BOOK FOUR: THE SAGA OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’ ERIKSON

THE VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS

BOOK FOUR

THE SAGA OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’ ERIKSON

PRINCESS HELGA

THE SAGA OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’ ERIKSON

— PRINCE IVAR (IGOR) OF KIEV –

— KING HARDE KNUTE OF DENMARK –

— KING IVAR THE BONELESS OF ANGLELAND —

Novel By

Brian Howard Seibert

© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

WRITER’S EDITED EDITION

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

(May be Offensive to Some)

Kelowna, B.C.

2020

Table of Contents

0.1  THE BIRTH OF IVAR THE BONELESS  (Circa 896 AD) 5

1.0  RAISING PRINCE IVAR  (Circa 900 AD) 19

2.0  THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 907 AND TREATY OF 911. 29

3.0  THE DEATH OF ARROW ODD  (Circa 912 AD) 36

4.0  PRINCE IVAR AND PRINCESS HELGA  (Circa 914 AD) 45

5.0  PRINCE IVAR ATTACKS THE PECHENEGS  (Circa 915 AD) 53

6.0  THE CREATION OF IVAR THE BONELESS  (Circa 916 AD) 69

7.0  RECLAIMING KING FRODI’S REALM  (Circa 917 AD) 76

8.0  KING HARDE KNUTE OF DENMARK  (Circa 918 AD) 87

9.0  THE BATTLE OF CORBRIDGE  (Circa 918 AD) 99

10.0  THE PLUNDERING OF THE BLAEJAS  (Circa 919 AD) 108

11.0  KING IVAR ‘HARDE KNUTE’ OF NORWAY  (Circa 920 AD) 132

12.0  BIRTH OF GORM ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON  (Circa 920 AD) 143

13.0  THE FIRST BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH  (Circa 921 AD) 151

14.0  KING IVAR ‘THE TRAVELLER’  (Circa 921-925 AD) 160

15.0  THE TROUBLE WITH PECHENEGS  (Circa 926 AD) 165

16.0  THE REIGN OF KING HARDE KNUTE  (Circa 927-930 AD) 171

17.0  THE MARRIAGE SUIT OF PRINCE MAL  (Circa 931 AD) 179

18.0  THE REIGN OF KING IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’  (Circa 932 AD) 185

19.0  THE BURNING OF THE HALL  (Circa 933 AD) 202

20.0 THE REIGN OF KING HARDE GONE  (Circa 934-936 AD) 215

21.0  THE KING OF LIERE  (Circa 937 AD) 244

22.0  THE SECOND BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH  (Circa 937 AD) 258

23.0  THE INDUS VALLEY TRADE ROUTE  (Circa 938-939 AD) 272

24.0  THE HRAES’ – ROMAN WAR OF 941. 291

25.0  THE UNDERWATER BREATHERS OF INDIA  (Circa 942) 319

26.0  THE SEVEN ISLANDS OF MUMBA  (Circa 942) 357

27.0  THE BIRTH OF SVEIN ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON  (Circa 943) 378

28.0  THE DEATH OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’  (Circa 944) 413

29.0  THE HRAES’-ROMAN TREATY OF 945. 435

APPENDIX A:  GLOSSARY OF TERMS.. 446

APPENDIX B   MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY: 453

© 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.

Vatsyayana Mallanaga.  The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana.  India, c. 200 BC to 400 AD Translated from Sanskrit by Richard Burton, Bhagavanlal Indrajit, and Shivaram Parashuram Bhide, 1883.

Cleland, John (Jane?).  Memoirs of Fanny Hill.  London, 1749.

CHAPTER ZERO POINT ONE  (Previously From Book 3, Chapter 31)

0.1  THE BIRTH OF IVAR THE BONELESS  (Circa 896 AD)

“Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’, so I researched Ivar the Boneless.  It was said in

the Sagas that he had no bones in his legs.  Then I researched Prince

Igor of Kiev, hoping to find a similar nickname, but I could find none.

‘Show me,’ I pleaded with Erik.  ‘Show me.’  He came to me in a

dream again and repeated ‘Ivar the Boneless IS Prince Igor of Kiev.’

So I researched further and read of Emperor John Tzimiskes telling Ivar’s

son Svein what had happened to his father:  ‘on his campaign against the

Germans, he was captured by them, tied to tree trunks, and torn in two.’

But Prince Erik said, ‘Prince Igor of Kiev IS Ivar the Boneless.’  Perhaps

he did not die from the trap.  But even if he did, he still would have been

called ‘the Boneless’ post-mortem anyway.  It was the Viking way.”

Comments: ‘The History of Leo ‘the Deacon’ as read by BH Seibert

THE GHOST OF PRINCESS ALFHILD

(896 AD)  King Odd had been spotted returning from the north in his longship, Fair Faxi, so a great crowd of Hraes’ people were on the quays of Kiev to greet him.  A harbourmaster had brought the message to Prince Erik in his palace and soon he would explain to Oddi that over the winter he had married the mother of the twelve berserker brothers that Oddi had killed, and that they were now trying to have a baby together even though it was a little late in life for children.

“I’ll have to leave for Gardariki immediately,” Oddi stated quite emphatically.  “It is her family duty to avenge the deaths of her sons, not to mention her father, King Frodi!”

“Princess Eyfura has assured me she has no intention of seeking vengeance,” Erik repeated, as Oddi stepped down from the highseat he was sharing with his father and searched the hall for spies, checking behind draperies and statues.  He could find no others in the hall, so he rejoined his father on the second highseat.

“You are in love,” Oddi said, “and blinded by it.  Princess Eyfura is a royal and will not give up her right to vengeance.  That is not how royal bloods operate.  They hold all the rights and give up none.  They not only support slavery, they depend on it.  A free man wouldn’t wear a king’s yoke if he did not have a slave wearing his own yoke first.  Where there are royals, there are slaves.”

“You are now a royal, yourself, King Odd, and Princess Eyfura is not like that.  She is the spitting image of her mother, and Alfhild was not like that, not vengeance minded.”

“I saw vengeance in the havoc her nails wreaked upon Frodi’s face as he perpetrated his foul deed.  How could I have seen that?  I have always felt connected with Queen Alfhild somehow…I don’t understand it, but I do understand I cannot stay here!”  Oddi again searched about the hall, prodded the tapestries, for a spy.

“There is no one here, son.”

Oddi had arrived late evening in Kiev and Erik had sent everyone away from the hall of his palace.  Only preparers of food and purveyors of wines entered and left the hall and none were presently in the chamber.  “I told all to leave us alone.  I wanted to be the first to tell you of my troth with Eyfura.  She is the love of my life.  She is Alfhild and Gunwar as one.  I am afraid I have failed you again.  I cleared this with Eyfura, ensuring that she bid you no ill will, but I should have cleared it with you as well.  For that neglect I am sorry.”

“You have not failed me,” Oddi reassured his father.  “I am glad you have found love again.  I hope you have found a love such as I have for Queen Silkisif, or a love such as Hjalmar had found with Princess Ingibjorg.  But he paid with his life for that love.  Angantyr didn’t kill Hjalmar; your famed blade, Tyrfingr, did.  Your arrow of the gods.  It bit into Hjalmar sixteen times and, each time, the poison in that blade worked its evil magic on my friend until he could barely stand in the end.  Had Angantyr not fully exposed himself to Hjalmar’s final death stroke, Hjalmar would not have had the strength left to kill him.  Angantyr deprived me of my victory, deprived me of all twelve berserker brothers.  I was so angry I almost didn’t bury the boys.  But I promised the brothers full burial with weapons, so I built them a howe and Angantyr sleeps atop Tyrfingr.  I’m sorry, I should have brought the blade back to you.”

“I gave the sword to King Frodi,” Erik explained, “and he gave it to Prince Arngrim, and Angantyr was given the blade expressly for the holmganger.  So, I guess it is fitting that it should rest with him.  Tyrfingr is not evil.  It is just dangerous.  I forged it out of a starstone metal that radiates intense energy like a fire radiates heat.  The energy is the poison and any cut from the blade will never heal and will result in death, no matter how slight the wound.  I’m sorry it bit your friend, Hjalmar.  Tyrfingr is best left buried with Angantyr on Samso Isle.”

“Angantyr told us before he died that he had no interest in Princess Ingibjorg.  That he just wanted my head for King Frodi.  Hjalmar and Ingibjorg were in love and both died because King Frodi wanted my head.  What makes a man do what Angantyr did just to impress his king?”

“You must not blame yourself,” Erik said.  “They didn’t call him ‘the Hanging God King’ for nothing.  Angantyr Frodi.  Hanging Tyr Frodi.  I called my sword Tyr’s Finger, Tyrfingr, after the god of justice.  I conquered many lands with that sword for King Frodi, and I did it because I loved his sister, Princess Gunwar, your mother.  I am so glad I finally learned the truth of your birth.  It is best you buried the thing.  The crushing burden of that blade was wearing on me.”

“Then I’m glad it rests between the shoulder blades of Angantyr on Samsey,” Oddi stated, seeming a little less perplexed.

“You left it in its sheath, I hope.”

“Yes.  It seemed to glow without it.”

“You could see the glow?  That is good.  Most people can’t.  It is best left buried.”

“But I must leave here.  I must return to Gardariki.  It will always be your city, yours and my mother’s,” Oddi said.  “But I cannot stay here.”

“If I can stay here,” Prince Erik said, “then you can stay here, for I too have a connection with Queen Alfhild.  Her spirit visited me soon after she had died.  She came to me on the battlefield and she warned me that a witch was planning to poison Gunwar and that she was pregnant with you at the time.  The witch, Gotwar, had already terminated eleven of Gunwar’s pregnancies and you were to be the twelfth and final one, dying together with your mother, in revenge for my slaying the witches twelve sons and for razing the House of Westmar.  I rode back to Gardariki to save your mother and we lost the battle against the Huns while I was gone.  I never told your mother this, but I slept with the spirit of Alfhild as repayment for her warning.  I would do it again to save you both, but I fear that Kiev is haunted by Queen Alfhild’s spirit, and I don’t want to be here.  I told Eyfura this, but she wanted to come live in Kiev anyway.”

“I shall make time and stay for a day or two,” Oddi told his father.

“Timing is the soul of soldiery,” Erik started, “and your timing is perfect.  We have just received a delegation of the Poljane and Drevjane and they are cooperating with the reopening of the Southern Way.  Without the wealth of the Way trade, the Slavs are turning on each other.  They do not want to miss another trading season.  I would like you to help with the negotiations.”

“Southern Way trade without slave trade, right?”

“They would have it no other way.”

As Erik and Oddi went through the details of the new Southern Way trade, Oddi would occasionally look about the hall as if expecting to find spies lurking in the tapestries, but he should have looked up.  High above the highseats, in amongst the heavy ochred oak rafters, where the Scythianened war arrows rested, laid a red war shield, and curled up on it hid Hervor, Princess Eyfura’s young handmaiden.

“Now that you have told me all that was said between Oddi and my husband,” Princess Eyfura started, leaving a long pause, “there is something I must tell you of your birth.  Your mother was my handmaiden, but your father was not a slave.  He was my eldest son, Prince Angantyr.  When your mother died following your birth, I had you raised in our household, but, for your own safety, I kept your true lineage a secret.  Your father was too drunk to remember your conception, but your mother would not spare me the details.  You must avenge your father’s death, as I must avenge mine.  You shall begin training in the morning.”

Hervor, a lithe young woman with bright green eyes and long auburn hair, was happy to learn that she was not slave spawn, but of royal blood.  She reached out to her grandmother and Eyfura hugged her coldly.  “We must keep the truth of your birth a secret until we have avenged our fathers.”

Oddi stayed in Kiev a week before they had a contract hammered out with the Slavs, then he and his crew left for Gardariki in his longship, Fair Faxi.  Right after he left, Hervor’s training as a shield-maiden began.  The more skill she gained, the more independent she became and she would often squabble with Eyfura’s household slaves.  When handmaidens refused to believe Prince Angantyr had been her father, Hervor went to her grandmother for support.  “My son was drunk when he raped your mother,” Eyfura started, “and your mother tried to kill herself afterwards.  I saved her and kept her close while she carried you and after you were born she did kill herself.  Is that what you want me to tell them?”

Once news of the Way’s reopening got out, it spread like wildfire and many merchant ships returning from Baghdad and Constantinople took the southern route instead of the Nor’Way, paying a double tithe just to save time.  Once the fall trading season was complete, and all the merchant ships were plying their various routes, Prince Erik had more time to spend with Princess Eyfura.  She was so much like the Princess Alfhild he had known a generation earlier and he remembered watching his young queen with child walking with her King Frodi and he and Gunwar had been so envious.  He often wondered what would have happened had he not had that moment of anger so many years ago when Alfhild told him she needed a blooded king for a match, that he was not good enough for her, and he had lashed out at her mentally and struck a blow that had ended his love for her.  Then he realized that it was his greatest fear that he would repeat that mental bow with Eyfura and ruin it all.  That was why he had feared a confrontation between Eyfura and Oddi.  That was why he had allowed Oddi to go to Kiev without meeting his new wife.  He instinctively knew that his newfound love for Eyfura was a fragile thing that would need protecting, a protection that his love for Alfhild had not received.  Eyfura was as proud as her mother had been, perhaps even more so.  She had so much more to be proud of.

“What are you thinking?” Eyfura asked her husband as they rested on their bed together.  “You’re so deep in thought.”

“I was thinking, you have so much to be proud of,” Erik answered.  “You have survived so much in this hostile land.  I look upon you with so much pride.  Our child shall be lucky to have you as a mother.”

“I am afraid to be a mother again,” Eyfura confessed.  “What if the potion doesn’t work?”

“If the potion doesn’t work,” he said.  “Then we’ll just have to work at it harder.  There is an old Roman saying that goes…If you love your work…then your job must be…trying to get your wife focking pregnant!” and he pushed Eyfura onto the bed and kissed her passionately.  They made love on the bed and then they made love again.  As they rested, Erik said, “There are two kinds of sex.  There’s having sex while you’re trying your damnedest not to get your woman pregnant, and then there’s having sex while trying to knock up your wife, and I have to say that I, by far, prefer the latter.”

“I can feel the difference,” Eyfura agreed.  “You spout like a whale!”

The next morning, Eyfura asked her husband if he was still anxious about living in Kiev.  He told her that sometimes he could feel the presence of Queen Alfhild’s spirit in the palace.  He told her he was thankful that King Frodi and Queen Alfhild’s bedchamber down the hall was kept shuttered under lock and key.

“You must get over your fear,” Princess Eyfura told Erik.  “The ghost of my mother doesn’t haunt the palace of Kiev.”

“Queen Alfhild’s ghost doesn’t frighten me.  I told you what happened to me on the battlefield of the Don plain many years ago.  We made love shortly after she had died and I still feel bad about it.”

“You shouldn’t feel bad,” Eyfura said.  “It wasn’t your fault.”

“I don’t feel that kind of bad…”

“What kind of bad do you feel?”

“I feel bad that she was so good!  Once you’ve had spirit, well…nothing comes near it.”

And Eyfura pummelled her husband, and then they had sex on the bed again.

“But seriously,” Erik started, as they rested after.  “She was my first love, your mother.  But she chose another.  A true king.  Your father, King Frodi.”

“And I’m glad she did.  If you were my father, I could not have married you….even this late in our lives.”

“And I am glad as well,” Erik breathed into his wife’s ear as he rolled out of bed.  “I shall stay in Kiev then, but I will depend on you to keep me safe here.”

“I will not trust my mother, Alfhild, alone with you,” Eyfura chimed.  “Not even her ghost!”

One night Erik held on to Eyfura as she slept, fitfully.  She tossed and she turned but was asleep when he heard an odd noise down the hall.  Erik slipped out of bed and crept into the hallway and he saw her….Alfhild.  She was young again, her wispy blonde hair catching up the light of the tapers as she spun and walked toward the king’s chamber, trailing a hand and a finger as though to compel him to follow.  When he entered the room, she was on the bed, so he closed the door behind himself.  They never said a word, he just brushed her hair back and kissed her and her silks fell open and he kissed her all over as if to consume her so she could never leave again.  He remembered that night on the bed in King Gotar’s high seat hall, with Tyrfingr sheathed between them, and all the nights since fell away like rose petals in the darkness of denial.  A lifetime of denying their truth, denying their young love, fell away with each kiss.  And they made passionate love for what seemed hours, what seemed days, then Alfhild fell asleep in his arms on the bed and Erik slipped his arm out from under her tender throat and he could see by the tapers that there were no strangle marks about her neck like the first time they made love in his campaign tent on the Don Plain, and he realised that she was younger now, from before she had died, and he slipped out of the room and returned to the bed of Eyfura.  She was still sleeping fitfully as though in a trance and Erik thought this must be a dream.

The next morning Prince Erik got up early to check King Frodi’s bedchamber but it was still locked.  He asked some of the handmaidens and servants if anyone had been in the room and they all answered not in years.  It was a dream, Erik thought.  Just a dream.  What a dream.

The next night Prince Erik went to sleep with Eyfura as before and he drifted off holding her in his arms and she woke him up with her tossing and turning once more.  Again, he heard an indistinct noise out in the hallway.  Erik slipped out of bed and crept into the hall and he saw her….young Alfhild.  She was at the door of King Frodi’s bedchamber and she was waving him to hurry to her and they entered the room together and she stripped off her silks, and as she slowly peeled away Erik’s linen bedclothes he could see she was even younger now and she wore her hair as it had looked when he visited her in her mother’s hall when the matron was sick and coughing in her room.  Again, they never said a word.  He just brushed his naked body up against hers and he held her and kissed her and then he hugged her and lifted her off the floor and he slid her onto himself and she touched the floor with her toes and she went up on her toe tips and she went back down then up on her toe tips and down again and she did this until waves crashed through their bodies and they held each other for what seemed hours and Alfhild fell asleep standing in his arms.  He picked her up and they disengaged and he laid her out upon the bed and he stroked her beautiful blonde hair and he stroked her beautiful young face and then he stroked her beautiful lithe body and he covered her in her shimmering silks and then covered her with a sheet and he left the room and returned to the bed of Eyfura, who was still sleeping fitfully as though in a trance.  Erik slid into bed beside Eyfura and he realised that this was not a dream.

The next morning Prince Erik got up early to check King Frodi’s bedchamber but it was still locked.  He asked the handmaidens if anyone knew where the key to the chamber was kept, but nobody seemed to know.  ‘It was not a dream,’ Erik thought.  ‘But it is not a dream that I don’t want to stop.’

The third night Prince Erik went to sleep with Eyfura as before but he didn’t drift off, staying awake as she fell asleep in his arms, and when she started tossing and turning as though in a trance, he slipped his arm out from under her and slid out of bed.  He stood by their chamber door until he heard that undefinable noise out in the hallway.  He stepped out into the hall and he saw her again….youngest Alfhild.  The Alfhild he had seen his first time entering the Vik when she stood high upon a headland and the sun played and danced with her wispy blonde hair and drove away the shadows casting in the cliffs.  She entered the king’s bedchamber and Erik did follow, and she kept her silks on and she stripped Erik naked and she led him onto the bed and she sat him against the headboard and she kissed his forehead and she kissed his lips and she kissed his chin and she kissed his throat ever so gently and she kissed his chest three times working her way down, and she kissed him and had him in her mouth, as much as she could take, and when he was wet enough she rose and sat astride him and took up the rest and she bounced high in her saddle like a princess riding out to a picnic in the woods and he exploded within her and hugged her so she would stop.  But she had a nice gait going and she was still riding Erik when Princess Eyfura walked into the room and saw her handmaiden, Hervor, riding her husband’s steed.

“Eyfura, you must leave the room at once,” Hervor cried, but the voice wasn’t her’s….it was Queen Alfhild’s.  And Erik woke and he pushed Hervor away from himself, as though he had seen a ghost, and Hervor said in Alfhild’s voice, “I tried to scratch his eyes out in this very bed, I clawed his face to the very end.”  Then Hervor awoke and she was a frightened young woman tearing away the silks and then pulling them around her again to cover up her nakedness.

“What have you done, Hervor?” Eyfura whispered hoarsely.  “You are possessed!”

Hervor sat upon the bed, hugging her knees and crying, with no idea how she had gotten there.

“It is the ghost of Alfhild,” Erik lamented.  “She has tricked me.  Please forgive me, Eyfura.  I should have never come to Kiev!”

“Hush, girl,” Eyfura cooed, trying to calm the young woman.  “How long has this been happening?” she asked her handmaiden, but the young woman had no recollection.

“I think it has been happening three nights,” Erik answered.  “I remember it happening now, as one recollects a dream.  Three nights!  I should have not come here,” and he sat on the bed with his head in his hands.  “Three nights in a row and you’ll get a Bo.  When did you last have your period, Hervor?”

Hervor answered in a weird Alfhild voice, “Three nights in a row and you’ll get no Mo.”

“Ask her!” Erik demanded.  “Ask her when she last had her period,” and Erik held out one finger on one hand and five fingers on the other where only Eyfura could see them.

So Princess Eyfura asked Hervor how long it had been.

“Just over two weeks,” she said.

Then Prince Erik recited this verse:

“Wait fifteen days,                then three nights in a row

             Fock your wife                     and you’ll have a Bo.

             Wait only days,                    and have your way,

             And a girl will come,           come birthing day.

“It is a Warlock Song,” the Prince said.  “And why did you wake up?” Erik asked Eyfura.  “You were tossing and turning like you were in a trance when I left you.”

“I remember tossing and turning, but then I stopped and I woke up and then I heard a noise in the hallway.”

“What kind of noise?”

“I don’t know.  It was just a noise.”

“Ghosts can’t make noises,” Erik explained.  “They can only make you think you’ve heard a noise, so it’s always just a noise, but can never be described.”

“We shall never talk about this again,” Eyfura said, as a shiver coursed through her body.  “Ever!”  And she sent Erik back to their room as she escorted Hervor back to the servants’ chambers.

When she got back she found Erik asleep in their bed, exhausted.  “Sometimes I think my mother was a witch,” she complained, sliding into bed next to her husband.

The ghost of Queen Alfhild did not return, but Princess Eyfura had no doubt that the affair was the work of her mother and bought charms and potions to keep her ghost away.  She loved her mother, but she loved her husband even more.

They all stayed in Kiev together over the winter; Hervor was with child and they wanted to keep it quiet.  Prince Erik went to Gardariki after the spring trading rush, but Eyfura stayed at home with her granddaughter as Hervor’s belly swelled.  Eyfura kept Hervor under lock and key, ‘for the good of the baby’, she claimed.  Princess Eyfura became inordinately determined that the child be born in Kiev and that no one learn that it was Hervor’s.  Secretly born in the summer, Eyfura passed the baby off as her own, naming the boy Eyfur, or Ivar, after herself.  And Erik and Hervor did not dispute her choices.  The Poljane Slavs around Kiev called him Igor Rurikslavich in line with the naming and they called him Prince Igor of Kiev because he was their prince.

When Arrow Odd got back to Tmutorokan from Khwarizm for the fall trading rush, he learned he had a younger brother named Eyfur.  And when he visited Kiev he noticed a distinct difference in the way Princess Eyfura addressed him.  It was ‘King Oddi Erikson this’ and ‘Prince Eyfur Erikson that’ and he was astonished at how her pregnancy had changed the princess.  She seemed to want to make sure that all knew they were brothers, even though there was a great age difference between them.  But he was still nervous with the princess being around him; he had, after all, killed eleven of her sons, and so was relieved when it was time for him to return to Gardariki for the spring trading season.

CHAPTER ONE

1.0  RAISING PRINCE IVAR  (Circa 900 AD)

Princess Eyfura of Kiev and Novgorod

Those who were chosen on the fields of the slain were called in Asgard the Einherjar. For them Odin made ready a great Hall. Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain, it was called. Five hundred and forty doors had Valhalla, and out of each door eight hundred Champions might pass. Every day the Champions put on their armor and took their weapons down from the walls, and went forth and battled with each other. All who were wounded were made whole again, and in peace and goodly fellowship they sat down to the feast that Odin prepared for them. Odin himself sat with his Champions, drinking wine but eating no meat. And the Valkyries, the wise and fearless battle-maidens, went amongst them, filling up the drinking-horns with the heady mead.”

THE CHILDREN OF ODIN  The Book of Northern Myths  By Padraic Colum

(900 AD)  When Prince Ivar was four years old, his mother, Princess Eyfura, was teaching him how to paint and he designed his own coat of arms.  It was a lone fir tree growing on a rock, an island.  The name Eyfura meant island fir and Ivar, or, more properly, Eyfur, meant the same in the masculine, for his mother had named him after herself.  But there was something special about his painting.  It had the simple strokes of a four year old in the vibrant greens and browns of a child, but those few strokes said ‘I stand alone in a sea of troubles’ and his mother was touched, for that was her life on vellum.  And she told Ivar that that would be his life too.  He painted more haunting strokes and, in them, his mother saw a gift, saw a link to the past.

When his brother, Prince Oddi, saw his paintings, he saw caves in Spain and in Giantland and, likely, in the caves of Ragnar’s youth, in Beowulf’s Heorot, and he knew what that link to the past was and he loved Ivar for it.  He told Ivar that as long as he breathed the boy would never stand alone.  And Ivar loved his older brother and thought the world of him.  But the world kept taking his older brother away from him, away to Kiev or to Constan….far off lands.  And Oddi would come back with stories of these mysterious lands and tales of his grandfather, Ragnar Lothbrok, and the slaying of Fafnir, the fire breathing dragonship.  And he would tell young Prince Ivar tales about his father, Erik and his Battle of the Goths and the Huns, but he would never tell tales about himself.

But his father would.  Tales of Arrow Oddi and his Ship of Boys at the Battle of Constantinople and his discovery of a New Ireland and Scotland and Angleland at the far edges of the western sea, the Atlantean Ocean.  And of the travels of Saint Brendan before them and even tales of long lost Atlantis itself.

When Prince Ivar was six years old, he began his education, learning other languages besides the Norse tongue, and learning numbers, and learning art and poetry and learning how to play the lyre.  A Greek teacher named Artimis had been brought to Kiev from Constantinople and he was charged with young Ivar’s education.  And for the lyre, Artimis had selected a local Kievan musician to teach his charge all about stringed instruments, the lyre, the harp and several single stringed instruments that Ivar almost liked.  But the lyre he hated with a passion.  Bohdan was the local musician teaching him, a young local Poljane man, and he could see that Prince Ivar had talent, but lacked focus.

Bohdan decided one day to take young Prince Ivar into the music quarter of Kiev to let him pick out a lyre of his own choosing.  He got permission from both Princess Eyfura and Artimis for a field trip and they set off from the palace with two guards in tow.  While Bohdan was examining the lyres, Ivar heard a sound emanating from the back room of the shop.  He followed the sound and in the back he saw a young boy, about his own age, playing a lyre most splendidly.

“What are you playing?” Ivar asked the boy in Slav.

“It is a folk song,” the boy replied.  He looked about and said, “The shop owner lets me practice here sometimes.  I don’t have a lyre of my own.”

“And you learned how to play like this on your own?” Ivar asked.

“Yes.  My parents work for the Hraes’ Trading Company, so we are far from our village and our land.  My uncle plays, but he didn’t come with us to Kiev.”

“You must come practice with me,” Ivar offered.  “I have a great teacher.  What is your name?”

“I’m called Darko,” the boy said.

“I am Eyfur,” Ivar said, then he heard a commotion coming from the front of the shop and saw that Bohdan and the guards were searching for him, so he took Darko by the hand and led him to meet Bohdan.  “This is Darko,” Prince Ivar said, introducing the boy to a relieved Bohdan.  “I would like him to learn the lyre with me.”

Bohdan had Darko play for him and agreed with the prince that he had a gift, so it was arranged for the boy to come to the palace on the days that Ivar was scheduled to learn the lyre.”

Prince Ivar still hated the lyre but he admired the passion that Darko had for the fickle little instrument and the company made the lessons tolerable.  When Ivar determined that Darko would stay to learn, he gave the boy his old lyre.  One day, Darko brought some music from the little lyre shop in the music quarters and Ivar was surprised that Bohdan could read the music notation but he could not read the Latin words.  He then arranged for Bohdan to sit in with him during his Latin lessons with Artimis.

“You’ll soon have an Academy of Plato here,” Artimis declared as Prince Ivar kept adding students to sit in on his classes.  But Ivar learned from his experience with Darko that he learned faster with others around him.  The competition kept him focused and he was always amazed at how well people learned when they were passionate about the things they studied.  These passionate students were always better than he was at their given subjects, but he was always better than he would have been had he been learning on his own.  Artimis saw this in Ivar and encouraged it.  He saw it as a natural leadership that Ivar wore about himself like a cloak.

At the end of one trading season, Prince Erik returned from Gardariki with a group of Alchemists who were going to set up a real Academy in a quarter just outside the palace grounds.  He brought several medical Alchemists, a metallurgical Alchemist, an optical Alchemist and a number of academic Alchemists specializing in mathematics, science and philosophy.  Artimis did not like this and there seemed to be some real friction building between the academy within the palace and the one without.

“These are two different schools of academia,” Prince Erik explained to his son.  “The Alchemists believe that knowledge belongs to all men and must be cherished and protected by all, and the Roman academic system comes out of their military engineering and they believe that knowledge belongs to the state.  And this difference in philosophy is what causes problems between them.”

“Which one is correct?” Ivar asked his father.

“It’s not so much which one is correct,” Erik said, stroking his chin as Ivar sat on his lap, “as it is, which one is safer.  For example, chemical Alchemists came up with the formula for Greek fire and were wise enough to keep it from states but Roman scientists used espionage and bribery to get the formulation and to weaponize it.  Now it is known as the terrible fire breathing dragonships of the Romans that cause death and destruction upon the seas and it is a very terrible way to die.”

“So Roman science is evil?” Ivar asked.

“Well, not so much evil as turning new scientific discoveries into weapons first, then perhaps beneficial things last.  You told me last year that Artimis called your classes Plato’s Academy.  Well, Plato was an Alchemist and he started his famous Academy in 428 BC just outside the Greek city of Akedemeia near Athens.  The school was the first true Academy and was run for hundreds of years.  In the year 86 BC, the Roman General Sulla conquered Athens and burned Plato’s Academy to the ground and the Romans have never allowed its rebuilding.  So, while the Romans consider their science to be good, the rest of the world is not quite convinced.”

Prince Ivar went to his mother and asked, “What’s B C?”

“B C?” she asked.  “Could it be the Baltic Sea?”

“Father said Plato’s Academy was started in 428 BC.  What’s B C?”

“Oh!  That’s Before Christians.  That would be four hundred and twenty eight years before the coming of Christians.  And now we are nine hundred and three years after the coming of Christians…so that would be over thirteen hundred years ago.”

“Christians have been around that long?” little Ivar asked.

“Yes, almost,” Princess Eyfura said wistfully.  “A terribly long time, but I shouldn’t say that.  Your grand aunt was the first Scandinavian Christian.  Princess Gunwar converted to Christianity and Odin struck her down in battle just days later.”  Eyfura put down her quill and ink and rose from her desk and knelt down in front of her son.  “Just remember that, Eyfur.  Worship gods that give you victory, not gods that give you peace.”

Prince Ivar followed his mother’s advice and continued to worship Odin but he would ask Bohdan about his god, Perun, and he would ask Artimis about his Christian god.  And as the friction heated up between the Roman academics and the Alchemists, Ivar took comfort in the local people that he had surrounded himself with and in the one subject at which he stood out from all those around him, his art.  He saw it as his art because it was different from the two dimensional iconography of the Romans and the three dimensional carvings and drawings of the Norse and the Slavs.  His art was vibrant earthy colours that pushed Roman knighted cataphracts out of the velum, offset by dark disturbing voids that drew the viewer in.  Not life against death as much as existence against abyss, the great ginungagap.

Prince Erik noticed that his son seemed to be favouring his Roman tutors over Erik’s Alchemists and one day he asked his son why.

“Mother told me to worship gods that grant victory,” the young boy explained, “over gods that give peace.  In kind, I prefer to follow science that gives me victories over science that gives mankind peace.”

“Well spoken,” his father responded, then thought, ‘someday he shall be a great leader of men.’

That evening, when Prince Erik and Princess Eyfura went to bed, he told her he thought that Eyfur’s academy should have a concert.

Eyfura thought it a great idea, “But only if you recite Gunwar’s Song.  I slighted my aunt and now you must make up for it by reciting her song of praise.  I can’t have her spirit mad at me.”

“How did you slight her?”

“I told young Eyfur that she became Christian and, days later, Odin let her die in battle.  I told him to follow gods that give victory, not gods that give peace.  I slighted my aunt, may she rest in peace.”

“Prince Eyfur did mention something like that.  He told me he prefers to follow science that grants victory, not science that gives world peace, so now he is following the science of Emperors, the science of Rome.  I almost told him that the gods were invented for women and children and that real men knew there was nothing after death…only the vast Ginungagap.”

“Don’t tell him that,” Eyfura said, jabbing him in the ribs.  “He’s still a child.”

“It’s already in his paintings,” Erik replied, pushing her down on the bed and kissing her breasts.  “The vast Ginungagap.  But I will recite her song,” he added, “and I’ll recite a song of praise for you.”

”You’ve written a song of praise for me?”

“I’m still working on it.  Do you remember when we first made love and you told me you’d been infatuated with me since you were a young virgin girl?”

“I don’t remember the virgin part being in there, but I was.  I was so infatuated with you.  You were my hero.  My mother had died.  Gunwar had just died in battle and you were in Sweden trying to rally the north to bring vengeance upon the Huns.  You wrote Gunwar’s song while wracked in grief and you saved your neck by writing a full drapa overnight in praise of…who was it?  King Bjorn of the Barrows?  You gained the full support of Sweden overnight.  Kings flocked to your aid.  My father, King Frodi, asshole that he was, even packed up Prince Alf and myself and we left Kiev to support you in Uppsala.  I wasn’t infatuated.  I worshipped the ground you walked on.  I still do,” she said and her eyes watered as she looked up at him.

Erik stroked her cheek and kissed her forehead then whispered:

                        “Infatuation can be love,     infatuation can be…

                         Infatuation can be love,     infatuate me…please.

                         I loved Alfhild,                     and lost her love.

                         Infatuate me…

                         I loved Gunwar,                   and lost her too.

                         Infatuate me…

                         And now I’ve fallen             again in love.

                         Infatuate me…

                         I’ve fallen hard,                   so hard for you…

                         Infatuate me too.

                        “Infatuation can be love,     infatuation can be…

                         Infatuation can be love,     infatuate me…please.”

“I’d say there was too much infatuation in the song,” Princess Eyfura started, “but there isn’t.  I married Prince Arngrim as my father wished, but it was you I loved.  When you avenged the death of Gunwar, I pretended that you avenged the murder of my mother as well.  You gave me great comfort and I was still young enough to believe in the gods again.  That’s why I invited you to come live with us in Novgorod while you searched for your lost son.  I loved you and wanted you near me.  Prince Arngrim was hard, but he was a good man and I loved him.  But he was not you.

“I still remember you sitting with my sons and telling them your tale of that Danish prince, that Amleth.  They all loved you so.  We all did.  Even Arngrim.  He would have fought for you to the ends of the earth.”

It was Erik’s turn for watering eyes and he said, “I hope I’ll have your song of praise done in time for the concert.”

“If you can do a drapa overnight for a barrows king, you can do this song for me!” she exclaimed and began kissing him all over his body.

“King Bjorn didn’t distract me,” he complained, pulling her against himself.

CHAPTER TWO

2.0  THE SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE OF 907 AND TREATY OF 911

“Thus Oleg (Helgi) ruled in Kiev, and dwelt at peace with all nations.

Now autumn came, and Oleg bethought him of his horse that he had

caused to be well fed, yet had never mounted.  For on one occasion

he had made inquiry of the wonder-working magicians (warlocks)as to

the ultimate cause of his death. One magician replied, “Oh Prince, it is

from the steed which you love and on which you ride that you shall meet

your death.”  Oleg then reflected and determined never to mount this

horse or even to look upon it again.  So he gave command that the

horse should be properly fed, but never led into his presence.”

The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

(907 AD)  When Prince Ivar was eleven, his brother was called away again, this time to Constantinople, and, for the first time, his father went as well.  They sailed together on a huge dragonship at the head of a great fleet of ships and his mother wept when they left Kiev.  There had been a trade dispute between the Hraes’ and the Romans, who were engaged in a war with Baghdad.  Word had come in the early spring that the Great Fleet of the Greeks was engaged in sea battles off the Levant, so the time to settle the dispute was at hand.  The Hraes’ planned to raid the areas around Constantinople and force the Greeks to grant them trade concessions.  And they hoped to be back in time for the trading season.  That was their plan.

As soon as the troops left Kiev, Princess Eyfura had her son begin his military training.  He had always practised with weapons, wooden weapons at first, then bronze and then steel, but it was all informal and fun.  Now, Erik had arranged for the finest swordsman from Liere to train his son in the use of the broadsword and buckler.  He had hired a master archer to train his son in the use of all bows, from Mongolian hornbows to Anglish longbows to Turkish footbows.  He even arranged for an engineer from Cathay to train his son in the design and use of siege engines.  And he still had to maintain his studies in painting and poetry as well as arithmetic and languages, both oral and written.  Many languages….and, unlike his father, he did not learn them easily.  His mother would monitor his training and, when she could not, her handmaiden, Hervor, would.

Prince Ivar had always liked Hervor.  She had always treated him as though he was important and she always took a special interest in him.  So, he always worked harder at his studies when she was watching and now that he was older, harder at his training, for she was a beautiful woman in her prime and Ivar was becoming interested in women.  She was tall and lithe with long auburn hair and penetrating green eyes and her lips were full, as were her breasts.  In the close quarters of the palace, Ivar would sometimes catch a glimpse of her partially clad and things within would begin to stir.

Hervor soon began training as well.  Princess Eyfura arranged for her to learn riding skills and languages and weapons training and sailing.  These were unusual skills to be teaching a handmaiden, but his mother told Ivar it was for the family’s protection.  While the men were gone, it was the women of the household that would have to take care of things and they should all be prepared and trained to do so.  “There were shield-maidens in our family line,” she’d told her son.

In Constantinople, the Hraes’ had the great Roman walled city surrounded.  King Oddi sent cavalry units out into the surrounding farms and estates to pillage.  They loaded livestock and valuables onto the farmers’ heavy wains and wagons and drove them into the shoreline camp of the Hraes’ fleet.  The goods were loaded onto ships, the livestock fed the troops and the wagons were modified to transport the Nor’Way longships overland, just as some ships were portaged around a rapid of the Dnieper River called Essoupi.  Two weeks of pillaging and modifications led to two hundred Nor’Way ships being portaged from their shoreline anchorages through the surrounding village roads to the northern end of the Golden Horn port, thus bypassing the massive chain that barred the southern entrance of the port from the sea.  As the ships slipped into the water from the streets leading down to the port, the Greek fleet was caught by surprise.  All the Greek fire breathing biremes were at the other end of the Roman fleet, facing the chained off sea, and in the congested harbour, they had no way of getting to the Hraes’ fleet that was attacking their rear.  The Nor’Way longships drove the Byzantine biremes away from the main gates of the city and a longship called Fair Faxi was tied off at the main quay of the gates.  Oddi leapt onto the dock and extended a hand to his father as he stepped over the top strake.

King Oddi nailed a shield to the left gate and Prince Erik tacked the vellum  list of their demands, written in his best Greek, onto the shield.  The rest of the Varangian fleet kept the Byzantine fleet hemmed in at the south end of the port while Fair Faxi was sailed off to the north end of the port and was portaged back to the main Hraes’ camp.

The next day Erik and Oddi returned to the quay of the main gates and found a treaty tacked to the shield still nailed upon the left gate.  Two camp chairs were carried to the main gates and Erik and Oddi sat and went through the details of the treaty, which was written in both Latin and Greek, as the shield wall sheltered them from the sun.  Erik crumpled up the Latin documents, even though he was more fluent in reading that language and he perused and signed the Greek documents.  He then passed one copy of the treaty to Oddi, who tacked it to the shield upon the gate.

The raid on Constantinople lasted longer than anticipated, so Princess Eyfura handled the spring trading in Kiev with the help of Hervor and young Prince Ivar.  Queen Silkisif handled the eastern trade in Gardariki.  Hervor enjoyed their new responsibilities together and she took pride in how young Ivar handled himself.  When the men came back from the raid with a new trade agreement, they resumed all the trading duties, but nobody ever wondered at Hervor’s training anymore.  She just continued it.

When Princess Eyfura had finished handing over her duties to Prince Erik, she met with Hervor in private and said “There is something I must tell you of your birth.  Your mother was my handmaiden, but your father was not a slave.  He was my eldest son, Prince Angantyr.  When your mother died following your birth, I had you raised in our household, but, for your own safety, I kept your true lineage a secret.  Your father was too drunk to remember your conception, but your mother would not spare me the details.  You must avenge your father’s death, as I must avenge mine.  You shall continue your training to that end.”

Hervor was happy to learn that she was not a slave and of royal blood.  She reached out to her grandmother and Eyfura hugged her coldly.  “We must keep the truth of your birth a secret until we have avenged our fathers.  When my son Angantyr, your father, was killed by Hjalmar the Brave and Prince Oddi,” Eyfura started, “your mother tried to kill herself but  I saved her and kept her close while she carried you and after you were born she did kill herself.”

(911 AD)  Four years after the Treaty of 907, Erik and Oddi once more led a fleet against the Romans.  This time Prince Ivar was old enough to accompany them.  At first, Price Erik and Princess Eyfura felt their son was too young to go, but he reminded them that his brother, Oddi, had participated in the Battle of Constantinople when he was his age.  Heavily armed longships accompanied the spring throng of merchants heading for trade in Constantinople.  The longships waited on the Sea of Marmara while the merchant ships carried on with their trade in the city.  The full Roman fleet was home and on manoeuvres around the Golden Horn, so there was much belching of Greek fire and a number of target ships were burned in warning.  Prince Ivar witnessed first-hand the courage that would have been required to attack a fire breather as his father and grandfather had.  The standoff carried on for several weeks until, eventually, a large number of Hraes’ merchants and sailors were released from Greek custody.

The previous year’s trade had been marked by numerous storms on the Bosporus and the Scythian Sea and a number of Hraes’ merchant ships sank or broke up on reefs and many of the survivors had been captured and enslaved by the Greeks and forced to row in the bellies of Byzantine biremes.  So, the Byzantine-Hraes’ Treaty of 907 became a fuller, more encompassing Treaty of 911 that included maritime laws protecting the rights of stranded and injured sailors and merchants of any nation.  Strand laws more favourable to those being shipwrecked were implemented, as well as mutual laws in the handling of crimes.

CHAPTER THREE

3.0  THE DEATH OF ARROW ODD  (Circa 912 AD)

Arrow Odd with Hjalmar dying

‘He (Helgi) thus summoned his senior squire and inquired as to the

whereabouts of the horse which he had ordered to be fed and well

cared for.  The squire answered that he was dead.  Oleg laughed and

mocked the magician, exclaiming, “Soothsayers tell untruths, and their

words are naught but falsehood.  This horse is dead, but I am still alive.”

‘He rode to the place where the bare bones and skull lay. Dismounting

from his horse, he laughed and remarked, “So I was supposed to receive

my death from this skull?”  And he stamped upon the skull with his foot.

But a serpent crawled forth from it and bit him in the foot, so that in

consequence he sickened and died.’

The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

(912 AD)  Once the treaty was concluded, Prince Erik and Ivar returned to Kiev, but Prince Oddi had business in Baghdad and then east on the Caspian, so he bid them farewell on the Scythian Sea.  Prince Ivar noticed that his older brother seemed to be avoiding spending time in Kiev.  He seemed to fear Princess Eyfura and Ivar was old enough to understand the history behind the fear.  He had heard the tales of Oddi and how he had killed the twelve berserker sons of Eyfura and how he had killed her father, King Frodi, but that was before he knew he was a Prince, the son of Prince Erik.  He was a Viking then, and a mighty warrior.  Now he was family.  Still, he feared Princess Eyfura and he kept a distance from her.

Princess Eyfura and Hervor waited through the spring trading season without a sign of Oddi.  They were hoping he would have visited Kiev and his father, but he had sent word that he was rebuilding Berurjod in Jaederen Province and would arrive in Kiev after the spring trading season.  Prince Erik was waiting on the main quay of Kiev, when Oddi sailed up in Fair Faxi.  He saw his father,  Erik, and leapt onto the dock.  As they embraced and hugged below the dragonhead of Fair Faxi, a slight hooded figure approached and pulled a long blade out from under a cloak.  The spectre thrust out the blade at Oddi, who instinctively blocked it with his wrist band, and he smashed the figure down to the dock and the spectre curled up in pain and lashed out with the sword again, and the edge bit Oddi’s ankle to the bone.  Then the sword went flying across the dock and clattered on the boardwalk and Erik saw right away that it was Tyrfingr.  Oddi pinned the assailant to the decking and pulled back the hood to expose Hervor, dazed but still breathing with a Scythian bolt of lightning painted across her grey stained face.  Erik threw his fur cloak over Tyrfingr and saw Eyfura approaching from the longhall, so he rolled the sword into the fur and kicked it into the river.  “The water will protect us from the rays of the blade,” Erik explained to Oddi as his wife drew near.

“I saw Hervor quickly leave the hall,” Eyfura said.  “What has she done now?”

They returned to Oddi and Hervor.  Erik inspected Oddi’s wound while Eyfura revived Hervor.  Erik tore the white silk shirt from his chest and tore off a strip of it to tie around Oddi’s left leg.  He then stripped his belt of his seax and used the sheath to twist the silk strip tight around Oddi’s leg.  He pulled out the seax and told his son, “Your leg has to come off at the knee!”

“You’re mad!” Oddi cried, pulling his leg free of his father.  “This limb isn’t going anywhere.”

“The sword she cut your leg with is Tyrfingr.  The blade is poisoned.  If I don’t take it off at your knee, you’ll be dead within hours.”

Oddi sat down on the dock, hugging his legs to his body.  “I know.  I saw what it did to my friend, Hjalmar.  It’s probably too late already.”

“Let me take off your leg, son.  Please.  We can fit it with a prosthetic.”

“And I’ll join one of your Special Centuriatas?”

Eyfura had fully revived Hervor by then and both women watched the father arguing for the life of his son.

“No, father,” Oddi continued.  “It is too late.  I can feel the poison at work already.  I think the hours you gave me may have been overly optimistic.”  Oddi remembered watching Hjalmar die and he realized he was sitting just as Hjalmar had been sitting.  “I want to die with us holding each other in our arms.”

By now all Oddi’s men had come from Fair Faxi, gathered round their captain and began clamouring for Hervor’s head.  Eyfura huddled over Hervor as if to protect her from the throng.  Oddi ordered his men to respect the fine blood of the women and sat down on a bench below the forestem of Fair Faxi.  Erik sent for some camp chairs and fine wine from King Frodi’s highseat hall and they sat in the warm spring sunshine as Oddi’s strength waned.

Erik helped his son into a camp chair from the bench.  “Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.

Oddi asked him to record in Latin the Death Ode of Arrow Odd so his father sent for vellum and ink and asked one of his men to find Prince Ivar.  The ink came quickly but they were still looking for the young prince.  King Odd began to recite his story.  He was almost to the end of it when Prince Ivar was led down the quay.

“She lashed out with           the poisoned blade,

 and I knocked her down,    but as she fell,

 she nicked my leg with      the blood-snake, Tyrfingr,

 its poison’s in my body,      my blood doth start to jell.

“My father offered to               amputate my leg,

 but I just said no,                 the poison’s going to my head,

 I just saw Angantyr,            he warned his daughter,

 about the blade and           tells me she’ll soon be dead.

 He’s asked me for a favour    to bring her to Valhall,

 my shield-maid can enter    the warrior’s paradise,

 she can watch us battle,      then bring us our sweet mead,

 Asmund’s there, he does swear,    I see it and it’s nice.

 I know I took the faith         of Christianity,

 but I had fingers crossed     when in waters they dipped me.

 Promise me young Hervor,   for you are soon to die,

 you’ll come with me to Valhall    in a burial at sea.

 I bid you farewell father     and love you in my heart,

 And love you Prince Ivar,     Eyfura, you’d your chore.

 To Silkisif send love           and to my sons also,

 send them all my greetings,    I’ll go there no more.”

Prince Ivar stood beside his older brother, Oddi, completely speechless.

“Angantyr came to you?” Princess Eyfura came up close.  Prince Erik was transferring Oddi onto a great bearskin one of his men had laid upon the dock.

“Yes.  He came to me and added a bit of verse,” Oddi said weakly.  “Angantyr wants me to bring Hervor to Valhall with me.”  While Erik and Eyfura were attending to Oddi, Hervor was tearing off her clothing and she laid herself naked beside Oddi.  She hugged him and tried to be him and she whispered, “I shall treat you so fine in Valhall, this I promise.”  Prince Erik could see a grey pallor to the skin of Hervor and it was a grey he had seen before.  He knew she was not long for this world.

Oddi took Hervor under his arm.  “Finally,” he said, “a shield-maiden here to my liking,” and she hugged him.  “If you ever go to Ireland, Father,” Oddi began, “could you stop and visit with my wife and daughter in Dub-Lin?  Tell them both I love them and was thinking about them at the end.”

“Anything else?” Erik asked, as more wine was poured.

“Yes.  Give my scale mail shirt to Ivar here.  It will fit him soon.  It has saved my life more than once.  Ragnar Lothbrok and Ladgerda left it with the King of Ireland and I got it from his daughter.”

Oddi’s forty picked men sat about, watched and listened.  They all knew they were witnessing a most famous death, a death foretold.

“Your brother, King Roller figured the prophecy out,” Oddi said weakly as he savoured the wine as if it might be his last.  “When the witch Heid foretold your future, Father, she said your son would die from the bite of a poison snake that crawled out below the skull of Fair Faxi.  Because your father, Ragnar, was in the room with you, everyone thought she was talking to him and that the son was you.  When I was twelve, you and Grim gave me your ship, Fair Faxi, and that same witch foretold that I would die from the bite of a poison snake below the skull of Faxi.  In Heid’s first foretelling, she was talking to you, father, not to Ragnar.  It is your son dying under the skull of Fair Faxi.”  And Oddi looked up at his ship and laughed, bravely.  “Tyrfingr, your arrow of the gods, is that poisoned blood-snake that crawled out under the skull of Faxi.  I am, indeed, dying below its weathered skull.  It has all been preordained.  Fate is all.  Of the great things we have done, this will be the most famed.”  Oddi laughed again, but then he coughed and then coughed up blood.  He quickly drank more wine and this time it was his last.  Below the skull of Fair Faxi, from a poisoned blood-snake bite, he died.

Hervor was crying at Oddi’s side and Princess Eyfura was trying to console her.  She got up, naked, and began walking back up the quay toward the main gates of Kiev and when Eyfura followed and tried to cover up her up with a blanket, she pushed it away.  Erik had his men carry Oddi’s body into the hall and he held Ivar’s hand as they walked beside the body.  His men laid Oddi out on his highseat and covered him with a blanket.  Erik left Ivar with his mother and he went to Hervor, standing naked in the hall and he stroked her hair.  “Where is the scabbard?” he asked gently.  “We must sheath Tyrfingr.  The water will shield us from its poison, but it is still dangerous.”

“The scabbard is in my room under my bed,” Hervor blurted.  Prince Ivar watched as Erik and Eyfura led the naked shield-maiden to her room and Erik recovered the scabbard while Eyfura put Hervor to bed.  Erik went out to the dock and into the river to sheathe Tyrfingr.  The blade glowed dangerously until he got it in the leaden scabbard.  Trapped under the bones of Angantyr, the blade’s power had grown.

“Quiet, child,” Princess Eyfura whispered, as she tucked Hervor into bed.  “We wanted revenge and we got it.”

“But he died so bravely, grandmother.  And I feel so bad.  It’s all so sad.”

“It was our duty to avenge our fathers.  And we did it.  I’m proud of you, Hervor,” she said, hugging the girl.

Later, in bed, Erik told Eyfura that he suspected Hervor may have been overly exposed to Tyrfingr’s poison.

“How overly?” Eyfura asked.       

 “She will likely be dead in two days.”

“I don’t know what caused her to do all that,” Eyfura said.  “Angantyr’s sword.  The lightning bolt painted on her face.  She stained her body grey.  It’s all so sad.”  She rolled over and went to sleep.

Erik watched the beauty of her form as moonlight filtered into the room.  The faint light glistened on her bare shoulder and followed down her side, dipping at her covered waist then thrusting up to follow the curve of her hip and tapering down her shapely legs.  Perfection in form…if not in substance.  He wondered how much of the blade Eyfura had been exposed to.

Two days after Oddi’s death, Hervor joined him.  She had bequeathed her only possession, the sword Tyrfingr, to her son Ivar.  Erik prepared a great feast and funeral for his son and Oddi and Hervor were burned together in Fair Faxi on the Dnieper River in a stone ship burial at sea.  Two months later, Prince Erik left for Gardariki and Queen Eyfura and Prince Ivar remained in Kiev to rule in her father, King Frodi’s name.

It is also recorded that all the people mourned for King Odd in great grief.  They bore him away and buried him upon the hill which is called Shchekovitsa.  His burial howe stands there to this day, and it is called the Tomb of Oleg.  But this cannot be true because Queen Silkisif would have demanded he be buried in Tmutorokan, where he had reigned with her for many years.

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0  PRINCE IVAR AND PRINCESS HELGA  (Circa 914 AD)

“6421 (913). Igor (Ivar) succeeded Oleg and began his reign. At the same

time began ·the reign of Constantine, son of Leo and son-in-law of

Romanus.  The Derevlians offered resistance to Igor’ after Oleg’s death.

6422 (914) Igor’ attacked the Derevlians, and after conquering them,

he imposed upon them a tribute larger than Oleg’s.”

The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

Princess Helga (Olga) of Kiev

(914 AD)  “I still love your father,” Queen Eyfura told her son, Ivar.  “He rules in Gardariki and we rule here in Kiev, as queen and royal regent.  Your father is a prince, but you are the grandson of a king.  You, too, will be king.  It is in your blood.”

“But will father ever join us here?” Prince Ivar asked.

“He will come to Kiev when he is ready,” Eyfura answered.  “He thinks Kiev is haunted by the memories of your grandmother, Queen Alfhild.  She died here.”  Queen Eyfura did not tell her regent son how her mother had died.  No one ever talked of that.

“Father will never join us here,” Ivar exclaimed.  “And Oddi will never join us again,” he complained.  “And Hervor will never…”  He set his jaw and shook his head.  They were Hraes’, Varangians….Way Wanderers, masters of the Nor`Way and of the Southern Way….the Dan’Way.

“You’ll lead the troops for the first time tomorrow,” his mother started, “and gather tribute from the Poljane, Drevjane and Radimichi.  You have the lists for the required slaves, furs, honey and grain.  If they are short on tribute, they must be harshly dealt with.  Your lieutenants will help you with that.  The slaves may be short.  Prince Oddi was negligent in collecting the slave tribute.  Other goods may be substituted until the practice is fully reinstated.”

Prince Ivar led his troops to the city of Chernigov, a day’s ride north of Kiev, to collect tribute from the Drevjane Slavs who had founded the town.  As he was leading his horsemen down the main street, he saw a local Hraes’ princess walking along the sidewalk.  She was tall and lithe with long flowing blonde hair and she reminded the prince of Hervor.  He learned from one of his men that her name was Helga and her father was a merchant prince from Sweden, so he had her invited to the Hraes’ palace in the town.  She fell in love with the prince that night and the inseparable couple were soon married.  Late fall in Kiev brought the arrival of a daughter to the royal couple, Princess Alfhild, named after Ivar’s great grandmother.  Prince Ivar invited his father to her pagan sprinkling, for Princess Helga was a follower of Freyja and she wanted her daughter raised in the Aesir faith.  Prince Erik suggested that perhaps young Princess Alfhild should be sprinkled with water in Tmutorokan.

