen ghost warriors.  What amounted to a cohort had melted into the darkness and escaped, but it was a great victory for the Hraes’ and Romans, for nobody had ever even seen a ghost warrior and had lived to talk about it so, to defeat three cohorts of them was quite remarkable.  And they only lost one cohort doing it.  Magistrate Kalokyras wrote up a report in Latin and had a ship head out to Constantinople with the news.

“Do you still think we are all going to die?” Svein asked him.

“It is very good news I have just sent off to Constantinople,” he answered.  “And I wanted to get it off to Constantinople quickly just in case we all die,” and he smiled a bit.

“That’s better,” Svein said.  “In case we die is a whole lot better than we’re all gonna die!” and he walked away laughing.

The fortress city of Dragonesti fell by three in the afternoon and the Hraes’ forces ravaged the town.  Women were raped and men were enslaved and the children were taken on ship to be sold in the markets of Baghdad.  Captives could be ransomed, but none were.  The Romans showed some restraint at first, but soon joined in the sacking.  They were, after all, following the old Roman laws and these Wallachian Christians were of the Latin faith.  Prince Svein and his officers patrolled the streets of the town and made sure his men followed those old Roman rules of law.

After Dragonesti had been thoroughly sacked, Svein had all the men, women and children loaded onto knar supply ships that had been emptied by hungry troops and he sent them to Kiev to be trained for the upcoming trading season.  They would make good slaves for the Caliphate.  When one of the Roman officers reminded him that Roman law required that half the citizens be left to inhabit their city, Svein replied that the Wallachians and their Army of the Impalers had impaled their half.  And it was true.  The last of the impalement survivors from Turnu were dying and the people of Dragonesti, that they’d pulled up off of their stakes were now starting to die.  Svein had his men care for them as best they could, and they buried them when they died and allowed them Latin Christian rites administered by Latin priests they had captured.  The two Hraes’ soldiers who had saved the two girls of Turnu, buried them that day and they had both been pregnant when they died.

Svein left a regiment of heavy horse to hold the town and patrol the area and the Hraes’ war fleet rowed north and the land seemed to grow darker the further north they went and a cool wind always seemed to blow against them from the north.  And nights were always overcast and black as pitch.  Soon they approached the town of Slatina, on the right side of the river, a thousand paces inland.  There were the usual impalement victims greeting them, but they were not in the water this time, but along the road that followed the river.  The ghost regiment had been reduced to one cohort again, so they didn’t have the extra manpower required to implant the stakes in the river.  This time, the show was expected so, Svein had ships with his medics row ahead and go ashore and pull and treat the civilians before the rest of the soldiers could see it.  But there was a twist this time.  A row of impalement stakes had been set in front of the fortress city of Slatina, just within bowshot of the walls, and the citizens impaled upon them were cursing the Hraes’ soldiers that were setting up the trebuchets.  Svein reassured his men by saying, “They won’t be cursing us tomorrow.”

Again, they set up their camp along the river and again it overran the road into a vast field.  The set-up was almost identical to Dragonesti, as if to challenge the ghost regiment to come try and attack them again.

“What do you think of the walls?” Svein asked his history officer the next day.

“This is new,” he said.  “Built within the last hundred years.  The main gate is inset and there will be openings in the stone arch above it through which to drop large stones and such on the attackers below.  That’s a recent refinement.”

“So, what would your stonemason father say about the walls?”

“He would say that the Wallachians must have hired Greek masons to build these walls, perhaps from Cherson?” and he looked over at the magistrate imploringly.

“That looks more like the work of Messembrian masons,” Kalokyras replied.  “You were right about the impalees,” he added, looking over to Svein.  “They’re much quieter today.”

“It was cold last night,” Svein said.  “We’ll have to start sleeping on our ships soon.”

“Tomorrow will be different,” the magistrate added.  “That’s when the pain starts.  They’ll be screaming tomorrow.  And dying.”

“We really should just shoot them and put them out of their pain,” the history officer said.  “One arrow each.  It won’t take long.”

“We’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t.  I think that’s what the Army of the Impalers wants us to do.  They’re trying to fock with our luck.”

“You don’t believe we’re beating them because of luck, do you?”

“You think I knew they were going to attack us the other night,” Svein said, “don’t you?”

“Well, you knew exactly where to send me and you had men ready to attack them from your side of the field.”

“I had no idea they would attack the trebuchets!” Svein said.  “They attacked right after shift change.  Had they attacked an hour earlier, there would have been no reinforcements there.  They would have burned our trebuchets and I wouldn’t have given a fock anyway!  Why would they think we only had twenty four trebuchets?  We’ve got a whole fleet of war ships.  Every one of them has a trebuchet ready to be set up!”  But Wallachia was a landlocked province and the people knew little about ships.

“We only have onagers,” the magistrate said of the Romans.  “We don’t have deck space for pull type trebuchets.”

“We’ve just started using your kite shields,” the history officer said.  “We’ll be copying your gravity trebuchets next, I’m sure.  Perhaps I will take you up on your offer,” and he put his finger to his lips so Svein wouldn’t say anything in front of the magistrate.

“Good.  Now the wall?” Svein asked.

“I think you make your own luck!” the officer said and he took another long look at the walls of Slatina.  “We should do a ride about.  Do we have any horse ready?”

“I sent a regiment of heavy horse to patrol the riverbank,” Svein said.  “They should be back in a few minutes.  How many troops you figure are holding the town?”

“See?  You make your own luck!  There’s a lot more here than there were in Dragonesti.  Maybe five thousand.  A full legion.  Roman size that is.”

“Let’s just leave it then.  The men have had their sacking.  The Army of the Impalers is likely waiting for us at Ramnic with Count Vlad.”

“Should we do a ride about just to see if there are weaknesses?”

“No, don’t bother,” Svein said.  “Like you said, it’s almost new.  This is going to take a siege and we don’t have time for it.  I could use more slaves for trading season, but they’ll just impale more people.  They’re trying to get into our heads!”  Svein shook his head and they saw the regiment of heavy cavalry returning along the river road, but they rode back to their ships and Svein told his men to pack it all up.  Just east of the city of Slatina, away from the river, there was a large forest and in it was hidden a Wallachian legion of cataphracts who were just waiting for the leader of the Hraes’ to do a ride about around the fortress like he had done at Dragonesti.  Their commander punched his saddle horn with armoured fist when he saw them riding off behind their regiment of horse.

The Hraes’ war fleet got some good wind and they sailed from Slatina to Dragasani and there were no impalement victims above the waters or along the road.  “They didn’t expect us to leave Slatina so quickly,” Svein told the magistrate and Orus, the history officer.  “They haven’t had time to prepare the big show.”  Dragasani was on the left side of the river, five hundred or so paces inland and it was upon a rise.  Svein saw men in front of the fortress impaling people so, he took out his optical scope and he watched.  It was the Army of the Impalers in their blood red Roman uniforms and they had a young woman standing naked in front of them looking at an officer in front of her and he saluted her and the men forced her onto her hands and knees and the officer saluted her again and the men lined up the burled stake and thrust it up her anus until the small round burl stopped it and she cried out in pain and then the officer saluted her again and the men held her and lifted her up on the stake and slid the butt of it into a hole and some held her up upon it while the others pushed dirt into the hole and packed it with the butts of their spears.  Svein couldn’t quite make out the salute but he knew it was the salute of the impalers, a hollow fist with the middle finger extended to touch the forehead and to the girl it was a 6, 6, 6, the number of the Army of the Impalers.

“What is the round burl for on the Impaler’s stake?” Svein asked the magistrate.

“It is used by the Army of the Impalers only,” Kalokyras started.  “Other impalers use a seat as a stop or they don’t have a stop at all and let the increasing diameter of the pole act as a stop as with the charred burnt poles before Turnu.  The head Army Impaler selects a stake with a burl that suits the size and weight of the individual being impaled, which takes a bit of experience and skill, and weight combined with the size of the opening in the hip bone causes the burl to start cracking and widening the opening and this creates all the bone pain and much of the screaming in the later stages of impalement.  When the hip bone finally breaks in two, the individual drops to their death as the stake drives on up into their brain if they are lucky.”

“How do they get the burl onto the stake?”

“It is said that they plant oaks and they distress the truck so that it grows the burl and when the young oak is of the right height and diameter and the burl is of the correct size, they cut it down, peel it and treat it with natural preservatives.  Some of their stakes are purported to be hundreds of years old.”

“Thank you, Magistrate Kalokyras,” Svein said, shaking his head and putting away his scope.

Major Orus told Prince Svein that the fortress of Dragasani was much like the one of Dragonesti and should be as susceptible to trebuchet shot, so Svein decided to take this city.  They began setting up the trebuchets just as the troops in front of the fortress finished impaling their last victim and the victims began cursing at the Hraes’ troops as they were assembling the ballistae.  Again, the long wall was on the left of the main gate so, that is where the trebuchets were located.  The rest of the men were setting up camp downstream of the ballistae.  Svein ordered awnings run out on all the troop transport warships and told the men they could sleep on board.  It was getting too cool out to sleep in the open and only the Romans had brought tents so, they still camped on land.

The next day, the trebuchets knocked the left wall down from thirty feet in height to the required twenty and an attack was planned for the morning.  Svein sent emissaries to offer the citizens of Dragasani surrender terms of standard sacking under Roman rules of law, whereby half the citizens would be enslaved and half left free and half the soldiers would be enslaved and half set free.  The citizens gladly accepted the offer and invited the two envoys inside, then shut the main gates behind them.  A few minutes later, their soldiers came out with the envoys stripped naked and they impaled them on stakes in front of the main gate and stood the stakes up across the road that led into the fortress.  The soldiers then went inside and bolted the doors of the gate shut.

Svein had watched the spectacle through his scope and confirmed that the stakes were deadly and not the duds that the Army of the Impalers used for witnesses so, he took his bow out of its case, strung it, grabbed two arrows from the case and rode out past the trebuchets to the middle of the road and he shot an arrow the length of the road and hit one envoy in the heart, then he nocked another arrow and shot it into the other envoy’s heart.  He rode back to his men and shouted, “Let that be a lesson on who we are dealing with here.  Do not let down your guard with these people!” and he rode off along the river and pretended to inspect the ships that were anchored there.

In the evening, Svein had archers posted on the road with the usual guards and they had instructions to shoot anybody from the city who might try to steal away the bodies of the dead Hraes’ on the stakes.  But in the darkness of night the Army of the Impalers stole the bodies from the stakes and in the morning they were found gone.  Svein knew that the ghost cohort was back because they could see in the dark.  There was a breeze blowing from the north and, as Svein formed up his troops for their attack with scaling ladders, two flags were run up poles inside the fortress and they were in the shapes of men, very light skinned, and one had brown hair and one was blonde and with his scope, Svein could see that the one was truly blonde.  It was his emissaries, or their skins that is.  They had been flayed from their bodies and were now flags in the morning breeze.  He rode out in front of his men and said, “Do not let your guards down, not even when we have taken the city!”

The Roman troops preferred to carry their rectangular shields even though they were heavier because they gave a bit more protection and could be used in testudo for overhead protection, but the Hraes’ stayed with their kite shields because of their light weight and the way their long tails slid up the left side of the scaling ladders, giving them improved stability going up.  Svein cast his spear to start the attack and it flew well over his horse’s ears and landed almost halfway to the fortress.  The men charged across the clearing with their shields and their ladders and they threw the ladders up against the shortened walls and men held them secure as the Hraes’ scampered up the ladders as though they were footbridges and the Romans struggled up theirs.  The Hraes’ were the first atop the wall and they whipped out their swords and began fighting their way across it to defensive ladders that had been set up on the inside.  Wallach troops were coming up the defensive ladders as fast as the Hraes’ could drive them back off the wall and one man took the tail of his kite and drove it into an opponent coming up a defensive ladder and knocked him backwards and rode his kite shield all the way to the bottom of the ladder, bowling troops over as he went down and, when he got to the bottom he joined a group of Hraes’ fighting their way to the main gate.  Heavy cavalry were, by now, charging up the road to the main gate with their kite shields over top them and the doors were flung open from inside just as they came up to them so, they charged inside and took control of the city streets.  Within an hour the city had fallen and the place was being sacked and Svein and his officers were riding around making sure it was done in the old Roman fashion.  The soldiers had been ordered not to kill any civilians and to take all surrendering soldiers prisoner.  Half the civilians were enslaved and half left free and half of the Wallach soldiers were dead and the other half were enslaved, bound for Baghdad and the eunuch armies of the middle east.

More of the supply knars had been freed up of their cargoes by the voracious appetites of the troops and were soon filled with slaves bound for training in Kiev.  Due to the treachery shown by the people of Dragasani, no ransoms were offered.

Prince Erik met up with this fleet of slaves as he was coming up the Danube and he heard of Prince Svein’s great victories as he was on his way to save him.  The rams and cattle were a bit of a problem transporting and had to be let out to graze along the pastures of the Danube and Erik wished he had taken a few less marines and a few more shepherds.

Prince Svein left a regiment of foot soldiers and a regiment of heavy cavalry in Dragonasi, as he called it, the foot to hold the city and control the civilians and the cavalry to patrol the surrounding area.  He then led his men upriver to Ramnicu Valcea or Ramnic, Count Vladimir’s home city.  He was hoping to find the Army of the Impalers there.

“We should go back downriver and see if we can catch Slatina by surprise,” Major Orus told Prince Svein.  “They had a full legion there, at least.  I’m sure of it.  We might not want to have forces like that running around loose while we battle the Army of the Impalers.”

“I was thinking that myself,” Svein admitted.  “It’s only a day to row down there and try it.”

“But it’s two days rowing coming back,” the magistrate reminded them.

“Don’t worry,” Svein reassured him.  “We’ll catch some wind on the way back.  My half uncle, Arrow Odd, was raised by the Hrafnista men, half giants, in the north and he would just put out his arms like this and wind would fill his sails.”  And just then a gust of wind came up and they looked at each other, but it died just as quickly.  So, they rowed south down the river instead, hoping to catch a legion by surprise.  As they neared Slatina, they unloaded regiments of horse and sent light cavalry riding along the riverbank to come up out of the river at dusk and charge onto the city road and hopefully into the city, but when they got there the road was completely covered in sheep and there were cattle everywhere and the Hraes’ Raven Banner of Ragnar Lothbrok flew above the city.

CHAPTER SEVEN

7.0  VLAD THE IMPALER AND THE BATTLE OF RAMNIC  (Circa 965-966 AD)

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4A. The brothers swung           the swift-wheeling stone,

                        till of Frodi’s kin                    most fell asleep.

                        Then Erik quoth,                  at the quern standing:

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

(965 AD)  Prince Erik rode out from the city of Slatina to greet his grandson, Prince Svein and his cavalry.  He saw their kite shields and he knew at once they were Svein’s legions.

“How did you capture the city?” Svein asked as he hugged his grandfather.

“I visited your men at Turnu and then I visited your men at Dragonesti and they told me that you hadn’t taken Slatina so, I thought I’d try and catch them by surprise, so I took a thousand marines and we sent some of your heavy cavalry in ahead and they caught them with the doors open, but there was only a cohort of foot holding the city so, we took it from them.  The civilians here are claiming that you impaled half their people.”

“That’s bullshit!  Their own Army of the Impalers did that.  These people are all crazy!  You can’t believe a thing they say and you don’t want to believe the things they do!”

“Speaking of bullshit,” Erik started.  “Do you know where I can hire some shepherds around here?”

“I know…what’s with all the rams and bulls?”

“Did you call Kraka?” Erik asked.

“No.  I was tempted to once, but I never actually said it.”

“Well, she sent me a dream and in it the Impalers kill you all and she showed me how they did it.”

“She must have been listening to Magistrate Kalokyras,” Svein said.  “He’s the one saying we’re all gonna die!”

“Anyway, the dream showed me how the Army of Impalers always win their battles and I’ve figured out a way to combat them, hence the rams.  I figured your supplies would be getting low so, I brought them here live, but they’ve been a pain in the ass the whole trip.  I’m sure the Bulgarians have been feasting on the all sheep I’ve lost.”

“Have you sacked the city yet?” Svein asked.

“No.  They said you impaled half their people.  How could I sack the city?”

“That’s focking it!” Svein swore.  “They’re all going into ships today and we’re shipping them off to Kiev for slave training.  The Army of the Impalers already impaled their half of the citizens, so the rest have to go to Baghdad in the spring.  You must have spare ships if you’ve lost so many sheep.”

“I’ve got enough for what’s left of their people,” Erik said.  “But I’ve already hired some of the men and women of the city to start making the gear that will defeat the Impalers and I’ve started hiring local shepherds to take care of the flocks.  This is my city and the people I don’t need, you can have.”  So, Erik and his marines began loading up the men of Slatina that he didn’t need and they sent them off to Kiev in livestock knars.  “There’s supposed to be a legion or two of Wallachian troops wandering around,” Svein told his grandfather.  “Do you think a regiment of foot and a regiment of heavy horse can hold the city?”

“My marines will hold the city they took, but a company of horse would be nice for patrols.  You might want to send a regiment of foot south to Dragonesti.  They’ve only got the horse.”

“They’ll be fine,” Svein said.  “Those loose legions will be heading north if they’re going anywhere, same way we’re going.  You can keep the company of horse you borrowed from Dragonesti.”

“Are your men hungry?” Erik asked.  “I’ve been just dying to kill some of these sheep.  You might as well camp here and we’ll slaughter a thousand or so.”  So, the Hraes’ army set up camp for the night and Erik told Svein how the Impalers fought and how they might be beaten and why he’d brought the livestock.

A thousand rams were slaughtered that afternoon and the army of forty thousand men ate them that night.  A rumour had been going through the troops that Svein’s grandfather had brought no fresh legions with him, only himself, and he was over a hundred years old!  After the feast Svein arranged for Erik to have a few words with his men:

“I’ve come to help deal with this Army of the Impalers,” Erik shouted out as he rode up to the men on horseback.  He slid out of his saddle and landed with the agility of a panther, then he walked over to a camp table that had been set out in front of them and he leapt up onto it.  “I have brought the famed sword Tyrfingr with me,” he said, unbuckling his belt and holding the sheathed sword above his head.  “It is the sword that my son, Ivar ‘the Boneless’, fought with from his famed battle platform and he won many battles with it.  It is true that I forged this magic sword with the help of a sorcerer dwarf named Dvalin a hundred years ago, but this is the sword that I fought the Huns with at the famous Battle of the Goths and the Huns to establish the great Hraes’ trading empire, and it is the sword that Ivar reclaimed his Danish throne with, slaying the usurper, King Hiarn, with it.  And it is the sword my wife died beside on the dusty Don plains of Gardariki when she was fratricidally slain by her nephew, Prince Hun, and this sword is the one that Prince Angantyr used to slay the famed Viking warrior, Hjalmar the Brave, and the same sword that was used by the Valkyrie Hervor to slay my infamous son, Arrow Odd.  The famed sword Tyrfingr is a hundred years old and more dangerous now than it has ever been.  It was with me at the Battle of Iskorosten three years ago, when our legions had the city under siege for six months.  I took Tyrfingr and some Cathayan magic to Iskorosten and within six hours the city was burned to the ground!”

Erik paused for a moment and paced back and forth along the large table, then stopped and started talking again.  “I have brought Tyrfingr here with me along with some more Cathayan magic and I am going to help Prince Svein defeat the Army of the Impalers.  But I am only here to help.  It is young Svein and his three new legions that are going to defeat the Army of the Impalers,” and he put his fist in the air and shouted, “Hrae!” to which the legions responded ‘Hrae!!!’, then “Hrae!” followed by ‘Hraaee!!! and finally, “Hrae!” followed by ‘Hraaaeee!!!

“Now, I have arranged a little demonstration of Cathayan magic!” Erik shouted and he signalled to some marines off in the darkness.  Cathayan rockets shot up into the air behind Erik and exploded in great bursts of flaming colour and these explosions went on for many minutes, and when it stopped there was absolute silence and then a ‘Hraaee!!!’, ‘Hraaee!!!’, Hraaee!!!’ from the troops!

“Now, I could arrange a demonstration of the power of Tyrfingr,” Erik started, holding the sheathed blade above his head once more, “but the famed sword cannot be unsheathed without the death of a man, so I offer to face, right now, any man who believes he can defeat me in sword combat against Tyrfingr, but it must be a combat to the death, so I can sheath her again!”  Erik paced back and forth in front of the men, waiting for a challenge.  He knew none would come, even if there were men out there who thought they could beat him, because Erik had convinced them that he was the only one that stood between them and the Army of the Impalers.  “Good!” Erik shouted.  “Let us have a further demonstration of the Cathayan magic!” and the troops shouted ‘Hraaee!!!’, ‘Hraaee!!!’, Hraaee!!!’ once more as he signalled his marines, then leapt from the table into the saddle of his horse and rode off towards Svein with the fireworks going off behind him.

“How’d I do?” Erik asked his grandson.

“Hell…I’d follow you into hell!” Svein said.  “And I’m sure my men will now too!”  So, the rumour of a hundred year old grandfather leading them to defeat was dispelled.

Prince Erik left his marines and officers in charge of Slatina and joined Prince Svein at the forestem of his shieldship and they led the war fleet further north into Wallachia and the clouds seemed duller and the sky was darker as they progressed.  The Raven banner of the Hraes’ still flew above the fortress city of Dragasani and Hraes’ troops waved from the battlements as the army came to shore and set up their camp where it had been before.  They slaughtered another thousand head of sheep and ate them while sending the horns and hides back to Slatina for processing.  The thousand pavilions that Erik had brought from Gardariki were set up and some of the men slept on shore and some slept under the awnings of their ships.  The next morning, they rowed further north into Wallachia and by evening one of the Roman officers familiar with the land told them that Ramnic was an hour away.  Because it was late they decided to pull into shore at a clearing and set up camp a safe distance from the Wallach capital.  They knew they were being watched and, like Dragasani, Ramnicu Valcea was on the left side of the river, so they camped on the opposite bank.

It took an hour of rowing the next morning before they saw the high walls of Ramnic projecting out into the waters.  The fortress city was big and the walls were much higher than the previous cities, at least forty Roman feet and they looked thick.  There were great clearings all the way around it and Svein and Erik decided to make their camp beside a creek that fed the river just south of the city.  On each side of the creek sat a rich farm with a mansion and they had been just recently abandoned so, the Roman officers took the estate south of the creek and the Hraes’ officers took the estate closest to Ramnic.

“They have a harbour that is enclosed by walls,” the Roman officer explained.  “I was only here once and it was before the horror.”  The Byzantines were calling it ‘the horror’, what had happened to the missionaries in Ramnic.  No Roman soldiers that were part of the escort that had accompanied the missionaries would return to Wallachia, so they sent one officer who had been to Ramnicu Valcea once.  The Hraes’ troops had already seen ‘the horror’ replayed many times over since arriving in Walachia and they hadn’t even seen the Army of the Impalers yet, but they all had a feeling as they landed, that, at least, they were now being watched by them.

“This will take a long siege,” Svein complained.  It’s going to take months for our trebuchets to take down those walls!”

“That’s why I included Iskorosten in my speech to the men,” Erik said.  “There were ears of the Impalers there when I talked.  I’m sure of it.”

“They have spies?” Svein asked.

“The locals are their ears,” Erik answered, “but we must also assume that the Roman legions have been infiltrated as well.  The Wallachians consider themselves to be true Romans so, it is likely they have men in Eastern Roman dress and that they have infiltrated their camp.”

“I think the Army of the Impalers may have gotten into your head!” Svein said.  “First, we better make sure that their army is within their walls.  They could still be out wandering about, getting ready to attack us.”

“Oh, they’re in there alright,” Erik said.  “And they aren’t coming out until they’ve put on more of a show to unnerve us.”

The Hraes’ heavy horse cavalry units began regular patrols around Ramnic and confiscated any goods flowing to or from the city, and the flow soon ceased completely.  Patrols were then sent inland and farms and villages were systematically plundered and pillaged.  The troops were under orders to take valuables and certain livestock only, rams and bulls and these were slaughtered to feed the troops and the horns and hides were shipped downriver to Slatina.  Prince Erik went to Slatina with one of the shipments to inspect the progress on the new gear.  Several smithy and tailor shops had been commandeered to aid in the conversion of the steel helmets he had brought from Gardariki to horned helmets with sheepskin linings.  Blacksmiths would affix the horns and the women of Slatina sewed up the linings and straps.  Erik found the largest helmet he could find for himself, but he realised that many of his men would have to shave their heads to fit.  He knew that would be a hard sell because the Hraes’ were very attached to their long blonde and brown locks.  The Romans all kept their locks shorn like sheep, but Varangians preferred free flowing hair and some locks flowed down to the waist.

When he had taken the city, Erik had helped himself to the mayor’s mansion, the mayor having been one of the first shipped off to Kiev for slave training.  But the mayor’s wife and daughters remained there and he helped himself to them as well and they did not protest, preferring to service the leader alone in their own home rather than the many without.  And he gave them many privileges that the other women of Slatina did not enjoy, starting with not having to sew up war gear.  When the women of Slatina ran out of helmets to work on, Erik had them sewing up sheepskin shoulder pads to fit over the scale-mail armour of his troops.  The smiths would then rivet steel strips along the tops of the shoulder pads to resist impacts.  Once he had ten thousand helmets and shoulder pads complete he kissed the mayor’s women and headed off to Ramnic.

The ghost cohort was back, he was told, and had been terrorizing the troops by impaling any soldiers they caught alone.  Men could not even relieve themselves without having other men guard their backs.  And impalement stakes had been run along the wall of Ramnic that faced the camp and citizens were constantly being impaled on them and when they died screaming they were taken down and replaced by fresh volunteers.  The camp was quite far from the impalement stakes that had been run just within bowshot of the walls, but when there were a number of screamers together the sickening sound reached the camp and an echo off the walls seemed to follow it.  The men were becoming unnerved again and ‘the fetters of Odin’ became a concern of all the officers.

The Roman legions were camped on the other side of the creek so the noise did not quite reach them.  But they were furthest from the city and the ghost cohort raided them at night on a regular basis.  Night was always black as pitch but the ghost warriors seemed able to see in the dark and seemed able to magically transform themselves into beasts and men would disappear from their tents and be found impaled on stakes just outside their camp fences.  If they were found dead, that would be one thing, but to be found naked and sobbing on a stake, saved by your mates but doomed to die in seven days or less, was too much for some to take and Roman units began slipping away in the night, into their ships and heading off silently downriver.  The Hraes’ had been paid gold for being here, the Romans were just ordered and all the legions were from Cherson as if for some offense?  Nobody knew.

Prince Erik ordered his ships travelling between Slatina and Ramnic to keep a lookout for deserters and when they were found they were locked up in the deserted town of Dragonesti.  Prince Erik had seen ‘the fetters of Odin’ before, at the Battle of the Goths and the Huns and he had lost a friend to it so, he wasn’t about to start executing people because of it as King Frodi had done many years before.  He told the men that they would not be charged with desertion, but would not be allowed to participate in the victory either.  To battle ‘the fetters of Odin’, Erik and Svein began awarding units leave.  They would inspect units and the best units got leave and the worst units got leave with them and they were sailed downriver to Dragasani or Slatina and they were allowed to sample the women there.  The good units seemed to pick up the poor units by the bootstraps for some peculiar reason.  This also increased river traffic and the number of deserters attempting to sail downriver dropped dramatically.

One night a Roman bireme rowed out from behind the walled harbour of Ramnic and it was rowed downriver by Wallachian riverboat men led by members of the ghost cohort who could see in the dark.  It was not so much that they could see in the dark, but that they could see in the dark better than most, and only men who could see better were allowed to join the ghost units so, as a group they were even better at it and they gained a reputation for seeing in the dark.  Their best was at the forestem of the bireme and the rest were at the bronze tubes of the Greek fire weapons both fore and aft.  Working with anything flammable in the dark was dangerous so, the task was given the ghost cohort.  The lead ghost warrior saw the Hraes’ ships along the riverbank on his right and ordered the bellowsmen to begin pumping and the noise of the bellows wafted over the waters and put the guards on the ships on alert, but it was too dark to see anything.  They just heard strange whooshing sounds in the night like the wings of dragons.  It was said that the Ghost Cohort soldiers could transfigure themselves into giant bats that could carry a man off silently into the night.  When the bireme was close enough the leader directed the fire of the bronze tubes and with a great ‘Hraaaeee’ the fiery liquid spewed from them out across the waters and it landed on the Hraes’ ships and set the timbers and the guards alight and woodfires roared and sentries screamed as the bireme made its way downstream.  The ship kept spewing Greek fire as it went by the anchored fleet and the whole camp was roused to action by the screams of the many sentries burning like candles on cakes as they danced madly about the decks of their flaming ships.  Erik and Svein rushed out of their command pavilion, bows in hand and swords strapped on their naked bodies as they ordered guards to the riverbanks.  Once the bireme had exhausted its charge of naphtha, it disappeared into the darkness and the ghost leader directed the bireme to the far riverbank and they rowed upriver and back to their safe harbour.

The next morning there were burnt ships and bodies in the water and ninety ships had been torched and over three hundred guards had burned to death,  Some of their burnt bodies had been snagged upon sunken ships, but most had floated downriver and a ship was sent out into the currents to collect them.  Svein ordered a meeting of officers before noon to go through just what had happened the night before.

“When you told us that the naval escort of the missionaries had returned to Constantinople, Magistrate Kalokyras,” Svein started, “you didn’t mention that the Wallachians had captured their fire breathing bireme!”

“I didn’t know!  Honestly, I was not told,” the magistrate swore.  “If one was captured, I was not informed.  To have a fire breather fall into enemy hands would be catastrophic.  It has never happened before.”

Prince Erik kept quiet on that point.

“Well, it seems to have happened now!” Svein said.  “How much fuel do these ships carry?” he asked the Roman officers

Major Orus said, “They usually carry enough Greek naphtha to refill the bellows bladders three times, so there could potentially be three more attacks such as this one, and don’t ask me how I know this because I’m not supposed to know this.”

“Thank you Major Orus,” Svein said.  “We shall have to come up with a strategy to destroy the fire breather.”

“So, if anybody comes up with any ideas,” Erik interrupted, “just let us know and we’ll consider all good strategies.  So, carry on with your duties.”

After the officers left the command pavilion, Svein asked his grandfather what he was up to.  “I know when you’ve had a great idea!”

“I want that ship!” Erik replied.  “It’s probably the latest design of Greek fire breathing bireme and, like the magistrate said, one has never fallen into the hands of the enemy.  These are Roman officers.  We are the enemy.  We are more their enemy than the Wallachians have ever been.  If it wasn’t for this Christian religious schism they wouldn’t be enemies at all.  They probably captured the ship because there were Wallachian sympathizers in the crew.  We’ll never have a chance like this!”

“I never thought of that,” Svein said.  “I’m just trying to win this war.”

“This isn’t a war,” Erik said.  “This is just a battle.  The Battle of the Hraes’ against the Army of the Impalers.  The war has always been with the Romans.  The Wallachians are just Romans who have fallen out of favour with the Eastern Romans.  If we get that ship, our alchemists can copy it and they can duplicate the Greek fire formula.  The Byzantines won’t be the only ones with this uberweapon.”

“How will we capture it?” Svein asked.

“You mean, how will we capture it without the Romans finding out?” Erik asked.  “We’ll have to set a trap.  We should be able to keep it secret, after all, it only comes out at night.”

So, they had Hraes’ ships that were equipped with rawhide awnings and vinegar search the river at night looking for the fire breather, but it had not come out yet.  One afternoon there was a tremendous explosion within the walled harbour of Ramnic.  Black smoke and flames could be seen rising above the walls and then there was silence.  Major Orus joined the other officers who were watching the smoke rising from Ramnic at the entrance of the command pavilion.  “I think the Wallachians may have just blown themselves and their fire breather up.  They were probably trying to refuel their bellows bladders for an attack tonight.  If you don’t know what you’re doing the bladders can catch fire just from contact with air.”

“Damn!” Erik said.

“What?” Orus asked.

“Damn good news!” Erik added.

The next day Erik sailed back to Slatina to inspect progress on the next ten thousand helmet modifications.  He entered the mayor’s mansion and was welcomed by the mayor’s wife and daughters.  They thanked him for the provisions he had sent when he was delayed in Ramnic.  They particularly enjoyed the wines he had sent.  He slept with two of the daughters his first night back.  Once the helmets and shoulder pads were ready, he returned to Ramnic and decided that the leader of the Hraes’ should set an example and get his hair shorn so that the men would do likewise without complaint.  He was surprised when young Svein agreed with him.  The men were gathered and Erik was going to demonstrate how the helmets worked and why they required sheepskin padding under them.  Svein was going to have his hair cut in front of them as a good example but he noticed that his new helmet had a peak at the top and asked if some of his hair might fit in it.  The barber said it probably could so, he cut all Svein’s hair except for a long lock of it off the top right of his head and the barber coiled it up and it fit into the peak.  Many of the men wanted the same style, but those with round top helmets were completely shorn.  Soon all the front rank fighters were equipped with the new gear.

At noon Prince Erik and a few officers rode out onto the plain between their camp and Ramnic and planted Hazel poles for the proposed site of battle.  They waited all afternoon but the Army of the Impalers did not come out.  That night Erik arranged for another display of Cathayan magics and the army went out in the clearing in front of Ramnic and some of Erik’s marines set off fireworks that flew in the direction of Ramnic, but these were a little different.  They exploded over the city but the shower of sparks and flames lasted longer and floated down into the houses and buildings in the fortress and many fires erupted and were put out by the Wallachians, but only with great difficulty.  Count Vladimir and his army had heard through spies about the burning of Iskorosten and they’d just had a big explosion and fire in their own harbour so, they were very nervous about this new Cathayan magic and sent out envoys who rode out and adjusted the hazel poles in the dusk as a way of saying they would be joining the Hraes’ in battle on the morrow.

The next morning, eighteen thousand Hraes’ foot formed up in three ranks across the center and right and twelve thousand of their Roman allies formed three ranks on the left.  Marching out to face them were thirty thousand or six legions of Wallachian foot soldiers.  On each flank six thousand Hraes’ heavy horse and Roman cataphracts faced five thousand Wallach cataphracts.  The armies were very equally matched except that the Hraes’ had many spare horses for their cavalry and the Wallach cataphracts had none.  Prince Svein’s faith in Pecheneg tactics would be put to the test here so he led the heavy horse on the right flank and Major Orus led the Roman cataphracts and heavy horse on the left.  Prince Erik led the foot soldiers in the center and carried one round shield amongst all the kites and rectangles and he finally unsheathed Tyrfingr and it glowed brightly in the overcast morning sun.  Count Vladimir was on horseback behind his foot and he wore the black armour of the Praetorian Guard while a general on each flank commanded his cataphracts.

The Army of the Impalers marched in the Roman fashion with rectangular shields and as the armies closed, for once there were no arrows flying or spears thrown.  Both sides preferred to grind it out and all knew it was going to be a hard day.  When the shield walls crashed the Impalers used their standard offense of morning stars being whipped over top of the shields of their opponents.  They would try to knock their opponent senseless, then drag him out from under his shield and impale him on the stakes that they had run out in front of their wall.  Their fourth rank was made up of their impalement experts just as the Hraes’ fourth rank was made up of Valkyries who dispatched the wounded and the dying.  But this time, when the chains of the morning stars were whipped over the enemy shields they became caught up in rams spiral horns or bulls long straight ones.  The Hraes’ would then jerk their heads back and strip the weapons out of the enemy hands.  Blows that connected directly on the helmets were dissipated by the sheepskin padding under them and very few foot were knocked out.  But the few that were, fell and were pulled out from under their shields and were quickly impaled.  However, the Impalers who were disarmed faced hard men with sharp swords and were soon hacked down.  The knights on the flanks fought evenly and men on both sides were unseated and killed, but the Wallach foot in the center soon discovered their morning stars had met their match in the horned helmets of the Hraes’ and very few were carrying extra swords or weapons and they were falling fast.  Tyrfingr was literally wailing by then at the center and knights were being rushed in from the flanks to fill the gaps by fighting on foot but the center was melting away quickly and the cataphracts on the Wallach right flank fled for the hills while the cataphracts on their left rode off to the safety of Ramnic’s walls.  Count Vlad joined his cataphracts on the left and headed for the city gates and his armour was lighter so he caught up to and passed them going through the doors.  But the Hraes’ heavy horse was lighter as well and caught up to the cataphracts and followed them through the gate and secured the doors and kept them open for foot that had found spare mounts and followed the heavy horse.  And the heavy horse on the Hraes’ left flank got a string of spares and began chasing down the fleeing cataphracts from the Wallach right flank and were soon lancing them from behind.

The foot soldiers of the Army of the Impalers who had thrown down their weapons were taken into custody by Prince Erik.  He had plans for them.  They were tied to poles and marched to the Hraes’ camp.  The whole battle that was expected to go all day was over in less than an hour.

Count Vladimir rode through Ramnic and tried to make it to his citadel but Svein switched to his spare horse and soon caught up to him and dismounted him with a blow to his helmet and took the dazed count prisoner.  Svein and some of his officers took Vlad into his citadel and when Svein saw his prisoner there, the nun he had forced to be his wife, Svein fell in love with her.  She was the most exotic beauty he had ever seen, far too beautiful to be married to a son of a god who had been dead for almost a thousand years.  He took her out of the citadel and put her on his horse in front of himself and he rode with her to the Hraes’ camp with this officers and Vlad trailing behind him all the way and he carried her into the command pavilion, said hi to his grandfather and then took her into his partitioned room and focked her.

“What was that about?” Erik asked when Svein came out of his room.

“She’s mine!” Svein said and he took her in some wine and food and then rejoined his officers.  Erik and Svein had already agreed on how to take care of the Army of the Impalers once they were beaten and now they were and Vladimir and his generals and his officers were gathered up and Erik promised them he would give his best effort in sparing them if they taught the Hraes’ all about impalement by impaling their own knights and soldiers.  If not, they would be delivered directly to the Romans for execution.  So, Count Vladimir and his officers impaled their own men at Ramnic and were spared.  Prince Erik told Magistrate Kalokyras that he was taking them to Gardariki for execution by impalement and he was welcome to come along as witness.

Prince Svein decided to overwinter in Wallachia with his legions and his new wife so that he could get his new conquest under control.  “She may be yours,” Erik said about the Roman nun.  “But the city of Slatina is mine.”

“Fine,” Svein said.  “I heard one of your mayor’s daughters is already pregnant.”

“I plan to stop there on my way out and I’ll try to get the rest of them pregnant.”

“Even the mayor’s wife?”

“If she’s willing!”

Erik walked over to Svein’s new wife and said, “By the gods, you’re beautiful.  Welcome to our family, Princess Sviataslava.”

“Yes,” Svein said.  “Princess Sviataslava!  Thank you for your blessing, Grandfather.”

Prince Erik went to Slatina and was welcomed by the mayor’s wife and daughters and he learned that the youngest one was pregnant.  He told them that Prince Svein was the new ruler of Wallachia and that he had awarded him the city of Slatina and that he wanted them to be his wives and wanted the mayor’s wife to be the new mayor of the city in his absence.  The women were all elated and Erik spent the Yule Holidays with them in the city and lavished them with gold and fine gifts while Count Vlad and his officers were chained to the rowing benches under the awnings of his shieldship on the river.  Erik left his women a chest of gold to run his city with and then he left.

(966)  Back in Gardariki he used the new skills that Count Vlad had taught him to impale the lowest ranking Wallachian officer and then he had his medical alchemists race to come up with a cure for impalement.  “We shall use our best efforts to save you,” Erik had told Count Vlad.  Two days later he impaled the next ranking officer as the alchemists scrambled for a cure.  Count Vladimir asked to see Prince Erik and a meeting was permitted.  Vlad was not tall, but stocky and strong, with a cold and terrible look to him, a strong and aquiline Roman nose, swollen nostrils, a reddish face with very long eyelashes framing large green eyes with bushy black eyebrows that matched his moustache.  Swollen temples increased the breadth of his head from which black curly locks hung down past a bull neck and rested upon his wide shoulders.

When they both sat down, Vlad said, “When you promised me your best effort to save us, I was sure that you meant saving us from the Romans who hired you to kill us.  Instead, you are trying to save us from your own effort to execute us.”

“You were never in any danger from the Romans,” Erik replied.  “The Romans loaned us three of their legions just to ensure that we attacked you, but we didn’t need them.  I left the equivalent of six of your legions back here in Gardar because I didn’t need them.  If we’d decided to spare you from the Romans, we’d spare you from the Romans.  We are going to put an end to your impalements by finding a cure for impalement and for that we need you.  You and your officers are going to be impaled and we shall provide you with our best effort to save you.  Had it been up to our Great Prince Svein, you and your officers would have been impaled with your men.  I alone saved you from this, but only by telling Svein that we would stop impalements by curing them.  We shall do this by sequentially impaling your officers by rank and age and working to find a cure for the sepsis that follows.  Your men shall spend one day upon the stake to ensure we are working from a good sample base and then they’ll be taken down and given the best medical attention we can provide them while trying to cure them.  And for this you shall receive our very best efforts.  Is there anything we can do for you while your men await their turns?”

“We need better food and better wine and my men would like women,” Count Vladimir requested.  “And I would like your grandson, Svein, to name his next child after me.  He has taken my wife and I would like this one small favour in return, so I am not forgotten when the sepsis takes me.”

“I will suggest that your naming request be followed by our Great Prince, but I cannot guarantee it.  Meanwhile, your men will get their better food and wine and shall get their women tonight.  I can appreciate their immediate needs, however, I fully expect our medical alchemists to find a cure before we are halfway through your officers.  To that end, we are working our way up through the ranks, but where ranks are equal, we have been going by age, assuming that younger officers are of lower rank because they have less seniority, but this is not always the case and we have had some comments from your younger officers that perhaps older should go first because younger survivors would have more potential to live longer lives.  I wanted your opinion on this.”

“I think it is in the nature of things that the old die before the young so, in this case, I would go from oldest to youngest,” Vlad said.

“Thank you.  That is the way we shall proceed then.”

“But what is your opinion on the matter?” Vlad asked.

“I am far too old,” Erik said, “to have an unbiased view on this.”

“How old are you?” Count Vlad asked, leaning forward to study the Prince.  “You don’t look that old.”

“I’ve had visions of the future where you and your sons have a reputation of living unnaturally long lives,” Erik said, leaning into him this time.  “This will have come solely from your association with me!”

“I’ll have sons?” Vlad asked, and for the first time since the Battle of the Army of the Impalers the count had a glimmer of hope.

“I have said too much already,” the Prince said and he left the count’s cell.

The next day an older officer was impaled and the cure was still eluding the alchemists.  Magistrate Kalokyras had arrived from Cherson to check up on the progress of the Wallachian executions.  “I don’t see why the impalements have to be sequential and days apart,” he said impatiently.  “I’ll have to send a partial report off to Constantinople.  They want me to confirm the execution of Count Vladimir, but this is taking forever,” he said as he witnessed the impalement of the older officer in the basement of the medical alchemists building.  “And why aren’t these executions being done in public?”

“We don’t execute criminals in Tmutorokan,” Erik told him.  “Not even war criminals.  We are only doing this at the request of the Byzantines and only because the Wallachians are Romans who broke the Roman rules of law for both civil and war time periods.  And the impalements are sequential because their crimes were sequential and they are days apart because Prince Svein feels it will increase the sense of dread that the Wallachian officers feel and were so good at inflicting upon others.”

“I’m sure Empress Theophilos will appreciate the added cruelty, but I have reports to make.”

“Don’t be so impatient, my old friend” Erik said.  “I have a new Khazar Vayar I want you to try, and some new wines from Frankia.”  He then showed the magistrate the medical attention the impalement victims were receiving and he showed him the first victim, who had just died.  But he did not tell him that the alchemists had been trying to save him.

And so it went, that officer after officer was impaled and still no cure was found.  Princess Helga was overwintering with Erik and Silkisif and had brought Malfrieda and Svein’s young sons down from Kiev with her so, Erik had to explain why Svein had to remain in Wallachia to put the country into order.  He made no mention of the Roman Princess Sviataslava that Prince Svein had found there.  He also did not tell his Hraes’ wives what was going on in the medical alchemists hall but they did notice that Magistrate Kalokyras was visiting a lot from Cherson.  More officers were impaled as they worked their way up the ranks and the impaled were living a little longer so, the impalements were done every third day and then every forth.  By the time it was extended to every fifth day, they were up to the last two generals, the ones who had led the Wallachian cataphracts on the flanks of the Army of the Impalers.  The oldest general lasted thirteen days and only once he had died was the last general impaled.

A message was sent to Magistrate Kalokyras that Count Vladimir would be impaled in two weeks and he came to Gardariki to witness it.  Erik showed him the body of the last general and he sat with Erik in the basement of the alchemists hall to watch the impalement of Count Vladimir of Wallachia.  Erik had selected a trustworthy group of his marine officers to execute the impalement.  Erik signalled for it to begin and the marine major gave the salute of the impalers to Count Vlad and four marine captains tore off the count’s clothes and forced him to his hands and knees, then the major saluted again and the impalement stake was greased, inserted into his anus and thrust up into him to the burl, and then the major saluted once more to complete the 6,6,6 and the men lifted up the count and straightened the stake up and slid it down into a hole and when the pole bottomed out, the count winced in pain but made no noise.  His lingam hung down over his scrotum and he stared at the Roman magistrate with hatred then over at Erik with indifference.  The magistrate was unnerved by the stare and he got up to leave and he told Erik that he was returning to Cherson to file his report.  “I’ve seen enough,” he said.  “Count Vlad is as good as dead.”

Count Vlad sat upon his stake all day and was supposed to stay up all night, but Erik had him taken down early and his treatments began.  “I’m sorry, my friend,” Erik told the count.  “I really thought we would have had the cure figured out by now.  If it is any comfort, Prince Svein has agreed to name his next child after you.”

That night he was in bed with Helga and Silkisif and the girls asked him if it was true he had defeated the invincible Army of the Impalers in just an hour.  They told him they had overheard some of his men talking and saying it was a greater victory than Iskorosten.  The soldiers who came back from Wallachia didn’t like talking about Wallachia or the battles there.  They had all come back changed a bit, like they had seen horrors there that they had never seen before so, Helga and Silki asked the question together very gently.  It was the first and last time that Vikings ever wore horned helmets and the tactic had worked in practice even better than it had worked in Erik’s dream so, he said, “It was my greatest victory,”  and they had sex.

Erik visited the count every day of his treatments and when the count lapsed into a coma on the fourteenth day, he thought he was gone, but on the fifteenth day, the count was still in a coma and still alive.  “You’ve outlived everyone else,” Erik told him as he slept.  The next day when Erik visited him he was awake, not moving, but awake.  Erik congratulated him and they communicated by having Vlad blink once for yes and twice for no.  It was the easiest language he had ever taught he said and Vlad blinked once.  “To the Romans you are dead.  Kalokyras sent that report to Constantinople.  I want to keep it that way, yes?” and Vlad blinked.  “Do you know why I wanted to save you?” and Vlad blinked twice.  “Far off in the future, your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson will defeat Turkish warriors and prevent the conquering of all Europe.  Do you believe me?” and Vlad blinked.  “And you have had no sons to date, is that correct?” and Vlad blinked again, “I assumed that you would have to survive your impalement in order to yet have some.”  Vlad blinked and even tried to smile.  “My medical alchemists have assured me that you shall indeed recover fully.”  This time Vlad blinked and did smile.  “I shall be keeping you here in your cell in Gardariki until it is safe to return you to Wallachia.”  Vlad smiled again.  “You will, of course, have the best food and wine and your women.”  Vlad blinked and smiled.  “When it is safe enough to return you to Wallachia, we shall give you the city of Dragasani to rule, does this please you?”  Vlad blinked once.  “And will you swear an oath of allegiance to Prince Svein and Hraes’?”  Again, Vlad blinked once.  “Will I ever regret extending this boon to you?” and Count Vladimir blinked twice.

CHAPTER EIGHT

8.0  VYATS, VOLGA BULGARS AND KHAZARS  (Circa 966 AD)

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5.  “Gold and good hap             we grind for Frodi,

                        A hoard of wealth                 on the wishing-mill;

                        he shall sit on gold,              he shall sleep on down,

                        he shall wake to joy:            well had we ground then!

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

(966 AD)  As the spring trading season approached Erik told Helga and Silkisif that he was going to Wallachia to fetch Prince Svein.  “Can’t you just send him a message?” Silkisif asked.

“He may not come,” Erik answered.  “He’s met someone there.”

“Is it the nun?” Helga asked.

“Yes, it is.  How’d you guess?”

“Theophano told us a nun was spared because she was too beautiful for the count to kill.  I remember when Ivar used to tell me I was so beautiful that, when he first saw me, he fell off his horse.  I didn’t think that would ever happen to Svein.”

“Well, it did,” Erik said, then he told them about how Svein had rescued the Roman Princess Sviataslava and carried her all the way back to their camp and into his tent and had focked her.  “She’s mine!” Erik said.  “That’s all he told me after.”

“That is so beautiful,” Silkisif said.  “Love at first sight.”

“Is she really that beautiful?” Helga asked.

“She’s quite the looker,” Erik confessed.  “A rare beauty for a Roman Princess.  I’m going back there just to take another look at her!”

“I hope Malfrieda understands,” Helga said.

“She’ll have to learn how to share,” Silkisif said.  “Just as we do.”

“But Svein’s always away fighting,” Helga said.

“Erik’s always away trading,” Silkisif replied.  “We share him together.  Perhaps that is what they’ll have to do, too.”

“Speaking of sharing,” Erik said looking down at his silk sheet.

“Oh, my,” Helga said.  “Let’s take this cock for a walk.”

But Silki pulled her hand back out from under the sheet.  “Oh, my no.  Let’s take this Clyde for a ride.”

‘Nothing beats a morning hard on in Tmutorokan,’ Erik thought, as the girls started with some nominal congress to get the Clydesdale sweating.

Much later, Erik was in the basement of the medical alchemists hall and he had one of Ivar’s toys with him.  The chariot he had refused to ride and he wheeled it into Count Vlad’s room.  There was a young blonde girl in bed with him and they both sat up and looked at the wheeled chair that Erik was pushing into the room.  The girl had fine firm breasts that rode high upon her chest.  “I’ve come to take you back to Wallachia, my count,” Erik said.  “And your princess can come if you so desire.”

“What is that thing?” the count asked in a slow lilting Greek.

“It’s a wheeled chair,” Erik answered.

“I’ve seen wheeled chairs before,” the count said.  “Four little wheels under four little legs.”

“I was designing my son something new and one day we were out driving our chariots and he was sitting in it and holding one chariot wheel in his hands and he was rocking the chariot back and forth and it was moving back and forth and I suddenly realized that if I made a chair with two large wheels, he could move it on his own.  He could drive it on two wheels only, but I added smaller front wheels to stabilize it anyway.  I told him that chariots don’t need stabilizers because they are attached to horses, but he should try to use them.”

The count was curious by then, so he slid naked off the bed and into the chair.  “This is amazing!” the count said as he moved himself back and forth and turned in a circle.  “Climb on!” he told the young girl and he took her for a spin around the room as she sat on his lap and they were both naked.  “I can take her with me?” he asked.

“Yes, I bought her for you.  She’s all yours if you want her.”

“Thank you, Erik,” the count said.  “She came into my room one morning and she saw that I was hard and she asked me if I wanted her to ride me.  I blinked once and she knew what it meant so, I knew it was you who had sent her.  She could speak our language.  Thank you.”

“The physicians say you’ll get your legs back soon,” Erik informed him.  “I’m glad you got the middle one working first.  My wives took mine out for a ride themselves this morning,” and they laughed, except for the girl, who only spoke Norse.

“I’ll teach you Norse on the way there,” Erik told the count.

They sailed for Constanza with a fleet of a dozen war ships and caught a good wind and were there by evening.  Erik had a new Hraes’ trading station in the city, but, more importantly he had spies, Roman divers who often travelled to Constantinople and brought back choice bits of information for him.  The underwater breathing system he had developed to recover Ivar’s lost gold worked well and extended the diving depth to almost double what it had been, so he’d invested in the divers and now they executed recovery operations across the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean, recovering valuable cargoes from wrecks that were just tantalisingly beyond the reach of natural divers. So, they brought back news from all over the Eastern Roman Empire as well as the Levant and Egypt.  The company was so successful that Erik had opened up a similar operation in Mumba and Myia’s father ran it and they had recovery ships operating from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca and Cathay was on the books.  Count Vlad was kept in the foredeck of Erik’s dromon shield ship while there because the Romans thought him dead and it was a misconception best maintained.

They spent several days in Constanza, then sailed north along the coast to the estuary of a Danube tributary and sailed to Pereslavet where they camped and Erik got more news on Bulgaria and Wallachia as well as the Holy Roman Empire of the Franks.  Then they turned into the Danube and sailed to Silistra and camped.  From the racket going on under the foredeck Erik determined that Count Vlad and his girl had gotten proficient at having sex in the wheeled chair, especially when the sea rocked the ship just right.  They caught a good wind coming from the east and managed to sail from Silistra to Turnu in one day and turned up the Olt River and camped where their legions had.  Now that they were in Wallachian territory, Vlad could come on deck more often, although he had to hide from his own people as well because news travelled.  From Turnu they sailed to Slatina and Erik covered Vlad and his girl in a blanket as they wheeled them into the mayor’s mansion and Erik’s girls there.  They were all pregnant, except for the mayor’s wife, and it was not for her lack of trying.  He swore the girls to secrecy, then uncovered the count.  “Count Vladimir!” they gasped in unison and they welcomed their prince into their home.

“Count Vladimir survived his many trials,” Erik told them, “and shall be awarded the city of Dragasani for his indomitable spirit.”  The women of the manse all doted over their prince and gave him the guest room to share with his girl.  Then they doted over Erik and he slept with the three daughters together so they could spend as much time with each other as possible.  Before he left, Erik slipped into the mayor’s wife’s room and made sure he doted on her for a while.  Then the small fleet sailed for Dragasani and were there by afternoon.  The mayor’s mansion there was occupied by the Hraes’ troops holding the town so, they moved out of the upper floor and gave it over to Count Vladimir and his girl and soon the count had people reporting to him and he grew comfortable ruling over a portion of his land once more.  He ruled as Count Valdamar and spoke only Norse even though a few of his people seemed to recognize him.  He did not want assassins coming up from Constantinople to check out rumours of a count that went by Vlad.

The war fleet left Valdy to his city and sailed up the Olt to Ramnic and Erik and his fleet were warmly welcomed there.  Prince Svein and Princess Sviataslava came out of the city to meet them and Erik thought that the princess was even more beautiful than the last time he had seen her.  He could feel himself hardening up just watching her walk toward him so, he had to look to Svein for a bit.  “Grandfather!” Svein shouted as they approached the ships.  “How are you?  You remember Sviataslava.”

Erik gave her a hug and said, “How could I forget!” and he gave Svein a hug as well.  Erik spent a few days with Svein in Ramnic and he could see that he was the happiest he had ever been.  And his new wife did not seem to ever leave his side.  They were a couple in love.  A couple who seemed to have rescued each other, Svein had saved Svia from Vlad and Svia had saved Svein from the horrors he had witnessed in Wallachia.  Svein left a full legion of foot and heavy horse in Ramnic under the command of one of his Varangian Guard generals and he took the rest back with him and his new wife to Kiev.  As they sailed down the Danube in Erik’s shieldship, Svein pointed out Pereslavet to their south and said, “She is mine!  I plan to make all this land mine, all the way to the Black Sea.”

“But this is Bulgar land,” Erik reminded him.