“You shall have to overcome your fear of Alfhild’s ghost in Kiev,” Prince Ivar admonished his father, “especially now that your grand-daughter is named after her.”

So little Princess Alfhild was sprinkled with water in the Temple of Freyja at the Grove of the Aesir in Kiev.  The ceremony was small and very private in a small wooden temple amongst the oaks of the Aesir and other larger temples dedicated to Odin and Thor and Tyr and many other lesser gods of the Norse pantheon, for Freyja was a goddess of the Vanir who had joined the Aesir, leaving the southern pantheon. 

Once Prince Erik had left for Gardariki, a Swedish king named Halfdan arrived in Kiev seeking the aid of Prince Ivar and Princess Helga.  He was the son of the late King Erik of Sweden, son of King Bjorn of the Barrows, the skaldic king who had spared the life of Prince Ivar’s father many years ago.  He had come seeking support in his struggle against twelve Norwegian berserk brothers who were continually attacking his Swedish realm.  His father, King Erik, had been a brother of Princess Helga’s father, making them cousins of a sort, so Prince Ivar, eager to experience his first engagement, agreed to lead a force against the Norwegians even though his father was originally from the Nor’Way.  He was also, very briefly, a former King of Sweden, Ivar rationalized.

Prince Ivar assembled a fleet of fifty ships and joined King Halfdan’s fleet of thirty ships and they sailed up the Dnieper and down the Dvina and across the Baltic to Uppsala in Sweden.  But one of Prince Ivar’s ships slipped away on the way and headed for Denmark.  Marching across Sweden, the large army soon had the allies of the Norwegian brothers fleeing back to the Vik, but the twelve Berserks were securely holed up in a castle on a rock in the middle of a raging river that could only be accessed via a drawbridge which they controlled from the castle.  The brothers were excellent warriors supported by their own personal retinues and were confident they could hold their small stronghold against any number of foes.

These warriors were of valiant temper, young and stalwart, of splendid bodily presence, renowned for victories over giants, full of trophies of conquered nations, and wealthy with spoil.  The names of some of them were recorded as follows, but the rest have perished in antiquity: Gerbiorn, Gunbiorn, Arinbiorn, Stenbiorn, Esbiorn, Thorbiorn, and Biorn, who was said to have had a horse which was splendid and of exceeding speed, so that when all the rest were powerless to cross the river it alone stemmed the roaring eddy without weariness.  The rapids came down in so swift and sheer a volume that animals often lost all power of swimming in it, and perished.  For, trickling from the topmost crests of the hills, it came down the steep sides, caught on the rocks, and was shattered, falling into the deep valleys with a manifold clamour of waters; but, being straightway rebuffed by the rocks that bar the way, it kept the speed of its current ever at the same rushing pace, and so, along the whole length of the channel, the waves were one turbid mass, and the white foam brimmed over everywhere.  But after rolling out of the narrows between the rocks, it spread abroad in a slacker and stiller flood, and turned into an island the rock that supported the brothers’ fortress.  On either side of the rock jutted out a sheer ridge, thick with fir trees, that screened the river from distant view.  Biorn also had a dog of extraordinary fierceness, a terribly vicious brute, dangerous for people to live with, which had often singly destroyed men by the dozens.  Biorn stole the dog from the giant Offot, who had used it to watch his herds amid pastures in Giantland.

Now these warriors, who had often pillaged the neighbourhood, plundering houses, cutting down cattle, sacking everything, making great hauls of booty, rifling rans, then burning them, massacring males and females indiscriminately, were caught off-guard while on a reckless raid, and Prince Ivar, King Halfdan and a large cavalry force drove them in battle back into their stronghold; and managed to seize Biorn’s immensely powerful horse, left behind in the haste of retreat.  That night back in camp, while celebrating their small victory, Prince Ivar proclaimed that he would pay the weight of the dead body in gold to any man who slew one of those brothers.  The hope of the prize stimulated some of the champions to go secretly the next day to the prince and promise to attempt the task, vowing to sacrifice their lives if they did not bring home the severed heads of the berserks. Prince Ivar praised their valour and their vows, but bid them wait, and went that night to the river with a single companion, a slave.  For, not to seem better provided with other men’s valour than with his own, he determined to forestall their aid by his own courage.  Thereupon he crushed and killed his companion with a stone and flung his bloodless corpse into the waves, having dressed it in his own clothes; which he stripped off, borrowing the cast-off garb of the other, so that when the corpse was seen it might look as if the prince had perished.  He further deliberately drew blood from his horse, on which the slave had ridden, and bespattered it, so that when it returned back to camp, he might make them think he himself was dead.  Then he set spur to Biorn’s great horse and drove it into the midst of the eddies, crossed the river and alighted, and tried to climb over the rampart that screened the stronghold by steps set up against the mound.  When he got over the top and could grasp the battlements with his hand, he quietly put his foot inside, and, without the knowledge of the watch, went lightly on tiptoe to the house into which the bandits had gone to carouse.  And when he had reached its hall, he sat down under the porch overhanging the door.  Now the strength of their fastness made the warriors feel so safe that they were tempted to a debauch; for they thought that the swiftly rushing river made their garrison inaccessible, since it seemed impossible either to swim over or to cross in boats, for no part of the river allowed fording.

Biorn, moved by the revel, said that in his sleep he had seen a beast come out of the waters, which spouted ghastly fire from its mouth, enveloping everything in a sheet of flame.  Therefore the holes and corners of the island should, he said, be searched; nor ought they to trust so much to their position, as rashly to let overweening confidence bring them to utter ruin.  No situation was so strong that the mere protection of nature was enough for it without human effort.  Moreover they must take great care that the warning of his slumbers was not followed by a yet more gloomy and disastrous fulfilment.  So they all sallied forth from the stronghold, and narrowly scanned the whole circuit of the island; and finding Biorn’s horse they surmised that Prince Ivar had been drowned in the waters of the river.  They received the horse within the gates with great rejoicing, supposing that it had flung off its rider and swum over.  But Biorn, still troubled with the memory of his vision, advised them to keep watch, since it was not safe for them yet to put aside suspicion of danger. Then he went to his room to rest, with the memory of his vision deeply stored in his heart.

Meanwhile the horse which Prince Ivar had besprinkled with blood, burst all bedabbled into the camp of his soldiers.  They went straight to the river, and finding the carcass of the slave, took it for the body of the prince; the hissing eddies having cast it on the bank, dressed in royal attire.  Nothing helped their mistake so much as the swelling of the battered body; inasmuch as the skin was torn and bruised by the rapids, so that all the features were blotted out, bloodless and wan.  This exasperated the champions who had just promised their prince to see that the robbers were extirpated: and they approached the perilous torrent, that they might not seem to tarnish the honour of their promise by a craven neglect of their vow.  The rest imitated their boldness, and with equal ardour went to the river, ready to avenge their prince or to endure the worst.

When Ivar saw them, he hastened to lower the bridge to the mainland; and when his champions joined him, they cut down the watch in their initial attack.  Prince Ivar went on to attack the rest and put them to the sword, all save Biorn; whom he tended to very carefully and cured of his wounds; whereupon, under pledge of solemn oath, he made him his colleague, thinking it better to use his services than to boast of his death.  He also declared it would be shameful if such a flower of bravery were plucked in his first youth and perished by an untimely death.

Back in Uppsala, Prince Ivar met up with the captain of the ship he had sent onwards to Denmark.  The captain informed him that he had learned that a King Hiarn now ruled Denmark, the kingdom of Ivar’s grandfather, King Frodi.  And all the people of Denmark had elected him king, thinking the line of Frodi had ended with the death of King Alf at the hands of Arrow Odd.  “King Hiarn would not likely be giving back his title without a battle,” the captain added, “and that might require a fleet of more than fifty ships.”

Prince Ivar broached the idea of his reclaiming the Danish crown with King Halfdan of Sweden and Halfdan replied, “I have heard of this Hiarn and he is quite the commoner.  Being the grandson of King Frodi, your rights to the realm should certainly take precedence and I will support your effort to that end with a hundred ships.  My grandfather, King Bjorn of the Barrows, named my father, King Erik, after your father, Erik Bragi, and my family has always been supportive of the Hraes’ Trading Company and now that you have married my cousin, Princess Helga, we are blood.”

When Prince Ivar returned to Kiev, he told his mother all about King Hiarn and reminded her that she could no longer call herself Queen Eyfura, as Hiarn’s wife now held that title.  This started in motion a movement to support Prince Eyfur in the taking back of the Danish crown.  Princess Eyfura reasoned that if Prince Eyfur became king and Princess Helga became queen, at least she would be queen mother.  But Prince Ivar would soon have other plans.

CHAPTER FIVE

5.0  PRINCE IVAR ATTACKS THE PECHENEGS  (Circa 915 AD)

6423 (915). The Pechenegs entered the land of Rus’ for the first time,

but when they made peace with Igor’, they went their way to the Danube.

At this time, Symeon subjugated Thrace, and the Greeks summoned the

Pechenegs to aid them. When the Pechenegs arrived and wished to attack

Symeon, the Greek generals quarreled.  The Pechenegs,  on seeing how

they were quarreling among themselves, returned homeward, but the

Bulgars came to blows with the Greeks, and the Greeks were cut to pieces.

The Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

Pecheneg Mounted Warriors Attacking Foot Soldiers

(915 AD)  The Pechenegs came from the east, from beyond the Khazar Empire, and the Khazars sent emissaries to Prince Erik of Gardariki and Queen Silkisif of Tmutorokan warning them of their coming.  “They are numerous beyond numbers,” the Hun envoys claimed, “and they are as fierce as Atli himself.”

Prince Erik sent messengers to Kiev to warn his son, Prince Ivar, of their coming and then he gathered his forces and awaited them on the Don Heath.  Erik sat at the head of his five thousand cavalry, a thousand light horse consisting of scouts and skirmishers on fast quarter horses, a thousand regulars with lances and bows and heavier horse and three thousand Roman equipped cataphracts, heavily armoured knights and heavy draft horse, who sat in front of his hollow square of twelve thousand Norse equipped foot soldiers.  The hollow square had three thousand men on each side, protecting a baggage train and cavalry command operations in the center, but The Prince wanted his Roman cataphracts front and center and on display as a vaster array of perhaps twenty thousand Turkic horsemen passed by just north of them heading west.  In amongst the warriors could be seen horse drawn carts and wagons carrying women and children.  Round earth mounded steppe forts had been built over the years that were a day’s journey apart , and Prince Erik had provisioned the forts with water, food and fodder that was offered to the Pechenegs as they progressed in their migration.  Erik led his force well behind the Pechenegs across the great steppe between the Don and Dnieper Rivers until they met up with Prince Ivar’s force that sat at the Dnieper Rapids just north of the Pecheneg migration path.

“You’ve provisioned the steppe forts west as I requested?” was the first thing Erik asked his son as the two armies met on a plain south of the rapids.

“Yes,” Ivar answered.  “And at great expense.  I don’t see why we don’t just attack them and drive them back east.”

“Do you trust the Khazars?” the Prince asked.

“No.  Of course not.”

“And you watched the composition of the tribe as it passed?” the Prince asked further.

“Of course.” Ivar answered.  “A vast array of warriors surrounding the carts of their women and children.  Just as one would expect from a migrating horde.”

“Did you happen to notice that the carts looked more like a baggage train, that the women looked more like camp followers and that none of the children were under twelve years of age?”

“Maybe the younger children were being kept in the carts.  They were covered wains, you know.”

“Or maybe this is a scout army for a far larger horde?”

“Like your dreams?” Ivar asked.  “Is this the Spear Odd of the vast horde you saw in your dreams?  The one that crushes us?”

“No,” the Prince answered.  “That happens long after you and I leave this earth.  But why would the Khazars warn us of their coming?  Perhaps to give us time to prepare to attack them?  It makes no sense.”

“What should we do?”

“I had my best language experts stationed at the steppe forts to learn their language as they passed out supplies.  And we even managed to embed a few guides that rode along with the horde between forts to learn as much about them as possible.  They speak a form of Oghuz Turk that no one has heard before.  They are following the path of the Magyar horde that migrated through here in King Frodi’s time.  They may have learned how well the Magyars are doing on their Dzungarian plain west of us and they seek to emulate them.  I think they mean to settle here on this plain south of the Dnieper.”

“That will impact the Dan’Way!” Prince Ivar shouted.  “We have to attack them!”

“We have to see how great this horde actually is first.  I’ve always known this plain wasn’t going to sit idle forever.  We’re lucky it has been left empty as long as it has.  The Avars have been gone a long time.  We may have to work with them.  Use them against the Romans, the Bulgars, even the Khazars themselves.  This plain won’t stay empty forever and if we can work with these people we should and if we can’t, we shall drive them back or further west.  But let’s see if we can work with them first.  If we destroy them and another horde follows, the new group may be worse.  The future horde I saw in my dreams were nothing but rapists and murderers and nobody will be able to work with them.  They shall subjugate all great empires that lay before them at the cost of millions of lives and shall only be stopped by their own inherent evil.”

Ivar shook his head in disbelief.  “That is why we call you ‘The Prince’, father,” Ivar said.  “I shall follow your advice in this matter to the letter.  I sense great danger here and I think you are correct in that it emanates from the Khazars.”

“Thank you, as always.  We must handle this correctly or we shall pay dearly.”  Prince Erik dismounted from his stallion with a grace that belied his age.  The armies were setting up camp for the night and the Kievan forces would take over tailing the Pechenegs on the morrow while the Tmutorokan forces returned east to watch for a larger Pecheneg horde.  The evening overlap gave the two princes a chance to catch up on things.

“How did everything go in Sweden?” Erik asked, as they sat around a campfire between the two large command tents.

“King Halfdan sends greetings,” Ivar answered.  “We managed to quell the berserk attack he was under.  But I focked up,” he admitted.

“How so?”

“I drank too much after a minor victory we had against the berserks and I promised to pay the weight in gold for any berserks our champions killed.”

“That sounds like a lot of gold.”

“I know.  I don’t have that much, so I had to sneak into the berserks’ fortress and kill them all myself.  I know what you’ve told me about putting myself in harm’s way, but I did let down the fortress drawbridge and let my troops inside before I attacked them.”

“Never put yourself in harm’s way if you can avoid it!”

“Avoid it!” Prince Ivar echoed simultaneously.  “I know.  I know.  I’ll keep my big mouth shut henceforth.  But I did capture one of the berserks, a youth named Biorn, and he serves me now in Kiev.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Speaking of harm’s way, King Halfdan told me that King Bjorn of the Barrows named his son, King Erik, after you.  Only after you wrote him his drapa that saved your neck.  I knew that he had spared you, or I wouldn’t be here, but did he actually come to like you so much that he would name his son after you?”

“I know!” Erik exclaimed.  “I wrote Gunwar’s Song for your aunt after I learned of her death, then I recited it to him and he considered himself to be a bit of a skald and he wanted a drapa for himself, overnight.  So, I wrote him one and, just between you and me, it wasn’t my finest drapa, but he loved it.  He supported me in every way possible in my struggle against the Huns and we continued to support each other over the years until he died and King Erik took over.  Then Erik sent his brother, Prince Helgi to us and I set him up with a Hraes’ station in Chernigov and we’ve been allies of the Swedes ever since.  And now you’ve married his daughter, Princess Helga, and you have Princess Alfhild.  It’s the things that I don’t foresee that give me the greatest pleasure.”

“King Halfdan said that your writing of the drapa was a turning point in the north…that it brought the Norse together somehow.”

“It was,” Erik admitted.  “I didn’t know how I was going to put together a force large enough to avenge the death of Gunwar.  Your grandfather, King Frodi, had all but lost his mind over losing Queen Alfhild, I’m being polite here,” and Ivar nodded, “and I was just a prince trying to get kings to support me in a war against a Hun horde in a far-off land.  But King Bjorn reminded me of my duty and offered me his full support for the price of one drapa overnight and when I delivered he made good on all his promises and then some.  When word of the drapa story spread across the north, all kings were vying with each other in who could offer me the most support and King Bjorn welcomed their retinues and their armies to Sweden at great expense and then even King Frodi arrived in Sweden to help and he brought your mother and uncle with him.  Your mother told me she became infatuated with me as everyone rallied about me to avenge her Aunt Gunwar.  And later, when Vadim the Brave drove her out of Novgorod, she joined me in Gardariki and I fell in love with her.  After I lost Princess Gunwar, I thought I would never fall in love again.  I was infatuated with your grandmother, Princess Alfhild, but then I met your aunt, Princess Gunwar, and I fell head over heels in love.  We were married and King Frodi married Alfhild and your mother was their greatest achievement.  When I met your mother, she was a combination of the best of both Alfhild and Gunwar, the only two women I had ever loved, so what were my chances of my eluding a third greatest love?”

“All that from a drapa!”

“And how did you meet Princess Helga?  Was it love at first sight?”

“It was actually.  I was leading a force into Chernigov and one of my lieutenants saw her walking down the boardwalk and he pointed her out to me and said she was a royal princess of Sweden.  And I looked at her walking and she was so beautiful I almost fell off my horse.  Seriously…I craned around so hard watching her as we went by each other that my saddle slipped a bit and I almost took a tumble.  She is the love of my life and I don’t think I’ll live as long as you to have three such loves.”

The next morning Prince Ivar brought up the matter of King Hiarn of Denmark with his father.  “I told mother she was Princess Eyfura again,” Prince Ivar added.

“And how did Queen Eyfura take that?” Prince Erik asked.

“She was not happy,” Ivar said.  “Not happy at all.”

“We’ll have to see what we can do about that.  It seems to put more importance on how we handle the Pechenegs.  If we can work with them, it will free us up to deal with your Danish subjects.”

By noon, the camps broke up and the armies headed their respective ways, one west following the Pecheneg horde and one east, watching for another.  As the Tmutorokan Hraes’ retraced their steps east through their steppe forts, Prince Erik gathered up his linguistic experts and they all conversed in Pecheneg as they progressed back across the steppe.  By the time they reached the Don Heath, Prince Erik was getting a feel for the language and was shouting out orders in Pecheneg as he organized the restocking of the steppe forts for the larger horde he was expecting.  A few days later, Queen Silkisif arrived on the heath in a royal carriage with a caravan of supplies and toys in tow and announced to her father-in-law that a larger Pecheneg horde had been spotted by scouts and this horde had plenty of young children running about the carts and wains of the women. 

“This is the horde we shall intercept,” Prince Erik said in Pecheneg to the widow of his son Arrow Oddi.

“What?” Queen Silkisif replied.  “Is that Pecheneg?”

“All of my officers have been learning it.  I said this is the horde we shall intercept and introduce ourselves to.  I’m glad you brought toys with you,” Erik said, admiring the carved horse and rider Silkisif pushed into his hands.  “If the mothers and children approve of us, half the battle is won.”

“How did young Prince Ivar handle himself?” the queen asked.

“He is learning,” Erik answered.

“He wanted to attack the scout army, didn’t he,” Silkisif stated, a worried look on her beautiful face.

“Like I said, he is learning.”

When the main horde arrived on the Don Heath one warm afternoon, Prince Erik, surrounded by his officers, rode out to meet and welcome the Pechenegs in their own language.  The migrants halted there and began setting up their camp, and supply wagons came out from behind the Hraes’ army and food and water was offered.  Queen Silkisif rode out with her carriages of toys and in short time they ran out of gifts for the children.

“How many are there?” she asked Erik, as she prepared to return to Tmutorokan. 

“There were about twenty thousand in the advance group,” Erik estimated, “and this main horde is about four times as big, so…a hundred thousand, give or take a few.

“And twenty thousand or so would be children,” Silkisif said.  “I’m going to need more toys.”

Erik could see that the sheer numbers were overwhelming his foster-daughter.  “Go to Gardariki and help yourself to the Hraes’ warehouse there.  We received a big shipment from Cathay and it includes toys and kites and sky lanterns.  Also, I had some Raven banners made up in silk, and I may have a new use for the ones with a gold background, so bring them all as well.  This was a great idea you had, we just need more.  Much more.”

Queen Silkisif led her carriage caravan south to Gardariki while Prince Erik rode north for a feast at the main Pecheneg camp.  There he was to meet with the Pecheneg Kagans, for there were eight Pecheneg tribes in this migration with the same number of great princes or kagans.  The tribes were these: the name of the first tribe was Yavdi-Erdem of the shining gold horses under Kagan Baitzas; second was Kuerci-Cur of the bluish horses under Kagan Kouel; third was Qabugsin-Yula of the bark hued horses under Kagan Kourkoutai; fourth was Suru-Kul-Bey of the silver-grey horses under Kagan Ipaos; fifth, Qara-Bey of the Scythian horse under Kagan Kaidoum; sixth, Boru-Tolmac of grey horses under Kagan-Bek Kostas; seventh, Yazi-Qapan of the dark brown horse under Kagan Giazis; eighth, Bula-Copan with piebald horses under Kagan-Bek Batas.  After Prince Erik was introduced to the Pecheneg leaders he introduced himself as Kagan-Bek Erik Bragi of the Hraes’ in the Pecheneg language.  When one of the princes asked him where the Hraes’ Kagan was, Erik told him that their great kagan had died and his grandson, Kagan Ivar, was being trained to replace him.  The princes all laughed and repeated, ‘a kagan in training,’ and they all laughed some more as they entered the huge yurt of Kagan Baitzas and began their feast.

At first, discussions were quite reserved but, as the mead flowed, Erik was able to learn that the Khazars had brokered a deal whereby the Pechenegs were to support the Romans as light cavalry in an upcoming war on the Balkan Bulgars in exchange for land grants in the conquered Bulgaria.  The Pechenegs were looking to emulate the Magyar success on their Dzungarian plains.  And the Khazars had attempted to double up their own benefits by not telling the Hraes’ the vast size of the Pecheneg horde in the hopes the Hraes’ would attack the smaller Pecheneg scout army.

Kagan Baitzas had noticed the Scythian Raven on red background banner of the Hraes’ standards and said: “If the Raven is your sky spirit then I know we shall get along, for the Magpie is our bird and they always get on together.”

It took Erik and a few of his officers a bit of discussion about what had been said in Pecheneg and then the Prince had eight Raven banners brought in and presented one to each Pecheneg prince.  One of Prince Erik’s officers then went out to his horse and pulled a jar of signal paint out of a saddle bag and showed the Kagan how easily a Scythian raven could be turned into a Magpie with a few dabs of white paint in the right places.  He immediately had a line of Kagans and Kagan-Beks all wanting their Ravens painted into Magpies.  The Pechenegs were unfamiliar with heraldry but were quick to appreciate the art form.

The next day the Pechenegs were packing up their camp and moving on as Prince Erik began organizing the re-provisioning of the steppe forts to assist them in their migration.  His legion of cataphracts and legion of foot-soldiers continued tailing the migrating horde under the command of a Goth general, the son of Yggerus, but Erik headed back to Gardariki to see how his daughter-in-law was coming along with her toys.  He met up with her carriage caravan a day’s ride out of Gardariki.

“Did you find everything you needed at our Hraes’ warehouse?” he asked her.

“That and more,” she answered.  “I took the liberty of getting silk dresses for the wives of the Kagans and implements to help all the wives in their migration.”

“Excellent,” Erik stated.  “I thought as much when I saw that your carriage train had doubled in length.”  Prince Erik had his retinue set up camp and make lunch for the train drivers.  “I’d like you to return to Gardariki with me,” he told the queen as he went through the Raven Banner standards she had brought him.  He gave all the one hundred gold background standards to one of his officers and asked, “If you ride in one of these carriages, can you turn these ravens into magpies before you reach the Dnieper?”

“No problem,” the lieutenant replied.

“Good,” Erik said, turning to Silkisif.  “Now we just have to make seven hundred more in different background colours and we’ll present each tribe with Magpie Banner standards in their own clan colours.”  Prince Erik and Queen Silkisif rode back to Gardariki in her royal carriage and he told her about his conversation in Pecheneg with the Kagans about Prince Ivar being a kagan in training.  “They found it quite amusing,” he told her.  “But I think he is being trained by his mother, and that may not be enough.”

“How so?” Silkisif asked curiously.

“She is a royal, just like her father!” Erik exclaimed.  “She is a ‘my blood is blue even though it is red’ royal who believes she is above all others and others are above the slaves they own.

“I’m a royal,” Silkisif said, “and I don’t believe that”.

“But you are half Slav, just like me, and Slavs will always be against slavery.  She is a royal who depends upon slavery.  Her free subjects can take the lives of their slaves without consequence, just as she can take the lives of her subjects as she sees fit.  Without slavery, her subjects would not stand for such a social contract.”

“But you’ve said yourself that slavery will end when the time is right,” Silkisif reminded her foster-father.  “Has something changed?”

“I had a dream about my brother, Duke Rollo, when I was in Kiev.  He has become a royal once more, and from him shall arise a great line of Norman kings and one grandson shall conquer the Saxons of Angleland and he shall lord over them as a true king and make slaves of them all and he shall take their lands and property for himself and he shall rent vast tracts of his new land to his Norman lords and the Angles and Saxons shall spend the next thousand years buying back their lands from their Norman overlords one small parcel at a time.  And even after they have bought it all back and can elect their own Anglo Saxon leaders, anything they do must first be approved by a Norman House of Lords.”

“That is such a sad dream,” Silkisif said.  “But at least they do find freedom.”

“Do they find freedom?” Erik asked.  “Or do they just find slavery in a newer subtler form?”

“Well at least that place is far from here,” Silkisif said, looking out a carriage window.

“Not far enough,” Erik responded.  “When the Normans conquer Angleland all the freedom loving warriors of the Angles and Saxons will be joining us here, joining the Varangian Guard with our Danes and Swedes in Constantinople, or joining us here in Tmutorokan.”

“Thank the gods you have dreamed of a future Tmutorokan,” Silkisif cried.  “With all these Pechenegs hordes roaming about, I was beginning to worry.”

Erik took Silkisif under his arm and she leaned against him and slept all the way back to Gardariki.  “We shall never get off this rock,” he thought and he wondered from where that thought had come…what dream…what vision.

The Pechenegs continued on their western migration and made their way to the Danube River.  The war between the Romans and the Bulgars had already begun and Tzar Symeon and his Bulgar forces had already subjugated Thrace.  Kagan Baitzas led his Pechenegs to Adrianople where they found their Roman employers fighting among themselves over strategies and priorities.  “These are not serious people,” the Kagan told the other Kagans and Kagan-Beks.  “I can’t see them winning a war together.”  So, the Pechenegs started a trek back east.  When the Bulgars came to blows with the Romans, the Romans were cut to pieces in a disastrous battle and Adrianople fell.

Word of the Roman defeat arrived quickly by sea at Cherson, the Greek city on the Crimean peninsula, and from there it spread to Tmutorokan and Gardariki.  The Romans blamed their defeat on the Pechenegs who abandoned them and returned east, so Prince Erik knew they would not be settling in Bulgaria anytime soon, which would likely be bad for the Hraes’ trade routes.  He equipped his army for war and they sailed across the Sea of Azov and marched to the Dnieper Heath.  There they watched from a hilltop as, miles away, Prince Ivar and his Kievan legions engaged in a battle with a large Pecheneg force and from the Scythian and white colour of their horses, it looked to be the Bula Copan tribe of the piebald horse.

Prince Ivar’s cavalry would move out from the center of his hollow square of foot soldiers and clash with the Pecheneg horse and the Pechenegs would retreat, shooting their bows as they did, then they would turn and attack again then retreat, slowly drawing the Hraes’ cavalry further away from the security of their hollow square of foot soldiers.  Prince Erik couldn’t make out his son, but he could see the Raven Banner standards he was riding under.  A small party of Pecheneg horse came riding towards Prince Erik and his army and they were the golden horse of the Yavdi-Erdem and Kagan Baitzas rode with them.  Erik gathered an equal number of officers about himself and they rode out to meet him.

“We came to observe your Kagan in training,” Kagan Baitzas shouted in Pecheneg.

“He is being drawn away from his main force,” Kagan-Bek Erik shouted back in like tongue.

“He will learn,” Baitzas said, riding up.  “The Bula Copan are learning as well.”

“How did this start?” Erik asked.

“The Romans lost their war,” Baitzas shrugged.

“They claim it was because you abandoned them.”

“The Romans were fighting amongst each other before we arrived.  It was, how do you Rhos say it, ‘focked up’ long before we got there.”

They watched the Bula Copan of the piebald horse bait the Kievan Hraes’ cavalry further away from their hollow square.  The Pechenegs would take a beating when they attacked the Hraes’, but would inflict casualties with their bows while retreating again.

“We were returning east when the young ‘Kagan in training’ attacked our lead force, of the Bula Copan.”  When Kagan Baitzas had judged that the Hraes’ cavalry was far enough away from their foot soldiers, he signaled for his men to begin waving the golden Magpie standards that Erik had sent them.  Over a distant hill rode the Yavdi-Erdem of the golden horse horde and they charged across the valley between the Hraes cavalry and their square of foot soldiers and took a position atop a hill while another horde took a position atop the hill the Erdem had just vacated.  Prince Ivar halted his attack on the Bula Copan and began a cautious retreat along the valley floor between the two hilltop hordes and rejoined the hollow square of foot soldiers.

“Now the Bula Copan know how to set a trap,” Kagan Baitzas began, “and your young ‘Kagan in training’ has learned how to avoid being caught up in one.  Thank you for the banners by the way.”

“I have more for you,” Erik offered, as he waved some wagons forward from his baggage train.  “We have colour banners for each of your tribes.  And gifts for you and your people.”

CHAPTER SIX

6.0  THE CREATION OF IVAR THE BONELESS  (Circa 916 AD)

“Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’, so I researched Ivar the Boneless.  It was said in

the Sagas that he had no bones in his legs.  Then I researched Prince

Igor of Kiev, hoping to find a similar nickname, but I could find none.

‘Show me,’ I pleaded with Erik.  ‘Show me.’  He came to me in a

dream again and repeated ‘Ivar the Boneless IS Prince Igor of Kiev.’

So I researched further and read of Emperor John Tzimiskes telling Ivar’s

son Svein what had happened to his father:  ‘on his campaign against the

Germans, he was captured by them, tied to tree trunks, and torn in two.’

But Prince Erik said, ‘Prince Igor of Kiev IS Ivar the Boneless.’  Perhaps

he did not die from the trap.  But even if he did, he still would have been

called ‘the Boneless’ post-mortem anyway.  It was the Viking way.”

Comment on:  ‘The History of Leo ‘the Deacon’  as read by B H Seibert

Prince Ivar (Igor) Collecting Tribute from the Drevjane by K Lebedev

(916 AD)  Prince Ivar and Princess Helga had overwintered some in Tmutorokan, Prince Ivar to train under his father in the art of war, and Princess Helga to get out of the ice-house that was Kiev in winter.

“I can’t believe you married a Swedish girl,” Erik started.  “That must have made your Danish mother happy.”

“I’m still paying for that,” Ivar replied, then changed the subject.  “I want to lead an army to recapture all of King Frodi’s lands and titles.  When Princess Hervor went to Denmark to recover her father’s sword, your Tyrfingr, mother told me she did not dare to stay in the longhall of her great grandfather.  She feared for her life from the men who ruled there; they were no relatives of ours.  And the Saxons in Britain rule over King Frodi’s Jute Lands there, and the Dane Law, and Anglish Northumbria.  The lands we Danes conquered in Britain long before the Saxons even arrived there are now in the hands of those German interlopers.  I want to win them all back for us.”

Erik noticed the emphasis that Ivar had placed on ‘Princess’ Hervor and he wondered if Eyfura had told him anything about his birth.  Or if there was something else between them.  “Is there any particular reason that you would want to risk everything in a war with Denmark?”

“Our position is too precarious here.  Mother antagonizes the Slavs with her re-establishment of slavery.  We need control of our northern realms as well as our eastern.  We can draw troops from the north to quell rebellions in the east and vice versa.”

Erik liked how Ivar’s mind worked.  He had spent his summers in Tmutorokhan, between the spring and fall trading seasons, studying under some of the finest scholars and alchemists of Asia and now he was back, learning not from those who taught, but from those who did.  “I think you have a good plan.  Even Norway and Sweden must be brought under our influence.  Duke Rollo lost control over his realm in Norway and now they are traversing the Nor’Way and plundering the Caspian.  We shall do this together, son…you and I.”

“How many troops can you raise?” Ivar asked.

“Ten thousand Tmutorokhan Hraes’, five thousand Khazars and Huns and

five thousand or so Oster and Vaster Goths.”

“Twenty thousand,” Ivar calculated.  “I have ten thousand Kievan Hraes’, five thousand Novgorods, I can get two thousand Varangian cavalry from the Byzantines, plus Poljane, Drevjane and Radimichi auxiliaries….another twenty thousand or so.”

“Forty thousand men for about two years?” Erik estimated.  “That will take a lot of gold.”

“I’ll have to collect tribute over winter and then again in the spring,” Ivar stated.  “The Slavs will not be happy.”

“I have gold enough to finance the campaign,” Erik offered.

“That’s Nor’Way gold.  The Dan’Way must pay its share.”

Erik noted that his son was calling the Southern Way the Dan’Way.  That was King Frodi’s terminology, names generated as Frodi became more distanced from the Norwegians and Swedes that had surrounded him.  And the Dnieper was the Danepar and Novgorod was Holmgard.  Everything was again acquiring a Danish moniker.  No doubt Princess Eyfura was behind it.  She had pronounced herself Queen of Kiev and Holmgard and had begun reviving King Frodi’s royal house and lineage.  But Erik didn’t mind as long as she continued to spend her summers in Tmutorokhan with their son.  Summers were becoming the most beautiful part of all their lives.

Prince Ivar was back in Kiev for a bit and set out to collect tribute from the surrounding Slav provinces to finance his war.  He spent the winter collecting furs and slaves, the Fenja and the Menja of the Southern Way trade, for the spring trading season and, once that was all set up, he went out in the spring to collect a second round of tribute to support the upcoming campaign, warriors and gold from the Slav cities of Chernigov, Smolensk, Surazh and Polotsk.

Outside of Chernigov, Prince Ivar and his troops were confronted by a contingent of Drevjane warriors.  They had heard about the second round of tribute and had decided to fight rather than pay.  Ambushing the Kievan Hraes’ from the woods on either side of a forest road leading into the town, they used their bows to take down the vanguard and rear guard cavalrymen, then surrounded the main body and forced them to surrender at spear point.  They tore Prince Ivar from his horse and dragged him to the woods edge, where they had bent over and staked down two birch trees, and they tied Ivar’s feet to the birches and threatened to slip the knots of the stake ropes unless Prince Ivar withdrew his orders for a second round of tribute.  Ivar 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.  All parties were coming to an agreement, when one of the knots in the stake ropes let loose and one birch sprang free of the ground and tore one foot and shin bone from the prince.  The force of the jolt tore the other stake free and that birch sprang up and, almost simultaneously, tore the shin bone out of his other leg.  The chain-mail hauberk the prince was wearing went down to his knees and protected his thighs, but both his legs below the knees were torn off and were flung out into the surrounding woods.  Prince Ivar Scythianed out from the pain and the Drevjane warriors fled in panic, thinking they had killed their prince.  There was a medical alchemist in the main body of the Hraes’ troops and he came forward and began to work on the prince, twisting nooses tightly around Ivar’s quads and administering opium to keep the prince from going into shock.  The men lashed two shields to a pair of long lances and they laid their prince on the shields and transported Prince Ivar between four horses to Chernigov and into the Hraes’ palace in the town square.

Two days later, Queen Eyfura and Princess Helga arrived in Chernigov at the head of a thousand Hraes’ cavalry, riding in carriages with more medical alchemists and medicinal supplies.  They transported their prince back to Kiev, where he regained consciousness and began to stabilize.

Two weeks later, Prince Erik arrived in Kiev with the head of the Medical Alchemists’ Guild from Tmutorokhan to assist in the prince’s recovery.

“I told you our position was precarious,” Prince Ivar told his father, weakly, as he laid in bed.

“I know,” the elder prince whispered, as he hugged his son.  “The Slavs have all sent in their second tributes out of fear.  I shall lead your forces in your stead, my son.”

“You lead your own forces,” Ivar said.  “I’m still leading mine.”

“You can’t possibly go on campaign in this condition,” Erik said.

“Watch me,” Ivar declared.  “I’m young.  I’ll heal fast.  I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.

“I made Helga responsible for determining what the punishment should be for her Drevjane people,” Ivar started, despondently, “and she had the revolt ringleaders flogged.  They did this to her husband and she had them flogged?”

“There were claims it was an accident, but there will be an althing and a proper judgement will be passed” Erik said.  “There will undoubtedly be harsher punishments, given the gravity of your condition.”

“If you hadn’t embedded your medical alchemists into our Hraes’ forces, I’d be dead.  I’d be talking to you like Grandmother Alfhild.  Has she come to haunt you yet?”

“No,” Erik laughed.  “Perhaps she has found peace.”

“That would be good….because we are going to find war.  Go back to Tmutorokhan and rally your troops.  Bring them to Kiev in a month and we shall set sail for Denmark.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

7.0  RECLAIMING KING FRODI’S REALM  (Circa 917 AD)

After the death of Frode, the Danes wrongly supposed that Fridleif (Ivar), who was

being reared in Russia, had perished; and, thinking that the sovereignty halted

for lack of an heir, and that it could no longer be kept on in the hands of the royal

line, they considered that the sceptre would be best deserved by the man who

should affix to the yet fresh grave of Frode a song of praise in his glorification,

and commit the renown of the dead king to after ages by a splendid memorial.

Then one HIARN, very skilled in writing Danish poetry, wishing to give the fame

of the hero some notable record of words, and tempted by the enormous prize,

composed, after his own fashion, a barbarous stave.

      From Book Six of The Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus

King Frodi’s Ring Fortress near Liere

(917 AD)  It took Prince Ivar three months to get well enough to travel.  Prince Erik led their combined forces ahead of his son and established forts and supply caches.  The young prince followed with the two thousand Varangian Guard cataphracts he had rented from the Roman Emperor Constantine ‘the Seventh’ of Constantinople.  Their polished platemail armour glistened in the sun as they rode along the Mese, their smooth Greek helmets gleaming as the prince’s carriage was drawn amongst them.  They all boarded longships along the quays of the Golden Horn and the mercenaries waved goodbye to their young Roman wives.  They sailed directly north, across the Scythian Sea and on up the Dnieper, stopping a few days in Kiev while the Medical Alchemists checked out their prince and gave him two years’ worth of opiates while his mother and young wife begged him not to continue.

Prince Erik had already established a base on the Island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.  From there Erik and Ivar led half their men to Sweden to gain the promised support from King Halfdan, the grandson of King Bjorn of the Barrows, the king who had spared Erik his head for a drapa in his name.  They returned to Gotland Isle with five thousand of Sweden’s finest in tow.  Bypassing the island of Oland, their fleet landed in Oster Gotland and soon gained tribute from both the Oster and Vaster Goths.  For the Tmutorokan Goths, both the Greutunga Eastern Goths and the Therving Western Goths, it had been over four hundred years since their forefathers had left these Gotland shores, when global cooling had caused vast crop failures, and they went off in search of better prospects near warmer Roman lands.  For some, it was a great reunion, for others who had let their family histories slip away, it was not.  But the total Gothic forces augmenting the Hraes’ army doubled in size to ten thousand.

Sailing around the southern tip of Gotland, the Hraes’ army landed on the shores of Skane, and Erik was reminded of Arngrim’s combat with Skalk the Skanian, so many decades before.  While the Skanians provided their share of tribute and troops, it was the stream of Norwegian ships, contributions of chieftains to their fellow Norwegian, Erik, that took the army to over sixty thousand men in size.

After the death of King Frodi, the Danes heard that his son, King Alf, who was being reared in Russia, had perished; and, thinking that the sovereignty halted for lack of an heir, and that it could no longer be kept on in the hands of the royal line, they considered that the sceptre would be best deserved by the man who should affix to the grave of Frodi a song of praise in his glorification, and commit the renown of the dead king to later ages by a splendid memorial.  Then one Hiarn, very skilled in writing Danish poetry, wishing to give the fame of the hero some notable record of words, and tempted by the enormous prize, composed, after his own fashion, a barbarous stave.  Its purport, expressed in four lines, transcribed as follows:

“Frodi, whom the Danes                 would have wished to live long,

  they bore long through                  their lands when he was dead.

The great chief’s body,                  with this turf heaped above it,

  bare earth covers under                the lucid sky.”

When the composer of this song had uttered it, the Danes rewarded him with the crown.  Thus they gave a kingdom for an epitaph, and the weight of a whole empire was presented to a churl as giant payment for dwarf poesy.

Now the Danes had long ago had tidings of Frodi’s son’s death, and when they found that his grandson was approaching Denmark with his army, they sent men to fetch him, and ordered Hiarn to quit the sovereignty, because he was thought to be holding it only on sufferance and carelessly.  But he could not bring himself to resign such an honour, and chose sooner to spend his life for glory than pass into the dim lot of common men.  Therefore he resolved to fight for his present estate, that he might not have to resume his former one stripped of royal honours.  Thus the land was estranged and vexed with the hasty commotion of civil strife.

Prince Ivar told the envoys of the Danes to return to Liere and request Hiarn either to resign the kingdom or meet him in battle.  Hiarn thought it more grievous than death to set lust of life before honour, and to seek safety at the cost of glory, so he agreed to meet Prince Ivar on the field of battle.

Reports came back to the harbour town that serviced Liere that Hiarn had only been able to raise an army of five or six thousand men.  “If we take all our men,” Prince Erik told his son, “Hiarn will flee for sure.  But it could be a trap.”

“I’ll only use my Hraes’ troops,” Prince Ivar offered.  “That’s ten thousand men.”

“I’ll follow at a distance with our Varangian cataphracts.  If it is a trap, two thousand knights, death on hooves, will unspring it pretty fast.  The rest of our forces can wait here and stand ready.”

Prince Erik did not like the plan they had concocted.  He had wanted to accompany his son into his first battle, not ride with the cavalry.  He had devised a battle platform from which his son had been training to fight on, and he wanted to be there to see how well it worked.  First Erik had given his son the shield, the ‘Hraes’ Ship’s Round’, that his father, Ragnar Lothbrok had given him, and he put a steel ring around it with four equally spaced iron handles.  Then they got the four biggest and strongest soldiers in the Hraes’ army to carry it in full armour, each of them with a gloved hand on the shield platform and a shield in their own defence held in the other hand and on each of these defensive shields was riveted, inside the shield boss, a deadly spear for offensive use instead of a wooden handle.  Prince Ivar wore King Frodi’s chainmail and gold trimmed battle helmet,  Prince Oddi’s Roman plate-mail shirt and carried the famed sword, Tyrfingr, that Hervor had given him.  Erik called the battle platform Sleipnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, and Prince Ivar planned to have it front and center in the Hraes’ shield wall.  Training had shown the platform to be effective, but Ivar couldn’t train with Tyrfingr unsheathed because the blade was just too dangerous.

Prince Ivar and his four armoured carriers rode into battle in his carriage and dismounted from it as a unit so the Danes never really could figure out what they faced.  Hiarn had already set out hazel poles for the battle so Sleipnir was front and center in the Hraes’ shield wall.  When the Hraes’ and the Dane foot-soldiers charged each other, the battle platform was right in line with the Danish vanguard that surrounded Hiarn, the flower of his Danish troops and when Sleipnir collided with the vanguard’s shield wall, Prince Ivar began hacking with Tyrfingr and shields were shredding in front of him and the blade was wreaking havoc on the men behind them.  A panic set upon the vanguard as they staggered back from the blows and the rest of the Hraes’ shield wall pressed forward trying the keep up with the platform.  Tyrfingr shone like a beacon and began to whine as it tore through helmets and chainmail.  Hiarn sat upon a great white horse and watched the battle platform as it turned red with spurting blood and he saw Prince Ivar’s purple face at his horseback level with a crazed berserker rage on his countenance as he worked Sleipnir towards the white horse and Hiarn turned his steed and bolted.  Sleipnir was propelling itself so fast through the Danish ranks that only the nearest shield wall troopers could keep up by following in the wake of blood and the Hraes’ formation took on the shape of a wedge that seemed more like a ploughshare that furrowed over the Danish ranks and the army was crushed completely.  Only Hiarn on his horse managed to escape.

Prince Erik and his son Ivar rode west past the field of battle to the fortress King Frodi had built himself decades earlier, a circular fortress patterned after Eastern Roman outposts upon the great Asian steppe.  Frodi’s fortress 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 outer trench extending beyond its base.  The dilapidated earthen work was pierced by four gateways in the four directions, the continuous palisade vaulting over these, with massive double gates blocking the openings.  The eastern gates were swung open and Danish soldiers welcomed the victorious Hraes’ army through them.  Zealand’s two main roads intersected within Frodi’s fortress, dividing the interior into four equal quadrants.  Inside the fortress, the crossroads were paved with logs, and there was another dirt road running around the inside of the embankment.  All four quadrants were developed with various groupings of rundown longhalls sorely in need of work, but the palace of King Frodi, on the north-east quadrant, seemed to be in reasonable condition.  Prince Erik saw Gunwar’s old longhall just across the road from it and memories came flooding back.  Prince Ivar’s carriage stopped at the front steps of Frodi’s longhall and Erik passed Hraes’ Ship’s Round to the four giants who had carried Ivar into battle and they now carried Prince Ivar into his grandfather’s longhall.

“Where has Hiarn fled?” Prince Ivar demanded as two courtiers directed the giants toward the highseats.

Erik surveyed the longhall.  It was much the same as he remembered it and was still dark and sinister, with light coming mainly from the smoke-holes in the roof and from candles mounted on the walls and pillars.  Three long hearths ran down the centre of the near end of the hall with twelve benches on either side, the centre of the hall was open with a set of triple high seats on either wall and a further three hearths and twenty-four benches made up the far end of the room.  Beyond that was a hallway that Erik knew led to the bedchambers and, at the very back, a scullery.  As their men began hanging up weapons and outer garments on pegs at the entrance wall, a Danish official stepped out of the shadows and welcomed Prince Ivar and his father.

“He has fled to Jutland,” the minister answered, “no doubt to raise another army and repeat his disaster of this morning.  Your Danish subjects have called for his abdication but he has not yet accepted his fate.”

“His fate will be death when I find him in Jutland,” the young Prince stated.

“We have prepared a great banquet in your honour,” the minister started, and he clapped his hands and lute players began playing from the back of the hall and young Danish women, all blonde and beautiful, began serving ale in horns and cups.  Erik gave subtle orders to the four men who protected the young prince to drink half his ale before allowing him access to it and to eat half his food.  They protected their prince as quietly as they could and at evening’s end they carried their prince and two young Danish beauties on the shield into the chamber of King Frodi.

The Danish minister approached Prince Erik on the highseat and said: “I noticed your men were tasting the young prince’s food and drink.  That is good.  Unnecessary, but good.”

“I shall determine what is necessary and what is not,” Erik replied.

“Yes, of course.  But we are not your enemy.  Most Danes acknowledge that the son of Princess Eyfura is the legitimate king of Denmark.  Very few Danes still support Hiarn and, unsurprisingly, it is only the Danes who shall profit from retaining Hiarn as a king.”

“Yes,” Erik agreed.  “It is a flaw we humans possess as a species, that we believe in anything that is to our financial advantage.  Please…join me on the highseat and tell me more about what Danes believe.  You’re called Galen, I believe.”

“Thank you , Prince,” Galen responded.  “Galen Gerhardson.”

The two men talked late into the evening and Galen finally felt trusted enough to ask one question.  To ask the one question which Denmark was begging to have answered.

“How did the young prince lose his legs?”

“In the land of the Hraes’,” Erik started, “we fight many shield wall battles and, in the tight confines of the shield wall, edged weapons play havoc upon human limbs.  Hands are hacked, arms are axed and legs are lost but we can’t afford to lose warriors because of lost limbs, so we have medical alchemists embedded into our military units.  When King Ivar lost his lower legs in an attack, medics were able to save his life and he has lived to fight again.  In Hraes’ we have whole fighting units of warriors who have lost limbs and have been saved and retrained to fight again.  Some retrained warriors reach their prior level of effectiveness and some do not.  In King Ivar’s case he has doubled his prior prowess.”

While Prince Erik’s explanation did not elaborate on the type of attack Prince Ivar had lost his legs in, it did explain how the young prince had survived it.  When Prince Ivar was asked what happened to his legs by the two Danish beauties that had accompanied him to his bed chamber, he was not nearly as discreet in his explanation of events.  He concluded it by saying, “It was a hard knot that had slipped and cost me my legs”.  Word went around Liere the next day on how their future king had lost his legs and the people called him King Harde Knute or Hard Knot.  The next day all of Denmark knew him as King Harde Knute.

Two days later, Prince Ivar was crowned King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Eyfurason of Denmark, grandson of King Frodi, great grandson of King Fridleif of the ‘Old’ Line of Skioldung Kings.

A week later, Prince Erik received news of Hiarn’s location on Jutland from his property managers of his land holdings on that peninsula.  King Frodi had long ago awarded Erik some farms and steads and to the people there he was known as Rorik of Jutland.  The Danes of Jutland had come a lot closer to pronouncing his Hraes’ name of Hraerik correctly than the Danes of Zealand had during the coronation of his son.  King Ivar led a force of ten thousand of his Kievan Hraes’ foot soldiers and Prince Erik brought his legion of Tmutorokan cataphracts and they went to Jutland and made short work of another five thousand man army that Hiarn had fielded from a distance, for when the outnumbered Danes quickly surrendered it was found that Hiarn had not followed his men out onto the field of battle and had slinked off to hide on an island called Hiarno after him.

When King Harde Knute returned to his fortress outside the royal city of Liere, the Danish people began to call for the marriage of their king, hoping to prolong his lineage by his marrying one of the Danish beauties he was wont to sleep with.  But King Ivar looked about himself and told his father that they had gone to much trouble and expense to bring a large army west and had really put it to very little use.

“If I am going to marry here, I want to make it a strategic alliance.  Two years ago, I helped King Halfdan conquer twelve Norwegian Berserk brothers that were attacking him.  Now I would like to use our large and expensive army to conquer Norway itself and if things go well we can tackle Angleland, starting in Northumbria.  Then I would like to find a worthy princess from either land, and make an alliance.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

8.0  KING HARDE KNUTE OF DENMARK  (Circa 918 AD)

Yet it is you all who put our prince in this Roman execution device called, what is it?  Death by Sprung Trees,” he said, looking down at his notes scratched upon a birchbark pad.  “It is you who bent the birch trees and tied the slip knots and placed our prince into this device.  I have checked and found that none of you have training in executions of any form, not a simple beheading or hanging or even an archery squad, but you decided to put our prince in an execution device that should only be set by experts in execution.  By doing so, you placed our prince in grave danger of the device failing, therefore the slipped knot cannot be considered to have been a hard knot, an accident at all, but a direct result of your folly.”

Testimony at the Judicial Althing in Kiev against the ‘Chernigov Twenty’

King Harde Knute of Denmark

(918 AD)  Soon after King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Eyfurason was crowned ruler of Denmark, the Danes encouraged their lord to look for a suitable wife, in order to extend his illustrious line.  But Ivar claimed that an unmarried life was best, citing his grandfather, King Frode, as an example, whereby his first wife, Queen Hanund’s wantonness led to a war with the Huns in Gardar over which Ivar also lorded.  He didn’t bother mention King Frodi’s murder of his second wife, Queen Alfhild.  Still, his subjects clamoured for an heir and finally, yielding to the persistent entreaties of all, Ivar sent out ambassadors to ask for the daughter of Amund, King of Norway.  He sent emissaries to Northumbria as well, in search of a suitable princess with whom he might lord over the Anglish.

One of these ambassadors, named Frok, was swallowed by the waves in mid-voyage, and showed a strange portent at his death.  For when the closing flood of billows encompassed him, blood arose in the midst of the eddy, and the whole face of the sea was steeped with an alien redness, so that the ocean, which a moment before was foaming and white with tempest, was presently swollen with crimson waves, and was seen to wear a colour foreign to its nature.  King Amund implacably declined to consent to the wishes of Ivar, and treated the legates shamefully, declaring that he spurned the embassy because the tyranny of King Frodi of old had been borne so heavily by Norway.  And the northern land still bore the scars of the Great Army that Frode had unleashed upon it.  Fields still lay fallow from the terrible loss of life inflicted.

But Amund’s daughter, Lagertha, not only looking to the birth of Ivar, but also honouring the glory of his deeds, began to upbraid her father, because he scorned a son-in-law whose nobility was perfect, being both sufficient in valour and flawless in birth.  She added that the portentous aspect of the sea, when the waves were suddenly turned into blood, simply and solely signified the defeat of Norway, and was a plain presage of the victory of Denmark.  But when Fridleif sent a further embassy to ask for her, wishing to vanquish the refusal by persistency, Amund was indignant that a petition he had already denied should be further pressed, and he had the envoys harried to death, seeking to place a brutal check on the zeal of this brazen wooer.  When King Ivar heard news of this egregious outrage, he summoned King Halfdan’s aid, and they sailed for Norway.  King Amund called up his army and equipped his fleet and sallied forth to meet him.  The firth into which both fleets had mustered was called Frokasund.  The next day there was a great bloody battle fought partly by sea and partly on land and the outcome presaged by Lagertha came to be.  But when King Ivar established his rule over Norway, the princess saw that her suitor had no legs and refused to marry her new lord.

By the death of Amund, King Ivar was freed from a most bitter foe and obtained a deep and tranquil peace; whereupon he forced his savage temper to the service of delight and transformed his ardour into love, but still Lagertha would not marry him.

King Ivar set out with his fleet to seek a marriage which had been denied him.  He set forth on his voyage to Northumbria but, his father, Prince Erik had him stop at Hraegunarstead along the way.  The place of Prince Erik’s birth and upbringing was abandoned and deserted, but the farm of Jarl Ingjald, Berurjod, had been rebuilt by the former soldiers of Prince Arrow Odd  and was a large functioning community of farmers and their families.  Prince Erik took his son through the ruins of Hraegunarstead and then to the secret cave where Ragnar had hidden the Hraes’ Gold Hoard he had taken from the fire breathing dragonship of the Romans.

“I have learned from the Alchemists how to extract the ten percent copper that the emperor added to his gold to mark it as imperial property,” Erik told his son.  “Once we get the copper out, we can spend it anywhere safely.  If the Romans catch you spending the Red Gold of Byzantium, they will execute you.”

“Death by Sprung Trees?” Ivar asked, jokingly.

“That is a Roman technique,” he answered, “but far too fast.  More likely Crucifixion.  Or for gold as famous as this, perhaps Impalement.”

The Romans were the original fascists and had developed or borrowed many forms of execution over the years, but Prince Erik had always managed to avoid death at their hands.  He had forged revised instructions on a letter of execution the Roman Emperor had sent with his jailers to the Holy Roman emperor in Ingleheim, thinking a savage Viking could not possibly read, or perhaps hoping he could.  He held a grudging respect for Emperor Michael of Miklagard, the emperor who had taken the time to read the Tale of Brutus to his royal captive, or guest, as he called it, and he hoped that the later thought had been true.

“So why is this gold so famous?” Ivar asked.

“I’ve told you the story of how your grandfather, King Ragnar Lothbrok, stole the red gold hoard from the fire-breathing dragonship Fafnir many times.”

“Very many times,” Ivar acknowledged.  “But how did it get to be so famous?”