“Svia doesn’t want to live in Ramnic.  It has too many bad memories for her and it is too far from the center of my realm.  The gods will provide,” he said, patting his grandfather on the back.  Prince Svein took his fleet north to Kiev and Erik kept sailing across the Black Sea and spent time with Silkisif before taking Helga, Malfrieda and Svein’s sons to Kiev with him.

Once in Kiev, Prince Svein sent messengers to the Oka and Volga Rivers to collect the tributes he had demanded from both the Vyatichians and the Volga Bulgars.  The messengers had instructions that if no tributes were forthcoming they were to tell their hosts that Prince Svein says, “I’m coming at you!”

When Prince Erik arrived in Kiev with Empress Helga, Malfrieda and young Princes Eyfur and Helgi, they went to King Frodi’s highseat hall and Prince Svein introduced Princess Sviataslava of Constantinople to them.  Svein had taught Svia some Norse, so she could converse with them in their language, but mostly they reverted to Greek and sometimes even Latin, for Svia was fluent in the language of emperors.  Prince Svein and Princess Svia left for Vyatichia before the great fleet arrived from the north because he had a thousand ships and three legions to transport up the Dnieper past Chernigov to the Seim River and they portaged across to the Oka River and attacked the Vyats and sacked the city of Murom.  They enslaved half the populace and took all the valuables.  The Vyatichians told their prince that the Volga Bulgars had taken their tribute by force and were collecting it by order of the Khazars so, Svein allowed them to ransom some of their people on credit to be added to the next year’s tithe.  Then his war fleet sailed down the Oka to the Volga and attacked the city of Bulghar, which they sacked and burned.  They were becoming expert at catching their enemy off guard and just riding through city gates and overcoming the defences.  Again, half the population was enslaved and all valuables were taken and ransoming was encouraged.  The lands around Bulghar were quite rich so, units of heavy cavalry spent weeks riding about the surrounding area in an ever expanding circle to pillage villages and plunder farms.  By the time ships had taken the Vyat plunder back to Kiev and returned, they were refilled with plunder from Bulghar and then refilled once more with plunder from the surrounding area.

The messengers Prince Svein had sent to Khazaria returned after telling them, “I’m coming at you!” and the prince led his war fleet south.  Princess Svia was at Prince Svein’s side throughout, except during battles, and the couple were felt to be bringing the army much luck.  When they arrived at Atil Kazaran, they found the gates all locked and the city comprised three walled segments across the Volga delta so, Svein laid siege to the largest and most commercial section of the city.  They burned the bridges between the city sections so they could not help each other and the Hraes’ attacked the walled section of the one city segment from the riverside with their ship mounted gravity trebuchets and soon had the brick walls smashed down to scaling ladder height and were sacking the district and enslaving the people who were from many different countries and had a lot of trading goods and gold.  Because most of the captives were foreigners, Svein allowed many to return to their homelands with their freedom and allowed many more to be ransomed by the city districts that were not sacked.  Svein just did not have enough ships to transport all the people they had enslaved so, he preferred the silver and gold ransoms being offered for the freedom of relatives.

Prince Svein adorned his Roman princess in captured gold and jewels and her beauty paled the gems that she wore so well.  Svein took his wife through the sacked district and they had sex in plundered palaces and sex in sacked bastions and sex in swaying lookout towers as his heavy horse ravaged the rich vineyards that surrounded the city and amassed booty with which to refill the ships when they returned from Kiev.  Meanwhile Svein and Svia had sex in piles of gold and sex in mounds of silver and they frolicked in mountains of sable pelts.  Then Prince Svein warned the Khazars that they would have to pay a double tithe the next year for all the trouble they had caused the Vyats and the Bulgars and if they didn’t pay it, “I’m coming at you!”

The Hraes troops gathered up the half of the populace they could sell in Baghdad and the medical officers checked them all out before they were taken.  The soldiers stripped the Khazar women so they could be inspected by the physicians.  Prince Svein and Svia rode past the line of naked women while they looked for a building with some privacy and Svia said to her prince, “Did you see those Khazar women?”

Svein said, “Yes, I saw them.  What about them?”

“They’ve all got big breasts, even the girls!”

“Good,” Svein said.  “The Muslims will pay extra for that.  They’ll all be sold as wives or concubines.”

When their transport knars returned from Kiev, they refilled them with plunder and slaves and sailed out into the Caspian Sea and followed the coast to the mouth of the Kuma River and they found a new city called Samandar by the Khazar fortress guarding the river and they sacked both, crushing the Khazar army and pillaging the city.  Their ships were full when they sailed up the Kuma and down the Kuban Rivers to Tmutorokan.

Svein visited with Queen Silkisif as he was passing through and she invited them to stay and visit and she told Svein how beautiful Svia was and she told Svia that Svein had his father’s eyes.  He left her the Gardariki legion he had borrowed and he plied her with much gold and booty for herself and his grandfather, then Svein left for Kiev with the rest of the legions and slaves and plunder.  When he got back to Kiev he had a messenger waiting for him from Empress Theophano and the co-Emperors Nikephoros, Basil and Constantine.  They offered him twenty thousand pounds of gold and a co-Emperorship if he would attack Bulgaria for them in the spring.

Once more, Prince Erik led the merchant fleet south down the Dnieper River and across the Black Sea.  Captain Biorn led the Christian fleet to Constantinople, Prince Ane led the Hethin fleet to Baghdad, General Wu led a fleet to Cathay and Prince Erik led his Aesir fleet to India.  In Gujarat Erik learned that the whole province had fallen to the Chaulukyan Empire, save for the Jat city of Ashaval.  He spent two weeks at his Hraes’ station there, staying in Raj’s palace and once more being plied with Jat and Chauluk princesses.  Then he sailed for Mumba and spent a month with his wives and children.

He was in bed with Myia and they were discussing the universe and he told her that he did not believe that time passed by, that everything that happened in the past still existed in its original form, in its original time and that everything in the future would happen in a preordained fashion as if it had already happened before.  Then he told her that he had talked with people from the past and from the future and that this had happened not when he was in his coma, but had happened through the guild in a specific chanting session in Tmutorokan.  He told her that time could be bent towards the past or future and that he communicated with entities from both the past and future and had even linked them together so they could talk directly through him and he often wondered if both time and matter could be bent so he could visit the past or see the future.  He then showed her a book he had brought with him from Tmutorokan.  “It is very ancient,” he said.  “It was written before the time of your ancient Indian Vedas and it is in book form even though books had not yet been invented.”  He passed it to her and she opened it, but could not recognise the script.  “There are eleven books just like it,” he continued, “and with eleven other prophets just like me we can chant and make a connection with the spirits of these people, these entities from the past or future and we can change what has happened in the past or will happen in the future.  I have been told not to tell anyone about my experiences by high members of the guild, but I love you and I think it is something that I must share with you going forward.”

Myia was still examining the book and she said, “What language is this?”

“It is Aramaic, but ancient Chaldean Aramaic.  It is older than Sanskrit.  I had to learn it to be able to do the chants correctly.”

“And the guild gave you this?” Myia asked.  She was concerned because her university was a member of the guild and many of her cosmology instructors were quite high up in the guild.  “I’m not sure I understand what has happened to you.”

“I have talked with Zoroaster in Babylon,”  Erik told her.

“But Zoroaster died over two thousand years ago,” she protested.  “He was the original founder of the true god religion.”

“I didn’t talk to the dead Zoroaster,” Erik said.  “I talked to the live Zoroaster by bending time over two thousand years and by bending space far greater than the distance between Gardariki and the ruins of Babylon.  Far greater.  That is why I think he still exists in his own time and his own space.”

“You’re not focking with me are you?” she asked, switching from Hindi to the original Swedish for the focking part.  “No.  You wouldn’t.  Not for this.”

“I would never fock with you unless we were in a bed, which we are, but now you’re putting ideas in my head.  It is a good idea,” he said, kissing her and starting to fondle her.  She pushed him away, pretending to be annoyed, but he could tell she liked her idea as well.  “I don’t know what to say,” she said.

“Don’t say anything to anyone else about this,” he said.  “As a reward for being a prophet, they give me drugs that extend my life.  I don’t want to lose that perk.”

“How old are you?” she asked cautiously.

“I’m over a hundred,” he finally told her.

“Oh, my gods!” she said.  “You focked me when I was only eighteen!  And you focked Mahara when she was fourteen!  I’m focking a dead man!” she joked.

“There are lots of people over a hundred,” Erik said, apologetically.  “Herodotus wrote about an Ethiopian prince who lived to be a hundred and twenty five and he wrote that over a thousand years ago.  With the medical advances we’ve made since then, I’ll bet there are people living to be a hundred and thirty!”

“I don’t care how old you are,” she said.  “You will always be forty to me.”

“I’m only telling you this because I want to share the drug with you so that you can grow old with me.  I’m sharing the drug with Queen Silkisif right now back in Tmutorokan, but she’ll be stopping it soon so, I’d like to share it with you.”

“How long can you take it?  I mean how old can you expect to get?” she asked.

“Three hundred?” he answered.

“Three hundred years old?” she said.  “Why is Silkisif stopping?”

“She’s converted to Christianity and she wants to go to heaven and share my son, Ivar there with his wife, Empress Helga.  And Helga will be spending every second summer in heaven with Emperor Constantine.”

“King Ivar?  Your son that traded with Maharaja Rajan of Ashaval?  He’s dead!”

“I know!  He’s supposed to be in heaven already.  The Christians have sainted him and everything.  Emperor Constantine is there already too.  He hasn’t been sainted, but he didn’t really have to be.  He was never a bad person like my son was.”

“I know!” Myia agreed.  “Do you know how many children he’s had in Ashaval?  But why would Silkisif give up another two hundred years just to be in heaven earlier?  Wouldn’t she go there anyway after her three hundred years were up?  How can she be so certain there is a heaven?”

“It’s what she believes.  And she wants to share Ivar with Helga and she doesn’t want Helga having Ivar to herself for too long.”

“You’re family’s really focked up, you know.”

“Tell me about it!” Erik said, laying back on the bed.  Myia used the opportunity to go under the sheet and perform a bit of nominal congress on him and when he was hard enough and wet enough she mounted him and rode him under the silk sheet and Erik thought of the ghost cohort and he forced the thought out of his mind by thinking of the young Jat princesses he’d had while in Ashaval.  She was soon moaning and when she came she began crying out and he exploded within her.  Then she collapsed on the bed beside him and took the silk sheet with her leaving him hard and exposed.  “So, do you want to grow old with me?” he asked again.

“I told you last summer that I was thankful to the universe for my existence, even if it is for the briefest of moments in its vast time and space.  And you’re offering me three times as much?  Of course, I’m going to take it!”  And she threw off her sheet and she leapt on top of him once more and said, “Do you think that hundred year old cock can do it again?”

“I should have warned you, there’s one small side effect of the drug.  It makes you focking randy,” and he grabbed her and started kissing her breasts.

When Prince Erik got back to Kiev, he learned of the offer from Constantinople to attack Bulgaria and they discussed it at length on their trip to Tmutorokan to overwinter.  They included Silkisif in their discussion once they arrived in Gardariki.  She always met them at the main quay there when they came.

“I told you Pereslavet was mine,” Svein told Erik.  “That the gods would provide.”

“That you did!” Erik replied and he told the women what Svein had said on his way back from Wallachia.  Svia had been there and she told them in her broken Norse that Svein had said exactly that.  Erik listened to her accent and her choice of Norse words and he thought that she must be a princess.  No common nun would have been taught the languages that she knew, nor would have had the education she’d obviously received.  Malfrieda sat beside Helga on her highseat and held young Helgi, while little Eyfur ran about the hall.  The Roman Princess Sviataslava was officially the mother of the two boys and Malfrieda was their caregiver.  Helga had given Malfrieda her freedom when she had given birth to the boys in Constantinople, but the former handmaiden knew that they were all royals and she was not and that if she left, as she was free to do, her sons would not be leaving with her so, she made the best of it and lived as a caregiver in her sons apartments, while Svia lived with the man she loved in their master bedroom.  It had always been her life, to serve, and she did so dutifully.

They all decided that they should accept the offer and Empress Helga was ecstatic.  Co-Emperorship for Svein meant official acceptance as empress for Helga.  She would not just be an empress because she had married Emperor Constantine.  She would be a mother empress because her son was Emperor Sveinald or Sphengelos, as the Greeks called him.  And Erik was happy that Helga and Silki were excited about the upcoming war.  If fifteen thousand bonus Roman pounds of gold in the basement made their sex two floors above so much better, what would an additional twenty thousand pounds of gold do?  And they would both be fretting over Svein so, Erik proposed to start the campaign early in the new year.  A messenger was sent to Cherson and soon Magistrate Kalokyras arrived with the red gold of Byzantium.  He greeted them and then said to the Prince, “You have yet to request the purification of the last gold we gave you,” to which Erik replied, “We don’t really need the gold right now so, we like keeping it red.  It makes the sex above it so much better!”  Kalokyras blushed a bit so, Erik quickly asked, “Will you be coming to Bulgaria with us?”

“No, thanks!” the Magistrate said emphatically.  “I wore my brown pants every day in Wallachia and some days I filled them twice!  I told my task masters in Constantinople that my campaign days are over.  The Army of the Impalers never leaves me alone at night.  I still see what they did in my dreams and now I wear brown pyjamas to bed.”

“I’m sorry,” Prince Erik said.  He too saw the Army of the Impalers at night when he was out alone at sea.  The ghost cohort had even tried to slip in under silk sheets while he was having sex with his wives, but he had driven them away.  He was even considering buying a slave girl to take to sea with him to drive away the dreams and he suddenly wondered if that was why young Svein took Svia out with him on campaigns.  Maybe they used each other to drive away the dreams.  She must have terrible nightmares, having watched her fellow Orthodox Christians being impaled by the Latins.  He remembered his first wife Gunwar, and how she had awakened to thirty severed heads of princes hanging from her wainscot walls in Liere and the nightmares she’d had because of it.  The scars were piling up like sable hides, rich and luxurious, layer upon layer, but they had all been flayed, torn away bleeding from carcases yet warm.  If he was going to do his three hundred years, he had to find a better place.  He’d thought India might be that place, but he had watched his heaven burn.  He’d have to find Myia a different place.  A different place to call home.

“I need a concubine,” Erik told his wives, “a girl to take to sea, to drive away the nightmares of Wallachia that I see.”

“What?” Helga said.

“What nightmares do you see?” Silkisif asked.

“The Army of the Impalers keep coming back for me.  It’s mostly the impalings that I see.  The women and their children naked upon the stakes, dying.  I’m okay when I’m with you two, but I fear for when I’m alone at sea, that the impalers will come for me and I will leap into the sea.  I need someone to crawl into, some woman where I’ll hide.”

“What kind of girl do you need?” Helga asked.

“Yes, what kind of girl?” Silkisif echoed.  “We have thousands in Kiev being trained to be concubines.”

“She must be a virgin, out of respect for you two,” Erik said.

“We have hundreds in Kiev,” Silkisif said, adjusting her numbers.

“We have slave girls here,” Erik said.  “I’ll leave it up to you girls to pick her out for me.  I’m going back to Wallachia and Bulgaria with Svein and I can’t go there alone.  He’ll have Svia with him and I’ll have to battle the ghosts of the impalers alone and I can’t do that.  And I want to make sure Svein gets a good start on his campaign before I go to Baghdad.”

“We shall find you a princess,” Helga promised.

“Yes, a princess!” Silki said.

All the slave training halls of the Hraes’ Trading Company were in Kiev, but other local companies had training halls in Tmutorokan, so the girls took gold with them and went out shopping.  “I don’t think one of our men came back from Wallachia the same as he went in,” Helga said.  “Not a single one!”

“And poor Magistrate Kalokyras!” Silkisif added.  “He’s shitting his bed at night.”

“I think he was just joking when he said that.”

“Some of our legionnaires are wetting their beds at night,” Silki said.  “And they’re professional soldiers.  Our magistrate is just a bureaucrat.  I think he’s shitting himself at night.”

“You may be right, Silki.  If it has affected our prince like this, he probably is.”

“And Princess Sviataslava…she sticks to Svein like glue, and he to her.  Wallachia must have been terrible for both of them.”

“Thank the gods Count Vladimir is dead!” Helga said.  Silkisif took her to the most reputable slaver in Tmutorokan.  He had purchased a lot of Khazar women from Svein when he came through on his way to Kiev.  He had all his women stripped and he lined them up the length of his hall and back again.  The Khazar women seemed to stand out for some reason and then Silkisif said, “It’s their breasts! They’re huge!”

“I see that,” Helga said.  “We don’t want any blondes,” Helga told the slaver, so he had them dress and leave the hall.  Helga leaned over to Silki and whispered, “We don’t want her to remind him of us.”  Then she told the slaver that the girl must be a virgin and he had most of the girls dress and leave the hall.  There were six girls left and there was one young one with long brown curls and magnificent breasts and the two royals were drawn to her.  She had dark exotic eyes and soft pouting lips.  “You’re certain she’s a virgin?” Helga asked the man.

“Yes.  All my slaves have been checked by a physician and the virgins have been certified.  But this one only speaks Khazar.”

Silkisif asked the girl, “Are you a virgin?” in Khazar.

“Yes,” she answered.  “My family was saving me for a match they’d arranged.”

“Is she a deer woman?” Helga asked Silkisif.  “We need a deer woman or a mare woman.  No elephant yonis for our prince.”

“I’m sorry,” Silkisif apologised to the girl.  “Could you bend over for me?”

The girl bent over and Silkisif put two fingers in her yoni and said, “She’s a deer!  And a virgin!” as she felt.  The slaver wanted three gold Byzants for her, but Helga badgered him down to two.  “She only speaks Khazar!” Helga said.  “What Arab prince wants a girl who can only speak Khazar?”

“They don’t buy them to talk to them,” the slaver replied, gruffly, but he dropped his price anyway.

“Erik speaks Khazar, doesn’t he?” Helga asked Silkisif.

“He taught me the language,” she replied.  “He said they were our greatest threat and an unwitting ally and he said, ‘always learn the language of your enemy’ so, he taught me to speak Khazar.”

“He’s a very smart man,” Helga said.

“Not smart enough to stay out of Wallachia,” Silki said sadly.

“True that!” Helga said shaking her head and they watched their prize get dressed and they took her home.  The two women had supper with Erik in the palace in Gardariki and then they started acting sleepy and suggested they retire early and Erik knew something was up.  The girls escorted Erik to their master suite and took him into the bedroom and there upon the bed was the young Khazar girl lying naked on the silk sheets.  Silkisif went to get some towels from the dressing room and Helga said, “We want to watch.”

“Only if you join me on the bed,” he said, “and Helga started undressing him as a sign of agreement.  Silkisif came back with towels and she was wearing her silk slip so that she could join him.  “Finish undressing him,” Helga said, slipping off to the dressing room herself.  She came back in wearing a crimson red silk slip that matched her lips and Erik marvelled at her graceful beauty.  Erik was naked and lying beside the fine breasted girl and the two women began nominal congress on him and got him very hard and wet.  Then they got the Khazar girl to staddle his hips and they guided her onto him and they pulled her down by each shoulder onto him until the blood began flowing upon the towels.  They soon had her rising and falling on Erik and Silkisif asked her if she felt any pain in Khazar and she replied, “a little,” and Silkisif said, “my turn!” and she pushed the Khazar girl off and jumped on Erik’s steed and showed the girl how it was done.

“You could have at least wiped him off!” Helga complained as she waited for her turn.  And Silkisif laughed in delight and said, “I am wiping him off!” and she rode him harder and began moaning in a way she had learned caused Erik to explode and he soon did, within her.

“You took him all!” Helga complained.

“You know he’ll last longer the second time around,” Silki said, throwing herself onto the bed beside him.  “It’s your turn next,” Silkisif said to the girl in Khazar, “and then the blonde witch will take over for you if you feel any pain.”  And the young girl smiled and relaxed a bit.  Helga laid the girl beside Erik and she laid herself down next to the girl.  Erik turned on his side and began kissing the girl’s sweet soft lips and then he kissed his way down her neck and chest until he reached her beasts and then he began kissing them and he stopped and marvelled at them.  “You girls have outdone yourselves!” he said and began kissing them again.  Helga said, “They are magnificent!” and she gave the free one a gentle squeeze.  “Oh, to be young again!” she whispered to herself.

As Erik kissed the girl, he began to get hard again and Silkisif reached around his side and began stroking his lingam with her hand until it was fully erect, then Erik got on top of the girl and entered her gently.  He began thrusting, softly at first, but as Erik’s passion took hold he began thrusting harder and she began wincing a bit so, Helga pulled Erik onto herself and when he began thrusting too hard she wrapped her legs around him and reduced his strokes a bit and she showed the girl how to control the flow, the rise and the ebb of it.  Erik kept thrusting deeply within her and he was driving her hard for a long time and getting exhausted so she pulled him deep within her and squeezed him and rolled over on top of him and began riding his stallion very quickly and she, too, knew how to get Erik going off and she soon came and moaned seductively and Erik exploded within her.  She rolled off of him, exhausted and her arm fell atop the young girls breasts and she left it there.  “You’ll have to wear your sheep gut when we’re not with you,” Helga whispered to Erik.  “You don’t want to knock her up in Wallachia.  She’ll be throwing up all over your shieldship.”  Erik crossed over the two girls and laid between the Khazar girl and Silki and pulled the silk sheets over them all, then went to sleep with them under each arm.  Helga kept her arm across the Khazar girl’s breasts and enjoyed their firmness.  They all slept together her first night, three girls, a guy and one big bed.

CHAPTER NINE

9.0  PERESLAVET AND THE BATTLE OF SILISTRA  (Circa 967-968 AD)

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6. “Here shall no one                harm his neighbour,

                        nor bale-thoughts brew       for others’ bane,

                        nor swing sharp sword        to smite a blow,

                        though his brother’s banesman    bound he should find.”

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(967 AD)  January was just ending when Svein led two of his new legions and two of his old from Gardariki across the Black Sea for the Danube estuary.  Their target was Pereslavet, a Bulgar stronghold in eastern Wallachia and they were hoping to catch the Bulgarians by surprise.  Prince Svein and Prince Erik were at the forestem of Erik’s shieldship and the Roman Princess Sviataslava was beside Svein while the Khazar concubine stood behind her new master.  Going in this time was not as foreboding as the last because now they owned Wallachia, but there was a tenseness in the air because they were going to be striking with speed and stealth, taking all the Bulgar cities along the Danube before working their way south.  Svein wanted to link up with his new legion he had left in Ramnic and add them to his forces before going into the heartland of Bulgaria.  They made the crossing before nightfall and camped along the coast just north of Constanza and they hauled the shieldship up onto the beach and Erik and his Khazar princess shared furs under the awnings of the foredeck and Svein and his Roman princess snuggled in furs under the awnings of the stern deck.

They left for Pereslavet in the early morning light and caught the town by surprise and took it without much struggle.  Many Bulgarian soldiers were captured and the people were locked up within the walls of their own city.  The Hraes’ merchant fleet was still ice-locked in Kiev, but the slave merchants of Tmutorokan were free to follow the fleet and the slave traders began selecting half of the citizens and soldiers for slave training prior to the start of the spring cycle.  The war fleet left a contingent to hold the city and then headed up the Danube for the city of Silistra and its fortress of Dorostal, capturing all the towns in between as they progressed.  By travelling faster than news could spread, they caught Silistra by surprise as well.  The merchant slavers following were having trouble keeping up, but the victories had been so swift and casualties so low that troops were able to break away and help with slave selection and pillaging.  Many women were plundered by the troops, leading the slavers to complain about the unprofessionalism of the selection process, meaning many virgins were being raped and this was costing the slavers money in Baghdad.

The Danube River was the second longest river in Europe, running from the Black Forest in southwestern Frankia to the Scythian Sea.  Prince Erik knew the river some, but his family had been traversing the longest river, the Volga, since the mid-eighth century as part of the Nor’Way trade route that King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ had founded and that one Erik knew from source to skerries.  The Danube was new to Varangians and not much better known by the Vikings of western Europe, flowing south and east, away from the Norse incursions in Frankia.  It was a beautiful river and Erik and Svein were sailing up it with two beautiful women, a Roman princess of remarkable looks and a Khazar princess of magnificent form.

There were several unnamed towns between Silistra and Oltenita and these were unwalled and easily captured and pillaged and there were even Bulgarian villages on the north side of the Danube that had been recently settled as the Bulgars took hegemony over Wallachian territory and these were plundered completely, men, women and children all loaded into slave ships.  Wallachia was now Prince Svein’s and any Bulgarians living in his territory were considered invaders, not citizens.  But Prince Erik asked him to reconsider.

“These are Bulgarians in Wallachia,” Svein protested.  “They’re not protected under Aesir or Vanir law!”

“But you plan on conquering Bulgaria, just as you conquered Wallachia, so they will soon be your citizens.  If you leave half of the people to inhabit the towns, they will pay ongoing taxes and tithes.  If you leave the villages uninhabited, they will just moulder away.  And we’re having trouble transporting all the enslaved anyway.”

“Have them taken back then,” Svein said.  “Let them choose amongst themselves which half stays and which goes.”

“They’ll just choose the old and the weak for us,” Erik warned.

“If the slavers don’t want their picks then just leave them too,” Svein said.  “I don’t want anybody saying I haven’t been fair in my conquests.”

So, half the Bulgarians were returned to their villages and the slavers returned a quarter that they were apportioned as being unsuitable for sale so, the Bulgarians on the Wallachian side of the Danube ended up further ahead than those on the Bulgarian side of the river.  But as the Hraes’ legions progressed up the Danube, the captives they enslaved always surpassed the slavers ability to transport them.  At the city of Novae on the Bulgarian side, there was some resistance because they were not caught by surprise and had managed to sequester a garrison of troops behind the gates of an old Roman fortress that was poorly maintained there.  Half the citizens of the city were shipped off nonetheless and a regiment of foot and two dozen trebuchets were left to reduce the fort.  At Turnu the legions met up with the Seventh Legion of Tmutorokan which had been left in Ramnic the previous year.  They were being replaced by two regiments of standard foot soldiers who sailed up the Olt to hold Wallachia.

Prince Erik and his Khazar princess returned down the Danube with the retiring legion, leaving Prince Svein and his Roman princess to carry on with the conquest of the Bulgarian side of the river.  On the way past Novae, Erik learned that the trebuchets took two days to reduce the walls of the Roman fort to scalable height and the Bulgarian garrison then surrendered without a fight.  Erik took the Ramnic legion back to Gardariki for a break, then he took Empress Helga to Kiev for the spring trade session.  “There are slaves everywhere,” Helga complained.  “Far too many for proper training prior to sale.  This will severely impact prices!”

“I know,” Erik agreed.  “I talked Svein into releasing some captives in the hopes they’ll soon become tax paying citizens, but his legions are just rolling over the Bulgarian forces.”

“We can’t afford to keep them, but if we sell them all, we could collapse the market,” Helga repeated.  “It has happened before, you know.”

“So, I’ve heard,” Erik agreed.  “I’ll have to take some of them to India with me.  A lot of lives were lost during the Chaulukyan wars, so labour is short there.  They should move quickly.”  Erik didn’t like taking slaves to India because he had looked at it as his small piece of heaven, but he had watched that burn, so slaves might help fill in some of the manpower shortages there.  He didn’t want Myia seeing that dirty part of the business so, he was hoping Gujarat could handle most of them.  Helga helped him train his Khazar princess in keeping books.  She went by her Hebrew name, Serah, because she had been promised to a Jewish family in Jerusalem before her segment of Atil fell to the Hraes’ legions.  Serah was quite well educated and a fast learner so, Helga had her trained in doing the books in a few days.  It was a vast fleet leaving Kiev, the largest ever.  It took a lot of ships to transport slaves.  They couldn’t be bundled and stacked like furs, or kept below deck like grain or honey.  And they had to be in prime physical condition at the marketplace if they were to command premium prices.

The Hraes’ merchant fleets had grown to be massive, with the Constantinople fleet being several times larger than the Byzantine navy and as large as all other merchant fleets combined, while the fleet going to Baghdad completely swamped the rivers taking them there.  Even the Cathayan and Indian fleets were huge with large numbers of slave and livestock knars attached to them.  Cathay was typically too distant for transporting slaves, but supply was high in Europe and demand was high in Asia.

It took Prince Svein three months to conquer the Bulgarian Danube and he captured eighty cities and towns on the south side of the river and half as many again on the Wallachian side.  Once taken, the towns had to submit a list of half their citizens for enslavement, but the lists weren’t acted upon because the slavers were all gone off to Constantinople or Baghdad or further parts.  Prince Svein returned down the Danube with his legions and they stopped  at Silistra to assist his holding force with their siege of the Roman fortress there.  This fortress had been well maintained and towers had been added to all the walls so, the trebuchets had not been able to reduce them very much.  The city itself had been pillaged, but half the citizens still carried on business as usual during the siege and everyone knew the fortress was well supplied and could likely hold out for a year.  And Prince Svein was in no hurry to capture it.  There would be a Bulgar army coming from Preslav and the southern cities and it would be coming to relieve Silistra.  If the fortress fell, the army could be going anywhere, but as long as Silistra held out, it would be coming here.

Svein was following the teachings of General Sun Tzu and his Art of War where it is said, make your enemy come to you.  He re-equipped his siege forces there and made sure their fleet was ready to take them away, if required, but he only left enough additional men to maintain the siege, not to win it.  He planned to overwinter in Pereslavet, ‘Little Preslav”, with his Roman Princess Sviataslava.  If it felt good, he was planning on moving the capital of Hraes’ away from Kiev.  Once he got his co-Emperorship of Eastern Rome, it would be easier to run both empires from a location that was more centralized and not frozen solid half the year.  And autumns were supposed to be beautiful there.  Sometimes he wondered about Denmark and his titles to it.  He could hardly remember the country.  He had visited it once for a week when he was a child, visited all his relatives there with Prince Erik once.  Prince Harald had been his own age when he was there and now he was alone.  His brother, Canute, had been murdered in Ireland, or was it Angleland, and then his father, King Gorm, had died of grief, and then his mother, Queen Thyra, had committed suttee to accompany her husband into the afterlife.  Svein shook his head and hugged his new wife.  There was nothing for him in the north anymore.

Prince Erik had spent the summer in India again, bouncing between Ashaval in Gujarat and Mumba in Maharashtra province.  The fleet he brought with him was immense and the vast number of slaves he had brought, mostly Bulgars, sold very quickly to help replace the lives lost in the Chaulukyan Wars.  He brought his Khazar princess with him, but she stayed in Ashaval with the ships under awnings while Erik entertained his Jat and Chauluk princesses in the palace above.  And when he went to Mumba, she stayed in Ashaval while he visited his wives and children.

Myia noticed there was something different about Erik the first night they slept together.  They’d had sex and he came inside her, but he stayed inside her when he fell asleep and he hugged her while he was sleeping and he was leaking out of her for the first half hour and when she tried to get up to clean herself he gripped her tighter in his sleep.  Finally, after two hours he pulled out of her and rolled over and she got up and cleaned herself and wiped the bed and then she fell asleep beside him and when she woke up in the morning he was inside her again and she had no idea how he had gotten back into her.  He had told her about his battles with the Army of the Impalers and how it had affected him, how a feeling of morbidity had been overtaking him, a foreboding sense of morbidity.

“You have to get help,” Myia told him in the morning.  “I’m fearful for you.”

“I am getting help,” Erik said.  “I have you and Mahara, and I have my wives in Gardariki.  I’m working my way through this.  I’m more worried about my men.  Thirty thousand of us went in there and it affected all of us.”  And the Prince was right to worry.  The two young warriors that had saved the two Wallachian girls, that had stayed with them, for there was no saving them at that time, had already taken their own lives as had others.  “I went back to the Danube before spring with Prince Svein and we were fighting the Bulgars.  It helped.  We’re all waiting for the next war, hoping it’ll cure us.”

“Is that where you got all the slaves?” she asked.

“It’s part of war,” Erik said.  He knew Myia was against slavery even though she lived in a caste society that was inherently slavish, but she was against that too.  “I don’t like it either.  I didn’t want to bring them, but the wars here have cost so many lives.  I even brought some Angles and Saxons with the Bulgars.  They were the first to go.  People here think they’re Aesir, even though they’re Christians.”

“They would go first then,” Myia admitted.

“I had to promise Rajan that I would bring more Aesir slaves next year.  More Angles.  More Saxons.”  Erik shook his head.  He got out of bed and walked naked to the side table and poured some juice into silver goblets and walked back to the bed and passed Myia a goblet.  He stood in front of her and drank his juice.

“Your lingam is chafed,” she said, taking it in her hand while she drank juice from the goblet in her other hand.  “You were in me too long last night.”

“It’s part of the process,” he explained.  “I’m healing myself.  Now I want to be in you for entirely different reasons.”  His lingam began growing in her hand.  She put her juice on the headboard and began stroking it with her free hand.  Then she leaned over and put it in her mouth and it grew even more in her lips.  Erik put his juice on the headboard and picked her up under the arms and lifted her up off of his member and it stood up as he lifted her and she wrapped her legs around his waist and he set her back down upon it and he thrust it deep within her and he lifted and dropped her and kept lifting and dropping her until he was very deep within her and he spun around and fell back on the bed, holding her tightly against himself the whole time.  Then she began lifting herself and dropping until she began having orgasms and her moaning soon had Erik exploding within her.  She felt him pulsing inside her and she fell onto his chest, breathing heavily and she kept him inside her for a long time for entirely different reasons.

When Erik returned to Ashaval, he resumed entertaining the Jat princesses that Rajan’s staff plied him with and days he worked with his Khazar princess, going through books and inventories.  Only when they were out at sea did Erik show any interest in his princess.  One night they were making love under the awnings while his men were camped on the beach and she told him, “I think I might be pregnant.”

“I’m using a glove on my eleventh finger,” Erik protested.

“I don’t think it was designed for you to come in it,” she said, “and then sleep with it inside me all night.  There must have been leakage.”

“I thought you were seasick.”

“I don’t get seasick.”

“See?  You’re the perfect woman for me,” he said, “and now you’re pregnant.  You won’t be able to travel with me.”

“I can still travel with you.”

“By next spring’s sailings you’ll be bursting at the seams,” Erik complained.  “You’ll have to stay with my wives in Gardariki.  They’ll take good care of you.  We’ll all take good care of you and our baby,” he reassured her.  Serah threw up all the way back to Gardariki and he left her there with his wives and sailed off to Pereslavets to see how young Svein was doing with his attack on Bulgaria.  But before he left, he visited a slave competitor he knew in Tmutorokan.  “I need a wee one,” he told the slaver.  “An Irish girl that isn’t going to get pregnant.”

“Ahh,” he replied.  “Little people!  I have just what you need,” and he showed Erik a nine year old girl with bright blonde hair.

“She’s too young,” Erik said.

“She’s been a wee wife for the past year!” the slaver claimed.  “I only got her because a fellow slaver owed me.”

“How about her?” Erik said, pointing out an older looking girl with bright red hair.

“She’s almost marriageable age,” the slaver stated.  “Although she hasn’t started flowing, her wee wife days are almost done.”

“What’s the story on her?”

“She was being raped by her older brothers on a farm back in Cork and when the family found out, they sold her into slavery.  Claimed she was possessed by the devil and it was all her fault.”

“Your physicians have checked her out,” Erik stated, as he checked her out.

“Oh, yes, of course.  Not much we can do about the devil, though.  She cries at night but, I guess, that’s to be expected.”

“Can you get her some nice clothes,” Erik said.  “And a good warm coat with a deep hood?”

The slaver put together a trunk of clothes for her and charged Erik four pieces of silver for the girl and another four for the clothes and the trunk.  Erik led the girl down to the quays and made sure her hood was drawn up good and he put her under the forecastle of his dromon shieldship and told her, “This will be your home for the next few weeks.”  Erik took a fleet of warships with a refreshed new Tmutorokan legion coming along with him to Pereslavet and Prince Svein.  They sailed from the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea and crossed it in two days.  The first night the legion camped along the coast south of Cherson and Erik anchored his ship just off the beach.

“You go below deck and get ready for me,” Erik told the girl and the Prince posted guards on deck then slipped below the forecastle.  He had to stoop to get in there and he found the girl nestled in amongst the furs and he stripped his clothes off and joined her and he hugged her close to himself and held her in his arms as they fell asleep.  She was still asleep in the middle of the night and she began sobbing uncontrollably and Erik hugged her close to his chest and whispered in Gaelic, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” and she hugged him and went back to sleep and when she would cry out again, he did the same again and they clung to each other through the night and they battled their demons together.

The next day they sailed west across the sea and they landed north of Constanza and camped along the beach again.  Erik told the girl that night about the underwater breathers and the divers he had employed from Constanza to recover his son’s lost gold and he joined her under the furs again and they slept in each other’s arms and the girl only woke up crying twice and Erik noticed as he hushed her that the ‘mortebity’ that had been dragging him down seemed to be loosening its grip somewhat.  They arrived in Pereslavet before noon and Erik had lunch with Svein and Sviataslava before heading up the Danube with the legion, bound for the siege of Silistra and the Roman Fortress of Dorostorum there.

That night, when Erik slept with the girl, she only whimpered a bit and she slept through the whole night and he held her in his arms the whole time and she clung to him like a nursing baby.  The oppressing mortebity he had felt was definitely fading, and it wasn’t something he was forcing out, but rather, something that was peeling away on its own, layer by layer.  The next morning Erik asked the girl her name.  “It’s Sinead,” she said in Gaelic.  “It means God’s gift.”

“It’s very appropriate,” he said.

“No, it’s not,” she said, looking down at the deck of the ship.  “I don’t even believe in God anymore.  Not after all that has happened to me,” she said, and she thought of the slavers and she shivered.

“You don’t have to believe in the gods to believe you are a gift.  You just have to believe in yourself.”

“I’m nothing,” she said.  “There is nothing left for me to believe in.”

“That’s not true,” Erik said, looking out at the blue waters of the Danube.  “I just hope I am helping you as much as you are helping me.”

“What happened to you here?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I sense that something terrible happened to you here, and that you are back here to face it, to overcome it.”

“You have a fine sense about yourself, for a child.”

“I’m not a child anymore,” she said.  “Not after what’s happened to me.”

“There was a war here, further upriver, and I saw some very terrible things, things I could not have imagined in my darkest dreams.”

“You’re Vikings,” Sinead said.  “It must have been bad to have affected Vikings so.  I heard some of your men talk about the Army of the Impalers and they have the same look in their eyes that you did, like they are seeing ghosts all the time.”

“It’s my men I worry about,” Erik said.  “It has infected us all, this thing, this, I can only say it in Norse, this ‘mortebity’, a feeling that death is stalking you.  Some of my men have already killed themselves, but it’s not something I should be talking with you about.  You’re a child.”

“I’m not a child anymore,” she insisted.

“You speak Norse?” he asked.

“I understand some, but I don’t speak it.  You can’t have grown up in Ireland without understanding some Norse.  There are so many Danes and Norwegians in Dub-Lin, Danes town.”

“My father started Dub-Lin,” Erik told her.

“Your father was Ragnar Lothbrok?”

“My father was Hraegunar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson,” he corrected her.  “His name was Gunnar and he earned the Hrae in Gunnar by battling fire breathing dragonships.  You’ve heard of him?”

“I’ve heard tales of him through the Ui Imair,” she said.  “There’s a Hraes’ trading station in Dub-Lin.  Is that where the Hraes’ comes from?  Hrae Gunnar?”

“It’s a family company,” he explained.  “My name is Erik, Hrae Erik and my brother’s name was Hraelauger for Hrae Roller.  It loses a bit in translation.”

“If your name is Hrae Erik, you must have,” and she stopped.  “Have you ever fought fire breathing dragons?”

“Once or twice,” Erik said, as they approached the city of Silistra.  “You’d best stay on ship while I change out the troops.”  Erik went ashore and checked on the progress of the siege.  “Any word on Bulgarian forces?” he asked the Hraes’ commander.

“We have set up spies in Preslav,” he replied, “but, so far, no answers.”

“We don’t expect them to attack until spring,” Erik said.  “You’ve been letting their messengers slip through?”

“Yes, and we’ve been letting townsfolk slip into the fortress.  There’s still a year’s worth of supplies in the fortress so, the message they should be sending home is that they can hold out till spring quite easily.”

“Good.  We want them coming to us and we want them coming to us here in the spring.  Prince Svein wants to overwinter in Pereslavet in peace and quiet.”

“If Prince Svein wants peace and quiet, he should come here,” the commander said.  “This is the most peaceful siege I have ever attended,” and the commander was an experienced officer out of the Varangian Guard, so he had a lot of siege experience with the Romans.

Prince Erik headed back for Pereslavet with the relieved Kievan legion that would be returning to Kiev for a break.  They camped on the river one more night and Erik joined Sinead below deck again.  They slept together but they weren’t hugging each other nearly as hard anymore.  They were both sleeping much better now, but Erik woke up in the middle of the night and Sinead was on top of him and he felt himself inside her as she rose up and down upon him.  “What are you doing?” he whispered.

“I’m trying to please you,” she whispered back.  “You were hard.”

“You’re a child,” he insisted.

“I’m not a child,” she said.  “The slavers taught me this.  I don’t want you selling me back to the slavers!”

“Will this make you feel better about yourself, or worse?”

“Oh, much better!”

Erik let her ride his steed and the slavers had taught her well, for he came hard inside her and he flowed freely.  She was too young to get pregnant, being a few years shy of puberty.  Erik shook his head and got dressed and went above deck.  The men were almost ready to set sail so, he gave the signal to start off.  By evening they were in Pereslavet and Erik introduced Sinead to Svein and Sviataslava.  After a late supper Svein asked his grandfather if he wanted one room or two.

“I can’t sleep alone, anymore,” Erik answered.  “I have dark dreams if I do.”

“She’s pretty young,” Svein said.

“She’s wee folk.  I bought her from a slaver in Tmutorokan.”

“Oh,” Svein said and he understood.

“We’re helping each other.  We’ve both been through trying times.”

“I can’t sleep alone either, not since Ramnic.  I can’t get the screams out of my head.  Screams that are seen but not heard.  Svia stays with me always.  I guess we’re helping each other too.  She’s been through a lot as well.  Seeing her whole mission impaled, and Vlad was bad to her.  He shared her with his father and uncle.  The old geezers couldn’t get it up anymore, but when they saw Svia, suddenly they could so, he shared her with them.  I killed them both for her.  You only said, ‘Don’t kill Vlad’, so I killed them for her.”

“Thank you for having faith in my visions,” Erik said.  “Sometimes prescient knowledge can be hard to take.  To know the best path forward is seldom knowing the easiest path.”

“I don’t know how you can handle it,” Svein said, then he looked over at Svia and Sinead sharing the third highseat and chatting up a storm and he saw that Sinead was a lot older than her years let on.  He called a servant over and told her to make up the suite for Erik.

“You talk to Svia about her experiences?” Erik asked.  “Does it help her?”

“I didn’t at first, but then she started telling me things and I think she did it to half help me.  So, I listen and I console and I think it helps her.  We aren’t joined at the groin anymore so, we’re making progress.  Those focking impalers!” Svein said under his breath.

“Those focking impalers!” Erik said and he clinked his goblet on Svein’s.  Both girls looked at the men and then giggled.  Erik finished his mead, then got up and said, “Are you coming, Sinead?”, and she got up and joined him and they waved good night to the other couple and the servant led them to their suite.  “This is the great room,” Erik said, “and this is the bedroom and that’s the dressing room with wash basins and chamber pots, and I hope you don’t mind silk sheets.  I know you’re used to furs, but silks make for a nice change,” and he began undressing the girl and she then undressed him and she bent over and took his lingam into her mouth and began sucking it just hard enough for insertion and then she coughed up some phlegm and coated the thing and when she got it just right she stopped.  Erik lifted her into the bed and slipped her between the sheets and he joined her by thrusting his lingam into her and they fell asleep in each other’s arms.  It was the only way he could sleep and keep the mortebity at bay.

When he woke up in the morning, Erik heard Sinead in the dressing room.  She walked out naked and carrying a robe of silk.  “The dressing room is full of clothes,” she said.  “Can I try this on?” and she held up the robe.  Erik got up and crossed the room naked and said, “Let me put that on you,” and he took the robe from her and put it on her arms and crossed it on her front and tied off the belt.  He picked her up and hugged her.  “The darkness is almost gone,” he said, as he set her down.

“I’m feeling pretty good myself!” she said, spinning around in her silk robe.

“We’ll be heading back to Tmutorokan soon and Svein and Svia will be coming with us.  The legion will come too, but they’ll break off north and go to Kiev.  But before we go I want to talk to you about your becoming a girl again, about you reclaiming your right to a childhood again.”

“I’m not interested,” she answered.

“One of my officers in Tmutorokan has a family and he has three daughters around your age and I would like you to spend the winter with them.”

“I’m not interested,” she said again.

“I would like you to come back here with me in the spring.  I don’t want to sleep alone here, but I have wives in Tmutorokan and they wouldn’t understand.  So, while I’m in Tmutorokan, if you can stay with the family, I’ll visit with you and make sure you’re happy there and in the spring we’ll come here just like before.”

“I’ll be able to stay with you here in the spring?”

“Yes, here or on my ship with me.”

“You won’t sell me back to the slavers?”

“I’ll never sell you back to the slavers.  I bought you to get you away from them.  I want to see that your life gets better.  If we work together, we can both get better.”

“I’ll do it then,” Sinead told him.

“Good,” Erik said.  “Now go through the clothes in the dressing room and pick out some things that you want and I’ll buy them for you.”

Erik spent the next few days talking with Sinead about her childhood and it was not good.  She was six years old when her oldest brother, twice her age, took her hand and led her out to the barn.  He had just helped his father with the bull and its mounting of their milk cow and it had stirred him up.  He’d put a hay stook atop the milk stool and he bent her over it and flipped up her plain woolen dress.  He was already wet from his own emissions when he thrust his member up her anus and began focking her.  A minute later he was going off inside her and he wiped her off and took her back out to her play in the yard.  The next day the brother helped the father again with the bull and cow and the boy realised his error when he watched the bull’s performance a little closer.  That afternoon he took his little sister out to the barn again, bent her over the milk stool and found her vagina, just below her anus, and he inserted his moist member into it and focked her again.  This time it had hurt a bit more and she had bled a bit, but he wiped her clean and took her back to her play.

Over the next year he would have his way with her whenever he got a chance and it was their secret, but when the second brother turned twelve the oldest brother introduced him to their little secret and they shared her.  When the youngest of the three brothers turned twelve he was let in on the secret, but when their father couldn’t seem to find a brother free for a chore or two he followed them out to the barn and watched them through the crack of the door as the three brothers took turns focking their little sister.  He wanted to make sure they were all in it together and when they’d done, he barged into the barn and gave them hell and gave them a lot of chores to do right away in penitence.

Sinead told Erik that just when she thought she had been saved from her brothers, her father forced her back onto the milk stool, knelt down and slid his big hard member into her and she was glad that she was still sopping wet from the emissions of her brothers or she would not have been able to handle the pain, for her father was much larger and harder than the boys had been.  While he did keep the boys away most of the time, her father helped himself to her quite often and it always caused her great pain so, she ended up telling her mother about what was happening, but her mother didn’t believe her and shooshed her up about it.  One day, when her father led her by the hand, out to the barn, her mother must have followed, for she caught her father focking her on a workbench in the barn and she scolded him harshly and found out from him that everything Sinead had told her about the boys had been true as well.

Both parents agreed that this family scandal had to be contained or they would be treated with contempt by the rest of the village community.  So, they decided to sell their youngest child into slavery.  It was decided that her father would take her to Cork and sell her to the Viking slavers there.  It was a two day walk, but Sinead was a pretty young girl with bright red hair and she would fetch the best price there.  After walking a full day, they approached a village with an inn and Sinead’s father rented a room and they sat down to a meal in the dining hall and he took her up to their room on the second floor and told her to freshen up and go to bed because he had some business to take care of.

Sinead was almost asleep when a man walked into her room and told her that her father had sold her to him.  He undressed and sat at the edge of the bed and then threw back the covers of the bed and started kissing her.  He undressed her and started inspecting her body as a slaver would then he laid down beside her and started fingering her privates.  He then slid down the bed and began inspecting her privates in the candlelight and he began kissing and then licking down there and then he slid back up the bed and slid his cock into her and began focking her, slowly at first and then furiously as though he were in a hurry.  Finally, he came in her and she felt a great pulsing hot stream entering her as though he had gone a long time without.  Apparently her father had only sold her to him for an hour because there was a knock on the door and when that man had left, another stranger entered.  This man did pretty much the same, but he seemed to prefer anal sex and she hadn’t experienced that since her older brother had mistaken the bull’s effort years before, but he kept calling her boy as he drove her and it hurt because he was so much bigger than her brother had been.  He came up her anus and then he had her suck his cock when he was done.  She was still sucking when a knock was heard at the door and he got up and left.

Soon, her father walked into the room and he looked concerned about her and he wetted a cloth in the room wash basin and he cleaned her up.  Then he joined her in bed and began to fock her violently and he was bigger than the first man and harder than she’d ever remembered him and he began to hurt her with his deep thrusts and she started crying, but that didn’t slow him down in the throes of passion and he kept focking her until he came deep within her and he kept thrusting deeply even when the pulsing flow had stopped.  He collapsed on top of her and he crushed her with his weight and she sobbed I heaving breaths.  Then he pulled out of her, rolled off her and said, “Stop crying and go to sleep.  Tomorrow I sell you for keeps.”  He slept a bit then woke up and began feeling for her privates.  His wife had refused to sleep with him while their bewitched daughter was under their roof so, he had pent up semen yet to be released and he mounted her again and she cried the whole way through it.

When they woke up in the morning, he mounted her again, but she didn’t cry this time.  She was numb below.  He came in her for the final time and then he began to clean her on the bed.  He brought the wash basin over and set it on the floor and he stood naked in front of her and he started by scrubbing her hair with the cloth and his penis danced in front of her as he scrubbed and he noticed her watching it and it grew a bit as it danced.  By the time he had washed her face and lips, it was hard so, he stuck it in her mouth and showed her how to properly suck it.  It penetrated the curve of her throat and she began gagging and he taught her about that as well.  She began swallowing him as he went around the curve and regurgitated him back out and she kept doing it until he came deep down her throat and she felt the hot stream in her throat and she swallowed it down.  He had her lick him all clean and then he washed her mouth again and continued washing down her neck.  He washed her back and chest and then he began suckling on her nipples.  “I want them to pop,” he said, and he kept sucking on them hard until they did pop out from her chest and they stood out like two rosebuds.  He rubbed them both with the palms of his hands and said, “I do believe I can sell you as Wee Folk,” and he continued bathing her until she was clean from head to toe.

They got dressed and left the inn and continued their walk to Cork and were there shortly after noon.  They went to the central market and her father led her by the hand into the slavers quarter there.  There were awnings set up all along the market quarter and under the awnings stood slaves in irons with iron neck rings around their throats and some of the slaves had the Viking withy ropes plaited around their necks.  Most of the male slaves were clothed, but a few finer specimens stood naked, but most of the women stood naked in their cold iron rings and the children were a variety of both, depending on what they were being sold as.  Sinead’s father found a slaver that seemed to specialize in children and he talked to the slaver in a mix of Danish and Gaelic and the slaver was soon inspecting Sinead and he stripped her naked right on the street and began feeling her muscles and skin and her red hair and her blue eyes and white teeth and ruby lips and he sucked on her nipples to see if they would pop and when they did he smiled up at her father and said, “Wee Folk?” and her father nodded.  She put her hands up to cover her breasts and the slaver pulled them down by her sides and gave the nipples another suck so they stuck out from her chest even more, like two ruby rosebuds against the palest white foreground.  Sinead began blushing and her checks almost matched her breasts and her lips turned ruby too.  The slaver then put two fingers up her vagina and felt around and then pulled his fingers out and sniffed them to check for the smell of disease.  The slaver smiled up again and offered her father two silver coins, but her father held up three fingers and the man shook his head, but when her father took her hand and started to walk away with her naked, the slaver agreed to the three coins and passed them to him.  Her father then started to pass the slaver her clothes, but pulled them back to his chest, turned and walked away.  The slaver was very pleased with his purchase and he took Sinead by the hand into his tent and he sent his apprentice out to tend to the slave children without as he attended to the new slave child within.  He bent her over the lunch table and began focking her from behind very slowly, as if to savour the feel of his new acquisition.  He was very pleased with the feel so, he laid her on her back on the table and he began to kiss her ruby lips and he kissed and sucked her nipples some more and then he focked her some more and seemed very pleased with the feel that way and then he began kissing her privates and was very pleased with her taste.  He lifted her slight frame off the table and he laid her on a cot that ran along the pavilion wall and he stripped naked and stood in front of her, balding, corpulent, and fat and he laid on the cot beside her and entered her again side to side and began thrusting in her.  Then he hugged her tight and laid on his back and when she was atop him he pushed her up in the kneeling position and he seemed very pleased that she didn’t know what to do so, he grabbed her about the waist and he lifted her up and down on his member and he showed her how to repeat the action herself and had her perform it until he came inside her.

The slaver had sold his last wee wife to a slaver associate of his who had shown an interest in her and had paid him gold for her so, he had been keeping an eye out for such a girl as this in replacement.  Slavers spent most of their lives on ship in very rough conditions and they found it best to take wives that were under the age of puberty because they didn’t want them getting pregnant at sea.  The younger the better, as long as their nipples popped, which was to them, a sign of womanhood.  Young girls ate less, complained less, and did what they were told, so, slavers would dress them up in women’s clothing and have them wear makeup so they looked much older than they were.  This gave the young girls a beautiful elf-like appearance, and the slavers would take their young wives out in public with them and attend social gatherings with them, for the slavers tended to be quite wealthy.  This could have been embarrassing for the citizens who had sold their young girls to these evil men in the first place so, they called the girls and some boys, who suffered under these conditions, wee folk, and a whole genre of elves and fairies always manifested itself in the societies that supported slavery, for it was impossible to regulate how owners treated their property.  Especially when they were better armed and organized.  The fables of elves and fairies had a darker side as well.  Wherever there were fairies present, children were kidnapped or disappeared.

After the slaver finished having Sinead clean him off, he got dressed, made himself presentable and left her naked and chained to the cot.  He went out and relieved his young apprentice who returned inside the pavilion and began to, pretty much, repeat the same process with the new wee wife.  Once he was done, he went without and the master brought in a young street urchin, a dishevelled boy and he encouraged the youngster to have his way with Sinead and he coached him along until he had learned a few positions and then the master brought in four older men who paid silver to sit at the table, drink wine, and watch the boy fock the young girl over and over again.  When the market closed, they packed up the pavilion and put it on a cart and the slaves pulled the cart out to the harbour and the master rode on the cart with the young boy on one side of him and Sinead riding naked on the other side.  The apprentice walked beside the slaves, a few men and women, but mostly children, all with iron rings about their necks and the boy thought he had found himself a job putting the wood to Sinead, but once the slave ship got out to sea, the boy found himself in an iron ring rowing an oar, just as the other slaves were doing.

Sinead found herself naked below the forecastle deck and she curled up in furs and cried herself to sleep.  Her life had been bad at home, but the last few days made it seem like heaven in comparison.  The slaver came below deck that night and had his way with Sinead again and they slept together, naked in the furs.  In the morning, the slaver took Sinead above deck and started bathing her with sea water.  She sat naked upon a trunk and the slaves were busy rowing behind her and the apprentice whipped the young street urchin because he was lagging behind the others.  The slaver went below deck and returned with some women’s clothing and he put it on Sinead and he stood back in admiration of the beautiful young girl.  He went below deck and came back up with some make-up and he began to teach Sinead how to apply it in front of a small bronze mirror.  He stood back and admired the girl again and he knew he would soon be turning his silver coins into gold.  Whenever they were at market towns, the pavilion went up, slaves were bought and sold, and men paid to watch another young street urchin focking Sinead over and over again and ending up in chains when they sailed away.  And Sinead became the wee wife she was forced to be and she helped with the slaves and she sometimes lured young girls to sail away with them as well, but she made sure they were not as pretty as she was, lest she should end up being the one in a neck ring.