“When I was imprisoned in Ingleheim, a German skald came to visit me in my cell every day.  He wanted to learn the sagas of old.  The Christians converted the Germans at a very early time and they burned all the rune sticks and scrolls from pagan times.  All their ancient tales were lost and he wanted to learn our northern tales.  I told him the story of our Hraes’ Gold Hoard and he turned it into a Rhine Gold Hoard  and King Sigurd Fafnirsbane became King Sigbert and our Hrae Gunar became Gunnar.  I think the only name he got right was Fafnir.  When I was telling him the tales, he seemed to be writing them down in Latin, but after hearing the tales retold by other German skalds over the years, I’m not sure he could write that well.  So now we have an Anglish version of the German tale of the slaying of Fafnir and an Icelandic version of the Hraes’ tale and dozens of versions in between.  Worse yet, other tales and sagas and even Beowulf are being re-written with flying fire-breathing dragons appended to the ends of them.  It’s not necessarily the kind of fame the original skald, me, would like to see.

“The German skald was supposed to help me escape the dungeons of Ingleheim, but he did nothing.  He just showed up every day seeking more material until, finally, your Uncle, Duke Rollo…he was King Roller back then…sailed up the Elbe with two hundred ships and saved me.”

“Thank the gods for Uncle Rollo,” Ivar said.

“Let’s load up this gold and I’ll take it back to Tmutorokan and I’ll take the copper out of it and send your half to Kiev.”  Once they had loaded up Prince Erik’s flagship, the prince had another request for his king.  “I have more gold buried at Hrafnista,” he said.  “It’s a bit out of our way, but this gold is from Giantland, all stolen from giants and dwarves and Bjarmians.”

“That’s the best kind of gold!” Ivar exclaimed.  “My bride can wait a bit.”

Before they set sail for Hrafnista, Prince Erik asked for volunteers from among the Tmutorokan and Kievan Hraes’ to stay and rebuild Hraegunarstead in his father’s honour, using the model of Berurjod as King Arrow Odd had established, and a dragonship full of men and much gold was left behind there.

When they set sail north to Hrafnista in Halogaland, all Prince Erik’s relatives came out to welcome him and they gave him a great banquet to greet him with and they gave him a fortnight of feasting, just as they had when King Arrow Odd had visited them a few years before.  He introduced all his relatives to his son, King Ivar of Denmark, Ruler of the Hraes’ and head of the Hraes’ Trading Company and they invited him to stay and rule over the island but all knew he could not.  Prince Erik dug up all his Giantland gold and shared much of it with his kin, and gave half of it to Ivar, then they prepared the fleet for a journey to Angleland and battle.  The people of Hrafnista brought him fine gifts and gave him fine wishes and great auguries for his upcoming conquests.

Prince Erik and his son sailed in Erik’s flagship at the forefront of the fleet down the coast of the Nor’Way and then straight across the North Sea to Angleland and the Northumbrian coast.  The captains of the fleet were astounded at the accuracy of the course the Prince had led them on and they attributed it to the Alchemists’ devices he was using to gauge their position but Erik attributed it more to the fine summer weather they were sailing in.  They beached their ships just east of York and began a march inland, leaving a huge force to guard their vessels.  As they approached the city of York, a party of riders and a train of carriages came towards them from the city.  Prince Erik took an optical scope out of his saddlebag, looked through it and said, “I believe it’s Princess Blaeja and she is under the Raven Banner of the Hraes’ Trading Company.”

“Let me see,” said King Ivar, reaching out for the scope.  They were at the head of their two thousand Roman cataphracts with a full army behind them.  “It’s the Raven Banner alright.”

A group of cavalry officers broke away from the carriage train and galloped toward the Hraes’ forces.  “Princess Blaeja sends greetings,” one cavalry officer shouted from the group.  “She’ll be with you presently and suggests you set up your camp by the stream just ahead.”

“Tell the princess we shall do as she requests,” Prince Erik shouted and the officers rode off to rejoin the train.

Erik knew that his son Oddi had set Princess Blaeja up with a Hraes’ trading station in York, but she only controlled her own small corner of York which included Castle York, the Hraes’ Company Trading Station of York and a few surrounding streets and fields.  The rest he knew was controlled by various Northumbrian princes who were all allied with various southern Angle and Saxon kings.  And he knew and trusted only Blaeja.

“Welcome to Northumbria,” Princess Blaeja said as she stepped down from her royal carriage.  “We have a great welcoming banquet and royal reception set up for you.”

“You haven’t changed a bit, Princess Blaeja,” Prince Erik lied.  But she was still a fine looking woman, he thought as he introduced his son, King Ivar, to her.  Then Princess Blaeja introduced her daughter, Princess Hraegunhild, and her son, Prince Ragnar to their paternal grandfather, Prince Erik.  “King Arrow Odd was their father, gods rest his soul.”  Prince Erik could see some of Oddi and some of Blaeja in Hraegunhild, but Ragnar was all Oddi.

Princess Blaeja told Erik that the Saxon Princes of York had gathered up their armies and had fled into Umbria and likely would not be back to face an army of such size as the Hraes’ army.  When they entered the city of York, the Angles there were fearful of the Hraes’ and stayed in their homes as the Hraes’ guests were escorted to York Castle, which was also a Hraes’ Trading Company station, and a large one at that.  King Ivar stood aloof from his relatives until Hraegunhild started introducing her daughters and she introduced young Princess Blaeja who was blonde and very pretty and thirteen years of age.  He decided right there that he wanted Blaeja to be his new wife.

During the evening feasting, Princess Blaeja made sure she sat beside Prince Erik and after the meal she told him, “King Oddi told me that you dream of great kagans riding into Tmutorokan from the east with hordes of horsemen and they will all be killers and rapists and slavers.  Will they come here?”

“No.  They will not come here,” Erik answered.  “They will not manifest themselves in our lifetimes.”

“Oddi told me they wouldn’t come for hundreds of years, yet you are working on a plan to stop them.  How?  How will you stop these terrible hordes?”

“Oddi told me you are a member of the Alchemists’ Guild,” Erik stated.

“Yes.  The Medical Guild,” Blaeja replied.  “Not your Magi’s Guild and certainly not at your level.”

“So, if I told you that I have facilitated conversations between a Magi who died two thousand years ago and a future man of science who won’t be born for another thousand years, what would you say?”

“I would say I’m glad that I am not at your level.  I don’t know if I could handle that.”

“I can’t stop them but perhaps I can deflect them in the future a bit.  Deflect them and protect the people that I care about.”

“Will many people lose their lives?”

“Millions.  Many millions.  But not here.  In Khitai, in the far east.  I have forewarned the Alchemists in Cathay but I cannot help them.  They will have to come up with their own plan of action.”

“Oddi told me you plan to use your enemies, the Khazars to hold back these hordes.  He said you work with lesser evils for the greater good.”

“I can tell from what Oddi told you that he held you in great respect.”

Once York was secured, Prince Erik had an errand to run in Ireland, so he took part of the Hraes’ fleet and they sailed for Dub-Lin.  Prince Ivar remained in York to consolidate their gains while Erik took his Tmutorokhan Hraes’ troops west.  Word had come that Dub-Lin had fallen to the Irish and it was founded by Ragnar Lothbrok and his agent, Torgis, and was part of the Hraes’ Trading Company holdings.  So, a hundred and twenty longships descended on Dub-Lin and recaptured the town.

A quick search and Erik found Princess Olvor’s dilapidated mansion just as Oddi had described it, but much the worse for wear, and he knocked on the front door.  A young woman answered and Erik could make out a resemblance to Gunwar.

“You must be Hraegunhild,” Erik stated.  “I’m looking for Olvor.” 

“I am Hraegunhild,” the woman answered nervously as she watched the six armed Hraes’ troops that stood at attention behind the man, “but I’m afraid my mother has passed away.”

“Do you mind if I come in?  I have similar news about your father, Arrow Odd.  I am afraid that he has died.”

As Hraegunhild had not seen her father since she was a child, she took the news rather indifferently, but when Erik informed her that he was her grandfather, she warmed up to him somewhat.  She offered him some wine and Erik told her about Oddi`s death and they talked for hours.  Hraegunhild knew that she was named after Ragnar Lothbrok, but she thought that Ragnar was Oddi’s father, not his grandfather.  And she had no idea that Oddi’s birth name was Bjorn by his father and that he was named Helgi by his mother the day before she died in battle.

“Skalds are naming all my sons as being the sons of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,” Erik joked.  “Oddi, under the name Bjorn ‘Ironsides’ is called a son of Ragnar and my son, Ivar ‘the Boneless’ is another son of Ragnar.  And my name, Erik ‘Bragi’ Boddason is not a son of Ragnar, but my nickname, ‘Hvitserk’, because I wear white silk shirts, is a son of Ragnar.”  They both laughed.  “And the name Hraegunar, itself, is a misnomer because he was actually named Gunnar, but Hrae was added to his name because that is what he roared back at a fire-breathing dragonship that he was attacking.  And his first wife, Ladgerda, was with him at that time.  After they defeated Fafnir, the Greek fire-breathing Byzantine ship, and traversed the Nor’Way back from the east, they were blown off course on their way home and landed here on the shores of Ireland.  They spread much gold amongst the people here and they gave your grandfather, who was king in these parts, a Byzantine fire-officer’s plate-mail corselet before they left for home.  Your grandfather, in return, gave them the land here in Dub-Lin, meaning Dane Land, to establish a trading settlement.”

“The Irish here now say the land was taken,” Hraegunhild offered.

“It was given to King Ragnar by your grandmother.  Ragnar told me this directly.  The trading company that he established never traded in places they were not given land.  Even if the land consisted only of a clear meadow in which we could spread out our wares on hides, King Ragnar requested title to that meadow.  The famed Stavanger swords we sold, alone, would tempt our clients to give us land for our trading posts and settlements.  The silks, the spices, the red gold rings of Byzantium….we took lands from nobody.  In Frankia, many settlement lands were given to Ragnar and he maintained many trading settlements along the coast of Frisia, but when he destroyed that Byzantine fire-breathing dragonship and stole the famed Hraes’ gold, the Franks took the lands back.  The Byzantines were offering them a better deal on silks and spices to get back at us.  Ragnar sacked Paris just to get his titles and trading settlements back.  And seven thousand pounds of silver to teach them a lesson to boot.”

“And now that you have taken your town back,” Hraegunhild started, “what are your plans for Dub-Lin?”

“Why….she is yours now.  In the name of your grandmother and mother, I am giving you Dub-Lin back.  You are family and shall hold it as your part of the Hraes` Trading Company, the company that your great grandfather, Ragnar started.  And I have gold and silks and spices for you.  And many gifts from your relatives in Hrafnista.  Your father was a very wealthy man.  He ran a little trading settlement for us called Kiev.  His fleet attacked Constantinople, and not just once.  When your father died, people mourned him from Frankia to Baghdad.  Your father was the bravest, toughest man I have ever known, but he was also a good man who fought slavery and championed women.”

“Before I can accept this boon,” Hraegunhild confessed, “I must warn you that I am a Christian.”

Erik laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair.  “Your grandmother, Gunwar, was the first Hraes’ Christian.  She built the first Christian church in Tmutorokan.  The Hraes’ Trading Company is owned and operated by persons of many religions, of many colours and both genders.  Most of our clients are Christians.  That will not be a problem.”

  It took several weeks for Erik to get Hraegunhild set up as an agent of the Hraes’ Trading Company and there were many tears when he left.  The Irish did not like the Norse, but they always seemed to love the Hraes’.

CHAPTER NINE

9.0  THE BATTLE OF CORBRIDGE  (Circa 918 AD)

            “Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’.

                                                                                                Brian Howard Seibert

Viking Shield Wall by Jacob Andreassen

(918 AD) When Prince Erik got back to Northumbria, things had changed.  Prince Ivar had married young Princess Blaeja even though she was barely the age of majority.

“He raped her,” the elder Princess Blaeja told Erik.  “His men smuggled him into her bedroom and he raped her while his men guarded the door.  He used threats and promises to keep her quiet and he raped her another two nights before she finally told us what he was doing to her.”

“I’m very sorry this has happened,” Prince Erik apologized.  “He seems to take after his grandfather, King Frodi, a bit too much and he hasn’t handled rejection well.”

“He wasn’t rejected,” Princess Blaeja explained.  “King Ivar asked for her hand in marriage and Princess Hraegunhild agreed to the close match.  She only requested that the marriage take place at least after Princess Blaeja has reached the age of fourteen.  I think he preferred not to wait.”

“Again, I am very sorry this has happened.  I shouldn’t have left.  I take it Ivar has converted to Christianity?”

“Yes.  He converted willingly.  A little too willingly.”

“How is young Princess Blaeja?”

“She is frightened and confused and I think she may be pregnant.  She has accepted her fate and has moved into King Ivar’s chamber.  And the Saxon Princes of Northumbria have assembled a large army in Umbria and look ready to return.”

“And how do you feel about that?” Erik asked.

“You have my full support and the support of my family.  I loved Oddi and my children will always be his children, even young Princess Blaeja.  We are all Hraes’.  We are all Danes.  We are Angles from Jutland, not Saxons from Germany.”

“Thank you,” Prince Erik breathed and he hugged the young princess he had once refused to plunder.  “I still remember when Duke Rollo and I told Oddi that he had to plunder you.  I think he handled it well.”

“Oddi was a gentleman,” Blaeja stated in a way that implied Ivar was not.

“Oddi was a warrior and a gentleman,” Erik agreed.  “There will never be another Helgi Bjorn ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson.”  Then Prince Erik began to tell Princess Blaeja about his trip to Ireland.  Princess Blaeja had not heard that Queen Olvor had died.  But she was happy to hear that Erik had set Princess Hraegunhild up as a Hraes’ trade agent, just as Oddi had set herself up years prior.  Erik concluded their meeting by saying, “I seem to be doing a lot of things lately that are patterned after things that Oddi did.”

“Like son, like father,” Blaeja said.

Scouts had been sent south to Umbria to watch for movements of the Army of the Saxon Princes but they reported no activity.  The threat manifested itself from the north when scouting parties returned to York with news that a northern Bernician army was on the march.  Prince Eldred of Bamburgh was not a prince of York, but as the ruler of Bernicia, the northernmost province of Northumbria, he saw the flight of the York princes as an opportunity to expand his realm.  To that end, he enlisted the aid of the Scot King Constantin mac Aeda of the Kingdom of Alba and led a combined Scottish and Anglish army south against the Vikings occupying York Castle.

“How are your legs?” Erik asked his son.

“Not bad.  I’m getting some phantom pain, even with the opium.”

“It’s addictive.  The alchemists can’t give you stronger doses.  I heard you got married while I was away.  You couldn’t wait until I got back?”

“The Angles are coming.  I need a son for my subjects in Denmark.  I may not survive the next battle.”

“We’ll handle the Anglish Princes of Northumbria,” Erik said flatly.

“Well, let’s get sacking Angleland then.”  Ivar replied.  He was in a lot more pain than he let on and he wanted to get into battle.  He wanted to die in battle.  His mother raised him in the Norse version of the ancient tripartite religion….the Odin, Thor, Tyr tripartite versus the Roman version of a Jupiter, Mars, Mercury triumvirate or the Greek form of a Zeus, Apollo, Neptune tripartite.  They all promised warriors eternal life after death in battle.  And they were all great warrior states.  But it was not eternal life that Ivar sought.  His brother, Oddi, had refused to let their father cut off his poisoned leg, preferring to die, rather than live short one leg.  And, had Ivar not Scythianed out from the pain of having his leg bones torn away, he would never have let the medical alchemist save him.  But Ivar was not sure that death by having trees tear you apart even met the parameters of death in battle, so he did not complain and he waited patiently, sure that death in battle awaited him.  ‘How could one survive in battle being borne about on a buckler?  How long could that last?’

Centuries earlier, when the Jutes had ferried the Saxons across the British Sea and they’d disembarked upon the beach, the Britons were said to have described them as being so many they were like sand upon the sand upon the beach.  The Anglish Prince of Bamburgh must have thought the same thing when he saw the Army of the Hraes’ approaching the great plain south of Corbridge.  The Viking army marched north along a stream the Bernicians called the Dubglais or Dan Stream, but the locals preferred the name Devil’s Water because it seemed to bring Vikings to the Tyne.  The Bernicians were only expecting Danes, but they found themselves facing so much more.  Soon hazel poles had been set out upon the expansive field south of the Tyne River, marking the field of battle, and a Bernician cavalry unit returned from accepting the markings and told of a vast encampment from which flew the Raven Banners of the Hraes’, as well as the standards of the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Goths, Angles and Irish.

Prince Erik had been teaching his son the art of handling great hosts.  Supply, logistics, sanitation, training and now strategy….all the things he had been taught by General Yggerus, the Goth, prior to the great Battle of the Goths and the Huns.  He started with the strategy of the wedge and the crescent and different variations of the two.  But Erik had never had the luxury of having superior numbers over his enemies….until now.  Scouting reports had indicated that the Bernician army and the Scottish army had a combined strength of about thirty thousand men, half the size of the Hraes’ army.

“When Hannibal Barca fought the Romans at the battle of Cannae,” Erik explained to his son, “he used the crescent against the Romans’ wedge.  He spread his veteran troops thinly across the center of his crescent because he knew they wouldn’t break, and as the Roman wedge drove his veterans back at the center, his wings collapsed around the wedge and encircled the Romans.  The Carthaginians then attacked the Romans from all sides, driving them in on themselves, and they slaughtered all fifty thousand of them.  I read this in the original Latin histories when I was imprisoned by the Emperor of Constantinople.”

“I’ve studied the Battle of Cannae,” Ivar replied.  “It is one of the most successful uses of the crescent against the wedge.”

“Everybody has studied Hannibal’s greatest victory, but I was imprisoned in Constantinople for months, so I also studied Hannibal’s greatest defeat.  In North Africa he fought the Romans once more and he knew they would not use a wedge again, so he faced them with two thirds of his forces and he kept a third in reserve behind a rise across the field of battle.  His plan was to engage the Romans’ formation against matched formation, and, as the battle progressed, his reserves would appear over the rise and strike fear into the Romans and they would break and run.  But by the time his reserves appeared over the rise, his main army had already been beaten.  He had waited too long.  I have studied this field of battle and we have just such a rise to employ.  Let us use Hannibal Barca’s strategy but let us get the timing right this time.”

Ivar agreed.  They would use the failed strategy of a long dead Carthaginian general to defeat the Angles and Scots.  Ivar would lead the main body of troops and Erik would lead the reserve forces into battle once the Bernician forces were fully engaged.  Erik promised Ivar he would not be late.

The next morning the Scots and Bernicians were arrayed across their side of the hazel-poled field of battle, all thirty thousand of them.  Ten thousand Bernicians were on the left flank under command of Prince Ealdred of Bamburgh, twelve thousand Scots formed the vanguard under King Constantin mac Aeda of Alba and eight thousand Picts, blue warriors of the far north, were on the right flank led by Prince Domnal of Strathclyde.

Facing them were thirty thousand Hraes’ troops in matching formation.  Ten thousand Hraes’ troops formed the vanguard under Ivar, with five thousand Dierans and five thousand Dub-Lin Vikings under Jarls Oitir and Gragabai of Ireland on the left and ten thousand Norwegians and Swedes under Biorn on the right flank.  Prince Ivar was at the center of his formation, perched upon Hraes’ Ship’s Round carried by the four biggest warriors Erik had ever seen.

“When you take Tyrfingr into battle,” Erik offered,  “keep it sheathed as much as possible and try to use stabbing strokes.”

Prince Ivar held Tyrfingr by the grip and said, “I’ll keep it sheathed as much as possible.”  They were both too familiar with the dangers of the blade.

Erik watched with his officers from horseback on the peak of the rise with thirty thousand men arrayed across the depression behind him.  On the field in front of him, archers from both sides loosed their darts and, as the formations closed in on each other, spears were thrown, and then the ranks closed and the battle became fully engaged.  Erik watched and waited and he felt as though he was Hannibal on those desert sands trying to get the timing just right.

Prince Ivar had no illusions of Carthaginian generals…he was in the thick of battle fighting for his life.  The four warriors that bore him on his buckler, carried him with one hand and protected themselves with their own shields in the other.  But Ivar was wearing Frodi’s Danish helmet, Oddi’s Roman corselet and swinging Erik’s Tyrfingr in a double handed fashion.  Scots were falling before him as the blade clove through painted shields and gilded helms with equal ease.  His men tried to protect him as best they could, but they were four big men charging forward, linked together by a shield with their prince battling upon it.  The rest of the Hraes’ army was having trouble keeping up with them, but they knew they must and all pressed on.

Erik watched in amazement as the eight legged Sleipnir Ivar was riding crashed through the shield wall of the Scots and began penetrating the thickest part of their wedge.  He ordered his officers to return to their regiments and they all rode back to their thirty thousand and led their troops up the rise.  When they all crested the rise, the Scottish army saw their vast numbers and began to waver.  But the wild Picts on their right flank were driving back the Dierans of Northumbria and causing great slaughter, so this bolstered the Scottish resistance and Ivar’s advance slowed somewhat.

When Prince Erik led two thousand Roman cataphracts over the crest of the hill, he immediately saw that the left flank was collapsing under the Pict attack and he led his heavy cavalry straight for them.  Just as the Dierans fled, the cataphracts hit the lightly armed Picts and just swept over them, then circled around and attacked the Scots from behind.  The remaining Picts fled west towards Strathclyde and the setting sun while the Scots and Bernicians fought on a bit, then fled north for the Kingdom of Alba  under cover of darkness.  The fallen Picts were spread in a wide swathe across the western field of battle and the Scots and Bernicians were in full retreat, leaving their dead across the center and eastern flank trailing north as the living fled for their lives.

Prince Erik saw his friends, Jarls Oitir and Gragabai lying dead on the field and when he caught up to his son, Ivar was still sitting upon his shield, spattered in blood from head to thigh and his four men were around him, spattered in overspray.  “You look like Odin himself on his eight legged horse, Sleipnir,” Erik exclaimed.  “I think you scared the Jesus right out of those Scottish warriors.  Are you alright?”

“This is all their blood, not ours,” Ivar assured his father.

All about them Scots and Bernicians were surrendering and were being bent over their shields in the Aesir fashion.  It was the Aesir way.

By weeks end, Bernicia had fallen into the hands of the Hraes’ and Jarl Biorn was left to hold Bamburgh Castle with a force of Norwegian troops.  King Ivar had given strict orders that this was a reoccupation of his grandfather’s realm.  No citizens were to be harmed and no property was to be damaged.  Only officers were to be billeted in Corbridge; the troops stayed in a camp set up outside of town.  Tribute would, of course, be collected.  Prince Erik rode back to York with Ivar in his royal carriage and, as they left Corbridge, he pointed out Hadrian’s Wall to his son.  “The Romans ruled Briton for four hundred years and it’s been five hundred since they left, but that wall looks like it was built yesterday.”

“The Romans were great builders,” Ivar said, looking at the turf growing atop the stone wall.

“And even greater destroyers,” Erik replied, looking south towards York.

CHAPTER TEN

10.0  THE PLUNDERING OF THE BLAEJAS  (Circa 919 AD)

“Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’.

Brian Howard Seibert

Young Princess Blaeja

(919 AD)  While Northumbria was being subjected to the rule of King Ivar, Princess Helga stayed in Kiev and began a judicial althing, a trial, of her Chernigov subjects responsible for the maiming of her husband, the so-called ‘Chernigov Twenty’.  A courtroom was set up in the Hraes’ palace in Kiev and a cavalry unit was sent off to Chernigov to collect all the culprits, who accompanied the cavalry back on their own horses quite voluntarily.  They were imprisoned in the palace dungeon and when the first day of the trial began, they were brought up in chains and seated before a table of judges.  The Althing speaker read out their names and the charges against them and the crowd in the gallery began whispering amongst themselves.

The Althing speaker saved the gravest charge for last and said, “attempted murder of their lord and prince.

“One year ago, just outside of Chernigov, Prince Ivar and his royal troop, while performing their duties and collecting taxes, were confronted by a large contingent of Drevjane warriors.  Ambushing the prince and his retinue from the woods on either side of the town road, they used their bows to disarm the vanguard and rear guard cavalrymen, then surrounded the main body and forced them to surrender at spear point.  They tore Prince Ivar from his horse and dragged him to the woods edge, where they had prepared, bent over and staked down two birch trees, and they tied Prince Ivar’s feet to the birches and threatened to slip the knots of the stake ropes unless Prince Ivar withdrew his orders for tribute.  The prince insisted that tribute be paid when suddenly one of the knots in the stake ropes let loose and one birch sprang free of the ground and tore one foot and shin bone from the prince.  Apparently the force of the jolt tore the other stake free and that birch then sprang up and tore the shin bone out of his other leg.  Fortunately, the chain-mail hauberk of the prince went down to his knees and protected his thighs, but both his legs below the knees were torn off.  Thanks to further fortune, there was a medical officer among the prince’s retinue and he saved the life of Prince Ivar.”

The leader of the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ stood up and explained that the prince had come back for further tribute to support a planned war across the Baltic Sea, but that they had no money to pay the further tribute and were all volunteering to join Prince Ivar in his war when the knot accidentally slipped and maimed their prince.  They only attacked his troop because they had wanted to show the prince what capable warriors they were and had already come to an agreement with the prince when the hard knot slipped.  One by one the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ stood up and recited their parts in the fray and they all swore that the knot slippage was accidental.  The rest of the day was spent documenting their statements.

“You have been talking with my father,” King Ivar told Princess Blaeja, “about the marriage agreement we had negotiated for your grand-daughter while he was off in Ireland.”

Two of King Ivar’s officers had escorted the princess from her chamber to the dining hall where the king was sitting in the shadows.  “I told your father that you had accepted our offer a little earlier than we had anticipated.”

“Please, sit down,” the king offered, then looked across the table at her, his chin resting upon his coupled hands.  “Rape was the term my father yelled at me, but I’m glad you do not see it that way.  I’m going to tell you what really happened and then you may tell my father that perhaps rape is too strong a term.  My four buckler bearers carried me into young Princess Blaeja’s room and they placed my shield upon her bed and then guarded the door, both within and without.  I could barely see that my wife-to-be was sleeping, the candlelight was so faint, so I had my men light more tapers.  I began undressing myself and then I began undressing her, all the time whispering for her to wake.  She opened her eyes slowly, knowing fully it was my body pressed against hers.  I began kissing her sweet soft lips then I told her I wanted to kiss every square inch of her body.  I started at her forehead and, inch by inch, I worked my way down her nose and across those sweet soft lips again, then down her chin and her throat and down her chest and across her sweet left breast and then I worked my way down her flat taut belly and I licked out her navel and then I kissed my way down to her sweet virgin honeywell and I felt a shiver surge through her whole body.  You’ll be pleased to know she is still hairless down there.  Not one single blonde hair.”  Ivar rested his chin on his hands once again and waited for a response or a protest but Blaeja would not allow him that satisfaction.  She sat across from him with a stone cold look on her face.

“Good then,” Ivar began again.  “I searched for a hair or two with my lips but, finding none, I carried on kissing her right down her left thigh to her knee then across to her right thigh and up again to her sweet virgin hunny.  Since I couldn’t find any hair, I felt it my duty to check and make sure her virginity was at least still there.  So I pulled my shield up from the end of the bed, well-padded it is on the side I sit upon and well blooded it is from the lives lost before it, and I slipped it under her sweet young ass and I felt for her hymen with two fingers and I burst it and my princess groaned and her blood flowed upon my shield and mixed with dried blood of warriors long gone and I lapped it up like a dog of war, my tongue tasting the blood of my wife and a warrior or two.  I kissed my way back up along her body and I spent some time kissing and caressing her sweet right breast and then again I kissed her on up her face and then I entered her and her body tensed with the penetration of sword on buckler and I used long stabbing thrusts until I flowed my own blood of life into my wife.  Then we hugged and we kissed halfway into the night and my men carried me off on Hraes’ Ship’s Round with her sweet smell and taste still upon it.  So you can see, there was no rape here.”

Princess Blaeja gulped just a little bit, not enough for him to notice and she knew what she must do.

“You may leave,” Ivar said.  “We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow afternoon and I’ll tell you what happened on our second night of nuptials so you’ll know there was no rape then as well.”

That night Princess Blaeja invited Prince Erik up to her third floor bedchamber.  They had been drinking wine in the evening and were in good spirits.  She began undressing Erik and she stroked his tight warrior’s muscles and she kissed his battle scars and the healer within her was aroused.  “You were young when I first met you and you still feel so young.  It’s the alchemy of the Magis, isn’t it?”

“You seem to be taking good care of yourself as well,” Erik said as he undressed her.

“But not like you.  Roller too.  I saw him two years ago and he looks quite young and newly married.  Is that alchemy as well?”

“I’m not allowed to say.  They will cut me off.  But I do sneak some to my brother.”

“This afternoon I talked with Ivar, or he talked to me was more to the fact of it, but I decided that I must protect young Princess Blaeja.  I must allow young Ivar to vent some of his frustration upon me and this will help my granddaughter.  But to help the young couple live better, I must live longer.  Can you sneak some to me?  I won’t tell the guild.  I promise.”

“You’ll help the young couple?”

“I’ll devote my life to those two.”

“Promise me you won’t kill Ivar.”

“I promise.”

“I have two years supply for my brother, but I’ll give you half and tell him I was short.  Then I’ll get you both more next year.  But I have to be careful.  It is the Magis’ most closely guarded secret.  I can put some in your wine right now if you wish?”

“How long does it take to build up within you?”

“It should start working soon,” Erik explained as Blaeja drank her wine.  “The drug has a side effect though.  It makes one feel randy.  It has nothing to do with the life giving properties and can sometimes be…distracting.”

Suddenly they both realized they were completely naked and they crawled into bed and made love, falling asleep in each other’s arms.  In the middle of the night Blaeja woke up and shook Erik.  “It’s working.  I can feel it.”  Erik shrugged a yes and was going to go back to sleep when Blaeja said, “I need you.  Now.”  Halfway through their lovemaking, Blaeja stopped suddenly.  “How effective is this potion?” she asked Erik.  “What do you mean?” he replied.

“I’m not going to get pregnant again, am I?”

“It’s a drug,” Erik answered, “not one of your Christian miracles.”

The next day in Kiev, Princess Helga reconvened the althing.  The althing speaker presented arguments against the prior day’s statements by the defendants, the ‘Chernigov Twenty’.  “You have claimed that the knot slipped on its own,” he started, “and that the whole affair was an accident.  Yet it is you all who put our prince in this Roman execution device called, what is it?  Death by Sprung Trees,” he said, looking down at his notes scratched upon a birchbark pad.  “It is you who bent the birch trees and tied the slip knots and placed our prince into this device.  I have checked and found that none of you have training in executions of any form, not a simple beheading or hanging or even an archery squad, but you decided to put our prince in an execution device that should only be set by experts in execution.  By doing so, you placed our prince in grave danger of the device failing, therefore the slipped knot cannot be considered to have been a hard knot, an accident at all, but a direct result of your folly.”

The leader of the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ stood up and said, “We could not have known the knot would fail.”

“Yet the prince did go to the trouble of clipping the lower links of his hauberk together and you allowed him to do so, is that not correct?”

“Yes,” their leader admitted.

“The links hold the chain mail of the lower hauberk together during battle to keep the riding slit from opening up and exposing the inner thigh to spear thrusts and such, is that not correct?”

“I do not have chain mail, but I believe you are correct.”

“And if our prince had any plans of escaping, linking the mail would only interfere with any efforts to escape by running or riding off.”  The speaker paced a bit and looked down at his notepad once more.  “So why do you think he clipped his hauberk together?”

“We are warriors but we can barely afford weapons let alone armour.  We have no breast plates or chain mail, so we have no idea why he would do that.  Why would we stop him from adjusting any of his garments?”

“Perhaps it is because he saw the danger of his situation, the possibility of your crude device going off on its own.  And if he could see it, so should you have.  Had our prince not clipped together the hem of his hauberk, those birch trees would have torn him asunder, but, because they were clipped, only the parts of his legs below the hem were torn off and whipped out into the woods.  Had our prince not clipped together the hem of his hauberk, no amount of medical attention could have saved him and you all would be facing murder charges, not attempted murder.”

“We have our prince to thank for us not accidentally causing his death, for our prince being smarter and wiser than us.  Perhaps that is why he is our prince and we are but common men.  And being common men, there is no way we could have foreseen that knot failing.”

The althing speaker then brought in an expert on execution devices who went into the intricacies of Death by Sprung Trees and some of the potential catastrophic outcomes that can occur if improperly executed.  “It is a humane form of Roman execution that provides a quick death if set up correctly, compared to Roman crucifixion which causes hours of pain and suffering, or Roman impalement which, if done right, can cause the prisoner to experience up to a week of degrading excruciating suffering.  But there are many variables to consider if the device is to be employed in a humane manner.  The size, strength and weight of the prisoner, the size of the birch trees, the type of stakes used and the earth into which they are driven, the weather and the temperature of the particular day of execution, the quality of the ropes used to stake down the trees and, of course, the type of slip knots used and how hard they are bound.”  Then the expert added, “In my opinion, amateurs employing this device are an accident just waiting to happen and, therefore, not an accident at all.”

The rest of the day was spent documenting witness statements.  Princess Helga expected to wrap the legal althing up the next morning and a verdict might be reached in the afternoon.  Then she would put together the documentation and result and send it to her husband in Denmark.  She hoped the verdict would be harsh enough for her husband to feel avenged and she prayed he would return home.  She grew up with the men of the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ and they told her privately that their Drevjane Prince Mal wanted to take her for his wife if Prince Ivar would no longer have her.  While she wished the Twenty no further harm, she did want her husband to return home.  “Art is life”, she thought.

“My father was in a fine forgiving mood this morning,” King Ivar told Princess Blaeja, “and I think I may have you to thank.”

Again, two of King Ivar’s officers escorted Princess Blaeja into the dining hall where King Ivar was waiting.  “Your father and I shared a cup of wine or two and reminisced about old times.”

“Please, sit,” the king offered, then looked across the table at her, his arms crossed this time, and he got right into it.  “The second night my men took me into your granddaughter’s chamber and she was awake and expecting us this time.  She had placed candles all over the room and I undressed in front of her.  When I joined her under the blankets, she was naked and ready.  I began kissing her sweet soft lips and I told her I wanted to continue kissing every square inch on her body.  I started at her sweet, sweet mouth and I kissed her cheek and worked my way down the left side of her neck then out across her collarbone and down the outside of her left arm and I kissed the back of her hand and I kissed each finger and then I kissed her thack and then I kissed her thumb and I worked my way across her soft palm and I kissed my way up the inside of her arm and I began to kiss her armpit and I found a hair.  One blonde hair.  I kissed my way down her left side and she convulsed a bit as I kissed each rib, but I thought it might be because she was ticklish and not necessarily aroused.  Then I kissed my way down her hip and outer thigh to her knee, then kissed my way up her inner left thigh to her sweet honeywell.  I spent some time there and she started to convulse and I knew it was more than just a tickle that took her breath.  I continued kissing her down her right inner thigh and then I kissed her up her right outer thigh and up her hip and waist and I kissed each rib and she is ticklish there and I kissed her right armpit and it was still hairless and bare.  Not one single blonde hair.”  Ivar rested his chin on his hands and waited for a response but Blaeja was a stone.

“So then,” Ivar began again, “I kissed my way down the inside of her right arm and across her hand and back up the outside of her arm and across her collarbone and up the side of her neck and across her cheek and I tasted once more her sweet, sweet lips and then I thrust my way into her and she thrusted back and I hugged her to me and rolled onto my back.  I showed her how to sit in the saddle and she rode me like a shield-maiden rides her Valkyrie stallion until I erupted within her.  We hugged and we kissed and we slept together for a bit and then my men carried me back to my room.  So you can see that there was no rape that night either.”

Princess Blaeja sat like a stone.

“You may leave,” Ivar said.  “We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow afternoon and I’ll tell you what happened on our third night of nuptials as well.”

When night came, Princess Blaeja snuck into Prince Erik’s room with a bottle of fine Frankish wine.  She filled two cups and she began undressing Erik and she sat him on a chair and she lifted her dress and she sat on his lap and began massaging his shoulders and kissing his lips and he rose up into her and she stood and she sat and she stood and she sat until Erik welled up within her like a flowing spring.  “Are you sure you won’t get me pregnant?” she whispered, “because this potion is a miracle.  I feel younger already.”

“You do feel younger already,” Erik agreed and he got up with her on him and he carried her over to his bed and laid her upon it.  They made love again, in the prone this time, then they sat back in bed and enjoyed some wine.

“I talked with Ivar again this afternoon,” Blaeja began, “and it seems he and young Princess Blaeja may be more compatible than I first thought.”

“You’ll still help them?” Erik asked.

“God yes!  I’ll devote my life to them,” Blaeja replied.  She paused and sipped some wine, then decided to ask Erik a question that had been dogging her.  Do you remember Ragnar’s curse?”

“The Old Boar and snakes thing?” Erik questioned.

“Yes.  Do you know if Ivar knows about the curse?”

“I think pretty much everybody knows about the curse.  My father died a pretty famous death.”

“A most famous death.  Oddi once told me that Ragnar told him that he wanted the most famous death of all.  A death by sword that would gain him a seat at the head table in Valhall.”

“Oddi died a pretty famous death himself,” Erik added.

“A most famous death too!” Blaeja said.  “A death foretold.  Fated to die from the poisonous bite of a snake that crawled out from under the skull of his long dead horse, Fair Faxi.  Oh, I loved that man!  ‘Fate is all’ were his last words.”

“So the skalds say,” Erik replied and stared up at the ceiling.

“You were there and you’re a skald! What do you say?”

“I’ll tell you about it someday, when it doesn’t hurt too much to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry,” Blaeja whispered and she held Erik’s head upon her breasts.  “Swords and snakes and boars and strakes,” she cooed as the wine went to her head.  “If Ivar knows about the curse, do you think he may be acting upon it?”

“I don’t think so,” Erik answered her.  “His trencher is full, what with his injury and his new kingdoms and his young new wife.”

The third day in Kiev, Princess Helga reconvened the althing once again.  The althing speaker presented closing arguments and statements and the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ each presented their own final statements.  Then the judges began making their deliberations at the head table.  It was quickly decided that the incident was accidental in nature, but criminally negligent in fact.  The judges announced their findings and said they would break for lunch to discuss sentencing.  After a long lunch the judges reconvened in the afternoon and pronounced that the attempted murder charge was found to be excessive and that the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ had been found guilty of criminal negligence and their sentences had been increased to twenty lashes each.  The defendants were informed that, since ten lashes had already been administered on the orders of Princess Helga, ten more lashes would be administered that afternoon.

Princess Helga was disappointed by the findings and the sentences, not so much because she thought they were not harsh enough, but because she knew they would not bring her husband home.  And now she would have Prince Mal to deal with.  She began assembling the velum documents of the althing and she could hear the lashes being administered out in the courtyard as she worked.  She prayed to Odin and to their Perun to give them strength through their ordeal and she finished her work as the last strokes were being made and she put the documents into a waterproof leather satchel and she sealed it with hot wax.  She scrawled ‘For Prince Eyfur Erikson’ into the wax in Latin.  She thought perhaps she should have printed King Eyfur, for she had heard of his conquest of Denmark, or perhaps King Ivar Eyfurason, but she knew King Ivar’s father would be at the receiving end and his mother would still be here in Kiev, so she left the direction as it was.

“Again my father was in a fine forgiving mood today,” King Ivar told Princess Blaeja.  “Thank you so much for that.”

Once again, two of King Ivar’s officers had escorted Princess Blaeja into the dining hall where King Ivar was waiting.  “Your father and I talked about the death of your older brother, King Oddi, and how the skalds sing of it as a death foretold, a death by the bite of a poisonous snake that crawled out from under the skull of his long dead horse.  I find it curious how the skalds tell a similar story of how your grandfather, King Ragnar Lothbrok, died…by the bite of a dozen poisonous snakes.”

“Please, sit,” the king said.  “You might be surprised how similar the deaths actually were, for you slaked the poison on the blood-snakes in Ragnar’s death and my mother fetched the poisonous blood-snake in my brother, King Oddi’s death.”  Blaeja sat down suddenly, shocked.  “The third and last night, my men took me to your granddaughter’s chamber and they placed Hraes’ Ship’s Round upon the bed and they guarded the door, all from inside this time.  She was awake and expecting us and again, she had placed candles at strategic locations throughout the room.  I undressed in front of her and when I joined her under the blankets, she was naked and ready.  I began kissing her sweet soft lips and I told her I wanted to kiss every square inch of her body and I turned her over and started kissing the nape of her neck.  I worked my way down her spine to the small of her back then I kissed her sweet right buttock all over and continued kissing down the back of her leg to the inside of her right knee then went across to her left knee and I worked my way up the back of her leg and started kissing her all over her left buttock and worked my way to her anus and I kissed her there most vigorously.  I raised my arm and my men surrounded the bed and they grabbed Young Princess Blaeja by the arms and the legs and they lifted her up off the bed and I rose up on my stumps and I entered the princess anally.  She started to scream so one of my men covered her mouth and she struggled and twisted as I drove her sweet young rear.  But I wanted her pregnant, so I withdrew when I was ready and I entered her sweet hunny cunny and I drove her until I spouted and filled her with my flow of life.  When I told my men I was done, they dropped her on the bed and I dressed and they took me away on my shield.

”Princess Blaeja was crying when I left and I suppose that is when she decided to tell you about our midnight escapades.”  Then Ivar recited this verse:

“Wait fifteen days,                then three nights in a row

  Fock your wife                     and you’ll have a Bo.

  Wait only days,                    and have your way,

  And a girl will come,           come birthing day.”

“It is a Warlock Song,” Princess Blaeja said numbly.  She was still visibly in shock over everything Ivar had said.

“I overheard your handmaidens talking,” Ivar explained, “about Princess Blaeja reaching puberty and losing her first blood, so, while I waited fifteen days, I made you a proposal of marriage with your granddaughter, but I didn’t have time to wait till she reached the age of fourteen.  My subjects in Denmark are screaming for an heir and your Anglish princes were coming to kill me and, quite frankly, I was hoping to die in battle at Corbridge.”  King Ivar sat back and put the stumps of his legs upon the dining table.  “Really…how long do you think I can last, carried into battle on these?” he asked.  “I have Romans wanting to kill me to the south of Gardar, Khazars wanting to kill me in the east, a Pecheneg horde between them trying to ride me into the earth and Bulgars off to the side wanting to turn my skull into a cup.  My own Drevjane Slavs tried to kill me by tearing my legs off and I regret that they only got the job half done.  I flee back to the Skjoldung’s homeland and the Dane’s King Hiarn wants to kill me, the Norwegian’s King Amund tries to kill me and the Angles of Northumbria now call me Ivar ‘the Boneless’ because I killed so many of them!  Do you really think I have another year?”

Blaeja started crying.  “Well…she’s pregnant now.  You got your wish.”

“Yes…you’re a healer.  You’d be the first to know your granddaughter’s state.  And now you know how she lost her virginity, both front and back.  And since I’ve told you, now you must tell me, how you lost your virginity.”

“I lost it on a ship,” Blaeja started.  “A ship called Fair Faxi.”

“Ah…the long dead horse of Arrow Odd.  He was cremated on that ship…cremated with my mother.  How did he get stuck with plundering you?”

“They drew lots after they killed my father.  Prince Erik, King Roller and Prince Oddi drew lots, but I think they tricked Oddi into getting stuck with the job.  He refused at first, because he had sworn to Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ that he would never take women unwillingly aboard his ship, but I gave him permission if it would stop Ragnar’s curse upon my family.  So he waited on Fair Faxi in the river just outside York Castle here and I snuck out in the evening and willingly boarded his ship and gave him permission to plunder me and I lost my virginity.

“The next day, Prince Oddi made a strange request of me.”

“What was that?” King Ivar asked.

“He wanted me to procure him two hundred or so York boats.  I told him it would take me two days to gather up that many and then he went to a chest aboard Fair Faxi and he paid me in advance for them in gold.  That night I snuck down to the wharf of York Castle and I asked permission to board Fair Faxi and I gave Oddi permission to plunder me again.  By the third night we had his two hundred York boats stowed aboard the ships of his fleet and they were planning to sail in the morning, so, again I snuck down to the wharf and gave him permission to plunder me once more.  In the morning he sailed off with his father for New Ireland, New Scotland and New Angleland.  Nine months later I gave birth to his son and I named him Ragnar, after your grandfather.  Three nights in a row and we had a Bo.”

“But did you wait fifteen days?” Ivar asked.

“I think it was sixteen days actually.  I remember because I wished it was zero days.”

“You know…your daughter gave me permission,” King Ivar offered.

“I was well over the age of majority when I gave Prince Oddi permission.”

“Point taken.  But I just don’t have the time.  I plan on being dead before this year is up.  Don’t tell young Blaeja that, though.  She really does love me.  Are you sure she is pregnant?”

“Yes, I’m sure.  She’s too young.  This birth will be difficult.”

“But she wants to have the baby?”

“Yes.  She wants to have your baby.  But the guild has drugs to terminate the pregnancy should you two change your minds.”

“Is that how you knew how to make the poison that you slathered on the swords that killed my grandfather?  Because you’re a healer?”

“My father forced me to prepare the poison.  I told him to set King Ragnar free, to send him and his knars back to Frankia, but he wouldn’t listen to me, his daughter, when he had two sons that wanted blood.”

“Ah…sons!  They’re so much trouble.  I hope we have a girl,” Ivar said with a sly smile.

“You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“That’s just a warlock song.  It might still be a girl.”

“You said Oddi was cremated with your mother.  How can that be?  Princess Eyfura is still alive, isn’t she?”

“You’ll have to wait a little longer for Prince Erik, I’m afraid.  Queen Mother Eyfura is still alive.  But she’s not my mother.”

Princess Blaeja was shocked.

“You look shocked,” Ivar said.  “Not as shocked as before, but perhaps you’re getting used to my life.  We’ll have to get you some wine for this one.  It may take a bit.”  And Ivar waved over a servant and ordered him to bring wine.  “I’ll tell you the family secret on two conditions.  One…you must tell no other, especially my father.  Two…we must both agree that you weren’t plundered by Oddi and Princess Blaeja wasn’t plundered by me.  Do I have your word?”

Blaeja hesitated and the servant showed up with a bottle of Frankish wine and two cups.  Ivar could see that Blaeja didn’t want to admit that young Blaeja wasn’t plundered, but he guessed that she was torn between that and learning a family secret that Prince Erik could never hear about.  “I know of only one person in this castle,” Ivar started, “that has ever been raped.”

“Okay…I’m in.  I give you my word that I accept your two conditions.”

“When I was Blaeja’s age, I hit puberty and I started to look at my mother’s handmaiden a little differently.  She lived with us in the royal quarters and she had a hard beauty about herself that she wore like a dark cloak.  She was tall and blondish and strong and I began to notice that she had beautiful breasts.  She was a family servant, a handmaiden, a slave.  I would skulk about, hoping to catch a glimpse of her bathing or washing and sometimes I caught a bit of tit or a flash of ass, but I think she caught on to me because she started to avoid me.  But I was royalty, I thought.  No servant should be avoiding me.  So I imposed myself on my mother’s other handmaiden who also was a slave and I forced her onto my parent’s bed and I ploughed her a nice long furrow.  Well…it wasn’t actually that long because that is how I lost my virginity.  I didn’t hear any complaints from the slave girl and I don’t think she ever told my mother about it, but I felt slighted by the other handmaiden, the beautiful one.  So one night I slipped into her room and crawled into bed with her and while she was sleeping, I started to plough her a furrow and she woke up and started to fight me.  I reminded her that she was little more than a slave and that I was royalty and I told her that she had beautiful breasts and she covered them up and blurted out that she was my mother.

“You want to talk about shocked.  I was shocked!  Mother-focking shocked!  That night, she told me our family secret.  She was the daughter of Eyfura’s eldest son, Angantyr Arngrimson, the warrior Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ slew on Samso Island, the warrior my brother, Arrow Odd, would have slain had he not been so busy killing Princess Eyfura’s eleven other sons.  Hervor was Eyfura’s granddaughter from a relationship her son had with a slave before he went to Samso Island to die.  Hervor’s mother, the slave, apparently killed herself in grief, so Eyfura kept Hervor as a handmaiden slave to keep the indiscretion a secret.  She didn’t even tell Hervor who her father had been until she found Hervor useful.

“When Eyfura lost all her sons, she lost all her heirs to King Frodi’s royal bloodline, but when she was saved from a Slav uprising by Prince Erik, they fell in love and she wanted to have a son to carry on her family’s line.  My father never had a chance.  His first love had been Princess Alfhild of Norway, but she claimed he was only infatuated by her and she was saving herself for a fine-blooded king.  When my father went to the court of King Frodi to avenge some slight against his father, Ragnar Lothbrok, he fell in love with and married King Frodi’s sister, Princess Gunwar, the warrior princess who was killed by the Hun, Prince Hlod, King Frodi’s illegitimate son, and this led to the great Battle of the Goths and the Huns.”

“I’ve heard this tale,” Princess Blaeja whispered.  “Prince Erik wrote a beautiful poem for his lost love, Gunwar, and the poem was so beautiful that when he recited it to his captor, King Bjorn of the Barrows, the king promised to spare his life if he could but write another such poem about himself overnight, and he did it and the tale of it became a rallying cry across the northern lands and volunteers joined the fight and defeated the Huns.  Even Anglish warriors from Northumbria joined in the fight.  I grew up hearing tales about it.  All young princesses in the north would have died to be with Prince Erik.  What chance did Eyfura have?”

“Exactly!” Ivar said.  “It was a match made in heaven.  But Princess Eyfura was too old to bear children when she met my father.  She had already had twelve sons a generation earlier and all the fertility potions in the world couldn’t pry another son from those worn loins.  So she came up with a plan and it was diabolically clever.  So clever, in fact, that I wish Eyfura really was my mother.  She told Hervor who she really was and they made a pact to avenge their fathers together.  Now there is only one thing on earth that my father, Prince Erik, is afraid of, and that is the ghost of Queen Alfhild, who was murdered by her husband, King Frodi.  Alfhild was Eyfura’s mother and Eyfura claims she was a witch.  But I think it runs in the family, because Eyfura put the idea in Erik’s head that Queen Alfhild’s ghost wandered the halls of King Frodi’s palace in Kiev.  Then she drugged her husband and made him believe that Alfhild’s ghost was making love to him at night, a ghostly succubus as it were, but it was young Hervor that the entranced Prince Erik was focking and this went on for three nights and on that last night, Princess Eyfura burst into Queen Alfhild’s bedchamber just as Hervor was coming with my father and she blamed it all on the ghost of Alfhild.  Nine months after Prince Erik was raped, Hervor gave birth to me.  Princess Eyfura faked a pregnancy and they kept Hervor’s a secret and I became Princess Eyfura’s heir to King Frodi’s lands and power.  And thirteen years later, I became a mother-focker.”  Ivar refilled both cups with the last of the wine.

“But how do you know Hervor was really the daughter of Angantyr and not just  a handy handmaiden conveniently impregnated?”

“I checked into that as well.  It turns out that Hervor wasn’t slave spawn after all.  Her mother was the daughter of Jarl Bjarmar of Staraya Ladoga in Gardar.  Before Angantyr left for Samso, he married her and took her home to Arngrim and Eyfura and got her pregnant, then he borrowed the famous sword Tyrfingr from his father and went and got himself killed.  While your Arrow Odd was burying Tyrfingr with Angantyr on Samso Island, Princess Eyfura was holding Jarl Bjarmar’s daughter captive while she carried her son’s baby.  Whoever controlled the baby held a claim to King Frodi’s realm, and with her sons all dead, her son’s baby suddenly became quite valuable.  During the birth of Hervor, Eyfura drugged Jarl Bjarmar’s daughter and told her the baby was stillborn, then she sent her back to Jarl Bjarmar.  Bjarmar claimed that Eyfura had kept the baby, but they couldn’t prove it and Eyfura raised the baby in secret and kept her as a slave and a handmaiden to be used when needed.  So now you know why I’m such a mother-focker and why it’s not my fault.”

“But you said earlier that Hervor and Eyfura made a pact of vengeance for their fathers.  Was it against my Oddi?”

“The wine’s done,” Ivar replied.  “We’ll have to save that one for another day.”

“But you talked about Oddi and a poisoned sword?”

King Ivar’s men brought over Hraes’ Ship’s Round and carried off their lord.

Princess Blaeja was a little tipsy from the wine and the story so she asked the servant for another bottle and two fresh goblets and she went up to Prince Erik’s second floor chamber.

The night before, Princess Blaeja had snuck into Prince Erik’s room, but with half a bottle of wine already in her, she was far less secretive.  She knocked on his door and said she had a bottle of fine Frankish wine for him.  The prince let her in and she filled two cups and they sat and drank at his small dressing table.  “I finally remembered why I find you so attractive,” she started, “even in your advanced age.”

“Oh?” said Erik, laughing.  He could tell she was half cut.  “And what did you remember?”

“When I was a young princess of…young Princess Blaeja’s age, I heard tales and poems about a young Prince Erik who had written a poem for his slain wife that was so beautiful, it kept him from being executed by King Bjorn of the Barrows, and the tale was so inspiring, it caused young princesses everywhere to wet themselves in wonderment.”  She began undressing Erik and she led him into his bed and she undressed herself in front of him and she joined him in the bed.  “Did you notice anything?” she asked.

“You look younger.”

“And I feel so much younger.”

They made love in the bed and Blaeja felt like a teen again, making love with her hero, Erik ‘Bragi’, the skald of Gunwar’s Song.  She had orgasm after orgasm while astride Erik’s steed and they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

“You were very passionate last night,” Erik said, when Blaeja woke up.

“It was a passionate night,” she replied, turning over in bed.  She saw Erik drinking wine at the dressing table.

“Do you want some?” he asked.

“No.  I think I had a bit more than you last night”.  Erik nodded.  “I was drinking with Ivar,” she said.  “He apologized in his own way for rushing things with young Blaeja.  He wants an heir for Denmark and he said he couldn’t wait the year we’d agreed upon.  He thinks because he lost his lower legs that he will be dead in battle within a year.”

“He puts himself in danger unnecessarily, but the shield and bearers we have come up with for his handicap, this fighting platform, is turning out to be far more effective than even a Roman cataphract.  His horse has eight legs, eight arms, eight eyes and four brains and they all fight as one unit, breaking down shield walls, drawing his own forces forward.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it and neither has our enemies.  It is a weapon of shock and awe.  I watched Ivar and his Sleipnir attack the Scots at Corbridge and their shield wall crumbled under his attack.  With Frodi’s helmet, Oddi’s Roman scale-mail shirt and my sword, Tyrfingr, he is unstoppable.”

“Perhaps, given time,” Blaeja said, “he’ll understand that he doesn’t fight alone.  That we are all behind him.”

“I think you two are going to get along fine,” Erik reassured her.  “A ship of mine just came in from Gardariki today bringing a special cargo.  I want you to try this,” he said as he spread a golden paste on a breakfast biscuit.

“What is this?” she asked, throwing on a silk wrap and joining him at the table.

“It is the roe of a special sturgeon fish common in the Volga River in the east.  It is a delicacy of the Khazars, but we have used a Cathayan method of preservation to allow it to last long enough for transport to the west.  Try some,” and he pushed a biscuit towards her.

Blaeja picked it up and took a bite.  “It’s not bad,” she said, then she took another bite and said, “It’s quite good actually.”  Then she finished off the biscuit and added, “It’s delicious!  Can I have more?”

“More?  You want more?” Erik asked and he passed her another buttered biscuit.  “We call it Khazar Vayar because it comes from the Khazar Way.  Do you think we’ll be able to sell it here?  I want to make it available at all our Hraes’ trading stations in the west.  Angleland, Ireland, Frankia, the Holy Roman Empire, here in York?”

“Yes…here in York.  But I think we’ll be selling this to royalty only,” Blaeja said enthusiastically.  “The royals aren’t going to share this with their subjects!”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

11.0  KING IVAR ‘HARDE KNUTE’ OF NORWAY  (Circa 920 AD)

“After the death of Frode, the Danes wrongly supposed that Fridleif, (Ivar) who was being reared in Russia, had perished.”  For some reason, perhaps to continue the ‘Old Fridlief/Frode Line of Skioldung Kings, Saxo alternates the next three Danish kings as Fridleif (for Ivar), Frode (for Svein) and Ingjald (for Valdamar).  Still working on this one.