They sailed from Ireland to Angleland and to Frankia and Frisia and Denmark, picking up young boys and girls all along the way and soon they crossed the Baltic, keeping eyes out for pirates, who, the master assured them, would treat them much worse than he now was.  Then they rowed south, up and then down the rivers of Hraes’ and overwintered in Tmutorokan while being trained for the spring trading session in Baghdad.  The girls would be sold to waiting Arab husbands and the boys would be castrated and taken into service with the eunuch armies of the middle east.  Sinead was a wee wife for a few years, but when she was nearing twelve, her slaver husband sold her in Tmutorokan, planning to get himself a younger wee wife when he returned to the north.  Then Prince Erik had shown up at the slavers winter hall and had turned the slavers silver coins into gold.

Sinead’s sad story turned Erik numb.  But talking about it was a required therapy for the young girl.  And sleeping inside the young girl was a therapy for him.  That’s all he ever wanted and needed, but she considered herself a young woman and she wanted to have sex with him to protect her place with him.  She had never in her life experienced so much finery and a place among fine people and she was not about to let it slip away.  If the Prince wanted her to overwinter with some young family, she would do so, as long as she could rejoin Erik in the spring.  And Erik let the young girl have her way with him if she felt the need, so, their stay in Pereslavet was very pleasant and their sail across the Black Sea with Prince Svein and Princess Sviataslava was refreshing, but, as they approached Tmutorokan, Sinead hugged Erik harder as he slept inside her and she didn’t want to let him go.

Prince Svein re-introduced his new wife, Princess Sviataslava to his mother, Empress Helga and to Queen Silkisif and then to his concubine, Malfrieda, and his sons, Eyfur and Helgi.  Silkisif had arranged a welcoming feast for Svein in her palace in Tmutorokan and Prince Erik joined them once he had finished introducing Sinead to her new family in the city.  The legion officer and his wife were glad to have the young girl that Erik had saved from slavery in their young family.  Their oldest daughter was a year younger than Sinead and two others followed her a year apart.

That evening Erik was with his wives in the master suite of Silki and they’d just finished a threesome and were debating how much better the sex was when done above gold, as they’d enjoyed in Gardariki.  “How do you think Malfrieda took it?” Erik asked, changing the subject.

“I think she likes Svia,” Helga lied.

“Svia certainly is beautiful,” Silki added.  “I even found myself getting hard!” and they all laughed.

“I thought she’d be pregnant by now,” Erik said and it was what they’d all thought.  Erik was worried Svein’s new wife was barren and he had struggled with that with his first wife, Princess Gunwar, only to learn, too late, that it was the machinations of a witch that had deprived them of eleven sons.  And now his long-lost wife was in Christian heaven with his brother, Duke Rollo, and her only son was in Valhalla with Hervor.

“I heard they’re inseparable,” Helga said.  “She should be pregnant by now!  Instead, your Khazar princess is tending to your latest baby in Gardariki right now,” and she gave Erik a punch.  ‘If you punched me,’ Erik thought, ‘for every latest baby I’ve had, I think my arm would snap off.’

“Yes,” Silki said, “she should be pregnant by now!  I heard she even goes out on campaigns with him and they fock all night in his pavilion.”

“Well,” Helga started, “at least he’s not focking those Valkyries he has attending his legions.”

“Those Valkyries were an excellent idea,” Erik said.  “I wish I’d thought of that years ago, instead of having those focking Angels of Death following behind our shieldwall!”

“How do those Valkyries attend to the troops?” Silki asked.  “Please demonstrate on Helga.”

“On me?” Helga asked.  “Why me?”

“You would have made a fine Valkyrie,” Silki said.  “You’re still so lean and muscular.”

“I’m too old,” Erik said.  “If the men aren’t hard when they come to their Valkyrie, they don’t need servicing.”

“Well, I’ll get you hard,” Silki started, “and we’ll pretend that you need servicing, so she took his lingam into her mouth and began sucking until Erik was hard.  He then stood up beside the bed and pulled Helga off the bed and bent her over the bed and started penetrating her from behind.  He kept focking her and focking her but he wouldn’t come.  “I’m too old,” he said.  “It takes me too long to come.  The Valkyrie would have thrown me off long ago.  The men have to come quickly or they didn’t need servicing and they’re all young men so, they all come quickly.  Each Valkyrie has ten to twelve men to service and they don’t have time to be focking around.”

“Now what are we going to do with this hard thing that won’t come?” Helga asked, slapping Erik’s lingam first this way and then that.  “This was your idea, Silki.  You take care of it!” and Helga threw herself onto the bed in disgust.  “It won’t come inside an Empress!  What a disrespectful little cock!”

Silkisif reached over Helga and pulled Erik over and she got on top of him and slid her well over the mouth of his steed and made it drink.  She rode it hard and it swallowed in great gulps and she felt it grow larger and harder inside her and she began to come and she moaned and Helga joined in too, for she had been fondling herself as she watched Silki ride and the two women moaning soon had Erik coming hard once more.  Silki collapsed onto Erik’s chest and Erik hugged her close.  “Gods, I love Tmutorokan!” he said.

“It would have been better with the gold underneath us,” Silki whispered, and the next day they went back to Gardariki, on the other side of the Kuban River.

During the Yulefest Holiday, Sweyn thought it would be a good time to teach Svia and Malfrieda a little bit about sharing and he had both women in his bed together throughout the celebrations.  He never used a glove with Svia, but he always used one with Malfrieda because, if he sneezed at her the wrong way he would get her pregnant.  The concept shouldn’t have been too hard to follow, no glove on the woman you want to get pregnant and always a glove on the woman you don’t, but there was much drinking during the holidays and Sweyn had forgotten to wear his glove with Malfrieda more than once.

(968 AD)  After Yulefest, Prince Svein and Princess Svia returned to Pereslavet to prepare the Hraes’ legions for the spring campaign and Erik visited with Sinead several times in Tmutorokan, but only as a doting uncle.  He was hoping that, surrounded with young girls her age, she would be able to find her childhood again.  After a month of hoping and trying, Sinead was still eager to rejoin him in Bulgaria, so he took her away from her new family and they sailed with a fleet bound for Pereslavet.  They spent three weeks together in the city and Svein and Svia were inseparable and Erik slept in Sinead all night long and she rode him as she pleased, then word came from Silistra that a large Bulgarian army was forming in Preslav and the spies confirmed that the target was the Bulgar fortress of Dorostal that was under siege.  Princes Svein and Erik took their princesses and their legions to Silistra and Erik planted hazel poles and they awaited the enemy.

A few days later the Bulgarian army was camped just south of the hazel poles and stood about thirty thousand strong.  They had some Magyar horse on either flank and they were all veteran troops, having fought Romans and Thracians and Macedonians alike.  They were met by Prince Svein’s three new legions plus an old legion of foot they had just brought from Tmutorokan, which Prince Erik commanded in their center with two new legions on the flanks and one kept in behind in reserve.  Behind the reserve legion, in a hollow that ran behind the battlefield, the marine elements of the new legions had set up trebuchets out of sight behind the campaign tents of the Hraes’ and, as the Bulgars marched against them the catapults launched their stone ballistae with terrible effect.  Then the Bulgars were pelted by rocket propelled foot bow arrows, then by foot bow arrows then by rocket propelled hand bow arrows then finally by hand bow arrows to which they could respond in kind.  Then spears were thrown and the armies closed with a great clash of shield walls.

Prince Erik and his sword, Tyrfingr, held the center against a wedge formation that came against them hard in the middle, but the new legions on the flanks drove back the lighter ranks on the Bulgar flanks, as the cavalry fought in melee fashion on either side of the main forces.  The Hungarian horse on the flanks was the finest cavalry in Europe so, the Hraes’ heavy horse had their hands full containing them and reserve regiments of horse were sent out from behind to help as required.  Spare horses were available to the cavalry and were led out from behind as well, but the Magyars had spare horse, too, so the fighting on the flanks was intense and did not let up.  The fighting in the middle was just as intense, as the Bulgarian wedge tried to drive itself through the Hraes’ center and break up the formation.  Prince Erik and his old veteran legion were becoming fatigued and the Bulgarians began driving them back in a bulge that thinned their ranks.  Cohorts from the reserve legion began to quietly fill in the line as it bulged and the young soldiers linked their kite shields with the round shields of the veterans and the experienced Bulgars should have picked up on the pattern of the shields that were forming and should have noticed that they were not random, but kite round kite round in a fashion that had been planned.  As the battle raged past noon and into the afternoon, the wedge became a circle as the Bulgars were encircled and cut off from their supplies.  The Bulgars tried to reform their wedge and drive the Hraes’ line apart, but reserve cohorts kept filling in the spaces with more kite round kite round shield patterns and Prince Erik rallied his veterans to hold the line as they were driven back.  By evening the cut off troops were out of water and exhausted as they pounded against a defensive wall that grudgingly gave up ground but would not break.  The Bulgarians had packed themselves behind their comrades in a big push that had failed and their rear had collapsed inward as well so that they could not replace their worn front rank with the fresh troops in their center, while the outer ring of Hraes’ troops had plenty of room to change out ranks and the killing began in earnest as fresh troops found openings in the defences of exhausted soldiers and when they fell they were dragged out from under their shield wall by Valkyries with lassoes and were quickly finished off.  Then the fresh exposed rank behind them faced several rounds of fresh Hraes’ troops until they, too, fell exhausted and were dragged out by the women warriors of the Hraes and killed.  Dead Bulgars were piling up behind the ring of Hraes’ fighters as the knotted mass in the center dwindled down in size.

Prince Erik called a halt to the slaughter and offered the exhausted Bulgars terms.  When the Magyar horse saw this, they abandoned their Bulgar allies and rode off west towards the Pannonian plain with Prince Svein and his lancers hot on their tails.  But the Hungarian horse still had their spares and were adept at switching horses while riding at full gallop and the Hraes’ couldn’t catch very many of them.  Half the Bulgar troops could remain in Silistra as free men and half would be enslaved and sold in the markets of Baghdad.  But the Bulgar troops holding the Fortress of Dorostal would have to abandon the fort and would be free to return south as soldiers or stay in Silistra as free men.  Some of the soldiers marched back to Preslav and some preferred to swear an oath not to fight and stayed in the city.

“It was the Battle of Cannae!” Prince Svein shouted from his horse as he returned from chasing Hungarians.  “I thought your legion was failing as I watched from the left flank, but then I saw the pattern in your shields and I knew you had something planned!”

“I think the kite round kite round shield wall works better than straight round or straight kite,” Erik told his grandson as he walked up and held his horse.  “Your father and I always wanted to do Cannae together but we never got the chance so, I was hoping the Bulgarians would attack in a wedge.”

“I think our Valkyries killed more Bulgars than our troops did,” Svein said as he dismounted.

“They helped hold our line together too!” Erik agreed.  “I think our men will have to service our Valkyries tonight and not the other way around.”

It was late and all the troops were exhausted so, Princess Svia and Sinead organized an impromptu feast in the city square and the marine units helped prepare it.  And the legion units showed their appreciation to their Valkyries by serving them the finest meads and the choice cuts of meat and town musicians were hired and the Valkyries danced with their men and slept with whoever they chose to service them.  The veteran legion of Tmutorokan slept with their customary camp followers and with the professional women of the city, paid for by Prince Erik.  The next day it was decided to leave the old legion in Silistra and the three new legions went up the Danube to collect the Bulgar slaves that had been left in the towns and cities that had been captured last year.  The spring trade session would be starting soon and more slaves were required to add to the ones that were being trained in Kiev and Tmutorokan.

Back in Pereslavet, slaver knars soon began arriving to take the captives to Baghdad and India.  Sinead was on Erik’s ship when she saw her old master gathering up Bulgar children into several of his knars and when he saw her looking, she stuck her tongue out at him and gave him the salute of the impalers.

“I hope that felt good,” Erik told her.  “It means the therapy is working.”

“Oh, it felt good alright!” she said, taking up Erik’s arm in her hands.

The Prince did not just seem to be sleeping in Sinead anymore.  After the Battle of Silistra, Erik had sipped a bit too much mead and he and Sinead had made passionate love below the foredeck of his shieldship all night long.  In the morning he realized that perhaps his wish of giving Sinead her childhood back was unrealistic and perhaps he should be focusing on giving her the best life going forward that he could.  His mortebity was almost gone and he owed her for that.  He had survived the Impaler Games of Wallachia and the darkness was fading and Sinead’s youthfulness was helping her get through the darkest year of her life.  They were still celebrating each other long after the Battle of Silistra was over.

CHAPTER TEN

10.0  THE SIEGE OF KIEV  (Circa 968-969 AD)

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7. “This word first then              fell from his lips:

                        “Sleep ye shall not               more than a cock in summer,

                        or longer than I                     a lay may sing.”

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(968 AD)  Prince Svein and Princess Svia stayed in Pereslavet with their legions to continue with the conquest of Bulgaria as they had been paid to do by the Romans and Erik and Sinead sailed off to Tmutorokan to prepare for the spring trading cycle.  Erik left Sinead with her new family in Tmutorokan while he visited with his wives in Gardariki and Empress Helga, Malfrieda and Svein’s sons went to Kiev with Erik to help him meet the great Hraes’ fleet there.  Erik left them there to spend the summer and he sailed south with the fleet across the Black Sea and he stopped in at Gardariki for some over gold sex with Silkisif, then went to Tmutorokan to pick up Sinead so she could come with him to Baghdad and Gujarat.

Prince Svein and Princess Svia led a fleet of six hundred ships from Pereslavet down the Danube to the Black Sea and they camped along the beach north of Costanza and Prince Svein gave his new wife a tour of the Roman city.  He was now an ally of the Eastern Roman Empire and had a valid and official claim to the throne in Constantinople and even had high ranking Roman officers attached to his general staff while he was on the Roman payroll attacking Bulgaria so, his reception in Costanza was that of a visit from and official Roman dignitary and Princess Svia was treated as a possible future Empress.  She remembered having received this kind of treatment as a child before she had been sent off to a nunnery to be educated and controlled.  The city officials entertained the young couple and Svein and his entourage of Hraes’ and Roman officers were given the Emperor’s palace while visiting.

“This is where your father stayed?” Svia asked Svein as they walked about the Emperor’s master suite.  “He was underwater breathing here, right?”

“Yes,” Svein said.  “He still has underwater breathers from Costanza working for him.  They go all over the world, recovering lost treasure.  The Scythian Sea, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Malacca…they may have even done work in the Cathayan Sea by now.  Anywhere there is lost gold Hraes’ warships go with the underwater breathers and recover it.”

“Why warships?” she asked.

“Because they recover gold and treasure.  Nobody attacks Viking warships.  They need them for security.”

“Oh,” she said as she tested the mattress on the bed.  “Care to try it out quick?”

“Not right now,” he replied casually and, when she straightened up in surprise, he pounced on her like a big cat.

After a few days of royal treatment, the entourage returned to the fleet.  They sailed south toward Messembria, another Roman city on the Black Sea coast but Svein directed the fleet to stop at a river estuary north of the city.  “If we go to Messembria,” Svia told him, “we’ll receive the same royal reception we got in Constanza.  And I’ve never been to Messembria,” she added, shaking her white sable stole and flipping an end over her shoulder.

“I’ve only been to Messembria once,” Svein said, “and it was to get supplies after my mother and I were driven out of Constantinople.  It wasn’t a pleasant visit.”

“Well, let’s visit now!  They have to be nice to us.  The only people they fear more than the Hraes’ are the Bulgars and we are all that stands between them and a pissed off Tzar Peter of Bulgaria.”

“They still fear us more,” Svein replied, acting insulted.  “Your wish is my command, Empress Sviataslava,” and he gave her a deep bow.  He ordered his shieldship on to Messembria and signalled for the fleet to follow.  They reached a beach north of the city in the afternoon and the fleet set up camp there while a few warships accompanied the royal couple and their entourage to the harbour on the south of the city.  Old Messembria was on an island peninsula that was walled to protect it from the ravages of the sea and those who rode upon it, and there was a natural causeway that connected it to the mainland with a road.  New Messembria was a walled city on the mainland that held the major half of the population.  Svein’s shieldship anchored in the harbour along a quay and the warships anchored along the causeway where the men set up camp.  Prince Svein and Princess Svia and their entourage were greeted by the mayor of the old city and they were led in through the gates to a welcoming throng.  The people knew that these Hraes’ were there to defeat the Bulgarians and they had also heard of their recent victory over the Bulgars in Silistra, so the welcome was quite warm.  Women of Messembria were already visiting with the soldiers camped along the causeway.  And the entourage was shown to the Emperor’s palace in the central square of the city.  The mayor told them that a feast was being prepared for them in the square and told them to settle into the palace and let him know if they had needs.

“What was it that your grandfather and father did in Messembria again?” Svia asked her husband.

“They destroyed a dozen fire breathing bireme dromons in the harbour here,” Svein told her as she sat down on the bed and gave the mattress a bounce test.  “They attacked them with catapults from the north side of the causeway and they all blew up and burned in the south harbour.  Not one Hraes’ ship was lost and the Roman commander ended up imprisoned on the Island of Princes.  That’s where all the Emperors and generals of Constantinople are imprisoned if they fock up.”

“I know what the Island of Princes is,” Svia retorted.  “I was born in Constantinople.  You may have saved me in that shithole of Ramnic in Wallachia, but I was born in Constantinople!” and she gave her head a regal shake.

“And is that what all you royals do in Constantinople?” Svein asked.  “Bounce test every bed you come across?” and he lept onto the bed beside her and looked up at her beauty.  She was the most gorgeous creature that Svein had ever seen, and his own mother was a known Norse beauty of Scandinavia.  Svia’s face was perfect and her dark eyes were divine and her eyelashes were naturally long and sweeping to match her long raven locks.  Her cheekbones protruded out past her locks and her fine nose jutted out over her red pouting lips.  Svein was growing hard just looking at her and it was a profound effect that she had on most men who saw her for the first time.

“A quick fock before the feast?” Svein asked, pulling her on top of him.  “There’ll be a lot of hard-ons under the tables as they watch you up at the head-table.”  Svein kissed her passionately and would have been content to just keep kissing her, but she tore his clothes off and ravaged his young body.

The next day they were given a tour of the old city and it was full of churches from very many religions.  There were a lot of ancient Greek temples to Zeus and Apollo and to Venus and Aphrodite and there were old temples dedicated to Mithra and Ball and there was a Jewish synagogue and an abandoned mosque and a few dilapidated Latin Christian churches and many Orthodox Christian churches and monasteries.  There were Roman bathes and forums and an open theatre and there were mansions crowded next to each other with marble columns and terra cotta tile roofs.  There was even a children’s playground along the inside of the northeast wall.

Many of the wealthy of Messembria invited the Prince and Princess to dine with them or to hear musicians play and they watched a tragedy at the theatre and then they toured the new part of the city, the commercial part, and they visited the markets and the mills and the factories and the craft houses.  They visited the artists’ quarter and the street of lutes where the instruments were crafted and Svein knew that his grandfather and father would have loved to see it.  They stretched their visit out to a fifth day but Svein told the mayor that they had to go conquer Bulgaria and they left to great fanfare.

“Get used to this,” Svein told his beautiful wife, “for I’ve been promised a co-Emperorship once I’ve conquered the Bulgars.”

They sailed back north and met up with their fleet and then Svein took his three new legions west up the mouth of the Kamchiya River headed for Great Preslav.  The river was a funny little thing.  It seemed small yet expansive at the same time.  It would be wide and deep and narrow and shallow, yet it seemed to flow at the same slow speed.  Bulgar spies that the Hraes’ had hired had assured Svein that the river was as wide at Preslav as it was at its estuary, which would be very strange if true, but the river was turning out to be a strange little beast carrying them through the plains of Bulgaria, sometimes sparsely decorated with great old trees along its banks, but mostly with open fields, so it was secure and not open to ambuscade.  There were a few sections where the river narrowed so much that the ships couldn’t be rowed, which was fine if the wind was blowing in the right direction, but if not, they used their horses and ropes to tow them along.  Still, the ships were the way to move legions along because the vast amount of supplies legions required were stowed and towed when necessary, but transported more efficiently than with wains on land.

A few days up the river and they sat in their ships before Preslav.  There was no army awaiting them and the city surrendered peacefully and the citizens threw themselves at the mercy of the invaders, claiming their tzar had abandoned them and had fled to the city of Sredet (Sofia) further west.  The city of Preslav was treated according to ancient Roman law and was plundered for three days and half the citizens were taken as slaves, but because they had surrendered, half those taken had their names recorded and were released and would not be retaken into custody if the city stayed neutral in any future conflicts.

The Fifth Kievan Legion was stationed in Preslav, while the Sixth and Seventh Legions were sent south and west to capture cities and villages up to the Iskar River.  The city of Sofia was on the other side of the Iskar and was not to be attacked.  Prince Svein and Princess Svia took a few dozen warships from their fleet at Preslav and sailed to the Black Sea with their entourage of Roman officers then headed south for Constantinople.  It was a victory procession and they stopped in Constanza and Messembria for a few days each and celebrated the conquest of Bulgaria in each city.  Prince Svein even stopped in Burgas south of Messembria and accepted the surrender of the Bulgar forces there and left a regiment of foot to hold the city.

In Constantinople, Prince Svein asked for an audience with co-Emperor Nikephoros ‘the Second’ and the sons of Emperor Romanos, Basil and Constantine.  Emperor Nikephoros alone met with Svein and his entourage of Roman officers and the officers confirmed Svein’s claim that Bulgar had not only been attacked, but Bulgar proper up to the Iskar River had been taken.

“This is significantly more than was required of the contract between us,” Svein said as Svia stood beside him.  “I am requesting Roman services to purify the gold payment and would like the co-Emperorship as promised.”

Emperor Nikephoros pondered this as he sat on his throne, then said, “I need Tzar Peter’s head.”

“What?” Prince Svein said.  “That is not a requirement of our contract.”

“I know,” the Emperor agreed.  “But Constantinople is ruled by the mob these days.  I need Tzar Peter’s head to show the people or they will not accept my promoting a Hraes’ prince to co-Emperor.  They will riot and tear Constantinople apart.”

“That’s not my problem,” Svein said, squeezing Svia’s hand.

“But it will be as soon as I promote you to co-Emperor,” Nikephoros stated.  “But by then it will be too late to do anything about it.  If you give me Tzar Peter’s head, I shall put it on a pike in front of the Milion for the mob to see.  They will be so impressed they will have to accept your promotion.  Without the head, both our heads could end up on pikes in front of the Milion Pillar.  I’m sorry, but that’s the way it has to be.  Things are very volatile in the city right now.”

“You’re just trying to stall giving me my just reward!” Prince Svein accused him.

“I am doing no such thing!” Nikephoros said, looking over to his wife, Empress Theophano.

“The paperwork is already complete,” the Empress pleaded.  “Your co-Emperorship is complete once the documents are signed by all parties, all co-Emperors, and my sons have both agreed to sign.”

“All we need is Tzar Peter’s head,” Nikephoros said, “to ensure a peaceful transition of additional power.  Together, Rome and Hraes’ will be unstoppable!”

Prince Svein took Svia aside for a few moments and they discussed the situation and Svein agreed to attempt to get Tzar Peter’s head, but he reminded the Emperor that any failure to obtain it would have no effect on his claim.  Emperor Nikephoros agreed to this and invited Prince Svein and his wife to stay in Constantinople and celebrate the conquest of Bulgaria with them.  And Prince Svein knew exactly which apartments he wanted to stay in.  The Emperor stated that the apartments were far too modest for the Conqueror of the Bulgars and he offered the young Hraes’ couple lodgings much closer to the Emperor but Prince Svein told him the lodgings would be perfect for them and their bodyguards.

“This is where I lost my virginity,” Svein told Svia as they laid on the bed of a master suite in the palace complex.  “My mother’s handmaiden, Malfrieda, danced her way out of the dressing room with towels in one hand and a lamb-gut sheath in the other and we both offered each other our virginities on this very bed.”

“Are you sure Malfrieda was a virgin?” Svia said with envy.

“She bled all over me,” Svein said.  “That’s what the towels were for.  She was only two years older than me when we did it.”

“I wish I could have offered you my virginity,” Svia said sadly.

“Count Vlad took that from you, didn’t he?”

“I wish,” Svia said.  “Some nun let a visiting Bishop into my room when I was fourteen and he raped me.  I tried to fight him off but he was too strong.  Those focking nuns!  They run prisons and whorehouses!” and she rolled on her side away from Svein and started crying.

“We can leave Constantinople if you wish,” Svein said, consoling her.  “I love you and I don’t want you in pain.”

“I’m fine,” she said.  “Nobody has recognized me.  They think I’m a Hraes’ princess.  I love being a Hraes’ princess.  But being a Roman Empress would add just a little bit to it,” she said and rolled back to face her husband and she kissed him.  “Would you like some quick sex before the feasting?”

“I would love some quick sex!” Svein said.  “Six times over!” and he thought he saw Malfrieda watching from the dressing room as Svia rode him like a stallion.

The celebratory festivities in Constantinople were much more splendiferous than they had been in Constanza and Messembria.  There were breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in palatial halls in every Polis of Constantinople, every quarter had entertainments that differed from other quarters and, of course, there was the Hippodrome and the famous chariot races of Constantinople.  It reminded Svein of the Imperial dinners Emperor Constantine and his mother, Empress Helen, had thrown in Constantinople the years before their marriage.  The young Hraes’ couple sat with the Emperor and the empress in the Imperial box seats and Prince Svein told Emperor Nikephoros that his grandfather, Prince Erik, had sat in the Imperial box with Emperor Theophilos years ago.  Nikephoros did the math and said, “That would have been a least a hundred and twenty years ago if it was Emperor Theophilos.  Your grandfather and father must have lived long lives!”

“My father died in battle while he was still fairly young, but my grandfather is still kicking,” Svein said.

“He’s still alive?” Nikephoros asked.

“Oh yes!  He led the center legion at the Battle of Silistra last month.  He’s probably off trading in India by now.”

“Do all you Hraes’ live long lives?” Empress Theophano asked.

“No,” Svein said.  “Only my grandfather.”  Svein knew better than to talk to Romans about alchemists.  They were still using Roman numerals and doing math on abacuses.  Svein shook his head and smiled at Svia.  At least they were no longer killing each other in the sands of the arena.  They left that for the horses and chariots and, no sooner had he had that thought, then there was a crash and pileup of chariots in the far corner of the Hippodrome.

“What can you see?” Nikephoros asked Svein, who had the eyes of a raven.

“It’s some Blue team and some Green,” Svein said.  “Two drivers dead I think, and eight horses about to be.”

“Thanks,” the Emperor replied.  “We’re the Blues,” he said to Theophano.  “My eyes aren’t what they used to be,” he told Princess Svia.  Nikephoros was old, in his early sixties and Theophano was in her thirties, but he was an old sixties and she was a young thirties and still quite attractive.  They were both Armenians, of the Macedonian variety, or so they said, to give them a more Grecian aspect rather than the eastern aspect of Armenia.  They were the successors to western Rome, not the Germans of the Holy Roman Empire, and Macedonian sounded historically better than Armenian.  What was historical accuracy anyway?  Those who won wrote their own history and those who lost were written out of history.  Any good Roman knew that.  But finding a good Roman, that was the crux of it these days.  Nikephoros would have made a good Roman, but he wasn’t one.  He was a practicing ascetic with a young sexually active wife who wouldn’t have made a good Roman, even if she would have been one.  She had been forced to marry the only Armenian general in the Roman Empire who didn’t want all Hraes’ princes roasted on a spit in the Hippodrome.  The last Christians crucified there were Hraes’ Christians and that was only a generation ago by Armenian generals that had been imprisoned for the crimes.  And young Empress Theophano was sleeping around with an even younger Armenian general who was planning to get them out.

After a week of festivities and honours that made Prince Svein almost taste what it was to be an emperor of Rome, the young Hraes’ couple returned to Bulgaria with a mission.  They were going to do a little head hunting, Bulgarian style.  Not only had Princess Svia learned to fock in a Greek Orthodox nunnery, but she had learned her Roman history under the tutelage of horny little rapist priests and monks and she had figured out why Nikephoros ‘the Second’ really wanted Tzar Peter’s head.  A hundred and fifty years ago a cruel Bulgarian Tzar Krum had defeated an even crueller Emperor Nikephoros ‘the First’ in battle and had him beheaded and turned his skull into a gold encrusted drinking cup.  She put one and two together and suspected that Nikephoros the Second wanted to turn Tzar Peter ‘the First’s skull into a drinking cup in revenge for what had happened to Nikephoros ‘the First’s head.  She told her husband about it, leaving out the horny little rapist priests and monks part, of course, and Prince Svein was forced to give his head another shake.  ‘Oh, those Romans!’ he thought as he shook it from side to side.  Princess Sviataslava could have told Svein about the rapist priests and monks because he really loved her and it wouldn’t have mattered and he really hated Christians and he planned on punishing them anyway.

By the time they got back to Pereslavet, one of his new legions had returned from southern Bulgaria, so he took it and the old legion he had left in Silistra and they sailed up the Danube and then south up the Iskar River into the part of Bulgaria that he had not yet conquered.  He had sent messengers to Preslav with instructions to spread one legion there out thinly and to send the other back to Pereslavet and up the Danube after him.  A month after leaving Constantinople, the young couple were standing on the western bank of the Iskar River in front of the walled city of Sofia, known by the Bulgars as Sredet.  It was an old fortress that would not stand up to the sling velocity of the new trebuchets, which was ironic because the newer fortress of Preslav, which the Bulgarians had abandoned would have.  The Hraes’ legions surrounded the city and trebuchets pounded the city and soon several sections of the forty foot walls were reduced to twenty and the Bulgarians soon requested terms.

Prince Svein offered them the standard Roman terms of sacking with a proviso that all members of the royal family would be allowed to keep their royal positions if they swore allegiance to the Hraes’.  Tzar Peter countered with a proviso that a quarter of the enslaved half would be allowed their freedom.  Svein told the Tzar that he was respectful of the Tzar’s wish to put himself at risk for the freedom of his people and he accepted the Tzar’s proviso.  The Hraes’ forces then entered the city and sacked it for three days and collected up their quarter of the inhabitants for the slave markets of Baghdad.  Tzar Peter asked Prince Svein if he could be allowed to ransom the enslaved quarter of his people and Svein told him that they could only be freed if Tzar Peter gave him his life.  The Tzar was shocked by the request, but he considered it because he was old and had already suffered a stroke that had caused him to pass the laurels on to his son, Boris, in all but deed anyway, so he accepted Svein’s offer and prepared himself for death and arranged for his Christian burial in a church in Sofia.

Prince Svein took Tzar Peter out in front of the royal palace in Sofia that his son and family was still allowed to occupy and had him kneel in the square and he quickly struck his head off with a stroke of his sword.  The head fell and rolled across the square towards Svia as the body crashed onto the cobbles at Svein’s feet.  Princess Svia rolled the head into a black leather bag with her foot, tied it off and passed it to Svein.  Tzar Boris rushed out of his palace and begged Svein to give him the head so that Tzar Peter could have a proper Christian burial.  “I’ll give it back to you one year from now but only if you’ve kept the peace on your side of Bulgaria.  I shall treat Tzar Peter’s head with nothing but respect until that time and you can bury him then.  Meantime, all your people on this side of the Iskar River are free and all your people on the east side of the river are mine!  Any breaches of our agreement and the head will be, very respectfully, tossed into the Scythian Sea and I shall be back looking for my entitled half of the citizens of Sofia.”

Prince Svein left the old legion in Sofia and led his fleet back down the Iskar River.  He stood at the forestem of his shieldship with Tzar Peter’s head in a bag in his left hand and Princess Sviataslava under his arm on his right.  “I love you,” she said.  “I love you too,” he replied.  Then she added, “I’m going to fock you so hard tonight!”

It took three months but, by summer’s end, Prince Svein and Princess Svia were back in Constantinople with Tzar Peter’s head in hand.  “We’ll post this on a pike in front of the Milion,” Emperor Nikephoros said almost gleefully.  “Then we’ll have another round of celebratory feasts and games to get the people in the mood for the Coronation of our new Co-Emperor!”  The Emperor even stepped down from the throne and gave Svein a warm hug.  Empress Theophano remained on her throne and Svia kept back as though not wanting to get too close to the empress.

“Could we post guards around the Milion?” Svein asked.  “I promised Tzar Peter I would treat his head with the utmost respect just before I struck it from his body.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” the Emperor said.  “Anything for the Conqueror of Bulgaria.  Now you must tell me how you did this.  I’ve heard that Tzar Peter willingly parted with his head.  How could you possibly do that?”

So, the co-Emperor and the co-Emperor to be, retired to a side room to sit and discuss the campaign, leaving their wives in the throne room to chat.  “You don’t remember me,” Svia said quietly.

“Of course, I do!” Empress Theophano exclaimed.  “You are the beautiful princess of the Rhos.  How could I forget you already?  You are very quiet, but certainly not forgettable.  You are so beautiful!”  Empress Theophano was a beauty in her own right.  She had long raven curls, dark seductive eyes, and proud Armenian cheekbones.  She wasn’t the raving beauty that Svia was, but she held her own in a ballroom.

“Thank you,” Svia said shyly.  Theophano remained seated and Svia talked with her from the audience area.  It was evident that Theophano was mother and wife to three of the co-Emperors and was not about to share equal status with an empress of only one of the co-Emperors, and Svia was fine with that.  She planned on living in Svein’s new capital city of Pereslavet.

“So, how did you get Tzar Peter to part with his head?” Nikephoros asked excitedly.

“When it became apparent that we would take Sofia, he asked for terms,” Svein explained.  “I offered him standard Roman terms of conquest.”

“We don’t have standard terms,” Nikephoros interrupted.

“The ancient Vanir terms that Julius Caesar followed, before the Christianization of Rome, when Romans prayed to Zeus Pater and Mars and Mercury.”

“Oh, those terms,” the Emperor said, correcting himself.  “And what was Tzar Peter’s response?”

“He countered with a quarter of his people being enslaved, rather than half, so I, of course, agreed.  This told me he cared about his people.”

“And his head?” Nikephoros said, getting even more excited.

“Once we enslaved the quarter, Peter asked if he could ransom them.  I told him, only with a head ransom.”

“Oh…my,” the Emperor said.  “Didn’t your grandfather save his own head with a Head-ransom Song?”

“Why, yes,” Svein said, surprised that the Emperor knew about it.  “It was a Head-ransom Drapa, we call it, akin to your Roman epic poems and elegiac couplets.  Tzar Peter saved twelve thousand of his people with his head ransom, but I promised him a Christian burial and I told him I would treat his head with respect and give it a Christian burial at sea when we are done with it.  To that end, I would like to have a baptismal chalice made of the top of his skull as a gift to you, with the greatest of respect to Tzar Peter, of course.  I think the ancient Bulgars were in the habit of making drinking cups of their enemies, but Tzar Peter converted to Christianity and a baptismal chalice might be more appropriate, being used solely to baptise the Emperors of Rome here in Constantinople.”

“I like your way of thinking,” the Emperor said.  “Tell me more about this baptismal chalice.”

“It shall be made from the top of Tzar Peter’s skull, which is too elongated for a cup anyway, and more suited for an oval chalice with which to pour baptismal water.  It shall be encrusted in gold and trimmed in jewels and shall be my gift to Constantinople when it is done.  But the fact that it is made of Tzar Peter’s skull should be a fact known only to the Emperors of Constantinople so as not to ruffle the feathers of the Patriarchs that may follow.”

“That is an excellent idea,” the Emperor said.  “And you shall be the first Co-Emperor baptised with it!”

“Me?” Prince Svein said, shocked.  “I don’t want to be baptised!”

“Of course, you’ll have to be baptised,” Nikephoros said, “ to be Co-Emperor of a Christian empire.  Your mother got baptised, sponsored by her husband, Emperor Constantine.  I shall sponsor you and Empress Theophano shall sponsor Princess Sviataslava.  It will just be a preliminary baptism.  You can fall away from it after a bit if you wish.  Your mother did and she was re-baptised by the Patriarch.  It will be great!  All the citizens of Constantinople shall attend.  We shall have it in the Hippodrome!” the Emperor exclaimed.  “But if you fall away, you’ll have to be re-baptised before you die so you can be buried as an Emperor in Constantinople.”

“What if I die in battle?” Svein said.

“We have Orthodox priests that attend to the needs of our legions.  If you die in battle, they will administer last rites and you’ll be good to go.!”

“Fine,” Svein choked.

“And speaking of battles,” Nikephoros went on, “as co-Emperor how do you feel about leading our troops in battle in the Levant?”

“If I can bring my own Hraes’ mobile legions along,” he answered, “I’m good to go.”

“I was the best Armenian general Rome has ever had,” Nikephoros started, “and I thought I could beat the Arabs, but even I failed.”

“Your Roman generals have failed against the Bulgars as well and where are they now?  You shouldn’t be asking yourself whether or not I can do it, but rather, how long will it take me.  A year, you might ask.  Six months?  I’ll be in Baghdad in three months!”

“That confidence is what leads my generals to claim that the Arabs aren’t our greatest enemy and that the Rhos are!”

“The Muslims are your greatest foe,” Svein told him, “but not the Arab Muslims.  My grandfather says that Turkish Muslims riding out of the east shall be Rome’s downfall.  He told Emperor Theophilos that a hundred years ago and he still maintains it is true, but far into the future.  We, the Hraes’, shall be your greatest ally.”

“I think this will be the start of a great alliance,” the Emperor said.  “Shall we get Tzar Peter’s head on a pike at the Milion so we can get on with the celebrations?”

“Let’s not forget the guards,” Svein added.  “We don’t want the skull damaged by stones and bricks.”

“Ah, yes,” Nikephoros laughed.  “You’ve had experience with Roman riots in Constantinople.  We’ll have guards, but the idea of the head is so we don’t have riots.”

The head of Tzar Peter was put on a blunted pike in front of the Milion and celebrations continued for the victory in Bulgaria and every night it was removed and craftsmen worked on the baptismal chalice.  A mortician removed the top part of the skull and replaced it with another so the head appeared intact but the skull section could be prepared.  The Emperor took great interest in the process and Svein provided Dacian gold to plate the cranium and Indian jewels with which to encrust the cross upon it.  Emperors had the option of non-submersion baptism where water was poured over the head of the royal being baptised.

While the celebrations were progressing, a merchant ship arrived from Kiev with news that the city had been surrounded and besieged by a horde of Pechenegs for the last month.  The Hraes’ sailors stated that Svein’s mother and his sons were trapped within the walls and that food was quickly running low.  The merchants claimed that the Pechenegs came from east of the Khazar lands and had been sent west in retaliation for Prince Svein’s attack upon Atil-Kazaran and Samandar the prior year.

“I’ll have to leave after the celebrations,” Svein told Emperor Nikephoros.  “The Khazars are reacting to the attack you Romans paid me to deliver.  I’ll have to deal with the Pechenegs and then the Khazars before I can become co-Emperor.  And I can’t leave the Khazars as a threat to Hraes’ while I fight in the Levant with my legions.”

The Emperor knew from his experience as an Armenian general that what Svein claimed was true and Armenians had suffered under the Khazar yoke long before falling under the Muslim one.  “We paid you ten thousand pounds of gold to give the Khazars a bloody nose,” the Emperor started.  “How much will you need to crush them completely?”

“Twenty thousand pounds of gold.”

“I’ll have the gold ready for you before you leave,” Nikephoros said.  “Crush the Khazars and if you free Armenia from the Muslim yoke on your way back to the Black Sea, there will be a bonus for your efforts of, say, another ten thousand pounds of gold.”

“It’s as good as done!  I’ll gather up my three legions in Bulgaria and take them east, but Bulgaria is mine.  I am establishing my new capital in Pereslavet.  From there I’ll be able to serve Rome better.  Kiev is a frozen wasteland half of the year.”

“Good!” Nikephoros said.  “We’ll leave Bulgaria to your veteran legion there, but let your commanders know they can count on us for an assist if the Bulgarians act up, something similar to the assist we gave you in Wallachia.  Meanwhile, we’ll be training six new legions here in Constantinople for you to take to the Levant as soon as you’ve wiped Khazaria off the face of the earth!”

“Those focking Khazars!” Svein said, as he climbed into bed with Svia.  “My grandfather warned me not to attack them, but the Romans are paying me twenty thousand pounds of gold to do it.  What was I supposed to do?  Turn down twenty thousand pounds of gold?”

“He’ll forgive you,” Svia said.  “He loves gold more than you do.  He focks his wives above the gold and they love it!”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about,” Svein said.

“Your family is so focking complicated!” she answered and she climbed atop him.  “You know what else is complicated?”  No, what?”  “Empress Theophano is focking around on the Emperor and do you know with who and what they do?”  “No.  Do you?”  Svia reversed her position atop Svein and took his lingam into her mouth.  “She massages his cock in her lips like this,” and she gave Svein a sample then spread her yoni out above his face, “and he uses his tongue like that,” she said as he licked her clitoris, “but I think he has a longer tongue,” so Svein stuck his tongue further up her yoni and she said, “longer, longer, he has a big Armenian tongue.”

“How do you know how big an Armenian tongue is?”

“We had Armenian bishops visit us at the nunnery,” she teased.  “Do you know who this young handsome long tongued Armenian general is?”

“Tell me quickly, then put my lingam back into your mouth!”

“It’s John Tzimiskes,” she said.

“Excuse me?  Did you have my cock in your mouth when you said his last name?  It wasn’t very clear.”

“It is Tzimiskes!” she repeated.  “It’s Armenian.  But it takes a long Armenian tongue to pronounce it and I don’t think you got it quite right,” and she squatted her yoni onto his mouth and he tried it again.  “Longer, longer,” she repeated and when she was satisfied with the length, she went down on him.

They say that sex and politics go hand in hand, but Svein and Svia were putting a new twist on it, or were they?

General John Tzimiskes tapped on the door of Empress Theophano’s apartment next to the Emperor’s.  Nikephoros Phokas was an ascetic and slept alone and seldom had sex with his young wife, so his leading general was next door helping out.  Theophano opened the door and let him slip in and they kissed quickly and then tore off each other’s clothing and began focking right away, before even making it to the bed.  John carried her on his member for the last few feet and he fell on top of her as she fell on top of the bed and she grunted when he penetrated her deeply with the force of the fall.  He began thrusting violently and she curled her legs around his back to slow his efforts.  She had gone without for a long while and his first thirty or forty thrusts had caused her some discomfort, but once she got into it, she relaxed her legs and let him ram away.  She soon came and her moaning made him ram her even harder until he finally burst inside her.  “Oh, god,” she said.  “You’re an animal,” and she kissed him.  “How did you make out on the Island of Princes?”

“I saw General Kourkouas,” he replied.  “He is with us.  The next time I’m in Constantinople, we’ll get him out!”

General John Tzimiskes was the Armenian general in charge of the war in the Levant and he’d heard news that he was soon to be replaced by a new Rhos co-Emperor, a Rhos prince who had just defeated the Bulgars in a matter of months.  A Rhos prince whose father General John Kourkouas had almost defeated twenty years earlier.  A Rhos prince whose grandfather had used the legal system of Rome to incarcerate the great general for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  And he had used the wealth and trading power of the Rhos to make the charges stick.

Empress Theophano crawled atop her general and stuck his cock into her mouth as she straddled his face with her vagina.  “Longer, longer!” she cried as he worked his tongue into her.

Prince Svein left the quays of Constantinople with twenty thousand pounds of gold in the hold of his shieldship.  Five hundred pound chests sat below the deck boards where his ballast had been.  Two dozen warships sailed out of the Golden Horn and headed north to Pereslavet.  There were messengers waiting there for him and messengers for the messengers and they all pleaded for him to come relieve Kiev.  He put the gold in the basement of his fortress palace then headed up the Danube and then the Iskar into Bulgaria.  He collected his veteran legion there and left Tzar Boris in charge of Sophia on his own recognisance.  “I still have your father’s head,” he said, and he showed him Tzar Peter’s head in the black leather bag.  “As I said before, your father will have a proper Christian burial in Sofia next year.  If we can get along, I may let you run Bulgaria for me.”  Svia was sitting beside Svein as he spoke and Boris’s Tzarina sat next to him.  “I have been offered the co-Emperorship of Rome in Constantinople, but Bulgaria, Wallachia, Romania and Hraes’ will remain mine.  I intend on surrounding myself with competent leaders who respect their people.  If you are half the man that Tzar Peter was, I want you on my team.”

Tzar Boris nodded his acceptance of Svein’s offer and it was planned that, after Tzar Peter’s burial the following year, Boris and his family would return to Preslav to rule Bulgaria from there.  As Svein was leaving Sofia, Tzar Boris came up to him and said, “I want you to know that I had nothing to do with the Pechenegs attacking Kiev.”

“I know, my friend,” Svein replied.  “Any Pechenegs I know would never attack me.  These are new hordes from the east, courtesy of the Khazars.  They shall pay for it!” he said as his shieldship pushed away from the quay.

Prince Svein had three mobile legions to collect and one veteran legion to distribute throughout Bulgaria and then he would head off to relieve Kiev.  In Baghdad, Prince Erik heard about the Pecheneg siege of Kiev so, he cut trading short a week and the merchant fleet headed north at as fast a pace as they could.  He sent most through Armenia and Georgia, but the Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish merchants, the Vikings, he took across the Euphrates Halys portage and he paid the Roman tithe for them and they sailed north across the Black Sea and straight up the Dnieper River.  The local Pechenegs portaged them around the Dnieper rapids and they were soon sailing past the Pecheneg horde that had surrounded Kiev.  Prince Erik spotted the Prince of the Pechenegs and he had a white shield set at the top of his mast and he sailed towards the group of Pecheneg horse.  Half his crew disembarked and they walked over to the Prince of the Pechenegs and Prince Erik asked him who he was and what his business was there in fluent Pecheneg.

“I am Kagan Kurya of the Kargara of the Painted Horse.  Are you the Prince of Kiev?”

“No.  I am his grandfather, Prince Erik of Gardariki and Tmutorokan, eternal Kagan-Bek of the Hraes’.  What is your business again?”

“I have come to battle Prince Svein of the Kievan Hraes’.”

“He has three huge legions and he should be coming along soon.  Meantime, I have a merchant fleet of Danes, Swedes and Norwegians coming to Kiev to pay their tithes and fees and I don’t want you focking around with them.  They’re all Vikings and they’ll kill you!  Prince Svein will be along to kill you soon enough and I don’t want to spoil his fun by having to kill you first.  That could go very badly for me with the Prince.”

“I would not want you to get in trouble with the Prince,” Kagan Kurya said.  “Perhaps we could exchange weapons and become friends, Prince Erik, eternal Kagan-Bek of the Hraes’,” and Kurya had his men bring forth a fine Turkish horn-bow complete with quiver and arrows.  Erik took up the bow and nocked an arrow on the string and looked out toward his ship on the Dnieper and he drew the bow and shot the arrow and it arched through the air almost a quarter mile and it hit the white shield on the mast dead center, an impossible shot.  “This is a fine bow,” Erik said.  “The white shield signifies the peace that I seek with you.  Now I have a gift for you,” Erik said, unstrapping his sword.

“I cannot take your sword,” the Kagan said.  “It must have much importance to you.”

“This is not my sword,” Erik said.  “It is the sword that I carry because my sword is too dangerous to carry,” and he passed the sword to the Kagan.  “This is my sword,” he said as he waved for his men to bring up a long wooden box.  “Have you heard of the famed sword Tyrfingr?” Erik asked.  The Kagan shook his head.  “Well, the Khazars have,” Erik continued.  Tyrfingr had gotten so dangerous that Erik had it kept in its leaden sheath inside a lead lined box.  “Do you have a man you don’t need?” Erik asked.  “An officer you don’t like or a warrior you think will run?”

“I don’t like my brother-in-law,” the Kagan said.  “He beat my sister yesterday and I was planning to kill him for it.”  The warrior came forward and he was a big man.  “Do you wish to fight him with this Tyrfingr?”

“No,” Erik said.  “I wish to demonstrate the power of Tyrfingr for you,” and he took the sheathed sword out of the box and he pulled Tyrfingr out of the sheath and it glowed brighter than the sunlight of the clear fall sky they were all under.  Erik asked the brother-in-law to dismount from his horse and he walked up to the horse with Tyrfingr and brought the sword down in a long sweeping arc and it struck the horse’s back just behind the front shoulders and it sliced through its chest and did not stop until it bit halfway into the ground, and the horse fell dead in two halves.  The Pechenegs looked at the horse and they looked at each other as if they had just seen magic.  It took all of Erik’s strength to pull Tyrfingr free of the ground again and as he walked past the brother-in-law, Erik thrust Tyrfingr into his chest through his chainmail armour with what seemed no effort at all.  He let Tyrfingr sit in the pooled blood of his chest as he eased the dying Pecheneg to the ground and he touched the cheek of the warrior as if to bid him farewell on his way to Valhalla.  “Tyrfingr must be sheathed in the blood of its last victim or it becomes really dangerous,” Erik said, as he pulled the sword out of the man’s chest and all could see that the glow had all but subsided.  Prince Erik calmly put the sword back in the sheath and then placed them both gently into the box and latched it closed.

“Thank you, my friend,” Kagan Kurya said.  “My sister loved that wife beater and it is better that you have killed him and not I.  My sister would have been as angry with me as your grandson might have been with you, had we not become friends instead of enemies.”

“Speaking of my grandson,” Erik said.  “I would head back east before he gets here.  He seldom sports a white shield as I have,” and Erik pointed towards the white shield on his ship with the impossible arrow in it.  “I would take your horde back through the land in between the Khazars and the Bulgars or the Khazars will try to talk you into coming back here to your deaths, but if you happen to see the Khazars on your way through, tell them, ‘Prince Svein will be coming at you!’  I’ll try to talk him out of it, of course, but as he becomes a greater and greater warrior chief, he becomes harder and harder to control.  I am afraid he shall crush the Khazars this time, even though I have specifically ordered him not to.”

“Thank you for the sage advice, my friend, and for the sword,” and Kagan Kurya turned about on his horse and told one of his lieutenants, “There is magic in the swords of the Hraes”, as they rode away.  So many Pechenegs began retreating from Kiev that the Hraes’ couldn’t get near the river to water their horses for the rest of the day.  As Erik docked his ship at the main quay, Empress Helga came up to him and kissed him and would not stop kissing him.  “I am going to fock you so hard in King Frodi’s room tonight,” she whispered as a very pregnant Malfrieda approached with the boys and the Khazar Princess Serah came up with their baby.  The Viking contingent of the merchant fleet soon started docking along the quays of Kiev and Erik, Helga and Serah were busy for two days processing and recording their tithes.  Then Malfrieda went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy.  She had tried to wait for Svein’s arrival, but little Valdamar had other ideas.  Prince Erik told her that Prince Svein had promised to name his next child Valdamar so, that is what they called him until Svein was to arrive.

Prince Svein and his three mobile legions in six hundred ships soon added to the organized chaos that was Kiev in trading season.  “The Romans are paying me twenty thousand pounds of gold to crush the Khazars,” he told his grandfather as he held baby Valdamar in his arms.

“You know how I feel about that,” Erik told him, ‘but after the stunt they’ve pulled, I’ll not be trying to talk you out of it.”

“So, you agree it was the Khazars?”

“My spies have told me it was the Khazars.  Kagan Kurya of the Garkara of the Painted Horse told me it was the Khazars.  It was the Khazars.”

“It is twenty thousand pounds of gold,” Prince Svein said.  “I need it to move my capital to Pereslavet.  I can’t be co-Emperor of Rome from Kiev.  I’d be frozen in half the year.”

“You could overwinter in Tmutorokan like you always do,” Erik said.  “You wouldn’t be frozen in.”

“Yes,” Empress Helga said.  “Overwinter in Gardariki.”

“Pereslavet is located in the center of my Empire,” Svein said, “and I want you to move there with me, Empress Helga.”

“You’ll already have an Empress there,” Helga said, giving Svia a kiss on her cheek.  “If you’re leaving Kiev, then I’m moving to Gardariki with Erik and Silki.  Is it okay if I move in with you in Gardariki, Erik?”

“I’ve been dying to ask you,” Erik said, “but Svein has only recently acquired an empress to look after him.”

“Good,” Helga said, “but the people of Kiev are going to want to have a prince.”

“I shall appoint Prince Ivar to lead in Kiev,” Svein said, “and Prince Helgi can lead in Chernigov.  They’re getting old enough to rule.”

“If the Drevjane of Chernigov get a prince,” Helga said, “then the people of Novgorod will want a prince.”

“They can have Valdamar,” Svein said.  “When he is old enough to rule.”

Later Svein approached Malfrieda and took her by the hand and they walked.  “When I was in Constantinople, I stayed with Svia in the old palace apartments that you and I stayed in and I told her that we gave each other our virginities there.  She felt bad about keeping me all to herself and she still wants to share me with you, even when she is empress.  What do you think about that?”

“I know that Princess Svia is soon to be an empress and I am just a freed woman and a handmaiden at that, but I would be very pleased to be allowed to share in even the smallest little part of my prince.  I love you, Svein.”

Prince Svein walked her out to his shieldship and he led her below the foredeck and they made love in the furs under the deck.  “I don’t have protection,” she said, but Svein told her he didn’t care about her using protection and he entered her anyway and he remembered their first time together and soon he was flowing freely within her.

“I’d like you to stay in Kiev and take care of our boys and I will visit you and I want to be with you when I visit.”

“She didn’t ask you to share yourself with me, did she?”

“When I was having sex with her in our apartment, I thought I saw you watching me from the dressing room.  Remember the dressing room that you would dance out of wearing nothing but silk scarves?”

“Oh, do I!” she said.  “I have orgasms just thinking about those times.  Constantinople was heaven for me.  You were heaven for me.”

“I think I thought I saw you watching because I wanted you to be there with me again, to live that part of our lives again.  Will you stay with our boys in Kiev?  Helgi doesn’t have to live in Chernigov. He can rule it from here, with you.”

“And you’ll visit me?”

“Yes, I’ll visit you often.”

“Can Serah stay here with me?  We help each other with the children and she doesn’t want to live in Gardariki.”

“That would be up to the Prince,” Svein said, “but I could ask him.”

“Could you bring the Prince to visit Serah when you come to visit me?”

“I will try,” Svein said.  He kissed her and they made love again under the deck and then they returned to the city.

“I’m leaving for Tmutorokan,” Prince Svein told his grandfather, “before the rest of the merchant fleet arrives here.  It’ll be chaos if I’m here when those ships arrive.”

“Will you be overwintering there?” Erik asked.

“Until February,” he said.  “Then I’ll start earning that Roman gold.”

“Are you leaving Malfrieda and the boys in Kiev?” Erik asked.  “I saw you down at your ship with her.”

“We had sex,” Svein said bluntly.  “I haven’t been giving her the attention she deserves.  I want a few daughters for alliances and Svia doesn’t seem as easy to impregnate as Malfrieda was.”

“Yes,” Erik said, thinking back.  “For a while there it seemed that, if you sneezed on Malfrieda, you got her pregnant,” and they both laughed.  “So, you’re going to give her the attention that she deserves now.  That is good.”

“Malfrieda was wondering if Serah could stay with her in Kiev, and she was wondering if you could visit with her when I come visit with Malfrieda.  They help each other with the children.”