Comments on Book Six of Danish History; Brian Howard Seibert

King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ of Norway

(920 AD)  King Ivar left an army in Bamburgh under the command of Jarl Biorn and an army in York under the command of his wife, young Princess Blaeja, and her family, then he planned to take his remaining forces to Norway to secure his conquests there, but Prince Erik wanted to head south for Frankia to visit his brother, Duke Rollo, first, so that is what they did.  They arrived in northern Frankia with a vast army, which caused great panic amongst the Franks, but Duke Rollo welcomed them in Rouen and there was much feasting and drinking and reading of fortunes.  Witches were rampant in Rouen and the Christians there were worried, but Rollo protected them.  When King Ivar asked Thorbjorg about his holdings in Norway, the witch told him that his wife there was soon to give birth to a baby boy.  “But my wife is in Northumbria,” Ivar said, skeptically.  “I don’t have a wife in Norway.”

“Well you do now,” Thorbjorg claimed.  “Lagertha, the girl you wanted to marry, but raped when she refused you, will soon give birth to your first son in Southmore.  Your Northumbrian son isn’t due for another eight months.  Lagertha shall name him Olaf after the man she plans to marry.”

“She’s planning to marry?” Ivar asked.

“Yes,” she answered.  “Olaf is the Jarl of Northmore.  They are getting married in two weeks.”

“King Harald Fairhair offered me Northmore,” Duke Rollo said, “after King Frodi destroyed all Norway and set Harald up as king.  I was warned by your grandmother’s ghost not to accept his offer.  How did Queen Alfhild put it?” Rollo paused as he changed the story a bit, “Don’t return to Norway or King Fairhair will make you Earl of No-Head Anymore.  I think you should kill this Jarl Olaf and take both Lagertha and Northmore for yourself.  King Frodi gave it to Harald and you’re the heir of King Frodi, so just take it back.  Besides, King Fairhair offered it to me first and I never really declined the offer, so I give it to you.”

“Is this what your conversion to Christianity has taught you?” Prince Erik asked sternly.

“I know!” Duke Rollo exclaimed.  “It’s absolutely wicked!  But that’s the way Christian kings do it.  If you find that you want to do something wicked, then find some sort of justification for it.”

“I like it!” King Ivar exclaimed.  “I had to convert to marry young Princess Blaeja, but like my older brother Oddi, I kept my fingers crossed.  But this method is even better!”

“Since you brought up King Oddi,” Duke Rollo started, “and may God rest his soul, he won the Battle of Stiklastad, and had his way with the shield maiden Stikla, I might add, but he didn’t award Trondheim to anyone and King Fairhair gave it to the Jarls of Lade.  But Oddi didn’t give it to Harald and Harald didn’t win it, so it wasn’t his to give.  Since Erik is the father of Oddi, perhaps he would like to award it to you as well?”

They all looked at Erik pleadingly.  “I should really award it to Queen Silkisif and Princes Asmund and Ingjald.  They’re Oddi’s real heirs but since they’re not here and would not want it anyway, I hereby award you the Kingdom of Trondelag.”

”So now you have justification to attack the Jarls of Lade anytime you see fit.  See how it works?  And Halogaland was named after Helgi Arrow Odd Erikson, so that will always be ours, as will Hrafnista.  So now we have family rights to all of Norway from Southmore to Varanger Fjord and, of course, the rights to King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson’s Nor’Way trade route.  And Erik has the rights to Tmutorokan and Gardariki and you, Ivar, have Gardar with Novgorod and Kiev as well as Denmark and the Angleland Danelaw.  So we control a swath from Frankia to Constantinople.  Not a bad profit from one Greek fire breathing dragonship called Fafnir.  I think Ragnar would be proud.”

“Will there be anything else?” the witch Thorbjorg asked.  “I could search into the fate of your son, Olaf.”

“Yes!” Ivar said.  “What will he be like?”

The ancients were wont to consult the Oracles of the Fates concerning the destinies of their children.  In this way Ivar desired to search into the fate of his son Olaf; and, after solemnly offering up his vows, the witch, Thorbjorg, went to the house of the gods in entreaty; where, looking into Valhall, she saw three maidens, sitting on three seats.  The first of them was of a benign temper, and bestowed upon the boy abundant beauty and ample store of favour in the eyes of men.  The second granted him the gift of surpassing generosity.  But the third, a woman of more mischievous temper and malignant disposition, scorning the unanimous kindness of her sisters, and likewise wishing to mar their gifts, marked the future character of the boy with the slur of being cheap.  Thus the benefits of the others were spoilt by the poison of a lamentable doom; and hence, by virtue of the twofold nature of these gifts Olaf got his surname from the meanness which was mingled with his bounty. So it came about that this blemish which found its way into the gift marred the whole sweetness of its first benignity.

“That’s his fate,” Ivar started, “if I don’t kill Jarl Olaf.  What is his fate, dear Thorbjorg, if I kill Jarl Olaf and take Lagertha as another wife?”

Thorbjorg looked into Valhall and wisely said, “It is much improved my king.  He will be generous in all respects.”  King Ivar gave Thorbjorg a gold Byzant.  “Most generous, my lord,” she said.

“Good then,” Ivar started.  “Let’s kill this Jarl!”  He called over Ane the Archer and, as he was coming, Ivar told his father and uncle, “I don’t want to be involved in this because Lagertha might not forgive me.”

“Yes, my king?” Ane asked as he approached.

“Duke Rollo was offered the rights to Northmore, so I want you to take a fleet of one hundred ships and sail to Northmore and kill Jarl Olaf there and establish Hraes’ rule over the province.  I want a Hraes’ Trading Station set up there in the name of Duke Rollo and we shall install, do you have any station manager in particular that you would like to see there?” he asked Duke Rollo.

“None that I can think of,” Rollo replied.

“Prince Baldwin of Flanders has a son working in our Paris station,” Prince Erik interjected, “and I think he is ready to tackle setting up a new station.  Do you mind if we borrow him, Duke Rollo?”

“Not at all,” Rollo answered.  “I think Prince Rupert would be a fine fit.  He’s here in Rouen right now preparing to take another mule train of merchandise to Paris.”

“Is the king still not allowing you a warehouse in Paris?” Erik asked.

“The Parisians are still nervous about King Frodi’s attack of 885.”

“That was thirty years ago!” Erik exclaimed.

“Thirty four years ago.  They’re still counting.  And Ragnar’s attack of 845.  They count that too.”

Erik raised his hands in disbelief.  “Can you stop in the square, Ane, and ask Prince Rupert to join you?  I don’t want him taking off on us.”

“Yes, Ane,” King Ivar started again.  “Stop in the square for Prince Rupert and then start equipping the ships for battle.  It could be on sea or on land.  I have no idea who Jarl Olaf is and what his battle preferences are, but remember that you are now working for the Hraes’ Trading Company and Duke Rollo in particular, so spare no expense, he’s good for it.”

“Why Prince Rupert?” Rollo whispered to his brother.  “He’ll be like a fish out of water in Norway.”

“Baldwin’s line will be doing great things for our family in the future,” Erik answered.

“How far in the future?” Rollo asked.

“Three hundred and a score years in the future.”

“I knew you were going to say something like that,” Rollo said, shaking his head.  Then he made a request of Ivar.  “Could you have your fleet do a little pillaging on their way out?  I’ll have some of my ships chase your fleet out of Normandy.”

“Oh…it’s called Normandy now?” King Ivar asked.

“It will be,” his father answered.

“Welcome to the Big Show!” Duke Rollo added as Ivar and his shield bearers walked out with Ane.

“Sorry I only had a year supply of the Magi’s drug.” Erik said as they were drinking at the main highseat of his palace.  “I gave half to Princess Blaeja in York, but I’ll get you more next year.  She’s worried about Ivar marrying her granddaughter…she thinks he may be trying to act on Ragnar’s poison blood-snake curse.”

“Is he?” Rollo asked.  “I remember Oddi asking me to ask Kraka if the curse was on-going and she said it was.”

“I don’t think so, but it has given Blaeja a reason to live.  She’s in the guild and she’d heard rumours of the drug and she saw how young you looked last time she saw you.  She put two and two together.  I’m hoping she will help keep Ivar in line with his marriage vows.”

“Good luck with that!  Ivar just sent a hundred ships off to kill a Jarl so he can get himself a third wife.  He doesn’t take his Christian vows seriously.  Blaeja’s not going to kill him, is she?  She’s a healer.  She could probably kill him in a thousand different ways.”

“I made her promise me she wouldn’t or she wouldn’t get the Magi’s drug.  She’s a good Christian girl.  She’ll keep her word.”

“Princess Blaeja’s fine.  She and Oddi’s wife, Princess Olvor are great friends.”

Oh…that reminds me…” and Erik told him that Olvor was dead and that he had set up her daughter Hraegunhild with a Hraes’ station in Dub-Lin and the two brothers had a lot of catching up to do, so they drank and they talked.

“A specially designed ship of mine just came in from Gardariki last week bringing a special cargo.  I want you to try this,” he said as he spread a golden paste on a biscuit.

“What is it?” Rollo asked.

“It is the roe of a special sturgeon fish common in the Volga River in the east.  It is a delicacy of the Khazars, but we have used a Cathayan method of preservation to allow it to last long enough for transport to the west.  Try some,” and he pushed the biscuit towards him.

Duke Rollo picked it up and took a bite.  “It’s not bad,” he said, then he took another bite and said, “quite good actually.”  Then he finished off the biscuit and said, “It’s great!”

“We call it Khazar Vayar because it comes from the Khazar Way.  Do you think we’ll be able to sell it here?  I want to make it available at all our Hraes’ trading stations in the west.  Angleland, Ireland, Frankia, the Holy Roman Empire.”

“I think we may be able to hawk it,” Duke Rollo said enthusiastically.  “But only to royalty.  They aren’t going to share this with their subjects!”

Time passed quickly in Rouen and Ivar was anxious to get back to Denmark.  King Hiarn had escaped in Jutland and was running around loose and his subjects were still clamouring for an heir and the stability that provided.  He wanted to get home and tell them he was married and had an heir on the way.  They would accept an Anglish wife from the Danelaw.  Relatives had maintained contact between the Angles of Jutland and the Angles of Angleland for hundreds of years.  The same went for the Jutes of Cantia and the Jutes of Jutland.  The Saxons were different.  The Saxons of Wessex, Sussex and Essex had all kept in touch with their relatives on the coast of Germany, but Charlemagne felt threatened by the growing power of the Saxons, so he forced all Saxons still living on the coast of Germany to move further inland and he cut off communication with the Saxons of Angleland, so threatened was he by this freedom of movement and nationality.

Back in Denmark, King Ivar got word that the Hraes’ Trading Company had a new trading station in Northmore and that a new Jarl was now sorely needed.  So, Prince Erik gathered up the fleet and they sailed to Southmore to console a grieving Princess Lagertha and to welcome a new son into the Hraes’ family.  King Ivar was welcomed there and he made Lagertha Queen of Southmore.  He appointed all of King Amund’s surviving offspring to positions of royal power and he made sure that they all felt more secure with him as king than with Harald Fairhair.  Leaving his new wife to run Southmore, Ivar led his fleet to Northmore and met up with the Hraes’ fleet there and made Ane the new Jarl of Northmore.  Then he sent a challenge to the Jarl of Lade for a battle on the Stiklastad plains and had his messenger explain that Ivar’s brother, King Arrow Odd had defeated Ogmund Tussock and the forces of King Frodi and King Fairhair there so, the Kingdom of Trondelag was his by inheritance and he was hereby laying claim to it.  Now, Sigurd Hakonsson, the Jarl of Lade, was no fool and was no more interested in mixing it up with Ivar ‘the Boneless’, as the Angles and Saxons of Angleland were wont to call him, than was King Harald Fairhair, so Sigurd sent a message back to him seeking friendship rather than enmity, and stating that he could be just as good a Jarl under King Ivar as he had been under King Fairhair.  He also added that his relatives had fought under the shield-maid Stikla and had supported King Odd in his battle with the warlock Ogmund Eythjofsbane Tussock.

King Ivar read the message to his father and told him he had never received better arguments for an alliance.

“You should still kill him’, Prince Erik said.  “He’s King Fairhair’s man and will turn on you when he gets a chance.  You have others that you can put in his place.”

“I’m not so sure about that.  I conquered King Amund of Southmore and ended up marrying his daughter and now all Amund’s offspring rule over it for me.  I conquered Northumbria and I married the princess there and now all her relatives are ruling over it for me.  And, quite frankly, I’m happy with both my choices.  Perhaps I should see if this Jarl Sigurd has a daughter or two?”

“Invite him and his family here under truce and discuss an alliance.  If it works out fine, if not, kill him.  Justify breaking the truce and kill him.”

So, that is what King Ivar did.  Sigurd, who was only four years older than Ivar, was recently married and had been trying to pry a child from his beautiful wife for almost two years.  So there were no daughters with which to bind an alliance.  But Ivar learned that his other claims were true.  His family had helped King Oddi at the Battle of Stiklastad and many of his relatives were longtime friends of his father’s relatives in the north, including the offspring of Grim Hairy-Cheek, who had fostered Oddi.  Sigurd’s family was also very wealthy and they had supplied King Harald Fairhair with many war ships for which he allowed them much freedom in their rule over Lade, but there had been no blood ties in that alliance.  Just the provision of money for ships.  They stayed in Northmore an extra week and during the two weeks, Ivar developed a true liking for the Ladejarler and a true friendship was sparked between them.

Meantime, his Norwegian wife, Lagertha, was due so Ivar returned to Southmore just as she bore him a son they named Frode, who got his surname from his noble munificence.  And thus Frode, because of the memory of his grandsire’s prosperity, which he recalled by his name, became from his very cradle and earliest childhood such a darling of all men, that he was not suffered even to step or stand on the ground, but was continually cherished in people’s laps and kissed. Thus he was not assigned to one up bringer only, but was in a manner everybody’s fosterling.

When King Ivar had returned from Norway, and was traveling through Sweden to visit his friend, King Halfdan, he took it upon himself to act as ambassador for the Swedish king, and sued successfully for Hythin’s daughter, whom he had once rescued from a monster, to be the wife of Halfdan, he still being unwedded.  Following the wedding feast and celebrations, Prince Erik had a final discussion with his son, Ivar.

“Don’t tell Princess Helga,” Ivar pleaded.  “She’ll kill me if she finds out I married a Christian princess here.”

“And a Pagan princess as well,” Erik reminded him.

“But I did divorce Helga in the old fashion first.”  Ivar had repeated ‘I divorce thee’ three times to free himself of Princess Helga.  But he knew that this would not satisfy the Christians.  “Helga chose the Drevjane people over me when she barely punished them for the mayhem they inflicted upon me.  I’m never going back to Kiev.  In Angleland I am the great warrior, Ivar ‘the Boneless’.  In Denmark I am King Eyfur ‘Harde Knute’, victim of a hard knot.  And in Norway I’m the King that isn’t Harald Fairhair.  Back in Kiev I am a ruler attacked and maimed by his own people.  I shall rule Frodi’s realm from Denmark.  You rule our eastern lands from Tmutorokhan.  And mother and Helga can squabble with each other in Kiev.”

“I could see that you were in your element here,” Erik replied.  “You were so angry and depressed in Kiev and here, you are unfettered and alive.  Still, you will have to return to Tmutorokhan annually to have your legs checked out.  We shall keep a medical alchemist in your staff here and we should maintain the medics already embedded in your army.”  Then Prince Erik took his Tmutorokan Hraes’ fleet across the Baltic and into Gardar, while King Ivar returned to York.

CHAPTER TWELVE

12.0  BIRTH OF GORM ‘THE OLD’ IVARSON  (Circa 920 AD)

“His son GORM, who had the surname of “The Englishman,”

because he was born in England, gained the sovereignty in

the island on his father’s death.”  His byname was ‘the Old’,

as he was from the Old Fridlief/Frode Line of Skioldung Kings.

Comments on Book Nine of Danish History; Brian Howard Seibert

Roman Midwife at Work

(920 AD)  When King Ivar got back to York, he was just in time for the birth of his baby with young Princess Blaeja.  As Ivar had predicted, it was a boy and Ivar named him Gorm, which meant snake, more in reference to the Midgard worm or serpent than to any curse.  But it sent up enough red banners for Princess Blaeja Senior to insist on joining the couple on their honeymoon trip to Denmark.

When the Hraes’ army landed in the port town serving Liere, Ivar learned that Hiarn, the former king of Liere was still on the loose even though he’d had a bounty on his head for almost a year.  Ivar marched his Hraes’ Kievan troops and Varangian Guard cataphracts into his grandfather’s round Byzantine fortress and the Varangians felt at home, because many had served in just such fortresses across the Anatolian plains.  As Ivar’s royal carriage pulled up to Frodi’s longhall, four cavalry officers, huge men, dismounted with one shield between them.  All four men grabbed a strap each that ran around the perimeter of the buckler, and Ivar lifted himself from the seat of the carriage and sat on the shield.  The four officers slid and lifted King Ivar through the double doors of the carriage and out into the courtyard as his wife and grandmother-in-law, the two Princess Blaejas stepped out and followed behind him carrying baby Gorm between them.

They walked up the steps of the huge front porch and young Princess Blaeja looked up at the high gable peak of the hall and almost got dizzy and her grandmother helped steady her with Baby Gorm.  They walked into the open double door entrance and were met with the warmth of the blazing entry hearth fire and they walked between the benches along both walls to the triple highseats on the right side of the hall.  Ivar slid himself from the shield onto the center highseat and his wife joined him there with Gorm.  Elder Blaeja joined them on the second highseat and they watched as the hall hearths were lit and some cooks carried on to the far end of the hall and disappeared into the scullery.  Fine wines and dark ales were served and soon the smell of roasting meats permeated the hall.

“This evening many of the local chieftains will join us to pledge allegiance to you,” King Ivar’s first minister said.  “They will offer pledges of tribute and men.”

“Why hasn’t Hiarn been found?” Ivar asked.

“I’m glad to see you are over your fear of Queen Alfhild,” Queen Eyfura chided when Erik returned to Kiev.  “But you seem to have left your son in Liere.”

“He’ll be back for a medical next year,” her prince replied.  “He wanted to consolidate our gains and set up his royal house in Liere.  He is a king now.”

“Tales of your great victories are still filtering throughout Gardar.  I am so proud of you two.  My father’s realm is intact once more.”  Eyfura gave her husband a great hug. 

“Why don’t you come with me to Tmutorokan?”

“Stay with me in Kiev for a while.  Then I’ll winter in Gardariki with you.”

“How could I not take you up on that?” Erik replied.  He truly loved his wife and he kissed her passionately.  His first love, Alfhild must have approved of the match, for she would have surely kept haunting him in Kiev had she not.  And he had a granddaughter named Alfhild now running around to keep him on his toes.  But Erik never told these women of Kiev that King Ivar had divorced Helga and remarried, not even when Princess Helga had everyone address her as Queen Helga since Ivar was now a king.

“Queen Mother!” Eyfura exclaimed to Erik in their chambers.  “Helga has taken to addressing me as Queen Mother!”

“Well…you are a queen and you are a mother…”

Eyfura grimaced.

“Come to bed,” Erik continued.  ”I’ll show you how mothers are made again.”

Erik returned to Gardariki for the fall trading preparations, leaving both queens to handle the trading in Kiev.  Queen Helga had managed the Kievan trade while Queen Eyfura had managed Tmutorokan trade when their men were off making war, but Helga had found it a bit too much, so Eyfura agreed to stay back in Kiev to help and then follow Erik to Gardariki after the trading season to spend the winter there with him.

Back in Denmark, Hiarn, feeling his lowly fortune, and seeing himself almost stripped of his forces by the double defeat King Ivar had dealt him, turned his mind to craftiness, and went to King Ivar with his face disguised, meaning to become of service, and find an occasion to slay him treacherously.

Hiarn was received by the king, hiding his purpose under the pretence of servitude, for he gave himself out as a salt-distiller and he performed base offices among the servants who did the filthiest work.  He used also to take the last place at meal-time, and he refrained from the baths, lest his multitude of scars should betray who he was if he stripped.  The king, in order to ease his own suspicions, made him wash; and when he knew his enemy by the scars, he said: “Tell me now, dear Hiarn, how would you have dealt with me, if you had found out plainly that I wished to murder you?”

Hiarn, stupefied, said, “Had I caught you I would have first challenged you, and then fought you, to give you a better chance of wiping out your reproach.”

King Ivar took him at his word, challenged him to a duel and slew him at the crossroads within King Frodi’s fortress.  He had Hiarn’s body buried in a fine barrow outside Liere that still bears the dead man’s name.  He showed Hiarn the greatest respect after his death, for he wanted to attach the man’s great luck to his own.  Prince Erik had thought himself lucky to save his own head by writing a twenty verse drapa of praise overnight, and rightly so, for one’s life is worth more to oneself than a whole kingdom.  Still, to win a whole kingdom by writing four lines of verse…that is some luck.  King Hiarn’s only bad luck was crossing swords with King Ivar.  “I would have given him a fief and the title of Jarl, had he not crossed swords with me,” he told the two Princess Blaejas.

Once he got settled in Tmutorokan, Prince Erik entered the hall of the Alchemists’ Guild and began the process of removing the copper from the last of the Red Gold Rings of Byzantium, the Hraes’ Gold Hoard.  While the Alchemists of Baghdad had a nitric acid process that Erik had learned, he had also found the actual process used by the Romans in a scroll written by Pliny the Elder he had purchased in Constantinople.  In it Pliny wrote of the purification of gold using the salt cementation process of gold parting.  He wrote that the gold is to be roasted with a double weight of salt and three times the weight of misy and again with two portions of salt and one of the stone which is called Schiston.  Erik learned that the salt and misy, which was sulfurous iron, drew the copper out of the gold and the mica schist absorbed it.  He wanted to use the Roman process because there was a certain poetic justice in using their process to cleanse the Emperor’s gold that had been cursed since his father, Ragnar’s time.

Erik and two Alchemist apprentices pounded the gold Byzants flat to increase the surface area of each coin, then put them in clay pots with the salt and the sulfates and they sealed the clay lids to the pots with raw clay and used the hall ovens that they used for purifying tonstone to roast the gold.  Then they roasted the gold again with salt and mica schist and the copper ended up in the schist.  The gold Byzants each lost about ten percent of their weight, but the gold was now ninety nine percent pure.  Erik planned on using the gold to plate tonstone statuary that craftsmen were preparing using a dual Ark system that stored static sparks in a primary Ark and plated objects placed in the secondary ark filled with Aqua Regia.

The Prince wanted his palace filled with gold statues in honour of his long lost love, Princess Gunwar.  Her Gardariki would glow gold like the gold crested helmets of the Huns that took her life on the Don Heath.  And the gold would glow like her niece, Eyfura, the third love of his long life.  They would not have too many more winters together in Tmutorokan and he wanted to surround her with beautiful things and wonderful times that would hold her in a royal embrace until she returned to Kiev in the spring.  But while gold meant beauty to women, it meant power to men and just having gold statuary all over his palace and in all his halls gave him power over ambassadors from Cathay to Constantinople.  It said, ‘I have the gold to get things done, be they trade deals or matters of war’.  If he had to buy an army, the mercenaries remembered the gold in his halls and would flock to his beck and flood to his calls.  If he wanted to rent a legion of Roman cataphracts, the Emperor’s ambassadors would remember the gold in his palace and send the knights first and collect payment after the job was done.

When the fall trading season was over, Queen Eyfura arrived from Kiev with Princess Alfhild beside her and Queen Silkisif came across the Kuban from Tmutorokan.  Her sons were grown and off in the Levant making trade deals for the Hraes’ Trading Company and she was bored and heard Alfhild had arrived.  The women loved the new golden works of art, but Eyfura thought it a bit ostentatious for a city surrounded by empires.  “Now the Huns will be back for sure,” she reproached Erik.  But he had an answer for that and he introduced her to General Sun Wu formerly of the Tang Dynasty of Cathay.  “General Wu is here to train our troops in the Art of War,” Erik told his wife.  “He is here to make our standing army stand out.”

“I’d be more impressed if he stood out a little more himself,” Queen Eyfura said, referring to the general’s diminutive size.

But the general did stand out.  He trained the Varangians in what he called, “the proper use of a double edged sword.”  And he taught them to march and manoeuvre in formation, and how to attack in single, time and a half and double time.  And he taught them how to attack backwards in formation in single and time and a half.  “When they can do it in double time they will be ready for a manoeuvre I call shin shay,” and general Wu began to describe the manoeuvre in Greek.  “Often the defined field of battle is along a valley floor, and both armies descend down their respective slopes and engage on the flat floor so no one side has a height advantage.  With shin shay, our army charges down the slope but stops before engaging the enemy and then starts charging backwards, back up the slope.  The enemy army thinks it is a rout and charges up the slope after our forces, who halt halfway up the slope, then start charging back down.  The enemy army loses momentum going uphill and our army gains momentum going down, so that, when the shield walls finally do crash, the enemy shield wall collapses.”

Erik liked the tactic.  He could envision his son, Ivar, on his battle platform, Sleipnir, charging downslope.  Oh…the devastation that would wreak!  He was glad he had found general Sun Wu available as a mercenary in Baghdad, after the Tang Dynasty had collapsed in Cathay.  Erik had also hired a retired Roman cataphracts officer to develop a legion of Varangian cataphracts.  He was tired of renting Roman knights.  They were the best trained, but , first and foremost, they were loyal to the Eastern Roman Empire and, after that, to whomever was paying them.  The Prince wanted to develop two legions of foot soldiers, one for Gardariki and one for Tmutorokan and then a legion of cataphracts operating out of both cities and patrolling the lands of Tmutorokan.  If this went well he would discuss duplicating the effort for King Ivar and the Kievan Hraes’.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

13.0  THE FIRST BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH  (Circa 921 AD)

Messengers were sent to King Ivar ‘the Boneless’ from the Anglo

Saxon princes challenging him to a pitched battle with Vin Moor

near Vin Forest as the battlefield.  It was customary that once a

field of battle had been declared for a king, he could not pillage

until the battle had been fought.

From Chapter 52, Egil’s Saga

Cataphracts (w/ Armoured Horse) Against Heavy Cavalry

(921 AD)  In Denmark, King Ivar was preparing his rented Roman cataphracts for battle.  There had been reports from Northumbria of military preparations being made in East Anglia against Ivar.  The Danish king had planned to overwinter in Liere, but now he planned to return to York and meet up with Jarl Biorn and his foot soldiers and take his cataphracts south to Lincoln for an engagement with the Angles and Saxons.  He was surprised when the elder Princess Blaeja asked if she could return to York with him.  He thought she must be homesick but she had other plans.  Blaeja had seen bruises on her granddaughter and she knew that Ivar had again been testing boundaries with young Blaeja.  She became convinced that Ivar was enacting some form of retribution regarding Ragnar Lothbrok’s final curse and on the trip back to Angleland she selected her plan.  Back in Castle York, she had her staff put Ivar’s baggage in a third floor chamber next to hers.  “The second floor is for guests,” she told him.  “You are family now.”

The night before King Ivar was to lead his cataphracts to Lincoln, he went to bed early and waited for Princess Blaeja to return to her room.  She had been drinking wine in the dining hall and was in good spirits as she came up the staircase.  Ivar thought she seemed much younger somehow and she had a spring in her step.  He gave her some time to get undressed and into bed, then he had his men carry him into her room and his men brought tapers with them.  He could see her in bed and he had his men place his shield upon the sheets and he undressed and crawled into bed beside her.  He felt her breasts and she almost woke and mumbled in her sleep, then he felt more of her and she mumbled more and when he’d gotten her moist he rolled himself on top of her and he entered her.  She woke and she struggled but he was too strong for her.  She was not strong like Hervor and she made no sound, as if too embarrassed to scream, and she struggled against him but that just made him plough harder and, when the furrow was seeded, he rolled off of her and pulled her sobbing body next to his.  “Now, that is rape,” he whispered to her and he held her close as she cried on his chest.

“This drug,” she thought, “better not get me pregnant, Erik, or I’ll be so angry with you,” and she mumbled drunkenly and fell asleep in Ivar’s arms.

The next day King Ivar rode in his carriage at the head of two thousand cataphracts and five thousand foot and Princess Blaeja watched the troop head off toward Lincoln.  Ivar met up with Biorn and his five thousand foot soldiers south of the Humber River and he informed his king that an Anglo Saxon army was a day away, so Ivar gave Biorn four long hazel poles and told him to mark out a field of battle and he watched from his carriage as Biorn placed the poles.  The field of battle was a large flat moor with a river flowing along one side and a huge forest growing along the other side.  The Anglish army must have been larger than the Hraes’ because Biorn placed the poles wider apart than would be required for their own army.  When Biorn returned they had a discussion on whether it would be advantageous to bunch up the Anglish rather than spread out their own shield wall.  Once Ivar explained his battle plan, Biorn agreed that bunching up the Anglish would be better so he rode out and narrowed the field of battle to suit their forces.  If the Anglish wanted it wider, he could adjust it again but they would likely just add another row to their shield wall.

The Northumbrian King Ivar ‘the Boneless’, had a full legion, ten thousand Kievan Hraes’ foot soldiers, formed up in a shield wall between the hazel poles and he had a thousand cataphracts protecting each flank.  The Anglo Saxons had twelve thousand foot facing them with two thousand regular cavalry protecting each flank.  But at the center of the Hraes’ shield wall sat King Ivar upon his shield and it was borne by his eight legged horse, Sleipnir, and the Anglish had all heard of what this strange battle platform could do, so they had beefed up their middle.  When the shield walls charged each other and crashed, Sleipnir pounded down two rows of men and Tyrfingr wailed and glowed as fierce fighters fell.  The cavalry fought it out on the flanks but the Anglish regular horse were no match for the Roman cataphracts and their losses were catastrophic.  Both ends of the Anglish shield wall began collapsing in to protect the rear from the cataphracts and the extra men in the middle were soon spreading out towards the flanks to defend against attack from behind.  Once King Ivar’s battle platform had pounded through the depleted middle, the Saxon’s were encircled on his right and the Angles surrounded on his left.  King Ivar ‘the Boneless’ ordered his cataphracts to combine and attack the Saxons rear and the Angles fled for their lives.

Four Saxon princes were captured that day as well as thousands of foot and hundreds of cavalry officers.  Both baggage trains were captured with much gold and silver booty.  Fine gold and silver inlaid weapons and armour were recovered from the dead and taken from the Saxons yet living.  Those that had surrendered within the hazel poled battlefield were bent over their shields and then bound and would be ransomed back to their lords.  The Hraes’ horsemen went out and rode down those who fled and the captives were all brought back to the field and were bent over their shields and bound for transport to Kiev and the slave schools there.  The princes were to be ransomed and the soldiers were tithed and the camp followers shared out to the victors.  Biorn took his army to Lincoln and billeted it savagely in the town and Ivar took the Saxon princes back to York awaiting their hefty ransoms.

“I thought you’d have moved me back down to the second floor,” King Ivar told Princess Blaeja.

“Would that stop you?” she asked.

He answered her question by visiting her that first night back and raping her again.  He woke up with her in his arms and she was crying.  “I’ve decided to overwinter here in York,” he told her.  “The hostage negotiations will likely drag on.”

As spring approached fleets arrived from Denmark and began to ravage the coasts of Angleland in earnest.  Coastal villages were raided and the people were enslaved and offered up for ransom and those with relatives who had silver to spare were set free and those who didn’t were put in chains and prepared for the Hraes’ spring trade missions to Baghdad or Constantinople.  Churches were no longer sacked and burned.  Their gold crosses and silver chalices were decades long gone.  Wonton destruction was replaced by selective harvesting.  Christian women were worth gold and silver in Baghdad: the young and the pretty went to harems for gold and the plain and the old went as house slaves for silver.  Young Christian men became eunuchs in the Arab armies for gold and old men with skills were enslaved in Arab guilds for silver.  Priests were ransomed for gold in Constantinople and were converted to the true Orthodox Christian faith, while strong Anglo Saxon men were bonded for silver and worked off their debts rowing in the bellies of biremes and triremes.  Christian girls were ransomed for silver and became bondmaidens working off their debts as well.  And their Roman masters worked them hard.

King Ivar left York for Liere in the spring.  The battered and bruised Princess Blaeja did not go with him.  But she did send a handmaiden to help young Queen Blaeja in Liere.  “If King Ivar mistreats Queen Blaeja, send me word,” she told the maid.

King Ivar took command of the Southern Way trading fleets and led them across the Baltic and into the rivers of Gardar.  Queen Blaeja sent word to her grandmother that Ivar seemed to have changed his disposition after returning from York and she thanked the princess for whatever she had done to change him.

Once the spring trading rush was over in Kiev, King Ivar left Queen Mother Eyfura and Queen Helga to bicker with each other and he headed for Gardariki to visit with his father.  Prince Erik took him to the Hall of the Alchemists’ Medical Guild and had him checked out by the medical staff there.  Ivar got a clean bill of health and the physicians were surprised at Ivar’s physical conditioning.  They commented that most people lose physical strength once they lose a limb because it becomes difficult to perform exercises.  So, Ivar did not tell them about his shield based battle platform nor of the numerous battles he had been in since leaving Hraes’.  He just wanted to get his annual supply of opium based pain killers and return to his father’s palace, but the Prince had a surprise for Ivar.  Several medical students wheeled out a chair equipped with a wheel under each leg and two handles on the back.  They explained that even a child could now help King Ivar get about.  “I have four large men who carry me about and it looks quite powerful.  A child pushing me about on a wheeled chair would make me look weak,” Ivar replied and left with his men.  Out on the street, Ivar had his men place him in one of Prince Erik’s vintage chariots that had been built up for him.  It was the rebuilt Roman antique.  “Now this wheeled chariot gets me around and has all the power of four horses drawing it!” he shouted to his father.  Erik got aboard his Egyptian knock off.  Ivar leaned against the chariot wheel and rocked it back and forth.  “Race you to the palace!” Ivar cried, taking off quite suddenly.  The Prince saw Ivar rocking the wheel and had an idea and was working on it when his son took off, so he dropped the idea, took up the reins and flicked his team into action.

At the palace, Queen Silkisif was waiting for the men.  She had heard that Ivar had arrived and she hadn’t seen him in a few years so, she was excited to meet him again.  “Prince…King Ivar,” she cried as he was carried into the hall and she ran up to him and hugged him.  “You are all grown up!” she said.  She looked at Prince Erik as he walked in and whispered, “He has Oddi’s eyes!”

They spent the rest of the afternoon in the palace hall drinking and eating and talking old times.  Prince Erik steered conversation away from western issues, such as the two wives King Ivar had married there.  And when he got a chance to talk with Silkisif alone, he warned her that Ivar liked to have his way with women, so, when evening came she begged her leave and returned to Tmutorokan.

The next day, Erik introduced his son to General Sun Wu, who arranged an afternoon demonstration of shield wall and battle tactics by the Gardariki Varangian legionnaires.  General Wu also put on a demonstration of Scythian powder rockets he had brought with him from Cathay that were being duplicated by the Gardariki Alchemists’ Guild.  They were fire arrows that were lit and shot from bows that doubled the range of the bows.  Then Prince Erik brought out his famous foot-bows that had an even greater range and Ivar laughed at the earlier demonstration until Sun Wu brought out more of Erik’s foot-bows equipped with larger fire arrows and, when they lit them and shot them, the fire-arrows flew off so far that they could only be seen by their smoke trails and the fiery explosions they made when they landed.  Prince Erik explained that these fire-arrows had the range to permit incendiary attacks on Constantinople by sea.

Over the summer, King Ivar monitored the progress of the legion of foot soldiers and cataphracts and agreed with his father that Kiev should develop a legion of each for its own defence.  When the fall trading rush began its flow back north through Hraes’, Prince Erik asked Ivar if he could take additional medicine back north with him and pass it on to Duke Rollo and Princess Blaeja Senior. 

“It’s medication for the elderly,” Erik started.  “You won’t be needing it for many years.”

“No problem,” Ivar replied.  “I’m also going to visit mother in Kiev.  I want to talk to her about training legions there.  She’s going to complain about costs.”

“To that end,” Erik said, “I have your share of the Hraes’ gold.  It’s all cleaned up and gleaming yellow once more.”  He showed Ivar six heavy chests of gold.  “you can leave some in Kiev and take the rest back to Denmark with you.”

“Thanks,” Ivar said.  “How much gold will it take to get training on those legions started?”

“Three or four chests.  The weapons and armour all have to be leading edge.  Probably four.”

“Trading has been really good,” Ivar said, “and the Pechenegs haven’t been a problem, so Hraes’ shares of gold should be great, so, why don’t you keep four chests until I’m ready to start the legions up and I’ll give one chest to mother and another to Helga?”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

14.0  KING IVAR ‘THE TRAVELLER’  (Circa 921-925 AD)

            “Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’.

                                                                                                Brian Howard Seibert

Warships Leading a Merchant Fleet

(921-925 AD)  When King Ivar returned north with the Hraes’ trading fleet, he stopped in at Kiev to talk with his mother about his father’s development of several Roman trained Varangian legions.  Queen Mother Eyfura complained about the cost, as Ivar knew she would, so he told her the Prince had given him gold to get it started.  Then he gave Eyfura a chest of gold and he gave one to Queen Helga and his daughter, Princess Alfhild.

Then King Ivar went to the Hraes’ Trading Company treasury, where the tithes for all the merchant ships were collected, and he began matching the payments collected against the value of the goods being transported until he was satisfied that everything was correct.  Merchant ships paid a gold Byzant each just to sail the Dan’Way and then the merchants had to pay a tithe of ten percent on the value of the goods being shipped and there were thousands of merchant ships, so it added up to a lot of gold.  Some was kept in the treasury in Kiev and some Ivar took aboard his ships.  Heading north, he stopped at the Hraes’ station in Chernigov and collected a share of profits made on the sale of supplies and services to merchants, including food, lodgings and ship repairs, then paid out a share of Hraes’ tithes to the station owners.  He did the same at Smolensk and Surazh but there the profits included portage fees charged to load ships on wains and transport them overland between rivers.

Most of the merchant ships continued west along the Dvina River to Polotsk and then into the Baltic and on to their respective kingdoms with their silks and spices and other southern wares.  But King Ivar wanted to do the northern leg on his way to Sweden, so he sent some officers to Polotsk to collect profits and pay tithe shares and he portaged his ships from Surazh to the Lovat River and collected gifts from Vadim the Brave of Staraja Russa and collected profits and paid out tithe shares at Hraes’ stations in 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.  Ivar conveyed greetings from Halfdan’s uncle in Chernigov and then confirmed that Halfdan’s new marriage was doing well.

Ivar then visited the Hraes’ stations in Gotland and Skane before arriving in Liere to his wife, Queen Blaeja and his son Gorm.  He treated them much more warmly than he had previously.  King Ivar managed some state business in Liere and collected profits from the new Hraes’ stations he had set up in Denmark, including the largest at Hedeby.  Then he 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 his wife, Lagertha, and his son, Frode.  Jarl Ane and Jarl Sigurd met him there and they squared up business with Hraes’ stations from Northmore to Hrafnista.

From Southmore, King Ivar sailed to Ireland and met with Princess Hrafnhild in Dub-Lin, introducing himself as her uncle, the younger brother of her father, Helgi Arrow Odd Erikson.  He collected his share of profits and paid out her share of tithes and helped her streamline her operation a bit then sailed off to Rouen to share profits and tithes with his uncle, Duke Rollo.  Then he headed to York to finish up business with Princess Blaeja Senior and her Hraes’ station in York Castle.  His first night there he raped Blaeja once again, then headed off to Lincoln to see how Biorn was making out with the Angles of the Danelaw.  Once he was sure that Biorn had his conquests under control, he returned to York and, finding his bags still located on the third floor, he raped Princess Blaeja once more.

“You might as well move into my room and be done with it!” Princess Blaeja cried.  ‘If your father knew you were treating me like this, there would be hell to pay!”

“I enjoy plundering you from my room down the hall.  And that reminds me…father wanted me to give you this two year supply of a drug you requested.  I gave the exact same drug to Duke Rollo and he would only tell me it was for the elderly.  You don’t look elderly at all,” he said, and he ravaged her once again.  “I am thinking of wintering in York once again.”

“Have you thought about my idea of minting Northumbrian coinage?” Princess Blaeja asked, as she tucked herself under Ivar’s arm.

“You mentioned that last spring,” he started.  “How does it go again?”

“Right now, we are officially using the gold and silver coins you have minted in Denmark.  The ones with your portrait on one face and King Frodi’s on the other.  It works well for Denmark, because the Danes still revere King Frodi ‘the Peaceful’, but it’s not really working that well here because King Frodi is still seen as the leader of the Great Pagan Army of 865.  For Northumbria we should mint coins locally with you on one side and King Oddi on the other.  The Umbrians loved Arrow Oddi.”

“You are right, of course, my princess, but King Oddi was also a leader of the Great Pagan Army of 865, just on the other side of the coin, the side that fled.  I think we should mint local coinage with my portrait on both sides of the coins.”

“That was my next suggestion,” Princess Blaeja lied.  “The people love you as much as your brother Oddi.”

So, King Ivar set up a mint in York and they started introducing coins with King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Eyfurason on both sides and the people called them Ivar ‘the Boneless’ coins, with a leg missing on each side.  A thousand years later, hoards of silver coins would be found with both the Danish and York minted coins in them and archaeologists would be stupefied by the matching and mismatching portraiture.

All winter the coasts of Angleland and Ireland were raided by the slaver ships of the Danes, huge two masted knars that could spirit off whole villages at a time.  And the Saxon kings could not stop the raiding, so their annals made little mention of the enslavement of the people.  Just the attacks upon the church and the ravaging of the nobility.

In the spring, King Ivar again assembled and led the huge merchant fleets across the Baltic and into the riverways of Gardar.  After a few years, Ivar became known as King Ivar ‘the Traveller’ and sagas were written of him.  And some of his sagas were localized and adopted by countries that loved him for the prosperity he brought them.  Countries such as Denmark and Sweden, kingdoms that were not having their coasts ravaged by slavers and raiders.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

15.0  THE TROUBLE WITH PECHENEGS  (Circa 926 AD)

“One day I became bothered by the bad I was writing about.

Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘I know that we are

slavers and all, and very bad, even for our time, but you have

to see who we were dealing with,’ and then he showed me in

my dream.  I began my writing once again.”

Brian Howard Seibert

The Trouble With Pechenegs

(926 AD)  When the Romans had lost Adrianople to the Bulgars, the Pechenegs had returned to the southern plains of Gardar and their tribes began grazing their herds of cattle and sheep on either side of the Dnieper River, just below the rapids.  The Yavdi-Erdem of the shining gold horses under Kagan Baitzas settled on the northwest side of the river, while the Kuerci-Cur of the bluish horses under Kagan Kouel settled on the northeast side.  The Qabugsin-Yula of the bark hued horses under Kagan Kourkoutai settled just south of the Erdem on the west bank and the Suru-Kul-Bey of the silver-grey horses under Kagan Ipaos settled on the east bank across from the Yula.  The Qara-Bey of the Scythian horse under Kagan Kaidoum settled on the southwest bank and the Boru-Tolmac of grey horses under Kagan-Bek Kostas on the southeast.  Furthest south were the Yazi-Qapan of the dark brown horse under Kagan Giazis on the west bank, with the Bula-Copan with piebald horses under Kagan-Bek Batas on the east bank.  They had caused very few problems with the merchant ships travelling up and down the Dnieper, but in the latest spring trade cycle, some Hraes’ portage crews had claimed to be harried and harassed by Pecheneg horsemen.  King Ivar came down from Kiev and confirmed the claims, then rode his carriage across the plain to the Sea of Azov and took a ship to Gardariki to visit with his father.

“There is trouble with the Pechenegs,” he told Erik in Pecheneg.

“I heard,” the Prince replied in the same language.  “I think Kagan Bay wants a cut of the Dan’Way profits.”

“Well he can just ‘fock’ off!” Ivar answered in Pecheneg.  He had to revert to the Anglish Danish for the ‘fock’ part because Pecheneg didn’t have such a word that was easily translatable.

“We’ll have to at least ask him what he wants.  If it is a token amount, we may be better off paying them off.  It’s the cost of doing business.”

“I don’t like it!” Ivar exclaimed.  “We have legions now.  We should use them.”

“We have legions so we don’t have to use them.”

“This is the Khazars’ doing,” Ivar hissed.  “We should make them pay off the Pechenegs.”

“Maybe we can,” Erik said.  Ivar sat down and listened to his father.  “The Khazars have been involved in our Nor’Way trade, you know, portaging ships and now, providing us with Khazar Vayar for preservation and shipping north, but there are sturgeon fish in the Dnieper as well.  The Romans and Arabs are starting to buy our Cathayan preserved Khavayar in preference to their own style of sturgeon roe.  Perhaps we could interest the Pechenegs in procuring sturgeon roe for us and running some of the portages.  We may have to pay them handsomely for their efforts but we could still increase our profits somewhat and it would cost us a lot less than war.”

“The Pechenegs are cattlemen,” Ivar complained.  “If they can’t do it on horseback, they won’t be interested.”

“That is true.  But I have seen their women fish.”

“Sturgeon are big fish,” Ivar continued.

“The sturgeon we are after are a smaller species.  We want the amber roe, not the Scythian.  The Romans will only be interested in the amber Khavayar.”

“Let’s try it,” Ivar agreed.  “How do you want to proceed?”

“With force,” Erik said.  “You return to Kiev and meet me at the rapids with a legion of Kievan foot and a legion of Kievan cataphracts.  I’ll bring up the same from Tmutorokan.  We’ll offer sturgeon fishing rights to all the Pecheneg tribes, but we’ll offer the portaging business to Kagan Bay and his Yavdi-Erdem only.  If they want to share it with other tribes, it is up to Bay.”

And that is what the Hraes’ did.  King Ivar returned to Kiev and took a legion of ten thousand foot soldiers and a legion of five thousand cataphracts south past the Dnieper rapids and Prince Erik took a like number of men by ship up the Dnieper, past the eight tribes of Pechenegs along the banks and met his son on the west bank of the river.  They then marched their combined forces south and were met by Kagan Bay and his Yavdi-Erdem cavalry.  Hraes’ warships shadowed the Hraes’ force and provided them with supplies.  Kagan Bay rode out with a small group of his chieftains and King Ivar and Prince Erik rode out to meet them on horseback, Erik on a Scythian stallion and Ivar on a white, accompanied by their entourage.  Kagan Bay slid from his horse and Prince Erik slid from his as well.  King Ivar waited for his men to come with Hraes’ Ships Round, then slid from his horse and was borne by his four great warriors called Sleipnir.  King Ivar preferred a white horse because his undyed wool pants blended in with the white better and it wasn’t quite as apparent that he had lost his lower legs.

“I had heard of tragic news,” Kagan Bay said to Erik in Norse.  “I had no idea it was this bad.”

“Our young Kagan survived his wounds,” Erik replied in Pecheneg, “and has grown stronger because of them.”

The Pecheneg chieftains began to get edgy as King Ivar approached the two leaders on the ground.  He and his bearers were dressed in full mail and looked very menacing.  Kagan Bay waved his men back…he could not be seen as appearing to be fearful of a legless warrior…and Prince Erik made his offer to the Pecheneg leader.  Bay liked the offer, especially the part where the Yavdi-Erdem controlled the portaging rights.  It was one of the reasons he had located his tribe on the northwest bank of the river, closest to the portaging inns and stables.  He was a little unsure of the sturgeon fishing rights though.

“You will pay us to have our women fish for you but you don’t want the fish?  You only want the fish eggs?”  It did not make much sense to the Kagan.  So Erik offered each tribe a chest of gold as well, until the fishing proved to be profitable.  Kagan Bay accepted the offer, subject to approval by the other Kagans.

“You’ve brought quite a large force with you,” the Kagan stated, as he admired the legions behind the Prince.  “They look Roman but yet not Roman.  Your generals don’t squabble with each other.  And one of your generals looks Tang.”

“They are more for show than go,” Erik lied and he waved General Sun Wu forward and introduced him to the Kagan.  “General Wu has prepared a military drill for you, should you care to watch.”

Wine and food was brought out from the longships for the Pecheneg leaders and the Pecheneg cavalry dismounted and watched from the slope of a hill as the two legions of foot soldiers drilled against each other and the two legions of cataphracts sallied forth from within their squares and charged each other and charged their opposing squares of foot.  As the cataphracts approached the squares, long pole lances sprang out from behind round legionary shields and the horse were turned aside.  Then a simulated battle took place between the Kievan and Tmutorokan legions, starting with foot bows and fire arrows and culminating in General Wu’s tactic of shu shway, wherein the legions charged each other forwards and backwards at double time.

“If any problems arise with our agreement,” Prince Erik concluded, “send messengers to Gardariki and I shall help resolve them as quickly as possible.”

The Tmutorokan Hraes’ forces packed up their equipment and loaded their horses into their ships and rowed south, back down the Dnieper and the Kievan Hraes’ forces began their march north.  Kagan Bay was very impressed with how fast the Tmutorokan Hraes’ had loaded their horses into their ships – he did not think such a thing could be done so quickly.  Once they were gone, Kagan Bay sent his men across the field to gather up what was left of the fire arrows.  The explosions of the fire arrows had caused the Pecheneg horse to become skittish and they almost stampeded.  Kagan Bay feared that new weapon above all others he had seen that day.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

16.0  THE REIGN OF KING HARDE KNUTE  (Circa 927-930 AD)

“Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’.

Brian Howard Seibert

King Harde Knute of Denmark and Northumbria

(927-930 AD)  When King Ivar returned north with the Hraes’ trading fleet in the fall, he stopped in at Kiev to talk with Queen Helga.  “Prince Mal has been causing you trouble,” he said.  “Would you like me to deal with him?”

“No,” she replied.  “I’ll handle him.”

“Tell him you’re still my wife,” Ivar said.  “We haven’t seen eye to eye for a number of years, but he should still respect that.”

“Are we?” she asked.  “Are we still man and wife?”

“I think so.  I think some day you will realize how much your Drevjane friends took away from me and you’ll do the right thing.  Or you’ll let me do it.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“For what?” he asked.

“For respecting my opinion and letting me handle it.”

Ivar left King Frodi’s Hall and went to the Hraes’ Trading Company treasury, and checked the tithes for all the merchant ships and he matched payments collected against the value of goods shipped and he collected chests of gold Byzants and silver Kufas and he set off with his fleet of thousands of merchant ships and they headed north for Chernigov, the land of the Drevjane, and he collected a share of profits then paid out a share of tithes to the Swedish station owners there.  He did the same at Smolensk and Surazh and sent men to handle Polotsk.  Most of the merchant ships continued west along the Dvina River to the Baltic but, once more, King Ivar took the northern leg on his way to Sweden and portaged his ships from Surazh to the Lovat River and collected gifts from Vadim the Brave of Staraja Russa and collected profits and paid out tithe shares at Hraes’ stations in 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.

“I think Helga is contemplating punishing the ‘Chernigov Twenty’,” he told Halfdan.

“Will you be getting back together?” he asked.

“We had always planned to have a son after Alfhild was born.  Perhaps we could get back together and try.  You seem to have had much luck in that area,” he said, as he watched Halfdan’s sons at play in his highseat hall.

Ivar then visited the Hraes’ stations in Gotland and Skane before arriving in Liere to his wife, Queen Blaeja and his son Gorm.  His son was old enough to accompany him on his Danish rounds and he took Gorm to Hedeby and they explored Jutland together before returning to Liere.  Queen Blaeja wanted a daughter but they worked at it to no avail.  Her healer thought perhaps that she had Gorm too early in life and hinted that perhaps it was him, but Ivar knew better.  He sailed to Norway and arrived just in time for the birth of a daughter with his wife, Lagertha.  He took his son Frodi with him to visit Jarl Ane in Northmore and then Jarl Sigurd in Lade and he squared up business with the Hraes’ stations from Northmore to Hrafnista.

From Southmore, King Ivar sailed to Ireland and met with Princess Hrafnhild in Dub-Lin and collected profits and paid out tithes.  The princess introduced him to some of the Ui Imair living in Dub-Lin.  They were the sons of Imair, a son of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ by Queen Imaira, from when he had overwintered in Ireland with his shield-maiden Ladgerda.  Imair had left Ireland to join the Great Pagan Army of 865 and had helped the legitimate sons of Ragnar, his half-brothers, capture York and avenge Ragnar’s death by helping kill King AElla with the death of the blood eagle.  Ivar told them that their brother Sihtric was helping rule over Frodingham province in Northumbria.  He then sailed off to Rouen to share profits and tithes with his uncle, Duke Rollo.  Finally, he headed to York to finish up business with Princess Blaeja Senior and her Hraes’ station in York Castle.  His first night there he raped Blaeja yet again, then headed off to Bamburgh to see how Biorn was making out with the Angles there.  Once he was sure that Biorn had his conquests under control, he returned to York and, finding his bags still located on the third floor, he raped Princess Blaeja once more.

“You might as well move into my room and be done with it!” Princess Blaeja cried.  ‘If your father knew you were treating me like this, there would be hell to pay!”

“I enjoy plundering you from my room down the hall.  And that reminds me…father wanted me to give you some more of the drug you requested.  I gave the exact same drug to Duke Rollo and he would only tell me it was for the elderly.  You don’t look elderly at all,” he said, and he ravaged her once more.  “I am thinking of overwintering in York again.”

“Good,” Blaeja replied, resting in his arm.  “You owe me a story.”

“Oh? And what story could that be?”

“You told me a while ago that your brother Helgi was killed by a poisoned blood-snake, not a viper as is told.”

“I’m not sure I should tell you this family secret.  You’ll have to promise not to kill my mother.”

“You said your mother was dead.”

“Not my dead mother.  My other mother.”

“Queen Mother Eyfura?”

“Yes.  My official mother,” Ivar confirmed.  “You have to promise.  ‘Cause you’re gonna wanna kill her after I tell you the story.  I know I almost did.”

Princess Blaeja pushed away from Ivar and propped herself up on one elbow and stared at him quizzically.

“She’s dying anyway,” Ivar reassured her.  “The same poison that killed Oddi is eating her life away too.”

“I won’t kill her,” Blaeja stated flatly.  “Why does everybody think I’m going to kill somebody?”

“Who else thinks you’re going to kill someone?”

“Nobody.  Everybody.  Get on with the story.  I won’t tell it to anybody.  And I won’t kill your mother.”

“Good.  Now, how did I leave you hanging last time?  Oh yeah, Queen Eyfura…she started calling herself Queen Eyfura even though I hadn’t taken back the crown of Denmark yet, she told Hervor that she was the daughter of Prince Angantyr, her son, and she got a pledge from her handmaiden that they would both avenge their fathers.  So, when I started my military training, so did Hervor.  I think that is when I first started noticing her, noticing her breasts.  She could bind them up for training until she looked like a warrior, but after training, when she unbound them, they popped.  They were standing out there.  Under her tunic, of course, but out there.

“After a few years of training, Hervor disguised herself as a warrior and took a ship and a crew up the Dnieper and down the Dvina and crossed the Baltic to Zealand and she resupplied in Liere and learned that a four line poet named Hiarn had usurped the country with but a verse.  She then sailed to Samso Island, broke into the mound of her father and eleven uncles and took the famed sword Tyrfingr for herself.  She slept with the sword between her breasts as she lusted for vengeance against the greatest of all Vikings, my brother Arrow Odd.”

“But Oddi didn’t kill her father,” Blaeja said.  “It was Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ who killed Angantyr.  Oddi killed his eleven brothers.”

“But here’s the thing,” Ivar explained.  “Angantyr used Hjalmar to get to Arrow Odd.  Angantyr proposed to Ingibjorg, Hjalmar’s lover, just to set up the duel on Samso, and he told Arngrim and Eyfura portentous dreams so he could kill Arrow Odd with Tyrfingr.  He even went to the trouble of marrying and knocking up Hervor’s mother before heading off to the holmganger, just to show the world that he didn’t give a damn about Hjalmar’s sweet Ingibjorg.  But once he was on Samso, Hjalmar insisted on fighting him and Angantyr did not think that Oddi would be able to slay his way through all his brothers.  He thought he would never get the chance to kill Arrow Odd for his grandfather, King Frodi.  But, as the duel dragged on and more and more of his brothers fell, Angantyr saw the possibility of Oddi still being alive once he had finished off Hjalmar.  But he underestimated Hjalmar.  By the time he had beaten Hjalmar near to death, he had, himself, been wounded many times and Oddi had killed all of his brothers in turn with nary a scratch.  Angantyr knew that he was so close to death himself, that he had no chance of beating Oddi, so he did the next best thing.  He deprived Arrow Odd of a perfect victory and he bared his chest to Hjalmar, who knew he was dying from the poison of that famed blade Tyrfingr and who could not resist avenging his sweet Ingibjorg.  So, although it was Hjalmar who technically did kill Angantyr, it was Arrow Odd who caused Angantyr to expose his heart of darkness to the fatal thrust.”

“Poor Ingibjorg,” Blaeja pined.

“Yes.  Arrow Odd buried Angantyr and his eleven brothers with their weapons on Samso, but for some reason took Hjalmar’s body back to Sweden and when he showed the body to sweet Ingibjorg, she dropped dead with grief.”

“That’s perfectly awful!” Blaeja cried.

“It’s perfectly artful,” Ivar corrected.  “Life is art and art is life!  Hjalmar ‘the Brave’ and Ingibjorg ‘the Fair’ were buried together in a huge howe that Oddi and the king had erected for them.”

“It’s beautiful that they are together forever,” Blaeja admitted, “but it is still so sad.”

“Yes, but Queen Eyfura and Hervor both blamed Oddi for the death of Angantyr even though he didn’t personally do it.  And, of course, Queen Eyfura blamed Oddi for the death of her father, King Frodi, because there were plenty of witnesses to that killing.  So, the two of them hatched a plan to retrieve the famed sword Tyrfingr from the howe of Angantyr, but no one else knew of their plan to warn them of the curse of the blade.  The sword was always to be kept sheathed in the blood of its last victim, or it would be the death of its owner.  And my mother, Hervor, was sleeping with the damn blade.  But they wanted to use Tyrfingr because it was the sword that Angantyr fought with when he died, and it was famously poisonous.  They didn’t even want to kill Oddi with the blade, they just wanted to cut him with it and let the poison do its job.

“When Hervor returned to Kiev with the weapon, the two conspirators waited for a chance to meet with King Oddi on the main quay of Kiev.  Finally, they got their chance and, while Queen Eyfura distracted Oddi, Hervor gashed him on the ankle with the poisoned sword.  As the poison leached into Oddi’s leg, Prince Erik tried to convince Oddi to let him take that leg off, but Oddi would have none of that, and that is about when I arrived on the scene, and I witnessed the death of my brother.  And, as I watched, I remember telling myself that I, too, would not allow my leg to be amputated.  And look at me now,” Ivar lamented as he sat back and lifted his legs onto the dining hall table once more.  He took a long sip of his wine and continued.  “King Oddi recited his death dirge and a cleric recorded it in Latin as he spoke, and he forgave Hervor for her actions and I could see that she was already turning grey from exposure to the blade and she died two days later and was cremated with King Oddi aboard Fair Faxi on the Dnieper River downstream of Kiev.”

Princess Blaeja sat speechless at the dining hall table and they finished their wine and she went upstairs to bed.  When King Ivar retired he had his men carry him to Blaeja’s room so he could rape her in her bed, but she made love to him instead, and he rested in her arms and they both cried for their long lost Arrow Oddi.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

17.0  THE MARRIAGE SUIT OF PRINCE MAL  (Circa 931 AD)

Olga was informed that the Derevlians had arrived, and summoned

them to her presence with a gracious welcome.  They proposed that

Olga should come and marry their Prince Mal.  “Return now to your boat,

and I shall send for you on the morrow, and you shall say, ‘carry us in

our boat.’ And you shall be carried in your boat.” She dismissed them.

Now Olga had a large deep ditch dug near the hall, and on the morrow,

the people of Kiev carried the Derevlians in their boat and they dropped

them into the trench along with the boat.  Olga then commanded that

they should be buried alive.

Appended from the Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

Prince Mal of Dereva

(931 AD)  Soon after King Ivar had returned to the west to overwinter in Denmark with his merchant fleet, Prince Mal of the Drevjane Slavs sent envoys, the ‘Chernigov Twenty’, to Kiev to propose marriage between their prince and Princess Helga of Chernigov.  Prince Mal felt that the princess still held feelings for the boys that she had grown up with in Chernigov, even though they had maimed her husband, so he thought them best suited to extend his offer.  Queen Helga treated the envoys with respect but reminded them that she was their queen and was married to King Ivar of Denmark and Gardar.  When they told her they had been informed that King Ivar had divorced her and remarried a Christian princess in Denmark, Helga sent them away from Kiev and watched from the main quay as they rowed their eight oared boat back up the Dnieper.

Later, in the winter, the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ returned on horseback down the frozen river and petitioned Princess Helga, once more, on behalf of Prince Mal and his proposal of marriage.  They were a little more insistent this time.  Helga realized the vulnerability of her situation.  Twenty armed men were on the front porch of her hall and she only had two armed guards within.  She remembered that many Slav groups saw the kidnapping of brides as an approved form of courting.  So, she invited the men inside and she treated them like the boys that she had grown up with, offering them mead and food in a friendly manner while secretly sending her handmaiden off for reinforcements.

A squadron of legionnaires soon marched up to her longhall and the officer entered, surveyed the situation, and told Queen Helga that the troops were ready for their scheduled inspection.  Helga acted as though she had forgotten about the improvised drill and she invited her Drevjane guests to sit on the front porch and observe the manoeuvres the troops were scheduled to perform out in the street.  The officer barked out orders and the soldiers went through their training drills and Helga walked out between the troops and corrected the way some of the troops were holding their spears or swinging their swords and she discussed formations with the officers and showed her old friends how familiar she was with war.  Both Queen Helga and Queen Mother Eyfura had been shocked at the costs of developing two full legions of foot soldiers and a full legion of cataphracts, so much so that Helga took an active part in the development of the legions.  Both women wanted to see where the gold was going.  The final manoeuvre was a shield drill called ‘the Turtle’, in which the soldiers locked their shields together to form a turtle shell above themselves to protect against falling arrows and stones.  Helga articulately pointed out to her Chernigov friends the finer points of the manoeuvre.

After the training, the squadron retired to rest in the hall across the road and several of the officers joined their queen in her hall and discussed military strategy with her guests until Queen Helga sent them back to Chernigov with a firm no to Prince Mal’s offer of marriage.  But when the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ reported the response to their prince and told him how adept Queen Helga had been at drilling her legions, Prince Mal’s desire for the princess only grew.

The feeling of vulnerability Queen Helga had experienced in her own hall served as a warning to her that she needed to better monitor what was going on with the men of Chernigov, so she sent her most trusted handmaiden to the town to contact some old girlfriends she still had there and they spied on the ‘Chernigov Twenty’, using the Hraes’ station there as their base of operations.  In the spring the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ learned that King Ivar was accompanying the Hraes’ merchant fleet coming from the Baltic and Prince Mal ordered the group to take their fastest boat to Kiev and kidnap Princess Helga before the king got back to the capital.  The plan was leaked to the spying handmaiden by a disgruntled mistress of one of the twenty and Helga’s slave raced back to Kiev with a warning.  Queen Helga evacuated her quarter of the city and had her troops pull up the corduroy logs in front of her longhall, then they dug a deep trench where the road had been and put the logs back over top it.

The next morning, the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ arrived in Kiev aboard their sixteen oared boat and Queen Helga and her legionnaires went down to the main quay to meet them.  She told them to stay in their boat and that her troops would carry the vessel triumphantly into the city on their shoulders, so the troops took up the oars and passed them through the oarlock openings and they carried the boat with the oar blades on their shoulders into the city and stopped in front of Queen Helga’s highseat hall.  Other soldiers waiting on the sidewalks of the street pulled away the corduroy logs and the soldiers carrying the little ship dropped their load into the pit.  The soldiers on the sidewalks then grabbed up their shovels and began filling in the hole.  As the lumps of earth came crashing down, the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ gathered up their shields from the topstrakes and began to shelter themselves under a ‘Turtle’ formation of sorts.  They tried to shake off the falling earth but the soil was raining down too hard upon them and they could only take shelter under their shields and were soon covered up.  The soldiers then smoothed out the soil and replaced the corduroy logs and were all sworn to silence on pain of death.

In the afternoon, King Ivar arrived at the head of his merchant fleet of a thousand ships and they swarmed around the many quays of Kiev and were beached upon the riverbanks for many miles up and downstream.  King Ivar entered King Frodi’s palace and Queen Helga had a great feast prepared for him and his merchant princes.  After much eating and drinking, musicians and singers came out and set up between the highseats to entertain the king and queen and their guests.

“I have punished the ‘Chernigov Twenty’,” Queen Helga said to King Ivar as they shared the highseat.  “I have buried them alive.”

“Does this mean you want me back?” he asked earnestly, sliding closer beside her on the highseat.

“I have always wanted you back,” she replied.  “Here is a shovel.  The twenty are still alive and you may save them if you wish.”

“If I had legs, I could dig them up,” he replied.  “But they took my legs!” he cried, snapping the shovel handle over the arm of the highseat.  No more was ever said about the twenty.

Later that night in bed Ivar said, “I married an Anglish Christian Princess while I was in Denmark.”

“I know,” Helga replied. 

“I did it to avenge my grandfather, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,” he explained.  “Her grandfather executed Ragnar with a most famous death by the bite of a dozen poisoned blood-snakes.”

“Didn’t Princes Erik and Roller avenge their father years ago?”

“I did it for Prince Oddi and myself.  Arrow Odd truly loved the old man.  He would tell me stories of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ and dragons and caves and 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 Ragnar.”

“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.”

“I want us to have a son and I want to name him Svein.”

“Your timing is right for having a son,” Helga said and she rode him again.  “Life is art!” she exclaimed as she came.

“Art is life!” he exclaimed as he exploded within her.  They slept in each other’s arms, a thing they had not done for more than a decade.

King Ivar stayed with his wife in King Frodi’s palace for a week as the merchant fleet was re-equipped and sent off downstream, then he joined his fleet and headed out for Constantinople.  There were treaty problems brewing with the Romans, so he had to forego Baghdad and join his father there to renegotiate terms.  Prince Mal, who lived in a town called Iskorosten, never learned the fate of the ‘Chernigov Twenty’, but he did hear rumours out of Chernigov that the twenty had failed in their mission and had sailed to Constantinople in their boat with the merchant fleet and had joined the Varangian Guard rather than once more face the anger of their lord.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

18.0  THE REIGN OF KING IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’  (Circa 932 AD)

6423 (915). The Pechenegs entered the land of Hraes’ for the first time,

but when they made peace with Igor’, they went their way to the Danube.

6424-6428 (916-920). Romanus was set up as Emperor in Greece.  Igor’

waged war against the Pechenegs.

Twenty Year Lacuna of Prince Igor’ (Ivar)

6429-6437 (921-929). Symeon attacked Tsar’grad and ravaged Thrace.

6438-6442 (930-934). The Magyars attacked Tsar’grad for the first time.

6443-6449 (935-941). Igor’ attacked the Greeks, and the Bulgarians sent

word to the Emperor that the Hraes’ were advancing upon Tsar’grad with

ten thousand vessels.

Appended from the Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

“The Twenty Year Lacuna of Prince Igor/Ivar coincides with the appearance,

out of nowhere, of King Harde Knute I of Denmark, and so begins the return

of King Frodi’s Anglish Danish offspring, the ‘Old’ Fridleif/Frode Skioldung Line

of Kings, to rule once more in Denmark.  Their stories are told in the Hraes’

Primary Chronicle and in Book Six of The Nine Books of the Danish History

 of Saxo Grammaticus.”

Brian Howard Seibert

King Ivar ‘the Boneless’

(932 AD)  At summer’s end, King Ivar returned to Kiev from Constantinople and told Queen Helga that negotiations had not gone well there.  They had learned that the Romans were planning to begin tithing the Hraes’ on their goods that flowed across the Scythian Sea to Roman lands.  Prince Erik had managed to stall talks for a while, but a permanent solution would have to be found and it would likely involve another attack upon Miklagard.  Helga then told Ivar that their attempt at making offspring in the spring had failed and no son stirred within her.  So, they worked at it some more until Ivar had to leave on the tail end of his merchant fleet.  Helga begged him to winter over in Gardar, but Ivar reminded her that slaves had to be rounded up in Europe over winter for the next trading season.  And, even though his father, Prince Erik, kept claiming that winters were getting warmer, overwintering in Hraes’ was a bitterly cold experience.  His father ruled in Tmutorokan on the Scythian Sea coast where winters were relatively balmy, but winters in Kiev were still deadly.  It was warmer than when Ivar was a child and the winters were getting noticeably shorter, but the extreme cold took thousands of lives every season and was particularly hard on the poor and the slaves.

King Ivar took his usual route home and arrived in Liere to find his wife, Queen Blaeja, still without a daughter.  He was starting to wonder if it was he who had a problem until he sailed to Norway and learned that his wife, Lagertha, was again with child.  In Lade, Jarl Sigurd complained to him that he was still having a time trying to pry a child from his wife.  In Ireland he squared up with Princess Hrafnhild in Dub-Lin and met with the Ui Imair in Waterford, south of Dub-Lin to see how the gathering up of Irish slaves was progressing.  He then sailed off to Rouen to share profits and tithes with his uncle, Duke Rollo, but learned that his uncle had died in a riding mishap that summer, so he visited Rollo’s sarcophagus in Rouen Cathedral and began doing business with his son, William Longsword.  Finally, he headed to York to meet with Sihtric on military matters before finishing up business with Princess Blaeja in York Castle.  He visited with her a while, then headed off to visit with Biorn in Bamburgh.  When he returned to York, he asked Princess Blaeja if he could overwinter in York with her.

“You might as well move into my room,” Princess Blaeja said.  “I went to Frankia last summer for Duke Rollo’s funeral.  I’ll tell you about it…in the morning.”

Ivar had his men place him on the bed and he sent them out to guard the room.  Blaeja was hoping to have pleasant sexual relations with her son-in-law, but that was not to be the case.  As he was undressing on the bed, she undressed herself slowly by the side of the bed, but when she joined him on it, he grabbed her by the hair and put his member in her mouth and forced her to perform oral sex on him.  As he grew bigger and harder, he began thrusting past her mouth and into her throat until she was soon gagging and coughing, so he withdrew and spun her about and began penetrating her anally from behind.  She struggled to get away but he pulled her up tight against himself, then pushed and pulled his way with her until she got over her fit of coughing and spun her around once more and inserted his member in her mouth again and made her continue with their oral sex.  When she started gagging again, he pinned her down onto the bed and entered her vaginally and drove himself deep within her hard and fast until he came.

“That was rough,” she complained, crawling into Ivar’s arms.

“Ireland was rougher.”

“What happened in Ireland?”

“Business was good…a little too good.  They’re having a famine in the south.  Crops failed.  The poor are starving.  We’re buying up their slaves for next to nothing.”

“That’s good for you.  Terrible for Ireland, but good for you.”

“We’re starting to buy their children.  The children of the poorest right now.  But it’s going to get worse.  The Ui Imair have been going out and buying them before they starve to death.  When they come into our Waterford station, they’re skin and bones.  I ordered our company cooks to feed them well to get some muscle back on them before we ship them east in the spring.  But our costs are going to be high to get them better over the winter.  Our ships are bringing in grain from Denmark and Sweden.  We sell the best grains to the rich and feed our child slaves with the lower quality grain.  I told our agent in Waterford that if one child in Ireland starves to death over the winter, I am going to hold him personally responsible.”

“Is there anything our other Hraes’ stations can do to help?” Blaeja asked.  “Could we send some of our staff to help?”

“That’s a good idea,” Ivar said.  “We need more cooks.  And they should bring their own gear…pots, pans, utensils…just for over the winter.”

The next morning, Princess Blaeja got up early and started making arrangements to get a cook ready to leave from York to Dub-Lin by week’s end.  She then gathered up breakfast from the house maid and took it up to King Ivar.  She spread the food out and was about to wake up Ivar but decided to join him in bed instead.  Crawling in bed beside him, she shivered and warmed up off the heat of his back and she reached around his front and felt that he was hard.

“You’re up early,” Ivar said as he woke.

“You’re up early,” Blaeja said as she felt around and stroked.  She rolled him off his side and onto his back and she straddled him and felt for his cock and she thrust him deep inside herself and began to ride him slowly at first and then harder and faster and she came twice before she felt him spouting off inside her.  Then she crumpled in a heap upon his chest and she rested on him.

“That’s how I want you to wake me every morning,” he said, hugging her.

“It’s your father’s drugs,” she said.  “He warned me they would make me randy.  It’s a side effect.”

“So that’s why he’s so easy going when he visits you!”

“It’s your father we’re talking about!” she exclaimed and gave him a swat.

“Does it have other side effects?” Ivar asked.  “Like…can it make you fertile?”

“Are you trying to get me pregnant?” Blaeja asked, laughing.  “I hope I’m well beyond that.”

“You’re a healer and I was wondering if it might help Jarl Hakon’s wife to get pregnant.  They’ve been trying for years and I picked up Duke Rollo’s medicine when I was in Rouen.  I could give her some if it would help.”

“You could try.  If she’s older it might help her feel younger and if she’s younger, it may help her feel randyer.  That may be enough to make a difference.”

“I think I should try to help them,” Ivar said.  “Now you promised to tell me about Duke Rollo’s arval.”

“A Hraes’ ship arrived from Frankia with the news of Rollo’s death, so I immediately sailed to Rouen and arrived there just in time for his funeral service.  If the king of Frankia had not been late, I would have missed it altogether, but he was at a meeting in Ingleheim and he didn’t want Rollo interred before he got home.  Duke Rollo was a hero in Frankia.  He and your brother Oddi saved Paris from an attack by King Frodi.  Duke Rollo was worshipped by the Franks.”

“So, I take it the Franks never learned that Duke Rollo was King Roller, the son of Ragnar Lothbrok, the sacker of Paris a generation earlier?  And they never figured out that it was actually Rollo that King Frodi was after, not Paris?”

“I don’t think they would have given him a royal send-off if they had,” she answered.  “A death mask of gold and a marble sarcophagus?  His own grotto in the Cathedral of Rouen?  I don’t think they even suspected who he was.”

“I know.  William Longsword gave me a tour of it when I was there.  No expense was spared.”

“What did you think of Rollo’s eldest?”

“Pretty full of himself for a prince of no achievements.  And he can barely speak Norse.  Thank the gods…god…that father taught me the French he had learned from Sister Saint Charles or we wouldn’t have been able to converse at all.”

“I know!  And when I talked to him in the Northumbrian French of our learned Saint Alcuin, he looked down his long nose at me.”

“I know!  He did that to me and I thought, ‘My worst French is better than your best Norse and you call yourself a Norseman,’ I guess it’s Normans they’re calling themselves now, and their Duchy of Normandy.  He was showing off his legion of Roman cataphracts to me, the very two thousand rented Roman knights that my father gave Rollo decades ago, so I guess it would be the sons of the Romans my father had rented decades ago.  They did look good.  I told him I had a full legion of our own Varangian cataphracts in Kiev and another full legion of them in Gardariki.”

“What did he say about that?” Blaeja asked, laughing.

“Mais non!  Deux legionnes du cataphracts?  Ce n’est pas possible!”  Ivar exclaimed, laughing.  “I could actually hear his mind calculating the costs of fielding another legion of cataphracts for Normandy.  I told him, ‘Sales will have to pick up in the Hraes’ stations of Frankia before that happens!’, but I told him in Norse so he wouldn’t understand me!”

“He’ll have to double his Khazar Vayar sales,” she said laughing.

“I think he’s already doing that!  Frankish royals are eating it up!”

The two people who quietly ran York were laughing and in great spirits as they ate their breakfast.

“How did you want me to send our cook and his supplies to Dub-Lin?” Blaeja asked.  “We should get other stations to contribute as well along the way.”

“I think I should visit those other stations to get a better response,” Ivar said.  “I’ll sail at the end of the week with your cook aboard and we’ll stop in at the London Hraes’ station and I’ll have to visit young William again and tap the Hraes’ stations in Frankia.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Princess Blaeja said, somewhat surprised.  She had been looking forward to his rough sex.  “It’s so kind of you to be taking care of the children of Ireland like this.”

“Well I did tell my station agent that I would hold him responsible for any young lives lost there, so I should at least get him the tools he’ll need to see it through.”  King Ivar had been sampling some of the product during his week in Waterford and he had this urge to get back there and sample some more.  The wee folk of Ireland should have put on a few pounds by then and should be better able to withstand the rigours of rough sex.

While King Ivar wintered in the west, Prince Mal sent two of his wisest men to Kiev to try to convince Queen Helga to marry him.  The sagacious two did not bring up the fact that King Ivar had married a Christian princess in Denmark, not wanting to upset their queen, so they focused more on the strong past that Helga had with Chernigov and Dereva, the land of the Drevjane.  They talked about their Prince Mal and how wealthy he was becoming with the Slav participation in the Dan’Way trade and how he was looking for a wife of noble birth with whom to share his good fortune with.

Queen Helga suddenly wished that her mother-in-law, Queen Mother Eyfura was still living in Kiev instead of dying in Gardariki.  The Slavs all feared Eyfura, the queen who had brought the slave trade back to the Dan’Way.  She was sure the Slavs would fear her as well had they only known what had happened to the ‘Chernigov Twenty’.  She decided that she must do something to put the fear of Odin back into the Slavs so she said, “If Prince Mal was serious in making a proposal, then next winter he would send more than two wise men to convince me of his greatness.”  Then she sent the two wise Drevjane elders back to Iskorosten.

In Gardariki, Prince Erik had been providing Queen Eyfura with the best care that the Alchemists’ Medical Guild could provide, but he had been watching her slowly slip away over the years from the poison of his famed blade Tyrfingr.  Winter was hardest on her.  Even as they approached the peak of the world warming cycle, it still could get cold in Tmutorokan.  He had seen the five hundred year warming cycles followed by five hundred year cooling cycles many times when he had hanged nine days on the tree of knowledge, Yggdrasil, as a teen.  The warming cycle had peaked at the time of the Christian lord during the Pax Romana, but the peace was broken by the following cooling period, when crop failures had started the great migration period of the Goths and the Vandals and the Huns, ultimately resulting in the fall of Rome.  They were now almost through the following warming period and soon cooling would dominate world weather and crop failures would again cause starvation in the northern lands and stir the people south.

This time it would not be Huns stirring forth from the frozen Uralic plains.  Erik had been having visions of a far worse enemy riding from the east.  Mongols on horseback, used to fighting in cold weather, riding westward past the Khazars and the Huns who would have stopped them, but they no longer held their land, their gateway between east and west, and the Mongols poured into Europe, slaughtering all before them and conquering the west.  Erik shivered as he crawled into bed beside Eyfura.  She was sleeping peacefully, thanks to opium pain medication, and Erik saw the beauty of her form in the moonlight from the window glazing.  ‘She was still beautiful like Alfhild and Gunwar combined,’ he thought as he snuggled up beside her.  ‘What is happening to the Khazars?’ he thought, falling into a restless sleep.

When King Ivar returned to York from Ireland, he had with him a dozen young red haired girls from County Cork and he put them up in his room down the hall from Princess Blaeja’s room and he then joined the princess in her room at the end of the hall.

“How old are those girls?” Princess Blaeja asked.  “They’re just children!”

“They’re not for me!” Ivar exclaimed as his men placed him on her bed.  “They’re all still virgins.  Checked and cleared by a Dub-Lin healer.  They’re a gift for the Caliph of Baghdad, for his harem.”

“They’re not even twelve years old!” Blaeja objected.  “You’re giving young Christian girls to some old Muslim letch?”

“The Caliph is a gentleman.  I’m sure he won’t touch the girls until they are twelve and of marriageable age.  Now come…join me on the bed,” Ivar said, patting the down mattress.  “It was a long trip.”

“I’m not joining you on the bed,” Blaeja said, walking out of the room.  But two of Ivar’s men grabbed her as she walked through the doorway and they brought her back into the room and held her face-down on the bed as Ivar attacked her from behind, first anally, then vaginally.  Blaeja was crying by then so Ivar sent his men out of the room.  He began undressing her and turned her over on her back, then he laid himself on top of her and entered her again, thrusting even harder this time until he exploded within her.  Then he laid on top of her a while and she gasped, “Get off of me…please.”  He rolled off her and grabbed her by the hair and pulled her down towards his groin.

“Clean me up,” he ordered.  When she resisted he slapped her hard about her face.  Then he pulled her head down to his groin again and she took his member into her mouth and began to suck it clean.  Once he was satisfied, he let go her hair and pulled her up into his arm.

“That was rough,” she whimpered into his armpit.

The next morning, Princess Blaeja was up early and she returned to her room with a breakfast trencher.  She put it on the bed and sat down beside Ivar and began to feed him.

“That looks bad,” Ivar said, looking at the bruise on Blaeja’s cheekbone.  “What did your family say?”

“They wanted to kill you,” Blaeja laughed.  “I told them you like it rough and I like it too.  Now they want to kill me.”

“I don’t think they’d kill you.”

“For focking my granddaughter’s husband?  I think they would but they’re afraid of you.”

“I think we’d best sleep in our own rooms tonight,” Ivar said.  “Just to be safe.  We don’t want to upset your family more than they already are.”

“You just want those girls.”

“They’re virgins and will have to remain virgins or the Caliph will be insulted by the gift.  The twelve are a matching set.  They’re all related.”

That night King Ivar retired to his room early, just as the slaves were removing the evening meal trenchers from the room.  There were twelve cots butted along the far wall of the large chamber so Ivar ordered the children all to bed and joined the two young matrons overseeing them in his own bed.  He stripped the two Irish women naked and proceeded to demonstrate the kind of threesome sex that the Caliph would be expecting of the children.  He wanted to ensure that the Caliph would be pleased with his gift.

Once the demonstration was complete, Ivar had the two maidens strip the eldest young girl and bring her to his bed.  He inspected her body, had oral sex with her and then had her ride his member anally.  Then he sent her to her cot and performed the same ritual with the next eldest girl.  This went on for another eight girls as he worked his way to the youngest.  The final two were stripped naked by the maidens and Ivar could see that they were young boys.  The maidens tucked the young boys into bed with Ivar, snuffed most of the candles out and joined Ivar in bed themselves.  Princess Blaeja was at the door of her room listening to the moaning and the crying emanating from Ivar’s room till the wee hours of the morning.

“I heard your ruckus all night long,” Princess Blaeja complained to Ivar the next morning.

“They’re all still virgins,” Ivar reassured her.  “But they have to be trained for the Caliph.  If they’re not properly trained, the gift will be an insult.”

“Two of them looked like young boys,” Blaeja stated.

“Well…they’re no longer virgins, but the Caliph won’t know that.”

“But young boys?”

“That’s the Caliph’s preference, not mine.”

“And the two young matrons?”

“Definitely not virgins!” Ivar exclaimed, laughing.

In the spring a Danish fleet left Dub-Lin carrying shipload after shipload of young Irish slaves, children saved from starvation by the Ui Imair.  King Ivar set out from York with another fleet of Danish knars carrying Anglish slaves purchased locally.  They were to meet up with the Dan’Way merchant fleet at the harbour-town serving Liere.  Princess Blaeja sent one of her trusted handmaidens along with one of the ships to monitor Ivar’s treatment of her granddaughter, Queen Blaeja, and her great grandson Gorm.  She returned to York on a Hraes’ Trading Company transfer ship a month later with positive news for her mistress.  Princess Blaeja accepted the rape and abuse of her king as long as it improved her granddaughter’s lot in life.  She even pretended to enjoy the rough sex in order to keep her son and daughter from reacting to the bruises that resulted.

“Did you have any trouble from the Drevjane?” King Ivar asked his wife, Princess Helga, in Kiev.

“Prince Mal sent two wise men to ask for my hand,” Helga replied.

“And what did you say?”

“I asked them why Prince Mal had only sent two wise men and told them to have him send more next time.”

“Let me kill him for you,” Ivar said.

“You agreed to let me handle this,” Helga reminded him.  “So, let me handle it.”

Ivar pushed his wife down onto the bed.  They were still trying to have a son together.  “Did you take the medicine I gave you?” he asked.  He had given her the medicine he had relieved from the chamber of Duke Rollo of Frankia.  “It will make you randyer.”

“I took it but I don’t feel any different.”

Ivar pushed himself into her and began thrusting.

“Now I feel it!” she said, wrapping her legs around his buttocks and adding to the thrusts.

“Well, what do you think of them?” King Ivar asked his father in Gardariki, as the twelve red headed girls were paraded in front of them by their Irish matrons in Prince Erik’s palace.

“I think the Caliph will be pleased,” Erik answered, “especially with the two boys.  They’re all virgins?”

“They were when we left York,” Ivar answered.  “I’ll have them all checked by a healer in Baghdad before I gift them to the Caliph.”

“Good,” Erik replied.  “We don’t want to insult him.  Why such interest in pleasing the Caliph?”

“If the Romans are going to tithe us, I want to do more business with the Muslims.  I may need his cooperation in finding new routes to the Caspian.”

“We have the Kuban River route right out of Gardariki,” Erik countered.

“I don’t trust the Khazars,” Ivar said.  “They control the Volga entry into the Caspian and our entry point is too close to their lands.  I want to find a southern entry into the Caspian.  One through Arab lands.  I bought a map last time I was in Baghdad that has a likely river route with a short portage.”

“The Khazars haven’t been a problem for a long time.”

“The White Khazars are Romans!  The blood of the Caesars flows through their veins.  They’re Porphyrogennetos, probably purer purple than the blood flowing through the Eastern Roman Emperor right now.  If the Romans tell the Khazars to tithe our trade along the Kuma route, they will do it.”

“I’ll be going over this tithe,” Erik started, “with Emperor Romanos this trading season, but I know it’s going to require another attack upon Constantinople.  It always does.  So, I’ll just stall some more.”

The father and son led their separate merchant fleets their separate ways.  King Ivar led his fleet up the Kuban River and across a land portage to the Kama River and then south down the Caspian coast to the skerry of the Araks River followed by a long portage to the Tigris and an easy downstream row to Baghdad.  Prince Erik led his fleet down the Kuban River to the Sea of Azov past the Kerch Peninsula into the Scythian Sea and west to Pereslavets at the mouth of the Danube where he met up with the Kievan fleet on its way to Constantinople.

King Ivar and his fleet had great success in Baghdad.  The young Irish slaves were in very high demand and the Caliph was so enamoured with his gift of red haired girls that he requested that King Ivar provide him with a dozen blonde haired girls next season.  Profits soared and the Hraes’ merchants prospered.  Prince Erik and his fleet experienced moderate success in Constantinople.  Their young Irish slaves were viewed as Christian captives for which only bonding prices could be garnered.  And the Prince’s talks with the Emperor did not progress to either party’s satisfaction and so, were put off to next season.

“My father was pissed at the Romans,” Ivar told Helga when he got back to Kiev.  “They didn’t appreciate the young Irish slaves we brought them.”

“They weren’t Pagan enough?” Helga asked.

“They protect their own, I guess.  We should have raided, but that would have driven up costs.  And the Irish sold very well in the Baghdad markets.”

“I’ve gone through the season accounts,” Helga started.  “This is by far the most profitable season we’ve ever had.  Will the famine continue in Ireland?”

“I asked my father about it and he said the drought is an anomaly, a product of the world warming period we are in.  It may last another year, but it should not be prolonged.”

“World warming period?”

“He has visions.  Erik saw it when he spent nine days upon Yggdrasil, the world tree of knowledge.  The last warming cycle peaked at the birth of the Christians’ lord.  Then it was followed by a five hundred year cooling period that caused the great migrations of the Goths, Vandals and Huns.  It grew so cold that the riverways of Scythia ceased being used as trade routes.  In our present warming period, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ opened up the Nor’Way and King Frodi reopened the Dan’Way.”

“He saw this in a vision?” Helga asked, suddenly gaining even more respect for Ivar’s father.

“He even claims that when this warming period ends in the next hundred years or so, the following cooling period will make famines like this one in Ireland quite common.  He says the warming periods are gradual, but the cooling periods seem to be sudden.  The warming periods allow for better and better crops and increasingly greater populations, but the crop failures of a cooling climate cause sudden starvation, wars and migration.  So he says, ‘Make hay while the sun shines’, and we should do just that!”

“How long has your father had these visions?” Helga asked, concerned.

“He was eighteen when he was nine days upon Yggdrasil and he’s had visions ever since.  Some he can control, others just come to him.  He’s had visions lately of horsemen migrating from the Asian plains during the upcoming cooling period and conquering the whole world.”

“Huns?” she asked.  “Will this happen soon?”

“It won’t happen for a few hundred years, but it’s not the Huns.  They are worse,” he says, “much worse.”

“Well we won’t have to worry about them,” Helga reassured Ivar.

“But I think father may have to,” Ivar responded.  “He is an Alchemist and I think he plans on living for a very long time.”

“And how will he do that?”

“That medicine I’ve been giving you.  It keeps old people young.  Randyness is just a side-effect.”

“And that side-effect is coming over me now.  Let’s go to bed,” she said.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

19.0  THE BURNING OF THE HALL  (Circa 933 AD)

“When the Derevlians arrived, Olga commanded that a bath should be

made ready, and invited them to appear before her after they had bathed.

The bathhouse was then heated, and the Derevlians entered in to bathe.

Olga’s men closed up the bathhouse behind them, and she gave orders to

set it on fire from the doors, so that the Derevlians were all burned to death.”

From the Hraes’ Primary Chronicle

Princess Helga (Olga) and the Burning of the Bath Hall

(933 AD)  When King Ivar went to the Hraes’ Trading Company treasury and checked the tithes for all the merchant ships and he matched payments collected against the value of goods shipped and he tallied up the sales of the young slaves in Baghdad, he soon came to the same conclusion that Princess Helga had reached.  It was the most profitable year ever for the Hraes’ Trading Company.  He collected up many chests of gold Byzants and many more of silver Kufas, kissed his wife goodbye and set off north with his fleet of thousands of merchant ships.  At Chernigov Ivar collected a share of supply profits then paid out a share of tithes and bonus profits to the Swedish station owners there, Princess Helga’s parents.  He did the same at Smolensk and Surazh and sent men to handle Polotsk.  Most of the merchant fleet carried on west along the Dvina River to the Baltic but, once again, Ivar took the northern leg on his way to Sweden and portaged his ships from Surazh to the Lovat River and collected gifts from Vadim the Brave of Staraja Russa and collected profits and paid out tithe shares and bonuses at Hraes’ stations in 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.

“I am getting back together with Helga,” he told Halfdan.

“I was expecting as much,” he replied.

“My father and I are planning to attack Constantinople again.  I may need your help.”

“I have many young warriors that would love nothing better than to prove themselves worthy in the south,” he said.

King Ivar then visited the Hraes’ stations in Gotland and Skane before heading to Liere to visit his wife, Queen Blaeja and his son Gorm.  He then went on his Danish rounds with Prince Gorm to Hedeby and to Jutland before heading off to Norway to visit his wife, Lagertha, and his many children in Southmore.  He took his son Frodi with him to visit Jarl Ane in Northmore and then Jarl Sigurd in Lade and he squared up business and bonuses with the Hraes’ stations from Northmore to Hrafnista.

King Ivar then sailed to Ireland and squared up with Princess Hrafnhild in Dub-Lin and carried on to Waterford and shared out profits on the young Irish slaves with the Ui Imair there.  He checked on the young slaves that they were continuing to buy up there as the famine wore on and he told them that their brother Sihtric would soon be ruling over York in Northumbria.  He then sailed off to Rouen to share profits, tithes and bonuses with his cousin, William ‘Longsword’ Rolloson before heading to York to finish up business with Princess Blaeja Senior and her Hraes’ station in York Castle.  His first night there he raped Blaeja yet again, then headed off to Bamburgh to see how Biorn was making out with the Angles there.  He returned to York and he raped Princess Blaeja once more.

“I still enjoy plundering you from my room down the hall.  And that reminds me…I have a new type of Khazar Vayar I’d like you to sample.  It’s from a new species of Sturgeon we’ve found in the Don River.  And I’ll be overwintering in York again.”

Ivar had his men seat him at the table next to her bed and he sent them out to guard the room.  Blaeja opened a bottle of Frankish wine while Ivar opened several jars of Kha Vayar and spread the roe out on wafers.  “These have slightly different tastes, but I have brought ample stock of all of them, so you may select the types your station wishes to offer to its nobility.”

“You bruised my lip when you had your way with me,” Blaeja complained as she sampled the first of the roe.

“I’m sure you don’t mind putting up with it.  You’ve had great reports coming back to you from your handmaidens in Denmark.  How does it taste?”

“It tastes great.  There is a certain tang to this that the other Kha Vayar just does not have.  You know about my handmaidens?”

“Try this one,” Ivar said, passing her another wafer of roe.  “It has a slightly stronger tang.  You’ll be able to pick up the distinct flavour better.  I know your handmaidens have been telling you how much better I treated young Queen Blaeja when I was abusing Princess Blaeja.”

“I can definitely taste the tang better,” she said.  “I would take any abuse to protect my granddaughter.”

“Try this last one,” Ivar said.  “See if you can pick out the flavour of the tang.  I knew you would sacrifice yourself for her.  That is why I married her.”

Blaeja ate the last Kha Vayar wafer and smacked her tongue against the roof of her mouth to better pick up the flavour.  “It tastes of Henna,” she said, then began slowly spitting the flavour out off the end of her tongue.

Yes.  Henna.  The same poison you slathered onto the swords that killed my grandfather, Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’.  I knew you would never take the abuse unless you thought you were protecting someone you loved and I knew your family would never condone your beatings unless you told them you desired that kind of treatment.”

Princess Blaeja felt suddenly weak as the poison began to take hold of her.  Ivar held her steady in her chair and called for his men and had them carry her to her bed.  He then had them carry him on his buckler to the bed and told them to leave the room.  Blaeja couldn’t move her limbs and could only watch as Ivar began to undress her.  “You are the last of them,” Ivar started.  “The last of the people who murdered Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’.  There were two swordsmen who had survived into old age, but I had them accidentally killed several years ago.  I have actually grown to love your granddaughter.  I just needed you to buy into saving her.  You are the last, and my revenge upon the AElla clan has been far more artistic than even the death of the red eagle that my father and his brothers had carved out for themselves.”

“Please tell me it is over,” Blaeja whispered.  “Tell me the curse is over.”

“It is over,” Ivar whispered back as he began to undress himself.  “Now this is rape,” Ivar said as he entered her.  He began his rhythmic thrust as her life slipped away and he felt her spirit enter him as it did and he came in great waves within her and collapsed onto her body with his full weight, driving the last of the air from her corpse in a hoarse whoosh.  Then he whispered in her right ear, “It’s not quite over yet.”

The next day King Ivar was explaining to Princess Blaeja’s son and daughter how their rough sex had given their mother a heart attack.

“Mother condoned your rough sex even though we warned her against it,” her son, Prince Ragnar started.

“And we didn’t approve of your having rough sex with your wife’s grandmother,” her daughter, Princess Hraegunhild, continued on.  “But we should all agree to spare young Queen Blaeja from hearing of this.”

“I certainly won’t tell her of my infidelity and I’m hoping to take your words on it that you won’t as well.  And I’m hoping that you both will accept half shares each in Princess Blaeja’s Hraes’ Trading Company holdings in our York station.  We did quite well last trading season and I was at least allowed to share that great news with your mother before her untimely passing.  I shall be putting my cousin Sihtric in charge of York, as I can’t bear to spend as much time here as I have been wont to.”

While King Ivar wintered in the west, Prince Mal sent fifty of his wisest men to Kiev to try to convince Queen Helga to marry him.  They travelled from Iskorosten on the frozen Dnieper in a caravan of horse drawn sleighs.  Sagacious though they were, the group soon brought up the fact that King Ivar had married a Christian princess in Denmark and had immediately made her his queen, thus Princess Helga could no longer call herself a wife and a queen, and should accept the offer of marriage that they were making on behalf of their Prince Mal of Dereva.  Because fifty wise men are more likely to spend their time observing each other rather than their surroundings, they did not notice that Queen Helga had received them in the Palace of King Frodi, King Ivar’s grandfather, and not in her own longhall off a side-street that seemed to perpetually emanate a foul odour of death.  But she welcomed them into her grandfather-in-law’s palace and offered them a fine feast suitable to men of their great stations.  When they accepted, she further offered them access to a huge bath house that they might clean and refresh themselves from their long journey while the feast was being prepared.  Had they been more polite and diplomatic, she might have even allowed them their feast first.

The wise men all accepted the bath house offer and Queen Helga had her bevy of beautiful handmaidens lead them to the bath house with a full complement of bath salts and soaps and towels.  They were escorted by her legionary officers, the ones who had been barracked in the longhall across the side-street from Helga’s longhall, the ones who had buried the ‘Chernigov Twenty’.  The handmaidens stoked up the bath house fires and saunas and made their guests feel at home in the bath house while the officers remained outside the building sealing off the exits.  More handmaidens carried meads and ales from the palace to the bath house and began passing the refreshments to their patrons.  Soon a small stringed musical ensemble began playing songs just within the main entrance of the bath house.  The fifty Drevjane wisemen were either soaking in hot tubs, warm tubs, cooling tanks or cooking in hot saunas while drinking their wines, meads and ales as sweet strings sang out songs of great victories and even greater heroes.

Then the officers entered the bath house and began escorting the handmaidens out, often having to pry the young women out of the hands of the sages, and the string section stopped playing and followed the officers out of the hall.  The main entrance was then barred shut and Queen Helga strode up with more troops and asked, “Are the fifty wise men all inside and accounted for?”

A captain of the guard stepped forward and said, “Yes.  All accounted for.”

“And are all my handmaidens clear of the building?”

“Yes, my queen,” was the reply from the handmaidens.

“Then let us fire the hall!” Queen Helga cried, and her troops passed out torches to the officers and their queen and they surrounded the building and set it alight from all directions.  It seemed to take the sages some time to even realise that they had been locked in the hall and the banging on the main entrance doors was both casual and commanding, but as smoke began to seep into the hall between the chinks in the logs, the banging became suddenly frantic.  The fire lapped up the logs of the bath house walls and soon set the thatch roof ablaze.  There was a bit of snow on the peak, but that was soon gone and the blazing thatch filled the building with smoke.  The pounding at the doors reached a new frenzy then slowly dropped off as more and more sages lost consciousness and died.  Soon the pounding stopped completely and the roof collapsed into the log structure and the pyre burned all night.

The next morning all the Drevjane sleighs were pushed into the still smouldering bath house and disappeared in flames, the horses were slaughtered and fed to the dogs of Kiev and the Drevjane slaves who had brought their sagacious masters to the city were locked up in the slave pens and would be sold to the Romans in the spring.  Queen Helga told her trusted legion officers, “If the Romans want Pagan slaves instead of Christian ones, then the Drevjane slaves will be a good start.”

King Ivar spent the rest of the winter in York and began gathering his matching set of twelve young blonde girls for the Caliph of Baghdad.  This time, however, the Caliph had requested that four of the young girls be boys.  This made it easier for Ivar, for he only had to find eight virgin girls that looked identical in their beauty and then four boys who looked alike.  He made it known that he was purchasing young blonde slaves for resale in the east and soon he had dozens of young fair haired children occupying the third floor of York Castle.  He purchased two young blonde particularly talented slave women as the matrons that would accompany the twelve into the harem of the caliph and they helped him work on his matched set of girls.  He had the twelve cots that had been butted along the far wall of his old bed chamber moved into Princess Blaeja’s larger chamber and the twelve girls slept in them while Ivar slept with the matrons in Blaeja’s bed and gave training demonstrations late into the nights.  When a newly purchased girl seemed to fit into the set better than a piece already placed, the new girl got a cot and the old girl joined Ivar and the matrons in Blaeja’s huge bed and became part of the demonstrations for an evening.

Young blonde children that were purchased from the poor of the Danelaw were kept on the second floor of the castle because they tended to be Pagan and Ivar wanted them reserved for sale in Constantinople.  Ivar was paying good silver for the child slaves of Angleland, but the famine had become even more widespread in Ireland and the Ui Imair there were buying starving children for next to nothing.  It would be another good season for the Hraes’ Trading Company once spring came around, but Ivar was enjoying a particularly warm winter and he would train his troops during the day and train his child slaves at night.  And while he was training his troops, King Ivar tasked the matrons with training the girls in singing and dancing and the playing of harps and lyres.  He wanted the caliph to be even more impressed with this matched set of girls than he had been with the last.

In the spring, once again, a Danish fleet left Dub-Lin carrying shipload after shipload of young Irish slaves, children saved from starvation by the Ui Imair, but there were now young adults included in the mix.  King Ivar set out from York with yet another fleet of Danish knars carrying the Anglish slave children purchased locally and a matched set of twelve.  They met up with the Dan’Way merchant fleet at the harbour-town serving Liere.  There was no Princess Blaeja this time to send one of her trusted handmaidens along, so King Ivar’s treatment of her granddaughter, Queen Blaeja, got a little rougher and young Blaeja was missing her grandmother more than ever by the time the fleet left Denmark for the Baltic.

“Did you have any trouble from the Drevjane?” King Ivar asked his wife, Princess Helga, in Kiev.

“Prince Mal sent fifty wise men to ask for my hand,” Helga replied.

“And what did you say?”

“I welcomed them into our palace and had a feast prepared for them while my handmaidens took them to the bath house to bathe.  The wise men took the term handmaidens a little too literally and soon had their hands all over my maidens so, I called my maidens out, barred all the doors and set fire to the hall.”

“Let me kill him for you,” Ivar pleaded.

“You agreed to let me handle this,” Helga reminded him.  “So, let me handle it.”

“Well, what do you think of them?” King Ivar asked his father in Gardariki, as the twelve fair haired girls were paraded in front of them by their Anglish matrons in Prince Erik’s palace.

“I think the Caliph will be pleased,” Erik answered.  “Four boys this time?”

“A request of the Caliph,” Ivar answered.  “Again, I’ll have them all checked by a healer in Baghdad before I gift them to the Caliph.”

“Good,” Erik replied.  “I’m glad to see you take such an interest in pleasing our customers.  You have a talent for trade.  You’ve turned the Hraes’ Trading Company into a business that Ragnar would be proud of.”

“I couldn’t have done it without your legions,” Ivar told his father.  “I thought you were crazy spending all that gold on standing armies, but it has bought us peace.  Without peace, I could never have turned the company around.”

“Thanks,” Erik said.  “I’m afraid your mother is not doing very well.  Winter has been hard on her.”

“Where’s your world warming when we need it?” Ivar asked, and they both laughed.  “I’ll spend some time with her before I leave for Baghdad.”

Once more the father and son team led their separate merchant fleets their separate ways.  King Ivar led his fleet up the Kuban River and across a land portage to the Kama River and then south down the Caspian coast to the skerry of the Araks River followed by a long portage to the Tigris and an easy downstream row to Baghdad.  Prince Erik led his fleet down the Kuban River to the Sea of Azov past the Kerch Peninsula into the Scythian Sea and west to Pereslavets at the mouth of the Danube where he met up with the Kievan fleet on its way to Constantinople.

Again, King Ivar and his fleet had great success in Baghdad.  The young Irish slaves were still in very high demand and the Caliph was just as enamoured with his gift of fair haired girls as he had been with the redheads.  Things went well enough to initiate trade treaty talks with the Caliph.  Ivar wanted to formalize their tithe free trade and wanted permission to trade through Araby into India directly on a tithe free basis.  This free an agreement was unheard of in the near east, but Ivar had so pleased the Caliph the last few years that the agreement was drawn up and signed before the Hraes’ merchants left Baghdad.

Prince Erik and his fleet again experienced moderate success in Constantinople.  But at least their Slav and Danelaw slaves were more acceptable than the Christian captives they had brought the previous year and the prices obtained were much better.  Again, the Prince’s talks with the Emperor did not progress to either party’s satisfaction, so they were put off to next season.

King Ivar was concerned about his mother, so he returned to Gardariki with his father then sent a message for Princess Helga to join him there once the trade season had ended.  Princess Eyfura had not stirred from her bed the whole time her men had been gone and both Prince Erik and King Ivar could see she was at the last of her days.  She was still beautiful, but her complexion was quite grey and ashen.  She smiled weakly as her husband and son joined her in the master chamber.  Her men sat and talked to her for hours as she listened and smiled and in the evening she passed away quietly.  Her eyes were closed and she just stopped breathing and never bothered to start again.  Her mascara was Scythian and her face was grey, framed by her bright silver hair and red silken sheets.  Queen Silkisif was there through it all and she was always at Eyfura’s side while the men were off trading.

Princess Eyfura was cremated on a pyre in the central square of Gardariki and an urn with her ashes was buried in a grove of oaks in front of Freya’s Temple within the city walls.  Princess Helga had arrived from Kiev just in time for the ceremony and she sailed back to Kiev with her husband and his fleet.

“The ceremony was beautiful,” Helga said, as they sailed off.  “Queen Mother Eyfura was beautiful to the end.”

“Life is art!” King Ivar exclaimed.

“And art is life!” Princess Helga echoed.

Although the weather was bitter cold, King Ivar overwintered with his wife in Kiev.

CHAPTER TWENTY

20.0 THE REIGN OF KING HARDE GONE  (Circa 934-936 AD)

“Adam (of Bremen) then relates that after Sigtrygg reigned a short time,

Hardegon, son of Sweyn, (he was father of Svein ‘the Old’) came from

“Northmannia” the “land of the Northmen (Denmark).”  Hardegon deposed

King Sigtrygg, and then ruled unopposed for approximately thirty years (20).

Hardegon is often equated with the ‘Harthacnut’ legend (Hardegon IS the

Harde Knute legend), but some historians, instead, have concluded that

Hardegon is distinct.”

Wiki Notes on Adam of Bremen

Indian Band with Sestar (Early Guitar)

(934-936 AD)  When King Ivar had failed to winter in either Denmark or Northumbria, King Athelstan of Wessex decided it was time to consolidate England under one king and he took an army north and drove Sihtric Ui Imair out of York.  Rather than confront the superior force, Sihtric loaded his Irish and Danish troops into ships and sailed his fleet back to the Ui Imair of Waterford.  He then joined up with the Danish merchant fleet that was heading out for Denmark with the young Irish slaves that had been providing the Hraes’ Trading Company with record profits for the past two years.  In York, Prince Ragnar and his sister, Princess Hraegunhild, carried on business as usual at their Hraes’ trading station in York Castle.  King Athelstan likewise allowed the Hraes’ trading station in London to prosper, apparently encouraging Viking commerce while discouraging Viking conquest.  Jarl Biorn of Bamburgh locked up his half legion within his castle, awaiting a siege that never came, so he just carried on with business as usual with the Hraes’ of York and the new English leaders there.

Sihtric had expected to find King Ivar wintering in Liere, but when he arrived there he learned that Ivar had wintered in Kiev.  Queen Blaeja of Denmark and her son, young Prince Gorm, were organizing the gathering and supply of the fleet and soon it was working its way across the Baltic, up the Dvina and down the Dnieper to Kiev.

Sihtric and his corps of young officers landed at the main quay of Kiev and went straight to King Frodi’s palace and requested a meeting with King Ivar.  He came down immediately and welcomed his York commander.

“York has fallen to the English,” Sihtric told his king.

“So I’ve heard,” Ivar said as he sat upon his shield between four of the largest men Sihtric had ever seen.  He had seen them before, of course, but he had been familiar with seeing them last year.  Seeing them suddenly, unexpectedly, they seemed larger than life.  He was envious of Ivar’s handicap.  ‘He wears it well,’ he conceded mentally.

Ivar leaned out from between his bearers and gave Sihtric a hug, patting him on the back.  “Come join me on my highseat,” he said, as refreshments arrived.  “Men, be seated at those benches,” Ivar said, pointing at a table to the side of the highseats.  “Tell me about the fall of York.”

So, Sihtric told Ivar about the fall of York, about the great army that King Athelstan of Wessex had taken north and how Sihtric had withdrawn his men and his fleet to Dub-Lin.  King Ivar then informed Sihtric that Jarl Biorn still occupied Bamburgh and that the Hraes’ station in York Castle was still buying and selling product.  King Athelstan needs York,” Ivar started.  “By leaving our trading station untouched he is telling us that he can work with us.  He left Bamburgh alone because he doesn’t need it to rule all of England.  If he captured Bamburgh, he would have to have to reinstate the Anglish heir apparent to the district.  An Anglish lord wanting Northumbrian independence would be more trouble to him than a Norwegian lord just sitting there keeping his head down.”

“If you give me an army,” Sihtric offered, “I’ll retake York for you.”

“If we retake York, we’ll be telling King Athelstan that we can’t work with him.  He’ll shut down our Hraes’ station in London, try to retake York and shut down the Hraes’ station there if he succeeds.  Outside of the station, my business in Northumbria has concluded.  I am guessing that King Athelstan has surmised as much and knows that York is now worth more to him than it is to me.  But there is a castle in Strathclyde that I am interested in, called Dumbarton.”

“That castle was taken and destroyed by the Ui Imair a generation ago,” Sihtric said.

“Yes.  It’s abandoned, but it sits between the Britons and the Scots and it will allow your fleet to control the Irish Sea north of Dub-Lin.  We want to be in a strategic position in case King Athelstan decides he no longer wants to work with us.”

“So I should keep a low profile,” Sihtric said.

“Yes.  Be Jarl Biorn.  He has a small legionary army laying low in Bamburgh Castle ready to move on command.  But for now, join me on our upcoming trade mission to Baghdad.”

So Sihtric became King Ivar’s right hand man on the spring sailing to the Caliphate of Baghdad.  He had never been to the east, but he understood Vikings and everything up to Kiev had been very Viking, but as soon as they departed from the Quays of Kiev, they were in Pecheneg territory and it was Pecheneg women and warriors who ran the portages around the Dnieper rapids and on the plains to the south great herds of Pecheneg horse and cattle and sheep roamed and wild hordes of Pecheneg horsemen rode about threateningly.  And on the Scythian Sea coast he saw the huge city of Cherson on the Crimean peninsula and then they were joined by a thousand more ships as they passed Gardariki and sailed up the Kuban River.

There was a long portage between the Kuban and Kuma Rivers and there were Hraes’ portage stations at the ends of both rivers and that is when Sihtric saw his first young Irish slave girl.  Her red hair caught his eye and she was slight and pretty and very pregnant and all of twelve or thirteen years old.  She had been purchased the previous year by the local hetman who was helping run the Kuban portage station and was doing laundry at the river’s edge.  He had been watching her stand on the riverbank with a basket of clothes off her hip and her round swollen belly was almost as big as the basket and he suddenly looked away when he realized that he taken a role in sending her here for sale.  When King Ivar asked him if he had just seen a ghost, Sihtric just said that the sunlight had reflected off the waters.  He saw two more young Irish girls at the Kuma station, one with a baby in her arms and another with one on the way.

The Kuma River flowed east to the Caspian Sea and as the Hraes’ fleet approached the seacoast, there were Hun warriors on horseback riding the plains on either side of the Kuma.  Groups of them would ride up to the riverbank waving their weapons threateningly, let out a few war whoops and then ride off.  “I don’t like the Kuma,” Ivar started, as Sihtric watched the spectacle.  “It is too close to Khazaria for our own good.  We need a more secure trade route.”