“I should give Serah the attention she deserves?” Erik said.  “I think we could both work together on this.”

“Thanks,” Svein said.  “I saw your ship too.  It looks like you have a new cabin boy?”

“That’s Shawn,” Erik told him and Svein knew it was his cover story for Sinead being there unexpectedly.  “I can’t keep my foredeck clean the way I used to so, he stays under it and keeps it clean for me.  I usually drop him off with his family in Tmutorokan, but I rushed here to break up the Pecheneg siege.”

“Thanks for helping me out with that,” Svein said.  “Empress Helga gave me shit for taking so long to get here.  I happened to notice your young Shawn swimming naked between the ships and it looked to me like he was a she.  You might want to keep others from seeing that.”

“Thanks,” Erik replied.  “I’ll look into it.”

“That’s fine,” Svein said.  “We’ve all been experiencing some weird shit of some kind or another since the Battle of Ramnic.”

“Anybody else offing themselves?” Erik asked.

“We lost a couple more last month,” Svein answered.  “The ghost regiment did a real number on us over there.”

At noon, Svein, Svia and his legions gathered on the quays of Kiev and prepared to shove off and the family went down to the docks to see them off.  Erik and Helga would be following to Gardariki after the trading cycle was complete, but it would take longer than usual because Helga was going to be moving there permanently.  “I can’t believe the Romans are going to make Svein co-Emperor,” Helga told Erik as they sailed off.  “I’m worried for him.  You should have seen the riots there when we fled Constantinople.  So much hatred for us.”

“Emperor Nikephoros seems to be an Armenian general who does what he says he will do,” Erik said, holding Helga by the waist as she waved.  “I’m worried for him too.”

“For Svein?”

“For both of them.”

(969 AD)  In early spring Svein packed up his mobile legions and they sailed up the Kuban River and portaged across to the Kura River, sailed down it and caught the Khazars in Samandar by surprise and took the city in a day.  Apparently the Pechenegs hadn’t been stopped on their way back east to give the Khazars warning that Prince Svein would be coming at them.  The city had been plundered by the Hraes’ a few years earlier so, pickings were slim and many of the citizens had been spared of slavery the last time so, captives were few as well.  “We’re being paid by the Romans to crush them!” Svia argued.  “We should load them all up!”  Svein looked back at the flotilla of slaver knars that had followed his fleet and he said, “I’ll leave a garrison here and we’ll take them on our way back from Atil, if we have room.  Right now, we should hurry and try to catch Atil by surprise.”

But news travels like the wind and Atil Kazaran was in full lock down when they arrived there.  Worse, the Khazars had studied how the trebuchets had knocked down the walls of their central city section the last time the Hraes’ went through and they had been busy reinforcing the walls with intermediate towers and beefed up thicknesses.  Prince Svein and his heavy horse rode around the landward city walls looking for weaknesses, but there weren’t any.  Either the Khazars hadn’t gotten around to it, or they didn’t think it was necessary because, like the Romans, they didn’t think trebuchets could be fired from ships, but the riverside walls had not been reinforced.  They were proof against the onagers and catapults that the Romans shot from ships, but they were no match for the higher sling velocities of the gravity trebuchets Svein’s grandfather had designed them so that they could be fired from ships.  Climbing ladders and ropes was a seaman’s normal duty so, climbing up the ladders of a ship borne trebuchet was nothing to the marines of Svein’s mobile legions.

Svein had his men run drills on getting the trebuchets in place on ship and they were knocking down walls within an hour after being ordered to do so.  Some elite ships had their trebuchets up and launching in under thirty minutes.  These were transport warships that might have to fend off catapult attacks at sea so, it was imperative that trebuchets were stored below deck in a fashion that would facilitate reassembly quickly.  And all ships carried tonstone shot in the ballast sections underdeck so, the trebuchets had great effect in taking down the walls quickly to scaling ladder height.  And the ships were designed for scaling ladder attack because the cities of Baghdad and Constantinople both had riverside walls that were weaker than their landward works.  As trebuchets knocked down walls they also softened up lower wall sections that could then be pierced by scorpion bolt throwers so that ships could be tied off against the walls at a scaling ladder distance and longships were excellent for scaling ladders because their long and narrow aspect held a long row of ladders up against a wall and other longships could rowed up on the outside to transfer more troops onto the scaling ladder ship.

Using these marine siege techniques, the three mobile legions attacked the three walled sections of the city and soon the fighting was being carried out in the city streets.  Foot soldiers fought their way to landward city gates and let in the heavy cavalry that then charged through the streets and attacked Khazar troops that were trying to stop the incursions.  The two city sections of Atil fell on the third day and Kazaran fell on the fourth.  The city was sacked mercilessly for three full days and then all the inhabitants were loaded up into slaver knars and were sent off to Tmutorokan for sale in Baghdad in the spring.  This was not a conquest of acquisition, but a conquest of annihilation.  Prince Svein was being paid by Rome to crush the Khazars and there was yet a bonus to be gotten in Armenia, but that was to liberate the state so, Svein allowed his men to ravage the Khazars because they would be on a short leash in Armenia.  The officers took control of the section of the city called Kazaran, meaning Caesar’s House, the old section of the city that contained the palaces of the Kagan and Kagan-Bek, both of whom had been killed in the fighting.

“My grandfather says that the first Kagan was Emperor Valerian of Rome,” Svein told Svia as they ranged through the palace of the Kagan.  “It is said that the Kagans could all trace their blood-lines back to him and that Valerian could trace his own blood back to Augustus Caesar.”

“So, they were Porphyrogennetos?” Svia asked in disbelief.  “Born of the Purple?”

“That’s what the Prince says,” Svein told her.  “He called them the Secret Khazars, because nobody knew except for the Byzantine Emperors.”

“But why would Emperor Nikephoros pay you to wipe out someone born of the Purple?”

“Because he’s Christian and the Khazars are Jewish and because he’s Armenian and the Khazars have attacked Armenia for centuries and they would have still been attacking Armenia, except the Caliphate of Baghdad now controls Armenia and the Khazars don’t want any more trouble with the Muslims.”

“It’s too bad,” Svia said.  “To lose a long bloodline like that…”

“His blood poured out red, like everybody else’s.  Here is where my officers found the harem of the Kagan,” Svein said, and he swung the great double doors open to expose a vast open area and a complex of bedrooms all around it.  “There were enough harem girls to send one to each of my legion ships for my men to enjoy.”

“Six hundred concubines?” Svia asked, incredulously.

“More or less,” Svein said.  “Once my men are done with them, they’ll be sold in Baghdad to the harems of Arabia.”

“But there are sixty men per ship,” Svia said.  “There won’t be much left of them to sell.”

“There are thousands of Khazar women being taken under the awnings of those ships.  The harem girls will be fine.  I just wanted one of them to go to each ship so I don’t hear a bunch of complaints.”

“Here’s the Kagan’s bedroom!” Svein said, opening another pair of huge double doors.  Svia stepped into the bedroom and Svein locked the doors behind her.  “You should see the bed!” Svein said as he led her through the great room into the bedroom.  “It’s huge!” and she stood in front of a bed that was as large as most bedrooms.  “How many harem girls do you think he had on here?” Svein said, bounce testing the bed.

“That’s my job!” Svia said, bounce testing it herself beside him.  Then she pulled him on top of herself and whispered, “Take me now, oh Great Kagan!”  So, Svein took her at the edge of the bed and he took her in each corner and then he came in her at the center of the bed.

While the Khazar women were being ravaged, the Khazar men were being put to work tearing down the walls of the two sections of the city that made up Atil.  The Hraes’ spent two weeks tearing down those portions of the city.  Whatever buildings could be burned were burned and the brick buildings were torn down.  Atil was a city of bricks, millions of them, and the bricks were all stacked up and the stone blocks were all stacked up.  “What are you going to do with them?” Svia asked.

“We’ll just store them here.  If we have a building project in Tmutorokan, we’ll come get them.  Or if Emperor Nikephoros wants to rebuild Armenia, they’re here for him.”

Once Atil was destroyed, the remaining men and women of the city were loaded into the returning Knars and that group was sent off to Tmutorokan.  Then Prince Svein sent his heavy cavalry out in increasingly distant arcs and they pillaged the countryside, destroying farms and vineyards until not a single sheaf of grain or a single grape could be found in all of Khazaria. 

In the summer, Prince Svein left Kazaran and returned to his garrison in Samandar.  He left the people there in peace as he had decided to occupy the city in order to protect the Kuban-Kuma portage route that had been abandoned due to the presence of Khazars years ago.  He spent the summer repairing and improving the portage facilities and then he led his legions across the portage to Tmutorokan and they sailed across the Black Sea to Pereslavets to establish his capital there.  He sent word to Emperor Nikephoros that the Khazar Empire had been crushed and he requested Roman metallurgical engineers come to his new capital to purify his gold.  The Emperor sent his congratulations to Prince Svein and Princess Svia along with the engineers.  Once the gold was purified, another message came from Constantinople requesting that the young couple spend the Christmas holidays there and that Svein and Svia be baptised on December 21st and be wreathed co-Emperor and empress on December 25th.  Prince Svein accepted the invitation and then they left for Kiev to collect some final items for his move.  Prince Svein and Princess Svia visited with Svein’s sons while he packed up items from his youth and Malfrieda caught Svein alone and told him she was pregnant with his child.  He was elated and kissed Malfrieda warmly, which caught her by surprise.  “You’re not angry?” she said.

“Of course not!  You are my first love and we have such beautiful children together.  I will always love you.”  He hugged her then went down on one knee and felt her belly.  He looked up at her, beaming.  Then she knew it was okay.

“What will you tell Svia?” she asked.

“I’ll tell her I sneezed on you and you got pregnant.”

“Don’t tell her that,” Malfrieda said.

“I’ll tell her on the way back to Pereslavet,” Svein said.

Svein didn’t tell Svia on the way back to Pereslavet.  He was going to tell her before the merchant fleet returned from Baghdad, but he didn’t.  Then he was going to tell her before they left for Constantinople but he kept putting it off.  They were getting ready to sail to Constantinople when a messenger from Tmutorokan brought them news that there was soon to be an attempt on the life Emperor Nikephoros and that his own wife, Empress Theophano, and his Armenian general, John Tzimiskes, were involved in the plot.  “The Prince’s spies in Constantinople sent him word of this,” Prince Svein told his wife.  “He asks that we sit tight until a cleric he has contacted warns Nikephoros.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

11.0  EMPEROR JOHN TZIMISKES  (Circa 969-971 AD)

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(Menja said:)

8. “A fool wert, Frodi,                and frenzied of mind,

                        The time thou, men’s friend,    us maidens didst buy;

                        for strength didst choose us           and sturdy looks,

                        but didst not reck      of what race we sprang.”

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(969 AD)  When the Armenian General John Tzimiskes had heard that Prince Sveinald was soon to be crowned co-Emperor by his former general, Nikephoros Phokas, he knew it was time to act.  He told his lover, Empress Theophano to talk Emperor Nikephoros into recalling him to Constantinople so they could begin an insurrection.  Theophano persuaded her husband to recall General Tzimiskes to Constantinople so that he could find a new wife of noble lineage worthy of the nephew of the Emperor.  His wife had just died of a disease; Tzimiskes was a member of the Armenian Kourkouas family and his mother was the sister of Emperor Nikephoros. 

On his arrival in Constantinople, he presented himself to the Emperor and was instructed to visit the palace daily.  He then found ways to slip into her apartment through certain secret passages, shown him by the empress, and they had discussions on how and when to attack Emperor Nikephoros in the bedchambers of the palace.  Soon he started sending her, at intervals, strong warriors, whom she received and kept in a secret room just off her dressing room.  When they had assembled an attack force, John Tzimiskes summoned General Michael Bourtzes and Leo Pediasimos to his home and they began to plot the murder of Emperor Nikephoros.  It was then the tenth day of the month of December.

It is said that during the evening, about the time of the vesper hymns, a certain priest of the imperial court handed the Emperor a note that said, ‘Let it be known to you, Οh Emperor, that a terrible death is being prepared for you tonight.  Because this is true, order a search of the women’s quarters, where armed men will be apprehended who are planning to carry out your murder.’  After the Emperor read the note, he ordered his chamberlain Michael to make a careful search for the men.  But either out of respect for the empress, or because he feared losing her, he left her private chambers unsearched.  As night had already fallen, the empress, as was her custom, went in to the Emperor, and spoke of some maidens who had recently arrived in Constantinople, saying, “I am leaving to give some instructions for their care, and then I will come back here so, leave the bedchamber open and don’t lock it.  I’ll lock it when I get back.”

But the empress did not leave the palace to run the errand.  She remained in her private bedchamber and guarded the warriors in her dressing room and awaited the arrival of John Tzimiskes and his associates who had sailed to the Island of Princes to facilitate the escape of several imprisoned Armenian generals who were to take part in the murder.  The conspirators were to all have an equal hand in the killing, a Death by Cuts, so they would all shoulder the blame equally.

While awaiting his empress, the Emperor made his usual prayers to God and devoted himself to the study of Holy Scriptures.  When the need for sleep came upon him, he laid down on the floor, upon a leopard skin and a scarlet felt cloth, for he was an ascetic who often shunned his bed.  Meanwhile Tzimiskes’ hidden warriors, came out from the secret chamber and waited in the empress’s dressing room, armed with swords, and were awaiting their general’s arrival, some watching closely from the terrace of the upper rooms of the palace.  The water clock was just indicating the fifth hour of the night and a fierce north wind filled the air and snow was falling heavily.

General Tzimiskes arrived with his fellow conspirators, General John Kourkouas, Domestic Theophanes, General Michael Bourtzes and Leo Pediasimos, sailing along the shore in a light boat and disembarking on land in the place called Boukoleon and John whistled to his warriors, who were leaning out from the terrace above, and they let down a basket attached to ropes, and hauled up all the conspirators, one at a time, and then John himself.  After ascending undetected, they entered the private bedchamber of Empress Theophano and hid in her dressing room while waiting for the appointed time of the murder.  Theophano knew that there was a slight lapse in protection when the Emperor’s bodyguards did a shift change between the seventh and eighth hour of the night so, they had a bit of a wait.

John and Theophano laid back on her bed and relaxed while the rest of the conspirators waited in the dressing room.  The room was cool and the two were soon under the covers and snuggling to keep warm and John began massaging her breasts to warm his hands.  Sailing in the December night had been very cold and he had been chilled to the bone so he tore open her night robe and pulled her warm body atop his.  She rubbed her body up and down along his and soon had him warmed up and ready to go.  She slipped under the sheets and took his penis into her mouth to make sure it was sufficiently warm to insert within her and then she slid up his body and took his member inside herself and began sliding up and down his body slowly and when she began coming, she threw off the blankets and began riding him like a stallion.  They tried keeping quiet but Theophano let out a few muffled moans into the cool night air and Michael Bourtzes heard a noise and opened the dressing room door a crack and watched the Empress fucking her general.  The dressing room was warm and stuffy with all the warriors and conspirators hiding in it so, Michael watched as the cool air of the bedroom swept across his face.  He watched Theophano’s beautiful breasts bounce as she rode her stallion and her beautiful face contorted a bit as she choked down her moans.  She looked over at the dressing room door just as it closed and she rode her steed harder until he came hard and flowed within her, then she collapsed atop her general.

At the appointed time, Theophano went out into the palace hallway and saw that the one group of bodyguards had gone and the next had not shown up yet.  She then went across the hall to Nikephoros’ master suite and made sure the door was still unlocked.  She returned to her private bedroom and reminded John that he had ten minutes before the second set of guards would arrive.  General Tzimiskes opened the door to her dressing room and let out his eleven suffocating co-conspirators and they all came out into the cool room and stretched themselves.  They skulked across the hall and entered the Emperor’s great room and locked the door behind themselves and crept into the imperial bedchamber with swords drawn.  When they reached the bed and found it empty with no one sleeping in it, they were petrified with terror and some tried to hurl themselves into the sea from the terrace of the room.  But a eunuch from Theophano’s staff of the women’s quarters led them and pointed out the sleeping Emperor on the floor; they surrounded him and leapt at him and kicked him with their feet.  When Nikephoros woke suddenly and sat up, Leo Balantes, struck him violently with his sword.  The Emperor cried out in pain from the wound, for the sword struck his brow and eyelid, crushing the bone, but not injuring the brain, and he then cried out in a very loud voice, “Help me, Οh Mother of God!” and he was covered in his own blood and stained red with it.  John, sitting on the imperial bed, ordered his men to drag the Emperor over to him and he was dragged over, prostrate and collapsing on the floor, not even able to rise to his knees, his great strength gone, sapped by the blow of the sword.  John Tzimiskes questioned him in a threatening manner, saying, “Tell me, you most ungrateful and malicious tyrant, wasn’t it through me that you attained the Roman rule and received such power?  Why then did you disregard such a good turn, and, driven by envy and evil frenzy, hesitated not, to remove me, your benefactor, from the command of the troops?  Instead of rewarding me, you dismissed me to waste my time in the countryside with peasants, like some alien without any rights, even though I am braver and more vigorous than you; the armies of the enemy fear me, and there is no one now who can save you from my hands.  Speak then if you have any grounds of defense remaining against these charges.”  The Emperor, who was already growing faint and did not have anyone to defend him, kept calling on the Mother of God for assistance. But John grabbed hold of his beard and pulled it mercilessly, while his fellow conspirators cruelly and inhumanly smashed his jaws with their sword pommels so as to shake loose his teeth and knock them out of his jawbone.  When they had their fill of tormenting him, John kicked him in the chest, raised up his sword, and drove it right through the middle of his brain, ordering the others to strike the man, too.  They slashed at him mercilessly, and one of them hit him in the back with an akouphion, a long iron weapon that very much resembled a heron’s beak, and thrust it right through to the breast.  Such was the end of the life of Emperor Nikephoros, who lived fifty-seven years, but held the imperial power for only six years and four months.  He was a man who unquestionably surpassed every man of his generation in courage and physical strength, and was very experienced and energetic in warfare; unyielding in every kind of undertaking, not softened or spoiled by physical pleasures, a man of magnanimity and of genius in affairs of state, a most upright judge and steadfast legislator, inferior to none of those who spend all their lives on these matters.  He was loyal to his allies and remained a true friend to Prince Svein and Princess Sviataslava to the very end, even when Empress Theophano woke up from her sleep one night and told him that she finally recognized and remembered who Svia actually was: a more beautiful younger cousin that she’d had shipped off to a nunnery to avoid having to compete with her in the royal bedchamber of the womanizer, Emperor Romanos.

When Nikephoros’ second bodyguards heard, too late, the racket emanating from his bedchamber, they rushed to defend him, in the belief that the man was still among the living, and they tried to force open the iron reinforced door with all their strength so, General Tzimiskes ordered that Nikephoros’ head be brought in and shown to his bodyguards through a window near the terrace.  A man named Atzypotheodoros went and cut off the Emperor’s head and showed it to the enraged guards.  When they saw the horrid and unbelievable sight, they let their swords fall from their hands, and with one voice proclaimed General John Tzimiskes as Emperor of the Romans.  Nikephoros’ body lay outside on the terrace in the snow all day long (it was Saturday, the eleventh of December), until late in the evening when Tzimiskes ordered it carried off for funeral service.  After it was placed in a hastily built wooden coffin in the middle of the night, they carried it secretly to the Holy Church of the Apostles, and buried it in one of the imperial sarcophagi in the hereon, where the body of the holy and celebrated Constantine is laid to rest.  Only John Tzimiskes knew what had happened to his head.

News arrived from Constanza that the Emperor Nikephoros was dead, so Prince Svein sent a messenger to Tmutorokan with the news for his grandfather.  He then sent a messenger to Constantinople with condolences for Empress Theophano but the messenger was turned away at the city gates.  “It’s a good thing the Prince warned us to sit tight in Pereslavet,” Svein told Svia.  “The new Emperor is General John Tzimiskes of the Kourkouas family, a nephew of John Kourkouas, an old general that had come up against my father, Ivar.  I think they were hoping we would have arrived just after the murder, then they’d kill two birds with one stone.”

“That’s why he was focking Empress Theophano!” Svia said.  “That dirty little cunt was in on the plot!  She’s going to marry John Tzimiskes!”

“I don’t think Tzimiskes wanted me to take over his troops in the Levant.  I’m going to have to take Constantinople if I’m going to be co-Emperor.  I’ll have to kill General Tzimiskes!”

“And I’ll kill Theophano!” Svia said.

“No.  I’m going to marry Theophano,” Svein said.  “She’s old, but she’s still pretty hot looking.”  Svia punched him on the shoulder.  “Okay,” he relented.  “I’ll lock her up in a nunnery and make you empress instead,” and he rubbed his shoulder.

“I’ll kill Theophano,” Svia repeated, determinedly.

“Okay,” Svein said, trying to figure out what Svia had against the empress.

They spent the Yulefest in Tmutorokan, visiting with Svein’s family in Gardariki and Svein and Erik argued about launching a campaign against the Romans.  “These Armenian generals are dangerous,” Erik argued.  “You don’t want to fock around with them.  They know what they’re doing and they cheat all the time.  They don’t post hazel poles and fight fair.  If they can ambush you they will.  And they don’t even follow their own old Roman laws of conquest.  They’re Christians now and can do anything they’re god tells them to do, which is pretty much anything they want to do.”

“I want what is rightfully mine and I want my mother to have what Emperor Constantine owes his wife.  I was screwed out of being King of Denmark and I’m not going to be screwed out of being co-Emperor of Rome.  I don’t even mind sharing the throne with my stepfather Constantine’s grandsons, but John Tzimiskes has got to go.  If I even threaten Constantinople, the mob will turn on Tzimiskes and kill him.”

“They’ll never let you become co-Emperor!” Erik repeated.  “That’s what cost Nikephoros his life.  He was going to keep his word and make you co-Emperor.”

“I’m a hero in Constantinople!” Svein said.  “You should have seen the mob cheering for me when we had Tzar Peter’s head on a pike in front of the Milion!”

“Well, you aren’t anymore!” Erik told him.  “Tzimiskes hasn’t put Nikephoros’ head on a pike, but my spies tell me he carries it in a chest and shows it to his supporters and shows it to his enemies before he has them exiled.  He warns them they could be shortened like Nikephoros.  My spies tell me that John says, ‘He used to be a head taller than me.  Now he’s only a head tall!’ and he laughs in Phokas’ face.”

“Fock!” Svein said.  “I was just getting to like Nikephoros.  Now I’m going to have to kill Tzimiskes and his uncle, John Kourkouas, as well.”

“Don’t fock around with these Armenians!” Erik warned.

“Are you coming up to Kiev with me?” Svein asked.  “I want to get the Kievan legion ready.  And I want to visit my sons.  Malfrieda’s supposed to pop in the new year.  And I promised her I’d get you to visit with your Khazar princess, Serah, and your daughter.”

“It’s focking cold there!” Erik complained.

“What happened to your ‘world warming’ theory?”

“This is as warm as it gets.  Five hundred years from now, it’ll be so cold that all the trade routes will be shut down again.  No Dan’Way, no Nor’Way, no nothing.”

“You should come.  Give those big Khazar breasts a kiss or two and spend some time with your baby girl.  I have to coach Malfrieda along.  I need a daughter for alliances and it’s like you said, ‘If I sneeze, I get her pregnant!”

Erik laughed and said he’d come.  “Should we send messengers north beyond the Baltic and tell them we need Varangian warriors for your war?”

“No,” Svein said.  “I’ve sent messengers to Count Vlad in Wallachia and Tzar Boris in Bulgaria and to Kagan Baitzas of our Pecheneg allies.  I told them I needed troops, but I haven’t said what I needed them for.”

After the new year celebrations in Gardariki, Svein and Erik sailed across the Sea of Azov and went to Kiev by horse drawn sleighs, first through the lands of the Oster Goths and then up the frozen Dnieper, stopping to visit with the eight Pecheneg clans that lived on either side of the river.  The Pechenegs agreed to support Prince Svein and promised Prince Erik their finest young warriors.  They enjoyed the hospitality of the various clans as they progressed upriver and stayed in Gardar forts the rest of the way to Kiev.  Then they were welcomed by family in King Frodi’s palace in Kiev and Erik slept with Serah in King Frodi’s suite and Svein slept with the very pregnant Malfrieda in his mother’s old suite.  They spent time with Svein’s sons, Eyfur and Helgi and baby Valdamar, and with Erik’s new daughter, Serahtoo.  Erik’s Khazar princess had been saddened by what Svein had done to her people so Erik asked her if she would like to try for a boy and she cheered up at this.  So, for the correct three days they had sex without lambskin between them and they crossed their fingers.

Prince Svein and Malfrieda were both convinced that she would be having a girl so, Svein talked with the little girl as he focked Helga’s handmaiden.  Some days the princes watched the First Kievan Legion in training and one day word came to them in the barracks that Malfrieda had gone into labour so, they both rushed off to be with her in the palace.  A midwife and Serah were both with her when they arrived just in time to see a bald little head emerge into the world.  “It’s a girl,” the midwife said as she guided the slippery baby out of the womb.  “Use my knife,” Erik said, passing his seax to his grandson.  “Welcome to the world, Helga!” Svein said, cutting the cord.  He passed the girl up to Malfrieda who put Helga on her chest and snuggled her up to a breast.  “She’s suckling already!” Erik said, amazed.  “Her breasts are almost as big as yours, Serah,” he teased.  “She’s a big one,” Serah replied.  “She’ll need fine breasts.”

“Count Vlad will be glad you named your last boy Valdamar,” Erik said when they were heading back south by sleigh, “and Helga will be pleased you named your first daughter after her.”

“I hope he’s fully recovered by now,” Svein said.  “And I hope you have too.”

“I still take my cabin boy, Shawn, to India with me,” Erik said.

“You’ll have to start wearing protection with your cabin ‘boy’ soon,” Svein reminded him.

“She’ll…he’ll be good for another year or two,” Erik said, and they both laughed.  “How about your girl, Svia?  Have you been wearing protection with her?”

“No,” Svein admitted.  “I was hoping we’d have children by now.  Svia was locked up in a nunnery when she was young.  She was raped and abused by priests and bishops when she was just a girl.  Perhaps that is why she hasn’t gotten pregnant.”

“Sinead was abused as well when she was a girl, but by her own brothers.  Then her father sold her to one of our slavers as a wee wife.  I wanted to get her out of that.”

“Sinead?  That’s your Shawn?” Svein asked and Erik nodded.  “How’s that working out?”

“We have helped each other,” Erik said.  “I have found her a family in Tmutorokan, but she still wants to travel with me.”

“You should tell her to stay with her new family.”

“I have,” Erik agreed, “but we still need each other.”

“Those focking Impalers!” Svein shouted.  “I still sleep inside Svia,” he admitted.  “I don’t know what it is!”

“You know when men are dying on the battlefield and they cry out for their mothers?” Erik asked.  “I think they want to return inside their mothers and it has something to do with that.  Those Impalers played some powerful head games with us.  I think part of us may have died inside.  We sleep inside our women because we want to return to our mothers.  All men want to have their mothers.  We are born motherfockers.”

“Don’t say that,” Svein complained.  “You’re focking my mother.”

“Sorry,” Erik apologized.  “She may be old, but she’s still pretty hot!” and they both laughed.  They were in good spirits on the trip back, almost as though they knew things were going to be getting very bad very very soon.  “Winters aren’t as cold as they were a hundred years ago!” Erik said, changing the subject.

General John Tzimiskes was in his forty-fifth year when he took the imperial rule.  His appearance was as follows: he had a fair and healthy complexion, and blond hair that was thin at the forehead; his eyes were manly and bright, his nose narrow and well-proportioned; his upper facial hair was red, falling into an oblong shape, whereas his beard was of moderate length and appropriate size, with no bare spots.  He was of average stature, with a broad chest and back.  His strength was great, and there was great dexterity and might in his hands.  He had a heroic spirit, fearless and imperturbable, which displayed supernatural courage in such a fine frame; for he was not afraid of attacking single-handed an entire enemy contingent, and after killing large numbers he would return again with great speed unscathed to his own close formation.  He surpassed every one of his generation in leaping, ball-playing, and throwing the javelin, and in drawing and shooting a bow.  When he shot an arrow, he aimed so well at the target that he could make it pass through the hole in a ring; by so much he surpassed the islander celebrated by Homer, who shot the arrow through the axe-heads.  He was more generous and bountiful than anyone; for no one who petitioned him ever went away disappointed of his hopes.  John had the following fault, that sometimes he used to drink more than he should when he was carousing, and he was unable to resist physical pleasures.  After thus gaining control in seven days over the state and acquiring the imperium for himself, as no one ever thought he would, he went to the holy and great church of the Wisdom of God to be crowned by the hierarch with the imperial diadem in the usual manner.· For it is customary for those who have newly embarked upon the Roman rule to ascend the ambo of the church to be blessed by the current patriarch and have the imperial crown placed on their heads.  Since Polyeuktos, who occupied the patriarchal throne at that time, was a holy man with fervent spirit, although advanced in age, he declared to the emperor that he could not enter the church until he banished the empress from the palace, pointed out the murderer of the emperor Nikephoros, whoever he might be, and furthermore returned to the synod the powers that by decree Nikephoros had improperly revoked.  For Nikephoros, wishing either to restore in the way he thought best ecclesiastical affairs that were disturbed by certain members of the clergy, or to have authority over ecclesiastical matters, too (which was a violation), had forced the prelates to draw up a decree that they would not take any action in church affairs without his approval.  Polyeuktos proposed these conditions to the Emperor, for otherwise he could not allow him to enter the holy precincts.  Upon receiving this ultimatum, he removed the empress from the palace and banished her to the Island of Princesses, returned Nikephoros’ decree to the synod, and pointed out Leo Balantes, affirming that he, and no other, was the perpetrator and planner of the murder of Nikephoros.  Thus John was admitted into the holy church to be crowned by Polyeuktos, and then returned to the imperial palace, acclaimed by all the host of soldiers and the people.  General Tzimiskes was crowned Emperor John on the twenty fifth of December, 969.

As for Prince Svein, the leader of the Hraes’ army, Emperor John decided to negotiate with him; and he sent ambassadors to tell him that he should take the pay promised by the Emperor Nikephoros for attacking the Bulgars, and should return to his own territory of Gardar and the Cimmerian Bosporos, the Kerch peninsula, abandoning Bulgaria, since it had belonged to the Romans and was a part of old Macedonia.  After moving there, the Bulgars constantly waged wars against the Roman Empire and took many Romans prisoner, always anxious to make war and raid the Thracian regions.  When the Romans went out to oppose them, the Bulgars always withdrew to densely thicketed areas so as to fight them in difficult terrain.  Thus in that earlier time many wars broke out, brave generals were slain, and the first Emperor Nikephoros, the elder, was killed in battle by the Bulgars and his skull was turned into a drinking cup by their Kagan Krum.

When Prince Svein heard Emperor John’s offer, he took two of his three mobile legions from Pereslavet, a legion he had raised in Wallachia and a Bulgarian legion as well as twenty thousand Pecheneg mounted warriors and he rode south through Bulgaria and attacked Roman Thrace and moving against Constantinople by land.  The Roman navy was back from the Levant and they had three hundred fire breathing trireme dromons so, a naval assault was out of the question.  He attacked the city of Philippopolis by storm, but then he received news from Tmutorokan that his mother, Empress Helga, had suffered a stroke and was near death.  Prince Svein left Captain Biorn in charge of the army and took Princess Svia and one legion with him to Gardariki to attend to his mother.  Prince Erik and Queen Silkisif were there with her, as the merchant fleet had not yet left for Baghdad, and they all took turns caring for Helga at her bedside as she quickly slipped away to meet her King Ivar and Emperor Constantine in the Christian heaven.

News had come to Captain Biorn that a Roman army was approaching from the south so, he took his mobile legion and his twenty thousand Pecheneg mounted warriors and they rode south to meet it, leaving Count Vladimir and his Wallachian legion in control of Philippopolis.  The Hraes’ army came up against the Roman army at a narrow defile north of Arcadiopolis and the battle there was documented by the Roman historian Leo ‘the Deacon’:

Emperor John chose Magistros Bardas Skleros, the brother of his deceased wife Maria, an energetic and extremely powerful man, and he chose Patrikios Peter, who had been appointed Stratopedarches by the former Emperor Nikephoros because of his inherent valour and heroic feats in battle, to lead the army of the Romans against the Hraes’ invading forces.  As soon as Magistros Bardas learned of their approach, since he was an extremely brave and active man, and at that time was incited by anger and a surge of strength, he assembled the picked men with him, and urged them to engage the enemy.  He summoned John Alakas and sent him out as a scout to observe the Hraes’ and Scythians, estimate the size of the host, and see where they were camped and what they were doing.  He was then to send him a full report as quickly as possible, so that he might prepare and deploy the army for battle.  Taking the picked men who were following him, John rode off quickly toward the Scythians; and the next day he sent a message to the magistros, urging him to come with the army, for the Scythians were encamped, not far away, but very nearby.  When Bardas Skleros heard the message, he deployed the army in three sections, ordering one to follow him in the van, the others to lie in wait in the thickets on either side.  They were to sally forth from their places of ambush only once they’d heard the trumpet sound the call to battle.  After giving these orders to the captains, he marched straight against the Scythians, fighting valiantly.  The enemy army had superior numbers, over thirty thousand, while the men following the magistros, including those lying in ambush, did not come to more than ten thousand.  When the battle began, the mightiest men fell on both sides.  It is said that here one of the Scythians, who boasted of his courage and the size of his body, drew ahead of his unit, rode out and attacked Bardas in the van, striking him with his sword on the helmet; but the sword blow was in vain since the blade was deflected by the helmet, glancing off to the side as a result of its resistance.  Then Patrikios Constantine, Bardas’s brother, whose face was just sprouting its first growth of down, but who had an enormous body, with irresistible and invincible strength, drew his sword and went to strike the Scythian.  The latter, however, perceived his assault, and avoided the blow by bending back toward the haunches of his horse.  The horse received the blow on its neck, which was cut through; and the Scythian tumbled down together with his horse and was slain by Constantine.

Captain Biorn had halted his Hraes’ legion before it entered the valley, sensing a trap, but he could not stop the Pechenegs, who, upon seeing the Roman cavalry, rushed forward to attack.  But Biorn could see that the Roman force was a legion of cataphracts, that were heavily armed and armoured and he knew that the light horse of the Pechenegs could not stand up to a frontal assault by such heavy horse.  The Pechenegs were skirmishers who won by encircling and attacking enemy weak points.  Biorn wanted to lead his Hraes’ legion to help them, but most of his force of ten thousand were foot soldiers on horseback and only a minor portion were experienced heavy cavalry so, he set up his foot across the small valley in three ranks behind their kite shields wielding long lances that kept any cavalry at bay and he kept his heavy cavalry and spare horses at the ready behind them.

As the course of the battle was turning this way and that, with frequent and indecisive shifts of the scale in both directions (here the Romans feigned retreats to draw the Pechenegs further into the narrow valley), Bardas ordered the call to battle to sound, and the drums to roll continuously.  At the signal the army (hidden cataphracts) sallied forth from the places of ambush, and appeared to the rear of the Scythians, who were struck with terror and turned to flight.  The rout had not fully developed, when one of the prominent Scythians, distinguished from the others by the size of his body and the gleam of his armour, went around the battlefield, encouraging his companions to fight bravely.  Bardas Skleros rode out on his horse and struck him on the head.  The sword went right through to his waist-guard, neither his helmet nor his breastplate being strong enough to withstand the strength of his arm or the slash of his sword.  When he was cut in two and dashed to the ground, the Romans shouted for joy and were encouraged to brave deeds, while the Scythians, terrified by the novel and extraordinary blow, broke their close formation with lamentation, and turned to flight.  The Romans pursued them until late in the evening, slaughtering them mercilessly.  Fifty-five Romans are said to have died in this battle, many were wounded, and most of the horses were slain, while more than twenty thousand Scythians were killed.  This was the final outcome of the Romans’ struggle with the Scythians at that time.

When Prince Svein returned to Bulgaria from Tmutorokan, he learned that his Pecheneg allies had been slaughtered by the Romans, but Captain Biorn had held his ground against the cataphracts and they had no choice but to return to Constantinople.  And when he returned to Philippopolis he learned that Count Vladimir had impaled twenty thousand Roman citizens of the city in retaliation for the slaughter of the twenty thousand Pechenegs by cowardly ambuscade.  The Roman Princess Sviataslava threatened to kill the count herself and Prince Svein had to hold her back from doing just that so, Count Vladimir of Wallachia took his ten thousand foot soldiers and marched them all the way back to Ramnic after telling Svein that if he fought the Romans using Roman tactics, he would lose.

Prince Svein and Princess Sviataslava and their one Bulgarian and two Hraes’ legions spent the summer ravaging Thrace and Macedonia, collecting slaves for Baghdad and booty for an attack upon Constantinople, but without the Pechenegs and the Wallachians they did not have enough of an army to threaten the city of the Romans.  In the fall they returned to Bulgaria to overwinter in Pereslavet.  Slave knars came to Bulgaria to take away the Roman slaves for training in Kiev and Tmutorokan.

From the History of Leo the Deacon:

Emperor John ordered the troops from Asia to cross over to Europe by way of the Hellespont, to spend the winter in the region of Thrace and Macedonia, drill daily with their weapons (so that they would not be out of training at the campaign season and be unfit for battle with the enemy), and wait for springtime.  For when spring began to emerge from the gloom of winter and brought the state of the world into steady fair weather, then the Emperor would come to them, leading his own troops, in order to attack the Tauroscythians (Hraes’) with all his forces.

Emperor John sent a message to Prince Svein saying, if you do not leave the land, then willing or not you will be driven from it by us.  For I think you are well aware of the mistake of your father Igor (Ivar), who, making light of the sworn treaties, sailed against the imperial city with a large force and thousands of light boats, but returned to the Cimmerian Bosporos with scarcely ten boats, himself the messenger of the disaster that had befallen him.  I will pass over the wretched fate that befell him later, on his campaign against the Germans, when he was captured by them, tied to tree trunks, and torn in two.  And I think that you too will fail to return to your own country, if you force the Roman army to march against you, but you will be killed there with all your troops, so that not even a fire-bearing priest will return to Scythia, to announce the dreadful fate that overtook you.”  Sphendosthlavos (Svein ‘the Old’) became furious at this response, and, carried away by barbarian frenzy and rage, made the following reply: “I see no urgent need for the Emperor of the Romans to come to us.  Therefore let him not tire himself out by coming to this land; for we will soon pitch our tents before the gates of Constantinople, will surround this city with a mighty palisade, and will meet him bravely when he sallies forth, if he should dare to undertake such a great struggle.  We will teach him with very deeds that we are not mere manual laborers who live by the work of our hands, but bloodthirsty warriors who fight our foes with weapons, although the Emperor believes in ignorance that Hraes’ soldiers are like pampered women, and tries to frighten us with these threats, as if we were suckling infants to be frightened by hobgoblins.”

Upon hearing these insane words of the Scythian, the Emperor decided not to delay, but to prepare for war with utmost zeal, so that he might anticipate the Scythian’s attack against him, and check his assault against the imperial city.  Thus he immediately selected a squadron of brave and vigorous men, calling them “Immortals,” whom he bade remain at his side.  The Emperor ordered these generals (General John Kourkouas and Peter the Eunuch) to take his troops and march to the region that adjoins and borders Bulgaria; to spend the winter there, drill the army, and watch over the region vigilantly, so that it would not suffer any damage from Scythian raids; and to send bilingual men, clothed in Scythian garb, to the camps and abodes of the enemy, to learn their plans, and communicate them to the Emperor. After receiving these orders from the Emperor, they crossed over to Europe.

In 970 Duke Bardas Phokas, in Caesaria in Cappadocia rebelled against Emperor John so John sent Bardas Skleros against him, so he organized the army into squadrons of cavalry and cohorts of infantry.  He then went after Bardas Phokas and got him to surrender peacefully.  For when the Scythians heard about the departure from Europe of the supreme commander Bardas Skleros, when he was sent to Asia by the Emperor on account of the rebellion recently kindled by Bardas Phokas, as I have already related, they began to harass the Romans terribly; they made sudden incursions, plundering and ravaging Macedonia unsparingly, since the Magistros John Kourkouas, who was entrusted with the command of the army there, had turned to immoderate indolence and drink, and handled the situation in an inexperienced and stupid manner; therefore the spirits of the Rhos’ were raised to insolence and boldness.  Because the Emperor could not endure their overweening insolence and downright arrogance, he was anxious to curtail and break it with all his might by fighting them in close combat.  Thus he ordered that the fire-bearing triremes be steadied with ballast, and that a large quantity of grain, fodder for the beasts of burden, and sufficient weapons for the army be transported to Adrianople in supply ships, so that the Romans would not run short of any of these while they were engaged in war.  While these preparations were being made, John accepted in marriage Theodora, the daughter of Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos, who was not exceptionally distinguished for her beauty and physical grace, but indisputably surpassed all other women in prudence and in every kind of virtue (and carried the blood of the Caesars in her veins).  But the proposed wedding celebration was to take place in the month of November, in the second year of his reign.  The people were overcome with tremendous rejoicing because the Emperor governed his subjects with a gracious disposition and equitable manner; he was especially admired because, even though he was distinguished and possessed the temperament of a ruler, he also revealed himself as gentle and reasonable toward his subjects, and readily granted mercy to those who asked for it.  Then he entertained the people with largesse and contests in the Hippodrome, and spent the winter in Constantinople, awaiting the spring season, drilling his select troops daily in whirling about in both directions while fully armed, and in every military skill that had been devised for warfare by the most valiant of men.

(Anno 971)  As soon as the gloom of winter changed to the fair weather of springtime, the Emperor raised the standard of the cross and prepared to march against the Tauroscythians (Rhos’).  He went to the Golden Horn to survey the fire-bearing triremes that were riding at anchor in orderly fashion in the inlet of the Bosporos of which there were over three hundred, together with swift and light vessels, which are colloquially called galleys and patrol boats.  Then he sent them to the Danube to guard its passageway, so that the Scythians would not be able to sail away to their own country and the Cimmerian Bosporos (Kerch), if they should turn to flight.  After Emperor John departed from Byzantium, he arrived with all his army at Adrianople.  He learned from scouts that the difficult and narrow paths leading to Bulgaria (which they call kleisourai because they are so closed in) were not guarded by the Scythians; and he assembled the captains and taxiarchs and spoke as follows: “My fellow soldiers, I thought that the Scythians, who have been expecting our arrival in their land for a long time, would have with all their might closed off the most strategic and narrow and inaccessible portions of the paths with walls and stockades, so that we could not easily proceed further.  But the approach of Holy Easter has deterred them from securing the roads and preventing our passage, since they do not believe that we would give up the ceremonies attendant on the great festival, the splendid attire and processions and luxuries and spectacles, and become involved in the toils and tribulations of warfare.  Thus I think the best course of action is to seize the opportunity immediately, and, equipping ourselves as quickly as possible, proceed along the narrow path before the Tauroscythians become aware of our approach and rush in force to the rough terrain.  For if we manage to pass through the dangerous ground first and attack them unexpectedly, I think that, with the aid of God, let it be said, we will capture at the first assault the city of Preslav itself, where the Bulgars have their royal palace; and setting forth from there, we will very easily subdue the insolent Rhos’.”

This was the advice of the Emperor, but to the commanders and taxiarchs at any rate these words seemed to be ill-timed recklessness and purposeless rashness verging on senseless insanity, to recommend thoughtlessly that the Roman forces proceed into foreign territory by a precipitous path full of cavernous hiding places.  Therefore, since they remained silent for quite a long time, the Emperor again resumed speaking, swollen with rage: “Since I have engaged from my youth in warfare, and, as you know, have crowned myself with many triumphs and victories, I myself am well aware that to go into battle without due deliberation, but in a bold and arrogant manner, is particularly likely to result in danger and ruinous destruction.  On the other hand, when the situation is, as it were, on a razor’s edge, and does not give an opportunity to act according to one’s wishes, then I think you too will agree with me that it is necessary to seize first this moment, seize this day, and take good care of our own affairs, since you have acquired great experience of the varying and shifting fortunes of battles.  If then you will heed me as I counsel a better course of action, while the Scythians have lapsed into indolence, as yet unaware of our approach, let us seize the opportunity and victory will follow upon our passage through the gorge.  For if they should perceive us when we were about to pass through, and should deploy themselves into ranks to oppose us in the narrow defile, the situation would not turn out well for us, but would lead to dire straits and difficulties.  Therefore pluck up your courage, and, remembering that you are Romans, who have overwhelmed all your enemies by force of arms in the past, follow as quickly as possible, displaying your valour by means of your deeds.”

After making this speech and putting on shining armour, he mounted a proud and mettlesome horse and shouldered a very long spear, and set off on the road, having in the van the company of so called “Immortals,” suitably sheathed in armour.  He was followed by fifteen thousand of the most valiant heavy-armed infantry, and by thirteen thousand cavalrymen; the rest of the soldiers and the service unit, who were transporting the siege machinery and all kinds of siege engines, followed slowly behind with Proedros Basil, to whom the Emperor entrusted responsibility for these machines.  After he marched them through dangerous and precipitous areas without anyone taking notice, he checked the intense pace of the march, and allowed the cavalry and infantry to rest on a secure hill that had a river flowing past on both sides, promising an abundance of water.  As soon as full light dawned, he roused the soldiers and deployed them into deep formations, and advanced on Preslav, ordering the trumpets to sound the call to battle frequently, and the cymbals to clash and the drums to roll.  And thus an indescribable clamour burst forth, as the mountains there echoed the drums, and the weapons clanked in response, and the horses whinnied, and the men shouted and encouraged each other for the battle, as was fitting.

The Tauroscythians, on the other hand, when they saw the approach of the disciplined army towards them, were seized with panic and terror, in their astonishment at the unexpected turn of events.  But they quickly seized their weapons and shouldered their shields (these were very strong, and made so that they reached to their feet, for greater protection), and drew up into a strong close formation and advanced against the Romans on the plain before the town (which is suitable for cavalry), roaring like wild beasts and uttering strange and weird howls.  The Romans came to blows with them, and fought stoutly and accomplished worthy feats of warfare.  When the battle was evenly balanced on both sides, at this point the Emperor ordered the Immortals to attack the left wing of the Scythians with a charge.  So they held their spears before them and violently spurred on their horses, and advanced against them.  Since the Scythians were on foot (for they are not accustomed to fight from horseback, since they are not trained for this), they were not able to withstand the spears of the Romans, but turned to flight and shut themselves up within the walls of the town of Preslav; the Romans pursued them and killed them mercilessly.  For they say that in this attack eight thousand five hundred Scythians were killed.  The survivors shut themselves up in the town, and vigorously hurled missiles from the battlements above.  It is said that at that time the Patrikios Kalokyras was staying at Preslav, the man who, as I have already related, previously incited the Rhos’ army against the Mysians (Bulgarians); and that when he heard about the arrival of the Emperor (for it was impossible for him to miss it, since the bright gold of the imperial insignia was gleaming incredibly), he secretly slipped out of the town in the middle of the night and went to Sphendosthlavos (Prince Svein ‘the Old’), who was staying with all his army somewhere near Dorostolon (which is now called Dristra).  So Kalokyras escaped in this way, and oncoming darkness made the Romans desist from battle.  The next day, when the rest of the army came up with the siege machines (the day was the so-called Holy Thursday), Emperor John rose early, and organized the units into unbroken close formations, and, after ordering the trumpets to sound the charge, he attacked the fortified wall in the hope of capturing the city at the first assault.  As for the Rhos’, after they were encouraged by their general (this was Sphengelos [Svein ‘the Old’], who ranked third among the Scythians after Sphendosthlavos [Svein ‘the Slav’], for the latter ruled over everyone), they resisted from the battlements and warded off the attacking Romans as best they could, hurling javelins and missiles and fist-sized stones from above.  The Romans, shooting constantly from below with bows and stone-throwing devices, and with slings and javelins, forced the Scythians back, by pressing hard and not allowing them to lean out from the battlements with impunity.  And the Emperor shouted in quite a loud voice and ordered them to set ladders against the circuit wall, and gave new vigour to the siege with his shouting; and everyone fought bravely under the gaze of the Emperor, and hoped soon to receive from him rewards commensurate to their labours.

While the Romans were pressing hard and setting the ladders up against the walls, at this point a brave young man, whose face had just begun to be downy with reddish fuzz, a native of the Anatolic theme whose name was Theodosios, with the surname Mesonyktes, drew his sword with one hand and with the left raised his shield over his head, so that he would not be hit from above by the Scythians, and climbed up the ladder.  When he got near the battlements, he aimed at the Scythian who was leaning out and defending himself against Mesonyktes with his spear, and struck him in the neck tendon; his head was swept off together with his helmet and rolled to the ground outside the walls.  The Romans cheered loudly at the novel deed, and many of them ran up the ladders, emulating the courage of the man who had climbed up first.  When Mesonyktes got up on the wall and gained control of the battlement, he smote great numbers of the defending Rhos’ on all sides and threw them headlong from the walls.  And after many men quickly climbed up the circuit walls everywhere, and cut down the enemy with all their might, the Scythians abandoned the battlements and ignobly rushed into the stoutly walled royal palace, where the Mysians’ treasure was stored, but inadvertently left a gate open.

While this was happening, the host of the Romans, attacking from outside the walls, broke through and smashed the pivots and bolts of the gates, and entered within the town, inflicting incredible slaughter upon the Scythians.  And it is said that then Boris, the king of the Mysians, whose face was thickly covered with reddish hair, was captured with his wife and two infant children, and brought before the Emperor.  The latter received him and treated him honourably, calling him ruler of the Bulgarians, and saying that he came to avenge the Mysians, who had suffered terribly at the hands of the Scythians.

As soon as the Romans got inside the town, they spread through the streets, slaying the enemy and carrying off loot.  Then they attacked the royal palace, where the host of the Rhos’ was crowded together.  But the Scythians inside resisted mightily and slew them as they slipped in through the gate, and killed up to a hundred and fifty vigorous men.  When the Emperor learned of this disaster, he quickly rode out on his horse, and urged his followers to throw themselves into the battle with all their strength.  But since he was not able to achieve any glorious result (for the Tauroscythians were waiting for those who entered through the narrow gate, and easily killed most of them with their swords), he restrained the senseless headlong onslaught of the Romans, and ordered them to set fire to the palace on all sides with flaming arrows.

Since the fire was burning fiercely and quickly reducing the underlying structures to ashes, the Rhos’, more than seven thousand in number, came out of the buildings and crowded together in the open courtyard, and prepared to defend themselves against their assailants.  Against them the Emperor deployed the Magistros Bardas Skleros with a vigorous company of men; Skleros surrounded them with the unit of most valiant men who were following him and set to work.  Once the struggle began, the Rhos’ fought bravely, not turning their backs to the enemy, but the Romans shot them all down by virtue of their valour and experience of warfare, and most of the Mysians also fell in this battle; for they joined with the Scythians, and were hostile to the Romans, because they were the cause of the Scythians’ coming to them.  Sphengelos escaped to Sphendosthlavos, finding safety in flight together with a few men; but then he was killed, as I will soon recount.  Thus Preslav was captured in two days and made subject to the Romans.

The Emperor John rewarded the army, as was fitting, and let them rest, and celebrated there the Holy Resurrection of the Saviour.  Then he selected some of the Tauroscythian prisoners, and sent them to Sphendosthlavos to announce to him the capture of the city and the slaughter of his comrades, and to tell him not to hesitate, but to choose immediately one of two options: either to lay down his weapons and yield to a stronger force and beg forgiveness for his rash deeds, and to depart immediately from the land of the Mysians; or, if he was unwilling to do this, but was inclined rather to his customary insolence, then he should defend himself with all his might against the advancing Roman forces.  He ordered them to make these declarations to Sphendosthlavos; and then, after spending a few days in the city and restoring the damaged fortifications and leaving behind a sufficient garrison, and calling it Johannoupolis after his own name, he went off with all his army to Dorostolon.  Along the way the Emperor captured the city called Pliskova (the first capital of Bulgaria) and Dineia and many of the cities that rebelled against the Scythians and came over to the Romans.

When he saw that the Mysians were rebelling against their alliance with him, and going over to the Emperor, he deliberated at length and reflected that, if the Mysians sided with the Romans, affairs would not turn out well for him.  So he selected three hundred of the Mysians who were of distinguished ancestry and power, and devised a cruel and inhuman fate for them: for he had all their throats cut and killed them; and he put the rest in chains and confined them in prison.  Then he mustered the Tauroscythian army, which came to sixty thousand men, and deployed it against the Romans.  And while the Emperor was approaching them at a deliberate pace, certain bold souls, spurred on by reckless courage, separated off from the Rhos’ army, set up an ambush, and then attacked some of the advance scouts from their hiding place and killed them.  When the Emperor saw their bodies tossed alongside the path, he reined in his horse, and in anger at the death of fellow countrymen ordered that the perpetrators of this deed be tracked down.  After the foot soldiers zealously searched the copses and thickets and captured those attackers, and led them in chains into the presence of the Emperor, he ordered that they be put to the sword immediately.  And they did not hesitate at all, but cut them completely to pieces with their swords.

As soon as the troops assembled in the area before Dorystolon, which they were accustomed to call Dristra, the Tauroscythians closed their ranks with spears and shields and, as it were, made them into a tower[shield wall], and awaited the enemy on the battlefield.  After the Emperor deployed the Romans in the van and placed ironclad horsemen on both wings, and assigned the archers and slingers to the rear and ordered them to keep up steady fire, he led out the army.

As soon as the troops came to grips with each other, the battle broke out fiercely, and during the first assault the contest was equal on both sides for a while.  For the Rhos’ fought furiously, considering it a terrible and shocking thing, if, when they had the reputation with neighbouring peoples of always prevailing over their enemies in battle, they were now to be shamefully defeated by the Romans and lose this reputation.  The Romans, on the other hand, were overcome by shame and anger, lest they, who prevailed over every enemy by force of arms and their own valour, should now have to withdraw, as if inexperienced in battle, overwhelmed by a people who fought on foot, and knew nothing of riding on horseback, and lest their great glory should vanish in a moment.  So the soldiers fought valiantly, nourishing in their hearts such concerns for their reputation.  The Rhos’, who were directed by their habitual ferocity and passion, attacked the Romans with a charge, bellowing as if possessed, but the Romans rushed to meet them with discipline and practical skill; and many men fell on both sides.  Until late afternoon victory appeared to be in the balance, as the course of battle swayed this way and that.  The sun was already setting, when the Emperor threw the cavalry against them in force, and bolstered the men’s spirits, shouting that, since they were Romans, they should display their prowess by means of their deeds.  So they pressed forward with an extraordinary assault and the trumpeters sounded the call to battle, and a shout arose from the Romans in a body.  And the Scythians were not able to withstand their attack, and turned to flight and rushed to the fortifications, losing many of their men in this battle.  The Romans chanted the songs of victory, and acclaimed the Emperor, and he then rewarded them with awards of dignities and with banquets, and made them even more zealous for battle.