“They look a lot like the Pechenegs on either side of the Dnieper,” Sihtric said.

“We can work with the Pechenegs,” Ivar replied.  “Only the Romans seem able to work with the Huns.  And the Romans don’t like us trading in Baghdad.  So, I have to find a more southern route to the Caspian.  One that doesn’t go through Khazar lands.”

Once they were on the Caspian, the Hraes’ fleet feared no one.  Thousands of ships sailed south along the coast and then turned into the mouth of the Araks River and the Varangians rowed west to a portage station run by the Caliph of Baghdad.  The ships were loaded onto wains and were pulled south by oxen across parched land to a tributary of the Tigris River and the ships were unloaded at a second portage station run by the Caliph.  The merchants paid to get their ships loaded and transported and then paid to get them unloaded as well and the Caliph made a good profit off each ship hauled.  But there was no tithe, no percentage charged against the value of the goods aboard the ships.  King Ivar had negotiated hard with the Caliph to ensure that tithes were not a part of his trade agreement with Baghdad and the matched sets of Irish and Anglish girls he had gifted the Caliph with played no small part in the negotiations.

Once they were in Baghdad, Sihtric saw a few more young Irish slave girls, but almost all women were kept indoors so he knew there were many more that he couldn’t see.  But he did see the odd young Irish slave boy performing guard duties at the entrances of Muslim merchant manses and estates.  The boys were all castrated and would be first trained as guards before being inducted into the eunuch armies of the Caliphate.  King Ivar was leading his merchants straight into the slave markets of Baghdad and Sihtric was not at all prepared for the things he saw going on there.  Slaves were all chained together by their iron neck rings and most of them were naked or wrapped in sheets ready for inspection and testing.  Anywhere there was shade, slaves stood naked and were being inspected and prodded by customers who haggled with merchants and purchased their products and led away people in chains.

Varangian merchants in Baghdad were typically put up by a local sponsoring merchant they did a lot of business with and King Ivar and his retinue were hosted by the Caliph in his palace so, that is where Sihtric ended up.  All day Ivar had been busy beaching ships and hiring transport and arranging for the sale of merchandise and he did it all with ease in many different languages and with their many corresponding gestures.  And Sihtric was a warrior lost in the crowd, following his leader about, often hand on sword as his king bargained, sometimes scowling, sometimes nodding and he was ready to rest once they reached the palace, but Ivar 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.  The room was spinning when Sihtric finally got to lay himself down on a bed and when he closed his eyes he could see the new young Irish slaves they had brought with them being sold in the slave markets of Baghdad.  The young girls were snapped up first, touched and squeezed and prodded by rich old men looking to improve their harem or increase the number of wives they had.  Often, the young girls were unchained and taken into the back rooms of shops and were given a test ride by their prospective buyers and the well trained girls were never haggled over.

Sihtric lost a lot of sleep over the things he witnessed in the bazaars of Baghdad and he could see that a lot of the poorer Muslims of the city looked on disapprovingly at the antics of the wealthier citizens.  The next day he decided to ask his king how he felt about the lot of the Irish children they had sold in Baghdad.  Ivar told him that the children had been saved from death by starvation.  When Sihtric asked him if, perhaps, the children would have been better off dead, Ivar responded, “Death by starvation is slow and painful and often violent.  People disappear during famines.  Cannibalism is rampant and children are the first to go missing.”

“I hadn’t thought of it in that way,” Sihtric confessed.

“Ireland isn’t the first famine the Hraes’ Trading Company has profited from,” Ivar said.  “Some of the places we’ve gone to have been pretty far gone in their famines when we got there and the children were all but gone.  We always bring grain and trade it directly for slaves.  We’ve saved many lives doing this and have saved many more by not having to raid when we’re doing this type of work.  In my grandfather’s time, King Frodi raided for all his slaves and he conquered many lands and enslaved many peoples.  I’ve tried to build up the business, the Hraes’ Trading Company, by buying slaves rather than just taking them, conquering them.  War is an expensive form of business and it seldom garners you slaves for free.  Buying them where they are plentiful and reselling them where they are in short supply guarantees good profits.  Famines guarantee great profits, but we save lives too!  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 stated, patting Sihtric on the shoulder.  “We buy and sell them.”

King Ivar helped placate Sihtric’s guilt with his business acumen and the day was more tolerable and the markets more bearable for the Irish warrior.  When they returned to the Caliph’s palace in the evening, another feast had been prepared, but it was even larger, for an embassy had arrived in Baghdad from India.  King Ivar could not believe his luck!  He had been wanting to establish direct trade relations with the spice traders of India and an embassy presented itself.  After the meal, several Indian musicians brought out Persian cartars and began playing for the Caliph.  Ivar sent one of his servants to get his lute and he began playing with them.  He then offered to play and sing a song his father had written when he was young and learning how to play lutes and harps and Persian tars and ouds.  “My father called it ‘Infatuation’,” he announced in Persian, then began playing a plucked introduction on his lute and he sang in Norse:

“Infatuation can be love,                 infatuation can be…

 Infatuation can be love,                 infatuate me……please.

 I fell for Alfhild,        then lost her love.

 Infatuate me…

 I loved Gunwar,       and lost her too.

 Infatuate me…

 And now I’ve fallen     again in love.

 Infatuate me…

 I’ve fallen hard,                   so hard for you…

 Infatuate me too.

“Infatuation can be love,                 infatuation can be…

 Infatuation can be love,                 infatuate me……please.

 Pulleaeese, pulleaeese, pulleaeese.”

And Ivar ended the song with a plucked exit, followed by much applause.  Then he joined the Indian musicians and they showed him their cartars and sestars.  The leader of the Indian embassy was soon sitting down on the floor on cushions with them and playing along as well.  The Caliph, seeing that his guests were keeping themselves well entertained, begged leave of the feasting and retired.  After a few more songs, the Embassy leader, Rajan, joined Ivar for some wine at his table.  When Ivar saw the Caliph’s musicians and dancers packing up to leave, he excused himself for a moment, leaving Sihtric with Rajan, and went over to the dancers and paid them to stay and two of them went over to the Indian musicians and began to dance for them.  “Sorry my song wasn’t in Persian,” Ivar apologized.  “It’s in Norse and doesn’t translate very well.”

“You sing very well,” Rajan responded in Persian.  Ivar poured him some more wine and began talking business.  He needed contacts and locations for the spice business in India.  His new contract with the Caliph allowed him to transship tithe free through Baghdad which allowed him to buy Indian spices direct.  Rajan’s family was in the spice business, so they exchanged information before the Ambassador retired as well.  Ivar and Sihtric joined the Indian musicians sitting on the cushioned floor and Ivar played the tars with them some more as they enjoyed the Arab women who were dancing for them.  When Ivar asked Sihtric if he wished to retire, they returned to their wing of the palace and the two young dancers followed behind them.

“Her name is Anika and she’ll be staying with you the night,” King Ivar explained to Sihtric as he left him outside his room.  “It’s all taken care of,” Ivar added as he walked off with the other young dancer toward his own room.

The next morning, Sihtric was late joining his king for breakfast.  “How was Anika?” Ivar asked as he sat at the table.

“She is a wonderful dancer,” Sihtric replied.  “Thank you for that.”

“Salim was a good dancer as well,” Ivar said.  “She didn’t like it rough, though.  That was extra.”

Sihtric knew all about Ivar’s ‘rough’ from their time together at York Castle.  “A lot extra,” he thought.

“I know you’ve been bothered about your Irish youths that have been sold here,” Ivar said, “so I’ve arranged a little surprise for you this afternoon.”

“What is it?” Sihtric asked.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Ivar said.  “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.”

Ivar and Sihtric spent the day arranging for the sale of goods and resolving disputes between Hraes’ merchants and Arab clients.  And Sihtric was a warrior a little more at home with the crowd, joining his leader in resolutions, often hand on sword or scowling as required.  In the afternoon they were joined by an Arab man who was leading a young Irish girl towards them.  The old man passed the chain to King Ivar after receiving two coins of gold.  Ivar then passed the chain to Sihtric.  “I had my merchants ask about any Irish lasses that were not happy to be here instead of starving to death in Ireland,” Ivar started, “and they found this young lady.  She lost her baby and has been very depressed.  We shall return her to Ireland and free her.  Perhaps that will help her recover.”

Sihtric beamed his king a wide smile.  “I think the Emerald Isle is a cure for many ailments, but what about the famine?”

“I’ve heard news it is over.  Bumper crops are expected this year.”

Again, Sihtric was beaming.

The Caliph’s palace was again jammed with guests and Ivar and Sihtric sat together at the Norse head table, but a young Irish girl sat beside Sihtric in new clothing of the latest Baghdad style.  Sihtric had tried to buy her clothes that were more Irish, but the young girl had never experienced fashion in Ireland and had only worn finer clothes while living in the Caliphate.  King Ivar had advised Sihtric to leave the slave girl with the other servants or at least in his room, but Sihtric responded with, “A girl has to eat too!”

When the girl was having difficulties eating because of the iron slaver ring about her neck, King Ivar warned Sihtric that the ring would have to stay on until they got her back to Ireland, but Sihtric pulled out his key and said, ‘I’ll free her here in front of all Baghdad,” and he got up and led Brianna into the center of the banquet hall.  King Ivar almost took off after him but had to call his bearers over with his shield.

“I am freeing Brianna,” Sihtric announced, and he used the key to release the iron ring from the young Irish girl’s neck.  By the time Ivar was on his shield, Sihtric and Brianna were already back at their table.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Ivar told Sihtric.  “Now the Caliph thinks you have taken Brianna as your concubine, your wife.”  By this time all banquet guests were standing and applauding the young couple.  The Caliph even sent over a bottle of fine wine from his head table.  “Congratulations!” Ivar chided.  “You are now man and concubine.”

“I don’t even know what that means,” Sihtric complained.

“It means,” Ivar explained, “whether free or slave, she is your wife and any child she has is yours and is born free.  Even if she has a child by another man, you are that child’s father, hence the need for so many eunuchs in Baghdad.”

“I don’t want to be married,” Sihtric whined.  “What can I do?”

“You’ll have to at least pretend while we’re in Baghdad, so as not to insult the Caliph.  Then when we get to Ireland, you can free Brianna properly.  She’ll have to stay in your room while here, but you cannot touch her.  That would consummate the marriage.”

The Caliph must have been pleased with how the trading was going with the Hraes’ because he sent gifts for Sihtric and Brianna to their table, fine seductive silks for Brianna and a beautiful knife and sheath for Sihtric.  And a key to a suite in the Norse wing of the palace arrived at their table and Ivar told Sihtric it was likely as large as his own and he would have it for the rest of their stay in Baghdad, likely another full week.

After the feasting, the Caliph, once again, retired early.  It was said that the Caliph was still preoccupied with the gifts of girls that King Ivar had presented him with over the previous years.  But the Caliph’s musicians and dancers were providing entertainment and Ivar saw Saleem, the dancer he had spent the last night with, but she was avoiding eye contact with him.  There were also the cartar players of the Indian embassy gathered about on cushions on the floor and the Indian ambassador soon joined King Ivar at the Norse head table.

“I have heard,” Rajan started, sitting down beside Ivar, “that you can play and sing the northern head ransom song.”

“You mean Gunwar’s Song?” Ivar asked.

“I have heard about it,” Raj continued, “but I have never actually heard it.  The famous Varangian skald, Bragi the Old, was condemned to be beheaded by the king of the Swedes, but he got permission to write a poem of praise for his wife before he was to be executed and when he recited it to the king, it was so beautiful that the king said he would spare Bragi’s head if he would but write such a praise poem for him overnight.  So that was what Bragi the Old did.  He ransomed his own head with a powerful poem of praise.”

“Bragi the Old is my father,” Ivar said.  “He wrote the head ransom song, Gunwar’s Song, and I wrote the music for it.  Bragi means eloquent in speech and the Old is because he married into the old line of Danish kings, the Skioldungs, the King Frodi of Denmark line.  He married Princess Gunwar, the sister of King Frodi, and when she died he married my mother, Princess Eyfura, the daughter of King Frodi.  His full name is Prince Erik ‘Bragi the Old’ Ragnarson.”

“He is also Prince Rurik of Novgorod?” Raj asked.

“That’s his Slav name, but he left Novgorod years ago and moved back to Gardariki, the city he founded with Gunwar in Tmutorokan.  So now he is Prince Erik of Gardariki.”

“And he is the son of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’,” Raj stated, “the famous dragon slayer.”

“You seem to know a lot about me and my family,” Ivar said, leaning forward into his face.  “Is there something you want?”

“I should have told you this last night,” Raj started, “but I came to Baghdad just to meet you.  I knew you and your Hraes’ Trading Company have been trading with the Caliphate for years so, I did my research and arranged an embassy here through my king so I could meet with you and talk business.  You brought up spice trade last night, but there is so much more we can do together.  We have Indian steel, the finest carpets and tapestries in the world and, of course, spices and gold and gemstones.  You have slaves and furs and Khazar Vayar and you have connected with the Silk Road and Cathay.  I have even heard that you are making your own silks in Tmutorokan.  We even believe in the same Pagan gods.  You are the Aesir, we are the Vanir.  Our Brahma is your Odin and our Indra is your Thor and our Vishnu is your Tyr.  I’d like to draw up some contracts between us now if you are willing.”

“Why don’t I play you Gunwar’s Song and then we’ll see if you still want to do business,” Ivar said laughing.  He took up his lute and called his four huge bearers over and he sat upon his shield.  “I am a Skioldung, a shield king,” he told Rajan as his bearers took him to the center of the banquet hall.  His men hiked Ivar up to their shoulders and stood with him on the shield in the middle of the room and he began  Gunwar’s Song with a verbal explanation.

“When King Bjorn of the Barrows played the part of a fool to entrap my father, Prince Erik ‘Bragi the Old’ Ragnarson, the prince spent his days locked up and he attempted to compose a poem in memory of his slain wife.  But the writing was going slow and, as days drew into weeks, a date was set for his beheading.  The last few days, Erik worked feverishly on his poem for his wife, but the words wouldn’t come.  It was the day before his execution when Erik finally completed the work, and when King Bjorn heard that it was done, he had Erik brought to his hall to recite it.

Erik was brought forth to the highseat hall and given a place of honour opposite King Bjorn.  Swedish maidens brought him ale, and a fine feast was spread before him.  Once Erik had his fill, he strode out into the open area between the high seats and began to recite his poem:

I sit (A) down and I try

 to (C) write a song how you’ve (G) left me now,

 but the (D) words won’t come,

 the (A) words won’t come.

 And my (A) memories,

 they (C) flow like white water, (G) echoing…

 how it (D) used to be,

 it (A) used to be.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 My mind’s (A) eye, it sees

 the (C) radiant glow of your (G) beauty

 through (D) the dust of

 the (A) Don plain.

 Soul (A) wandering

 all alone (C) as you wait for your (G) lover

 to (D) join you

 in (A) heaven.

 But the (A) God of gods will

 look (C) down, my life fades on the (G) morrow,

 and (D) cast my soul

 to the (A) winds.  Tween

 earth and (C) stars, I shall always (G) remember

 the (D) dream of your love

 in my (A) heart.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 Take me (A) back through time,

 (C) back to the day that I (G) met you;

 Westmar’s (D) champions,

 how they (A) baited me.

 Roller (A) saved me,

 and (C) I won the hand of my (G) lover;

 Oh, the (D) fates did bless,

 my guile(A)fulness.

 But the (A) god of storms

 threatened (C) snow and my father did (G) sacrifice

 his (D) life to stem

 the (A) tide, and

 the (C) storm’s depart will (G) always bring back

 the (D) dream of your

 love in my (A) heart.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 On foot(A)-blades of bone

 we (C) razed the house of (G) Westmar,

 and old (D) Gotwar

 did (A) curse me.

 Twelve sons (A) swept up in time,

 she (C) tried to poison my (G) lover,

 but, with (D) Odin’s aid,

 my (A) wife I saved.

 But (A) fate would not

 be (C) denied fruition in (G) vengeance,

 and her (D) nephew

 blind(A)sided my wife,

 With (C) golden spear, fratri(G)cidally,

 He snuck (D) up and took her

 sweet (A) life.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 The (A) lands of

 Tmutoro(C)kan, they cried out (G) in anguish,

 for my (D) wife’s blood

 wet the (A) sands of.

 As she (A) died out

upon the (C) Don Plain, my blade died (G) beside her;

 ’twas the (D) curse of

 Tyr(A)fingr.

 And the (A) cycle has gone

 near full (C) round, for I die on the (G) morrow,

 her (D) vengeance is

 gone to the (A) winds. Though

 gods (C) keep us apart, I shall always (G) remember

 the (D) dream of her love

 in my (A) heart.

 Gun(G)war, Gun(D)war,

 will I see you (A+) again?

            (G)       Gun(D)war,

 will I (D+) see you, will I see you?

 I sit (A) down and I try

 to (C) write a song how you’ve (G) left me now,

 but the (D) words won’t come,

 the (A) words won’t come….

“When my father’s poem was finished, everyone in the hall, King Bjorn included, rose up and applauded his work.  ‘A poem such as this,’ the Swedish King said, ‘shall commend your fair Princess Gunwar’s memory to the ends of time.  If you could but write such a fine poem on my behalf, I’d be inclined to pardon you.’  So that is what the Prince did, he wrote a poem that compared King Bjorn with the wily Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic, and the head ransom poem saved my father his head.”

King Ivar took a bow upon his shield and the crowd in the hall applauded him.  They wanted an encore so Ivar caught Saleem’s eye and waved the Arab dancing girls over and paid them to take over for him.  Then his men took him back to the Norse head table and he sat across from Rajan once more.  “Still want to do business?” he asked the ambassador.

“That was the song that set sail to a thousand ships.  I think I understand now.  Where do I sign?” Raj asked, smiling with pride.  “I am familiar with the Roman tale of Brutus.  So, King Bjorn played a fool in order to survive?”

“My father slew King Alrik of Sweden in a personal duel and took the country for himself, so, Prince Bjorn built a howe for his dead king and would sit upon the howe and throw rocks at birds and fly kites and play the harmless fool and was called Bjorn of the Barrows.  But my father had been savagely slashed in the duel and when he was overcome by the injury, Prince Bjorn led and uprising and made himself king.  When my father came out of his fever, he was Bjorn’s prisoner, sentenced to death for slaying their King Alrik.  That is when Prince Erik began writing a song for Gunwar, who had fallen in battle before the walls of Gardariki.  When King Bjorn heard the poem, he made Prince Erik the head ransom offer: a drapa of praise for freedom, plus support in my father’s war with the Huns, but there was a problem…King Bjorn was young and had no accomplishments for which to praise him.  My father was familiar with the Roman tale of Lucius Junius Brutus as well, so, he incorporated Brutus’ efforts of playing the fool to save his life at the hands of King Tarquin of Rome into his poem of praise for King Bjorn of the Barrows and that is what saved his head.”

“Ahh,” Rajan said, nodding his head.  “Now I understand.”

“Later, my father incorporated the tale of Brutus into a saga in which a Danish Prince named Amleth played the fool to save his own life.  King Bjorn of the Barrows fulfilled all his promises to my father and they became the best of friends, so my father didn’t want to insult him with the saga.”

“So, the Swedish king became a Danish prince,” Rajan said, “to protect a friendship.”

“Exactly,” Ivar replied.  “Tomorrow we should start on contracts.  We can be trading next year.”  He then waved over Saleem and Anika and the dancing girls sat down with the merchants.

Sihtric poured his king some more wine then told him that Brianna wanted to check out their new suite and the new couple got up and left.  Soon after, Rajan and his Indian embassy retired as well.  So, King Ivar took Saleem and Anika back to his suite and Saleem found that she didn’t mind it ‘rough’ as much with a girlfriend beside her.

For two days Brianna had followed behind Sihtric as a dutiful slave, but on the third morning they were walking together arm in arm.  Sihtric lasted two days, then he consummated their marriage.  “It was Anika that caused this,” Sihtric explained to his king.  “She could really dance and I just had to find out if Brianna could dance too!”

“Well…can she?” Ivar asked.

“She can dance a fine Irish horizontal jig,” Sihtric confessed, “but her Baghdad belly dance is by far her best!  She put on the silks the Caliph gave her and I was done!”

The rest of the week passed quickly and the Hraes’ merchants were soon winding their way back to Gardariki.  There, King Ivar met with his father, Prince Erik, who was already back from Constantinople and he learned that talks were still stalled with the Romans.  Ivar told him about the Indian embassy he had met up with in Baghdad and about the contract signings he had made with both the Caliphate and the Indian ambassador.

“Do you think next year,” Erik started, “you could take a few Alchemists to Baghdad with you and pass them off to the Indian embassy you’ll be meeting with there?  The Indians have come up with some new mathematical concepts for their negative numbers and zero.  It would be great if we can get some of our mathematical Alchemists into India to study for a year.”

“I think I should be able to get them attached to the Indian embassy,” Ivar answered.  “Is it for your science?”

“It’s more for simplifying our merchant accounts.  But if there is something knowledgeable out there, we want to know about it.”

Just then Queen Silkisif walked into Erik’s longhall and saw Ivar.  “Ivar,” Silkisif said, casually, “you have your brother’s eyes.”

“King Oddi’s eyes?” Ivar replied.

“Unless you have other brothers,” Silkisif said.

“Well, I did have twelve other half-brothers,” Ivar said, “But Oddi killed eleven of them and Hjalmar the Brave killed the twelfth one, Angantyr, at the Holmganger on Samso.”

“I’m sooo sorry,” Silkisif gushed.  “I only remember Oddi as being your brother.  Please forgive my mistake.”

“It’s okay,” Ivar reassured her.  “I only knew and loved Oddi.  The other brothers died long before I was born.”

“I’m still so sorry.  I mis-spoke.”

“Our family is complicated,” Erik added.  “Please come join us for lunch,” he said, patting the highseat beside himself.

“Yes, foster-father,” she replied, sitting beside him on the highseat.  “It is complicated.”  Prince Erik was her foster-father only because he had helped foster her as she was growing up, for her father, King Olmar of Tmutorokan was Erik’s grandfather on his mother’s side, making her actually his aunt, not his foster-daughter.  “Very complicated.”

King Ivar had lunch with his father and great aunt, then joined his merchant fleet as it embarked for Kiev.  Sihtric and Brianna sailed with him and seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time together under the ship’s awnings.  “You’re going to get her pregnant,” Ivar warned his Ui Imair friend.

“She wants another baby,” Sihtric said.  “I’m worried.  If she loses this one, it will be very difficult for her.”

“She’s a year older.  Should be good.”

When they reached the Dnieper Rapids, King Ivar told the Pecheneg warriors that were assisting with the portages that he had a gift for the kagan of the Yavdi-Erdem clan.  Later that day Kagan Baitzas rode about inspecting the portage progress and called out to King Ivar, whose ship was on wains being drawn by oxen.  Ivar rode over to the Kagan who said: “Kagan in Training Ivar, how was Baghdad?”

“It was great!” Ivar answered in fluent Pecheneg.  “I have some gifts for you,” he said, halting the ship’s progress and, leaning over the topstrake, he pulled a saddle out of his ship.  “It was given to me by the King of India and I thought of you,” Ivar lied, passing him a beautiful leather and gold saddle from Gujarat.  He also had his men pull a chest of gold Byzants and two chests of silver Kufas from the hold.  “These also are for you.”

The kagan dismounted and started removing the saddle from his horse.  Ivar took the Indian saddle and slapped it onto the back of the horse and Kagan Baitzas cinched it up.  “It is a fine saddle,” the kagan praised.  “And the gold?  You have already paid us for the portage.”

“It is my way of thanking you for working with us so well,” Ivar lied again.

The kagan had his men load and strap the chests to the saddles of his spare mounts and as he rode away he thought: ‘Is it trouble coming up with the Romans or the Bulgars?’  He hoped it would be the Romans.

Princess Helga was waiting on the main quay of Kiev when King Ivar’s ship was rowed up to it.  Sihtric was beside him with what looked like an Irish slave girl under his arm.  She had seen lots of them taken south, but this was the first one she was seeing travelling north.  “Helga!” Ivar shouted as he disembarked on his shield.  “You remember Sihtric, and this is his new wife, Brianna.”

“Praise Odin you have returned safely,” Helga said, giving Sihtric and his wife a wide berth.  “Business was good?”

“Business was very good!” Ivar said.  “Even better than last year.”

“Good,” she replied, “because I was worried you were coming back with last year’s product.”

“No, no, no,” Ivar repeated.  “There was a bit of a misunderstanding with the Caliph of Baghdad.  He accidentally married Sihtric and Brianna and we had to keep up appearances so the Caliph wouldn’t feel insulted.”

“Good,” Helga said.  “We can put her up in my longhall.  We wouldn’t want a slave, freed or otherwise, sleeping in the palace of your grandfather, King Frodi.”

“I don’t think King Frodi would mind if…”

But Sihtric interrupted and said, “That’s fine.  I’ll stay with her there so I can keep an eye on her.  We wouldn’t want her running off to the Caliphate to insult the Caliph.”

“Okay,” Ivar said, “but you’re welcome in the palace.”

“I smell death here,” Brianna said as they were unpacking their clothes in the main bedchamber of Helga’s longhall.  Helga was going to give them a side chamber, but Ivar insisted they take Helga’s old bedchamber and Helga grudgingly agreed.

“I don’t smell anything,” Sihtric replied.

“I smelled death in the street when we rode up in the royal carriage.  My nose is never wrong.  The smell has worked its way into this building,” she maintained.  Once they had unpacked, Brianna took Sihtric back out the front double doors of the longhall and down the wooden sidewalk.  “I can smell it carrying from across the street,” she said.  “Perhaps it is coming from the building across the street?”

“I think that’s a military barracks,” Sihtric said.  “It has Hraes’ legionary markings.”  So, they walked across the street and stood in front of the barracks.  Brianna couldn’t smell an increase in the odour so she walked back out into the street.

“The smell of death is coming from the street,” she said.  It’s coming from under the street!”

“Let’s go back to the longhall,” Sihtric said.

The servants of the longhall prepared a great feast for the merchants and the new couple that were billeted there and after supper Sihtric told Brianna to remain in their room while he went across the street to talk with the few legionnaires he had seen over there.  The cohort of legion troops were out on training, but there were a few sick and injured young men who had remained in Kiev.  Sihtric put some mead into a large pitcher and took some drinking horns with him across the street.  He told the men there that he had commanded the half legion that was stationed in Northumbria, in Bamburgh Castle.  “The fifth legion?” they asked, and said it was more like a quarter of a legion there.

“It’s the fourth legion that’s stationed there,” Sihtric corrected, “and we like to say it’s a half legion so the Anglish are twice as fearful.  You’re testing me, aren’t you?”

They told him he had passed the test so now he could pass the mead, and he did.  As they were drinking and telling stories about training, Sihtric casually brought up the smell of death that was in the street.  The soldiers told him that they were all new to the legion, but they had heard a story that could only be told to legionary members.  Sihtric reminded them that he had commanded a part of the fourth under a commission directly given him by King Ivar ‘the Boneless’, himself.  “But only the Anglish call him ‘the Boneless’ there”, he said, “because they fear him so much.”  So, the men relaxed and told him the story of what had happened to the ‘Chernigov Twenty’.  The tale sent a shiver up Sihtric’s spine and he had killed many men in battle over the years.

“What did you learn?” Brianna asked, when Sihtric returned to their room.

“The soldiers told me that a horse had died out in the street in the heat of summer and, because the legion was out on manoeuvres, it had lain there a few days.” 

“Well, that smell of death wasn’t horse,” she said.  “It was men, and more than just a few of them.”

Sihtric told Brianna that he was going to step out for an hour.  She asked him where he was going at such a late hour and he said, “I’m taking the royal carriage to the bath house.  I want to make love to you all night and that’s quite a discerning nose you have.”

“It’s late,” Brianna said, “so nobody should be there.  Can I come with you?”

“You’d better come with me,” Sihtric said, “and only come with me!” and they left the longhall together and didn’t get back till the wee hours of the morning.

The next day Sihtric was provisioning the Hraes’ Anglish fleet he had brought to Kiev, for their return voyage to Angleland and Dumbarton Rock, so he didn’t see much of King Ivar, who was going through accounts and weighing chests of gold in the Kievan treasury, but they finally bumped into each other and Sihtric mentioned that Brianna had smelled death coming up from the street in front of Helga’s longhall.

“Is it bothering her?” Ivar asked.  “Come, stay at the palace.”

“I told her it was probably a horse that might have died out in the street.  It’s not too bad, but she insists it is the deathly smell of men and more than just a few.”

“Come.  Stay at the palace.”

“We’re fine at the longhall,” Sihtric said.

“If you come stay at the palace, we’ll stay up late one night drinking, just you and me, and, after swearing you to secrecy, I’ll tell you why that street smells of death.”

Ivar had made Sihtric an offer he couldn’t refuse, so Sihtric and Brianna moved into a chamber in King Frodi’s palace.  That night, Ivar and Sihtric stayed up late drinking and Sihtric heard the tale of the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ from a more expansive point of view.  He heard how the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ had maimed their prince and how Princess Helga had given them light punishment and how a later court thing had punished them a little bit more, so Ivar had conquered and remarried in the west.  Prince Mal of Dereva, on hearing of Ivar’s marriage, began propositioning Helga and had used the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ to enforce his demands just a day before Ivar was to return to Kiev.  Helga had learned that the twenty men planned to kidnap her, so she welcomed them to Kiev and had them carried into the city in their boat and, as they relaxed in their boat, she had her legionnaires drop the boat into a pit she’d had dug into the street in front of her longhall.  Her troops then filled in the hole, but the twenty had formed a testudo shell with their shields to provide themselves with an air pocket.

“When I arrived in Kiev,” Ivar concluded, “Helga gave me a drink and, as we shared the highseat, she told me how she had punished the ‘Chernigov Twenty’ in the hopes of getting me back and she passed me a shovel and said, ‘Dig them up if you want,’ and I said, I’d dig them up if I only had some legs!” and Ivar laughed and slapped his thigh repeatedly.  “Now you must keep your secret,” Ivar said, “because, to this day, Prince Mal hasn’t figured out what happened to his ‘Chernigov Twenty’.  Don’t even tell Brianna!”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Sihtric assured him.  “Does this mean you will be moving back to Kiev?”

“Yes.  I’m afraid it is time I moved back with the woman I love.  She is the only woman I have never been rough with.  That is why I need you at Dumbarton Rock, to control the Irish Sea and to keep an eye on the Anglish for me.  They can hold York, as long as they don’t interfere with our Hraes’ trading there.  But I need you there to move against them if they try to stop our trading.  Ally yourself with the Scots and the Strathclyde Britons if possible.  They’ll always be ready to throw off the English yoke.”

“The Ui Imair will be sad to see you go, as will I.”

“I’ll be overwintering in Liere for the last time, then after I come east for spring trading, I’ll be overwintering in Kiev or in Tmutorokan if it gets too cold.  My time in the west as Ivar the Traveller will be coming to an end.  I am going to focus on the east, India and the Silk Road to Cathay.”

“King Harde Knute of Denmark,” Sihtric said sadly, “is now King Harde Gone.”

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

21.0  THE KING OF LIERE  (Circa 937 AD)

“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear

King Lear and the Fool by Dyce 1861

(937 AD)  When King Ivar had completed his rounds, settling up with every Hraes’ Trading Company station and store between Kiev and Dub-Lin, he landed near Liere and was met by his wife, Queen Blaeja, and his son, Prince Gorm.  They rode together in a royal carriage from the harbour town to King Frodi’s fortress.  “Again, I’m sorry for your grandmother’s passing,” Ivar started.  “She ran out of living long before she ran out of life.  Your mother and your uncle send their best.”

“You stopped in York?” Blaeja asked.  “Isn’t it in Saxon hands now?  Wasn’t it dangerous?

“King Athelstan and the Saxons have returned to Wessex.  York is in the hands of the local Anglish princes.  They were quite hospitable and your mother’s Hraes’ station in York Castle made record profits this year.  The Saxon royals may not want Vikings in York, but they do want the Hraes’ silks and spices and Kha Vayar in York Castle.”

“I tried some Khazar Vayar,” Prince Gorm said.  “I didn’t really like it much.”

“It’s an acquired taste, son,” King Ivar replied, then he whispered, “I don’t like it that much myself either, but don’t tell the Saxons.”

“We’ve had no luck with a daughter,” Blaeja said.

“Have you been taking the medicine I gave you?”

“Yes.  Every day as you instructed.”

“It is every day,” Ivar said, “as your grandmother, Princess Blaeja Senior, had instructed me.  And we must try again, as she also instructed.”

Ivar made love to Blaeja all night long and with a gentle hand that he had previously reserved for his love in Kiev.  “You are leaving me,” Blaeja said in bed the next morning.  “You were kind to me.  You have never been kind.”

“I am following your grandmother’s full prescription.  The medicine and love.”

“You weren’t loving when you came to Liere last spring with news of her death.”

“I thought the medicine would be enough.  Apparently it was not.  If you prefer it rough, I can do that as well.”

“I like the new you,” she said, as she mounted him.

The next day, Ivar began preparations for visiting the Hraes’ stations in Denmark.  “Would you like to come with me to Hedeby?” he asked his son.

“Can I buy something for mother while we are there?”

“Good plan.  We’ll both buy something for mother.”

Normally, King Ivar would have sailed south down the coast of Zealand and past the southern islands to Hedeby on the mainland coast, but he decided to go north and around Zealand and sail down the coast of Samso Isle to Hjalmar’s bay at the south end of the island.  “That is where twelve of your uncles died,” Ivar told Prince Gorm, “killed by another one of your uncles, King Oddi, and his friend, Hjalmar ‘the Brave’.”

“The Holmganger of Samso Isle,” Gorm added.

“See the howe upon the beach?” Ivar asked.  “Forty men are buried in that howe, killed by your twelve berserker uncles.  Further inland there is a howe where those twelve uncles rest.”

“Can we go in and explore?” Gorm asked.

“I didn’t think you’d be interested,” Ivar replied.

“Oh…I love exploring…and I’ve learned all about their holmganger.”

So, King Ivar had his ships pull into Hjalmar’s Bay and the sailors beached the boats while the six went off exploring.  “King Oddi built the howes,” Gorm started, “by turning their ships over the bodies of the men, then he paid local farmers to cover the ships with turf.”

“How did you learn this?”

“I’ve read all the sagas that were written about the holmganger,” Gorm explained.  “King Oddi dragged the twelve oared boat that your brothers sailed in further into the forest and built their howe there, but Hjalmar’s thirty oared ship was too large to drag that far, so he built their men’s’ howe at the edge of the forest with a nice view of the bay.”

“That’s very impressive,” Ivar said.

“I like exploring and I like studying the sagas,” Gorm told his father.  As they went into the forest, they saw the smaller howe of the brothers and Ivar pointed out a section where the howe had been opened up and very poorly closed up again.  “I think that is where Hervor, Queen Eyfura’s handmaiden, broke into the howe and stole the famed sword Tyrfingr,” he told his son.  “She later used it to slay King Oddi as vengeance for his killing of her father, Angantyr, who rests in this howe.”

“The bite of a poisonous blood-snake,” Gorm began, “under the skull of Faxi.”  When Ivar looked surprised, Gorm said, “I have read all the saga versions of Arrow Odd, from the official Kievan saga to the many and varied sagas written by all the drunken skalds of Europe.”

“Yes,” said Ivar.  “I call it drunken skald syndrome.”

“I like that,” said Gorm.  “Drunken skald syndrome.  Danish skalds are a lot harsher on Oddi than Norwegian skalds because whoever is buying their mead is who they are writing for, and Oddi was hated by Danish kings and loved by Norwegian princes.”

“Quite profound,” Ivar said patting young Gorm on the back.

“Should we repair the damage?” Gorm asked.

“What do you mean?”

“We should get some of our men up here to re-turf this broken section.  It will discourage grave robbers.”

“That’s a good idea,” Ivar replied.  “How do we know that grave robbers haven’t already trashed the howe?”

“While our men are making the repair, we’ll have to go in and check.”

“We can send a few of our men in to check,” Ivar said.

“They’re our relatives, father,” Gorm said.  “We should go in.  I love exploring.  I’ll go in alone if you wish.”

“No,” Ivar said.  “You are right.  We are their kin.  It should be us that do it.”

A work detail was assigned the job of making the repair while the crews prepared supper on the beach.  Once the workers had opened up the damaged area wide enough to accommodate Ivar’s carriers, Ivar and Gorm went into the howe entrance and checked the air for odours that could mean gas and then had the workers pass in torches.  They all had to stoop, but could see twelve sets of bones beneath armour and clothes and in the center they could see the bones of Angantyr, almost a foot longer than the bones of the others.  “Angantyr was the tallest of the lot,” Ivar said.  “He stood a head taller than Oddi.  Only his bones have been disturbed and the sword that Oddi claims to have placed under his back is gone.”

“But there is dust on the floor,” Gorm said.  “Those are the footprints of Hervor just in the entrance, but they stop right here where we are.  His bones are disturbed, but there are no footprints around the rowing bench that he sleeps upon.  It almost looks as if he sat up at his bench and passed the sword out to her, then collapsed back dead again.”

“Let’s get this repair done, have supper and sail on to Fyn and find ourselves a good inn.”  And that’s what they did.

Once they got to Hedeby, King Ivar began squaring up with the manager of the Hraes’ Trading station while Gorm shopped for a gift for his mother.  There were silks from China, Constantinople and Tmutorokan and Gorm was trying to pick out a colour.

“Leave the silk selection for me,” Ivar shouted from the back of the store.  “Buy her something else. Gorm.”  And Ivar got back to business squaring up.

Gorm went to the make-up area and selected several mascaras and a perfume.  Then he saw square blockish woollen dresses and the expensive ones were dyed bright expensive colours and the cheap ones were plain washed wool.  The manager’s wife finished up with a female client and went over to help Gorm.  She put one of Gorm’s mascaras back and brought him a better product, then steered him to the fur coats and stoles.  “Winter is coming,” she said.  “Your girlfriend or wife will want a fur to stay warm under.”

“I don’t have a girlfriend or wife,” Gorm protested.  “This is for my mother.”

“Then I have just the thing for you,” she said.  She stepped outside the store and called back the girl she had just sold an ermine stole to.  “Princess Thyra,” she said.  “This is Prince Gorm.  He doesn’t have a girlfriend or wife to help him pick out a stole for his mother, Queen Blaeja.  Could you model the stole you just purchased for him?”

Princess Thyra was a very pretty young lady and she told the shopkeeper that she would be pleased to model the stole and she took the stole out of her leather shopping bag and put it around her neck and she posed for Gorm.  “Your hair is blonde,” Gorm said, “and my mother’s is auburn, so, while ermine contrasts beautifully with your hair, perhaps this sable would contrast better with my mother’s hair,” and he passed Thyra a very expensive sable stole to try on.  “Your blonde hair is very beautiful as well,” he added, lest she feel slighted by the comparison.  “The sable goes beautifully with your hair too,” Gorm complimented Thyra.  “I’ll take two sables,” he said, “one for my mother and one for Princess Thyra.”

“I can’t take it,” Thyra protested.  “My father will kill me!”

But the old shopkeeper put the sable stole into her shopping bag along with the ermine one.  She was fast and did not want to miss a sale.  She hushed the young girl up and shooshed her out the door and when they were on the sidewalk she told Thyra that Prince Gorm was the son of their King of Denmark, ‘Harde Knute’.  Thyra was embarrassed that she had missed his connection with Queen Blaeja and she fled down the street and rejoined her family at a corner inn where they were staying.

Back in the Hraes’ store, King Ivar was chiding Gorm about spending money on a sable stole for his mother.  “Do you know how many silks I’m going to have to buy for your mother, just to keep up with you?”  So, the manager’s old wife took Ivar to the silk section and began showing him some very sensuous silk outfits and told him that Gorm had purchased a sable stole for the girl that had modelled for him as well.  “That’s fine,” Ivar said.  “I don’t have to compete with things he buys for princesses.  Just things he buys for our queen.  Besides…I think that was Princess Thyra.  I know her father.  I owe him a favour or two.  And I can see that you are one of the reasons that Hedeby is one of our top selling stations.”  The old shopkeeper blushed at the compliment.

“If you are looking for an inn,” she said, “there is a nice one on the corner just down the street.”

King Ivar asked Prince Gorm if he wanted a ship to take him back to Liere or if he wanted to continue on to the Hraes’ station in Jutland.  The old shopkeeper encouraged him to go on with his father and Gorm decided to do that.  “That inn is just down the street this way?” Ivar asked, pointing west.

“Yes,” the old woman said.  “The same direction the young lady went.  Please tell them I sent you.  They’ll provide you with good food.”

King Ivar and Gorm went down the street to the inn and paid for rooms and had their retinue bring their rowing chests up to their rooms.  Ivar told Gorm that he wanted to check out some of the competing trading stores in Hedeby before they retired, so, they stepped out and went shopping some more.  While they were gone, Princess Thyra’s family checked out of the inn and resumed their travels.  Ivar had Gorm take notes as they shopped.  No stations or stores had the range of luxury goods that the Hraes’ station had, but each shop would have one or two products that the Hraes’ station did not, and Gorm wrote down each and every one of them.  Ivar’s men held the shield that their king was on steady as Gorm used a part of it as a writing desk.  When they got back to the inn they were exhausted and starving.  The old woman at the Hraes’ station had been right about the food and they soon got a good rest as well.

The next morning, they sailed north from Hedeby and went past Fyn then sailed west to the town of Jelling in central Jutland.  Ivar and Gorm went to the Hraes’ trading station in the center of town so Ivar could square up business with the manager.  While Gorm was shopping for his mother he saw Princess Thyra walk into the store.  He walked over to her and she was surprised and happy to see him.  “My father runs this station,” she said, welcoming the prince to their store.  “What are you doing here?”

“I’m shopping for my mother again,” Gorm said, “while my father squares up with…”

“My father,” Thyra said.  “Let’s step out before they see us.”  The princess took the prince on a short tour of Jelling and then they returned to the store and Gorm had his father introduce him to Thyra’s father, Prince Thorolf.  After the store closed they had supper at Prince Thorolf’s longhall in Jelling, where Gorm met Thyra’s mother.  Thyra’s two brothers were out on a Viking raid, so Thyra and Gorm spent the evening talking and walking about town, while Ivar and Thorolf talked business.  Thyra’s mother, Princess Anna invited their guests to spend the night in their longhall, so Ivar and Gorm shared a chamber for the night and they talked a lot about the Hraes’ Trading Company.  Gorm suddenly took an interest in the business side of things because Thyra and her family were very involved with the company.  Gorm figured if he could impress Prince Thorolf, then Princess Thyra might be impressed as well.  But Thyra had been impressed by Gorm from the very beginning, when he bought her a sable stole in Hedeby.

King Ivar wanted to head out early the next morning because he felt a storm coming on.  “I can feel it in my shins,” he laughed.  With a favourable wind they could make Liere by nightfall, but a favourable wind was not forthcoming.  They rowed all day and by evening they were just south off the coast of Samso.  Prince Gorm wanted the men to pull into Hjalmar’s Bay, but a full moon came out and howe fires started dancing above the trees around the berserk brothers’ barrow, and the men refused.  Once they got past Samso a wind picked up and blew them all the way to Zealand and they beached their ships on the western coast, ran out their awnings and slept in their ships as rain pelted the sailcloth.  The next morning, they set out and were in Liere by the afternoon.

Prince Gorm’s newfound interest in Hraes’ company business soon found him sailing off to the Jelling station or sometimes Hedeby if he knew that Princess Thyra would be there.  They began dating seriously.  If Thyra was going to Hedeby, she would send Gorm a message and meet him there on a certain date and they would always stay at the inn down the street from where they had first met.  If Thyra was accompanying her father on business around Zealand, Gorm would usually bump into them, often bearing gifts.  Eventually Prince Gorm told his mother that he wished to ask for the hand of Princess Thyra and Queen Blaeja told King Ivar, who then discussed the situation with Prince Thorolf who discussed it with his wife, Princess Anna, who then discussed it with her daughter, Princess Thyra, who consented to such a proposal and the discussions went back up the line to Prince Thorolf and King Ivar to determine a dowry and set a date.  The dowry was set at a thousand marks of gold, gold that Thyra would bring into the marriage and gold that she would keep if the marriage faltered, and the date was set for the start of the twelve days of Yulefest, the winter solstice.  It was a date known for great fertility and fine omens.  And the wedding celebrations would extend throughout the twelve days of Yulefest, from the Yule solstice to Mother’s Night to New Year’s day.

“You should make Gorm king,” Blaeja said to Ivar after some particularly tender lovemaking.  “If you are going to leave me, make Gorm king before you go.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Ivar protested.

“If you do leave for Kiev and you leave Gorm a prince of Denmark, he will be killed within a year.  Denmark is full of pretenders to the throne, princes who think they have as much right to it as Gorm.  If you take the crown of Denmark east with you, the people will say you have died and offer a new crown to Gorm and, when he refuses it because he is your son, they will offer it to others.  They will offer it to whoever kills your heir.”

“They wouldn’t dare,” Ivar declared.  “They fear King Eyfur ‘Harde Knute’ as much as the Anglish fear King Ivar ‘the Boneless’.”

“Their longing for a king will overcome their fear.  They feared King Frodi ‘the Angantyr’ Fridleifson as much as they fear you and they made King Hiarn ‘the Poet’ their king instead of you.  It is the life of royalty: if you leave, your people they will say you are dead.  A cup will have been made of your skull, by your enemies, and that is why there is no tomb…if they didn’t respect your head, why would they bury your body.”

“That is just a story,” Ivar waned.

“History is just stories,” Blaeja waxed, “stories of kings whose skulls became cups, encrusted with gold and toasted afar.  And the prince who supports such a skull cup king is soon poisoned or stabbed and barrow bound.”

Ivar stroked Blaeja’s cheek.  “I’m not leaving you.”

Blaeja persisted in asking Ivar to make Prince Gorm the King of Denmark and often mentioned that it would make a fine wedding gift for their son, but something plagued Ivar about that, a story or a history he had heard about, and it came to him in a dream one night.  He and Blaeja had been working hard to ensure the fertility medicine worked and Blaeja collapsed into his arms after riding his steed for hours.  As they slept together, entangled in each other, a ghost came to Ivar and it was the ghost of King Leir, an ancient Danish king from eighth century Zealand, the founder of the royal city of Liere.  The ghost bemoaned to Ivar that he has no sons.  King Leir reigned for sixty years and he has no sons, so the ghost tells Ivar that upon reaching old age he decided to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia.  “They were always after me to give up my title of King,” the ghost explained.  “There was Angleland and Jutland and Zealand going on into Skane, and who should get the biggest share, so I decided to ask my daughters how much they loved me.  Goneril and Regan professed emphatic love for me, but Cordelia answered me simply and kindly, so I gave Cordelia no land.  I gave Goneril Angleland and Jutland and to Regan I gave Zealand and Skane, all this I gave them to share with their husbands.  My beautiful Cordelia ran off and married Aganippus, King of the Franks.  Soon Goneril and Regan stripped me of my wealth and my attendants, so I sailed to Frankia and made up with my Cordelia.  She replaced my royal robes and my retinue and her husband, Aganippus, raised a Gaulish army for me and I returned to Denmark and took back my crown.”

“You are warning me not to give up my crown,” Ivar said to the ghost.

But the ghost of King Leir just walked away and mumbled, “It’s not quite over yet!”

Prince Gorm and Princess Thyra were married on the day of the winter solstice, the first day of the twelve days of Yulefest.  The timing was perfect.  The couple spent the next three days feasting and celebrating and consummating their vows, and on Mother’s Night eve they retired early and worked hard all night long at making Thyra a mother.  “Wait fifteen days,” Ivar had told Gorm, “after Thyra’s period ends, then three nights in a row make love with your wife and you’ll have a boy.”  Three nights ended on Mother’s Night eve.  Then followed Yuletide Day, a day for family sharing followed by a quiet family dinner.  The following week was for visiting friends and allies.  Owners and managers from all Hraes’ Trading Company stations of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and as far away as York and Rouen congregated in Liere to celebrate and bring in the New Year.  It was a gathering of the finest merchant minds of the western end of the Hraes’ trade routes that connected Iceland with Cathay and the Arctic Ocean with the Arabian Sea.  The Hraes’ Trading Company had grown stronger under the guidance of King Eyfur ‘Harde Knute’ Erikson of Denmark than under any other king, including his grandfather, King Frodi ‘Angantyr’ Fridleifson.  Business was up, profits were up, the range of products traded was greater than ever and customers ranged from kings to paupers.  And in the spring, the Hraes’ merchants were ready to start a new cycle all over again, with thousands of merchant ships sailing east for a trade that was becoming more stable and predictable with each passing season.

When spring first pried a few warm sunny days out of bleak winter, both Queen Blaeja and Princess Thyra found themselves hugging their chamber pots as they threw up into them and Ivar and Gorm congratulated each other on Yuletide successes.  Slaver ships from Dub-Lin were the first to arrive in the harbour town of Liere, followed by merchant ships from Rouen and a fleet from York.

“What do you think about you handling the western end of the Hraes’ Trading Company?” Ivar asked his son Gorm.  “Your father-in-law, Prince Thorolf, will help you.”

“What will you be doing?” Gorm asked.

“I have to develop our Indian business and tie it into our Silk Road trade.  That’s what will be taking us into the future: silks, spices, gold and gemstones.”

“I’ve been helping you with the western end of things since I was a child.  I’d be proud to take it over for you.”

“And what do you think about taking over as king of Denmark for me?”

“Thyra would be queen?”

“Yes.  And your mother would continue as queen mother.”

“I would be proud and honoured to take over as king.”

So, prior to the Hraes’ merchant fleet heading east, there was a coronation ceremony held for King Gorm and Queen Thyra, attended by all the leading merchants that had spent Yulefest in Liere as well as all the merchant princes in the gathering merchant fleet.  The more Scandinavian princes who witnessed and attested to the coronation of King Gorm, the safer his standing as king became.  Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ of Kiev kissed Queen Mother Blaeja goodbye and sailed east with the Hraes’ merchant fleet.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

22.0  THE SECOND BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH  (Circa 937 AD)

“He lunged his spear at the Earl’s breast, piercing his mail-coat

and trunk so that the point stuck out between the shoulder blades.

Next he lifted the halberd up above his head and plunged the base

of the shaft into the earth, and the Earl died on the spear point

before everyone’s eyes,”

Thorolf Kills Earl Hring; Egil’s Saga

Egil Skallagrimson of Egil’s Saga

(937 AD)  While Prince Ivar was in Baghdad, his Lieutenant Sihtric Ui Imair was settling into Dumbarton Rock with his very pregnant wife Brianna and the Hraes’ fleet of York.  They were monitoring the Anglish princes that had taken control of York after the Saxon King Athelstan had invaded Scotland unopposed three years earlier.  He was not to take action against the Anglish as long as Athelstan did not interfere with Hraes’ Trading Company business in Angleland.  And King Athelstan was a fan of the Hraes’ Khazar Vayar so he allowed the Hraes’ stations in Angleland to carry on with business as usual.  But trouble would come from a different angle.  King Constantine II of Scotland began building up his army, which was against the Anglish Peace Treaty of 927, and he started to establish alliances with Earl Owen of the Strathclyde Britons and his new son-in-law, Jarl Olaf of the Danes of Dub-Lin.  Once Constantine had a strong enough force he led his army south into Northumbria and attacked the Anglish Princes of York, Earls Alfgeir and Godrek.  On the plains north of York the Scottish forces of King Constantine fought with the Anglish troops of the Earls of York and Earl Godrek fell and Earl Alfgeir fled south with his surviving forces.

Earl Alfgeir met King Athelstan in London and told him how the north had fallen to the Scots.  When Athelstan heard of the size of Constantine’s invading army, he sent out messengers to raise the fyrds, a system of volunteer forces set up by his grandfather, King Alfred the Great, from thirty three fortified shires throughout southern England.  It would take time to raise forces from all the shires, so Athelstan collected up troops from the shires surrounding London augmented by a large Viking force that he had been hiring as a standing army and set off to confront the Scots.  The Viking mercenary army was led by Thorolf Skallagrimsson and his younger brother, Egil.  Earl Alfgeir led his own forces and King Athelstan appointed his officers to lead the troops of the different shires.  Athelstan sent a cavalry force on ahead to challenge the Scottish king to a combat on the Vin Moor between the Vin Forest and the River Trent.  The king’s message included a request to limit plundering since the winner would rule all England.  The battle was to take place in a week’s time and whichever party arrived first should wait for up to a week for the other party to arrive.  Cavalry officers then marked out the field of battle with hazel poles and set up their encampment on a small rise south of the moor.

King Athelstan’s army marched north up the Roman road from London to Lincoln then halfway up the Roman road to York and Hadrian’s Wall.  Vin Moor was located just south of the Humber estuary between the Trent River on the west and the Vin Forest bordering the east.  They arrived there and began setting up their tents between the cavalry tents that had been set up previously.  The tents ranged from the River Trent to the Vin Forest and filled in a row or two behind those in the front, but the rise made it impossible to see from afar how deep the tents ranged, making the army look much larger than it really was.  Athelstan had not accompanied his army, taking a far more circuitous route north through Mercia, gathering up more and more fyrd troops as he progressed.

The Scottish army was camped to the north on the moor and had no hill to hide their numbers, but their numbers were already immense before King Constantine’s son-in-law Olaf Guthfrithson sailed up the Humber at the head of a fleet of six hundred warships.  He had left Dub-Lin with two hundred warships full of Dubgall Vikings and had gathered up twice more that number from Viking longphorts in Northern Ireland and from Viking settlements in the Hebrides, the Orkneys and Shetland Islands along the way to Northumbria.  The Ui Imair and Finngall Vikings of Southern Ireland were unsupportive of his campaign, so when he called upon Sihtric and his Hraes’ fleet at Dumbarton Rock to join him, Sihtric told him he couldn’t without orders from Kiev.  When Olaf stopped at Bamburgh to ask Biorn to join him, he got much the same answer.  His thirty thousand men set up their twelve hundred campaign tents behind the fifteen hundred tents of the Scots.  Soon they were joined by King Owen and the Strathclyde Britons, who added eight hundred tents to the encampment.

The English camp, on the other hand, was severely undermanned.  Every third tent was empty and the manned tents were half full.  When Scottish officers would approach on horse, the Saxons would stand about in front of the empty tents as if they had more men than tents.  Each day the Scot emissaries came, the Wessex officers would tell them that Athelstan was about to arrive or that he was in the town just south of the moor and each day more and more Saxon and Anglish troops would arrive to fill the empty tents.

On the appointed day of battle, Prince Edmund, King Athelstan’s brother, arrived and told the Scottish envoys that he brought a message from their king, telling them that, while their massive army was ready for battle, Athelstan wanted to avoid the slaughter of his subjects, so he wanted Constantine to go home and, to that end, Athelstan would give him one silver shilling for each plough in Scotland and in that way establish a new understanding.  When the emissaries returned to the Scottish camp, Constantine and Olaf were drawing up their formations for the upcoming battle, but Constantine had them stand down and he met with Jarl Olaf and Earl Owen and their officers and they discussed the offer.  Some wanted Constantine to accept the offer while others were against it.  Many Scots felt that the campaign had been successful so far and to go home with vast tribute and no further loss of life would be even more so.  Others felt that rejecting the initial offer would bring about a better one.  But the Vikings wanted plunder and the Britons wanted to shed themselves of the Saxon yoke.  So, the next day the Scots sent their emissaries south across the moor with a message rejecting the offer.