(Anno 971)  As soon as day broke, the emperor fortified the camp with a secure palisade in the following manner.  A low hill rises from the plain some distance from Dorostolon.  He had the army pitch its tents there and ordered them to dig a trench all round.  They were to carry the dirt to the edge of the ditch that encircled the camp and deposit it, and when the dirt was piled up to a sufficient height, they were to plant spears firmly on top, and to lean against them shields touching each other, so that the army could use the ditch and heaped-up dirt as a wall, and the enemy would be unable to get inside, but their attack would be thwarted when they approached the trench.  And it was customary for the Romans to set up their camp in this way in enemy territory (a Roman ring fort) .  After strengthening the palisade in this manner, the next day he drew up the army in battle order and began attacking the wall.  The Scythians leaned over the towers and hurled missiles and stones and other far-darting weapons against the Roman army; and they in turn defended themselves from below against the Scythians with slings and arrows, and the fighting on both sides consisted of this sort of skirmishing.  Then the Romans went to their palisaded camp for their evening meal; but the Scythians, as the day was coming to a close, emerged from the fortress on horseback, making at that time their first appearance riding on horses.  For they had always been accustomed to advance into battle without cavalry since they were untrained in mounting on horses and fighting the enemy.  The Romans quickly protected themselves with armour and mounted their horses, and after snatching up lances (they use very long ones in battle), they rode out against them with a vigorous and mighty charge.  And since the Scythians did not even know how to guide their horses with reins, they were cut down by the Romans, and turned to flight and shut themselves up inside the walls.

Then the Romans’ fire-bearing triremes and the grain transports appeared sailing up the Istros (Danube); and when the Romans saw them, they were filled with unspeakable joy, but the Scythians were seized with fear, since they were afraid of the “liquid fire” that they transported.  For they had heard from the elders of their people how the immense army of Igor [Ivar], the father of Sphendosthlavos, had been reduced to ashes by the Romans in the Euxine [Scythian Sea] by means of this Median fire [Greek-fire].  Therefore they quickly collected their own light boats, and dragged them in front of the town wall, where the Istros as it flows by washes one side of Dorostolon.  The fire-ships surrounded them and kept watch so that the Scythians would not be able to embark on them and escape to their own land.

The next day the Tauroscythians slipped out of the town and arrayed themselves on the plain, protecting themselves with shields that reached to their feet and chainmail breastplates; and the Romans also emerged from their camp completely sheathed in armour.  Both sides fought valiantly, and it was unclear who would be victorious, as both sides pushed each other back in turn.  But then one of the Romans broke away from the formation and struck down Sphengelos [Svein ‘the Old’ – Svein’s Norse name], a huge and vigorous man, who was ranked third after Sphendosthlavos [Svein ‘the Slav’ – Svein’s Slav name] by the Tauroscythians, and was fighting furiously at that time; and the Tauroscythians were thrown into disarray by his death, and gradually retreated from the plain and hastened back to the town.  At that time, too, Theodore Lalakon, a man who was hard to withstand and invincible in the might and strength of his body, killed great numbers of the enemy with an iron mace; for he wielded it with such force in his arm that he would crush at the same time the helmet and the skull protected by it.  Thus the Scythians then turned to flight and retreated to the town; and the Emperor ordered the signal for withdrawal to be sounded, and summoned the Romans back to camp, and rewarded them with gifts and drinking bouts, thus encouraging them to go into battle with robust spirits.

While the situation was still uncertain, the Rhos’ drew up in serried ranks, and marched out on the plain, endeavouring with all their might to burn the Romans’ siege machinery; for they were unable to withstand the whizzing missiles the latter discharged, and many of the Scythians were killed each day by the stones that were hurled.  The Magistros John Kourkouas, who was related to the Emperor and was keeping guard over these machines, saw the bold attack of the enemy and, although he was drowsy from wine and nodding off (for it was after lunch), he mounted his horse and attacked them with picked followers.  But his horse fell in a hole and threw the magistros off his back.  When the Scythians caught sight of his gleaming armour and the horse’s cheek-pieces and other trappings, which were magnificently wrought (for they were lavishly gilded), they thought that he was the Emperor, and attacked him in a body with their weapons, and cruelly cut him to pieces with swords and axes; and they stuck his head on a spear and attached it to the towers, jeering at the Romans that they had butchered their Emperor like a sheep.  To fall victim to the wrath of barbarians was the price that the Magistros John paid for his drunken violence against holy churches; for he is said to have plundered many of the churches in Mysia and to have refashioned their furnishings and holy vessels into personal valuables.  [Here we have a hint that the Romans may have been confused by Svein’s two names, the Norse and Slav, and thought they had killed Svein, but had killed Captain Biorn instead].

Elated by this victory, the Rhos’ issued forth from the city the next day, and drew up their ranks on the battlefield; and the Romans also were arrayed in close order and in a deep formation and went to meet them.  At this point Anemas, one of the imperial bodyguards and son of the leader of the Cretans, caught sight of Ikmor, second in command of the Scythian army after Sphendosthlavos and ranked immediately after him, a huge and vigorous man, who was frenziedly attacking with a company of infantry following him and killing large numbers of Romans; and Anemas was incited by his innate prowess, and drew the sword which was hanging at his side and turned his horse this way and that, and goaded it with his spurs, and headed toward Ikmor.  And he overtook him and struck him in the neck; and the Scythian’s head and right arm were severed and dashed to the ground.  As he fell, a cry mingled with lamentation arose from the Scythians; and the Romans attacked them.  They could not withstand the enemy assault, but grievously distressed by the death of their general, raised their shields, covering their shoulders, and withdrew to the town; and the Romans pursued them and slaughtered them.

Then Sphendosthlavos assembled a council of nobles, called a komentoh in their language.  When they were all gathered round him, and had been asked by him what the course of action should be, some advised that they should embark on their boats in the middle of the night and steal away by any means whatsoever; for they were not able to contend with ironclad horsemen, and besides, they had lost their best warriors, who had encouraged the army and sharpened their mettle.  Others counselled, on the contrary, that they should come to terms with the Romans, and receive pledges in return, and thus save the remaining army.  For they could not easily escape by ship, since the fireships were keeping watch over the transports on both sides of the Istros, so that they could immediately set fire to all of them if they attempted to sail out on the river.  Sphendosthlavos groaned deeply and bitterly, and said: “If we now yield ignobly to the Romans, gone will be the glory that has attended upon the arms of the Hraes’, as they have effortlessly overwhelmed neighbouring peoples, and enslaved whole lands without bloodshed.  Rather, let us again manifest the valour of our ancestors, and, remembering that up till now the might of the Hraes’ has been unvanquished, let us fight ardently for our safety.  For it is not our custom to return to our fatherland as fugitives, but either to be victorious and live, or to die gloriously, after displaying deeds worthy of brave men.”  Such was the advice of Sphendosthlavos.

The next day, it was Friday, the twenty-fourth of July, and just before sunset, the Hraes’ emerged from the fortress with all their forces, and having decided to risk everything in one last great push, they drew up into a strong wedge formation, protected by their kite shields and long lances to protect themselves from Roman knights.  The Emperor organized the Romans and led them out of their camp.  When the battle commenced, the Hraes’ fiercely attacked the Romans, pelting them with javelins and striking their horses with arrows and dragging the knights from their faltering mounts to the ground.  The Roman knight, Anemas, who had killed Ikmor the previous day, saw Prince Svein charging the Romans in a frenzy and leading his cohorts forward, so he spurred on his horse, as he was accustomed to do, having previously killed many Varangians in this manner, giving the horse free rein, and he rode up to him and struck him across the chest with his sword, and knocked him flat, but did not kill him because he was wearing the lamellar armour of a Greek-fire marine officer and then a kite shield which he pulled across his body.  Anemas was then surrounded by Hraes’ troops and his horse was brought down by long-lance thrusts, he killed many of the Hraes’ about him, but Svein rose and struck him dead with a sword.

The Hraes’ rallied around Prince Svein when Anemas fell, and shouted loudly and fiercely, and drove the Romans back and they began to retreat to avoid the fierce assault of the Hraes’.  Emperor Tzimiskes saw that the Roman army was giving way and he was afraid that a rout was starting so, he charged forth on his mighty stallion and his gold gilt armour caught the setting sun as he brandished his gilt spear and led a squadron of cavalry forward and advanced against the Varangians.  Drums beat and trumpets sounded a call to battle and the retreating Romans were shamed by the Emperor’s assault, and wheeled round their horses, and fiercely attacked the Hraes’.  At the same time a wind and rainstorm broke out, pouring down heavily from the sky and obscured the vision of the enemy.  A man appeared on a white horse ahead of the Romans and encouraged them to advance against the Hraes’ and he broke through the enemy regiments in a wondrous fashion, and threw them into disarray and the Romans saw that it was the great martyr Saint Theodore, whom the Emperor had beseeched for help in battle, and to protect and preserve him together with all the army.  It was later said that on the evening before the battle, in Constantinople, a virgin dedicated to God thought that she saw in a dream the Mother of God, escorted by men in the form of flames, and She said to them, “Summon for me the martyr Saint Theodore”, and immediately there appeared a brave young man in armour, and the Mother of God said to him, “Lord Theodore, your Emperor John, who is fighting the Pagans at Dorostolon, is now in very difficult straits so, make haste to help him, for if you are not in time, he will be in mortal danger.”  He in turn replied that he was ready to obey the Mother of God his Lord; and after saying this he departed immediately, and thus sleep vanished from the eyes of the virgin and her dream of aid was fulfilled.

The Roman knights and foot soldiers, following Saint Theodore, who led the way, came to grips with the enemy and put aside all thoughts of flight.  And when fierce fighting broke out, the Hraes’ could not withstand the assault of the shield wall and the cavalry, and they were surrounded by Magistros Bardas Skleros, who led a legion of cataphracts against them, that seemed to come out of nowhere, and the host of Hraes’ turned to flight and were trampled right up to the city wall and fell there, for there were no troops left in the fortress to protect the retreat with a hail of arrows.  Prince Svein, himself, narrowly escaped capture and made it within the safety of the walls, having lost a lot of blood and been stricken by many arrows.  He was saved by the approach of darkness.  And it is said that in this battle fifteen thousand five hundred Scythians were killed, and that twenty thousand shields and a vast number of swords were captured; while three hundred fifty of the Romans were killed, and many wounded.  Such was the victory that the Romans won in this battle.  That is what the Romans saw of the miracle of Saint Theodore.

What the Hraes’ saw was somewhat different, for , to them, the Saint on the great white stallion had no lower legs.  He rode out ahead of the retreating Roman formation and Prince Svein could see through the rage of battle that it was his father, Saint Ivar ‘the Boneless’, and he was waving the Hraes’ forces back.  “It is a trap!” Svein shouted to his men and he ordered them to halt their charge and barked out orders to reverse their advance.  They began charging backwards to the fortress for they had all been trained to charge forward or back with the same ease and speed by the legendary General Sun Wu.  When Magistros Bardas Skleros and the legion of cataphracts appeared from behind the Roman siege engines and began a charge against the retreating Hraes’, long rocket propelled foot bow arrows flew forth from the fortress and exploded amongst the Roman cataphract formation and the horses panicked and charged this way and that in total disarray.  Prince Svein looked up at the fortress walls and could see the Roman black armour of Count Vlad’s Wallachian troops and the Hraes’ archers that he had left in Ramnic.  The Hrae’s legion withdrew into the city with few casualties.

“Word travelled up the Danube that your forces were under heavy assault in Silistra,” Count Vlad told Svein, as he entered with his troops.  “We gathered our forces in Ramnic and sailed here as fast as we could, but we saw the Roman fire-breathers on the river so, we had to wait until the setting sun obscured their vision so we could sail into the cover of the fortress walls.  It’s a good thing they couldn’t see us because there was nobody in the fortress so provide covering fire.  So we occupied the walls and we could see the Roman cataphracts behind their siege engines ready to spring a trap upon you.”

“I know,” Svein said, shaking the count’s hand in thanks.  “My father, King Ivar, rode up ahead of us on his white stallion and waved us back from the attack.”

“There was no white horse on the field,” the count replied.  “You must have seen something in that storm that erupted briefly.”

A Hraes’ marine officer came up to the two men and said, “Someone is coming up the Danube with a great fleet.  The river has risen six inches in the last six hours.”

“Fock! More Romans!” Svein cursed.  “The Danube rose a few inches when the fleet of fire breathers came up the Danube a few weeks ago and there’s three hundred of them,” Svein explained to the count.  “Six inches!  This fleet is at least twice as big!”

“Shall I send some twelve oared boats downriver tonight?” the marine officer asked.  “They can see who is coming and send riders back to warn us.”

“Yes, see to it,” Svein ordered and he took the count by the arm and offered him a meal in the dining hall.  “We don’t have much,” Svein apologized.  “We’ve been rationing for the last month.”

“We brought ships full of food,” the count said.  “We thought you might be running low.  Why are the Roman dromons all sitting in the waters in front of Silistra and not upstream further as well?”

“They’re here to keep us from escaping back to Hraes’,” Svein explained.  “I guess they didn’t think any aid would be coming from upriver.”

“Well, we unfooted our masts and approached with the setting sun at our backs, so I don’t think they know we are here and I brought the Wallachian legion and a Hraes regiment, twelve thousand fresh troops that they don’t know are here.  We should keep it that way.”

Then Svein said, “Princess Sviataslava is here.”

“I know the drill,” Count Vlad replied.

The count was not allowed in the presence of the princess.  He had done too much to her.  If she knew he was there she would want to kill him or leave and they were under siege.

The next day, Prince Svein learned from his marines who was coming upriver and it was a total surprise.  The full merchant fleet from Baghdad was coming, headed by thirty old bireme dromons that Princes Erik and Ivar had built to destroy the old fleet of fire breathers that Admiral Theophanes had destroyed Ivar’s treasure ships with and then left anchored in Messembria.  Admiral Theophanes had only fifteen fire breathers back then, but he now commanded three hundred, but they were on the Danube River, not the Black Sea and they could only face Erik about a dozen wide at a time and Prince Erik’s dromons were fire breather killers.  Each had dual trebuchets on deck and they slung tonstone shot that tore ships apart, plus they carried rocket propelled arrows that blew fire breathers apart if they landed in the bronze naphtha spewing tubes of the Greek-fire systems.  John Tzimiskes had broken both General John Kourkouas and Admiral Theophanes out of prison on the Island of Princes so they could help him deal with the Hraes’ and General Kourkouas was dead and Admiral Theophanes was soon to be.  But Prince Erik sent messengers to the Admiral requesting talks with Emperor John and Prince Svein.  The admiral was relieved.  He did not want to go up against Prince Erik again, either at sea or in the Law Courts of Constantinople.

“I have looked into the future and I have seen the final outcome of the Battle of Dorostolon,” Prince Erik told Emperor John and Prince Svein, as they sat at a negotiating table between the two armies.  “And it is not pretty.  Neither of you leaves this place alive.  All your best men die here with you and only the cowards are left alive to tell the tale.  So a mutually agreeable compromise must be reached.”

“I have sought nothing but peace with the Hraes’,” Emperor John claimed.

“I just want what is rightfully mine,” Prince Svein said.  “I was promised a co-Emperorship for all the conquests I have made for Rome.”

“You were well paid in gold for your efforts,” Tzimiskes said.

“As the stepson of Constantine Porphyrogennetos, I have a legitimate claim to the throne of Rome,” Svein said, “unlike some at this table.”

“Ah yes,” Emperor John said, “Empress Helga.  The beautiful Swedish princess that stole an Emperor’s heart.  The people of Constantinople still rave about her beauty.  And this is the beautiful Princess Sviataslava?” John asked, looking at the stunning young woman sitting next to Svein.  Svia smiled at the Emperor.

“Good,” Erik said.  “Something we can all agree upon.  It’s progress.  So, Svein has a valid claim and you Romans are against sharing it.  Do you have any other outstanding claims, Svein?”

“The throne of Denmark is owed me as well, as you full know.”

“I’m asking so that the Emperor knows this as well.  Will you have to fight for that throne too?”

“I don’t think that my nephew, Harold ‘Bluetooth’ is likely to give it up without a fight.”

“Would you, Emperor John,” Erik asked, “be willing to keep Prince Svein’s claim to a co-Emperorship open until he resolves this other claim first?”

“His claim is what it is.  It will always be open as long as he is alive.”

“Good,” Erik said.  “And would you, Svein, hold off on any claim to the Roman throne until you have gained your claim to the Danish throne?”

“It’ll take years,” Svein complained, “but I could be persuaded if I got enough gold to start that claim rolling.  And the red gold of Byzantium would be a good place to start from, say twenty thousand pounds.”

“Ten thousand,” Emperor John countered.

“Split the difference?” Prince Erik suggested.

“Done!” they both said.

“I’ll draft up a contract in Latin this afternoon,” Prince Erik said, “then we’ll have a signing and a small exchange of gifts.”

“You have my word on this,” Emperor John said.

“Mine as well,” Prince Svein added.

The Emperor got up and shook hands and kissed Princess Svia’s hand, then left.

“Fock, these Emperors are hard to deal with,” Svein complained.  “Svia and I are going to freshen up.”

Prince Erik was already drafting up the agreement.  “Going someplace to fock is more likely,” he said and the young couple laughed as though it weren’t true.

“You read Latin, right?” Erik said to Svia as she was leaving.

“I learned it at the convent,” Svia said.

“Good,” Erik said.  “Most Armenians can’t read Latin, so the Emperor may need a translator this afternoon.”

“Did you really see both our deaths in the future?” Svein asked.

“Come see me when you’re done and I’ll tell you about it.”

Svein came to see his grandfather an hour later.

“Emperor John passed Svia a note when he kissed her hand,” Erik told the young prince.  “Could you get it from her and let’s see what it says?”

“Do you want to come with me?”

“I have to finish this contract,” Erik answered.  “You read it and if it’s important bring her back here with you?”  Servants were busy erecting a pavilion in the middle of the field for the signing.  Prince Svein returned after another hour.  “The Emperor wants to marry her!” Svein shouted.  “She didn’t want to come out, she’s so embarrassed.”

Erik read the note.  It was written in Greek, poorly written, but it was a proposal of marriage.  “My spies in Constantinople told me that Emperor John had to give up Theophano to a convent on the Island of Princesses or the Patriarch wasn’t going to anoint him as Emperor.  She’s quite a looker and now John has had a marriage arranged for him with a Theodora who definitely isn’t.  He could be hoping to find himself a good looking Roman princess to marry before he has to marry Theodora or we could be missing something here.  Have you noticed the resemblance between Theophano and Svia?” Erik asked.

“There’s a bit of resemblance,” Svein admitted, “but Theophano’s a looker and Svia’s knock down, drop dead gorgeous!”

“Perhaps too gorgeous,” Erik said.  “Have you ever found out who she really is or what convent she was locked up at?”

“She said she has blocked out her past, but I think the convent was just outside Constantinople.”

“Just like the convent on the Island of Princesses?” Erik said.

“Do you think John would send Svia back to the convent for Theophano?”

“I think they’re sisters and this is their form of our own tradition of fratricide.  Our princes have a terrible habit of killing off their younger brothers to ensure that only they can inherit a throne.  Perhaps they use the Islands of Princes and Princesses for this as well.”

“Fratricide!” Svein spat.  “It’s disgusting!”

“Says someone whose name is Swine and whose older brother was named Snake.  They’re mortal enemies you know, the snake and the swine.”

“Yes,” Svein admitted.  “But now I have a ‘Bluetooth’ to deal with.  What’s the mortal enemy of a ‘Bluetooth?”

“A dental barber?” Erik said.  “I noticed you’ve taken up shaving your head again.”  Erik put down his quill and looked up at his grandson.  He still had a long blonde shock of hair at the top of his head, but he had been growing his hair all around it and cutting it in the Roman fashion and now, at war with the Romans, he had reverted to the haircut Erik had thrust upon him before the Battle of the Impalers.  “Anyway,” he started again, “if Svia and Theophano are sisters, then Svia is Armenian as well.  There is more going on here than we can imagine.  These Armenians stick together when they are not busy killing each other.  I think Theophano finally recognized who Svia really was and she’s asked her Emperor John to return her to the convent so they can suffer together.  But John is an Armenian who has gotten a taste for focking Armenian beauties and they don’t get more beautiful than Svia,” Erik admitted.

“So he’s going to keep her for himself after all?”

“My spies have told me that he has been putting off the marriage with Theodora while he has been shopping around.  Why would he marry a plain jane Roman princess when he can marry a truly exotic Armenian beauty?  That is not our John.  He was dipping his quill in the Emperor’s ink behind Nikephoros’ back because he can’t resist Armenian beauties.  All the intelligence I have tells me that he killed Nikephoros solely because he was being displaced by you.  These Armenian generals truly hate the Hraes’.  We are the only people on Earth that they fear.  He would have been completely content serving the Emperor as his star general while focking his wife behind his back forever.  He fears you more than anyone else in this world.  And you should fear him.  He is one mother-focking Armenian killer general, even better than General John Kourkouas.”

“I noticed what a killer he is as he directs his troops into the fray,” Svein said with contempt.

“He’s killed many men himself,” Erik said.  “He’s just learned how to take care for himself, something I always had to remind your father to do.  And I’ll take a moment to warn you as well.  Soldiers fight and soldiers die, but the soldiers who survive retire to land that the state provides them.  Princes are born and princes die, but they can never retire.  They risk fratricide from early on to regicide when they are faltering in old age.  There are plenty of old soldiers, but there are very few old princes so, you must learn to take care for yourself and learn from Emperor John’s example.”

“Thank you for your words of wisdom,” Svein said.  “I shall work on that.  The fact that you are undoubtedly the world’s oldest surviving prince lends great weight to your words.”

“A few more words of wisdom,” Erik said, looking up towards the walls of Dorostal.  “Take down that head of General John Kourkouas and show it some respect.  Attach it back to his body and I’ll return it to the Romans before we have the signing.  And put a subtle watch on your Armenian princess.”

Svein looked up towards the fortress wall and said, “We thought we had killed the Emperor!  He had so much gold on his armour that we thought it was Tzimiskes!”

“That was Kourkouas all right!” Erik said and Svein started to leave him to finish the contracts then stopped.

“Did you really foresee our deaths?” Svein asked.

“I foresaw your death in battle at the hands of the Romans and I saw Emperor John’s death by these hands,” Erik said, the quill balanced in one open palm, “with a terrible stroke from Tyrfingr that cut his golden armour in two.  But by then, thousands upon thousands were dead and the Danube was burning.”

“It sounds absolutely glorious!” Svein said.

“I know!  You owe me one,” the Prince said.  “Now fetch me my general.”

Over lunch a ship came up to the shore between the City of Silistra and the Fortress of Dorostal and two white horses were unloaded and a chariot was hauled out and hitched up to them.  Lunch had been brought out to the pavilion because Prince Erik wanted to maintain a neutral position in the conflict even though he had foreseen fire ships burning on the Danube by his own hand if the peace failed.  A wagon came out from the fortress after lunch, driven by medical alchemists who had used great care to stitch the Roman general, John Kourkouas, back together.  Prince Erik had them load the stretcher across the back floor of his antique Roman chariot.  He then boarded it, took up the reins and smacked the horses with them and they trotted across the battlefield towards the Roman camp.  Prince Erik drove into the camp and the Roman troops marvelled at the beauty of the antique Roman set of wheels and the beautiful white stallions drawing it forward.  The Prince stopped in front of the Imperial pavilion and Emperor John came out to meet him.  “I’d heard you were a collector,” the Emperor said as he walked up to the chariot.  “I am as well.  Fourth century?”

“Fifth century, built in Rome, just before the fall.  The peak of chariot technology,” Erik said.

The Emperor patted a horse as he studied the machine from draught pole to the bronze body panels to the spoked wheels.  A bronze tag above the wheel said, ‘Body by Piscator’ in Latin.  “The bronze panels are Etruscan,” Erik said.

“It is Achilles dragging the body of Hector,” the Emperor said.  “And you are King Priam,” Tzimiskes said as he rushed to the side of General Kourkouas and stroked his bristled cheek.  “He was a great warrior and general.”

“The only general I ever feared,” Prince Erik said, taking one end of the stretcher and lifting it effortlessly.  Tzimiskes grunted as he took up the other end and they carried the stretcher into the pavilion and put the body on the dining table inside.  “He feared you and King Ivar as well,” Emperor John said, “although he refused to admit it, unlike Admiral Theophanes.  He still fears you.  He’s out on the Danube right now shitting himself.”

“I saw Admiral Theophanes on his flagship,” Erik said.  “Treat him well.  He is the last of our breed.”

Emperor John marvelled at the vitality of Prince Erik.  “It is said you personally knew Emperor Theophilos.”

“He entertained me as a guest in the dungeons of Constantinople,” Erik admitted.  “He taught me to read and write Latin there.”

“So, the palace did have dungeons back then,” John said.

“My cell was fitting of a prince,” Erik continued, “and the Latin he taught me ended up saving my life so, I think only kind thoughts of him.”

“I shall see that the general gets a procession and fine burial in Constantinople,” the Emperor said.

“That pleases me,” Erik said.  “The contracts are ready for your perusal and signing any time you are free, Emperor.”  Erik jumped up onto his chariot and drove off to his pavilion as Roman officers watched and admired his carriage.

Mid-afternoon, the Emperor showed up for the signing and asked where Princess Sviataslava was.  “Only those required for signing,” Erik said, “will be here for the signing.”  Tzimiskes nodded and began perusing the agreement.  All lands south of the Danube were to be turned over to the Romans and the lands north of the river were to remain in Hraes’ control and this ran all the way to the Black Sea so, Pereslavet, Prince Svein’s city of empire, would become a Roman possession.  Peace was to prevail between the two Empires and Prince Svein promised not to attack the Eastern Roman Empire and not to press claims to the Roman throne until he had at least gained his entitlement to the throne of Denmark.  Prisoners were to be exchanged and the Hraes’ were to be allowed to return home without fear of fireships and the Romans were to supply them with provisions, and to consider them as friends when they journeyed to Byzantium to trade, just as was their previous custom.

The Emperor John readily accepted the terms and signed the contracts with Admiral Theophanes as witness and Prince Svein signed for the Hraes’ with Prince Erik signing as witness.  Then gifts were exchanged and Emperor John gave Prince Svein his personal sword and fifteen thousand pounds of gold and Princes Svein and Erik gave John Tzimiskes the antique Roman chariot with the matched set of white chargers.

The Hraes’ had agreed to leave the Fortress of Dorostal the next day so, they began packing that night and when Prince Svein and Princess Sviataslava went to sleep that night she told Svein that she was too tired to have sex.  In the middle of the night she slipped Svein out of herself, crept out of their bed, got dressed and went out into the fortress, got herself a horse and rode out towards the Roman camp.  She was trotting along slowly in the dark and when she trotted by the Roman siege engines a small squad of Hraes’ cavalry rode up to her and took her into custody.  When Svein woke up the next morning he asked the captain of the guard where his wife was and was told that the intelligence officer who was given the task of watching the princess had intercepted her trying to defect to the Romans and was being held as instructed.

Svein met with his grandfather and they discussed the situation.  Prince Erik said if she wants to go, let her go, but Svein was deeply hurt by her betrayal.  “What if Emperor John just wants to return her to the convent with Theophano?  She is still the mother of my sons, the first two at least.”

“We know that she is only officially their mother and she could remain that whether she comes with us or goes with the Romans.”

“I cannot allow her to do that to my sons,” Svein said.  “She will return to Kiev with me and at least be a mother to my sons.”

The two princes had a meeting with Princess Svia and she confessed that she was Theophano’s cousin and that she had been placed in a convent by Theophano’s more powerful Armenian dynasty family.  She told Svein that she no longer loved him and that she wanted to be Empress of Rome with John Tzimiskes.  “Emperor John just wants to return you to the convent so that your cousin can continue to abuse you.”

“That is what my spies in Constantinople tell me as well,” Prince Erik lied and they convinced her it was true.  Perhaps it was, perhaps not.  Prince Svein no longer wanted her after her betrayal, but he wanted his sons to have their mother at least.  So it was decided that Svia would come back to Kiev with Svein.

The next day, as Prince Svein and Princess Svia were rowing out in a boat to sail away, Emperor John asked to speak with the Prince and some of his men called him back to shore.  The Emperor sat on horseback at the bank of the Danube, clad in armour ornamented with gold, accompanied by a vast squadron of armed horsemen adorned with gold.  Svein had his men row back and he was grasping an oar and rowing with his companions as if he were one of them.  His appearance was as follows: he was of moderate height, neither taller than average, nor particularly short; his eyebrows were thick; he had grey blue eyes and a small nose; his beard was clean-shaven, but he let the hair grow abundantly on his upper lip where it was bushy and long; and he shaved his head completely, except for a long lock of blonde hair that hung down on one side of his head, as a mark of the nobility of his ancestry; he was solid in the neck, broad in the chest and very well-articulated in the rest of his body; he had a rather angry and savage appearance; on one ear was fastened a gold earring, adorned with two pearls with a red gemstone between them; his clothing was white, no different from that of his companions except in cleanliness.

“Good morning Prince,” the Emperor said, “and good morning Princess Sviataslava,” he added.  “I just wanted you both to know that you are welcome in Constantinople anytime.”

“We are both going to Kiev and will not likely be heading south for a very long time,” Svein apologized and Svia added, “My sons miss me and I must go back to Kiev.”  She wasn’t going to risk being sent back to that focking convent for all the Roman thrones in the world.  And her cousin Theophano concurred with her thinking after a few years there.  Before she managed to escape, she gained an education about the sexual appetites of celibate bishops and priests. 

“Have a good trip,” the Emperor said, “and if you change your mind, you are always welcome to stay with me.  Also, watch out for Pechenegs on your way back.  I have word that the Khazars have paid them gold to attack you north of your rapids.”

“You paid me to wipe out the Khazars and that’s what I did,” Prince Svein protested.

“You missed a few,” the Emperor said.  “They came to Constantinople looking for donations.  I didn’t know what they needed the donations for at the time, but I have since learned of their plans to support a Pecheneg attack against you on your way back.”

Svein began rowing away with his men and Svia waved bye as she departed sitting on the helmsman’s seat of the boat.  Thus the war of the Romans with the Scythians came to an end.

According to John Skylitzes, a contemporary of Leo ‘the Deacon’, Sfengus or Sphengos was a brother of Knyaz Vladimir I of Kiev.  Sfengus was a leader in the joint Byzantine-Kievan campaign to depose Georgius Tzul, the last recorded khagan of the Khazars.

Though identified as a brother of Vladimir I of Kiev, some historians such as Simon Franklin and Jonathan Shepard hypothesize that he is identical with Mstislav of Tmutarakan, Vladimir’s son.     Pretich? No.  Vlad’s father Sveinald had to keep his identity quiet because of the Romans.  Pretich = Erik. Sfengus = Sveingeezer or Svein ‘the Old’, the father of Vladimir ‘the First’.

CHAPTER TWELVE

12.0  THE PARTITIONING OF HRAES’  (Circa 972-974 AD)

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9. “Hardy was Hrungnir,           but his sire e’en more;

                        more thews than they          old Thjatsi had.

                        Ithi and Aurnir                       are of our kin:

                        are we both born to              brothers of etins.

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(972 AD)  Prince Svein and Princess Svia packed up their belongings in Pereslavet and loaded up their gold, some red, some golden and they sailed with their legion, composed of what was left of Svein’s three new mobile legions, and they sailed to Gardariki to meet up with Prince Erik.  He had just arrived there back from Kiev, where he had just finished tithing the merchant fleet that had then returned north across the Baltic.  It had been the first time Erik had done it without Empress Helga and he was thankful they had trained his Khazar princess, Serah, to help with the paperwork.  He’d then spent a bit of time with the pregnant Serah and her daughter and with Svein’s sons and Malfrieda and returned back to Tmutorokan in time to welcome Svein and Svia on the main quay of Gardariki.  Queen Silkisif was there as well and very concerned about the young couple after their recent defeat at Dorostal.

“There were Pechenegs north of the rapids,” Erik said, “just as Emperor John warned there would be.”

“Well, he probably sent them there,” Svein shrugged.  Princess Svia stood beside Svein but they were not holding hands as usual.  They entered the city and rode chariots to the palace.  There was food and ale inside and they sat at their high seats and discussed plans as they sat and dined, Erik and Silki on the first highseat and Svein and Svia sharing the second.  “I’d like Serah to stay in Kiev with you,” Erik started.  “She can help me with the merchant fleet from there and she can help with the children.”

“I won’t be long in Kiev,” Svein said.  “I’m going north soon to claim the throne of Denmark, but she’s welcome to live there as long as she wishes.  It works out well.  She can help Prince Eyfur rule the Poljane.  I’m going to leave Svia in Chernigov with Prince Helgi to rule the Drevjane,” and Svia nodded at this, “and I’m going to take Malfrieda to Novgorod with young Valdamar to rule the Hraes’ there.”

“You’re right,” Silkisif said.  “It does work out well.”

“I’m leaving my gold here,” Svein said, “if it’s okay with you two.”

“Oh, yes,” Silki said, hugging Erik’s arm.  “Leave it as long as you wish.”

Later, Erik and Silki were in bed together making love over all the gold stored in the basement of the palace.  As they relaxed later, Silki said, “There had to be thirty thousand pounds of gold that Svein unloaded!”

“Thirty five thousand,” Erik confirmed.  “He didn’t lose the war for lack of funds.  He just ran out of legions.”

“And the Romans didn’t,” Silki said wistfully.

“They always seem to have one more legion,” Erik said just as wistfully.  “I told him not to fock with those Armenian generals.”

“Speaking of one more,” Silki whispered, “do you think?”

“You know the drill,” Erik said, laying back.

“It’s just, with all that fresh gold below us…” and she took his limp lingam into her mouth and she soon had it swelling.

Fresh troops had been training all spring and summer in Tmutorokan so, Svein’s one legion was split back up into three legions and the new trainees were integrated into the legions as required.  “I’ll send the Tmutorokan legion back when I’m done with the Pechenegs,” Svein promised as they left the main quay of Gardariki.

“Don’t be too hard on them,” Erik warned.  “Kagan Kurya isn’t a bad leader.”

Six hundred ships sailed through the Cimmerian Bosporos and around the Crimea and up the Dnieper to the rapids.  Prince Svein and Svia visited with Kagan Baitzas of the Yavdi Erdem Pechenegs at the portages and Svein apologized for the loss of all the Pecheneg warriors at the Battle of Arcadiopolis.  “You were at your mother’s deathbed,” the kagan said.  “Things would have been different,” Svein assured him, “had I been there.”  The kagan looked Svein in the eye and said, “At least your Count Vlad made the Romans pay for their treachery, life for life.  Kagan Kurya is waiting to challenge you upstream,” the kagan warned.  “Anything I should know?” Svein asked.  “Don’t be too hard on him,” the kagan answered.  “He’s from the east.  I hear there are sturgeon in the Volga, too.”

It is said that the Hraes’ army spent the winter at the mouth of the Dnieper, starving, but it was just units of Hraes’ stragglers making their way back out of Bulgaria.  Prince Svein had found a few of them camping there as he passed through and he picked them up and reintegrated them into his legions, but there would be more following, so he’d left supplies on the island there so nobody would starve.

Princess Svia was the first to spot the Pechenegs from the forestem of Svein’s shieldship.  The nomadic horde was twice the size of the Hraes’ army, but half of them were on the left bank and the other half on the right.  They were all horse mounted warriors and would cross the river back and forth on horseback to stay in touch, so the prince had his ships row up to the western bank and the legions were unloaded in twenty minutes and the Pechenegs were riding south on both banks to meet him.  The ships returned to the center of the river and cast anchors as the legions formed up to face the western horde.  Then the legions began advancing in reverse, moving south along the riverbank as though not wishing to engage the Pecheneg mounted warriors.  The western group followed them south and the eastern group kept pace with them on the other bank.  Prince Svein withdrew his army in this fashion for most of the day until they were almost upon the Dnieper cataracts, then he positioned his forces for battle and when the western Pecheneg forces attacked he met them with his army and their shield wall held against the light horse, collapsing slightly on the riverbank flank until the Pechenegs were soon encircled with the rapids at their backs.  When the eastern nomads tried to ride across the river to aide their comrades, they found the waters too deep and fast for their horses to handle.  Thousands were swept downriver and drowned in the rapids as the remainder watched a great slaughter of cavalry on the western bank as the sun set before them.  It was the Battle of Cannae all over again, but this time, Hannibal’s veteran troops were replaced by the staunch Essoupi Rapids.  The last of the western Pecheneg forces were about to plunge into the river behind them and try their luck with the waters when the ships that had been anchored upriver rowed down to block them off.

Kagan Kurya had his warriors lay down their weapons and Prince Svein allowed the kagan to ransom his men.  The gold the Romans had given them was rowed across the river from their baggage train on the eastern bank and the kagan passed it on to Svein.  In the Roman chests Svein found much of the gold he had given to the Romans as gifts for promising him the co-Emperorship with Emperors Nikephoros, Basil and Constantine.  In one chest he found the baptismal ewer that he’d had made of Tzar Peter’s skull for his own proposed baptism.  He wondered how many Romans knew, if any, what pate was under the encasing gold plate.  Gold plated cranial drinking cups had never been a Pecheneg practice; it was more of a Bulgar thing.  It was almost dark when the Hraes’ army embarked upon their ships.  “There is a city called Kazaran at the mouth of the Volga,” Prince Svein told Kagan Kurya.  “You may winter there if it is peace you seek.  I shall be leading a Varangian merchant fleet through there in the spring and I shall give you land if you wish to serve me.”

“If we overwinter in Kazaran,” Kurya began, “the Romans will learn of our defeat here and will want their gold back.”

“Tell the Romans we fought on both banks of the Dnieper and that Prince Sphengelos, who had survived Dorostolon, won the battle on the west bank and carried on to Kiev, but that Prince Sphendosthlavos lost the battle on the east bank and died there on the sands of his beloved Dnieper.”  Prince Svein then took out his baptismal ewer and told Kagan Kurya that there was a gold encrusted skull in the ewer and he swore Kurya to secrecy and told him what he had done to Tzar Peter of Bulgaria.  The Kagan paled at the telling, for such things were not Pecheneg practices, and Svein concluded with, “I think the story of the skull may have died with the murder of Emperor Nikephoros, so watch the Roman reaction to this to confirm it.”  Svein pried all the jewels out of the ewer and then passed to Kurya.  “Keep this as proof, for there is a skull inside it, but you will have to rework the gold to a simple cup so the Romans don’t recognize it as part of the payment they gave you.”

When Prince Svein returned to Kiev there was much celebrating, for rumours had been circulating that he had been killed by the Pechenegs that had invaded Gardar.  Instead, the prince had garnered a great victory there, but he did nothing to quash the rumours.  It suited him if the Romans thought him dead.

The sons of Prince Sveinald had been awarded their respective territories of Gardar and fully expected to lose them because the Grand Prince had lost his Bulgar gains.  But Prince Svein did not recant on his gifts.  Instead, he announced that he would be going to Denmark and Norway.  “I want to go to Denmark and take back the lands that my father conquered.  His strategy of ruling two realms is now more important than ever.  And I want to get the Nor’Way back up and running or the Khazars will be back on the Volga.”

Prince Svein bid his oldest son, Eyfur or Ivaropolk, as his Poljane subjects called him, goodbye in Kiev, leaving Serah as his guardian.  Then he and Svia travelled with his younger son, Helgi or Oleg, as his Drevjane subjects called him, to Chernigov and he bid them goodbye there.  And finally, he travelled to Novgorod with Malfrieda and their son, Valdamar, sometimes called Vladimir after Count Vlad, and their new baby Helga.  He spent the winter with his mother’s favourite handmaiden there.

“Would you like to have another baby?” Svein asked her as they got into bed.

“No!” she said.  “Use this!” and she threw him a lambskin.

“We used one of these when we both lost our virginity,” he said, throwing it back to her, “and it never worked.”

She laughed because it made her think back to their younger days in Constantinople.  She sat down naked at the edge of the bed and said, “I’ll try and get it right this time.”  She gave his lingam a few strokes with her hand and it stiffened up quickly and she slipped the lamb gut sleave over it and tied it carefully at the base.  She then sucked on the gut and regurgitated some spit to lubricate it and then she climbed up on him and breathed in suddenly as she slid down on him.  Then she let her breath out and began to ride him in a nice gentle rhythm.  “You still have the most beautiful breasts,” he said as he watched them rise up and down with her body’s flow.  “You say that to all the girls,” she replied as she picked up the pace and soon she began moaning gently and she came several times before he finally exploded within her.  She gave his lingam a gentle squeeze and it felt good so, she did it again and then she got off him and she untied the lambskin and pulled it off him and she took his lingam into her mouth while it was still hard and she savoured the taste of it.  It was salty, like Hraes’ Khazar Vayar and she went over to the bedtable and took some Khavayar and spooned it onto his cock and began to suck it off.  “The trick,” she said, “to making the lambskin work, is to get off and move on to other things right away,” and she spooned more Khavayar on and licked it off, savouring the taste of both.

“I hope you’re enjoying my cock aperitif,” Svein said, enviously.  He had been taught to speak the French of the Normans.

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “The tastes are very complimentary.  And don’t worry…you’ll be getting your share soon.”

She loved the boy in Svein.  She loved the man, but the boy in Svein was hers always and she had turned that boy into a man.  No other woman could make that claim.  No other girl.

(973 AD)  A messenger came up from Kiev with the news that the Khazar princess, Serah was due soon and that Prince Erik was going to be there for the birth so, Svein and Malfrieda and Valdamar headed south by sleigh to the capital to visit.

“You sent a horde of Pechenegs our way.” the Prince complained as he shared a horn of mead with Svein.

“Kagan Kurya?” Svein asked.  “That was half a horde.  I killed the other half.  How’d you find out?”

“A fleet of Khazars asked to use the Kuma-Kuban portage,” he answered.  “They said that Kagan Kurya kicked them out of Kazaran.  They pleaded to be allowed to sail to Hungary to join the Magyars.”

“And you let them?” Svein asked, incredulously.

“It’s the route their forefathers took a hundred years ago.  How could I say no?”

“I think the Magyars of Hungary are converting to Christianity.  Latin Christianity,” Svein added, remembering the schism that was growing.  “The Khazars are Jewish.”

“They said the Wends offered to take them if the Magyars wouldn’t.”

“So, Kagan Kurya came through for me,” Svein said.  “I was wondering if he would.  I want his Pecheneg women to take over the sturgeon roe farming the Khazars had been doing for us.  Kagan Baitzas hinted that these eastern Pechenegs might be interested.”

“Are you planning on reopening the Nor’Way?” Erik asked.  “And you’re going to do it with Pecheneg help?”

“I can handle them,” Svein paused.  “I want to be a Varangian while I still can.”

“A Varangian?” Erik exclaimed.

“Yes!  A Varangian like you!  I’ve worked the Dan’Way my whole life, but I’ve never done the Nor’Way.  The crossing!”

“Byzantium has a Varangian Guard of thousands and I’ll bet a hundred of them have actually made the crossing.  Why would you want to do it?”

“Does it change you?  Does it make you different?”

“Well….yes.  I guess it does.  It did me.”

“That’s why.  My father couldn’t.  I’m doing it for him, too.”

“It’s important to keep both ‘Ways’ running,” the older trader added.

“Especially now.  With the Bulgars crushed and the Khazars gone….we have to fill that void.  Or the Khazars will be back.”

“You’re not just after Denmark, are you?” Erik said.  “You’re after Norway too!”

“I’ll take both if I can get them,” Svein said.  “But if Denmark takes too long, I may have to settle for Finehair’s throne.  Either of Haralds’ thrones will do, and then I’ll be back making a claim on the Roman throne.  Why rule a million or two when I can rule a hundred?”

“But the contract specifically says the throne of Denmark,” Erik reminded him.

“When my great-grandfather, King Frodi allowed Harald Finehair to become the first king of Norway, it was as a suzerain to Denmark, as a part of Denmark, so, by conquering Norway, I will be conquering a sub-throne of Denmark, which should meet the contract requirements.”

“It might take a bit of a push,” Erik said, “but Hraes’ is big enough to provide that push!”

“It gives me an out if I don’t want to kill Harald ‘Bluetooth’,” Svein said.  “You know how much I hate fratricide.”

“It’s not really fratricide if he’s your nephew, plus, he’s already stolen your throne!”

“I know,” Svein said slowly, “But what if I like him?”

“Well, if you’re going after Finehair’s grandsons, you’ll need help, and your father had a friend in Norway called Haakon ‘the Bad’ who is actually good except that he likes to rape young girls.”

“What?” Svein laughed.  “How can he be good if he rapes young girls?  Oh, yeah, says my grandfather who’s over a hundred years old and rapes his twelve year old cabin girl while he’s out trading!”

“I didn’t rape her,” Erik said.  “She was thoroughly broke in before I ever met her and I just slept in her.  She actually raped me!”

“She…raped you?” Svein said, incredulously.

“I never had sex with her.  I just slept in her to keep the Impalers at bay.  One night I was sleeping in her and I accidentally got hard and she thought I needed sex so she started riding my steed as she had been taught by the slavers.  I woke up and I tried to stop her, but I couldn’t.”

“You…couldn’t stop a twelve year old girl?”

“I couldn’t!  I’d fallen in love with her by then.  And I didn’t even know it.  I was in love with a twelve year old girl and she told me after that she was in love with me, too.”

“Boy…those Impalers focked us up but good!” Svein said.  “I don’t fock Svia anymore,” he admitted, “since she tried to sneak off with the Emperor, but I still sleep inside her when I have to.”

“We’re focked,” Erik agreed.  “Anyway, your father, Ivar ‘the Boneless’, and this was ‘the Boneless’ part of him, told me that Haakon’s father, Sigurd, used to invite families to visit him at his highseat hall, local farmers and their wives and children and he would honour the parents by giving them his great room bedchamber and their sons and daughters would be given separate bedrooms beside the chamber.  Most of these families lived in two room houses so, it was a great honour for them.  In the middle of the night, Sigurd would sneak into a young daughter’s bedroom and rape her while her parents were focking away in the next room.  He’d deflowered half the virgins in Lade, doing this, and a lot of them he’d gotten pregnant, but when they got knocked up, he gave their parents great gifts and honours and it was all kept quiet and everybody was happy.  So, he was Sigurd ‘the Bad’, but he is also good in all his other dealings with his people.

“Anyway, the part I have to tell you about is when your father left the west to come back to Queen Helga here, he visited his friend in Norway before he left and Sigurd was having trouble getting his wife pregnant.  It’s ironic that Sigurd was getting half the young virgin girls of Lade pregnant, but he couldn’t knock up his own wife so, he asked Ivar to give it a go, but he knew his wife would say no so, he invited Ivar to stay at his highseat hall for three days and he suddenly got called away for three days and that night Ivar’s men carried him into Sigurd’s second floor master bedroom and he raped her all night long and his servants waited on them hand and foot all day long and he raped her again all night long and, again, they were waited on all day long and by then, they’d gotten to know each other fairly intimately and Ivar didn’t have to rape her the third night because she rode him like a stallion all night long.  When Sigurd came back after the third day, Ivar pretended that nothing had happened and his wife went along with it, but Sigurd knew what had happened, had initiated what had happened, and had even ensured that the three days were the right three days.  Sigurd sent Ivar word to Kiev a month later saying his wife was pregnant and then word nine months later that she’d had a fine baby boy they’d named Haakon.  So, old Haakon Sigurdson is likely your half-brother, but nobody is supposed to know it because Ivar was supposed to keep it secret.  But my son, Ivar, confided the whole affair with me eventually.  I think that Haakon’s skald, Eyvindr ‘Skaldaspillir’, a friend of mine, may also have learned about the whole affair.

“Now Eyvindr was a famous skald for King Harald Finehair, an Aesir skald that has been a thorn in the side of these new Scandinavian Christian kings that keep popping up from time to time.  After Harald died, Haakon hired Eyvindr because Haakon is very Aesir as well.  Eyvindr is aware of all the Christian king plots to destroy our family sagas and he goes to other royal houses and he recites the old Aesir poems and drapas and he corrects all the Christian skalds’ mistakes and errors and has even had to fight duels with Christian skalds who don’t like to be corrected.  He has killed so many Christian skalds that he has earned the byname ‘Skaldaspillir’ because he has spilled so many skalds’ blood.  And he recites our family sagas and promotes my drapas and your father’s warlock songs and he tries to keep Christian kings from calling our family sagas ‘The Lying Sagas of Denmark’!

“The fact that your father attacked Constantinople and that his brother Oddi and I, myself, have also attacked the Imperial City is an embarrassment to the Christian kings who have hardly even left their own towns let alone attacked the Eastern Roman Empire.  So, they make themselves seem big by trying to make our family, the scions of King Frodi and King Hraegunar Lothbrok, seem small by calling our sagas, our deeds, lies!  It is this evil effort of Christian kings that Eyvindr fights on our behalf and that Haakon supports out of love for your father.  So, when you go to claim your Danish throne or your Norwegian alternate, make sure you go to Haakon and gain his aid and make sure you befriend his son, Erik, for he may be your nephew, but you can never tell him that.  It would throw shade on the memory of Sigurd’s wife and Ivar told me that she was a very beautiful lady.

“Also, don’t be surprised if Erik is a rapist, too.  Ivar told me that Sigurd was a rapist, and Haakon has followed in his footsteps and is a rapist as well.  It might run in the family.”

“But if Ivar is Haakon’s father and not Sigurd, how would Erik inherit his rapist tendency?”

“You are asking this of a hundred and some year old man who is focking a twelve year old girl and whose son admitted to raping another man’s wife for three full nights?” Erik asked, and he laughed so hard he almost fell out of his highseat.

“I think we may have been focked long before the Impalers ever got a hold of us!” Svein said, and he began laughing because his grandfather was laughing so hard.

The Khazar princess, Serah, was soon to pop and Prince Helgi and Princess Svia still had not come down from Chernigov, so, Svein volunteered to go north and fetch them.  It took him a day by sleigh so, he spent the night in the Hraes’ palace in Chernigov, the very palace his father had been taken to after the Chernigov twenty had ripped his legs off.  It was the palace his son, Helgi, was starting his rule over the Drevjane people from, and the palace Princess Sviataslava was starting her guardian rule from.  Svein and Svia tucked the fifteen year old Helgi into bed then they went to the master suite and drank some wine in the great room.  “Will you come to Kiev with me tomorrow?” Svein asked her.

“You take Prince Helgi,” Svia said.

“I would like you to come too,” Svein said.

“Will you sleep with me tonight?” she asked, and she looked at him longingly.

“Can I sleep in you?” he asked.

“Only if you make love to me first!” she answered.

“You betrayed me,” Svein said.  “You were going to leave me for Emperor Tzimiskes.”

“Please forgive me for that,” she pleaded.  “He offered me ‘Empress of Rome’!  I lost my mind.  You know better than anyone what that throne can do to a person.”

“People lose more than their minds for that throne,” Svein admitted.

“I’ll share,” she said.  “I’ll share you with Malfrieda.  She can share your northern lands with you and when you come back for Rome, I’ll be your Empress in the south.”

“Malfrieda doesn’t mind sharing,” Svein said, and she was on him like a cat.  They were focking on the couch of the great room and Svein picked her up and carried her to the bed in the bedroom and they focked some more.  And when their lust was sated, Svein slept inside her and kept the Impalers at bay.

Two days later, Princess Serah went into labour and gave the Prince a fine young baby boy.  Prince Erik stayed with Serah and planned on spending the winter between Kiev and Gardariki and Prince Svein took Svia and Malfrieda and his younger sons north to Chernigov, leaving his oldest son, Eyfur, to rule the Poljane.  He wanted to see how this sharing would work out so, he slept with the two women in Chernigov and when he took Malfrieda and little Valdamar and baby Helga north to Novgorod, he asked her what she thought of the sharing.  “I’ve told you before,” Malfrieda said, “that I will share you just to be with you.  As long as it’s not in the same city and you do not forget about me, I am fine with any decisions you make for us.”

Prince Svein spent the winter in Novgorod preparing a small merchant fleet to take north in the spring.  He had Nor’Way ships built by the same shipwrights who built his legionary transport ships and he hired crews he could count on, men that knew how to keep their mouths shut and follow orders.  Men who knew how to sail and fight like Varangians and there were plenty of these types in Novgorod.  But a few times over winter, he took Malfrieda and Valdamar south with him and they practised sharing in Chernigov.  Malfrieda worked hard to please him in Novgorod after those visits.  Princess Svia brought out the best in Malf.

(974 AD)  Prince Svein planned to stop in at Liere on his way north and visit King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ there as a simple merchant on his way to the Nor’Way.  He had not seen Harald since he was a child so, he didn’t think anybody would recognize him there, but he had grown out his hair and he grew a heavy beard to disguise himself and the latest fashion in the north was to part your beard in a fork at the bottom so it matched your moustaches above.  And he gave himself a name that didn’t mean swine, his Wallachian name of Sweyn, Sweyn Forkbeard.  And Sweyn had an ulterior motive for wanting to make the Nor’Way crossing, a crossing so violent that it changed a man, made him a Varangian.  He thought that it would change him and drive the Army of the Impalers away.  For good.

Before he left for the Nor’Way crossing, the Hraes’ slavers in the Baltic were sending back reports of a famine in the western parts of Norway.  People were finding it difficult to feed their slaves so, the slavers were going there to purchase slaves at reduced prices for resale in Baghdad at high profits and there was a marked rise in the standard purchasing of foundlings for the slave training schools of Kiev and Tmutorokan.  Foundlings were infants that were exposed to the gods in sacred groves throughout the north that had always been secretly collected up for training as slaves.  Even babies with no bones in their legs could be trained as copyists in the many scriptoriums of Constantinople and Baghdad, and they typically excelled at that task given the proper education.  Famines and foundlings were two areas that King Ivar ‘the Boneless’ had moved the Hraes’ Trading Company into for rapid growth with little risk.  Hraes’ Viking raiders still went out and attacked foreign countries for captives, with the unransomed being sold as slaves to Hraes’ Varangian traders, but famines and foundlings were high profit and didn’t involve expensive military operations.  Prince Svein had led many of the military operations in the east, conquering Wallachians and Bulgarians and Khazars and enslaving their people to feed the high demand for slaves in the markets of Baghdad and Constantinople, but he also saw the value in buying slaves and foundlings and the victims of famines through peaceful paths that saved the lives of the unwanted and the starving.

Sweyn knew that the famine in Norway was just starting and new-borns would be exposed and excess slaves would be sold off first.  Then as winter drew on, young starving children and youths would be offered to the slavers for a price and that price was usually paid in food and fodder.  So, the Hraes’ slavers would buy foodstuffs in areas that had plenty and would trade it for the starving children and then young adults of the famished areas and if the famine went on for years, the population would dwindle due to population transfer to more prosperous areas.  The alternative was the population dwindling due to the disappearance of children and the sudden appearance of mysterious meat patties for sale in the local butcher shops of the most famished areas.  Sometimes the Hraes’ slavers would find out late about a famine in progress and the areas they went into were often in dire straits with people disappearing daily and the vulnerable fearing for their very lives.

But Sweyn knew that a famine in Norway would not be enough.  Without his massive military campaigns in the east, the Hraes’ of Gardar had already begun raiding the local Slav populations again and the Slavs would soon be taking up arms again.  The Hraes’ Viking raids in the west had dwindled over the past few decades of Sweyn’s campaigns in the east, but they would have to be stepped up again, at least until Sweyn got his co-Emperorship and began fresh campaigns against the Balkan Bulgars and an expanded war in the Levant, followed by Egypt, Carthage, and Spain.  Italy was already being worked on, with Byzantine Romans attacking from the south and Normans from the north.  Sweyn had plans for Rome that involved the reconquest of all territory lost over the last six hundred years and the re-instatement of the lost Vanir religion of the Romans, the Zeus-Pater, Mars, Mercury triumvirate that corresponded to his own Aesir Odin, Thor, Freya triumvirate.  He believed that the triumvirate gods could co-exist with the true-god religions of the Zoroastrians and Christians and Muslims, just as the Brahman, Indra, Vishnu gods of India co-existed with the true-god religion of the Hindus.  Unfortunately, the Christian lands of Frisia and Angleland and Ireland would have to suffer to keep Sweyn’s plans progressing.  And the Nor’way was going to play a big part in Sweyn’s plans.  It was a trade route beyond the reach of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germans, an empire that might object to the sale of Latin Christian slaves to the Orthodox Christians of Constantinople and the Muslims of Arabia and the Hindus of India.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

13.0  SWEYN FORKBEARD – EAST OF LIERE  (Circa 974 AD)

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10. “Scarce had Grotti come        out of grey mountain,

from out of the earth            the iron-hard slab,

nor had the mountain-maids now    to turn the millstone,

if we had not first      found it below.

Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(974 AD)  The harbour of Liere wasn’t as much a harbour as a long looping crescent of a beach that offered small merchant ships sand to be drug up on, out of the waves and the water.  As ships got larger, it became a problem because there wasn’t proper anchorage for ships too large to be dragged about.  So, Queen Thyra, the builder of Denmark, had built the harbour and town of Roskilde, just to the north, for the large merchant ships and fleets that were traversing the Dan’Way in this newer age.  But the harbour town of Liere was still perfect for the smaller, stronger Nor’Way ships that sometimes still plied the northern passage to the east.  Sweyn had his small fleet of six Nor’Way ships beached on the quieter, more private harbour of old.

The harbour village still ran two miles up and down the shore of the bay, but many of the buildings were abandoned or little used, and the road that ran to the city of Liere, was ragged and overgrown.  Longhalls of merchant companies, including the Hraes’ Trading Company, still vied with the large rans of chieftains for the best spots along the bay, but the houses of many citizens were long gone, the people having moved to Liere or Roskilde.

Sweyn had spotted several beached Hraes’ Trading Company ships and had landed his ships away from them in case there might be a merchant or two that he knew.  Behind him was the strait between Denmark and Gotland, called The Sound, and ahead of him sat his realm, presently in the hands of his nephew, King Harald ‘Bluetooth’, son of Gorm ‘the Old’ Ivarson, who had died of grief long before Svein had gotten a chance to kill him.  Hraegunar ‘Lothbrok’s curse of his swine sons against a snake king had ran its course and had run out of time.  But there was still the son of Gorm, which meant worm or snake, that had to be dealt with.  The son of King Worm had taken the Danish crown for himself, when by law it should have passed on to the Worm’s brother Svein, meaning swine, mortal enemy of snakes.  ‘Our family was focked up long before the Impalers got a hold of us,’ Sweyn reminded himself as he led his men up to a longhall he was going to rent.

He set his men up in the hall and they rested for a few days and got the lay of the land and then Sweyn took a few picked men and they rented some horses and rode to King Frodi’s fortress, just before Liere.

East of Liere, a hundred and fifty years earlier, King Frodi had built a fortress that was unique to the northern climate, being patterned after Byzantine ring forts found upon the great Asian steppe.  Byzantine armies had long ago established a series of fortified barracks to control the nomadic tribes that from time to time threatened Greek cities on the northern coasts of the Black Sea.  Sweyn had seen many such forts in his campaigns against both Pechenegs and Khazars, so, as they cleared a small rise, he was not surprised by the sight of Frodi’s Fortress.  It stood a short distance out of Liere, in the middle of a broad low plain, where it controlled the main north-south road of Zealand as well as the harbour link.  The fortification consisted of a twelve foot high by thirty foot wide circular embankment four hundred feet in diameter, with a twelve foot high post palisade at its crest and a further twelve foot deep trench extending beyond its base.  The earthen work was pierced by four gateways in the four directions, the continuous palisade vaulting over these and massive oaken double doors on each gate for closing off the openings if necessary.  Zealand’s two main roads intersected within Frodi’s fortress, dividing the interior into four equal quadrants.  Inside the fortress, the roads were paved with logs in a corduroy fashion to keep down the dust, and there was another dirt road running around the inside of the embankment.  All four quadrants were fully developed, the north-east quadrant supporting two forty by one hundred and twenty foot longhalls, one being the palace of young King Harald, the other the longhall of his select troops, while the other three quadrants each held four thirty by eighty foot halls that were contiguous, forming a square about a courtyard and serving variously as barracks for regular troops, stables for horses and longhalls of officers.

Sweyn and his small Hraes’ party entered King Frodi’s Fortress without incident, arriving at the front steps of King Harald’s longhall.  Sweyn hailed the two guards on the hall porch and bid them request him an audience with their king.  He tossed them each a piece of silver and one of them disappeared into the hall.  Moments later, the guard emerged and motioned for the party to step inside.  Sweyn ascended the steps and passed by a pair of huge oaken doors, left open to the elements, his men trailing behind him in their order of rank.  As Sweyn entered the hall’s foyer, he was addressed by a court attendant.  The courtier asked him what he wished of the king.

“I am a merchant from Novgorod,” the prince stated.  “I just wanted to visit Denmark and buy some trade goods before I head off to do the Nor’Way crossing.  I wish to pay the king any tithes that may be required.”

King Harald welcomed Svein and pointed him and his men to a nearby table.  When the prince told him that he was going to make the Nor’Way crossing, the king explained that his timing was good because he was expecting a delegation from Norway within the hour.  Soon Jarl Haakon Sigurdsson arrived in the king’s hall and was seated at the opposite highseats.  King Harald told the Jarl that he was providing him with Christian clergymen to take back to Norway the next day to help with the Norwegian conversion to Christianity.  It was then that Sweyn realized that King Harald had just converted to Christianity.  Sweyn had hoped that there would be some redeeming quality that Harald might have had that would have given Sweyn a reason to not kill him, but becoming one of those Christian kings that kept popping up in the northern lands and kept calling the Hraes’ family sagas lies was not one of them.

Very early the next morning Jarl Haakon covertly sailed for Norway, leaving the Christian clergymen on the harbour town beach, as Sweyn and his small fleet of Nor’Way ships followed north behind him.  Haakon led Sweyn north past Jutland and then west to Norway and north again, up along the coast.  They went as far as Rennes Island then sailed southeast into Stavanger Fjord and kept sailing that direction and then turned east into Hraegunar’s Fjord.

“King Ivar ‘the Boneless’ once showed me this place,” Haakon told Sweyn.  “It’s Hraegunarstead and Oddi’s farm, Berurjod.  You’re from Hraes’ and you should learn some of your early history.”

Sweyn saw a great bustling farm on his left and a large stead being renovated in front of him at the end of the fjord.  People at the farm were waving Haakon and his longship in toward shore, so Haakon had his rudderman steer to the left.  As they skidded into the sand of the beach a few men came down and welcomed them.  Sweyn learned that they were the sons of the men his uncle, Arrow Odd, had left there years before to rebuild Berurjod and then Hraegunarstead.  Prince Sweyn left his men to camp out on the beach and he joined Haakon and his men in the longhall at Berurjod.  There was still an old man at the farm who had been a youth in Oddi’s crew sixty years earlier and he gave Sweyn a tour of the farm.

“Norway still suffered from the damage that King Frodi had wrought,” the old man named Bjork said.  “It still does, but things have improved over the years.  Your uncle Oddi looked the place over and said, ‘This is awful, a good farm in ruins like this, instead of the grand place it was in days of yore.’  He told us men where he and Asmund had practiced archery all day and where they had gone swimming to cool off, and then he named off all the landmarks for us,” and Bjork pointed out the areas and landmarks for Sweyn.  “We’d headed down to the bay, and everywhere around there the soil was eroded and Oddi saw something sticking out of the earth.  ‘But what is that, there?’ Oddi asked.  ‘What lies there exposed?  Is that not a horse’s skull?’  Then ‘Yes,’ we all agreed, ‘an extremely old and bleached skull of a horse’ we told him.  ‘Do you think it could be the skull of Faxi?’  Oddi asked us,” and Bjork pounded the earth with his walking stick.  “Oddi struck the skull with the butt of his spear and it suddenly turned all white against the black earth, and we expected a snake to crawl out from under it and strike Arrow Odd in the foot, as had been foretold, but nothing crawled out from under it.  Oddi flipped the skull over with his spear tip but there was no snake there.  ‘That old witch Heid lied,’ Oddi swore.  When we got to our ships, Oddi stood up on that flat stone over there on the beach and said, ‘Now we must divide up into two groups.  Forty men must stay here with the knar and the silver and rebuild Berurjod.  And when King Harold Fairhair is dead, rebuild Hraegunarstead.  And forty must come with me in Fair Faxi and help guard the gold until we reach Gardariki.’  He left it up to us who should stay and who shall go,” Bjork said.  “I decided to stay.  Many others rebuilt the farm and then returned to Hraes’, but I found a local gal who was very pretty and apparently she found my looks tolerable because we got married and had a family here at Berurjod with children and grandchildren and she passed on just a few years ago,” he said sadly.  “I miss her.”

“So, in your youth you travelled the Nor’Way with the famous Arrow Oddi?” Sweyn asked in wonderment.  “What was he like?” and they both sat down at the great flat stone.

“He was everything they say about him and more.  He was Prince Helgi.  He was King Oddi.  When we heard he had shortly been killed by a poisoned blood-snake that had bit his ankle, we knew then what that witch, Heid, had meant.  We all cried for your uncle and some even wanted to go back to Hraes’ and forget about the work here, but we all persevered and got Berurjod fixed up.”

“I see that you’ve even started fixing Hraegunarstead,” Sweyn said.

“We started on that after King Harald Finehair died,” Bjork started.  “Then warships of the sons of Fairhair sailed through here one day and ordered us to stop the repairs.  We’d run out of silver by then anyway, but they said Arrow Oddi had killed King Frodi and that his kin had built Hraegunarstead so, it was to stay in disrepair.”

“If I leave your people gold, will they carry on with the repairs?” Sweyn asked.

“If you’ll protect them from the wrath of Harald’s sons, they will.”

“And will you show me Oddi’s Nor’Way?” Sweyn asked.  “His paths to the giants and the Permians and Hawknista?”

Bjork thought about it and said, I’ll go with you if you give me a full warrior’s share, but I can’t fight or row anymore.”

“I’ll give you a captain’s share and you can command one of my ships,” Sweyn said.  “You’ll tell the warriors when to fight and when to row, and we’ll all treat you like a prince and all will respect your knowledge and experience.  You’ll be back here by fall all dressed in silk and wearing gold.”

They returned to the longhall and they feasted and were given benches to sleep upon and the free women of the farm chose warriors they wished to sleep with and some even picked two, in case the first steed broke too soon.  Prince Sweyn and Jarl Haakon talked late into the night about Denmark and Norway and the sons of Harald Finehair and the son of Gorm ‘the Old’.  They walked down to the beach and set up the guards and sentries for the night.  Stavanger Fjord was still under the sway of Harald’s sons and was not a safe harbour…yet.

“Come,” Haakon told Sweyn.  “I’ve had a couple of young local beauties set aside for us for the night.  Come join me in the master suite of the longhall and we’ll share them.”

In the morning, Prince Sweyn left gold with the men of Berurjod to covertly begin rebuilding Hraegunarstead.  “Keep it looking run down on the outside, but fix it from the inside out and get the smithy works up and running.  On the way back from trading, I’ll stop in at Sweden and get the iron we need for sword making.”  Sweyn was no smith, but he had picked warriors for his ships that were swordsmiths, men that had learned early how to forge weld swords and had learned even earlier how to wield them.  When the men heard that Sweyn was making Old Bjork a captain, they full well expected Sweyn to pick his worst captain to be replaced, but Sweyn picked his best instead.  He gave Bjork command of one of his finest Nor’Way ships and made his best captain a foremost mate of his own shieldship.  “I want to train you,” he told his former captain, “how to command a fleet so, stay by me and learn and next year you’ll command a dozen Nor’Way ships.”

They sailed out of southern Norway and went past Hordaland, then past Sogn and Fjord Province and then Southmore and Romsdalen and Northmore, where Sweyn knew he had cousins.  Soon they were entering the great bay of Trondheim Fjord, second only to the Vik, or Viken, in size.  King Hraegunar Lothbrok’s Stavenger Fjord was the third largest in Norway, but had fallen under the sway of King Harald Finehair when King Hraelauger had fled Norway for Frankia ahead of the great armies of King Frodi generations earlier to become Duke Rollo of Normandy.  The Normans were still part of the Hraes’ group, growing and evolving into a force to be reckoned with by world powers.

The six Nor’Way ships followed Haakon’s longship into the islands of the fjord then sailed southeast into the fjord and then straight east to the cities of Trondheim and Lade.  Haakon had a huge great longhall on a vast farm between the two cities and there were many buildings surrounding the longhall and a river ran before it out into the Fjord.  Ships were beached all along the shore of his farm and there were many ships of the Nor’Way variety.  Haakon was a merchant warrior of the old ways and had always maintained a fleet of Nor’Way ships even while he sent vast fleets south along the Dan’Way.  If a trade route paid its own way, you maintained it, even if a newer, more profitable route came along.  You just built new ships for the new ‘way’ and you made money off of both.  Many Norwegians had abandoned the Nor’Way to maximize profits via the Dan’Way, but Jarl Haakon was ‘old way’ and did both even though the Hraes’ who controlled both ways had let the northern way run down.  Sweyn Forkbeard, a ‘named’ merchant of the Hraes’ Trading Company was now living in the north and he was determined to rebuild it.  To be a ‘named’ merchant of the Hraes’ group was to be a blood shareholder of the company, subject to a share of profits for life.

“This is my son, Eirik,” Haakon said, as they entered the great hall.  The hall was huge inside and Eirik was almost identical in looks to Sweyn but perhaps two years older.  The two men walked around each other and then shook hands.  “If I had a brother,” they both said at the same time, “which I don’t, he would look just like you!”

“There’s a bit of resemblance,” Jarl Haakon said, eying them both.  “Eirik always took after his mother, gods rest her soul.”

A welcome home feast had been prepared and was soon ready and there was much drinking afterwards and they were home and Haakon could relax and let down his guard a bit.  “Denmark was a bitter disappointment,” Haakon said.  “I supported Harald ‘Bluetooth’ in his wars against the Holy Roman Empire and we beat them to stave off Christianity and Harald converted anyway.”

“Just follow the gold,” Sweyn said.  “If Harald won against the Germans and then converted anyway, they must have offered him gold.”

“That must be it!” Haakon said, slapping his knee.  “We all fought the Germans and now he’s collecting the gold for all our efforts.”

“Denmark’s the big Christian dick of those Holy Roman pricks,” Eirik said, “and it’s pointed right up Scandinavia’s asshole, the Vik, and Sweden and Norway are about to get screwed.”  Eirik Haakonson had a way with maps and words.  “At least the sons of Harald Fairhair will be the first ones penetrated.”

“They’re already half Christian,” Haakon reminded his son.  “When the priests tell them to bend over, they’ll already have their cheeks spread and their butts buttered!” and Haakon laughed at his coarser jest.  Eirik’s mother had been gone a few years, Sweyn guessed, for their talk was pretty raw even for Vikings.  Not much good was said about the Jarls of Lade, but hard men would be needed if Sweyn was to get Denmark back.  And Eirik had been right about Jutland.  It was like a cork bottling up the Christianity of Europe and keeping it in the south, and Harald ‘Bluetooth’ had just popped that cork and it was going to be hard putting all that Christianity back in the bottle.  “If we don’t act now,” Sweyn said, “we’ll be focked!”

“Not bad,” Eirik said.  “We’ll be focked good, right up the keester!” and both Haakon and Eirik laughed and drank ale from their horns.  “I like him!” Eirik said, putting his arm around Sweyn.  “Best thing you’ve dragged out of Denmark in a while!”

“There was that Ivar ‘the Boneless’ fella I dragged up here a few times.  King of Denmark he was, I believe, but that was before both your times I’m afraid.  Now there was a man who could hold his own with both war and whore!”

With that, Sweyn asked where he was to sleep and Haakon directed a woman to show him to his bed chamber.  “This way,” she said and she led him to the back of the hall where the bedrooms were lined along either side.  “This is your room,” she said, opening the door and he walked past her into the room and she followed him in.

“So how was he?” Haakon asked his concubine the next morning.

“He slept inside me all night,” she complained.  “It was…uncomfortable.”

“Slept inside you?” Haakon asked.

“Well, first he focked me, then I rode his steed and it was a mighty steed indeed,” she said, “but after, when we were in each other’s arms, he asked me if he could sleep inside me.  At first I said no, but he pleaded with me, said it would keep the Army of the Impalers at bay so, I relented and he slipped his fine steed inside me and we slept that way all night.”

“He slept inside you all night?” Haakon asked.  “He stayed hard all night long?” he asked, incredulously.

“He woke me up several times mumbling in his sleep about Impalers and dying women and children, and I felt him inside me and he wasn’t focking hard, but he was stiff and big all night long.  It was as if the ghosts that were after him were giving him some good wood.”

“You don’t have to sleep with him tonight if you don’t want to,” Haakon said.  “I can give him one of my other wives.”

“I’m fine with it,” she said.  “It grew in me.  It was very fulfilling,” and they both laughed.  “In the morning he was sleeping beside me, inside me, so I pushed him onto his back and I started riding him and then he grew very hard and quite huge and he woke up smiling and when he went off inside me his steed almost threw me off!”  And she laughed with Haakon again.  “I’m serving him breakfast in bed!” she said, and she went off into the scullery.

Jarl Haakon watched her ass through her silken night shirt as she walked away.  He had taken her in a raid on Northumbria and was going to sell her in Baghdad, but she was just too fine a fock to sell so, he kept her as one of his many concubines.  When he had lost the wife he loved, he began collecting the wives he liked.  And he didn’t mind sharing them with a fine young warrior such as Sweyn and he pondered the things the young prince must have seen in battle and he wondered exactly what Impalers were.

Soon the merchant fleet of the Nor’Way began assembling in Trondheim Fjord and it was shaping up to be a large one.  Almost two hundred Nor’Way ships gathered in the bay and they set off north up the coast and the warmth of spring soon returned to the cold of winter as they progressed past Namdalen and along the shores of Halogaland, the northernmost province of Norway, and Sweyn remembered that it had been named after his uncle, Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson, who had saved the north from the ravages of King Frodi.  They kept sailing north up the coast and when they got to the North Cape they sailed to the island of Hrafnista, the last island that still caught some warmth from the Norway Current, the last island that had trees.  Sweyn, Haakon and Eirik were sailing together in Sweyn’s shieldship and they turned into the west harbour while the rest of the ships sailed for the east harbour on the other side of the island.  Haakon had the men row into the harbour of the huge longhall of the Hrafnistamen and Sweyn saw the red and black of Hraegunar’s Raven Banner fluttering in the breeze from all corners of the hall.  They were welcomed by Grim’s sons as they tied onto the quay there.

Hrafnista was still the Hraes’ Trading Company jump off point for the Nor’Way crossing, and the hall was still the largest in the north and the Raven Banners of Hraegunar Lothbrok made sure there was no question of who you were representing when you became a Varanger on the other side of the crossing.  It was still a family business, but it was no longer as closely controlled as it had been and was open to all reputable Norwegian merchants and there were many Norse families who had made their livings off the ‘Way’ for generations.  Grim Gudmundson greeted Haakon and Eirik and then greeted Sweyn Forkbeard warmly when he learned he was a named merchant.  They all entered the longhall and were soon treated to a feast and they made offerings for a good crossing wind. 

The weather soon began warming and the prince and jarls joined their fleet on the other side of Hrafnista and they all sailed off to Varangerfjord to await a crossing wind.  The east harbour of Hrafnista wasn’t large enough to accommodate the merchant fleet anymore so, they camped along the shores of the north eastern fjord and they waited on the weather.  As a crossing wind came up, all the Nor’Way ships set their awnings and raised their sails for the crossing and were soon all swept east into a storm of such ferocity that they were soon Varangians, ‘Way Wanderers’, on the other side.  It was dusk when they sailed into Kandalaks Bay and the wind just died as they weighed anchors to spend the night in the sheltered harbour.  They slept aboard their ships under the warmth of their oiled woollen awnings.

The next day some ships broke away and began trading for fine furs with the natives there while others headed south, rowing up the Northern Dvina River and branching off into different rivers and streams that took them to the Volga River.  Prince Sweyn told Jarl Haakon that he was heading east to go to Hawknista and would be staying there awhile so, Haakon and Eirik decided to continue on south to the Volga and their usual route.  Sweyn led his six ships east, following Bjork’s directions and they were soon in the land of the Permians trading the German steel swords they had purchased in Liere for the fine silver swords of Permia.  Bjork took them into secret streams where they traded fine Seax knives for sable pelts, then he took them to an island where Arrow Odd would swim underwater to Giantland.  Sweyn had his men camp on the island and he dove into the river and found the cave that Oddi had entered, but he found no giants in the cave or in the land that the cave opened up on.  They’re all gone he told Bjork when he got back to the island.  They sailed on to Hawknista and visited with the people there for a few days as they traded for more furs with some natives around the hall.  Sweyn paid the men there to portage their ships across to the Kama River and there were a few other Nor’Way merchants that were doing the same, but many merchants had set up their own portages so they didn’t have to pay the fee.

Sweyn and his small fleet sailed down the Kama to where it forked into the Volga River and soon found themselves in front of the city of Bulghar that he had attacked and captured years earlier.  He was glad he had a full head of long hair and a forked beard and he learned that the Bulgars were still paying an annual tithe to the Princes of Kiev.  They caught up to Haakon and Eirik there and they were buying slaves from the Volga Bulgars to take south to Baghdad.  The slaves were mostly Burta and Viatich women and children who had been captured in raids along the western rivers.  When Sweyn saw the Bulgars pulling the people out of their holding pens he was glad he had kicked their asses a while back.  They stayed a few days in Bulghar while the fleet reassembled then they sailed down the Volga to the Don River portage where a third of the fleet broke off to trade in Constantinople and the remainder sailed on down the Volga to Kazaran.  Prince Sweyn met Kagan Kurya before the walls of Kazaran and left some men with him to teach the eastern Pecheneg women how to catch sturgeon and collect their roe.  He then set up a Hraes’ station in Kazaran, employing many of the locals who had returned there, and he set up the preparation facilities for Khazar Vayar production.  And some of the locals he hired were Khazars who were familiar with the process.  Prince Sweyn was impressed with Serah, Erik’s Khazar wife in Kiev, and her abilities in helping him with Kievan trade so, he was a little more lenient with the local Khazars than he had been in the past.

Once he had the Khavayar facilities set up and operating, he took his small fleet out on the Caspian and they caught up with the tail end of the Nor’Way fleet just before Samandar.  The fleet pulled into the Kuma estuary there and did some trading with the Khazars who still lived there.  Then they sailed down the Caspian to the Kura River and sailed up it to the Araks River tributary and they rowed to the Tigris portage, crossed over and sailed down the Tigris to Baghdad.  The Kievan merchant fleet was already there and his grandfather welcomed him and showed him the Hraes’ facilities there.

“I bought you some Irish and Anglish slaves,”  Sweyn told Erik as they toured the slave markets of Baghdad.  Prince Sweyn Forkbeard kept up his disguise in Baghdad because he could find himself in a dangerous position if the Svein that held a claim to the throne of Constantinople was found to be trading in the Caliphate.  They walked down a line of scantily clad Slav women that were chained to a hitching pole under an awning.  He adjusted a few of the silks the girls were wearing.  “Thanks,” Erik said.  “I’ll give you two Slav and Bulgarian slaves for each Aesir slave.  I can get the price of four for each of them in India.”

Varangian merchants in Baghdad were typically put up by a local sponsoring merchant they did a lot of business with and Prince Erik and his retinue were hosted by the Caliph in his palace so, that is where Prince Sweyn ended up.  All day he had been busy beaching ships and hiring transport and arranging for the sale of merchandise and Erik and his officers helped him along.  At the end of the day, Prince Sweyn was ready to rest when they reached the palace, but Erik and the Caliph had other ideas.  A welcoming feast had been arranged and there was music and female dancers and wine and food to be enjoyed.  Halfway through their feast, two beautiful older women joined them at the Norse table.  “Saleem, Anika,” Erik said, “this is my grandson, Sweyn Forkbeard.  Saleem and Anika are our agents in Baghdad.”

“Hi Saleem! Hi Anika!” Sweyn started, but when both women saw him they said, “He has Ivar’s eyes!” and they looked at each other and beamed brightly.  “Was King Ivar related?” they asked in unison.

“Yes, he was,” Sweyn said, as the women sat down, one on either side of him.  They lifted the tablecloth, looked down and said, “He has legs!” in perfect unison.

“Oh yes,” Sweyn said, remembering his father’s injury.  “I was a boy when he died in battle so I never really got to see him on his shield.”

“It was sooo amazing!” Saleem said.  “Yes, amazing!” Anika followed.  “He turned his disability into the most amazing thing.  When he entered a room with his bearers, everything stopped.  It was like royalty enthroned entering before you.  I had to bow.”

“I just felt like curtsying,” Saleem said.

Sweyn surveyed the women.  He knew that his father, Ivar, was a respected and honoured trader, but he sensed that he was also loved.  The two women were older, but still quite beautiful and they had dancers’ bodies, well-muscled with lean arms, and he was intrigued by the two.  They ate and talked business and Erik had them explain Baghdad trade to Sweyn.  At the end of the evening Saleem concluded with, “I remember King Ivar telling Sihtric once, ‘And don’t forget…slaves aren’t our only trade.  Furs and silks, grain, and honey, Khavayar and spices, weapons and armour, even ships.  We don’t just row them,’ Ivar said, patting Sihtric on the shoulder.  ‘We buy and sell them too,’ and Saleem patted Sweyn on the shoulder too.

“I have to go down and check on the ships,” Erik said.  “Could you girls show young Sweyn to the Hraes’ apartments in the palace?”

“We’d love to,” Saleem said, and “He has Ivar’s eyes!” Anika repeated.  As they left the dining hall and Erik broke off towards the Tigris, Saleem said, “He’s been checking on the ships lately.  Have you been experiencing a lot of theft?”

“We have a lot of new crews,” Sweyn told her.  He knew that his grandfather was going off to sleep with his cabin girl, but he would never tell them that.  They did have a lot of new crews, but only the old crews that had been with them in Wallachia would be able to understand.  “Here we are,” Anika said, as they stopped in front of great double doors in the palace hallway.  She took a key out of her purse and unlocked the doors and swung them open for the prince.  The great room was huge and there were a number of bedrooms off to either side of it.  “Which one is yours?” she continued.  There were bags and trunks in front of one of the rooms so, she walked over towards them.

“The Prince had them shipped over when I landed,” Sweyn said, following her.

“We’ll help you unpack,” Saleem said as she took up a bag and followed them into the suite.  “This looks like the bag you keep your protection in,” she said, setting it on the bed and sitting Sweyn down beside it.  “Have you ever read any of King Ivar’s literary translations?” she asked as she slowly unbuttoned his pants.  She looked up at him and then over to Anika and said, “He has Ivar’s eyes!”

“Not only Ivar’s eyes,” Anika warned as Sweyn’s member rose up out of his pants.

“My protection’s actually in the green bag,” Sweyn said, nodding towards the door.  Saleem took Sweyn’s lingam into her mouth as Anika went over and got the bag, closing the door behind her.  She then began undressing in front of Sweyn and she slowly started dancing in a most seductive manner, thrusting her hips this way and that and contorting her stomach muscles in a way that said, ‘I have perfect control over every muscle in my body.’

By the time Anika had completed her dance, Saleem was completing step eight of nominal congress, swallowing Sweyn’s lingam into her throat and disgorging it again and again.  “My turn!” Anika said, pulling Saleem’s head off of Sweyn’s member and pushing the prince back onto the bed.  She straddled his hips, grabbed his steed, and thrust the tip into herself and slowly began working it all the way in.  Then she began to ride him, slowly at first and then faster.  Saleem went through the green bag and got out Sweyn’s lambskin glove.  “My turn,” she said.  “You forgot the protection.”

Anika got off Sweyn.  “I didn’t forget it.  I was saving him for you,” and she kissed Saleem as she was tying off the lambskin.  Then she started kissing Sweyn and looking into his eyes as Saleem mounted his steed and began riding.  Then she started kissing Sweyn’s chin and forked beard and the gold coils that surrounded the forks.  She put one forked beard into her mouth and began performing nominal congress on it.  When it was moist enough, she straddled his face with her legs and she thrust the moistened fork into herself and began riding his chin and moaning gently.  Her moans and action soon had Saleem in orgasm and they began riding Sweyn in unison and moaning in orgasm together until Sweyn could hold off no longer and he exploded inside of Saleem so intensely it threatened the integrity of the glove.  Saleem felt the throbbing pulsing flow within her and immediately pulled herself free of the swollen steed.  She didn’t want to get pregnant again.  Anika was still savouring Sweyn’s chin and the sin of the fork upon it and she shivered in deep orgasm as she held onto the headboard of the bed to steady herself.  “I have never experienced that before,” she breathed as she pulled herself off of the rich gold coil of Sweyn’s fork beard.  Saleem was already lying exhausted on the bed beside Sweyn and she whispered, “It’s my turn!” and they all laughed and crawled under the sheets.

Sweyn heard his grandfather enter the apartment after about second or third watch and he hoped Erik had kept the Impalers at bay sleeping in his cabin girl down at the ships.  Sweyn was doing fine with a beautiful woman sleeping under each arm, but he still had a faint longing to be sleeping inside his Princess Svia in Chernigov.  It faded though, and he went back to sleep and the ghost cohort stayed away.  “Focking Impalers!” he screamed in a dream to keep them at bay.

Prince Sweyn and the two Hraes’ agents continued sleeping by three whenever they could long after Prince Erik had sailed for India and Sweyn ran the Caliphate trade through the summer with the expert assistance of the women.  He learned that the two women had two teenaged daughters the same age and as he got to know the women better they told him about the girls.  Their father had been an Arab merchant, a prince and distant relative of the Caliph, and a man that the Hraes’ company sought out for business advancement within the Caliphate.  Both Saleem and Anika had tried to set up meetings with him as a client, but he had proven elusive.  A lot of Arab merchants did not like doing business with women and the two supposed this to be true with this merchant as well when, suddenly, he agreed to a meeting with the two of them at a bazaar just outside the palace grounds.  They were sitting and drinking wine at the open air kiosk meeting place when a carriage pulled up and some men jumped out and grabbed them and took them away in the carriage.  The women had fought against the men the whole time of their abduction, but, once inside the carriage, the men began beating them and tied them together back to back and began fondling them, but held off sexually attacking them.  They were taken to an estate outside Baghdad and were handed over to the Arab merchant they were supposed to meet.

The Arab merchant had Saleem and Anika taken out of the carriage and slaves brought them into his large manse and took them up to his huge second floor master bedroom.  There were three large beds in the room and the merchant had his slaves strip the women naked and tie them face up on the outer beds.  He then sent the slaves out, stripped himself naked and he began raping Saleem on the one bed.  Once he had sated his lust within her, he got several fine whips out of a closet and began whipping the women about their breasts, walking naked between the beds, and repeating the assaults until he had become erect again.  He then threw himself upon Anika and raped her until he had gone off inside her as well.  He then went about and checked all their bindings and, satisfied, he had a short nap on the bed between the two women.

When he woke up, he sat up naked on his bed and began to write up a contract between the Hraes’ Trading Company and his firm, favourable to the latter and tried to force Saleem and Anika to sign them.  When they both refused, he raped them again.  Later he had food brought up for them and a large eunuch led them naked, one at a time, into the dressing room so they could relieve themselves and clean up a bit.  Then he retied them to their beds.  That night, he raped Saleem again and slept with her until third watch, then got up and raped Anika and slept with her until early morning.  When he woke up he sat naked upon his bed and began to revise the contract with even more favourable terms.  When they again refused to sign, he threw himself upon Saleem once more and raped her even more violently, thrusting deeply within her when he came.  Then he went over to Anika and threw himself upon her, but he was no longer hard so, he called in his large eunuch and had the slave perform nominal congress on him until he was erect enough to enter Anika again.  He thrust into her long and hard as the eunuch watched and grew erect.  He finally came within her and Anika was in some pain as the salty flow settled within her.

He asked the women to sign the contract once more and they refused.  He took the eunuch over to Saleem and he showed her his very large erection.  He stroked the eunuch several times and it grew even larger and he pushed the eunuch on top of her and the eunuch entered her and she gasped.  She cried out as he began focking her and he kept driving his huge member into her for a long time and she cried out each time he entered her until she was soon quite numb.  When the eunuch had lost his erection, he stopped.  The master then took his slave beside Anika’s bed and he knelt down in front of the slave and put his soft member into his mouth and began to suck him hard again.  When it grew too large for the merchant’s mouth, he finished the enlargement with several strokes of his hand.  Then he pushed the eunuch on top on Anika and she cried out as he forced his way into her.  While Saleem was more of a mare woman, Anika was all deer and not equipped to deal with a monster such as this.  She screamed each time the eunuch entered her and Saleem soon promised the merchant they would sign the contract.  The merchant beamed with delight at this.

When the women had signed the contract, the merchant allowed them to get dressed and he had breakfast brought into the room for them.  When they refused to eat, he had the carriage brought around and had them taken to Baghdad and dropped off at the meeting place.  They had not even been missed yet.  They went to Captain Biorn in the palace and they showed him their copy of the contract they had just signed and told him most of what had happened.  Biorn told them that the contract must be honoured while the signatories are alive and he told them that he would handle the merchant.

“Several weeks later,” Saleem told Sweyn, “news arrived in Baghdad that the merchant’s home estate was attacked and plundered by pirates.  His wife and children had been kidnapped and raped and when he rushed home to survey the damage, he was waylaid and killed by the same pirates who had hidden themselves along the road as though expecting him.”

“We’ve never told anybody,” Anika started, “the full story until now, not even Prince Erik.  Nine months later our dear daughters were born to us.”

“They are lovely girls,” Saleem added, “and we love them very much.”

“Yes,” Sweyn said.  “I’ve talked with your daughters and they are very lovely girls.  You are fortunate that some good came out of this terrible tale,” and he hugged the two naked women closely.  Once again they had slept by three.”

“But we need a favour from you,” Saleem continued.  She paused and could not seem to get her request out.  Then both she and Anika blurted out, “We need you to rape our daughters!”

‘What?’ Sweyn thought, but he could see that both women were in pain and he said, “I think I understand.”  He wasn’t the only one dealing with Impalers.  Impalement was not just a form of execution.  It could also be a form of punishment.  Punishment that you either beat or carried with you for the rest of your life.  “How would you like it done?”

“With force but not violence,” Saleem said.

“Just a bit of violence,” Anika added.

“Just enough to drive the merchant out of them!” Sweyn said.

“Exactly!” they both agreed.  “But you must wear protection,” Saleem added.

“Set up the time and place and I’ll take care of it just as you have asked,” Sweyn offered.

“Thank you,” Saleem said as she slid down the bed.  “You are perfect for this,” she said to Sweyn’s stallion, petting its mane.  “Not too big and not too small.”

“And not a monster like that eunuch!” Anika added, sliding down across from her.  Saleem stuffed Sweyn’s member into her mouth, greedily, before Anika could and began sucking in delight.  Anika kissed her cheek then began sucking on Sweyn’s large balls, first one and then the other.

Over the summer, Sweyn learned all about the Baghdad trade from Saleem and Anika’s viewpoint and from Jarls Haakon and Eirik’s view of it.  The Jarls of Lade had been trading the Nor’Way since its re-opening by King Hraegunar ‘Lothbrok’ almost two centuries earlier.  Eirik was the latest generation of Lade Jarls to profit from it and Sweyn invited him often to the Caliph’s palace because he enjoyed the feasting and drinking, but particularly the music and the dancers.

Prince Sweyn had also re-opened sturgeon roe farming of the Volga River, and each week, a ship would arrive from Kazaran with fresh Khazar Vayar and copious quantities of it would invariably end up being served in the dining hall of the Caliph.  A second ship was sent to Constantinople as well and a third ship sailed north up the Volga for Angleland and Frankia.  The legacy of King Ivar lived on in this sturgeon delicacy he had worked hard to preserve.  The Hraes’ had even begun to ship it to Cathay on their camel caravans that travelled the Silk Road from Khwarizm on the shores of the Aral Sea.  But preservation had to be improved for that long journey.  Prince Erik had noticed that the Scythian Sea salinity changed at a lower depth when they had been underwater breathing to recover King Ivar’s lost gold just off the coastline of Constanza.  Later he had some of it recovered and tested by his chemical alchemists in Gardariki and they identified an improved preservation salt in the deeper waters.  This peculiar salt may also have given the water a blackening property that discoloured the lead weights used in depth sounding.  By distilling the salt out of this deeper water and using it to preserve Khazar Vayar, the jarred preservation life of the delicacy was doubled and export to Cathay became possible.  This had a direct effect of doubling the number of trade embassies that arrived in Gardariki from Cathay and Silk Road trade grew exponentially under the guidance of General Wu, who handled all Hraes’-Cathay trade.

Prince Erik returned from India with many more slaves than he had left with.  They were all Indians from Gujarat and Maharashtra, untouchables that were below slaves there.  He could buy a dozen of them for the gold he got for just one of his Aesir slaves.  And the untouchables sold well in Baghdad and Constantinople.  They were considered somewhat exotic as well as diligent and gentle.  Hard workers, they flourished under the better treatment they received as slaves than they had received as free persons in India.  Economic slavery of the underprivileged could be far harsher than the physical slavery of legally protected thralls.  Slaves often had freedom awaiting them after a set period of servitude and rights of manumission.  The untouchables of India had no way out, until now.

The Prince kept a number of his Indian slaves for sale in Baghdad and sent the remainder onward to Constantinople for sale at the Hraes’ slave markets there.  So, he planned to spend an extra week in Baghdad with his grandson before they headed back to Hraes’.  “We have two weeks,” Sweyn told Saleem and Anika, “so, if you want me to carry this out for you…”  So, Saleem and Anika set up a supper for Sweyn at their estate on the edge of Baghdad near the Hraes’ ships on the bank of the Tigris.  And they set up an emergency that the women would be called away to for several hours.

When Sweyn showed up for the supper, he had gifts for all the women, but he only gave Saleem and Anika theirs.  He kept the gifts he had brought Saffron and Anise hidden in his jacket.  He had been attracted to the girls the first time he had seen them.  They were dancers, like their mothers, and their slim youthful bodies reflected the training they had received from childhood.  And they had seemed attracted to him, to his warrior’s body and his long blonde hair and exotically forked blonde beard with so much gold upon it.  They ate and, after the meal, the adults drank fine wine and the girls had pomegranate juice.  Soon, a messenger arrived and told the women of an emergency that had to be handled right away.  “We’ll be two hours,” Saleem told the girls.  “Three hours tops!”  And Anika added, “Keep Prince Sweyn entertained while we’re gone!” and they sped off in the messenger’s carriage.

“You girls are too old for juice,” Sweyn said, when their mothers had left.  He poured them each a glass of wine and as they sipped it he went over to his coat and took out the gifts he had brought and gave them to the girls.  They opened the packages excitedly and were giggling as Saffron opened her gift and found a yellow silk and gold veil dancing costume.  Anise opened hers and found a silver and gold silk costume as well.  “Try them on,” Sweyn coaxed.  “Just put them on behind the screen.”

The girls went over to the screen and he could see them undressing behind the light screen and putting their costumes on.  They had been learning some belly dancing, but were too young to learn veil dancing yet.  When they came out from behind the screen, Sweyn offered them more wine and told them how beautiful they looked in the silks.  “Dance for me,” he said, and they began to dance for him using the movements they had watched the older classes using.  The wine was soon going to their heads as they swayed about the room and Anise thought that Sweyn was watching Saffron too closely so, she took off a veil and Sweyn complimented her on her figure and Saffron took off two veils.  When they were almost naked and dancing before him, Sweyn got up off the couch and began disrobing in front of them.

They danced as they watched his warrior body become uncovered and they marvelled at his battle scars and when he was naked and erect he stood before them and he stripped them of their last veils.  He pulled them against his naked body and he felt Saffron’s hand on his lingam so, he began kissing her first, on the lips and then on her firm young breasts.  Anise stepped in and began kissing Sweyn’s cheek so, he began kissing her as well.  He laid them both down on the carpet of the great room and he began kissing them all over their bodies.  Then he got on top of Saffron and he put his lingam in her and he thrusted hard and could feel her membrane giving way and blood flowed out and across the carpet as he focked her gently.  As soon as she showed discomfort, Sweyn withdrew and got on top of Anise and entered her slowly.  She gasped as her membrane gave way and more blood flowed as Sweyn thrust into her and when she too seemed sore he stopped and put on his lambskin glove.  He showed Saffron how it worked and he got her to tie it off then he laid down between the girls and he had Saffron straddle his hips and he showed her how to ride him as Anise watched apprehensively.  Saffron was soon enjoying herself and she came quickly and shivered in delight.  Sweyn lifted her off and pulled Anise toward himself and lifted her on.  She was a deer and Sweyn gave her some time to ease herself on to him and she began to ride him and he watched her high breasts bounce slightly as she picked up the pace.  She too soon came atop him and she closed her eyes and savoured the moment.  Saffron was watching them blissfully and she noticed the blood all over the carpet and looked over at the water clock and began to panic.  She went behind the screen, wiped herself off and she put her clothes back on and went to Anise and Sweyn, who were still enjoying themselves, and as Sweyn came inside the young girl, Saffron said, “How are we going to explain this blood to our mothers?”

Sweyn hugged and kissed Anise then said, “This wound on my shoulder has been known to open up and gush forth blood.  Tell your mothers it started bleeding and I had to leave because of it.”  Sweyn lifted Anise off, as she was still savouring the moment and he got up and took a towel from Saffron and knelt down and began wiping Anise off.  He had to lick some blood off her and he savoured her taste.  “Your mothers know I have this wound so, if you describe it to them they will believe you,” and he let Saffron feel his wound so she would remember the scar.  She began feeling his other scars and a great sense of empathy overcame her and she began undressing again and she got down and took the glove off of Sweyn’s lingam and took his member in her mouth and began to suck it hard again and was soon riding him once more.  She had seen Anise savouring her orgasm out of the corner of her eye while talking to Sweyn and she was not going to be outdone.  Not in veil dancing and certainly not in focking so, she climbed back onto Sweyn and she rode him hard until she came again.  She was savouring her orgasm when Sweyn whispered gently in her ear, “You forgot to put the glove back on.”

She got rigid and was about to dismount when Sweyn said, “Relax, it’s okay.  I haven’t come yet.”  So, Saffron relaxed and enjoyed her orgasm once more.  “It’s my turn,” Anise said, impatiently, so, Saffron dismounted and showed Anise how to put the glove on and tie it off.  Then Anise straddled Sweyn and lowered herself on his steed and began her riding anew.  Sweyn watched her small breasts bobbing as she rode and her closed eyes and open mouth soon had him exploding inside her.  She kept riding until she came and she collapsed on top of him.  He hugged her close and thought there was something he found special in her.  When Saffron, not to be left out, laid down beside them he took her under his arm.

They sat around a tall table beside the screen and discussed their stories.  “If your mothers don’t believe the story about my wound, I want you to blame all this on me.  Tell them I forced myself on you two.”  The girls began protesting against that approach, but Sweyn added, “Your mothers know how beautiful you two are and they know full well that a man such as I cannot possibly resist you two so, they won’t blame me as much as they’ll blame the emergency that came up.  Tell them I couldn’t resist your charms and I forced myself on you.  But don’t show them the gifts that I brought you or they’ll think I planned this whole affair.”

The girls agreed to this strategy and they kissed him lovingly as he got dressed and prepared to leave.  “Practice your veil dancing,” Sweyn said as he left.  “When I come back next year, you will be older and I want to see you two dancing for me again, but we’ll ‘create’ an emergency next time,” and he put his finger to his lips for secrecy.  The girls closed the door behind him and he walked down the lane a short distance and waited for his ride to return.  Saleem and Anika soon came along in the carriage and Sweyn got in and told them that the deed was done.

“How are they?” the women asked about their girls.  “Were they still virgins?” Saleem asked.

“They are fine and yes they were, but the bloodstains on the carpet are from an old wound of mine, the old shoulder gash that opens up from time to time,” and he winked at the two.  “And don’t worry.  I wasn’t too violent with them.  And I used protection.”

Sweyn had the carriage driver drop the women off at their door and then they left for the Caliph’s palace.  Sweyn went to bed alone in his Hraes’ suite and he heard his grandfather come back up from the ships after third watch.  The Impalers were rampant in this world they’d found themselves in.

Prince Sweyn and his small fleet returned north with the Kievan merchant fleet led by Prince Erik.  The Norwegian merchant fleet led by Jarl Haakon had left Baghdad two weeks earlier because their route via the Nor’Way crossing froze off earlier than the riverways of Hraes’.  While most of the Kievan fleet sailed left up the Kura River from the Araks, all the Tmutorokan based merchants turned right with Prince Sweyn and sailed onto the Caspian Sea and entered the Kuma River near Samandar.  Prince Sweyn stopped there to check on his Khazar city, then sailed further up the Caspian to Kazaran to check up on his new merchant enterprises there.  He filled his Nor’Way ships with the remaining Khazar Vayar that the Pecheneg women had collected and the Khazar women had preserved then he sailed back down to Samandar and took the Kura-Kuban portage to Tmutorokan.  He knew that Prince Erik would be in Kiev with the merchant fleet and not in Gardariki, but he stopped in at the city of Tmutorokan to visit Queen Silkisif.

Queen Silkisif welcomed Sweyn to Tmutorokan and had all his ships carried onto shore and had them blocked and braced so his men could sleep under their ships’ awnings.  She led Sweyn into her palace and she provided benches for all his officers to sleep upon.  “I shall be joining your mother and father in the Christian heaven soon,” she told him as they shared supper together on her highseat.

“Are you ill?” Sweyn asked and he sat back and looked at her.  She was still very beautiful with just a few wisps of grey in her long flowing blonde hair.  “You look perfect,” he told her.  “As beautiful as ever!”

“I’ve stopped taking the drugs your grandfather has given me, the ones that stave off aging.  Empress Helga has King Ivar all to herself and I am envious of her.”

“But you just can’t quit like that,” and Sweyn snapped his fingers.

“Prince Erik has warned me that, if I stop taking his drug, I will age very quickly.  So that is what I’ve decided to do.  I miss your mother and father so very very much.”

“So do I, but we must carry on,” Sweyn argued.

“There is a favour I must ask of you first,” Silkisif told him.  “It is for your uncle, Oddi and your father, Ivar.”  She leaned into Sweyn and she kissed him, not in the way she had kissed him as a boy, but in the way she kissed Prince Erik, long and deep.

Sweyn was shocked and instinctively pushed her away and then he thought about her going away and he pulled her back toward him and he kissed her back, long, and deep.  They left the highseats together and Sweyn carried a bottle of fine wine and two goblets with him and they went into Queen Silkisif’s master chamber.  They sat at the dressing table and had some wine and Silki told Sweyn some stories about his father.  When the wine was done, Sweyn stood up and began undressing in front of her, then he stood her up and began undressing her and, when they were both standing face to face naked, he took her in his arms and began kissing her and kissing her neck and then her breasts.  He savoured her nipples and sucked on them until they became quite hard.  He had always grown up with her beauty nearby, but now it was right in his arms and he kissed her lips again and he stroked her golden hair.  It was as soft as the silk he had given Saffron and he thought about the difference in their ages and the likeness of their beauties.  He scooped Silki up into his arms and he took her over to the bed and he placed her gently between the silk sheets and he slipped in beside her.  She felt his hardness between her thighs, seeking her, reaching for her and she slid down Sweyn’s hard body and took his member into her mouth and she savoured his tip and sucked on his lingam until it became quite hard and she slid up his body and straddled his hips and she savoured his hardness as it slid inside her.  She closed her eyes and she squeezed him as she rose up and down above him.  Soon she was moaning and coming atop him and when she stopped, he pulled her to him and hugged her and kissed her lips and then rolled himself atop her and he began thrusting deeply inside her and withdrawing and thrusting even further and she wrapped her legs around him to try and stop the thrusts but he would have his way with her and he kept it up, his thrusting hard and she moaned in both pain and ecstasy until he exploded within her and he thrust even deeper as his flow pulsed into her and then he stopped.  He rolled onto his side and kept her inside him and held her tightly in his arms.

“You can sleep inside me,” she whispered.

“Just a few more minutes,” he said.

“I want you to sleep inside me tonight,” she said and she squeezed on his member.  They slept together in each other’s arms and Silki woke up once in the middle of the night and Sweyn was still big inside her so, she hugged him and went back to sleep.

In the morning, Sweyn asked her how she knew that he might want to sleep inside her.  “Many of the men,” she said, “that went to Wallachia with you came back with…issues, and their wives told me that was one of them.”

“You have always been such a good queen,” Sweyn told her.

“Not always,” she replied.  “I was a good princess first,” and she laughed and hugged his naked body.  “If you stay a few more days I’ll keep taking your grandfather’s drugs,” she offered, kissing his chest, and nibbling on his nipples.

“But you have to keep taking them after I’ve gone.”

“I’ll try,” she said.

Sweyn slept inside her for two more nights and on the third morning she said, “Please don’t tell Prince Erik about my indiscretions.  I slept with you out of love for you and your father and your uncle.”

“You’re still going to stop taking the drug, aren’t you?”

“I’ll try to keep taking them,” she answered, “but I miss Ivar and Helga so much.”

They had visited the Church of Saint Ivar every morning and then the graves of Ivar and Helga beside it, and they did so one last time before Sweyn left for Kiev with his ships.  He met up with Prince Erik just above the Dnieper portages and they stopped their shieldships and talked for a few hours.  Sweyn told him that he needed a dozen dromons and had ordered the captains and crews to go by way of the Mediterranean.  Prince Erik knew he was preparing to take Denmark and the dromons would be a powerful weapon in the north.  “I wish we had captured that Roman fireship in Wallachia,” he told Sweyn.  “That would have been a powerful weapon for you in the north.”

“You blew up that ship, didn’t you,” Sweyn told him.  “You shot a rocket propelled arrow into the ship while they were refuelling it.”

“I wanted that ship so bad,” Erik admitted.  “When I saw the burnt bodies the day after the fireship attack, I knew it was going to cost too many lives to capture it.  And all the deaths would be as horrible as what I was seeing after their attack.  So, I took my bow and one fire arrow and I went on top of the south hill that night and I saw them refuelling and I shot the arrow into the throat of a bronze firetube.  I couldn’t let all those men burn just because I wanted a ship captured.”

“That’s an impossible shot!” Sweyn said.  “You’d have to be able to see in the dark.”

“A trick I learned from the Ghost Cohort?” Erik responded.  “How did you figure out I’d destroyed the fireship?”

“When you came to my rescue at Dorostal, I saw you shooting off your Cathayan fireworks as you approached the Roman fireships and they literally backed up half a ship-length at your approach.  I could see that Admiral Theophiles and the fireships feared you more than anybody on earth.”

“Only because your father, Ivar, is in heaven.  We figured out their weakness when we attacked Theophiles in Messembria but we kept it a secret because we wanted to use Greek fire for our own ships.  I got greedy and forgot why the Alchemist Guild had banned Median fire in the first place, as being inhumane.”

“I would never be able to use Greek fire against our own people in the north anyway.  I think the Guild is right on this.  There are weapons that shouldn’t ever be invented.”

“I have some gold for you,” Prince Erik said, getting back to business.  “I brought it with me because I knew you were going through Kiev and if I missed you, Princess Serah has more gold in Kiev that she’d give you instead.”  They transferred twelve chests of gold from Erik’s shieldship to Sweyn’s ships right on the river.  “Speaking of gold,” Erik added, “How did you make out with your sturgeon gold project?”

“My ships are full of Khavayar!” Sweyn said.  “We sold it all summer in Baghdad and Constantinople and now I have to deliver this shipment to Frankia and Angleland this fall.  Pecheneg women along the Volga are harvesting the roe and Khazar women in Kazaran are preserving it.”

“It’s great seeing a plan come to fruition,” the Prince said.  “Now you are officially a builder and not just a destroyer!  Princess Serah is proud that you are employing her Khazar people for your project.”

“We used your Scythian Sea salt to preserve some of this batch going north and it turned the roe black!”

“I know,” Erik said.  “It doesn’t affect the taste, but it takes a little getting used to.  Still, it preserves it twice as long.”

“I’ve called it our ‘Black’ Sea Khazar Vayar,” Sweyn said as they parted ways.

When Prince Sweyn tied off his shieldship at the main quay of Kiev, Princess Serah and his son, Ivar, were there to welcome him home.  A feast was soon prepared in King Frodi’s high seat hall and Sweyn and his men were afforded all the finest foods and ales and Princess Serah made sure they had the best accommodations Kiev could offer.  Serah put Sweyn up in King Frodi’s master suite and when he retired, he soon heard a gentle tapping at the door.  Princess Serah entered the room and thanked Sweyn for being so accepting of her Jewish people.  “I know that Erik has given you your gold, but I’d like to offer you some gold of my own in thanks,” and she dropped her robe and stood naked in front of him.  Prince Sweyn saw only her magnificent breasts and he flipped open his silk sheets exposing his own naked body and she slipped into bed with him.

Serah was still breast feeding her young daughter so, when Sweyn began kissing her swollen breasts they started lactating and Sweyn savoured her flows just to keep the sheets dry.  Serah apologized and was embarrassed by her bounteous breasts but Sweyn took pleasure in her bounty and when the flows finally stopped Sweyn put on his glove and he entered her and they began focking in earnest.  They had sex for a full hour before Sweyn finally came and he stayed inside her as his flow ebbed.  “I’d ask you to sleep inside me,” Serah said, “but Prince Erik did that with his lambskin on and I got pregnant anyway.  Now he sometimes sleeps in a young girl down at his ship so he doesn’t have to worry about getting her pregnant.”

“If I show you a safe way of Erik sleeping inside you,” Sweyn started, “will you let me sleep inside you?”

“Why yes, of course!” Serah answered.

Sweyn had Serah untie his glove and slip it off and he put some glove oil directly on his lingam and he got Serah to turn over and he thrust his lingam up her anus and he slept behind her with his hands on her breasts.  He woke up in the middle of the night and he realised that he had been fondling her breasts and she’d started lactating in her sleep so, he put her on her back and he began lapping up her flows to keep the bed dry and she woke up to Sweyn sucking on her breasts and they both became extremely aroused and they were soon focking without a glove and when Serah had come, Sweyn entered her from behind and came deep inside her anus.  They had sex again in the morning, with a glove this time, and Serah asked Sweyn not to tell Erik about her indiscretion.  “Just be discreet,” Sweyn answered, “when you show him your anal sex idea.  He may want to know where you learned about it.”

“Yes,” she said.  “How will I explain that?”

“Tell him you learned it in his Norse translation of the Kama Sutra,” Sweyn offered.

“But I don’t read Norse,” she said.  “I only speak it.  I only read Khazar and Greek.  And Hebrew.  And some Latin.”

“I think the deluxe edition of his translation has a very explicit half page painting of a couple having anal sex.  There’s a copy of the book in the palace library here.  I remember reading it as a boy.”

“You just looked at the paintings!” Serah teased.

“I did more than look,” Sweyn admitted.  “I’d sneak the book into my room and I’d sit in front of it and I’d put glove oil on my lingam and I’d begin stroking it like this,” and he took Serah’s hand and he wrapped it around the lingam he had just oiled and he told her to start stroking it.  “Keep it up,” he said and he laid back on the bed and watched her stroking his member with her soft hand and the harder it got, the harder she stroked it until it exploded and shot white come up into the air in pulsing bursts and Serah smiled as it went off and she kept stroking away until it stopped.

“That’s amazing!” she said.  “I’ve felt the pulsing inside me, but I’ve never seen it go off like that!”  She put her fingers in the small puddles of come that had landed back down on Sweyn’s taut stomach.  She put her fingers in her mouth and tasted Sweyn.  “It’s salty!” she said.

“As salty as Khazar Vayar?” he asked.

“Almost,” and she began lapping up the come off Sweyn’s stomach.  “I like the taste of you, my prince,” she said when she was done.  “That must have shot an ell and a half up in the air,” she said.  “Let’s do it again!” and she took Sweyn’s lingam into her mouth and she began to suck it hard again, then she oiled it and began stroking it, but it wouldn’t go off so she began moaning as if she was having orgasm after orgasm and Sweyn was excited by the sounds and soon exploded once more, but the stream only shot up an ell and it was not as much and not as often.  “That is so amazing!” she said.  “And you’d do it in front of the book.”

“Sometimes I’d do it on the book,” Sweyn confessed, and Serah laughed at that.  “Seriously,” Sweyn said.  “When you look at the book, there are a few paintings that I accidentally sprayed and when I wiped the book off, some of the painting came off with it.  You can’t really see it unless you’re looking for it.”

“I want to try it on Erik,” Serah said.  “Is it in the book?  This stroking off?  So I can tell Erik where I learned of it.”

“No.  I saw one of the slaves stroking off when I was a boy.  He was in one of the male slave pens and he was looking across the hallway at a girl in one of the female pens and he had his hard-on sticking out through the pen slats and he had his arm sticking out through some other slats and he was stroking himself off until he exploded halfway across the hallway.  I saw that and I went straight to my room to try it!” and Sweyn laughed and Serah joined in, uncomfortably.  She had been on the inside of one of those female slave pens and she had seen the males in the opposite slave pens.  There was only one thing that female slaves were more afraid of than their slaver handlers and that was male slaves.  She had once seen a Khazar woman, a royal who had pissed off the slavers and they threw her into the male pen for a while and she almost had the life focked out of her before the handlers got her back out.  She wasn’t so royal after that experience, and when buyers wanted to probe every orifice in her body, she just bent over and let them do it.  Serah never saw what happened to the royal because Helga and Silkisif had come to her slaver looking for a concubine and after a little poking and prodding of their own, they had purchased her for Prince Erik.  They had marvelled at her big, beautiful breasts and at the tightness of her vagina and they said their prince would be pleased.  And their prince was.  He took her on his ship and he focked her when he was away from his wives, when he was in places that were too dangerous for his wives, and he slept inside her at night and he had nightmares while he was inside her and he would mumble about Impalers and the horrible things they were doing while he was sleeping inside a woman his wives had bought for him.  A woman his grandson had taken captive while sacking a city of women and children after killing all their men.

But she had been blessed.  Some of her master’s come had leaked out of his glove as he slept inside her and she had become pregnant with his child.  Suddenly she was a princess and a wife and a mother and was doing the books for the largest slave and fur sales company in the uncivilized world.  And she loved her baby and had grown to love her prince and even her prince’s wives, the ones who had poked fingers into her vagina and had squeezed her breasts and pinched her nipples and had said how much their prince would enjoy focking this one with the huge breasts.  And now she was focking and stroking off the grandson of her prince in thanks for his sparing and employing the remnants of her people that he had not killed or sold into slavery.  She was blessed because she saw that the life she’d been living before the calamity, that’s what her fellow Khazars called it, the calamity, was nothing but the flipside of the coin she now called Hraes’.  The Khazars were slavers and traders and warriors just like the Hraes’ and she had always been a royal on the flipside of the coin called Khazar and she had never taken the time to see just what her father had been doing to give them that great Khazar life.  She had never been outside of Atil Kazaran to see the ugly underbelly of the Volga River trade route.  She had never even bothered to see the ugly little slave markets that were right inside the Khazar capital.  Streets where women were chained naked to slave rails and were poked and prodded just as she had been.  Male slave pens that female slaves were thrown into for disciplining or execution, depending on if the slavers could get her back out before she was focked to death or not.

She had been blessed.  She loved her baby daughter and she loved her prince and she even loved the taste of Sweyn.  She would do anything she could that would help the lot of her Jewish people, but she would never ever take her life for granted anymore.  She would strive to see things for what they really were and she wanted to have another baby with her prince.  Even if it meant having another baby by her prince’s grandson instead.  Her prince wasn’t focking her anymore, not without a glove.  He was too busy focking a girl too young to have breasts, too young to have babies.  And he was sleeping inside her to keep the Impalers away.  But Sweyn wasn’t as careful.  He had already focked her without a glove but he had turned her about before he came within her.  And while she was stroking him off she had practised her range of moans and had found a few that had really gotten Sweyn excited.  If her crying baby could get her lactating instantly then perhaps her few picked moans could get a gloveless Sweyn exploding within her before he could stop himself.  She needed a boy this time though and her Jewish faith taught her just how to have one.  Her faith made her wait fifteen days after her period before she was pure enough to fock and this would ensure that she had a boy.

“Serah,” Sweyn repeated, and Serah looked up at him.  “I said, if you’re going to stroke off the Prince, you’d best do it just once, because he is old and twice may not work for him.”

“Have you slowed down?” Serah asked.

“When I was young I could stroke myself off three or four times in a row,” Sweyn said, proudly.

“Can we do it one more time?” she asked taking Sweyn’s lingam into her mouth.  She sucked him hard again and poured on oil and began stroking him and she moaned in orgasm and had him exploding within minutes.  “That is so beautiful!” she said, smiling at Sweyn and she began licking off his stomach.

Sweyn spent the rest of the morning visiting with his son, Eyfur.  He watched Ivar practicing with sword and shield and then surveyed his language studies.  After lunch he led his Nor’Way fleet north up the Dnieper to a Hraes’ station on the right side of the river.  They beached their ships along the riverbank and Sweyn left his officers in charge of the gold and goods and he borrowed horses for a trusted troop of warriors and they rode overland to Chernigov.  If they were taking freight to Chernigov they would have sailed up the Desna River with their fleet, but it was faster going by road for the last few miles.  They arrived in Chernigov by evening and they were greeted by Princess Svia and his son, Helgi, who were preparing a feast for his arrival.  Sweyn and his men were afforded all the finest foods and ales and Princess Svia made sure they had the best accommodations Chernigov could offer.  After the evening’s entertainment by local musicians, Sweyn and Svia saw Helgi to his bedroom, then they went to Svia’s palace master suite and Sweyn began undressing.

“Can I sleep in you tonight?” he asked her.

“I’d prefer it if you focked me first!” she replied.  “Why can’t you just fock me first?  Why do I have to ask?”

“You left me for Emperor John,” he said, matter of factly.

“I was going to, but I never actually did.”

“Because my men brought you back.  Emperor John and Empress Theophano are back together, you know.”

“No!” Svia said, joining Sweyn by the bed and continuing to undress him.  “When? How?” she asked.

“She escaped from the convent six months ago.  A bishop from Nicomedia kept sneaking out to the island and raping her, with the nuns’ blessings.  He was brutal.  She had to escape or he would have focked her to death.  Emperor John is hiding her in the palace and using her for sex on the side.  Prince Erik’s spies had been keeping tabs on her and this was confirmed by Erik’s cleric in the palace.”

“Thank you for saving me from Emperor John,” Svia said.  “Now, please fock me before you sleep in me tonight.”

“Emperor John would have preferred to be having sex on the side with you,” Sweyn said.  “You are so much more beautiful than your cousin.”

“Thank you, Sweyn,” she said.  “Take me north with you.  You can sleep in me all the time, as long as you fock me first.”

“You have to stay here and take care of your son.”

“He’s not my son.  Why do I have to stay here and take care of some other woman’s son?  We should be conquering Denmark and then be getting you your co-Emperorship.  Then I could be Empress and we could be focking while my bitch cousin is being used for side sex by your co-Emperor.  Instead, I’m stuck in this shithole, Chernigov, babysitting your son and not even having side sex.”

“You must be patient,” Sweyn said.  “Helgi’s mother will be my queen in Denmark and you will be my Empress in Constantinople.  Now come, fock me first so I can sleep inside you.”

Svia had Sweyn naked by now and she began to take her clothes off.  Sweyn watched her the whole time as she disrobed and he could not take his eyes off her.  She was the most sensuous beauty he had ever seen.  Not only was he hard when she climbed into bed like a cat, but he was sweating and his pulse rate was up as though he was going into battle.  Her long black hair flowed on each side of her face as she crawled toward him and her breasts swayed below her and her dark almond eyes glowed as she licked her red lips with her pink tongue.  She wanted sex first and foreplay could wait so, she straddled his hips and she lowered herself onto his member and eased it into herself as one tasting a delicacy she’d not had in a while.  And then she began riding him hard with a suddenness he found surprising and her firm round breasts bobbed in the candlelight as she bounced up and down on his groin.  She rode him in this effortless bouncing gait for a long time and her breasts bounced with her as though drawing her along and Sweyn put his hands in front of her breasts and let the nipples rub his palms up and down and Svia was soon moaning in her peculiar sound as she came.  Sweyn had trained himself not to go off until he heard and felt his partner’s orgasm so, when she began her lilting moan, he exploded within her.  She felt him going off inside of her and each throbbing pulse gave her a small orgasm on top of the big one she was already having and, when the pulses stopped, she collapsed on top of him and her feline urges were sated.  For now.

Sweyn slept inside his princess all night long and she kept the Impalers a world away.  The only dream he had was of Princess Serah’s anus.  He dreamed he was sleeping again in Princess Serah’s anus.  Later he dreamed that his grandfather was sleeping inside Princess Serah’s anus instead of going down to his ship and he went down to his grandfather’s ship and he watched the lithe cabin girl swimming in the water beside it and he watched her drying herself off with a towel and when she went into the forecastle he followed her in and he had his way with her, but he came inside Svia.

In the morning, he visited with his son, Helgi, and he checked on his studies and on his archery skills.  He had lunch with Svia and Helgi and then he gathered up his men and they rode west, back to the Dnieper River.  They returned the horses and launched their ships and sailed to Smolensk and portaged across to Surazh and stayed there the night and slept in their ships.  There was a lot of gold and goods aboard and Sweyn wanted them watched closely.

While Sweyn slept in Surazh, his son Helgi crept in Chernigov.  His bedroom was next to Princess Svia’s master suite and he had been listening to Sweyn and Svia talk and he had listened to them fock and he was conflicted to learn that the most beautiful woman in the world was not his mother.  He had always wanted to have sex with his mother, but was constrained by his distaste for mother-fockers.  But now, he learned, she was no longer his mother and was being treated so harshly, she was literally begging for sex.  He had been spying on his mother since he had been made Prince of Chernigov and the Drevjane, and he had loosened some boards between his bedroom and her dressing room closet so, he removed the boards and slipped into her suite.  He opened her dressing room door a crack and watched her sleeping under silks on her huge bed and the moonlight pouring through the window caught the rise and fall of her breasts under the silk.  He had observed her before and he knew that she had always slept naked under her sheets.  And now she was no longer his mother.

Helgi entered the bedroom and closed the dressing room door behind him and stripped himself naked beside her bed.  He stood there and looked down upon the sleeping Svia and he could see by the moonlight that he was hard.  He slid in under the sheets and he pounced.  He was on top of her and she woke up screaming and he put his hand over her mouth and he got his hips between her thighs and he opened up her legs and he drove himself into her.  She was hitting him with her fists but he got his other arm around her and pulled her in so close to him that she could only pound weakly upon his back and all the while he kept thrusting into her and she recognized him in the moonlight and she cried, “Helgi, stop!  I’m your mother!” but he kept focking her and she could not stop him.  Finally, she stopped struggling and Helgi soon came within her and collapsed on top of her.  “You’re not my mother,” he whispered in her ear.  “I don’t know who is, but I know now who is not!”

Svia pleaded with him to leave her room but he would not.  He held her close to himself in the bed and he ravaged her body with his hands and he kissed her all over her face and her beautiful round breasts.  “I love you,” he told her.  “I’ve loved you since the first time I saw you and I’ve always wanted you but you told me you were my mother and now I’ve learned that you are not.  I want you for my wife!” he said.  “I own all of Dereva and I want to share it with you.  I will always make love to you and I will never sleep inside you.”

“I’m sorry I had to lie to you,” Svia said, “but it was thought best that you should have a Roman princess for a mother rather than a slave.”

“My brother, Valdamar, has a slave for a mother,” Helgi started, then stopped.  “Malfrieda is my mother?”

“Yes,” Svia began.  “And she is Ivar’s mother as well.  She and Sweyn go back a long way.  She was Empress Helga’s handmaiden and she took advantage of Sweyn when he was young.  It was all hushed up, of course, but the damage was done.  She had given him two slave spawn sons.  When the people of Novgorod wanted a prince as well, Sweyn went to Malfrieda again, but this time the birth was public knowledge.  And you’ve heard the complaints of the people.  If it gets out that Malfrieda is your mother, the Drevjane may decide that they don’t want you as their prince.  If you go back to your room, I’ll go back to sleep and forget this has ever happened.”

Helgi sat up and sat on the edge of the bed and thought about her offer.  He picked his clothes up off the floor and began dressing as Svia watched.  She thought he was a handsome youth and he had his father’s warrior body and his father’s big lingam, but he was not his father.  Helgi went to the master bedroom door and he let himself out.  As soon as he was gone, Svia bounced out of bed and raced to her door and locked it behind him.  She leaned her naked body against the door and cursed her sloppiness for having left it unlocked.  She had gotten up mornings and had found that she’d forgotten to lock her door, but this time it’d really cost her.  She went back to her bed and had a troubled sleep.

Prince Sweyn woke up in the cramped forecastle of his Nor’Way ship, having had a troubled sleep.  The original Nor’Way ships did not have forecastles or stern half-decks but his uncle, Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ had been the first to add them to his ship, ‘Fair Faxi’, so, Sweyn had them incorporated into the original design when he’d had his ships built in Novgorod.  And now they were heading back to that city in northern Hraes’.  He had paid the local portagemen to haul his fleet from Smolensk and now they began the second stage of the portage and took the ships across the Dvina River and up the northern bank and hauled the ships on wains, a wagon at each end, and drew them along with oxen until they reached the source of the Lovat River, which took half the day.  They then sailed down the Lovat to Lake Ilmen and crossed it to Novgorod on the left bank of the Volkov River.  Malfrieda was there to welcome them with their son, Valdamar, in tow.

A feast had been prepared in the Hraes’ palace and Sweyn and his men were afforded all the finest foods and ales and Malfrieda made sure they had the best accommodations Novgorod could offer.  After the evening’s entertainment by local skalds, Sweyn and Malfrieda saw young Valdamar to his bedroom, then they went to Malfrieda’s palace master suite and Sweyn began undressing.

“Let me do that,” Malfrieda said, and she took over undressing him and sat him on the bed and she took his lingam up into her mouth and she sucked on it and kissed it up and down the sides and she fondled it and treasured it as the thing that had put life inside of her and one of those lives was sleeping in the bedroom next door.  She remembered when she had first seen his hard member standing up on its own, standing proud, and Sweyn was just a boy offering her his virginity and taking her flower in exchange.  She kissed it and she sucked it and she swallowed it for the treasure that it was and when Sweyn pulled her onto the bed and undressed her, she invited that treasure into her trove and she welcomed its gentle curious probing and thrusting and she put her legs around Sweyn and she pulled it deeper and deeper inside of her and she felt wave after wave of sensation as it coursed deep into her and she heaved in vocal pleasure and she felt it pulsing inside of her and its stream was as warm and wet as birth itself.  Then Sweyn hugged her and stayed inside her and they slept together.

That same night, the Prince of Chernigov lay awake in his bed and he thought that his cock would touch his chin as he thought of the beauty that was sleeping in the room next to him.  After second watch he got up and he paced the bedroom and he went over to the wall and he loosened the boards between his bedroom and her dressing room closet and slipped into her suite once more.  He opened her dressing room door a crack and watched her tossing and turning under her silks as the moonlight played on her slender hips.  He could tell she was still naked under her sheets.  And he slipped into her room.

Helgi stripped himself naked beside her bed and he crawled between the sheets and he curled up with her.  Svia woke and felt his hardness against her back and she felt his hands upon her breasts and he was soon probing for an opening with his member and he tried entering her anus and then he felt her fingers upon his cock and she inserted his tip into the proper orifice and he thrust his way into her and he kept thrusting until he came inside her.  “If you leave now,” she said, “I’ll forget this ever happened.”  Helgi got out of bed and got dressed while Svia watched him in the moonlight again.  He went out the door and Svia didn’t bother getting up and locking it behind him.  ‘He has a key,’ she thought.

After fourth watch, Helgi got up again and he went over to the wall and he slipped into her suite once more.  He opened her dressing room door a crack and watched her asleep on her back and he watched the rise and fall of her breasts again and he slipped into her room.

Again, he stripped himself naked beside her bed and Svia watched him in the moonlight through half closed eyes.  She felt him crawl on top of her and he entered her and began thrusting and driving until he came.  Then he laid beside her and hugged her body close and he slept with her.  In the morning Svia woke him up and said, “If you leave now, I’ll forget this ever happened.”  Helgi got up and dressed and was about to go through the door when Svia said, “Servants may be up and about.  Please leave the way you came.”  Helgi opened the dressing room door and was about to step inside when he stuck his head back into the room and said, “I love you, and I still want you for my wife!”  Then he left.

“You shall be my queen,” Sweyn told Malfrieda in the morning, “When I rule in Denmark!”

“But who will help young Valdamar rule in Novgorod?” she asked him.

“He can rule both,” Sweyn said.  “Prince of Liere and Novgorod.  And you shall help us both.”  She hugged Sweyn and put her head upon his chest.  She loved her man and would always be his woman even though they had never married.  She was the mother of all his sons and the legal mother of his latest son and daughter, yet they had never married.  “If I become your queen, you’ll have to marry me.”

“Only if you’ll have me,” Sweyn said.

“I’m free to choose you know,” she said.  “Your mother may have owned me, but she gave me my freedom out of love for me.”

“My mother may have owned all of you for a short little while, but you have always owned the largest part of me and you’ll own it until the day I die.”

“And what is this largest part of you?”

“It is my heart, my queen,” Sweyn answered.  “You own my heart!  Then he added, “And you seem to have a half interest in my cock as well.  I thought you were going to suck it right off me last night.”

Malfrieda slapped his chest in mocked disgust.  “You have always owned my heart,” she said in earnest.  “I accept your offer to be your queen!”  She then started licking her teeth with her tongue and said, “I think I’ve found the other half interest in your cock.  It’s caught between my teeth, it’s so small.”

“It’s small, is it?” Sweyn said and he pulled Malfrieda hard against his body and she could feel his large stiff member against her belly.  “Oh my,” she said, looking over at the bed.  “We’ll have to be quick.  The Prince of Liere will be waking soon.”

Prince Sweyn spent a week in Novgorod ordering more Nor’Way ships, two dozen this time.  And he made the forecastles a little larger.  He left Malfrieda and Valdamar waving from the quays of the Volkov and they sailed north to Lake Ladoga and took the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland and sailed straight west across the Baltic Sea to Sweden and the Hraes’ trading station in Birka.  Sweyn dropped off some Khazar Vayar at the store and took more to Uppsala and the new king there.  A King Erik had just taken over from his father King Olof, who had died after eating a meal, so, ‘he may have been poisoned’, Sweyn thought as he was introduced to Erik’s new wife, Queen Sigrid ‘the Haughty’, a pretty young blonde queen that reminded him of his Swedish mother, Helga.  The Swedish royals thanked Sweyn for the ample gift of the Khavayar delicacy that was sweeping through the north.  Then Sweyn rode into King Erik’s native province, the Uppland, and he bought a load of the pure iron ore that Sweden was famous for.  In Vastmanland, Sweyn bought a supply of tonstone that was to be picked up as ballast by his two dozen new ships in the spring.  The tonstone was for the trebuchets on his dozen Roman dromons that were presently traversing the Mediterranean on their way to Norway.

From Sweden, Sweyn’s fleet sailed to Denmark and dropped off a supply of Khazar Vayar at the Hraes’ station in Liere and sent a gift of it to King Harald ‘Bluetooth’, but he did not go to Liere, sailing on to the Hraes’ trading stations in Hedeby and Jelling to drop off more of the Khavayar delicacy.  He then sent one ship to the Vik and the Hraes’ store there and sailed around Norway, sending more ships off to the Hraes’ stores in Angleland and Frankia to resupply them with the delicacy and then they entered Stavanger Fjord and dropped Bjork and the iron off at Hraegunarstead.  Sweyn thanked Bjork for his guidance through the Nor’Way trade route rivers and he told him he would pay gold for all the swords that were forged at the smithy works over the winter.  “If you wish to sail the Nor’Way with us in the spring you are welcome.  Come to Trondheim early and bring all the swords and seaxs you can load in your ship.”

“I think I will come again,” Bjork said, “now that you’ve invited me.”  Bjork had made a fortune with the ship that Sweyn had given him and it had taken him back to his youth and his trading adventures with Arrow Oddi in Giantland.

Sweyn then dropped off product at the Hraes’ stores in Southmore and Northmore before leading the fleet to Trondheim Fjord and the city of Lade where Jarls Haakon and Eirik awaited him.  Two of the six Nor’Way ships sailed into the islands of the fjord then sailed southeast through dusk to the city of Lade and Trondheim.  They sailed past Haakon’s huge great hall to the longhall that Sweyn had purchased in the spring and they began unloading chests of gold and treasure onto the quay in front of it.  When Sweyn went to unlock the double doors of his hall, they swung open and Alfled, the young woman Haakon had loaned him, was there to welcome him home.  “Haakon had me spend the summer here to look after your place,” she said.  “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Sweyn said as he directed his men into the hall and told them where to put the chests and the treasure and the remaining Khavayar.  “I see you’ve fixed the place up a bit.”

“Just a wee bit of woman’s touch,” she said.  “Will you be going to Jarl Haakon’s hall tonight?”

“It’s too late and I’m exhausted,” he said as she led him to his highseats.  “I’ve been delivering Khazar Vayar to all of Scandinavia.”

Alfled filled a goblet with wine and passed it to him.  “I’ve heard of it,” she said, “but I’ve never tasted it,” and she passed him some food she had put together while Sweyn had been directing his men.  Servants came out of the scullery with food and ale for Sweyn’s men.

Once Sweyn had finished eating he looked to the back of the hall and grabbed two goblets and a bottle of wine and two jars of Khavayar and he followed Alfled to the master suite and he watched the sway of her ass the whole time.  “I have been sleeping in your bedroom,” she said.  “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” Sweyn said.  “Come join me for some Khavayar,” and he put the jars on the side table and filled the two goblets with wine and he pulled out a chair for her.  Sweyn could see that she had added a woman’s touch to his bedroom as well.  They shared the wine and the Khavayar and Sweyn took Alfled by the hand and led her to the bedside and began undressing her.  She had a pretty face with bright blue eyes and auburn hair and he uncovered her fine young breasts and he dropped her dress and saw her smooth hips and her pubic garden and he turned her about to see her beautiful bottom and she turned fully and began to undress Sweyn and she led him between silk sheets and they made love together and Sweyn slept inside her.

The next morning, Sweyn awoke to Alfled riding his steed and she paused and explained, “You got very hard this morning so, I thought I’d best take care of it for you,” and, when he smiled, she resumed her ride until she felt Sweyn’s warm gush inside of her.  “Keep going,” Sweyn said.  “You haven’t come yet.  It’ll stay hard for a while.” and Alfled began her ride once again until she came.  Later, they walked over to Jarl Haakon’s great hall for lunch and both Jarls welcomed Sweyn warmly.

“I hope Alfled has been taking good care of your longhall,” Haakon said, as they walked into the hall.  Sweyn answered, “She has been taking good care of everything of mine that is long.”  Eirik began laughing in the second highseat next to Haakon.  “Does that include,” Haakon started, “your longships as well?”

“My longship is no longer full of seamen,” Sweyn answered and both Jarls began laughing uncontrollably.  Alfled kept a straight face but had to squeeze Sweyn’s hand to do it.  Haakon invited them up on his third highseat and their lunch was brought to them on trencherplates by slaves.  As they ate they discussed how successful the trading season had been.  Everybody had earned record profits and Sweyn told the Jarls how much he had made on Khazar Vayar alone and they were speechless.  He then told them that he was expecting a fleet of twelve warships to arrive from Tmutorokan in a week or two.  “They are too large to portage,” Sweyn explained, “so I had to send them through the Mediterranean.”  Then he told them he was having two dozen more Nor’Way ships built in Novgorod and was expecting them to arrive in the spring.

“You call yourself a prince,” Haakon said, “but everything you do says you are a king!  It is a most amazing thing!”

“I’m glad King Sweyn is my brother now,” Jarl Eirik joined in.

“I am but a simple trader,” Sweyn said.  “A minor owner of the Hraes’ Trading Company.”

“Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ was an owner of the Hraes’ Trading Company,” Haakon continued, “and he became King Harde Knute of Denmark and Northumbria and he turned that small company into a large one and even challenged the authority of the Eastern Roman Empire.  If you are half the Hraes’ prince he was, I would be pleased to have you as my son, then Eirik can truly call you his brother.”

“I have great plans for the Nor’Way and the north,” Sweyn said, “and I’ll need the support of good strong men.  If you two Jarls are just such men, I’ll be glad to call you my father and my brother.”

“We are just such men,” Jarl Haakon said, and Eirik agreed.  “We pledge ourselves to support you as family,” they both said and Haakon pulled out a seax and gashed the back of his left hand and let it bleed into the palm of his right while the other two did the same and Sweyn shook hands with both of them as blood dripped about them.  Alfled took a towel out of her purse and began cleaning up the blood and she gave the towel to Jarl Haakon for safe keeping.  “It is customary for a father to give a son a token of his love,” Haakon began, “and I give you Alfled as your concubine here in Lade.  If you ever want Alfled to leave here with you, the choice will be hers and hers alone, for I now consider her to be my daughter.”

A huge feast was called for that night and preparations were quickly made, but Jarl Haakon gave Sweyn and Alfled his great master suite for one day and they retired into it all afternoon and focked like newlyweds.  As they were resting between bouts of fornication, Alfled told Sweyn that Jarl Haakon had asked her about him whenever they had slept together.  “I know,” Sweyn replied.

“Jarl Haakon calls you Gold Harald behind your back,” she told him.  “He suspects that your name isn’t really Sweyn and he knows you’re related to King Harald of Denmark so, he calls you Gold Harald because you have so much gold and King Harald has so little.”

“Perhaps I should tell the Jarl who I really am,” Sweyn said.  “I am Prince Svein of Kiev, King Harald’s uncle.  Sweyn is Romanian for Svein and I am also Prince Sweyn of Wallachia.”

“You’ll have to tell him that yourself because Jarl Haakon told me that my reporting was to end,” Alfled continued, “that’s why he made me his daughter, so I could tell him to fock off if he ever asks me about you again.  I am your property now, your concubine.”

“You may be my concubine,” Sweyn said, “but I shall always treat you as a wife.  If I ever depart from that you may tell me to fock off as well,” and he kissed her tenderly.  He had forgotten that his father was a king of Northumbria for a time so, having a good Northumbrian woman in his bed was comforting.  She climbed aboard him for one more ride before the feast started.  They could hear the people gathering in the hall just down from their room and the people could hear Alfled as well once she got deep into her gait over the hips of Sweyn.  There was applause in the hall when the new couple came out of the master suite.

Sweyn and Alfled were both famished and thirsty after their afternoon fling in the silks and they both ate too much and drank too much and they were ring dancing throughout the hall to Warlock songs and skaldic poems and the musicians were still playing when the couple returned to their suite for late night sex, but the room was spinning as Alfled rode her steed and she fell off her mount and passed out beside Sweyn.  He thrust his way back inside her as she slept and he joined her in slumber.  “Focking Impalers!” he said just before he passed out.

When Prince Sweyn’s warships arrived in Trondheim Fjord, Jarls Haakon and Eirik were shocked.  They had expected thirty large dragonships, but the Roman dromons that dropped anchor before his great hall were huge.  One was anchored next to his quay and they were anchored side by side all the way to Sweyn’s longhall quay.  Haakon saw Sweyn directing the berthing from his quay and then gangways were let down from the dromons to the quays and Haakon and Eirik went aboard the dromon at their quay and Sweyn and Alfled boarded the dromon at their quay and they walked across the ships using boarding gangways that were built into the ships to cross from ship to ship until they met in the middle.

“Our Viking longships are similar in design to the ancient Greek biremes,” Sweyn started explaining, “but are lighter for portaging so, they flex with the waves.  But the old Greek warships were subject to ramming, which is why they all had rams up front.  To counter this, the Romans built these heavier dromons which could withstand ramming.  They have heavy oak framing and are double and triple planked to withstand impacts so, they are really just floating battle platforms with full forecastles and double stern decks.  They have two and sometimes three masts with Latin sails and they have two or three banks of oars that are each long enough to be rowed by two or three men.”

“These are wooden fortresses on water,” Eirik said, whistling through his teeth.

“The Romans have three hundred of these each equipped with Greek fire tubes fore and aft and port and stearingboard,” Sweyn said.  “They are death on water.  Only King Ivar of Kiev and Prince Erik of Novgorod know how to defeat them.”

“And King Ivar is no longer with us,” Haakon said sadly.

“But we have the only ships with trebuchets on them,” Sweyn said.  “For now, anyway.”  And he had the men in the two center ships prepare a demonstration for the Jarls.  The sailors set up their forward trebuchets and they loaded them with tonstone shot.  Sweyn had an old log cabin sitting at the back of his property a quarter mile away.  Twenty men climbed up ladders to the cross-bridge of one trebuchet and they jumped holding ropes that were attached by pulleys to the swing arm of the weapon and the short end came down and the long end rose up and a sling with the shot was drawn along an aiming channel and the shot was flung back and arced around overhead and was flung forward almost horizontally at great speed and the tonstone was upon the cabin in seconds and it smashed the logs into kindling as the red cabin roof flew up into the air and crashed down on edge at a bizarre angle and teetered there like a rectangular Roman shield in defiance.

“Take out that Roman targe!” Sweyn shouted to the other ship and they got a good side view of the trebuchet at work.  The tonstone shot flew at the red Roman shield at high velocity and smashed the roof to pieces and there were red cedar shakes flying up into the air to great heights and they caught wind and glided over to Haakon’s property before settling to earth.  A lot of Viking ships were equipped with catapults, but the Jarls had never seen a gravity trebuchet at work before and the power of the whipping sound and the speed of the shot shocked and awed them.  The pent up energy of four thousand pounds of manpower dropping twenty feet was all focused into the two hundred pound tonstone shot and the dense tungsten metal could penetrate anything: logs, stone, steel bars, ships, armour and battlements.

“Everything he does smacks of kings and emperors,” Haakon told Eirik and Alfled, as Sweyn was directing the disassembly of the trebuchets.

Sweyn rejoined them and said, “Here our target was stationary and we were at anchor.  During sea battles there are hundreds of ships all moving at sea so, the shots are more difficult, but I’ve seen our tonstone shot tear down the length of a ship’s deck and just cream the soldiers that were standing on it waiting to attack us.  And I’ve seen our shot penetrate the decks and just massacre the rowers at work under them.  Naval warfare is a different beast these days.  The ships are bigger and the weapons are terrifying.  Alfled clung to Sweyn’s arm and she now understood why Sweyn slept inside her, but she was only just getting there.  It wasn’t the terror that drove him into her, it was the horror of the Impalers stripping women and children naked and painting and tattooing their bodies and impaling them on stakes like kicking and screaming death, all day long and all night and all day again until they finally all died screaming soundlessly.  This, he would never share with her.  She would be trying to sleep inside him, and she didn’t have the gear.  He hugged her into his side, instead.

The next day Prince Sweyn went to Jarl Haakon’s longhall and told the guard that Gold Harald wished to talk with the Jarls and he was admitted into the hall.  Jarl Eirik went to greet Sweyn and he apologised for the byname, “We know you’re more than a distant relative to King Harald so, we sometimes refer to you as Gold Harald.  You seem more like brothers than distant cousins, only you have gold and lots of it and Harald has so little of it.”  When they sat together on the second highseat, Jarl Haakon looked down from the first and asked, “Is Sweyn your real name?”

“I am Prince Sweyn of Wallachia, but I’m better known as Prince Svein of Kiev,” Sweyn answered.  “I don’t mind Gold Harald though.  I’m actually Harald’s uncle.”

“Ohhh…” Haakon said.  “You’re King Ivar’s youngest son.  We’d heard he’d been killed and a cup made of his…your skull!”

“It was a rumour started by the Romans,” Sweyn started.  “They’re trying to deprive me of a co-Emperorship of Constantinople,” and Sweyn began telling the two all about himself.  Jarl Eirik had a slave girl bring them mead.  Sweyn also told them of how he had been deprived of his Danish throne by Harald, his nephew, son of his half-brother, King Gorm ‘the Old’.

“You are correct when you state that you have legal priority over Gorm’s son for the throne of Denmark, but King Gorm died many years ago and you’ve never laid your claim,” Haakon replied.

“But I’ve never forfeited my claim as King Gorm’s brother,” Sweyn said, “and Harald should have asked for the throne, rather than just take it.  I never laid my claim because Empress Helga married Emperor Constantine and, as his step-son, I was entitled to a co-Emperorship when he died.  The Romans will only agree to the title if I am a king of another country, so now I must make my claim to the Danish throne in order to gain the Roman throne.”

“I was wondering why you’d want a kingdom when you could have an empire,” Jarl Haakon said.

“Do you think King Harald would give me my ancestral kingdom of Jutland if I let him keep Zealand and Skane?” Sweyn asked.

“If it will keep the peace, I think that King Harald would consider it,” Haakon answered.  “I could take your offer to him if you wish.  We won’t know without asking.”  So, it was decided that Jarl Haakon would take Sweyn’s claim to Liere for him.

Jarl Haakon went to Denmark in the late fall and spoke to the king about Prince Svein ‘the Brave’ of Kiev and of his claim to the Danish throne.  King Harald became highly incensed at this demand, and said that no man had asked his father Gorm to be king over half of Denmark, nor his grandfather King Hardeknute, or King Odd before him, or Kings Frodi or Fridleif before him.  Even King Ragnar Lothbrok of Zealand or his son, King Sigurd Snake-Eye, had not been asked such, and he was so exasperated and angry, that nobody ventured to speak of it to him.

Gold Harald was now worse off than before; for he had got no kingdom, and had gotten only the king’s anger by having it proposed.  Haakon returned to Trondheim Fjord with the bad news.  And Haakon advised him not to speak any more on the subject unless he felt man enough to undertake the effort, for to accomplish such a task would require a bold and firm hand that would balk at neither good nor evil to do that which was intended.

Sweyn, or Gold Harald as people were now calling him, replied, “I will carry on with what I begin, and I will not hesitate to kill Harald with my own hands, if I must, to gain the kingdom he denies me, and which is mine by right of accession.”

And so they separated.

Now King Harald went to Jarl Haakon when he returned to Liere and asked him about the demand on his kingdom which Gold Harald had made, and what his response was, and that he would upon no account consent to diminish his kingdom.  “And if Gold Harald persists in his claim, I will have no hesitation in having him killed; for I will not trust him if he does not renounce it.”

The Jarl answered, “My thoughts are, that Gold Harald has carried his demand so far that he cannot now let it drop, and I expect nothing but war in the land; and that he will be able to gather a great force, because he still rules over Hraes’ in the east.  And then it would be a great enormity if you were to kill your relation; for, as things now stand, all men would say that his claim was justified.  But I am far from saying, or advising, that you should make yourself a smaller king than your father Gorm was, who in many ways enlarged, but never diminished his kingdom.”

The king then asked, “What then is your advice, if I am neither to divide my kingdom, nor get rid of my relative?”

“Let us meet again in a few weeks,” said Jarl Haakon, “and I will then have considered the matter well, and will give you my best advice upon it.”  Jarl Haakon then went back to Trondheim and had further discussions with Prince Sweyn.

“Would he consider co-ruling Denmark with me?” Sweyn asked.  When Haakon shook his head from side to side, Sweyn asked.  “Would he help me take King Harald ‘Fairhair’s kingdom of Norway?  I think I can make the Romans accept Norway as a kingdom to further my claim to Rome.”

“But Prince Harald ‘Grafeld’, son of Eric ‘Bloodaxe’, son of Harald ‘Fairhair’, rules much of Norway now, and he is also the son of Queen Gunnhild Gormsdottir, the Mother of Kings and the sister of King Harald,” Haakon said.

“I’d rather kill Prince Harald ‘Grafeld’ than King Harald ‘Bluetooth’,” Sweyn replied.  “Even though Harald ‘Bluetooth’ didn’t recognize me, I met and befriended him in my youth.  I’d rather kill a more distant relative that I’ve not befriended.  It is better for the family aett and hamingja.”

“That is true,” Haakon admitted.  “The witch, Hallveig, could not have said it better.”

“Besides,” Sweyn added, “I’ll need you and Eirik to rule Norway for me while I’m pressing my claim with the Romans.”

When Jarl Haakon returned to Denmark, King Harald came again to speak with him, and asked him if he had considered fully the matter they had been talking of.  “I have,” said the jarl, “considered it night and day ever since, and find it most advisable that you retain and rule over the whole of your kingdom just as your father did; but that you obtain for your relation, Gold Harald, another kingdom, that he also may enjoy with honour and dignity.”

“What kind of kingdom is that,” said the king, “which I can give to Gold Harald, that I may possess Denmark entire?”

“It is Norway,” said the jarl.  “The kings who rule there are oppressive to the people of the country, so that every man is against them who has tax or service to pay.”

The king replied, “Norway is a large country, and the people fierce, and not good to attack with a foreign army.  We found that sufficiently when King Hakon defended that country; for we lost many people, and gained no victory.  Besides, Harald ‘Grafeld’, the son of Eric ‘Bloodaxe’, is my foster-son, and has sat on my knee and his mother, my sister, Gunnhild, is a real bitch.”

The jarl answered, “I have long known that you have helped Gunnhild’s sons with your force, and have had a bad return for it; but we can get at Norway much more easily.  Send a message to your foster-son Harald and offer him the lands and fiefs which Gunnhild’s sons held before in Denmark.  Appoint him a meeting, and Gold Harald will soon conquer for himself a kingdom in Norway from Harald ‘Grafeld’.”

The king replied, “it’s bad business to deceive one’s own foster-son.”

“The Danes,” answered the jarl, “will rather say that it was better to kill a Norwegian Viking than a Danish prince, and your own father’s brother, at that.”

They spoke so long over the matter, that they at last agreed on it.

Thereafter Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ had a conference with Jarl Haakon; and the jarl told him he had now advanced his business so far, that there was hope a kingdom might stand open for him in Norway.

“We can then continue,” said he, “our friendship, and I can be of the greatest use to you in Norway.  Take first this kingdom.  King Harald is getting old, and has but one son, and cares little about him, as he is but the son of a concubine.”

The jarl talked so long to Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ that the project pleased him well; and then the jarl talked with King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ and they set their plan in motion.  The Danish king soon sent messengers north to Norway to Harald ‘Gray Cloak’, and fitted them out magnificently for their journey.  They were well received by Harald.  The messengers told him that King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ of Denmark sent invitation to Harald ‘Gray Cloak’, his foster-son, to come to him and receive investiture of the fiefs he and his brothers before him had formerly held in Denmark; and appointed a meeting place in Jutland for the following year.

Harald ‘Grafeld’ (Gray Cloak) laid the matter before his mother and other brothers.  Their opinions were divided.  Some thought that the expedition was too dangerous, on account of the men with whom they had to deal; but the most were in haste to take up the offer, for at that time there was such a famine in their part of Norway that the kings could scarcely feed their men-at-arms; and on this account the fjord, on which the kings resided, gained the name of Hardanger (Hard acre) Fjord.

In Denmark, on the other hand, there were tolerably good crops; so that people thought that if King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ got fiefs, and something to rule over there they would get some assistance.  It was therefore concluded, before the messengers returned, that Harald should travel to Jutland in the spring, and accept the fiefs King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ had offered.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

14.0  PRINCE SWEYN – WEST OF LADE  (Circa 975-976 AD)

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11. “Winters nine we grew        beneath the ground;

                        Under the mountains,         we mighty playmates

                        did strive to do          great deeds of strength:

                        boulders we budged            from their bases.”

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(975 AD)  Sweyn overwintered in Lade and he and Alfled seldom left their master suite and even more seldomly left their longhall.  They focked their way through the cold weather and when spring’s new growth started, there was new growth starting in Alfled’s belly as well.  One day Eirik came to his longhall and invited Sweyn to a private party at Haakon’s hall.  He had invited a local farmer and his family to stay over and the farmer had some daughters in need of entertaining.  “Haakon has decided to give you the choice girl, the virgin,” Eirik explained.  “It is a great honour.  Alfled has seen these before and will understand.”

When Sweyn asked Alfled about the party, she said she was now Haakon’s daughter and had to respect his wishes, “and so should you,” she said.  So Sweyn went over and he met the farmer and his wife and family and they told him that Jarl Haakon was paying them a great honour by having them as his guests.  His three daughters were lovely and barely of marriageable age.  Haakon had a fine feast prepared with wine for the adults and juices for the girls.  At the end of the evening, Haakon offered the farmer and his wife the master suite and he offered the daughters small bed chambers next to the suite.  The bed chambers were no bigger than the bed within them with sliding doors across the length of them for privacy.  The farmer and his wife tucked their girls into bed and then took full advantage of the finery in the master suite as the jarls and the prince sat at the highseats and drank.

The men could hear the girls sleeping in their bed chambers and their parents focking in the master suite.  Once they’d had their fill of ale, Haakon led them to the bed chambers and they stripped naked and entered their assigned chambers and each slipped into bed with their chosen girls and slid the doors shut behind them.  The oldest girl was about sixteen and she woke up to old Haakon as he drove his member deeply into her and began focking as she tried to escape and she started to scream, but Haakon put his hand over her mouth and slapped her until she quieted down, then he got to screwing her hard and fast but he was old and could last a long time so, he rolled her atop him and he had her ride him and he spanked her bum to get her to ride faster and he spanked her bottom until it was red before he finally came inside her.  Then he pulled her toward himself and he began kissing her and kissing her breasts while his member withered inside her.  Then he kissed away her tears because she had been quietly crying the whole time and he kissed her lips and slipped his tongue into her mouth and he massaged her teeth and her soft cheeks before slipping out of her.  Haakon slid down her body and began sucking on her breasts and he did this for a very long time before sliding further down her body and slipping his tongue into another opening.  He lapped up her wetness and sucked on her for a long time and soon she was writhing in excitement and when he slid back up her he found her nipples erect and he sucked on them for a very long time.  He then slid further up her body until his head hit the end wall of the chamber and he pushed her shoulders down the bed until her face was before his hips and he put his member into her mouth and he ordered her to suck it hard again.  She closed her lips around it and she felt it grow in her mouth as she sucked it and Haakon stroked her cheek as she sucked and then he checked it for hardness and he pulled her back up the bed and he inserted his member back within her.  He focked her on his side for a while then pulled her atop him once more and spanked her bum to get her going.  She was soon in orgasm again and was about to stop when Haakon began spanking her bottom again and she rode him some more and even came again, but Haakon couldn’t come again so, he stopped her and pulled her against his chest and he told her to sleep with him inside her so, she slept on his chest, but he soon withered within her and his member fell out of her.

‘How does he do it?’ Haakon thought.  ‘How does he sleep inside Alfled all night long with a stiff member?’  He drifted off a bit with the young girl atop him and, after fourth watch he slipped out from under her and gave her a gentle kiss, then stepped out of the bed chamber and slid the door shut.  He got dressed and crept down the hallway, knocking on doors as he went and soon the men were back at the highseats drinking again.  “How was yours?” he asked Eirik.

“She protested at first, but I soon got her warmed up and she rode me like a knight on a Percheron.  We slept in each other’s arms after that.  I think she’s in love with me.”

“And how was your virgin?” Haakon asked Sweyn.

Sweyn wasn’t sure how Haakon could have known she was a virgin but he said, “She was a virgin alright.  But she was a little bloody before I got myself into her.  I think she was just over her period.  She told me she wanted to have a baby with me.  I told her it wouldn’t work if she’d just finished her period but she wanted to try anyway, so, I obliged her three or four times,” and the jarls laughed.  “Why would she want to have a baby at her age?” Sweyn asked.

“Their family is very poor,” Eirik explained.  “Proud but poor.  If she got pregnant with a farm boy out of wedlock, she’d be ostracized, but if she got pregnant by a prince, she’d be blessed by the gods.  And she knows we’d take care of her and she would never starve.

“Since King Frodi’s great army crushed Norway years ago, it has never been the same.  People go hungry here and only the best farmers thrive.  A poor farmer will always be poor and many of them sell their children into slavery, mostly through your company, rather than see them starve to death, so, it is good that your company is there to save them, but my father invites some of the poorer farmers to dine here and we give them gifts of silver and food to help them get through the winter.”

“And you rape their daughters?” Sweyn asked.

“The parents know,” Haakon answered, “or at least they suspect and choose not to know, what might be going on, and they accept our gifts and they don’t have to sell their children.  Everybody wins.”

“Especially you,” Eirik said to his father, “you miss plundering.”

“I do,” Haakon admitted.  “We used to plunder the Frisian coast when I was young and we’d carry off their women and do whatever we wanted with them and then we’d ransom them back to their husbands and families.  It was great!  We’d go back the next year and carry off more of their women and have our way with them and ransom them back.  Some of those coastal villages were so isolated, I think they wanted us to come back and drive fresh blood into them.  One year we went back and they were all gone.  Professional slavers had come and kidnapped them, men, women and children and they took them all off to the slave markets of Baghdad.  There was nobody left there to ransom them.  It was criminal.  Enslaving people without giving them the opportunity to ransom themselves is just kidnapping.  But that’s what King Frodi’s men did.  Whole villages gone and some of them are still empty to this very day.  That’s what our Norwegian hero, Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ was fighting against.  Not the plundering, but the kidnapping that was going on under Frodi.  He came back to us while he was fighting Frodi’s legions in Northumbria to save us from Frodi’s lieutenant, Ogmund Eythjofsbane, and his army and he beat the Danes right over yonder in Stiklastad with the help of the warrior maiden Stikla and he stopped the Danes before they could ravage Halogaland.  That’s why the Halogalanders named their land after him.  Helgi means holy and haloga means holy in their Norse dialect.  Oddi had to get back to Northumbria and Stickla had to get back to Halogaland but they spent one night together and they focked so hard, Stikla could hardly walk the next day.  My father, Sigurd, was there and told me about this, and I’ll have to tell you more sometime, so, yes, son, I miss harmless plundering, but what’s being done now, I want no part of.”

“I think our farming couple is getting up now,” Eirik said.  “He mentioned he wanted to get up early so they could get back to the farm and work the field.”

The couple came out of the master suite and they thanked Haakon for his hospitality and the master suite.  They woke up their girls, who seemed to have not slept well.  Haakon had slaves bring in breakfast and they all ate together at one of the tables in the hall.  The farmer’s wife was concerned about some bruises her oldest daughter had on her face.  “Sometimes the bed chambers are cramped,” Haakon explained, “and it’s easy to bang one’s head against the end wall,” and the girl just sat and said nothing.  Sweyn talked a little with the youngest daughter and she was a very nice and polite young thing and he felt sorry that his efforts to give her a baby were likely fruitless.  When the family got ready to leave, Haakon gave them three pieces of silver and some packs of food.  They thanked him for his generosity and then they left.

Prince Sweyn took his dromon warships out for a week of naval manoeuvres and when he returned to his longhall he told Alfled that he was still bothered by the incident with the girl in Haakon’s great hall.  “Don’t worry about it,” Alfled told him.  “Haakon raped the oldest daughter two years ago, and he raped the middle daughter last year so, all three of the girls must have known what was coming.”

“I know the youngest one knew what was going on,” Sweyn said, “because she wanted me to get her pregnant.  She’s the youngest daughter, so she’d be the first one sold into slavery if the family were starving.  Her head had been on the chopping block for years and she was hoping for a royal baby to get it off the block.”

“Are you sure she was on her period?” Alfled asked.

“I have two wives, three now, and I’ve focked them before, during and after their periods.  I know periods and she was just coming off one so, there’s no chance of her getting pregnant.”

“If you’re so worried about it, just go to her and give her a baby now!  Her father’s farm is just a fjord over near the village of Borsa.”

“What if her father says no?”

“Fock her father!” Alfled said, impatiently.  “You’re a Viking!  Just go there now and take her away on your ship for a few days and have your way with her, then take her back home!”

“Next week would be better,” Sweyn said.  “I’d like to give her a prince.”

“Oh sure!” Alfled said.  “Her you want to give a prince and with me you didn’t seem to care if our baby was a girl or a boy!”

“That’s because I love you,” Sweyn said, taking Alfled in his arms and kissing her.  “I’ll love our baby just as much if it’s a boy or a girl.”

“You’re sweet, Sweyn,” she said, kissing him.  She rubbed her growing belly and said, “Let’s go into the bedroom and you can talk to your prince-cess.”

The next day, Captain Bjork and his crew arrived in his Nor’Way ship trailing a knar filled with seax knives and Hraes’ swords, the famous tri-guard swords that Hraegunar Lothbrok had made popular in the east.  The ships from Hraegunarstead sported the Raven Banners of their patron and the black ravens on their red backgrounds danced in the cool spring breeze.  Sweyn paid Bjork in gold for the blades and they loaded the chest of Byzants into the knar and sent it back to Stavanger Fjord.  Bjork and his ship were staying with the Norwegian merchant fleet to make the Nor’Way crossing.  “While you’re here,” Sweyn said, “I have a little job for you if you don’t mind a little building project.”

“You need help with that?” Bjork asked, looking to the back of Sweyn’s property.  The spot where a little log cabin had sat the fall before was now covered with longhalls under construction.  “No,” Sweyn said.  “Those are barracks for my troops and sailors.  This will be a special little project that will only take a few days.”

A few days later, two dozen Nor’Way ships arrived from Novgorod with loads of tonstone from Sweden.  Prince Sweyn took his warfleet out for training again and took the new Nor’Way ships out for trials.  They sailed through the next fjord over and Sweyn and Bjork stopped at the young girl, Gudrun’s, farm and Sweyn walked in and asked Gudrun to come sailing with him for a few days.  She rushed to her bed in a corner of the two room house and gathered up some clothes.  Her mother went out and got her father, who began asking what was going on, when Bjork stepped in and asked, “Where would you like your new longhall built?  I have a ship-full of lumber and three days to build it for you.”  And Sweyn took Gudrun by the hand and led her out to his ship.  “You must step over the topstrake of your own free will,” Sweyn said, as she stepped aboard.  “We follow the rules of Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ here.”  Haakon had been teaching Sweyn more about the Norwegian sagas of Prince Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson and Sweyn saw much wisdom in the things his uncle had done and the ways that he followed.  They sailed off, leaving Bjork and his Nor’Way ship and crew to build a small longhall for the farmer and his family.  Sweyn and Gudrun were soon down in the furs of the forecastle testing out its roomier new design.

Many of the captains and mates of the Roman dromons in Sweyn’s warfleet were veterans of their war with the Army of the Impalers in Wallachia.  And many of the veterans were former members of the Varangian Guard of Constantinople and had learned their warcraft in the Roman legions of Byzantium.  Some had even trained with Prince Sweyn in the palace grounds of the Emperor, when his mother, Empress Helga had married Constantine Porphyrogennetos the Seventh, and they had killed Roman citizens with their razor sharp swords to get the young prince and the empress out of the Roman city when the mobs rioted over it.  And on the decks of their forecastles stood young cabin girls that the captains slept in at night to keep the Impalers away, so nothing was said, or even noticed, when Prince Sweyn stood at the forestem of one of his new Nor’Way ships and beside him stood young Gudrun, her pale pretty face flushed with the wind and salt spray of the sea.  Sweyn had told her, “Inside of you I find sanctuary,” but she needed no explanation.  She had never been with another man so, to her, his sleeping inside her was just  what  men  do.

Three days later, Prince Sweyn brought Gudrun back to her father and he welcomed them both back to his new longhall.  Bjork had completed the hall and had even started on a new barn.  “I’d like to stay until it’s done,” he told Sweyn, and Sweyn agreed.  Gudrun went down to the ships with him and Sweyn told her, “If you need anything just let me or Alfled know.  I’ll stop by from time to time to see how you’re coming along,” and he kissed her and left.

When it was early spring, Prince Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ asked Jarl Haakon if it was time to sail for Jutland and their meeting with King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’.  Haakon said, “Not yet.  My spies shall come as soon as the King has left the Vik.  After you kill ‘Gray Cloak’ in Jutland you must sail straight back here and help Jarl Eirik prepare the merchant fleet for the Nor’Way crossing.”

While Prince Sweyn was waiting for the word to attack King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ a messenger ship arrived from Novgorod with a message from Princess Malfrieda.  She sent him word that she’d heard through the handmaiden network that Princess Svia was being raped by her ‘son’, Prince Helgi, and that he should return to Hraes’ as soon as possible to check on this.  Prince Svein was shocked by the words and became determined to kill King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ and then slip back to Hraes’ with his six Nor’Way ships to get to the truth of the disturbing matter.

Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ went to Denmark in the spring with three longships and Prince Arinbjorn, of the Head Ransom poem fame, from the Hardanger Fjord district, commanded one of them.  They set out from Viken over to Limfjord in Jutland, and landed at the narrow neck of land where the Danish king was expected.

But Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ showed up instead and he sailed there with nine longships, his six Nor’Way ships that he had fitted out for a Baltic Viking cruise and three more that Jarl Haakon had sent along under the command of his slave, Kark, son of Kark.  Jarl Haakon also had twelve of his own large ships, all at the ready, if needed.  When Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ had departed for Jutland, Jarl Haakon sailed on to Liere to King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ and told him, “Now I don’t know if we are not sailing on an expedition, and yet are to pay the penalty of not having joined it.  ‘Gold Harald’ may kill Harald ‘Gray Cloak’, and get the kingdom of Norway; but you must not think he will be true to you, although you do help him to so much power, for he told me in winter that he would take your life if he could find opportunity to do so.  Now I will win Norway for you, and kill ‘Gold Harald’, if you will promise me a good condition under you.  I will be your earl; swear an oath of fidelity to you, and, with your help, conquer all Norway for you; hold the country under your rule; pay you the scat and taxes; and you will be a greater king than your father, as you will have two kingdoms under you.”

The king and the jarl agreed upon this, and Haakon set off to seek ‘Gold Harald’.

Prince Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ came to the neck of land at Limfjord, and immediately challenged King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ to battle; and although Harald had fewer men, he went immediately on the land, prepared for battle, and drew up his troops.  To even out the numbers a bit, Sweyn just used his Hraes’ warriors and ordered Kark and his men to stay offshore.  His six smaller Nor’Way ships held not much more than Harald’s three dragonships.  Before the lines came together Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ urged on his men, and told them to draw their swords.  He himself advanced the foremost of the troop, hewing down men on each side.

So says Glum Geirason, in Grafeld’s (Gray Cloak’s) lay:

“Brave were thy words in battlefield,

Thou stainer of the snow-white shield! —

Thou gallant war-god! With thy voice

Thou couldst the dying man rejoice:

The cheer of Harald could impart

Courage and life to every heart.

While swinging high the blood-smeared sword,

By arm and voice we knew our lord.”

There fell Harald ‘Grafeld’. So says Glum Geirason:

“On Limfjord’s strand, by the tide’s flow,

Stern Fate has laid King Harald low;

The gallant Viking-cruiser — he

Who loved the isle-encircling sea.

The generous ruler of the land

Fell at the narrow Limfjord strand.

Enticed by Haakon’s cunning speech

To his death-bed on Limfjord’s beach.”