Prince Edmund entertained the emissaries with food and drink while he deliberated upon a second offer to be made on behalf of his brother, the king.  He offered them, in addition to what had been offered before, a silver shilling for every free-born man in their army, a silver mark for every officer in charge of at least twelve men, a gold mark to each captain and five marks of gold to every earl or jarl.  Edmund told the envoys to tell Constantine he had two days to respond to the offer.  Again, the Scots and Britons and Vikings discussed the offer and decided to make a counteroffer.  The Scottish emissaries returned to the Saxon camp and told Prince Edmund that they would accept his offer as long as King Constantine and King Olaf kept Northumbria and King Owen and the Strathclyde Britons would be an autonomous kingdom alongside Northumberland.  Prince Edmund told them that such decisions of land title were for the king only, so, he would have to go to Athelstan in the town to affirm the counteroffer himself and that it would take three days.  He assured the envoys that he didn’t think the king would allow anything to stand between his subjects and peace and he offered to take some of the envoys with him to the town of Frodingham to hear the kings answer for themselves.  The envoys agreed to the three days respite and three of them went with the prince to Frodingham and three returned to the Scottish camp.

King Athelstan had just arrived in Frodingham, a town founded by King Frodi of Denmark, the Saxon king mused as he brought in the last of the Saxon fyrds of Sussex and the Anglish fyrds of Mercia.  His army was ready.  They had stalled the Scots long enough to raise the combined army of England.  He listened glibly to Prince Edmunds offers he had made to the Scots and he told the Scottish emissaries, “Take this message to King Constantine and his son-in-law Olaf, I give him leave to return to Scotland with all his men unharmed, but he must leave behind all that he has plundered and then there may be peace between our lands.  Henceforth, as well, he must acknowledge himself as my tributary king.  And Earl Owen of Strathclyde may return to his land in peace as well, but Jarl Olaf the Dane, he can just fock off back to Ireland.  There will be no peace between us.  I shall be talking to King Ivar and King Gorm about the actions of their Danish subject in Northumbria.  Now go back and tell all of how things stand!”

Prince Edmund escorted the envoys back to Vin Moor, apologising for his brother, the king, all the way back.  The envoys got back to their camp at midnight, woke their king and gave him Athelstan’s message.  King Constantine had all his leaders roused and had the envoys repeat the words of King Athelstan.  Everyone now agreed that their course of action was to get ready for battle.  The emissaries added that Athelstan had just arrived in Frodingham as they’d rode up with the last of the fyrds trailing behind him and the Saxons now had a great army assembled.

“It is all transpiring,” Earl Adils started, “just as I warned you all it would.  The Saxons are a tricky bunch to deal with.  While we’ve been sitting here contemplating peace, Athelstan has been travelling through his burroughs raising his fyrds and now he has a great force put together.”

His brother, Earl Hring, of the Strathclyde Britons agreed.  “We must attack their army on the moor tonight, before King Athelstan joins them with the rest of his fyrds.  Let my brother and I ride out with our men right away and catch them off guard.  They may be overly confident now that their king has arrived with the rest of their army.  If we can rout them tonight and capture their camp and their baggage train, then we can see if our offer pleases the Anglish in the morning.”

King Constantine liked the plan and added, “We’ll have our Scottish and Viking troops ready to join you at first light.”

Earl Owen roused up the Strathclyde Britons and gave them a fine speech before sending them off with Earls Hring and Adils across Vin Moor to attack the Saxons.  Dawn was just creaking in the east, but the forest kept the light back, when one of Thorolf’s Viking scouts began sounding his war horn and came riding back from his listening post halfway across the moor.  Prince Edmund knew that the Scots would be pissed when they learned of what his brother had said to the envoys and Thorolf knew Olaf, so he had his men ready for any kind of surprise.  But he certainly wasn’t expecting to be attacked by Strathclyde Britons.  Earl Alfgeir led a column of his Anglish troops onto the moor by the river and Thorolf led his column of mercenary Vikings onto the moor by the forest.  His brother, Egil, was with him and their banner was carried by Thorfinn the Strong, a Norwegian warrior, as were all their men.  They carried thick Norwegian shields and heavy Norwegian war gear.

Earls Hring and Adils saw that they hadn’t caught the Anglish by surprise so they split up into two columns as well, with Adils leading his men against Earl Alfgeir and Hring leading his men against the Viking army.  Thorolf led his Viking column against Earl Hring’s Britons and they clashed shield against shield and neither side would budge and they spread across the moor to the forest and battled hard.  Earl Adils Briton troops crashed against Earl Alfgeir’s Northumbrian troops, who immediately began losing ground.  This early advantage encouraged the Britons to redouble their efforts and they soon had the Northumbrians fleeing for the safety of the Anglish encampment whose warriors had just now begun rousing themselves for battle.

Earl Adil’s men chased after the fleeing Northumbrians, but soon left off to attack the Viking army that was beginning to drive back Earl Hring’s Britons.  Thorolf broke away from the shield wall and told Egil to grab men out of the line and form up a shield wall to protect their rear from a returning Earl Adils.  He told Egil they would slowly form a wedge and back their wedge up to the forest so they couldn’t be attacked from all sides.  “We just have to hold ourselves together until the rest of the Anglish army gets out onto the field.”

So, that is what they did, but the fighting grew fiercer as dawn warned the Britons that they were running out of time and Earl Adils pressed Egil’s Vikings so hard that Egil flew into a rage and began killing Britons all about him.  Thorolf saw this and, not to be outdone by his young brother, flew into a rage himself, threw his shield onto his back and began swinging his heavy halberd and, as Britons were falling all around him, he carved his way to the standard of Earl Hring, cut down the bannerman then drove the spearhead of his halberd right through Hring’s mail coat so the tip peaked out from between the earl’s shoulder blades.  Then Thorolf lifted up Earl Hring on his halberd and slammed the butt of the spear into the ground so hard it drove the earl right past the spearhead to the axe-head of the halberd, making a ring-mail tent pop up on the back of the earl and there he died.  Thorolf grabbed one of his men and had him hold steady the spear shaft that the earl was impaled upon, then he pulled out his sword and started cutting down more Britons.  Egil saw this and began carving his way towards Earl Adils, but the earl had seen his brother die and he knew their surprise attack had failed.  The Anglish army was on the field now, so he took as many of his men as he could save and they fled south past Egil’s men and flew into the woods.  The Strathclyde Briton army broke up and fled the field back north across the moor with the Viking army chasing after them until they saw the Scottish army marching out onto their end of the moor.

The Anglish army, led by Prince Edmund, had already been assembling on the southern end of the moor, so, it just seemed natural to begin marching north against the Scots, a thing English princes and kings would get in the habit of doing in the centuries to follow.  But the Norwegians were exhausted from an hour of battling for their lives, so, they retreated to the Anglish camp to break fast.

Meanwhile, back in Frodingham, King Athelstan was leading his troops from the fyrds of Wessex and Sussex north to the Vin Moor.  They could see the brown brick tower of Brunan, a Roman ruin on the Trent, as they marched up the Roman road to York.  They left the road and marched west across a field south of the Vin Forest and then north onto the south Vin Moor and soon entered their encampment.  King Athelstan grew angry when he saw his Viking mercenaries eating while his Anglish army was fighting but quickly learned that Thorolf’s men had fought a great night victory over the Strathclyde Britons of Earl Owen and that Thorolf had killed Earl Hring in the fighting and that his brother, Egil, had driven Earl Adils off the field of battle.  Thorolf explained that they had just finished eating and were heading back into the fight.  King Athelstan surveyed the field of battle and could see that their shield wall was losing ground on the right flank by Vin Forest and suggested that Thorolf lead half his Vikings just right of center and that Egil lead the other half further right, along the Vin Forest.

“I don’t want Thorolf and myself separated in battle again,” young Egil complained to the king.”

“We must follow the orders of our king,” Thorold apologized.  “If you’d rather, I’ll take the Vin Forest group and you can help Prince Edmund towards the center.”

“As you wish,” said Egil, “but I’ll be regretting your decision.”

The Vikings headed back onto the field of battle while King Athelstan formed up his Saxon army behind the camp tents and gave them all a rousing speech.  Out on the battlefield, Thorolf could see that the Anglish were being overwhelmed on their right flank by the large number of Scottish troops facing them.  The huge hand and a half broadswords of the Scots were hacking the round Lindenwood shields of the Angles to pieces.  Egil and his men peeled away from their column and joined the line to the right of Prince Edmund’s vanguard and Thorolf’s troop continued right and joined the line further right along the Vin Forest.  Thorolf and his men worked their way to the forefront of the shield wall and began driving back the Scots.  Thorolf could see several Scottish Earls surrounded by their men and he began driving the Scots back with his heavy halberd along the Vin Forest.  He wanted to lead his men up along the forest edge and attack the Scottish flank to get at the Earls, but he got ahead of his men and reached a part of the Forest that Earl Adils and the remnants of his Briton army had been hiding in since night and they burst forth from the woods and attacked Thorolf with halberds and struck him down from the side and killed him at the edge of the forest.  The Britons then joined up with the Scots and started driving back Thorolf’s men, buoyed by the loss of the Viking leader.

Egil could see Thorolf’s banner falling back, so he knew something had happened to his brother.  He left one of his lieutenants in charge and broke out of the line, charging over to the right flank and he saw, at once, Earl Adils and the Britons he had been battling the night before.  He joined Thorfinn the Strong under Thorolf’s banner and began hacking his way towards the earl with his sword called Adder.  It was a blood-snake he had captured in Courland, with an edge so sharp, the armour of the Britons could not withstand it.  Soon he was face to face with Earl Adils and he killed him with two strokes from Adder.  Once the Earl fell, the Britons started to fall back and Egil took up Thorolf’s stratagem of outflanking the Scots.

King Athelstan was watching the battle progress as his army stood in line formation ten deep behind the tents of their encampment.  When he saw the Scottish line wavering at the edge of the Vin Forest he signalled for the line to advance and the army crested the hill and started down into the valley and the Scots could see a full Saxon army arrayed before them and coming down across Vin Moor.  Their shield wall shuddered and fell back two full paces as though swept by a wave, and the earls of the Scots on the east end of it, and the Jarls of the Dub-Lin Danes on the west end of it could be seen riding their stamping mounts and shouting at their men on the wall to hold fast.  But the damage had been done.  Their confidence was rattled.  As the fresh Saxon army swept through their worn Anglish allies and hit the Scottish shield wall, it shuddered back three paces as though hit by another wave, and soon the swelling sea of Scots and Danes were swept away by fear and the fetters of Odin took over and the huge Scottish army began to melt away.  Anglish cavalry that had been keeping horses watered by the rivers edge were loosed upon the retreating foot soldiers and Saxon horse that had been held in reserve by the king joined in on the rout and ran down fleeing Danes.  Egil Skallagrimsson’s Vikings cut down the last of the Britons that had killed his brother and they chased after the fleeing Scots, throwing spears into their lightly armoured backs and pulling the spears back out as they ran past the fallen bodies, and throwing them into the backs of more fleeing Scots and pulling the spears back out again.  Prince Edmund lead the English army forward in the slaughter and his brother, King Athelstan, rode back to the town of Frodingham.  The Scots fled north through their own camp and the English paused to plunder the Scottish baggage train but the cavalry was ruthless and relentless.  The Scottish army waned as the evening waxed and the few found flight under cover of darkness.  Earl Owen was halfway to Strathclyde by then, and King Constantine was riding hard for Scotland, having left many Earls and one son dead on the battlefield.  Jarl Olaf and his Dub-Lin Danes fled across the Vina’s Moor, or Dinges Meer as some called it, until they reached their ships on the Humber, but they left two thirds of their fleet on the riverbank because they had few men left to row them. 

Egil Skallagrimsson returned to the battlefield after killing many men and he found the body of his brother, Thorolf, and he washed it and prepared it and his men dug a grave on some high ground by the edge of the woods and they placed Thorolf’s body and all his weapons in the grave and Egil put a gold ring on each of his brother’s arms, then they built an arched howe of stones in the grave and they covered it with earth and sod.  Then Egil made a poem of praise for his brother:

            Earl Hring’s killer                  feared no other,

            Fiercely fell Thorolf,               a warrior’s life brief,

            ‘Neath Vina’s verdant green    lie the bones of my brother,

            Sore is my sorrow                though I hide my grief.

            Earl Hring sought steel,      Thorolf fed the ravens,

            Earl Adils, the steel storm,    my Adder, his bane,

            Jarl Olaf, the steel game,    played he like a craven,

            Fleeing west over water      while I wallowed in the slain.

When Egil recited his praise words to King Athelstan in Frodingham, the king gave him an arm-ring of gold.  So Egil added this verse:

            King Athelstan sits               in his coat of mail,

            A ring of gold he set             on my right arm regal,

            Where falcons rested,         the gold glows pale,

            Honour was earned             by the feaster of eagles.

Then King Athelstan gave Egil two heavy chests of silver in compensation for the loss of Thorolf and another heavy chest of fine silver for his fine service, all to take back to Iceland with him.  Sagas were written about Egil’s life and the one called Egil’s Saga tells the story of the Battle of Brunanburh.

King Athelstan went to York and instilled Saxon princes there and he saw the plundering that was done by the Scots and sent messengers to King Gorm of Denmark apologizing for the damage done to the Hraes’ station there.  Princess Hraegunhild and Prince Ragnar could not stop the Scots from plundering York Castle so Athelstan sent craftsmen from London to help repair the damage and he told them he hoped the Hraes’ would return in the fall with goods to replenish the store.  But goods were transferred from the London station and then the York station was resupplied by the Hraes’ warehouses in Rouen, so business recovered quickly. 

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

23.0  THE INDUS VALLEY TRADE ROUTE  (Circa 938-939 AD)

            “Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’.

                                                                                                Brian Howard Seibert

Longship Being Portaged the Hard Way

(938-939 AD)  “King Liere made you make him king?” Princess Helga asked Ivar incredulously.

“King Liere didn’t make me make him king,” Prince Ivar corrected his first wife.  “He made me wait to make young Gorm king.  He warned me what could happen if you turn over the reins too soon.”

“But you didn’t have to turn over the reign at all,” Helga insisted.

“I had to make him king.  If I didn’t, some Danish prince from some other kingly line would murder him and claim the crown for himself.  That is the way it works in Denmark.  There are more kings than crowns.”

“So now Queen Blaeja gets to stay queen and I’m demoted to princess?” Helga asked incredulously.

“Queen Mother Blaeja,” Ivar corrected.  “Gorm’s new wife, Thyra is now queen.  We have to keep the Snake King alive if our plans are to reach fruition.  You know that as well as I do.  You will always be my queen.  Now come back to bed.  We need a son now, more than ever.”

Helga approached the bed and slipped under the silk sheets and slid towards Ivar’s waist, catching his steed in her mouth and tasting him and she could taste herself upon him and she enjoyed the melded taste for a while, then she slid up his chest and she mounted him.  She rode his steed and she dreamed of a son, a Swine King who would take back the crown of Denmark from the Snake King.  Ivar dreamed of a son too, but only in the sense that sex was better when making a child and sex was best when making a son.  He exploded within her and he could swear he saw a son in the spirit of her eyes.

While Prince Ivar was in Kiev, troops began arriving from his far-flung empire.  Jarl Biorn and Captain Sihtric arrived from Angleland with the York fleet and the Bamburgh legionnaires, warriors of the Ui Imair of Ireland followed, Norman cataphracts from Rouen soon arrived, Norwegians from Southmore to Halogaland came and King Halfdan’s picked Swedish troops arrived last.  Ivar’s Danish contingent had sailed with the merchant fleet and the Kievan Hraes’ legions were already standing ready in Kiev.  Ivar welcomed his captains and lieutenants into King Frodi’s palace as he sat upon his shield between four of the largest men any of them had ever seen.  Ivar leaned out from between his bearers and gave each a hug, patting them on the back as they entered.  “Come join me on my second highseat,” he said to Biorn and Sihtric, as refreshments arrived.  Princess Helga shared the first highseat with Ivar, and his daughter, Alfhild, and her husband shared the third highseat.  He seated the Norman, Norse and Swedish officers on his guest highseats.  “The rest of you, be seated at those benches,” Ivar said, pointing out tables to the different groups as they arrived at the hall.

“The Romans have been threatening to add a ten percent tithe to the tax free contract we have with them,” Ivar began explaining.  “Historically, it has always taken a demonstration of our military might to keep the Romans in line and our Southern Way tithe free.  General Sun Wu shall be training all of our troops while the merchant fleets are in Baghdad and Constantinople, but once the merchant fleet begins returning early from Constantinople, we shall lead our troops and fleet  into the Scythian Sea and begin attacking the Roman lands down the western coast, beginning by looting Constanza, then plundering Messembria and ending our attack at the walls of Constantinople.  By then the Romans are usually quite willing to agree to a treaty even more to our liking.”

Then the feasting began.  Prince Ivar had not explained that the Khazars, under direction of the Romans, had taken control of the mouth of the Kuma River where it flowed into the Caspian Sea, or that Prince Erik and the Tmutorokan Hraes’ were already constructing a new set of portage stations between the Rioni and Kura Rivers to provide a new route to Baghdad.  But until the portage was completed, the merchant fleet to the Caliphate would have to use the Halys and Euphrates River portage to get to Baghdad and that route was through Roman lands and under Roman tithe.

Once again Sihtric became Prince Ivar’s right hand man, with Biorn at his left, on the spring sailing to the Caliphate of Baghdad.  Sihtric pointed out the Pechenegs to Biorn, the warriors who ran the portages around the Dnieper rapids and the women who ran the Khazar Vayar runs south of the rapids and then, on the plains further south, the great herds of Pecheneg horse and cattle and sheep and the wild hordes of Pecheneg horsemen who rode about threateningly.  And on the Scythian Sea coast Biorn saw the huge city of Cherson on the Crimean peninsula and then they were joined by a thousand more ships from Gardariki before they sailed straight south across the Scythian Sea to the mouth of the Halys River.  The area was highly populated by the Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire and there was panic among the citizens as they watched the approach of thousands of Hraes’ merchant ships, which were quite similar in looks to the Varangian warships that accompanied them.  As the Hraes’ ships swept past the Roman border guards, all knew that the emperor would soon learn of the merchant invasion.

There was a long portage between the Halys and Euphrates Rivers and there were Greek portage stations at the ends of both rivers that had to be paid in Roman gold Byzants.  Prince Ivar told the Greeks running the stations that he would pay them double for their services on the way back.  He wanted to make sure they would still be there on the return trip, in case they were needed.  Prince Erik had already sent messengers down the Kura River to let the Caliph’s Araks River portage station managers know that the Hraes’ merchant fleet would not be using that route on their southern sailing.  But if he got the Kura River portage running over the summer, they might be using it in the fall return trip.

Once they were in Baghdad, Prince Ivar met up with Rajan of Gujarat at the palace of the Caliph.  There they made arrangements for a direct sailing of Danish, Swedish and Anglish merchant ships to the Indian province of Gujarat after they had completed two weeks of trade in Baghdad.  The rest of the Hraes’ merchant fleet, the Irish, the Scottish, the Anglish, the Normans, the Norse, the Gothic and the Novgorod, Kievan and Tmutorokan Hraes’ would remain trading in the Caliphate all summer under the command of Sihtric and Biorn.  Select traders from the Hraes’ merchant fleet had already crossed the Caspian Sea for Khwarizm and the Silk Road trade of Cathay under the auspices of Prince Erik and his portage forging army.

After two successful weeks of trading in Baghdad, Prince Ivar and his fleet of two hundred ships followed the forty dhow merchant ships of Prince Rajan down the Euphrates to the Persian Gulf and sailed down the gulf to the Port of Dilman.  It was contentious sailing, because the Indian dhows were single masted lateen rigged sailing ships that could tack better than the Viking longships could in a crosswind, but were essentially dead in the water when there was no wind, while the longships were well equipped for rowing under the calm conditions they were experiencing.  Finally, it was agreed that ropes would passed out from the dhows to the longships and two of the latter would tow each of the former, as much to give the Varangians something to do as to speed up travel.  The merchant knars of Ivar’s fleet managed to keep up with the pace.  They took on water and supplies at Dilman Bahrain then sailed to the Port of Zara Dubai where they crossed over to the north side of the gulf and then followed the coast of the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat Province.  They arrived at the City of Ashaval and the dhows berthed at the quays while the Viking longships were hauled up along the east bank of the river that ran through it.  Prince Rajan had a Jat palace near the river so Prince Ivar had his men set up the ship awnings and camp around their vessels while he joined Raj in a welcoming feast in the palace.  Beautiful Jat women prepared food for the Varangians on the beach as Ivar watched from the heights of the palace and it did not look like they planned on returning to the palace.  After the feast Raj showed Ivar to his suite and there were two young girls in the bedroom making up the bed.  “They come with the room,” Raj offered, “should you wish.  And if your attendants need women…”

“They are fine,” Ivar said.  “They shall secure the suite.  The balcony has a view of the beach?”

“Yes,” Raj answered.  “You can monitor your camp from here and the girls, though virgins, have been trained and apprised of your…tastes.  If you need anything, just tell the girls and I will see to it,” Raj said, as he left the suite.  “You’ll find that most Jats speak Persian.”

Ivar thanked him and had his men set his shield upon the bed and posted them outside the bedroom door.  The two young women had long Scythian hair, slender frames and cinnamon skin and one brought Ivar wine as the other warmed his bed.  Ivar found that the girls had indeed been trained and seemed to like it rough, or at least gave that impression.  Once the girls were sleeping, Ivar had two of his men come into the bedroom and carry him on his shield out onto the balcony so he could watch his ships beached on the riverbank.  He saw that guards surrounded the ships as he had ordered and that some of the men were still up drinking, but most were under awnings with the women that had brought them food and remained to feast with them.  Ivar marvelled at how things seemed to work in India.  He shook his head and made a mental note to ask Raj about it.  Ivar had his men carry him back to the bedroom and he woke one of the girls, but only the one.

The next day Ivar accompanied Prince Rajan to some of the markets of Ashaval and they determined which Hraes’ products would sell better in which venues.  They had specialty furs such as sables, ermines and fox, amber and coloured glass, weapons and armour and, of course, slaves.  The Fenja and Menja of the northern lands.  And Ivar checked out the markets for products he wanted to buy, spices such as Scythian pepper, turmeric and saffron, mascara and ointments, brightly dyed silks and cotton fabrics, musical instruments and mathematical books for his father and the Alchemists of Tmutorokan.

“I’d like to send ships upriver to source further product,” Ivar said to Raj.  “When we buy in bulk we like to go to the source.”  They were sitting at a table on the balcony of Ivar’s suite drinking a herbal broth of Cathay called tea.

“All products for export come to the ports here,” Raj explained.  “It is how the Maharajas keep track of the required tithes.”

“You know how we feel about tithes,” Ivar started.  “We don’t even pay tithes to the Caliph of Baghdad.”

“Yes.  I know,” Raj began.  “I don’t know how you did that,” he added, but he knew all about Ivar’s matched Irish and Anglish virgin slave girls.  “It is quite an accomplishment.”

“Is that why my men were plied with slave girls last night?” Ivar asked.  “To get us to accept your tithes?”

“Oh no!” Raj exclaimed.  “Those weren’t slave girls.  They are all women of the highest castes in the city!  Some of them are the wives of our foremost merchant princes.  As I told you in Baghdad, we follow the same religion.  We are Vanir and you are Aesir.  All Aesir are Bhramans.  Your men are all princes here.  Your presence here in Ashaval gives we Jats much power as a caste.  You, yourself, being a king, a Bhraman of Bhramans, are held in the highest regard.  The young girls you slept with last night are princesses from Ashaval.  If you found them acceptable we would like to introduce you to princesses from throughout Gujarat Province.  Two more tonight, virgins, of course, unless you wish more.”

“I am no longer a king,” Ivar confessed.  “I gave my crown to my son in Denmark.”

“You will always be a king,” Raj stated.  “Here we do that all the time.  You are a Maharaja Pater, a king father.  We have the same problem you face in Jatland, our name for your Denmark, too many princes and only crown.”

“King Father Ivar.  It makes me sound old.”

“My son makes me feel old,” Raj said.  “I watch him do all the things I did in my youth and it tells me I’m getting old.  He shall be entertaining you next year, should you find it acceptable.  I will not be here.”

“Where will you be?”

“After we meet in Baghdad, I would like to go north and visit your son in Jatland, if that would be acceptable to you.  It is a pilgrimage to the heart of the Aesir.  It will make me a Bhraman of Bhramans.”

“A great prince?” Ivar asked.

“Yes.  A maharaja.  Prince of princes.”

“You are welcome to visit Denmark,” Ivar said.  “Jutland is the western half of Denmark.  My son is King Gorm of Denmark and his queen is Thyra from Jelling in Jutland.  She is a fine queen.  My wife is Queen Mother Blaeja in Liere, a city in the eastern half of Denmark.”

Ivar told Rajan that he would send messengers to Denmark telling his son to expect an embassy from India.  He also offered to leave some of his most knowledgeable men behind to teach embassy members how to speak Norse and how to follow Heathen customs, the help of which Rajan kindly accepted.  That night, at another feast, Prince Ivar played the Head Ransom song as requested once again by his host and when he retired, there were two young princesses awaiting his companionship.  India was turning out to be a life experience he had not expected.  New methods of trade, a deeper understanding of his religion and expanded expressions of lust.  Ivar knew he would have no problems finding volunteers to stay in India and teach the prince, but he wasn’t sure if he would ever get his volunteers to come back.

As summer progressed, the Hraes’ merchants found more and more merchandise to take back north for sale in Europe.  Saddles worth a king’s ransom, swords of the most bizarre configurations, books of science and mathematics and of sex.  And as Ivar learned more and more about India and its caste system, he could see a pattern of conquests that had developed over millennia and he could see that same pattern developing in Europe as well.  He knew from his history studies that the Romans had gods that were related to the Norse tripartite pantheon, but, like the Indian gods, they seemed to be Vanir, not Aesir in origin.  When the Romans conquered Gaul and Britain, they became the upper caste over the Celts, just as when the Norse tribes conquered the Celts of Germany, they became the overlords there.  Then the upper caste Romans and Norse began to fight each other in the forests of Germany and they both found their matches and it became a war of attrition that the Romans eventually lost.  When the Angles, Saxons and Jutes attacked Britain, the Romans withdrew and the Britons were conquered anew but, had they stayed, the new conquerors would have become the new upper caste over the Roman caste that would have remained over the Britons.  Even now a new group called Danes were establishing themselves over the Angles of England in the Danelaw.  The Saxons sensed that they were next and, so, fought hard to avoid becoming a lower caste.  Ivar realised that he had given up northern Angleland just to have the opportunity to develop trade with India, only to learn from the Indians that it was his family’s destiny to conquer England.  And the sons of Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ would not be denied.

When the time came to return to Baghdad, there was not a Norseman in India that wanted to leave.  Trading was good, the feasting was better and the women were the best of all.  Prince Ivar had no problems finding volunteers to overwinter in a land that had no winter and Prince Rajan even found two Indian Alchemists that were willing to join the Alchemists’ Guild in Tmutorokan and several Indian merchants that wanted to travel to Kiev.  Parting was sorrowful and there was nothing sweet about it, but Ivar and Raj bid their adieus and the Hraes’ longships and knars rowed out of the Port of Ashaval and sailed north up the coast of the Indian ocean.  They arrived in Baghdad in time to meet up with the rest of their merchant fleet and Ivar learned that the Kuma River portage was not ready, so they all sailed up the Euphrates to make the Halys River portage at double the fees, just as Ivar had promised.  But in Paphlagonia they were met by a Roman army looking to collect the Emperor’s tithes and dues.  And the Romans wanted ten percent on common goods and twenty percent on luxury items, and saddles worth a king’s ransom did not fall under common goods.  Ivar prepared his merchant warriors for battle but his father’s fleet of warships arrived off the Scythian Sea coast and the Roman army soon withdrew to their fortress at Sinope and the merchant fleet joined the Hraes’ warships on the sea.

“I want to take our forces and ravage Anatolia,” Ivar told his father as he boarded his ship.

“We have other fish to fry,” Erik responded.  “I could only bring half our war-fleet because our portage works are being threatened by a local warlord.  We are going to have to show the Armenians the might of the Hraes’ in a manner so crushing, they shall never ever consider attacking our merchant fleets in the future.”

“But the Romans wanted a twenty percent tithe,” Ivar protested.

“The Romans can wait,” Erik said.  “Once we have bypassed the Khazars with our new portage route, the Romans will be coming to us directly.  Then we will put them in their place and get a new treaty that is even better than the present one.”

“Show me where the Armenian army is and I’ll lead our legions and crush them for you.”

“I just came here to save your ass so you could continue on to Kiev with our merchant fleet.  I’ll lead our forces against the Armenians.”

“You’re getting a little long in the tooth for crushing Armenians,” Ivar said, somewhat concerned.

“Long in the tooth?” Prince Erik asked.  “Is that a Danish saying?”

“I think it is,” Ivar said.  “I just worry about you sometimes.  You never seem to show your age but that doesn’t mean you’re not aging.  I don’t even want to know how old you are now.”

“Good.  Because I don’t want to know either.  But what I do want is your sword, Tyrfingr, and Frodi’s helmet, and Oddi’s shirt, and one of your shields and four of your bearers.”

Ivar just stood in front of his father in wonderment.  Then he said, cautiously, “What are you planning?”.

“Like Achilles’ cousin, Patroclus, I want to wear your armour while I fight the Armenians.”

“You want them to think it is me?”

“Yes.  You’ll be the one travelling the trade route.  Ivar the traveller…that’s what we call you.  So, it is important that the Armenians fear you, not me.”

“I like it,” Ivar said.  “I love it!  Two of me at once!”

Prince Ivar led his merchant fleet north on the Scythian Sea to Gardar and Prince Erik led his war fleet east to Armenia.  They rowed up the Rioni River and joined the rest of the Hraes’ war fleet as they portaged across to the Kura River using newly paved roads between the two portage stations.  The Armenian army that had been threatening the Varangians was based out of the city of Tiflis and, as the Hraes’ army approached, the Armenian forces came out from the city walls to meet them.  Prince Erik and General Sun Wu sat on horses on a hill behind their forces and talked strategy while the Armenians marched out to the pole-marked field of battle.  Erik had brought two Kievan and two Tmutorokan legions of foot soldiers and two legions of cataphracts for a total of fifty thousand men and the Armenians had fielded an equitable array.

“Their cataphracts are Persian trained,” General Wu stated.  “They’ll be a challenge.  But their foot lacks the heavy armour of our legions.”

“Then we should skirmish with our cataphracts,” Erik suggested, “and take it to them with our foot soldiers.  I’ll be leading them with Prince Ivar’s battle platform.  It is quite the shield wall breaker.”

“The breaker of shield walls,” Wu mused.  “I’ve heard the stories, but I look forward to seeing it in action.”

The Hraes’ scouts had placed the Hazel poles at a width suitable for two legions side by side at three rows deep and Wu placed the two reserve legions just behind the forward units so they could turn and protect their rear if the cataphracts ran wild.  Erik positioned his battle platform between the two forward legions and bolstered the center with archers to form a mild wedge at the junction.  The Armenians marched up in two columns that split apart and marched to their right and left across the field of battle, forming up into rows five deep because they had fewer foot.  They were well trained and quite orderly, but Erik noticed that the two columns had not played themselves out fully and completely, leaving the back ends of the columns stacked back to protect the Armenian generals and officers behind them, so the two columns did not fully merge together to form a full shield wall.  There was a seam running up the middle between the two columns and Erik planned to run his battle platform right up that seam.  He told the two legion officers on the front corners what he intended to do so they could help guide him into that slot.

The two armies began marching down into the valley between them and Erik stood up on the shield between his armoured bearers, an admirable view not afforded his legless son when he was carried into battle.  When Erik gauged the range correct, he laid down on his back upon the shield and put a foot-bow between his upturned feet and nocked a rocket assisted arrow then lit it with a slow burning fuse he kept between his teeth.  He loosed the arrow then strung another and loosed it and then another.  He stood up on the shield in time to watch the first heavy arrow plow into a row of men and explode, and the second arrow landed, killing more men, and then the third.  This caused fear and confusion amongst the enemy, for they were well out of the range of anything but siege weapons and there were no siege weapons upon the field.  Soon the Armenians were in range of standard foot-bows and Erik stood upon the platform and directed his archers on range and azimuth and they laid down and fired off a volley that landed amongst the enemy troops and caused more havoc.  The line of archers then rose, ran to catch up and Erik barked out a new range and they loosed several volleys in this manner before the Armenian soldiers came within range of rocket propelled hand-bow arrows.  Once that happened, the Hraes’ army fired volley after volley of deadly darts that killed when they struck the enemy and then exploded and injured those nearby.  Even arrows that harmlessly struck shields deep within the ranks injured or killed the soldiers in front of them when they exploded.  This caused the ranks to spread out as they progressed and allowed the fetters of Odin, fear, to spread.

When the Armenians got within normal bow range, they loosed volley after volley into the ranks of the Hraes’ army, but were answered in kind.  Finally, spears were thrown and shield walls crashed.  The spreading of the Armenian ranks was immediately apparent because the first rank was driven back by the tight Hraes’ array and the backwards motion was not stopped by the second or third ranks and Prince Erik and his officers had guided Ivar’s battle platform right into the seam between the back ends of the two Armenian columns, forming a wedge that drove deep towards the rear-guard generals.  Prince Erik had been standing on his platform firing arrow after arrow into the front ranks with his heavy Turk horn bow, killing all the outstanding Armenian warriors he did not want to face, then he dropped his bow between his legs and pulled out Tyrfingr and settled down to his knees and took comfort in the familiar glow and wail of his famed sword as it clove through helm and shield and all those who stood in front of him.

With the Armenian shield wall reeling back under the tight Hraes’ rank and file, the Varangian shield wall could almost keep up with battle platform’s progress, but no array was as tightly packed or moved with the unison of Ivar’s Sleipnir, his eight legged shield storm.  While the cataphracts on the flanks played cat and mouse with each other, Erik saw the seam opening up in front of him and he waved the reserve legions behind to follow up in his wake and they soon formed a heavy battle wedge that helped drive Sleipnir forward.  Erik would occasionally stand up on his platform to observe the flanks and was satisfied that his cataphracts were tying up the Persian units but not really engaging them.  Arrows thunked off his armour and pricked him through his chain-mail and he hoped that none of them were poisoned.  He waved to General Wu, who rode between the reserve legions and signalled for more reserve soldiers to be thrown into the wedge behind him.  He knelt back down behind the cover of Sleipnir’s shields and urged his platform forward.  Tyrfingr began ringing once more in its peculiar sad wail and the two columns began parting before him as the warriors in front of him struggled to avoid Tyrfingr’s strange glow.  No sword, nor shield, nor soldier’s frame could stop the arc of the blade, for it just seemed to pass through all that was put before it.

Soon, the Armenian generals’ horses were scattering as the Hraes’ legions poured through the seam and began attacking the enemy foot from behind.  Two full reserve legions poured through that defile and spread out left and right in such an orderly fashion that the two column split that the Armenians had accomplished just an hour before paled in comparison.  The stalwart Varangian legionnaires did it in tighter formation under battle conditions and the Armenian generals, even in their panicked disarray, took notice of it from their fleeing horses.  On the flanks, Erik waved for his light cavalry to pursue the generals and then signalled for his heavy horse to engage.  The Persian cataphracts saw the Armenian forces encircled and their generals in flight and attempted to save themselves.  But the Hraes’ cataphracts had been saving the strength of their horse in the battle and soon ran them down from behind.  None escaped.  Those that were dismounted were surrounded and disarmed.

Some of the Armenian generals had failed to make a run for it and could be seen urging their foot to fight on as they sat upon their horses amongst their soldiers and arrows pelted off their fine plate and mail armour.  Erik stood up on his shield, horn bow at ready, and he took several thin tipped mail piercing rocket propelled arrows and tried to light the fuse on one of them, but the slow burning fuse he had used at the start of battle was dead, so he rubbed the tips of two arrows on the still glowing edge of Tyrfingr and he shot the arrows at two generals who were directing the surrounded Armenian forces on his left and he hit them both in their mail protected necks, but the rings did not fail and they were both merely pricked.  One of the Hraes’ archers had seen the prince trying to light his arrow fuse so he rushed up and passed Erik a still glowing slow burner.  Erik looked to his right and lit and fired two rocket propelled arrows at the generals leading that group of foot and he hit the generals low, below their saddles, and when the arrows exploded they blew the generals up into the air and they fell amongst their foot.  Erik looked to the generals on his left just in time to see them sliding off their horses as the poison from Tyrfingr took them.

General Wu sounded a shrill whistle and Prince Erik looked at him and shrugged in deference.  The two groups of foot soldiers trapped by the Hraes’ legions looked as though they would surrender if allowed, but they were jammed up so tight they couldn’t lower their weapons, so the legionnaires kept up the slaughter.  Prince Erik had seen this before in dreams, where the troops of the Persian King Xerxes were trapped in their own fortress so tightly the Greeks slaughtered them at the Battle of Plataea, in a killing spree unequalled before or since.  But Erik had ordered a crushing defeat that would cow the Armenians into a submission that would last for many years, so he left it up to his general to call a stop to the slaughter.  General Wu had worked as a military consultant to many middle eastern city states following the fall of the Tang Dynasty in Cathay many years earlier, so the prince trusted his commander in knowing what would be a sufficiently crushing defeat for that particular locality.  The Persian cataphracts had all been killed or captured and the fleeing generals had all been killed, so a complete slaughter would be uncalled for, even unwise.  Soon, General Wu sounded a horn and the Hraes’ legions began disarming those who would be disarmed.  There were a few well armoured Armenian Warriors who fought to the death, but the poorly armoured locals were glad to throw down their spears and axes and the well armoured mercenaries threw down their swords and took a knee.  They would all be paroled, allowed to live if they swore never to fight against the Hraes’ again, and it was an offer none refused.

The prisoners were all taken aboard the portaged warships, bent over their shields, and then they were taken down the Kura River to the city of Tiflis.  The mercenaries were kept in chains aboard the warships, but the local troops were paraded in front of the city gates and surrender was demanded or the local prisoners would be slaughtered.  The citizens within did not know that their soldiers had been paroled and they did not have enough troops left to protect the city walls anyway.  They had been counting on some of their men making it back to the city if their army was defeated.  None did, so they threw open the gates and the Varangians entered the city and plundered it.  But it was a controlled plundering, for Prince Ivar and a small merchant fleet were on their way back south from Kiev to buy up slaves and merchandise.  The city was kept intact and ancient Roman law prevailed, so only half the city would be enslaved and the rest would remain as a tribute city to the Hraes’.  Prince Ivar and his merchants would be selecting who they wanted as slaves and would be paying the legions a discounted rate for them.  Then the enslaved would be allowed to ransom themselves at full value if they had any access left to gold.  It was interesting to see how much gold was left hidden in a plundered city as relatives bought back their loved ones.  The local paroled soldiers claimed they were exempt from slavery because they had already pledged themselves to the Hraes’ as requested and General Wu told Erik that this was sometimes observed so that cities still had enough fighting men to guard their walls, so Erik let their claim stand.

Normally, Prince Ivar and his merchants would have taken their slaves straight to Baghdad and sold them off-season in the slave markets, but there was going to be a slave shortage in the spring because the Irish famine had ended, so the slaves were to be taken back to Kiev for training over the winter.  That way they would fetch top prices in Baghdad and Constantinople in the spring.  A treaty was drawn up between the city of Tiflis and the Hraes’ and Prince Ivar returned to Kiev with his merchant fleet and Prince Erik continued with work on the new eastern trade route.

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

24.0  THE HRAES’ – ROMAN WAR OF 941

            “Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’, so I researched Ivar ‘the Boneless’.  It was said in

the Sagas that he had no bones in his legs.

                                                                                                Brian Howard Seibert

(940-941 AD)  Over the winter a message came to Prince Ivar in Kiev that the Rioni-Kura Rivers portage had been completed.  In the spring Prince Ivar sent messengers to Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Angleland and Ireland that warships and warriors were to accompany the merchant fleets on their way to the east, to the Dan’Way.  There would be trading, followed by raiding.  The merchant fleet left Kiev and only Christian merchants took their furs and slaves to Constantinople.  The Romans could no longer be trusted to follow the conditions of their treaty with the Hraes’.  Only the Christian Hraes’ felt comfortable trading with the Romans and only because they were Orthodox Christians.  The Anglish and Irish Christians were Latin Christians and there was a schism developing between the two Christian groups so, they only went because the high demand due to fewer traders made it worth the risk.  The vast majority of the fleet, all the Heathen merchants, sailed to the new eastern portage route for Baghdad, Cathay and now India.

Prince Erik and the Tmutorokan merchant fleet were almost through the Rioni-Kura portage when Prince Ivar met up with his father.  “Are you coming to Baghdad?” Ivar asked.

“I wish,” Erik answered.  “I haven’t done the Silk Road in a few years so I was thinking perhaps I should do it instead of Constantinople.”

“Do Baghdad with me,” Ivar pleaded.  “I’m meeting Prince Rajan there again.  I want you to meet him.”

“I’ll meet him when he comes north,” Erik said.  “General Wu has a trading list of war gear he wants to surprise the Romans with.  He’s coming with me.  He has the connections we need to get this stuff out of the Chinese Alchemists’ Guild and I’m using all my Guild connections as well.  The Romans are pissed and we’re going to need some Cathayan siege weapons.”

“It’s going to be a short trading season in Constantinople,” Ivar exclaimed.

“A fast turnaround in Ilium,” Erik agreed and they both laughed.  When Prince Erik had been held prisoner in Constantinople, the Emperor Theophilos had visited him in his cell and had read him ancient volumes by Homer and Virgil and many others on the Trojan War.  The Romans believed they were descendants of Aenuis, a Trojan who led survivors from Troy to Italy and founded the city of Rome.  Much later, the Emperor Constantine founded Nova Roma, New Rome, on the ruins of Byzantium, believing the city the Greek King Byzas had founded was built on the ruins of ancient Troy.  After the Emperor’s death, the city was renamed Constantinople in his honour.  All this and much more Prince Erik learned, sitting in the dungeons of the Emperor’s palace while his wife, Princess Gunwar, was being slain by her nephew, Prince Hlod, outside the walls of Gardariki.

After a week of portaging and rowing, the father and son team parted ways at a confluence of the Araks and Kura Rivers, Prince Erik rowing east to the Caspian and on to Khwarizm and the Silk Road to Cathay and Prince Ivar sailing south to Baghdad.  Maharaja Rajan was waiting there for Ivar and they exchanged greetings and spent two weeks together in the Caliph’s palace while trading in the city before Rajan sailed north up the Tigris on his way to Jutland in borrowed Norse longships and Ivar sailed south to Gujarat in borrowed dhows.  The Maharaja’s son, Prince Raj, showed Prince Ivar the same love and respect his father had shown the year before and Ivar enjoyed the buying and the selling and the sensuality of the city of Ashaval once more.  Beautiful young Jat princesses put up with the rough play of the King Father and his merchants enjoyed the charms of Jat women on the beaches below the Maharaja’s palace.  Ivar met up with the men he had left there the year before and they were now married merchant princes of Gujarat and many would not be coming back north with him.  But there were some officers that he needed in his upcoming struggle with the Romans so, he ordered them to return north with their new wives and the Hraes’ merchant fleet sailed the Indian Ocean once again.

Prince Ivar met up with Maharaja Rajan in Baghdad, where they discussed their visits with each other’s lands.  Ivar told him that Prince Raj had been very generous in his treatment of the Hraes’ merchants and that, again, he had trouble getting his people to leave Gujarat and their Jat admirers.  Rajan had so much more to tell Ivar about the Danes and Denmark.  “They are so much different than your Hraes’ subjects, as if they are still the Hraes’ of a hundred years ago.  They only speak their own Danish versions of Norse and they look down on you if you speak any other forms of Norse.  The Jutes of Jutland speak in one accent and the Angles there speak another, the Zealanders speak yet another and the Skanians, a very different version altogether.  Their poetry is ancient, as are their musical instruments, and their singing is quite guttural.  I was shocked.”

“The Hraes’ have taken the best of all the people we meet and have incorporated it into who we are.  I thank my father for this.  I wanted you to meet Prince Erik, but it just didn’t work out.  He’s in Cathay right now.”

“And he speaks Cathayan?”

“Yes.  It’s one of dozens of languages he has mastered.”

“I thought as much.  I had to visit Tmutorokan on the way back.  We struggle to match the leadership qualities of our fathers.”

“Speaking of fathers, how was my son in Liere?”

“Your son, King Gorm ‘the Old’, was much younger and kinder than expected,” Rajan replied.

“He’s called ‘the Old’ because we’re from the old line of Danish kings, ‘the Old’ Fridleif Frodi Skioldung Line of Kings,” Ivar explained.

“He and Queen Thyra are working on a second child,” Rajan started.  “Gorm told me he had three days to get it done, and they were doing it whenever they could.  In the hall,” Rajan laughed, “out of the hall, in the tapestries behind the highseats.”

“I hope you were not offended,” Ivar apologized.

“Of course not!” Rajan exclaimed.  “You’ve been to Gujarat!  We have books on it,” he laughed.  “But I did see one couple in the hall that were quite magnificent.”

“Pray tell,” Ivar implored.

“One of young King Gorm’s finest warriors, a fine martial specimen, was having sex with a most beautiful woman under a large hide at his sleeping bench in the highseat hall and your son and I were having a conversation on the highseats, acting as though nothing was going on, when all of a sudden the hide rose up into the air and the woman started moaning and I could see that she was riding her indomitable steed and, when her moaning reached a crescendo, she threw off the hide, exposing her magnificent breasts, and a bright beam of sunlight burst through an open window and danced in her blonde hair before blinding me as she rode her mount like a Valkyrie clutching up a warrior and taking him to his fate.  I think I was aroused.  I’ll never forget it.  For as long as I live.”

“I should write you a song about it,” Ivar teased.

“You should!” Rajan exclaimed in earnest.  “Please call it ‘The Flight of the Valkyrie’ and try to work in the blinding sunbeam.  Also, I should tell you there was a famine in Jutland,” Raj began slowly.  “Crops failed and some farmers lost their farms.  I talked with young Gorm and he said it was caused by a world-wide warming cycle coming to a peak.  This is how his grandfather had explained it?”

“Yes,” Ivar started.  “That is how Prince Erik explained the famine caused in Ireland.  He has had visions of ancient cities in both Cathay and your own Indus Valley that have been abandoned because of these climate change cycles.  In the recent past great migrations of our own people have been caused by world-wide cooling.  And the reopening of the Dan’Way and Nor’Way trade routes have been enabled by the world-wide warming cycle we are presently in.  This five hundred year warming cycle will end soon and will be followed by a five hundred year cooling cycle and these famines are just little indicators of what is to come.”

“I have heard of these abandoned cities of the Indus,” Rajan agreed.  “We have found bricks, hundreds of thousands of bricks in the middle of deserts.  Anyway, I asked young Gorm if it would be appropriate to offer these impoverished Angle and Jute farmers land to farm in Gujarat and he said yes.  So, I have brought five hundred families back south with me.  We shall treat them as royalty, you know this.”

“I know this,” Ivar agreed.  He had never been so well treated anywhere than by the Jats of Gujarat.  And Prince Ivar promised Rajan that he would write a song about the Valkyrie’s ride and they parted Baghdad the best of friends, Rajan returning south and Ivar heading north.

Prince Ivar waited for his father at the new Hraes’ station in Tiflis, sending the merchant fleet on to Kiev and holding back his warships at the Rioni-Kura portage, but his warriors were champing at the bit because they had missed plundering the Romans the season before and wanted the gold Byzants of Byzantium; all of them.  So, Ivar led his men as they sailed down the Rioni past the city of Phasis and onto the Scythian Sea.  They sailed along the southern coast, past Trebizond, Polemonion and Amisus, past the mouth of the Halys River, and sailing just past the city of Sinope and the Roman fortress there, finally beaching their warships on the soft sand of the Scythian Sea coast and effectively cutting off the east facing peninsula from the mainland.  Ivar formed up his troops on the beach, well out of bow range, and awaited a response from the Romans, but none was forthcoming.  The forty foot high fortress wall stood in front of them and it stretched across the narrowest part of the peninsula and protected the city from sea to sea.  There was a wooden and steel double-door in the center of the wall with a great stone arch above it and at the crest of the arch, fifty feet up, was a golden crescent moon, the symbol of Constantinople, the shining city on a hill, where the moon touched earth.

The young prince could see a Roman consul standing on the fortress wall watching, the same consul that was at the head of a Roman army demanding tribute and tithes a year earlier.  He could also see that the consul recognized and remembered him.  But most Eastern Romans knew of Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’ of Kiev and he was easy to spot, carried about on a shield by four of the largest warriors any Roman had ever seen.

Prince Ivar advanced toward the fortress with a fraction of his force, trying to elicit a response.  They stopped just out of hand bow range and waited.  After an hour of waiting, an archer on the wall fired an arrow at Ivar and the arrow thunked into the sand well short of the prince.  Ivar signalled for his archers to come forward and a thousand men left the awnings of the ships and formed up well back of Ivar’s troop formations.  They then nocked up rocket propelled arrows, lit them and fired a volley.  A thousand rocket arrows left the bows and sped towards the high wall of the fortress, flying over it and landing and exploding in the halls and buildings behind them.  The Roman soldiers had all ducked down behind the castellations of the wall and watched the exploding arrows as some set roofs aflame and others flew through unshuttered windows, exploding inside buildings.  Another volley of rocket arrows flew overhead and into the fortress and then a third volley.  Fire brigades inside the fortress were using fresh water to extinguish the blazes before realizing that the fortress gave them access to sea water wells with which to fight fires.  “It’s going to be a long siege,” the consul thought.

After the first week of the siege, the first and second legions of Tmutorokan arrived along with their supporting legion of cataphracts all in warships that crowded the beach.  Prince Ivar had four cohorts of the first legion form up in front of the fortress, just out of arrow range, as another challenge to the consul who just stood upon the wall and watched.  No arrow flew Ivar’s way this time.

After the second week of the siege, the third and fourth legions of Kiev arrived one night with their supporting legion of cataphracts and, as there was no room left on the beach, Ivar decided to occupy the city of Sinope on the peninsular side of the fortress the next dawn.  He kept the Kievan fleet anchored at sea and in the early morning dawn they unfooted their masts and rowed out to sea beyond visual distance, then rowed east, came back to shore on the other side of the fortress and entered the city.  Unbeknownst to the Hraes’, the citizens of Sinope had grown tired of the crowded life in the fortress and had begun sneaking back into Sinope to sleep and carry on with their crafts and labours, so they woke up to Varangians in their homes carrying them off to the warships as slaves.  The heavily outnumbered Roman troops could only watch in horror as the Hraes’ forces occupied the city and began living in the homes of their Roman citizens and bedding the wives of the enslaved Roman craftsmen.

After the third week of the siege, Prince Erik arrived with General Sun Wu from their caravan trip to Cathay.  “I hope you realize that you could have sailed to Cathay,” Ivar told them as they sat in the consul’s fine Praetorian estate in Sinope.  “Would you like more wine?” Ivar offered as the two older men dusted themselves off as if they had just come in out of the Gobi desert.

“The Indians sail to Cathay?” Erik asked.  General Wu sat mutedly.

“I’ve learned that they have been doing just that for centuries,” Ivar answered.  “Is that not right, General Wu?”

“I’m not navy,” Sun Wu said.  “But I have heard it is done.  It is dangerous though.  The pirates of Sumatera and the buccaneers of Java are a match for even Vikings.”

“Well, that would have saved us a lot of work,” Erik said, giving the general a look.  “Some of the weapons we’ve purchased were quite difficult to transport by camel.”

“What did you get?” Ivar said excitedly, leaning forward on his shield.

“We got thousands and thousands of Scythian powder arrows and hundreds of barrels of the Scythian powder itself.”  Prince Erik’s alchemists had been working on copying the Scythian powder substance the Cathayan alchemists made, but they had not yet succeeded in getting the composition to the same level of power that the Cathayans could.  “We also packed up two very powerful trebuchet catapults and the hardware to build twenty more of them.”

“Traction trebuchets?” Ivar asked.  “We can get those here.”

“Gravity trebuchets,” Erik said.  “They’re the latest design, like traction units but they work by gravity.  They have twice the power and range with a slightly higher firing rate.  They’re designed to take down walls fast.”

“The fortress of Sinope should be perfect to try them out on,” Ivar said, as lunch was brought into the great room.  Ivar had captured the consul’s home intact, his slaves, his children and his wife and the consul had been on duty during the city’s capture, so he was still inside the fortress walls while Ivar was in his home writing ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’ while the consul’s wife was riding his steed.

Which side of the fortress to assault had been the question in a later discussion.  It was decided to attack the wall on the city side of the peninsula, so the two gravity trebuchets were unloaded for reassembly on the plain between the fortress and the city of Sinope.  General Sun Wu explained to the officers and men being trained to operate the catapults that the exit velocities of the shots being flung were so high that the fortress stones would shatter upon impact, so, it was critical that the ballista be much harder than the stone of the walls or it would be the flung shot that would shatter.  To that end, Prince Erik had purchased a vast quantity of Cathayan cast iron shot that had been aerodynamically designed to improve shot accuracy with properly positioned triangular projections that would always impact defensive stones in a way that imparted a splitting action.  And the projections had holes in them that caused the shot to wail is it tore through air.  Stones could be used as ballista, but they would typically have to be quarried granite, free of cracks and inclusions.  The stones should weigh fifteen stone, or about the weight of a warrior, and the prince purchased five hundred in Xi’an and transported them, two per camel, along the Gobi Desert and across Asia, then as ballast in the bottom of his longships as he sailed the Caspian, crossed the new portage route and sailed the Scythian Sea all the way to Sinope just to pay back the Romans for their want of tithes.  “Before we start reassembling the gravity trebuchets,” Erik said to Ivar, “could you dene to ask your new Roman wife if she knows which of the two walls is weakest?”

“The wall to the west is the strongest,” she told the two leaders when they returned from the battlefield that surrounded Sinope.  She joined the men at the table once her servants had put out the place settings and brought out the food.  “The fortress was built to protect us from attack by land.  Our navy has always controlled the Scythian Sea…until the coming of the Rhos.  The fortress isn’t designed to be attacked from this side.”

“Thank you,” Prince Erik told her, “we suspected as much.”  General Wu nodded in support.

Later, in bed, Ivar asked her if she had ever heard the tale of ‘The Varangian and the Nun’.  “I’ve heard of ‘The Viking and the Nun’,” she answered.  Then he told her that the old man at the table was that ‘Viking’.  “But he’s from Cathay!” she protested.

“The other old man,” Ivar said.

“Prince Erik doesn’t look old,” she said.

“Well, he’s my old man and he’s older than he looks.”

“He’d have to be,” she said.  “My grandmother told me the tale of ‘The Viking and the Nun’ when I was a little girl in Constantinople and she told me that it happened when she was a little girl.”

“Well, that is the Viking who got a mark of silver for returning the Nun to a church in Cherson.  He was offered the silver, but he gave it to the Nun to help her get back to Paris.  There she bore him a son and he now lives in Flanders, near Paris.”

“It is a beautiful story,” she said.  “I’m glad I was plundered by such a fine bloodline.”

“If I give you a mark of silver, will you bear me a son?” Ivar asked.

“What?” she said.  “Certainly not!”

“My bloodline is from the Skioldung line of Danish kings.  We go as far back as your Caesar Augustus.”

“I don’t care about your foreign bloodline,” she said.

“My father, Prince Erik, has visions and he says that in two generations our bloodline shall include the bloodline of Augustus Caesar.”

“I’m married,” she said.  “My husband leads the fight inside the walls.”

“We’re about to knock down the walls,” Ivar explained.  “But before we attack, I can offer your husband terms of surrender and return him to you.  He could be back here in your home in the next few days.”

“When you first plundered me,” she said.  “You wanted me to ride your steed because you were writing a song.”

“Yes,” he said.  “It’s called ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’.  I’m writing it for a Maharaja in India.”

“I’ll ride your steed if you play me the song.”