Most of King Harald’s men fell with him. There also fell Herse Arinbjorn, the prince who told the poet, Egil Skallagrimson, .”Stay awake all night and compose a poem in Erik’s praise.  I’d like it to be a drapa of twenty stanzas that you could recite when we see the king tomorrow morning.  That’s what my kinsman, Bragi ‘the Old’, did when he had to face the anger of King Bjorn of Sweden.  He made a drapa of twenty stanzas overnight and that’s what saved his head,” when Queen Gunnhild wanted Egil dead many years before.  Bragi ‘the Old’ was Sweyn’s grandfather, Prince Erik ‘Bragi’ of Gardariki, so, King Harald ‘Grey Cloak’ was not the only relative that Sweyn ‘Gold Harald’ had killed that day.

This happened fifteen years after the death of Hakon, Athelstan’s foster-son, and thirteen years after that of Sigurd Jarl of Hlader.  The priest Are Frode says that Jarl Haakon was thirteen years earl over his father’s dominions in Trondheim district before the fall of Harald ‘Gray Cloak’; but, for the last six years of Harald Grafeld’s life, Are Frode says the Jarl Haakon and Gunnhild’s sons fought against each other, and drove each other out of the land by turns.

Soon after King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’s’ fall, Jarl Haakon came after ‘Gold Harald’, but he had already left with his Nor’Way ships for Novgorod, so the jarl blamed his slave Kark for letting Prince Sweyn leave and he immediately fell upon Kark and his three ships at sea with his twelve and gave battle to ‘Gold Harald’.  Haakon gained the victory, and ‘Gold Harald’, who was actually Kark, himself, was made prisoner; but Haakon had him immediately hanged on a gallows.  Haakon then took the body to the Danish king, and convinced him it was ‘Gold Harald’ and easily settled with him for the killing his greedy relative.

Soon after King Harald Gormson ordered a levy of men over all his kingdom, and sailed with six hundred ships.  There were with him Earl Haakon, Harald Grenske, a son of King Gudrod, and many other great men who had fled from their udal estates in Norway on account of Gunhild’s sons as well as many Jomsviking ships from the Island of Jom.

The Danish king sailed with his fleet from the south to Viken, where all the people of the country surrendered to him.  When he came to Tunsberg swarms of people joined him; and King Harald gave to Earl Haakon the command of all the men who came to him in Norway, and gave him the government over Rogaland, Hordaland, Sogn, Fjord-district, South More, Raumsdal, and North More.

These seven districts gave King Harald to Earl Haakon to rule over, with the same rights as Harald ‘Fairhair’ gave with them to his sons; only with the difference, that Haakon should there, as well as in Trondheim, have the king’s land-estates and land- tax, and use the king’s money and goods according to his necessities whenever there was war in the country.

But King Harald didn’t give Haakon all of Norway, as agreed.  He gave Harald Grenske Vingulmark, Vestfold, and Agder all the way to Lidandisnes (the Naze), together with The Vik and the title of king; and let him have these dominions with the same rights as his family in former times had held them, and as Harald ‘Fairhair’ had given with them to his sons.

Harald Grenske was then eighteen years old, and he became afterwards a celebrated man.  Harald king of Denmark returned home thereafter with all his army.  Then Jarl Haakon sailed north with his small fleet and joined his sons in their Nor’Way crossing preparations.

When Prince Sweyn arrived in Novgorod, Princess Malfrieda told him that she had just received word that Princess Svia and Prince Helgi had just had a small squabble, but that it had been resolved.  She apologized for the trouble caused and she made sure to reward Svein for his chivalry.  He spent a couple of leisurely days in Novgorod trying to get Malf pregnant again, then had to rush back to Norway for the trading season.

When Prince Sweyn returned he asked Jarl Haakon if it was time to sail for Hrafnista, and Haakon said, “Not yet.  It’s nice here but, when we sail north it will get colder and colder and Varangerfjord will still be covered with ice.  Each year it has been getting a little warmer.  When I was young we had to wait weeks longer before we could sail north.  I’ll let you know when it is time.”  But Jarl Haakon was also waiting for word from his spies that King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ had headed back to Denmark and was not coming north to Trondheim.  This word soon came.

A week later, Haakon and Eirik came to Sweyn’s longhall and told him the merchant fleet would be leaving on the morrow.  Sweyn and Alfled went to bed early so they could spend as much time together as possible.  “When you first left me a year ago,” she started, “I really liked you and I hoped you would come back to me.  I even begged Jarl Haakon to let me fix up your hall.  This year, when you leave me, just know that I now really love you and I’ll pray every day to the Christian and Norse gods that you’ll come back to me.”

“I love you,” Sweyn said, and he kissed her.  There was a chance that they would never see each other again.  The Nor’Way crossing was a dangerous beast to ride and runestones stood in mute testament throughout Scandinavia to just how brutal it could be.  And bringing a new life into this world could be just as dangerous.  The baby’s crossing from womb to world was fraught with deadly perils for both child and mother and runestones stood in their stead as well.  It was with this knowledge that the two lovers parted ways and it was with his new Nor’Way ships that Prince Sweyn parted waves of the sea.

The men of Hrafnista welcomed Jarl Haakon and his fleet once more and many of them had Nor’Way ships and they joined the merchant fleet and awaited the wind in Varangerfjord.  It arrived at last, as it always did, suddenly, violently, and it swept up the fleet and it took them east and for days the Varangians hid under the awnings of their ships as the storm tossed them about and finally the storm grew bored and threw them all, but for two, towards the White Sea.

“That was a rough crossing!” Jarl Haakon shouted across to Sweyn.  “We lost two ships!”

“Who did we lose?” Sweyn shouted back.

“Two independents.  They’re ships were old.  Probably fatigue failure.”

The fleet pulled into Kandalaks Bay and the crews slept on their ships under awnings.  Three days under awnings doing the Nor’Way crossing took a toll on the men and they would have loved to sleep on shore, but it wasn’t spring anymore.  It was cold at night and dangerous on the beaches.  Many local tribes didn’t like traders.  Too many local women had been raped by them.  And if sailors had gold, they wore it.  They had gold rings in their ears and rings upon their fingers and gold chains about their necks and their belts had gold coins stuffed inside them.  There were no banks like in Roman lands so, what a wealthy trader couldn’t bury, he wore, and wealthy captains kept their gold on their ships but they never left them.  The furs and trade goods aboard the ships were as good as gold anyway, so they all slept under the awnings.

Again, Prince Sweyn took the long route via Hawknista, trading with the Permians, steel swords for silver ones, but he didn’t visit Giantland.  There had been no giants or dwarves there the last time he checked so, he paid the locals of Hawknista gold to portage his thirty ships from the Northern Dvina to the Kama River and they rowed hard to catch up with the tail end of the Norwegian fleet at the city of Bulghar on the Volga.  Jarls Haakon and Eirik had their own private route that had seemed to increase the number of sable pelts they carried south by several times.  All the traders had developed their own separate routes with their own sources of pelts or Slav captives and they all had their separate longhalls built at strategic points along the ‘Way’.  As they moved south it got warmer again and they were back in spring and some days were even hot.  Sweyn loaded his ships with Khazar Vayar bound for Baghdad and Constantinople and many Hraes’ stations in between.  He had more ships now and was beginning to compete with the Kievan and Tmutorokan merchant fleets and sometimes disagreements had to be resolved, but he was the Grand Prince of the Hraes’ and the final say was his.

Prince Sweyn met his grandfather in Baghdad and they swapped slaves and some goods and The Prince took a ship-load of Volga Khazar Vayar with him to India.  Sweyn met with Saleem and Anika at the palace of the Caliph and they feasted and enjoyed the entertainment then went to Sweyn’s suite in the palace.  Sweyn poured the two each a glass of wine and then had one himself.  They were not allowed to drink alcohol in the Caliph’s dining room so, they left early and continued entertaining themselves in the Hraes’ suite.  “How did the rapes work out last year?” Sweyn asked.  “Is it easier to love your daughters now?”

“It has removed an…impediment,” Saleem said as she crossed her legs in her chair in a manner that was meant to tempt Sweyn.

“But they’re teens,” Anika added.  “They seem to be good at putting up other impediments, such as spending too much time over at their girlfriends’ homes,” and she, too, crossed her legs, as though competing with Saleem.

“It’s one step forward and two steps back, I’m afraid,” Saleem said, finishing her wine and kneeling down in front of Sweyn’s chair.  Saleem unbuttoned his pants and took Sweyn’s lingam into her mouth as Anika and Sweyn both sipped their wine.  Anika finished her wine and began undressing in front of Sweyn and she slowly started writhing in a most seductive manner, and danced herself over to the bed and laid upon it and started to play with herself.  Once Saleem had completed step eight of nominal congress, she began undressing Sweyn and sent him over to satisfy Anika, who had been working hard at satisfying herself.  Sweyn was glad to help her and he got on top of her and began focking her while Saleem sat in Sweyn’s chair and poured herself more wine and watched.  When her wine was done she went over to Sweyn’s green bag, took out his protection, and walked over to the bed and began undressing.  She was spreading oil on Sweyn’s lamb-gut glove as Anika was moaning orgasmically and then she announced, “It’s my turn,” and Sweyn withdrew from Anika and laid back on the bed next to her as Saleem slipped the glove on his lingam and tied it off carefully.  She then got on the bed and straddled Sweyn’s hips and lowered herself upon his upthrust member.  She savoured him as she lowered herself slowly.  Anika got up off the bed and walked naked around the bed and went to the table and poured herself more wine.  She sipped it as she stood and watched her girlfriend ride Sweyn.  Saleem was soon moaning as well and Sweyn relaxed and was soon flowing inside her.

Prince Sweyn and Saleem and Anika slept by three as often as they could but Caliphate trade often took the women out of Baghdad to some of the surrounding cities.  The two women always travelled together because it was safer, so, they’re daughters ended up staying with their friends a lot.  One night Saffron and Anise showed up at the Hrae’s suite and invited themselves in to visit with Sweyn.  They reminded him that they had promised to dance for him and they put on the silk costumes Sweyn had bought for them the year before, and he watched their slim youthful bodies and drank wine as they prepared to dance for him.  Saffron stood naked in front of him as she slipped into her yellow silk and gold veils and Anise was soon in her silver and gold silk costume as well.  “You’re definitely young women now,” Sweyn said, as they began gyrating seductively in front of him.  He could see they had been practicing.  When they were done, he offered them each a glass of wine and they sat over on the bed and drank as Sweyn undressed in front of them and then joined them on the bed.  He slowly stripped them of their veils, one at a time, and when they were naked he started kissing their young bodies all over as they sat and drank.  Sweyn then took his glove off the headboard of the bed, laid back, and slid it on his long hard lingam.  Saffron gulped back her wine and tied it off as Sweyn had shown her the year before.  She straddled his hips and lowered herself on and she rode him just as her mother had done and Anise sat on the bed and sipped her wine and watched.  When Saffron was sated, Anise put her glass on the headboard and sat upon Sweyn’s glove and rode it until they both came.  They slept together until fourth watch and Sweyn had a Hraes’ driver come around with a carriage and take them back to their friend’s home before sunup.

After that night, whenever Saleem and Anika went out of Baghdad on business, a carriage picked the girls up at their friend’s house at night and returned them before sunup.  At summer’s end, Prince Erik returned from India and the merchant fleets sailed north once more.  Prince Erik told Sweyn that Silkisif had stopped taking the medicine that he had been giving her and he didn’t think she was going to make it through the winter, so, he invited his grandson to come visit the queen one last time before going to Kiev and Lade.  They sailed together in Prince Erik’s shieldship and Sweyn again got to meet Sinead, the young girl that his grandfather was sleeping in.  She looked older and acted much more mature than she was.  His own Gudrun was three years older than Sinead and did not seem as mature.  He guessed that the young victim of slavers had seen and experienced much more than his young girl.

In Tmutorokan things were much worse than they had expected.  Queen Silkisif was bedridden and her beautiful long blonde hair was silver and she was thin and frail looking.  Sweyn and Erik visited with her and she kissed Sweyn goodbye when he had to leave.  “I hope you don’t mind handling my end of the season’s closeout in Kiev,” Erik told him.  “I can’t possibly leave Silki now.  Princess Serah knows how to do the books and charge the tithes.  She just needs help handling the captains.”

Sweyn led his fleet of Nor’Way ships around the Crimea and they caught up with the Kievan merchant fleet and passed them going through the portages.  When Prince Sweyn tied off his shieldship at the main quay of Kiev, Princess Serah and his son, Ivar, were there to welcome him home and he told them both the bad news about Queen Silkisif.  A sombre feast was served in King Frodi’s high seat hall and Sweyn and his officers ate the food and ale and Princess Serah made sure they all had accommodations in Kiev.  Serah put Sweyn up in King Frodi’s master suite and when he retired, he soon heard Serah’s gentle tapping at the door.  The princess entered the room and thanked Sweyn for staying and helping with the season closeout and she dropped her robe and stood naked in front of him and Sweyn threw open the sheets and invited her into bed.  He had forgotten just how magnificent her breasts were and he fondled and kissed them as he made Serah comfortable.  “Can I stroke you off?” she asked, as he was sucking on her nipples.  “I’ve stopped breastfeeding so, I won’t be able to sate your thirst, but I can still sate your lust,” and she took his protection kit off the headboard and put oil on his erect lingam and began stroking it with her soft warm hand.  She had to remember the moans she had been working on the year before and she started into them and she found the ones that had made Sweyn go off quickly the year before.  Soon Sweyn was shooting his pulsing wet semen up into the air and Serah opened her mouth in amazement and smiled at Sweyn.  “That is so incredible!” she said and she began licking his belly clean.  “Can we do it again?”

“No!” Sweyn said.  “I want you to suck me hard again and then I want to fock you hard!” and he took his glove out of his kit.  “I want to come inside you and then I want to sleep in your bum.  I kept having dreams about sleeping inside your bum.  I’d be out at sea and I’d have dreams of sleeping inside your rear and it would keep the Impalers at bay.”  So Serah took his lingam between her lips and she began performing nominal congress on him.  Soon he was hard again and he got on top of her and began thrusting deeply into her and he watched her beautiful breasts sway up and down as he drove into her faster.  She began moaning in ecstasy and he realised that her moans sounded like Svia’s and he soon came within her.  He quickly withdrew from her and she untied the glove and put it in the kit.  He was still big but just firm, not hard and he put oil on his lingam and stroked it a few times and got behind Serah and drove his erection up her anus.  He hugged her from behind and he fondled her breasts and he asked, “Did you stroke off the Prince like you were going to?”

“I asked him if I could, but he didn’t want me to.  He was too busy sleeping down at his ship.”

“Well, you can stroke me off anytime you wish,” Sweyn consoled her.  “I love watching the excitement in your eyes when I go off.  Was it an ell and a half this time?”

“At least,” Serah said.  “I love the taste of you my prince,” and she hugged his hands onto her breasts and they went to sleep together.

They worked together all week on closeouts for each trading ship’s captain and, at night, they slept together and Serah took pleasure in stroking off Sweyn and Sweyn took pleasure in focking Serah and then sleeping in her bum.  But one evening, when Serah figured the timing was just right to make a prince, she oiled up Sweyn’s lingam and began stroking it and she told Sweyn she was having mini-orgasms and she asked Sweyn if she could ride him for a few moments and then stroke him off, so, he said he’d love that and she got on him and began bouncing on him and she began moaning but went straight to the moans that drove him wild and he thought for a moment that Svia was riding him in Wallachia and he immediately exploded within her and he thrust deeply into her as he had done with Svia and when she collapsed on him she felt like Svia and then Sweyn said, “Oh, oh, I don’t have my glove on.”

“Serah pulled herself up off his cock and said, “I think it’ll be okay.  I’m pretty near to my period,” she lied.

“Okay,” Sweyn said.  “But if anything comes of this, you’d better make sure the Prince doesn’t sleep down at his ship all the time.

“He doesn’t sleep down there all the time,” Serah said.  “Sometimes it just seems like it, but he always fulfils his husbandly duties and sometimes he even sleeps in my bum.  We love each other, Sweyn.  I just sleep with you to thank you for your friendship, and I stroke you off because I love your taste,” and they both laughed.

Once they had finished the closeout, Sweyn spent some time hunting with his son, Ivar, and showing him some of the secret sword strokes the Varangian guardsmen had taught him in Constantinople and he taught the young man the peculiarities of sailing a Nor’Way ship.  And at night, he and Serah would sleep together and enjoy each other’s tastes.  Too soon, he had to lead his Nor’Way fleet north up the Dnieper and thirty Nor’Way ships beached along a Hraes’ station on the right side of the river.  Sweyn left his officers in charge of the gold and goods and he borrowed horses and took a troop of warriors overland to Chernigov.  They arrived there by evening and were greeted by Princess Svia and his son, Helgi.  A feast had been prepared for his arrival, and Sweyn and his men were afforded all the finest foods and ales and accommodations Chernigov could offer.  After the evening’s entertainment, Sweyn and Svia saw Helgi to his bedroom, then they went to Svia’s palace master suite and Sweyn began undressing.

“Why don’t we sleep down at your ship, like old times?” she asked him.

“My ship’s an hours ride away” he reminded her.  “Why don’t you just fock my brains out and then I’ll sleep inside you?”

So that is what Svia did, knowing full well that Helgi was listening to every sound emanating from the suite through the open planks between the rooms.

In the morning, Sweyn took his son, Helgi, hawking and in the afternoon he checked on his studies and that night he slept with Svia again and they did this for three days, then Sweyn gathered up his men and they rode west, back to the Dnieper River.  They returned the horses and launched their ships and sailed to Smolensk and portaged across to Surazh and stayed there the night and slept in their ships again to protect the gold and goods aboard them.

While Sweyn slept in Surazh, his son Helgi slipped through the boards between his bedroom and the master suite and he joined Svia in bed.  “He sleeps inside you?” Helgi asked.  “It’s just a game we play,” Svia answered.  “It’s nothing,” and she kissed her young man and then he got on top of her and he focked the Sweyn out of her.

In Novgorod, Malfrieda welcomed Sweyn and took him to their son, Valdamar, who was just finishing his studies for the day.  A feast was prepared in the Hraes’ palace and Sweyn and his men again were afforded all the finest foods and ales and Malfrieda made sure they had the best accommodations Novgorod could offer.  After the evening’s entertainment, Sweyn and Malfrieda saw young Valdamar to his bedroom, passed their daughter off to her wet nurse, then they went to Malfrieda’s palace master suite and Sweyn kissed Malfrieda warmly.  She began undressing him and then herself and she took him into their bed and they made love for a long time before he stayed inside her and they slept together.

Prince Sweyn spent a week in Novgorod ordering another two dozen Nor’Way ships and, again, they were to be completed by spring.  He left Malfrieda and Valdamar waving from the quays of the Volkov and they sailed north to Lake Ladoga and took the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland and sailed straight west across the Baltic Sea to Sweden and the Hraes’ trading station in Birka.  Sweyn dropped off some Khazar Vayar at the store and he sent out ships throughout the north with more of the Volga delicacy.  He then visited King Erik and Queen Sigrid ‘the Haughty’, and he gave Sigrid more of the Khavayar and he gave Erik a fine Hraes’ sword that was trimmed in silver and gold.  King Erik really liked the sword, for he was a warrior king of great repute and the blade was a truly fine one.  The Swedish royals thanked Sweyn for the gifts and they allowed Sweyn and his men to ride into the Uppland, where Sweyn bought another load of the pure iron ore and then they rode to Vastmanland, where Sweyn bought another supply of tonstone to be picked up as ballast by his two dozen new ships in the spring.  This tonstone was for export to the alchemists of Gardariki and Damascus and Baghdad.  He didn’t know what they did with it, but his grandfather did and had requested that Sweyn bring some with him the next trading cycle.  He planned to transport it south as the ballast for their ships and when they delivered the tonstone for a good profit, they would replace the ballast with river stones for free.

From Sweden, Sweyn’s fleet sailed past Denmark and spent some time in The Vik and then carried on around Norway and dropped Bjork and the iron off at Hraegunarstead.  Sweyn then led his fleet to Trondheim Fjord and the city of Lade and they sailed past Haakon’s huge great hall to Sweyn’s longhall and they began unloading chests of gold and treasure onto the quay in front of it.  Alfled came out to the dock and she was as big as a ran and ready to pop at any time.  “Come speak to your prince-cess she told Sweyn and they went to their master suite and locked the doors and Sweyn laid her down on the edge of the bed and he thrust his member into her and talked to the baby as he focked her with her legs up on his shoulders.  She could not come in her condition, but Sweyn made up for it as he exploded within her and he knew that he had given her a full load and a half.  His warm come was dripping out of Alfled and running onto the floorboards and it disappeared through cracks and flowed under the house.  That night, midwives came and stayed in the longhall and Alfled went into labour the next morning.  The midwives complained, as they worked, that some husband had gummed up the works the night before and they didn’t much like working in come.

“I’ve been at sea trading for eight months,” Sweyn explained to them.  “My balls were as big as apples,” and he unbuttoned his pants and lifted up his cock and showed them his balls.  They were both medical alchemists so, he wasn’t showing them anything they hadn’t seen before.  “I swear they were big as apples last night,” Sweyn said, tucking them back into his pants.  “Alfled did a marvellous job on them last night!”

“Oh, I’ve no doubt they were as big as apples,” the older woman said, “from the mess you’ve left us here!” and the younger woman just stood there with her mouth agape and didn’t say a word.  “Come hold my hand,” Alfled pleaded and Sweyn went up to the head of the bed just after he had seen the baby crowning.  “It has a full head of hair,” he told Alfled.

“Now push!” the midwife ordered and the younger woman felt Alfled’s belly as she pushed.  “You’re crushing my hand,” Sweyn complained as Alfled gave one last push and the baby slid out into the world.  “It’s a girl!” the older midwife announced and the younger woman held the baby while Sweyn took out his seax and waited for the older woman to offer him the cord when she was satisfied that the baby had decided to function on its own.  “Do you have a name for it?” the old woman asked.  “Alfled wants to call her Rowena,” Sweyn answered.  “The baby shall have for her name, Rowena,” the midwife announced to the world.

When the midwife was leaving, Sweyn gave her another piece of gold for putting up with his antics.  “If you’re happy with my young apprentice,” the old midwife said, “You may want to consider tipping her as well.  She’s prepaid for three days with full relief services.”

“Full relief?” Sweyn asked.

“Yes.  And don’t worry, she has her own protection.”

“And do you offer this service as well?”

“Don’t worry.  When I was young and apprenticing, I did my share of relief servicing,” and she smiled a smile that told Sweyn she knew what it was to be desired, and she left.

Sweyn went back to the master suite and saw Alfled breastfeeding little Rowena and the young midwife was giving her tips on feeding.  Sweyn went up to Alfled and kissed both her and the baby on the head.  He then gave the midwife a smile and she smiled back at him.  She was a comely girl in her late twenties with long blonde hair tied in a ponytail and she had the lithe figure of a sexually active female.  The prince went back out into the hallway and walked into the great hall just as Jarls Haakon and Eirik entered.  “Sorry we missed the birth,” Jarl Haakon apologised.  “We had a local farmer and his family visiting.  “We just saw them off and ran into the midwife.  She said you’ve got quite the set of balls!”

“And I could tell she liked your cock, too!” Eirik added.  “She said it was a girl!”

“Alfled named her Rowena!” Sweyn said proudly.

“That’s a fine Anglish name,” Haakon said.  “My daughter, Aud, named after Prince Oddi, will be returning from York soon.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met her,” Sweyn said, wondering if he had ever been told about her.

“She’s learning the Anglish letters of Alcuin,” Haakon said.  “She’s been working in the Hraes’ trading station there while she studies.  Princess Hraegunhild’s daughter, Alfhild, manages it now.”

“When does she get back?” Sweyn asked, pretty sure he’d never been told of her.

“She’ll be back before winter,” Eirik answered, and Haakon nodded in affirmation.

“Would you gentlemen like some breakfast?” Sweyn asked.

“Gentlemen?  How very Anglish of you,” Haakon laughed.

“We had breakfast with the farmers’ family before we saw them off,” Eirik said.

“We’ve come to see the baby,” Haakon said, so, Sweyn led them into his suite where Alfled was still breastfeeding.  Baby Rowena was suckling at one breast and the midwife was massaging ointment into the nipple of the other breast.  The men stepped forward and studied the baby while the midwife stepped back to afford them a better view.  “How are you feeling?” Haakon asked Alfled.

“I’m a little sore,” Alfled said.  “This little one is trying to suck my other nipple off as well.”

The men all laughed and stepped back so the midwife could get back to work.  “There’s breakfast coming in the hall,” Sweyn told the midwife.  “Can I bring you anything, Alfled?”

“I’m fine.  I think Rowena and I’ll be napping right away.”

“And we’ll be heading back to our hall,” Haakon said.  “We just wanted to see the baby.  Perhaps we could meet soon and discuss a few matters over mead.”

Sweyn was sitting and eating at a table in the hall when the midwife joined him for breakfast.  “My name’s Emma,” she said as she sat down.  “Hi Emma,” Sweyn replied.  “Thanks for helping with the birth.  Alfled seems to get along great with you.”

Emma nodded a welcome and began eating.  After breakfast, Sweyn asked her if he could be relieved and she agreed to it, but wanted to check on the baby first.  Sweyn went to one of the hall side bedrooms and she soon joined him.  “They’re fine,” she said and she went to the edge of the bed, bent over, and flipped her skirt up.  “That’s it,” he said, coming up behind her.  “It’s relief services only,” she said, raising her ass up and spreading her legs.  Sweyn could see she was wearing an internal glove for protection.  He put some oil on his lingam and inserted it into her.  He began thrusting and found it felt rather pleasant and after a time he came within her.  She felt his strong pulsing flow through the thin membrane of her glove and said, “You weren’t kidding when you said your balls were the size of apples.  My glove is overflowing!”  She was looking down between her legs and a puddle was forming on the floor below her.

“Sorry.  I’ll have someone clean that up,” he said.  “You’re a lot sweeter than expected.  Your boss said to tip you if I was happy with your relief services,” and he passed her a gold coin.  “I’ll tip you in advance.”

“Thank you,” she said, “But she’s not my boss.  She owns me.”

“I thought you were her apprentice.”

“I am, but she bought me from my parents when I was fourteen.  I’m her slave so, any tip you give me will go to her.”

“Well,” Sweyn said, “You give her that coin and here is another one just for you.”

“Thanks” she said, smiling.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you smile,” Sweyn said.  “You have a beautiful smile.”

Emma spent the afternoon with Alfled and the baby, stopped for supper with Sweyn and then helped with the baby some more while Alfled ate with her husband.  Sweyn went to bed in the side bedroom early.  Later that night, he was awakened by Emma coming into the room.  She stripped naked and joined him in the bed.  “I thought it was relief only,” Sweyn whispered.  “I won’t tell the boss,” she replied, “if you don’t.”  She felt his naked body next to hers and she reached down and felt him.  “They are big,” she whispered, “but your cock needs work,” and she dove down under the sheets and took it in her mouth and got it just to her liking, then straddled his hips with her legs and lowered herself onto him.  Even with her glove on, she felt supple and yielding and Sweyn was soon coming within her.  She got up to check on the baby and help with the late night feeding, then she rejoined Sweyn in bed.  Sweyn slept in her the rest of the night and she didn’t even ask why.  She was a medical alchemist in a fjord filled with warships full of veterans of the war in Wallachia.  She didn’t have to ask.  They slept together like this for two nights, but on the third, Emma asked Sweyn if it was okay if they slept together without protection.  “But what if you get pregnant?” Sweyn asked.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I did,” Emma answered.  “I’m almost thirty and the waterclock is dripping.  If I get pregnant by you, perhaps my owner will let me keep the baby.  And if I have a baby by a prince, he will be born free.  She is afraid of you, you know.  She wouldn’t dare try to keep him as her slave.”

“How did you end up being enslaved by her?”

“She was looking for an apprentice to train in the medical guild and she heard that I was considered a very smart young girl, so, she offered my parents three times the price that would be paid for a slave and she told my parents that she would train me to be a medical alchemist.  Under those conditions my parents thought it would be very good experience for me.  Hallveig bought me and the first night she took me home, she raped me and took away my virginity.”

“She raped you?” Sweyn interrupted.  “How could she rape you?”

“She has a horse’s penis that she’s had stuffed and preserved and she put it on herself with a belt and she penetrated me and deflowered me and she moaned and groaned overtop me and she made me do the same.  I was only fourteen and I thought she might beat me so, I did as she ordered.  And I’ve been serving her clients ever since.  When I’m not serving her clients, I’m serving her.  She prefers young girls, but she owns me.”

“This Hallveig sounds like quite the merchant,” Sweyn said.  “I’d be honoured to fock you without protection,” and Sweyn thrust himself in her and began focking her.  If he thought she was fine with a glove in her, he found her exquisite without.  He was driven to new heights of ecstasy and he drove deep within her for a very long time then hugged her close to himself and rolled over on his back and she started riding him without missing stride once.  She rode his steed hard and though they were trying to be quiet, because they were both trying hard to make a baby, quiet became impossible and they were soon moaning in pleasure and Sweyn exploded inside her.

“Are you sure it will be a boy?” Sweyn asked her.

“Tonight is the first of a possible three nights,” Emma answered.  “If the timing had been better, I’d have asked your permission two nights ago.”

“Tell your witch you have to stay another two days,” Sweyn suggested.  “I’ll pay her an extra gold piece.”

“You would do that for me?” Emma asked.

“It will be my pleasure!” Sweyn said.  “Also, I have another birth for your boss to attend to, should she be willing.”

One evening, Sweyn finally made it to Haakon’s great hall for mead and Eirik joined them for a discussion.  “I want to apologize again for calling you ‘Gold Harald’,” Haakon started.  “It’s just that you said you were a relative of Harald’s and he has no gold and you seem to have gold a plenty.”

“That’s fine,” Sweyn said.  “I should have told you I was Harald’s uncle, but it’s hard to know who to trust when everyone is new.”

“Well, you can trust us,” Haakon reassured him.  “You are so very Aesir in a world turning Christian all around us.  Last spring, I had a feeling that King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ would try to stab his cousin, ‘Gold Harald’ in the back after you defeated King Harald ‘Gray Cloak’ so I offered to betray you to see what he had planned for you and, sure enough, he was planning to kill you.  So I offered to do it for him and I hanged Kark, son of Kark, and I passed him off as ‘Gold Harald’ and gave King Harald the body.  But King Harald had already gathered together an army and a fleet to destroy you with so he took the army to The Vik and terrorized a few Norwegians then returned to Denmark.  It was going to cost him a lot of gold to take six hundred longships up to Trondheim to attack you so, he was very thankful that I had killed you for him.”

“Well,” Sweyn replied, “I’m even more thankful that you didn’t kill me!  But Harald’s made young Jarl Grenske King of Norway and that is the position I needed to avoid having to kill Harald ‘Bluetooth’ and become King of Denmark.”

“I knew he was going to screw us over,” Haakon started, “but I had to deliver him up a body so he wouldn’t come to Trondheim and find your thirty Roman dromons up here.  Still, I was wondering where King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ got enough gold to put together such a fleet and I’ve just learned how.”

“How?” Jarl Eirik asked, excitedly.  “King Harald is as poor as a Christian church mouse.”

“Get this,” Jarl Haakon began.  “He had the Jomsvikings of Wollin come to Liere and kidnap him and they held him for ransom until the women of Denmark gave up enough gold and jewellery to save him.  Then he paid the Jomsvikings half the gold to make up half his fleet and he used his half to raise the other three hundred ships!”  And Haakon burst out laughing and Eirik and Sweyn soon joined in.  “That is why we called you ‘Gold Harald’!” Haakon laughed.  “Because King Harald ‘Blue Tooth’ has no gold and you have so much of it!”

A week later, a messenger arrived and told Sweyn that Gudrun had gone into labour and he got to her father’s new longhall just as Gudrun was giving birth.  This one was a boy and Sweyn took out his seax and cut the cord.  Gudrun named the baby Sweyn, after his father, and was soon breastfeeding the boy.

Sweyn asked Emma if there were any signs that their three nights had accomplished much and she said, although it was too early to be sure, there were definite signs she was with child.  When Sweyn talked with Hallveig about Emma having his baby, she agreed to it under one condition: “I want you to sleep with me,” she said.  “I have never slept with a man,” she admitted and I would like to free myself of my virginity before I die.”

“You told me you did your share of relief service when you were younger,” Sweyn reminded her.

“I lied,” she said.  “It wasn’t required when I was young.  When my competitors started offering relief services, I bought Emma so that I could compete with them.  I have never found a man that I wanted to sleep with until I met you.  Most men I can read like runes, but not you, and that scares me and stirs something within me.”

“Emma and I will both sleep with you once we are done here,” Sweyn offered and when she accepted he paid her more for Emma’s three days of gold service.”

Sweyn and Emma slept together without protection for three more nights while she taught young Gudrun breastfeeding and baby care and helped the rest of her family with their aches and pains.  Once the three days were up, Sweyn took Emma in his Nor’Way ship and sailed north and then east in Trondheim Fjord until they reached the village of Hell, just south of the town of Stjordal, where the witch, Hallveig had her longhall.  They were welcomed by two young girls, who held the hall doors open for them and when Sweyn went inside there were girls from between eight years of age and twelve and there were at least a dozen.  ‘My grandfather would love this place,’ Sweyn thought and then drove the thought from his mind.  “They are my chantreusses,” Hallveig said as she walked up to them.  “They sing for my warlock songs and chant for my spells.”  They had supper together and after a visit, Hallveig and Emma put the girls to bed in their bedchambers and the adults sat and drank wine before going to Hallveig’s master suite.

The three of them all stripped naked on the witch’s huge bed and they began caressing each other and Emma performed nominal congress on Sweyn until he was very hard and she placed towels under Hallveig and Sweyn got on top of her and thrust into her quickly as the blood began flowing.  Sweyn began thrusting in and out of her and, when she began experiencing some pain, he shifted into Emma and they began focking in front of Hallveig.  When Emma had come, Sweyn focused his attention on Hallveig and soon had her moaning in pleasure and they rocked back and forth until Sweyn was flowing inside of her.  They rested for a bit and had more wine and then Hallveig brought out her steed and belted it on.  The horse’s penis was not a new device, as many Norse women had them to pleasure themselves with, but the belt was something Sweyn had not seen before.  Hallveig got on top of Emma and was soon thrusting and moaning and Emma’s legs were up in the air and she was soon moaning in pleasure.  Once Hallveig had brought Emma to orgasm, she looked at Sweyn and had him kneel before her and she thrust the steed up his anus and kept driving it in and out and moaning in a way that had Sweyn growing hard and his lingam was leaking and he pulled Emma in front of him and he drove his lingam up her anus and was soon coming within her as Hallveig was driving him from behind.  Hallveig stopped, exhausted, and Sweyn got on top of her and began focking her until she cried for him to stop, while wrapping her legs around him and forcing him to continue.  He focked her until he came again and he collapsed on top of her as she convulsed orgasmically and cried out in both pain and ecstasy.  Sweyn then slept inside Emma from her front side and Hallveig slept inside Emma from her back.

In the morning Sweyn had sex with Emma and Hallveig again and when he was spent, he strapped on Hallveig’s steed and he had sex once more with the women.  When Hallveig offered to strap it on and ride his rear again, Sweyn said he heard the children up and about and thought he should soon take his leave.

‘There’s something in the water of Trondheim Fjord,’ he thought as he sailed back to his longhall in Lade.

When Prince Sweyn had left Chernigov at the end of the trading season, Prince Helgi once more began slipping into Princess Svia’s master suite and raping her.  After the rapes, Svia would always tell Helgi that, if he returned to his room through the secret passageway, she would forget that it had happened, but Helgi got sloppy and would sometimes leave her room in the early morning and go directly out into the great hall to have breakfast.  Often, servants would see him leaving her room, but he thought the observations of slaves to be of little importance and continued doing it when it served his purpose.

In late fall, Prince Ivar of Kiev heard news from his spies that Prince Helgi was raping his mother in Chernigov.  He sent a messenger to the city to accuse Helgi of the crime and see what his response was and Helgi, without confirming or denying the rumour, told the messenger to tell Ivar that Princess Svia was not their mother, but that the handmaiden Malfrieda was.  The messenger returned to Kiev and gave Prince Ivar Helgi’s response, but added that he talked to the spy, a slave in the Hraes’ palace, and the spy had listened at night outside the doors of Princess Svia’s master suite and had heard focking going on inside, and it was definitely focking, and then Prince Helgi would leave her room in the morning and go for breakfast.

Prince Ivar was doubly troubled by the response and further confirmation of the news.  He was troubled by Prince Helgi’s claim that Princess Svia was not their mother and that the slave, Malfrieda, the mother of their half-brother, Valdamar, was.  The subjects in Novgorod were constantly complaining that their prince was slave spawned and not of the maternal royal stock of his southern half-brothers.  If the people of Kiev and Chernigov learned that their princes were of the same lowly slave spawn stock as Valdamar, they might revolt.  It was a very dangerous claim his brother was making and, true or not, it would have to remain ‘or not’.  And if Prince Helgi was raping Princess Svia, as rumour claimed, then Prince Ivar would have to remove her from Chernigov and bring his mother to the safety of Kiev, where any maternal claims could be controlled.  He sent orders to his spy in Chernigov to provide witnesses, freemen, who could testify against their motherfocking prince and he would discuss this disgrace with his father, Prince Sweyn, when he returned to Kiev in the spring for the next trading cycle.  Meanwhile, he stepped up the training of his Kievan legions.

When Prince Helgi’s spies sent word that Prince Ivar had stepped up training of his two Kievan legions, Helgi stepped up the training of the Drevjane legion he was developing for Chernigov and began constructing a moat around the walls of his city.  He had a channel dug from the Desna River to feed the huge ditch being constructed around the stockade walls of Chernigov, complete with a wooden bridge in front of the main gate and towers of the city.

In the fall, word reached more Hraes’ slavers that there was a famine in the Hardanger Fjord district and slave ships were dispatched to buy up children that could no longer be fed.  Foundlings were being left at the sacred groves in record numbers and healers gathered them up for sale to the slavers as well.  As winter set in, starving youths were soon being bartered by the slavers for sacks of grain and other foodstuffs.  Young boys would be sold to the eunuch armies of the east and the young girls would be trained for concubinage in Baghdad.  People weren’t dying yet, but trade was brisk.

(976 AD)  After the Yuletide celebrations in Lade and Trondheim, Eirik came to visit Sweyn in his longhall and he told him that one of the petty Jarls of the fjord had offended Jarl Haakon during a certain festivity that had been going on.  Jarl Haakon had handled the insult well, not letting on that he was offended, but enough time had passed for him to now take action against the perpetrator, so, he had invited the jarl, his wife and two daughters to his great hall for a weekend visit.  “This is to be a hard rape,” Eirik told Sweyn, “and normally we would handle it ourselves, and not get you involved, but Haakon overindulged during the holidays and is not feeling up for it.  He wanted me to ask for your help.”

“It depends on what you mean by hard rape,” Sweyn replied.

“We only got you involved in what we call a soft rape because there were three daughters involved and Haakon wanted to honour you with the virgin of the three.  It was gentle and only meant to provide the family with some silver so the farmer didn’t have to sell the youngest one to slavers in the spring.  This will be a hard rape, meant to send a message to the petty Jarls of the fjord that respect must be paid to the Ladejarls or there will be consequences.  It won’t be gentle and it will not be pretty.”

“But we won’t have to kill the girls, right?” Sweyn asked.  “Or cut them?”

“No!” Eirik said, laughing.  “This is just to teach them a lesson.  Bruises only.  And if Haakon feels up to it, perhaps the wife shall be raped a bit as well.”

“I don’t like it,” Sweyn admitted, “but I want Haakon to know that I can be counted on when hard measures must be taken.”

“That’s the spirit,” Eirik said.  “They’ll be here Freya’s day evening.”

“Today’s Thorsday,” Sweyn said.  “That’s tomorrow night!”

“I know,” Eirik said.  “Haakon was going to do it, but now he can’t.”

The next evening, Sweyn went over to Haakon’s great longhall and he met the petty Jarl and his wife and daughters and they told him that Jarl Haakon was paying them a great honour by having them as his guests for the weekend.  His two daughters were lovely and barely of marriageable age.  Haakon had a fine feast prepared with wine for the adults and juices for the girls.  At the end of the evening, Haakon offered the Jarl and his wife the master suite and he offered the daughters small bed chambers next to the suite.  The bed chambers were no bigger than the bed within them with sliding doors across the length of them for privacy.  The jarl and his wife tucked their girls into bed and then retired to the master suite as the Jarls and the prince remained in the great hall and sat at the highseats and drank.

The men could hear the girls sleeping in their bed chambers on either side of the master suite and their parents focking in the bedroom.  Once they’d steeled their resolve with mead, Haakon led them to the bed chambers and Sweyn and Eirik stripped naked and entered their assigned chambers.  Slaves slipped into the hall and waited outside the master suite as the royals tore off the bedclothes of the two girls and began slapping and beating them as they wailed in terror.  Their parents came rushing out of the bedroom still naked and the petty Jarl was still hard as he charged out of the room and into the arms of strong slaves who pinned him to a chair and tied him to it and put a gag rag in his mouth.  His cock was still erect as the slaves slapped his wife and sat her naked ass in a chair and tied her off as well, right beside him.  He was starting to go flaccid until Sweyn and Eirik dragged his naked daughters out of the bedchambers and threw them on top of dining tables that the slaves had just dragged out in front of the chairs.  His cock grew stiff again as Sweyn and Eirik thrust their members into the young girls and it immediately became apparent that Sweyn, once again, had been given the virgin of the two, as her blood flowed out upon the table and dripped through the cracks between the boards.

Eirik watched the Jarl’s wife as he was focking the older daughter and he shouted at Sweyn, “I think they were both supposed to be virgins, from the surprised look on her mother’s face!”

“I don’t think it matters now!” Sweyn shouted as he kept thrusting into the younger daughter.  She was crying and in pain, but Sweyn had to impress Haakon, who came into the hallway with two naked slaves who had great stiff members standing out in front of them.  Both parent’s eyes went wide open as the slaves walked in beside him.  Haakon tapped Sweyn and Eirik on the shoulders and they withdrew from the girls and went to their highseats and wrapped their naked bodies in cloaks and sat and drank while the girls screamed as the two slaves sexually assaulted them.  When they had satisfied themselves, Haakon led in another two well-endowed slaves and the assaults were repeated.

“How went the hard rape?” Alfled asked Sweyn the next day.

“It was exhausting,” Sweyn complained.  “Where do we get our drinking water?”

“From the Nidelva River that runs past Jarl Haakon’s longhall,” Alfled answered.  “I think Nidelva means black elves or something.”

“That might explain a lot.”

When the spring Anglish merchant fleet arrived from York and Northumbria they brought Haakon’s daughter, Aud, back with them.  She had been studying the Anglish writing of Alcuin that the monks of York taught students for silver and she had been working in the Hraes’ Trading Station in York castle there.  Aud was a very pretty young woman with bright blond hair and flashing blue eyes and a disarming smile and she was dressed in the Anglish style with a shouldered dress colourfully dyed in a light blue.  Sweyn was with Eirik when they welcomed her home and Aud immediately noticed Sweyn’s forked beard with gold spirals around it.  Many of the Danes in East Anglia sported such beards and it was the latest thing in Denmark.

“This is Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’,” Eirik said to his sister as she entered Haakon’s hall.  “He is my blood-brother and a great trader from Kievan Hraes’.”

“My lady,” Sweyn said in the Anglish fashion and he took her hand and kissed it.

“Such fine Anglish manners,” Aud said, impressed, “and such fine Danish looks.”

Haakon welcomed her when she came into the hall and they sat at a table and had lunch and Aud told them of her studies in York.  She was learning the miniscule script of Alcuin and how it was used in the Anglish language, which was just another Norse dialect from the Angles of Denmark.  Aud wanted to begin writing the stories that her father was so adept at telling and she wanted to record the drapas of the many skalds that Haakon supported.  She said she would have brought some books back from York, but that they were all Christian books.

“My grandfather learned the script of Alcuin from one of his students in Ingleheim,” Sweyn told her.  “I have some of his Norse translations of other works in my longhall.  If you’d like to read them, come over sometime.”

“Are they translated from Latin or Greek?” she asked.

“One of them is from the Greek,” Sweyn said, “but one is from Sanskrit and one is from Cathayanese and one is from our own Futhark.”

“I’d love to read them!” Aud said.  “I’ll come visit tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

“I look forward to your visit, my lady,” Sweyn said and he kissed her hand again and Haakon looked on disapprovingly.

When Aud came over to Sweyn’s longhall the next day, Sweyn was about to introduce Aud to Alfled, but they’d already been friends for a few years and Alfled got all the latest news about York from her.  Sweyn gave Aud a copy of the Norse translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu Wu from the Cathayanese but she wasn’t interested in manuals on war so, he gave her a copy of The Children of Odin translated from Futhark but she wasn’t interested in religious writings so, he gave her a copy of The Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana translated from the Sanskrit and she said, “This is more like it!” and she flipped through the pages and said, “It’s illuminated!”

The three of them sat at a table and Aud read The Kama Sutra to them and Alfled soon had her foot in Sweyn’s crotch from across the table and was toeing his member under the table as Aud was reading.  “It’s getting quite warm in here,” Aud said as she read.  When she got to the chapter on nominal congress things really warmed up as Alfled slipped under the table and took Sweyn’s lingam into her mouth and literally followed Aud’s instructions on how to properly suck a lingam.  Aud lifted the tablecloth and watched Alfled as she was nibbling on Sweyn’s member and she joined her under the table with the book and began kissing it with her.  When they got to step eight, Alfled showed Aud how to swallow up the whole lingam without gagging and let it out again.  It took Aud a few tries before she could overcome the gagging reflex, but she was soon taking Sweyn in fully, then disgorging him, then swallowing him up again until Sweyn finally came in her mouth and she swallowed it all down.  The two women then licked him clean and they put his lingam back in his pants and buttoned up the front.

“That was so much better than reading Christian religious texts,” Aud said as the girls came out from under the table and she put the book down.  “I’ll learn to read so much faster this way.  Can I come over tomorrow and read some more?” she asked, looking at both Sweyn and Alfled with soft innocent eyes.

“Come over whenever you are free,” Alfled said and Sweyn agreed.  “I’ve always loved Aud,” Alfled told Sweyn after she’d left.  “She is such a proper young girl.”

‘It’s got to be the Nidelva water,’ Sweyn thought.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

15.0 SPARE  (Circa 999 AD)

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12.    “Rocks we rolled                    out of etins’ realm:

                        The fields below                   with their falls did shake;

                        We hurled from the heights           the heavy quernstone,

                        The swift rolling slab,          so that men might seize it.

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(999 AD)  When Sweyn was returning to Denmark from Baghdad in the fall, the Hraes’ merchant fleet was sailing past

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

16.0 SPARE  (Circa 999 AD)

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13.    “But since then                       we to Sweden fared,

                        We foreknowing twain,       and fought among men;

                        (byrnies we slit)                    and bucklers shattered,

                        We won our way                  through warriors’ ranks.

                                   Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda (Hollander)

(999 AD) Prince Sweyn left Trondheim Fjord early, sailing south with the Norse component of the Hraes’ Dan’Way merchant fleet

.

The Saga of Svein ‘The Old’ Ivarson

The End

To be Continued in

The Saga of Prince Valdamar ‘The Great’ Sveinaldson

APPENDIX A:  SVEIN’SAGA ‘THE OLD’ GLOSSARY OF TERMS

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Abbasid Caliphate–Arab dynasty that overthrew Ommayad dynasty in 750 A.D.

Aesir–group of northern gods of the Scandinavian pagan religion, including Odin, Tyr and Thor, in constant conflict with the Vanir, southern gods.

aett–the extended family, including those predeceased and those members yet to be.

althing–annual meeting, during pagan times, in which law was practiced and elections held.

Aurvandil–Thor carried him out of Giantland in a basket, but Aurvandil’s exposed toe froze, so Thor broke it off and threw it up into the sky, where it became a star.

arvel–funeral feast;  also, possibly arval.

atheling–warrior or noble.

At-Khazars–White Khazars, a tribe of the Khazar Empire of possible Roman origins, their leaders said to be Porphyrogeniti, born of the purple, a blood-line of the Roman Caesars. They were Jewish in religion and may have finally settled in Poland.

Balder–Aesir god; son of Odin.

bane–death.

banesman–slayer; ie: Hundingsbane = Hunding’s slayer.

barrow–burial mound; also, howe.

berserk–warrior capable of attaining a manic fury in battle in which he is impervious to weapons but is overcome with weakness once the fit is through;  also, berserker, shape-changer.

Biarmians–Finno-Ugric tribe of Northern Asia.

bireme–ship having two banks of oars each side.

bragarful–celebration filled with lively speech and brave boasts.

Bragi–Aesir god of poetry; also name of first Scandinavian poet; may also signify one eloquent in speech.

brand–sword; also, blood snake.

Branliv–Slavic byname meaning quarrelsome; possibly eloquent in speech.

buckler–shield; also, targe, leaf of leafy-land(sea).

Bulgars–Turkic tribe that migrated from western China to the Volga River with a second group moving on to Bulgaria; also, Volga Bulgars.

bulwarks–the side strakes of a ship; also, gunwales.

Burtas–Turkic tribe of the middle Volga River.

byrnie–coat of mail armour.

Byzant–gold coin of the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantine Empire–formed of the Eastern Roman Empire, following the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., by mostly Greek citizens.  Fell to the Turks in 1453 A.D.

carl–freeman.

Disertus–byname of Erik in Saxo’s Fifth Book of Danish History, Latin for eloquent in speech.

disir–female guardian spirits.

drapa–Norse poem of twenty stanzas.

Dregovichi–Slav people of the upper Dniepr River.

Drevjane–Slav people of the middle Dniepr river.

etin–giant.

Fafnir–dragon who guarded the Rhinegold treasure; slain by Sigurd the Volsung.

fane–temple.

fell–mountain.

fey–doomed to die.

fleer–to mock or make fun of.

flygting–argumentive or abusive poetry.

Freya–Vanir goddess of fertility.

Freyr–Vanir god of fertility.

Fridleif–early king of Denmark; King Frodi III’s father.

Frigg–Aesir goddess; wife of Odin.

Frodi III–legendary king of Denmark; conqueror of Russia, according to Saxo.

fylgja–female spirit that accompanies each person.

ginungagap–the great abyss into which everything was created.

Greek fire–an incendiary mixture of petroleum spirits and chemicals that bursts into flame, possibly on contact with air.  A secret weapon of the Byzantines.

Ghuzz Turks–Turkic tribe found between the Aral and Caspian Seas.

hamingja–fortune or luck.

Havamal–poem telling the words of the high one (Odin);  Possibly written by Bragi the Old.

holmgangr–island duel.

howe–burial mound.

Huns–Turkic tribe migrated from Western China into Europe(c.370 A.D.), attacking the Gothic Empire of Eormanrik and threatening the Roman Empire.  Their leader, Attila, was poisoned by the Roman Emperor and the Huns moved on to Gaul. They were defeated at Chalons(451 A.D.) and retired back into Asia, apparently joining the Khazar Empire and settling north of the Caucasus Mountains.

Hymir–sea giant with whom Thor fished for the Midgard serpent.

Ibn Fadlan, Ahmad–Arab geographer and diplomat of the tenth century who recorded a trip up the Volga in which he met Varangian settlers.

Iconoclast–anyone against the veneration of religious pictures or icons.

Kara-Khazars–Scythian Khazars of the Khazar Empire.

kenning–metaphor or metaphorical rhyme.

Krivichi–Slav people of the upper Moskva River.

Kufa–silver coin of the Arab Caliphate.

Kvasir–god who invented mead.

Loki–Aesir god of mischief.

Magyars–Turkic tribe migrated from Western China to present day Hungary circa 830 to 890 A.D.; also, Turkoi; members of the Khazar Empire.

mead–alcoholic drink made from fermented honey.

mead-words–poetry.

Midgard Serpent(Worm)–snake that encircles the world, deep within the sea.

monoxyla–dugout bottomed ship with built up side strakes.

ness–headland or promontory.

nith-song–curse casting or derogatory poem.

norns–three female spirits representing the past, present and future, and controlling the fates of men.

Odin–chief god of the Aesir; god of hosts and battle.

Onogur–Turkic tribe of the Khazar Empire.

Permians–Finno-Ugric tribe of Northern Asia.

Poljane–Slav people of the middle Dniepr River.

pyre–bonfire used to cremate the dead.

Raes, Hraes–theoretical nickname of Erik Bragi, from which the names Rus and Rhos may have been derived.

Radimichi–Slav people between the Dniepr and Desna Rivers.

Ragnar Lothbrok–early king of the Danes who slew a dragon in the east; his sons attacked England.

Ragnarsdrapa–ninth century poem by Bragi Boddason dedicated to Ragnar Lothbrok (or possibly Ragnar Sigurdson?).

Regin–Scythiansmith who helped Sigurd attack Fafnir.

ran–large Scandinavian house.

Rhinegold hoard–treasure robbed from the dragon Fafnir by Sigurd, who slew the dragon on the advice of Regin.  It is an eastern tale with a possible Scythian Sea locale, but the name of the treasure is, oddly, Germanic.

Rhos–early Greek name for Norsemen and Slavs of Russia.

ring-giver–king or prince.

runes–alphabetic characters of early Germanic writing.

Rus or Rus’–early Slavic name of Norsemen, from which is derived the names Ruthenians and Russians.

sark–shirt or kirtle.

Saxo-Grammaticus–Danish historian of the twelfth century who wrote The First Nine Books of Danish History aka Gesta Danorum; Erik’s Saga Bragi is based primarily on the fifth book about King Frodi III and Erik Disertus.  Books three and four of his History also contain the tale of Amleth, the earliest form of Hamlet.

Scald or skald–poet; also, thul.

scorn pole–pole carved with runes and topped with the head or skull of a horse meant to cast a curse.

shaman–priest or mystic of Shamanism, the spiritual religion of Northeast Asia and native America.

Sigurd the Volsung–slayer of Fafnir the Dragon for which he won the Rhinegold treasure.

Skaldskaparmal–Snorri Sturluson’s `Words of the Skalds’, a collection of ancient poems demonstrating kennings; second half of the Prose Edda.

skerries–reefs or sandbars.

Snorri Sturlason–twelfth Century Icelandic author of the Prose Edda and possibly Egil’s Saga.

sound–marine passage connecting two bodies of water.

Sovar–Turkic tribe of the Khazar Empire.

strait–narrow passage between two bodies of water.

strake–a row of planks running the length and forming the sides of a ship.

strand–seashore or sandbar off a coast.

thing–assembly (see althing).

Thor–Aesir god of thunder; possible son of Odin.

thrall–slave.

trireme–ship having three banks of oars on each side.

troll–giant; also, etin.

Tyr–Aesir god of justice.

valkyries–handmaidens of Odin who selected those to die in battle. Also, may have been women who fought in early Germanic battles or worked behind the battle lines slaying the wounded enemy.

Valhall–dwelling place of Odin, where those slain in battle are rewarded.

Vanir–southern gods in constant conflict with the northern Aesir.

Varangians–early Greek and Slavic name for Norsemen in Russia.  May have been derived from varanger, possibly meaning way-ranger or way-wanderer.

Viatichi–Slav people of the upper Don River.

Vik–bay area of present day Oslo.

Vikar–legendary Norwegian king who was sacrificed to Odin by the warrior giant Starkad.

wain–wagon.

Wends–a main branch of the Slavic peoples; also Poles.

withy–plaited willow twigs used as rope.

worm–dragon or snake.

Ygg–nickname of Odin.

APPENDIX B:  MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY

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