“Will you dye your hair blonde?”

The next day, the two gravity trebuchets were reassembled and Chinese technicians, Tang veterans that General Wu had hired in Xi’an, began instructing the Hraes’ in the use of the weapons.  The Tang veterans loaded one unit with a cast iron shot and had twenty Kievan legionnaires climb twenty scaling ladders attached to the unit and they grabbed onto ropes suspended from a crossbeam of the launching arm and they jumped off the ladders and hung suspended from the crossbeam.  The Tang soldiers made a few adjustments to the trebuchet and slipped the knot that held the launching arm down.  The twenty suspended men immediately began a rapid descent as the leveraged arm began a much more rapid ascent and a cast iron shot in a huge rope sling began a roaring ride down a wooden trough and was flung back and then around at a terrific velocity and left the sling horizontally, flying at great speed directly toward the wall, wailing as it went.  The twenty men landed on the ground, as the trebuchet rocked, and they rolled back as instructed and stood up in time to see the screaming cast iron shot smash through the double-doors in the center of the wall.

Prince Erik walked up to General Wu, who was now at the second trebuchet, and said, “I bought those cast iron shots to smash through stone walls, not wooden gates.”

“Please observe,” General Wu said, as he signalled for the second trebuchet to loose.  The Roman legionnaires could be seen in the distance scrambling to pull a stone laden sledge in front of the destroyed wooden gates to seal up the entrance.  A Tang veteran pulled loose the knot on the second unit and a cast iron shot was flung screaming violently toward the wall and it struck just above the keystone of the stone arch above the gate opening, knocking the keystone free and collapsing much of the arch.  “Stone wall smashed through,” the General said.  “And now it is your men’s turn.”

Men of the third Kievan legion were operating the first trebuchet and when they pulled the rope, the iron shot flew high and wailed right over the parapets and crashed into the backside of the far fortress wall.  Some men of the fourth Kievan legion had their shot bounce in and do some damage to the wall above the arch.  “This may take a while,” Erik said, shaking his head.

“The men are in training,” Ivar replied.  “We must be patient.  Meanwhile, let’s get our engineers building two more trebuchets with that hardware you brought.”  It was easy for Ivar to be patient.  He had a Roman home and a new Roman family in Sinope and he had a new Norse song to write.

After two more trebuchets were built the destruction of the wall progressed faster, but Prince Erik lost patience and told his son that he was taking his Tmutorokan legions and the Irish and the Angles and he was going to attack Amastris west down the coast.  “Meet me there once you’re done turning the consul’s beautiful wife into a fine blonde Danish girl,” Erik told him, a wry smile on his face.  “I’ll be shipping out tomorrow.”

“Then tonight we shall feast,” Ivar said.  “I’ve written a new song called ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’.  It was requested by my friend, Rajan.”

“And inspired by the consul’s wife?” Erik chided.  “When do I get to meet this mysterious Maharaja of Gujarat?”

“Perhaps next year you can come with me to Baghdad?  Then you can meet him at the Caliph’s palace.”

“I don’t think I’ll be leading a merchant fleet to Constantinople next year, so I think my schedule has just opened up.  You’ve done a great job these past years establishing this Indian trade route.  I’d love to go to Baghdad with you and meet your Maharaja.  We will need this Indian trade if our war with the Romans drags on.”

That evening the men returned from the siege works and the consul’s wife sat them down at her table.  Erik complimented her on her blonde hair and marvelled at how beautiful she looked.  She had seemed frightened and frazzled before, but she now seemed confidant and in control.  She joined the men at the table and her servants brought out wine and food.  After the meal a local band came out with Persian tars and accompanied a young female singer of Sinope and they entertained the Varangian officers.  Most of them were billeted throughout the city and many had taken up with Roman women.  A few songs later, Ivar took up a tar and joined them.  “It is a new song I have written called ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’ and one and two and three and four:

On winged steed the Valkyrie                    watched a scene of strife,

she rode in on a beam of light                   and gathered up a life.

The prince was strong and powerful        and not inclined to die,

she promised him a gentle kiss                 and bed in which they’d lie.

His wound was slight, insignificant,          but Hervor’s hair glowed gold,

and her eyes shone like sapphires           and her lips were ruby souled.

The Valkyrie spread out a hide                 and laid him on that skin

and she snuggled by his side                    and kissed with lips of vin.

‘The sword must be great                           that laid me low,

with blood-snake’s bite                               and dwarf forged glow.’

‘Let me take this poisoned leg,’                 the kagan-bek cried.

‘You’ll take it not! It’s part of me,’              the dying prince replied.

On winged steed the Valkyrie                    helped the prince to die,

she rode in on a beam of light                   and with him she did lie.

The prince was slipping off now                life pouring through his hands,

he saw his mother dying now                    on Gardariki’s sands.

Your mother waits in Valhall                      the Valkyrie did say,

And I shall be your servant there              when your life slips away.

The prince told all his story,                        then tasted his last wine,

one last kiss gave the Valkyrie                  and with her he went flying.

The Valkyrie did take the prince                to Odin’s highseat hall.

She rode his steed, gave him mead,        and armed him for the ball.

The brave one was there to help              against the twelve brothers.

They fought for Odin’s pleasure                and fought for their mothers.

On winged steed the Valkyrie                    took the prince that died,

they rode out on a beam of light               and all the people cried.

But left behind was one small boy             who planned to trade away,

both his legs to bring him back,                 both his legs to stay.”

When Prince Erik heard the song, his eyes watered and he immediately left the hall.  Prince Ivar summoned his bearers and followed him out onto the patio.  “You lost your legs because of me!” Erik cried, as Ivar joined him.  “If only I had given you gold to finance your reclaiming of Denmark, you wouldn’t have been attacked by the Drevjane.”

“It’s not your fault!” Ivar responded.  “I chose to double tax the Drevjane and they chose to maim me.  Perhaps it was even the gods who let the knot slip.  Odin would not be denied!”

“Why would Odin even care?”

“Remember when you got angry with me for personally attacking the twelve Norwegian Biorn brothers in Sweden?”  His father nodded, so he went on.  “I had a dream that Odin had sent the twelve brothers as a test for me.  Oddi had failed Odin by not killing my twelve half-brothers all by himself.  Angantyr had deprived him of it by baring his breast to Hjalmar’s deadly stroke.”  Ivar was perched upon his shield and looked out at the darkening sea.  “I dreamed that Odin had sent the brothers for me to kill all by myself.  And if I succeeded where Oddi had failed my brother would be returned to me.  When I attacked their keep alone, I killed them one by one, just as Oddi, on Samso, to my brothers had done, and when I found brothers unalone, I slew them two by two, just as Oddi had to do.  But when I came to the last, the youngest of the Biorns, I saw that he was but a boy whose life should not be shorn.  I, too, failed Odin, but he did not take my life.  He took my legs instead, through the people of my wife.  You had offered to save Oddi by taking his poisoned leg, but he refused the medics you had trained, so, later, they saved me instead.”

“I so do wish Oddi had let me take his leg,” Erik said, peering out into the dusk.

“It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“What was it that your father said?” she asked when they were in bed.

“He said he loved your blonde blonde hair, and that you should ride me like a Valkyrie.”

The next day Prince Erik gathered up his force and headed out to sea.  Sinope’s loss was Amastris’ pain.  The city had been sacked by the Hraes’ before, in 830, when the Hraes’ were fighting the Khazars for control of Kiev and their fleet was fending for itself on the Scythian Sea during the great Hraes’ retreat to Novgorod.  The Hraes’ fleet had harried Khazar supply lines and had ravaged the cities of Paphlagonia to survive so, when the Hraes’ warships arrived once more off the shores of Amastris, the unfortified Roman Polis unit surrendered immediately.  The Varangians beached their warships by the hundreds and began enslaving the citizens in the old Roman fashion, loading half of them into their ships and leaving half to run the city as a tribute town.  All wealth was plundered and all churches were pillaged.  The fleet then sat just off the coast and allowed relatives to buy the freedom of their loved ones if they still had access to gold and soon merchant knars arrived from Kiev to take the enslaved north to be trained for sale in the next trading cycle.  Then the Hraes’ fleet sailed west along the coast and entered the Sakaria River looking for further targets.

The east wall of the fortress of Sinope had been reduced in height enough for scaling ladders to be used and the scaling exercises the gravity trebuchets had afforded the Hraes’ legionnaires had them champing at the bit to go over the wall.  There were only four hundred Roman troops inside the fortress and a whole legion of Kievan soldiers outside wanting to get at them.  Prince Ivar had all the citizens of Sinope paraded before the walls and they begged their men inside the walls to surrender, but their officers wouldn’t let them.  That night, Ivar sent Biorn and a few picked men with one scaling ladder and a Roman deserter and they went over the wall in the darkness, found the officers’ quarters and murdered everybody inside.  They snuck back out over the wall and slipped back into the city under cover of darkness and reported their success to their Prince.  The next morning, three hundred and ninety four Roman legionnaires surrendered to the Hraes’.

“They murdered him,” the consul’s wife cried, falling into Ivar’s arms.  “His own men murdered him in his sleep.  He wouldn’t surrender so they killed him.”

“I’m sorry,” Ivar replied.  “We wanted to save him.  I wish he would have surrendered when the citizens were pleading with him.”

“I can’t believe they would murder him like that,” she said and then she rushed off to the kitchen to vomit in the sink.  As Ivar rushed up to help she said, “I’m sorry.  I’m just upset about his death.”  But it wasn’t her husband’s death that had made her vomit.  It was Ivar’s son.

“I’m glad you tired of playing house,” Prince Erik said, “and decided to join us in the siege,” as he welcomed his son.

“Oh, I’m still playing house,” Ivar replied.  “She’s pregnant with son.”

“And you’re sure it’s a son?”

“I paid her a mark of silver and told her I’d spare her husband if only she’d bear me a son.”

“I heard her consul was murdered by his own men, so you didn’t get a chance to spare her husband.”

“So, I won’t be overly disappointed if she gives me a daughter instead.  We’ll just try again for a son.”

“So, you are still playing house.”

“I’ve offered her a Hraes’ station in Sinope.  I want another in Trebizond and in Phasis to go along with the one we’ve set up in Tiflis.  You should set up some along the coast east of Tmutorokan.”

“Do I get to play house?”

“You’re too old to play.  You don’t even play your lute anymore.”

“You’ll have to teach me how to play one of your tars.  They only have four strings.  Much better than twelve.”

“And they have a longer stiffer neck.   I’ll start you off with a cartar and we can work you up to a sestar.  What is that man doing?” Ivar asked as he saw a Roman high up in a tower of Nicomedia signalling to someone.  The two princes were observing Nicomedia’s defences from the safety of their siege works.

“He’s sending a message by mirrors to Chalcedon to be passed on to Constantinople,” Erik explained.  “They’ll be sending it again by lantern tonight.  They’re asking for the army.  They’re asking for naval relief.  But their armies are away fighting the Arabs and their navy has to stay in the Levant to support them.”

“You always seem to know when they are away,” Ivar marvelled.  “If I would have attacked them last year when I wanted to…”

“Their armies and navy would have been here.”

While the Roman armies were in the Levant, the Hraes’ army ravaged all of Bithynia, but they couldn’t take the thick walls of Nicomedia.  So, they enslaved half the people of the county-side and some of the slaves they sold back to loved ones but others they used as hostages during the siege and slaughtered them before the main gates of the city.  Over the winter they plundered and pillaged churches and monasteries all along the Roman coast, ravaging past Constantinople as far north as Messembria.

“The Roman army and Navy will be returning soon,” Erik reminded his son.  “Do you want to stay and face them or go with the merchant fleet to Baghdad?”

“I want to do both,” Ivar stated flatly.  “We won’t be trading with the Romans this year so, our Christian warships and merchant fleet can attack their navy.  We’ll use our legions and cataphracts and warriors to defeat their army quickly and then we’ll join our merchant fleet at Baghdad.”

“The Romans will not be easy to defeat.  They are being led by General Kourkouas, a very competent officer.”

“If we run out of time, drag me off to Baghdad kicking and screaming.”

The princes agreed on this and continued their siege of Nicomedia and sent Biorn and the brothers Asmund and Oddi to lead the Hraes’ Christian fleet against the few ships left in the Golden Horn harbour of Constantinople.  Fifteen retired Roman trireme dromons were known to be there and the princes wanted them destroyed before the Byzantine navy returned from the east.  The Hraes’ knew the ships were over twenty years old and retired from the fleet, but they were big triremes and would bolster the Roman navy significantly when it returned.  What the Hraes’ didn’t know was that Emperor Romanos was having them outfitted with Greek fire, both fore and aft.  Biorn saw the familiar crescent moon symbol reaching skyward from the high walls of Constantinople and, when the dromons came out from the safety of the Golden Horn, the Christian fleet surrounded them and began to attack.  The Roman naval officers in their fine plate-mail shirts and bronze helmets stood upon their high decks and unleashed the fury of Greek fire upon the Hraes’ fleet.  Brimstone fire and flames roared out of the bronze tubes in great Hrae’ring roars and arced down into the low longships of the Hraes’ fleet.  The Varangians were caught by surprise and their ships in the vanguard were incinerated.  Prince Asmund and Prince Oddi were in the flagship that was the first to go up in flames.  Many secondary ships caught fire and many others were lost to the flames while others jumped into the sea to escape the hellfire, casting off their armour and weapons and floating upon their shields as the flames spewed upon the waters.  Many drowned and many burned and the Roman Domestic Theophanes set off in pursuit of the fleeing fleet.  Most of the Hraes’ ships escaped, but only because they flew off in all directions and the fifteen Roman dromons could only pursue them a ship at a time.  The Varangians that were floating on the Bosporus were gathered up by the returning victorious Romans and taken into Constantinople and beheaded in the Hippodrome.  But some said the captured Christian Vikings were crucified, which was against Roman common law of that time.  Both Greek fire and crucifixion were considered too cruel for use on fellow Christians and were banned by Roman ecclesiastical law and the Varangian Christian fleet was clearly identified with massive red crosses in the center of their white sails.

When Biorn returned to Bithynia with his ravaged Christian fleet and sailed up the Sakaria River to Nicomedia, he brought grave news.  The grandsons of Prince Erik and the nephews of Prince Ivar were dead, burned to death by Greek fire, and the Romans were to blame.  Erik and Ivar were both grief-stricken.  They had sent the Christian fleet of the Hraes’ to attack the dromons in Constantinople so as not to panic the populace.  There was no report of fire-ships being there.  Queen Silkisif of Tmutorokan, the widow of Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ Erikson, would be devastated by the loss of her sons.  The flagship burned so fast and furiously that all on board were consumed by the flames.  There were no bodies aboard the messenger ship that was sent back to Tmutorokan with the tragic news.

Just then, the Roman army returned from the east, in five hundred ships of the Roman navy, and they anchored in the harbour of Nicomedia on the other side of the peninsula in the Sea of Marmara.  There was Pantherius the Domestic with eight Roman meros or legions, forty thousand men, and Phocas the Patrician with twenty thousand Macedonians, and Theodore the General with another twenty thousand Thracians, supported by auxiliaries and mad as hell.  They formed up on the beaches of the harbour and advanced to the hazel poles the Hraes’ had placed upon the Bithynian plain in front of the city.  Four Hraes’ legions were formed in their center to match the eight smaller Roman legions with ten thousand Scandinavian warriors on their right flank, facing the Thracians and ten thousand Kievan warriors on their left flank facing the Macedonians.  Prince Erik kept the two legions of Hraes’ cataphracts on the flanks in reserve and Prince Ivar led the legions from his battle platform in the center, again looking for a seam to exploit.  But these were Roman legions and there was no seam.  As the Roman legions advanced, twenty two rapid fire trebuchets let loose a barrage of stones upon them, stones and ruble from the outer walls of Nicomedia.  And rocket propelled footbow arrows landed and exploded in amongst the stones and surprised the experienced legionnaires, but they knew that Nicomedia was on the verge of falling, so they pressed forward.  Rocket propelled handbow arrows followed and Roman archers could finally counter with their handbow arrows as the armies closed.  Spears were thrown and shield walls engaged in a great clash of metal and wood.

Ivar ‘the Boneless’ was upon his warrior borne buckler slashing and stabbing with Tyrfingr and trying to find a seam in the Roman shield wall, but these Byzantine troops had spent the last year battling the Arab armies of the Caliphate and were well trained and well-seasoned so, no seam was forthcoming.  Just hard fighting.  The Romans didn’t have cataphracts or cavalry for some reason so, Erik had his horse advance around the flanks but the Thracians and Macedonians were equipped with long spears that kept the horse at bay.  Hard fighting went on all day and as evening approached the Hraes’ shield wall started to force back the Roman wall.  The losses from the trebuchets and rocket arrows were starting to show as the Roman war machine was gradually worn down by the Hraes’.  The battle was a grinder and the discipline that General Sun Wu had instilled in the Hraes’ legions matched the discipline of the Romans.  When darkness came, hostilities ceased and both armies returned to their camps.  A few Roman officers entered Nicomedia from their end of the field, but the army wasn’t there to defend Nicomedia, they were there to defeat the Hraes’ so, they stayed in their camp on the beach and the Hraes’ army stayed in its camp, protected by siege works.

The next day a small army of legionnaires came out of Nicomedia and joined the ranks of the Roman legions that had borne the brunt of the grind the day before.  And the dance of death began again as the trebuchets tore through the Roman ranks as they advanced.  Prince Ivar was upon his battle platform and, again, could find no seam, but Tyrfingr played a big part in the thing at the center that became ‘that grind’.  Romans came in vertically and went out horizontally and they had a new sign for the ‘T’ in Tyrfingr.  They would pass that new sign on to the Arabs of the Caliphate when they got back to their real job and finished their break taking care of the Hraes’.  But as the battle worn on through another day, they began to realize that the Hraes’ had become a state with standing troops and an esprit de corps.  They were no longer undisciplined warriors relying solely upon their individual battle skills.  They were a cohesive fighting force that was again driving the Roman shield wall even further back toward the beach.  When darkness came again, the fighting ceased.  Late into the evening a hundred ships arrived in the harbour and General John Kourkouas arrived from the east with the Roman cataphracts and heavy cavalry.  The horse had been transported on cargo ships that were quite a bit slower than the dromon warships.  They also carried the heavy Roman catapults, but there would be no time to assemble them.  So the men and the horses rested on the beach.

“This is taking forever,” Prince Erik complained.  “If we’re going to meet our merchant fleet at the Rioni portage we should leave now.  This grind is costing us too many men and Kourkouas knows how to use his cataphracts.”

“This Kourkouas really has you worried,” Prince Ivar said, concerned.

“Know your enemy,” Erik replied.  “John Kourkouas ran the Varangian Guard in Constantinople and has led them successfully in Italy and Syria.”

“But the Varangian Guard is us!” Ivar exclaimed.  “He was working with the best warriors in the world!”

“Exactly!” Erik said.  “He knows us!  He knows us better than we will ever know him and that will cost us.  We could get bogged down here for a month.  We’ve plundered half the Eastern Roman Empire for almost six months and we have the booty to show for it.  Let’s pack up and go to Baghdad.  General John Kourkouas has been trying to get to Baghdad for the last three years.  Let’s get there in three weeks.”

The Hraes army packed up all their gear, took all the hardware off their trebuchets, set the software alight, rowed their ships down the Sakaria River in the civil dusk of dawn and were gone.  The last ship to leave was a captured Roman bireme dromon with Prince Erik at the steering board and Prince Ivar at the stern.  They both saw General John Kourkouas and his officers watching them depart.  Ivar studied the sure movements of the general as he seemed to be admonishing his men.  “I hope we never see him again,” Ivar told his father.  “He gives me a bad feeling.”

“He’s a dangerous man,” Erik replied.  “I think he wants to be Emperor.”

Legate Kourkouas reprimanded his officers for starting the battle before he had arrived with the cataphracts and he took credit for the victory.  Perhaps he deserved it.  Had he not shown up, the next day the Hraes’ would have driven the Romans back onto their beach and into the Sea of Marmara.  As the princes sailed off with their warships, east along the Scythian Sea coast, Prince Ivar signaled for the fleet to stop in at Sinope.  The Christian ships in their fleet could not sail with them to the Caliphate, so the princes decided to dispatch their plunder north, half to Kiev and half to Gardariki to keep it safe using the Christian ships for transport.  While the men were gathering up the booty and loading it upon the appropriate ships, Prince Erik put together an alms gift of gold and jewels and a letter in Greek for his daughter-in-law, Queen Silkisif, and Prince Ivar went into the city of Sinope with a troop of soldiers to kidnap the consul’s wife.

“The Romans are sending a force to reclaim Sinope,” he told her.  “They will likely execute all women that cooperated with us.  My men are here to gather up any women that want to come with us.”

“I’m a Roman.  What makes you think they will execute me?

“You will be punished.  At the very least they’ll enslave you, and I know you’ve done nothing to deserve it.  You sought only to save your husband.”

“And his own men killed him!” she cried.

“I promised you a Hraes’ station in Sinope.  I’ll set you up with one in Phasis until the Romans get over their anger and decide they want to trade with the Hraes’ Trading Company again.  Then we can set you up with another station here.  It will only be a year or two.  Then the Emperor will agree to a new treaty with us and it will be business as usual.  That’s the way it works.  Now gather up your children.  We must leave.  I’ve already arranged for an estate for you in Phasis.  We must go!”

Fear of her own Roman government drove the consul’s wife to gather up her children and leave Sinope for the relative security of the Greek city of Phasis.  And many women of Sinope took the Hraes’ up on a similar offer of escape.  By the time Ivar’s men had gathered up all of the women’s belongings, the treasure ships were loaded with plunder and sailing off to their respective destinations.

The Tmutorokan Christian treasure fleet arrived home without incident, but, as the Christian Kievan treasure armada sailed north towards Cherson it was blown off course and ended up near Constanza where it was intercepted by Theophanes and his fifteen fire breathing dromons and destroyed.  Halfdan and some Hraes’ ships escaped the conflagration, but much of the Roman booty sank to the bottom of the sea.  Many Hraes’ sailors were burned or drowned or captured and crucified in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the first Christians crucified there since the Romans converted to Christianity from the tripartite Heathen religion that the Hraes’ still followed.  Byzantine annals would say that the Rhos leader escaped, but he was already on his way to Baghdad.  General John Kourkouas would never get there.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

25.0  THE UNDERWATER BREATHERS OF INDIA  (Circa 942)

“Writing is but a Sine Wave interrupted.”

Brian Howard Seibert

Airavata of Indra

(942 AD)  Prince Ivar extended his hand as the consul’s wife came across the gangplank.  “This place is a swamp,” she complained, covering her mouth with her other hand.  “I hope it’s not all like this,” she said, stepping onto the quay.

“The estate’s on a lakeshore further inland,” Ivar explained.  “This delta is all marshland.  You will be living further inland to keep away from it.  We’ll be taking carriages there.”

“Is that where the Hraes’ station will be built?” she asked as carriages rolled up to the wharf.

“No.  I’ve already purchased a warehouse and store in Phasis for that.  In the future I’d like to dredge a canal from the sea to the lake so we can row our ships right up to the estate.  It will be more secure that way.”

They rode in the carriages around the lake to the estate located as far from the delta as possible.  It was a huge brick house of two and a half stories, surrounded by many barns and outbuildings hidden amongst giant cedars.  They entered and were helped by many slaves and servants.  After a quick lunch they went up to their suite at the top of a broad marble staircase.  “Settle the children in their rooms, then come back and we’ll test the mattress,” Ivar said, patting the bedding as his bearers placed his shield upon the bed.

“It’s too early for rough stuff,” she told him, “but I’m just going to hold back a little bit.”  The consul was a leatherneck legionnaire who took a lot of abuse from his sweet young Patrician wife, but she now had a man in her life who thoroughly enjoyed it.  She preferred estates and horses because she loved leather and harnesses and her fine collection of riding crops.  When she came back into the room, locked the double-doors, and began to unpack her leathers and oils, Ivar was already lying naked on the bed.  “No biting,” he said.  “I’m going to Baghdad and I don’t want to look like I couldn’t handle a camel.”

The merchant fleet was already at the Rioni-Kura portage, so the warships kept going upriver, leaving Ivar’s small fleet to camp on the beach of Phasis.  Halfway up the Rioni, Prince Erik met a Hraes’ ship coming downriver.  It was the training crew for the new Phasis startup.  They had just finished a year in Tiflis and were hoping to go back to Denmark but would now be spending the summer in Phasis.  The Hraes’ stores, as they came to be called due to their attached storage warehouses, were taking on a look of their own, standing out from the trading posts of their competitors as being places that families began to frequent.  Ivar was the first Hraes’ prince to focus on having women managing their stores.  While his older brother, Oddi had been the first to set up women in charge of trading stations or posts, it was Ivar who turned them into stores.  Weapons and furs were relegated to the warehouse areas and clothing, silks, spices, and delicacies such as Khazar Vayar and sparkling wines were sold in the stores.  Cathayan kites and sky lanterns, Indian jewelry and books, Persian carpets and African incense were all sold up front in the female domineered stores.  Once Erik was assured that they had all the staff and inventory they required, he sent them on their way and he continued on upriver.

Soon he caught up with the merchant fleet as the ships were backed up single file in the stream that the Rioni had become.  It was a difficult portage to build.  Erik waved over half a dozen Hraes’ riders who were keeping order amongst the merchants and he borrowed a couple of horses from them so he could ride the portage and see how well it was operating.  The officers grudgingly gave up the mounts to their prince and four of the riders doubled up.  First Erik rode to the back of his own fleet and was just in time to meet up with his son, Ivar, at the head of his own small fleet.  “Come ride the portage with me,” he shouted and Ivar’s bearers jumped into the stream and carried him to shore.  He told his bearers to find some horses or a carriage and meet him in Tiflis.  They helped him mount the spare steed and the two princes galloped upriver along the bank.  Some areas of the stream got so narrow and shallow that the men had to get out of their ships and draw them along with ropes.  Erik and Ivar continued upriver until they came to a great waterfall and a narrow ravine.  There were high cliffs there, where portage crews were hauling up ships with ropes and pulleys.  The ships were then lowered onto wains and were towed by draft horses and oxen for a full day before they were lowered back into a river.  The ships were then sailed for a day or rowed for two, depending on favourable winds, until high cliffs rose on both sides of the bank less river, which were too high for them to haul ships up with ropes, and so the fleets steered on alongside the cliffs to where the river curved with the current until a small gap jutted into the cliffs and the ships were dragged ashore there, and the ground was flat and damp and muddy as the ships were dragged along by oxen through the gap in the cliffs into a clearing where they were once again hauled upwards on ropes and pulleys.  Again they were put on wains and towed for another full day before being lowered into a channel that had been dug out of a creek bed and dammed up every few miles so that ships could be slid down angled wooden chutes.  Coming back was harder, Erik explained to his son, because stout oxen were required to pull the ships up the sloped chutes.  But Ivar knew that because he had already traversed the portage the year before, but he was enjoying his time with his father, so he let him go on explaining the building of the great works.

Once the fleet was on the larger Kura River it was assembled into a long formation that descended upon the city of Tiflis and it beached upon the south bank of the river, just in front of the city walls.  The citizens came out and sold the Varangians food on sticks and set up booths for meals and baths and other more personal services.  The city profited greatly from the trade being carried on and supplied most of the manpower and animals for the portage works.  The two princes rode into Tiflis and inspected the Hraes’ store and station there to make sure that their brand was being properly represented there.  “Young King Gorm met his wife, Thyra, while we were inspecting a Hraes’ store and station in Hedeby,” Ivar remarked.  “She taught me a thing or two about what she expected to find in all Hraes’ stores, so I let her lectures guide me when I’m inspecting.”

“The tough kings fear you as a warrior,” Erik chided his son, “but the smart kings fear you as a businessman.”

“Fortunately for me, smart tough kings are few and far between.”

“Oh, there are a few of those around though.”

“I’ve met a few of them, that is true.  You’ll be meeting one of them in Baghdad.  And it’s not the Caliph, although he is smart.”

“Your friend, the Maharaja?”

“Yes.  I thought that when he wanted to go to Jutland and Zealand, he was making a mistake that he would regret, but he went up there and he praised his way through all the royals and he razed his way through anybody who thought to take advantage of him.  He even came back with five hundred farming families and he gave them beautiful farms in Gujarat.  You are going to love Gujarat!”

“Those farmers were from the famine in western Jutland?” Erik asked.

“Yes.  Just one small area, not like Ireland’s famine.”

Once the inspection was complete, the princes found lodging at the best inn in Tiflis and continued their conversation over wine and supper.  “What would cause small famines like Jutland’s?” Ivar asked.  He knew his father’s theories of world-wide warming and cooling cycles but according to his theory they were still in a warming cycle.

“These are indicator areas for upcoming world-wide cooling.  They were likely the last areas to benefit from the warming cycle but nobody can remember back hundreds of years, so, they are likely the first areas to be disrupted by a change to a cooling cycle.  And disruptions caused by a cooling cycle are much worse than disruptions caused by a warming cycle.  A warming cycle fluctuation might slow down the growth of new farms and the population growth from those new farms, so families might be smaller.  But a cooling cycle disruption in an area that has grown to be over-farmed and over-populated is catastrophic.  One failed crop and people are starving, people are dying.  Another generation or two and the few indicators become common occurrences and another generation or two and the bumper crops that people have grown used to just don’t happen anymore and people are starving all over.  And when people can’t buy food, they stop buying furs and silks and slaves.  And that’s when our business starts going right to hell.  And when we’re not earning gold by the chest-full, we can’t pay for our warships and our cataphracts and that is when the horsemen come riding out of the east and burn Tmutorokan and Kiev.  Halfway through the cooling cycle these Sami on horseback will come fight us when it is too cold to be fighting, but the cold will not bother them.  It will have become much colder where they come from so, they will be used to it and will barely stop to warm themselves as Kiev burns.”

“Will we be able to stop this Sami cavalry?” Ivar asked.

“I’m working on it,” Erik said coldly.

“I knew it!  You plan on being around for it!  Two or three hundred years from now and you plan to be around for it.  Is it the drugs you gave me to give to Helga?  She took them and it took twenty years off her libido just like that,” and he snapped his fingers.  “She’s so randy, I’m almost afraid to go home.”

“Is that why you started playing house with your Roman girl?” Erik chided.  “You’re afraid to go home?”

“No.  That Roman girl is different,” Ivar countered.  “You say we’ll soon have the blood of Augustus running through our family veins, well, she’s got the blood of Caligula running through her’s.  I’m almost afraid to play house!”  And they both broke out in laughter.

“Shall we retire for the evening?” Erik asked when the last of the wine was gone.

“I was wondering if you wanted to check out the local sulphur hot spring with me,” Ivar answered.  “It’s supposed to have healing powers.”

“I could use some healing powers after all that riding,” Erik responded.  “My ass is killing me.”

“Welcome to my world…a lifetime of sitting,” Ivar said.  “Maybe the spring will give me my legs back?”

“Maybe it’ll put the spring back in my step.”

“Don’t expect miracles.”

Ivar had his bearers bring the carriage around front and they drove down the street and then along a road that took them to the edge of town.  Erik recognized the faint odor of sulphur as the carriage approached the spring.  It reminded him of the Alchemists Guild hall in Tmutorokan when they were back engineering the Scythian powder they had gotten from Cathayan alchemists.  The hot spring was surrounded by a low stone wall with cobble stone paving in the forward area but was unattended.  Ivar’s bearers carried him to the springs edge as Erik walked beside him.  The princes stripped naked and slipped into the pool while the bearers stood armed guard.  The princes relaxed and soaked in silence for a while as their noses became acclimatized to the smell.

“How’s your ass now?” Ivar asked.

“It’s feeling better,” Erik replied, somewhat surprised.  “I didn’t think it would work this fast.”

“I think the city could market this better,” Ivar said, the businessman coming out in him.  “This may even help people with breathing problems.”

“Always looking for improvements,” Erik laughed.

“It could increase the number of visitors coming to Tiflis.  When the city’s prosperity increases, they associate it with the Hraes’ Trading Company and that makes us more accepted here.  It also increases the number of people coming to our store.”

“We should try to help the locals market the sulphur residue.  The Alchemists Guild in Tmutorokan would buy it and I’m sure the guild in Baghdad would buy it up as well.  The guild in Cathay sells it for medicinal purposes and for metalworking.”

“We have some Tiflis merchants that have purchased longships and have joined our merchant fleet hoping for big profits in Baghdad.  I think they are already taking some of this smelly yellow baby shit with them.”

“Speaking of baby shit, how many babies do you have now?”

“I’m not sure,” Ivar replied.  “I could keep track when I only had children in Denmark, Norway and Kiev but, since this India trade, I’ve lost count.”

“Aren’t you concerned that having children in Gujarat gives Rajan a lot of power over you?”

“It’s a caste thing with the Jats.  They love us because of our Aesir blood, our Bhraman blood mixed with their Vanir blood moves their standing up in their Indian caste system.  It’s not me, it’s their religion.  They consider all Norse blood to be Aesir blood so, they treat all Hraes’ well.  Very well.”

“Religion is for old women and children.  It helps them cope with the terrible things that men do.  But when full grown men start believing in religion, well, that’s when it starts getting weird.  Family is all.  Haight is all.”

“So, we’ll give the city council some gold to make improvements here?” Ivar asked, changing the subject.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Erik answered.  “Now that my ass is better, let’s get back.”

The next morning, Ivar had the local Hraes’ store donate two hundred marks of gold towards improvements to the local sulphur hot springs.  And he confirmed that the local merchants were taking sulphur to Baghdad for sale there.  Sailing was much better on the Kura River and the merchant fleet was soon at the Kura-Araks confluence and a small fleet broke off towards the Caspian and Cathay while the main fleet began wending its way up the Araks River to the Araks-Tigris portage.  A few more days of sailing down the Tigris River and the Varangians arrived in Baghdad.

“This is Maharaja Rajan of Gujarat,” Ivar started, “and this is my father, Prince Erik of Tmutorokan.”

“Ahh, at last, The Prince.  We finally meet,” Rajan said.

“Yes, at last,” Erik echoed.  “I’m sorry I missed you last year.  I had to go to Cathay instead of Baghdad.”

“Yes, Prince Ivar told me about your quest for weapons of war.  You boys have been very busy over the winter.”

“You’ve heard of our little squabble with the Romans?” Ivar asked, as he signaled for his bearers to seat him at a table in the Caliph’s dining hall.

“So has the Caliph.  He was angry with you for attacking Tiflis but now he is pleased to hear that you attacked the Romans.  I think he is more pleased than angry.”

“The army of Tiflis attacked us,” Erik corrected, as they sat down.

“Yes,” Ivar confirmed.  “They sent their army to tithe us against our treaty with the Caliph and, when we refused to pay them, they attacked us.  We crushed them, of course, and the city threw their gates open to our army out of fear.  We could not stop our army from pillaging the town…it happened too fast.  But we did attack the Romans.  They, too, are trying to tithe us.”

“Yet you pay a tithe in Gujarat,” Rajan added.  “Should I be worried?”

“You tithe our suppliers, not us,” Ivar said.  “Besides, we follow the same religion and we don’t mind sharing with our brothers.”

“We are more than brothers now, my friends.  We are family.  I have learned from young King Gorm that I have two Jat sons in Jutland and you, Ivar, have many more on the way in Gujarat.”

“Congratulations!” Ivar said, extending his hand across the table.  “I’m proud of you.  And I can’t wait to see my children.”

“Yes,” Erik added, “congratulations.  I look forward to visiting Gujarat.”

Ivar gave his father a look and then smiled.  Erik, it would seem, had changed his mind about not going to India.

“Yes,” Rajan started.  “You shall both be seeing a lot of children.  But first I must warn you that I believe it was Roman informants who told the Caliph about Tiflis.  There is a Roman general, a legate named Kourkouas, who was born in Armenia and considers both Tiflis and Bardha to be his hometowns even though the Caliphate now controls them.  He has family there and I believe he may have helped finance the Tiflis army in their attack upon you.  The Romans don’t want you to bypass their control of your Arab trade.”

“We ran into General Kourkouas,” Ivar replied, “in Nicomedia.  We were about to defeat a Roman army before the walls of the city but he showed up with reinforcements and we had to leave or we would have missed this trade cycle.  I would have loved to stay and kill this Kourkouas, but business before pleasure.  Perhaps I’ll get a chance this winter.”

“Good,” Raj said.  “Talk this way when you address the Caliph.  Downplay Tiflis and talk up your war with the Romans.  A common enemy will keep him on your side.”

“How much trouble can we expect from this Kourkouas?” Erik asked.  “Will the Khazars support him in Iberia?  We don’t want to be caught in a pincer between the Armenians and the Khazars.”

“Fortunately for you,” Rajan began, “Emperor Romanos has started a pogrom against the Jews of Constantinople and the Jewish Khazars are on the verge of making war on the Romans.”

“Things are tensing up.” Ivar complained.  “It’s not good for business.”

“It is not,” Raj agreed.  “The Caliph will want to talk with you at the feast tonight.  If he is more pleased than angry, he shall invite you to his head table to talk.  If he is more angry than pleased, he will talk at you in front of his retainers.”

The princes finished their lunch and got back to the business of trade in Baghdad.  Erik and Ivar were busy settling in their merchant fleet on the riverbanks of the Tigris and then arranging transport for goods into Baghdad.  Slaves were in high demand and Roman captives were in plentiful supply, mainly from Sinope, Amastris and Nicomedia.  Furs from Gardar and amber from Denmark, walrus ivory from Norway and tonstone from Sweden were also in high demand.  The markets of Baghdad were thronged with people, buyers, sellers, victims.  Proud patrician Roman women now stripped naked and being poked and prodded and inspected by their prospective Muslim husbands.  Highly educated Roman men now being marketed as personal instructors to wealthy Arab families.  Anatolian craft workers being sold for their weaving, carpentry, wainwright or shipwright skills and young Roman children being bartered to slave armies, concubine schools and pedophiles.  Irish, Slav, Armenian and now Roman slaves, all victims of famines, wars and systemic violent abductions.  Slavery had been around since Homo Sapiens first started systemically abducting Homo Neanderthals at the beginning of the last ice age and would last long after the Neanderthals were gone.

After a hectic day the princes were ready to feast and be entertained so Erik and Ivar met up with Rajan at the Caliph’s palace.  Ivar saw his favorite dancer and her friend so he waved them over to the table and asked them to join them.  Ivar’s bearers pulled out chairs for the ladies.  “Saleem, this is my father, Prince Erik,” Ivar started.  “Father, this is Saleem and her friend, Roxanna.  They will be spending the night with us.”

“Ladies,” Erik said.

Rajan added, “It is good to see you again.”

Food and wine were soon brought to the table and, after the meal, musicians came out and began to entertain the guests.  Rajan asked Ivar if he had written ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’ and when Ivar told him that he had, Raj asked, “Can you play it for us?”, but the Caliph sent a servant to ask Prince Ivar and his Hraes’ friend to join him at the caliph’s table.  “That is a good sign,” Rajan confirmed.

Ivar had his bearers carry him to the Caliph’s table as Erik walked beside him.  He introduced his father and they sat down across from him.  When the Caliph brought up the Hraes’ attack on Tiflis, Ivar had to clarify that they were attacked by the army of Tiflis for not paying a tithe that was against the Hraes’-Arab trade agreement and, likely, at the instigation of Romans.  Ivar further explained that, to that end, the Hraes’ had attacked the Romans over the winter and had brought many fine Roman slaves with them for sale in Baghdad markets.  “The Hraes’ are helping the city of Tiflis,” Ivar added, “in its recovery since their attack upon us.  We have hired many workers from the city to run our portages for us.”  The caliph knew the value of portage work because he benefitted from the Araks-Tigris portage payments.  “Also we have just donated gold for improving their local sulphur hot springs and we even have several of their leading merchants with ships in our fleet this year.”

“Could you have these Tiflis merchants come see me tomorrow?” the Caliph asked.  “It is just a formality.  Tiflis is an ally of the Caliphate and I would be remiss if I did not speak with them.”

When Ivar got back to his table, he sent one of his bearers off to get Captain Biorn.  He wanted the two Tiflis merchants brought in from the Tigris riverbank and put up in the best Baghdad inn and he arranged for Saleem and Roxanna to tuck them in at the inn.  “I’m sorry, Raj,” Ivar apologized.  “I’ll play you my song later.  I have to keep the caliph happy.”

Later, Saleem and Roxanna returned to the Caliph’s palace and joined Ivar and Erik in his suite there.  Saleem slept with Ivar in his room and, as usual, was paid extra for rough, and Roxanna joined Erik in his.

“I’m not as good as I once was, but I’m as good as I was once,” Erik told the young woman as they undressed each other and slipped into bed.  They made love for over an hour and the dancer came several times before the prince finally came too.

“You should have warned me,” the young woman said, “that your once was going to be a while.”

“When you get older, it takes longer,” the prince replied.  “When I was young, I would come just looking at a beauty such as you.”

“You’re a gentleman,” Roxanna breathed as she slipped into his arm and cuddled.

“Tell me about my son,” Erik whispered.

“A gentleman he is not,” Roxanna said, tensing up somewhat.  “But Saleem monopolizes him, so I don’t know what they do.  I only see the bruises in the morning.”

“Bruises on Saleem?”

“On both of them.”

“Oh my.  Let’s not go there.  I meant how he is seen in Baghdad.  I used to do a lot of trading in Baghdad years ago but I’ve left it up to my sons and grandsons.”

“How old are you?  I’m sorry, I shouldn’t ask.  Who did you trade with years ago?”

Erik listed off some of the Arab traders he dealt with long ago and Roxanna told him she knew of their trading houses and knew some of their offspring.  “I come from a long line of entertainers,” she started, “and trade so often involves entertainment.  I met the son of Ahmed Ibn Yakut once, but I know his grandson quite well.”

“I’ve lost track of them.  How is his house doing?”

“His grandson set up a trading house in Spain recently and they import sparkling wines from Frankia and hard wines from Ireland.  And, of course, Khazar Vayar from your house.”

“The hard wine from Ireland goes right to your head,” Erik laughed.

“I know!” she said.  “I keep away from that stuff!” and they both laughed.

“It was Ivar who really set up our Khazar Vayar business,” Erik confessed.  “I brought a new bottled preserves method back from Cathay and he experimented with it until he could preserve sturgeon roe long enough to get it to our markets in the west.  All the royals in Europe go crazy over it.  It’s worth its weight in gold over there.”

“I can see that you love your son,” Roxanna said.

“Yes,” Erik admitted.  “He’s complicated but I’m very proud of him and what he has done for our family business.  He is a fine warrior but an even greater businessman.  He absorbs everything he sees in the cultures he visits and he puts the ideas back together in a way that is uniquely Hraes’.”

“He is like his father,” Roxanna said, snuggling further into his arm.  “Do you have other children?”

“I had another son but I lost him,” Erik lamented.  “Now he was a warrior!” and the prince began to talk about Oddi.  The couple talked late into the evening before falling asleep in each other’s arms.  Saleem and Roxanna stayed with the two princes the two weeks they were in Baghdad and they saw them off when they left for India with some of the merchant fleet that had come to the Caliphate.  Rajan took some of his dhows back with him as well, but most of them remained to continue trading.

The city was like a glittering white jewel in the hot bright afternoon sun.  The blue of the river running through it centered the diamond that was Ashaval.  “It’s beautiful,” Erik whispered to Rajan as they sailed across the harbour and into the estuary.

“It’s not always this hot,” Ivar whispered.  They were aboard the Maharaja’s flagship dhow as they entered Gujarat Province and a full merchant fleet of hundreds of ships were behind them.  The flagship was the largest ship in the fleet and easily recognizable as the Maharaja’s.  People flocked to the riverbanks to welcome home their king and merchant fleet and to welcome the return of the Hraes’ traders.  The dhows carried on upriver and the flagship and longships all beached on the riverbank below the palace.  Some of the local women brought food for the Hraes’ merchants while they pitched their awnings and Erik could see that this was a place of peace and tranquility.

“Have some wine,” Ivar told his father as they relaxed on the balcony outside Ivar’s suite in the palace.  Erik watched his men relaxing by their ships below.  More and more local women were gathering on the white sand below, some with babies.  Erik asked his son, “How do you get your men to leave this place?”

“Some don’t,” Ivar admitted.  “And some I have to order to leave because I need them too much to lose them.  I allow them to take their Gujarat wives with them.  It looks like there may be some children coming back this time.  But it’s a good problem to have.”

“Beats the hell out of having to fight your way to your ships just so you can get away from clients who want to kill you.”

“Sounds like you’ve had to do that a few times.”

“More than once, I have to admit.  Giantland can be, well…Giantland.”

As evening approached, the Maharaja joined them and he brought a special bottle of Madhu wine that Indian vintners had been making for over a thousand years.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t visit earlier,” Rajan apologized, “state business.  But I have brought a type of wine that has been fermented in India since the time of the first Aran invasions.  We call it Bhrama Madhu,” he said, pulling the cork.  He then produced three crystal goblets worthy of kings and poured the red wine into them.  He passed out the goblets and sat down at the table.  “To a great trading season,” Raj toasted.

“To a great trading season!” the princes joined in.

“Prince Ivar has told me that you have visions of the past, present and future,” Rajan began.

“I have visions but I can’t really control them,” Erik replied.

“Have you ever had visions of Gujarat?” Rajan asked.  “Say…past visions of the Aran invasions?”

“I know of them but I’ve had no visions of them.”

“How can you know of them if you’ve had no visions?” Rajan asked with polite curiosity.

“When I was a youth my mother, Witch Kraka, accidentally fed me a meal of knowledge that was meant for my brother, that she had been conditioning my brother to receive, and it put me into a coma.  Nine days I was hung upon the world tree of knowledge, Yggdrasil, and I saw much there and I learned a thing or two about the followers of Odin, for I was upon his tree.”

“I have heard of Yggdrasil,” Rajan said.  “It is an Aesir tree of knowledge.”

“It is free to all followers of the tripartite gods, the Aran, the Vanir and Bhramans as well as the Aesir, for the Arans were the original creators of Wodin’s death cult religion on the Scythian plains.”

“Can you tell me more about the great war between the Aesir and the Vanir?”

“First I have to tell you how some Aran became the Aesir,” Erik told Raj, as he sipped the Madhu wine.  “For thousands of years mankind worked with gold and silver and copper but the metals were suitable for jewelry and coins, nothing dangerous.  Then the Alchemists Guild, the purifiers of metals learned to add tin to copper to make bronze and the copper became strong enough to hold an odd, an edge, that was as sharp as obsidian but did not shatter, and new dangerous bronze weapons were soon developed and new bronze armour was developed to protect men from these sharp edges.  Soon there were new young alchemists who worked for princes, the followers of Thor and Mars and Indra, and they created better weapons for warriors so that turning tin and copper into bronze was like turning tin into gold, for whoever had these new bronze weapons soon turned the gold of others into their gold.  If you had no access to tin, you would not keep your gold, you could not hold your lands.  Copper was everywhere, but tin was scarce.  The Phoenicians controlled the Mediterranean and all access to the tin of Spain and Britain so, the Arans of Persia were the first to use the riverways of Scythia to sail and row their way to Britain.  An age of extreme cold had just ended and there were still thick sheets of ice over much of Sweden and Norway and the Baltic Sea was full of ice floes, but the Arans persisted and persevered because their alternative was death or enslavement.  They set up way stations along the trade route and the Persians who peopled these stations soon peopled the lands, for the soils were rich and moisture abundant and the land was uninhabited for the most part save for giants and dwarves who had managed to eke out a living there during the age of ice.  These Persians of the north soon had blonde hair and blue eyes because they often lived with giants and they became the Norse, the Scandinavians and Zeus came to be called Odin, Mars became Thor and Mercury was Tyr and the Aran became the Aesir.”

Erik stopped and Rajan refilled his goblet.  He took another sip.

“The Aesir controlled all the northern lands from Scythia to Britain for five hundred years and all was good until the lands fell under a world-wide cooling period and the farms of the Aesir could no longer support their burgeoning populace.  The Aesir in the north began migrating to the south and took the Greek lands from the original inhabitants, driving them south into Anatolia.  This was the first war of the northern Aesir and western Vanir and the riverways of Scythia froze over and closed the trade route for five hundred years.  The Aran supply of tin was cut off, but they found a source of poor quality tin in India and that started the first Bhraman invasion and Zeus became Brahma, Mars became Indra or Shiva and Mercury became Vishnu as the main gods in your pantheon.

A warming period returned, but the Aesir didn’t travel north with the renewed tin trade, the Aesir who had remained in the north just multiplied until their population was swollen once more.  Then again, a cooling period evolved and drove the Aesir south once more and the Aesir in Greece were driven south by the Aesir from the north.  Now the Romans believe that these Aesir Greeks now attacked the Vanir Greeks in the city of Troy and that they, the Romans, were the survivors of Troy that fled first to Carthage, but could not stay there and live with the Phoenicians that had deprived them of tin in the first place, so they left Carthage and fled to Italy and founded Rome.  This is what the Romans believe, but I just saw it as the second Aesir-Vanir War.  The Romans also believe that Constantinople, which is built on ancient Byzantium, is the original location of the city of Troy, so the Vanir Romans have reclaimed their city from the Aesir Scythians.  Just the same, tin was once more cut off and Anatolian and Indian tin, though difficult to mine, filled in the shortages.  This became the second Bhraman invasion and they lorded over the first Bhramans and it was the start of your caste system.  It was learned that tin could also be purchased in Cathay and the Tin Road was born and, when silk was invented, it became the Silk Road.

“A five hundred year warming period followed and, again, the Aesir in the north prospered with the fine weather and the wombs of their women were as fertile as the land.  But during this warming period, alchemists began working the iron starstone so prevalent on the Scythian plains and iron weapons began supplanting the bronze and bog iron nodules made the new metal as common as copper.  So, when the world-wide cooling cycle began anew, a great struggle grew between the combined power of the Aesir and Vanir tripartite Greeks and the rising power of the Persians and their new monotheistic religion of the prophet Zoroaster.  The third Aesir-Vanir War was cancelled due to threats of new modern religions that offered one god and one heaven of equal social status.  Tin was no longer relevant as alchemists grappled with the secrets of steel and the problems of rust.  As the great enemy of alchemists, Pliny, once said, ‘Rust is the curse that the gods put upon steel for the pain steel inflicts upon men.’  I may be wrong but I believe Pliny died in the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius while he was using Roman science and concrete to seal up the volcano.”

The princes had a laugh at that failed effort while they refilled their goblets.  The sun was going down, but the heat of the day yet lingered and Erik watched the Hraes’ merchants wining and dining with the Jat women below.

“The next five hundred year warming cycle,” Erik started up again, “ended at the time of the birth of the Roman god Jesus and the Pax Romana and as the next cooling cycle took over it started the period of the great migrations of the Aesir south once more: the Auster-Goths, the Vaster-Goths, the Vandals, the Burgundians, the Lombards and out of the east, the Huns.  The great city to fall in this migration was not Troy, but its daughter city, Rome.  The Eastern Roman Empire and Constantinople survived, but only by deflecting the Aesir west to that other great Roman city.

“This five hundred year warming cycle we are presently in shall end in two generations and its impacts can come on quite suddenly, unlike warming cycles that happen gradually, almost imperceptibly.  In a warming cycle you may start to have odd years of bumper crops and people think it fortunate, but in a cooling cycle you may start to have odd years of crop failures and famine and people immediately begin starving to death.  If the food runs out before winter does, people die.”

“So, it was famines that started the wars between the Aesir and the Vanir?” Rajan asked, incredulously.  “I thought it was some kind of schism within our religion like the Christians are now experiencing between eastern and western sects.”

“It was just weather warming and cooling cycles, although I should not say ‘just’ because the age of ice that preceded our present cycles started with ‘just’ a little cooler weather that snowballs out of control.”

“I am ‘just’ glad it was something beyond our control,” Raj replied.  “It is heartbreaking when wars are caused by misunderstandings or hate.”

“And it is bad for business,” Ivar added, smiling.  He looked toward the door and then there was a knock.  Several servants led four young Jat princesses into the great room.  Ivar’s bearers stepped out from the shadows and carried Ivar into the great room on his shield.  He picked out the two princesses that he preferred and asked his father if he found the other two acceptable or if he wanted the first two.

“These girls are a little young for me,” Erik said.  “And one more than I can really handle.  I’m not young like Ivar.”

“I believe we have an eighteen year old princess from Maharashtra, but she is considered an old maid here.”

“Is she as pretty as these two?” Erik asked diplomatically.

“Perhaps even more so,” Rajan answered.

“If it could be arranged at this late hour, I would appreciate it.”

The next day was consumed transporting goods to the markets of Ashaval and setting up awnings in the bazaars.  Ivar and Erik also spent time visiting the warehouses of Indian supply houses.  Spices, in particular, were in demand in northern Europe and, with trade limited to Ashaval as an open port, it was imperative for Ivar to instigate competition between the numerous spice houses of Gujarat in order to get the best prices.  Collusion was rampant in open port cities so, side deals and discounts were a requirement of transactions.  If you were paying list, you were paying list plus ten or list plus twenty and there was no point in the Hraes’ battling against tithes if the supply houses were going to help themselves to the savings.  And Ivar was very good at pitching one supply house deal against another.  Erik marvelled at the skill his son showed in cajoling suppliers into lowering their prices by talking with them in their particular Indian dialect and criticizing other houses and switching to their particular dialect while doing it.  This familiarity would often catch house owners up in their own lies and deceptions and Ivar would walk out telling his father that he could get an even better deal by playing this house against that house.

“I thought I picked up languages quickly,” Erik said, “but you bounce between dialects better than the Gujarats themselves.”

“I sleep with all their princesses,” Ivar explained.  “They are all Jats, but they come from different provinces and states and they all have different dialects.  We don’t sleep much,” Ivar admitted.  “We’re either focking or talking!” and the princes laughed.

That evening they spent time talking with the Maharaja again and then two more young princesses were brought to the suite along with the same older princess that had been with Erik the night before.  “Princess Myia is fluent in Persian and is teaching me Hindi as well as Sanskrit so I can read the Vedas,” Erik confessed.  “We read at night,” but Erik didn’t tell his son that she was reading him the original Sanskrit Kama Sutra, the ancient book of sexual desires and fulfillments, one page at a time.

The next day was a holy day and Rajan surprised Ivar by inviting all the princesses he had been with to the palace with all his progeny.  There were babies and toddlers everywhere and they were mostly young boys.  “Three days,” Ivar told his father.  “The Warlock Song really works!”

“There are a few girls,” Erik pointed out.

“Sometimes the princesses lie about their periods.  They just want an Aesir baby!”

Erik could see the joy in Ivar’s eyes as he surveyed his babies.  He was proud of his son for having pursued his Indian trade route and working hard at it and making it happen.  He was born into the Hraes’ Trading Company, a company founded by his grandfather, King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ of Norway and he had done more to expand their trading house than any other Prince of the Hraes’.  Under his often heavy hand, trade had expanded with the Caliphate and Cathay and was growing rapidly in India, but in India, Prince Ivar had come of his own, he had found a kingdom that welcomed trade and welcomed traders.  He had found a paradise.  But this was at the expense of Roman trade and for that, Erik knew he would pay a price.

One very hot evening Erik was watching his men cooling off in the river below and he told Ivar that he was too hot and was going down to join them.  “There’s a pool in the palace,” Ivar blurted.  “I should have told you, but the heat never bothers me.  Heat and cold just don’t bother me that much.”

“You should be careful.  Too much heat can give you a stroke and too much cold can get into your joints and fock you up good,” Erik warned his son.

“I can show you where it is,” Ivar said, putting down his wine.

“I’ll just ask one of the servants,” Erik said, grabbing a towel.

“Rajan had it built for a group that trains in it.  But he said I could use it whenever I wanted so you’ll be fine using it.”

Erik asked one of the servants for directions in his broken Hindi and the slave showed him the way to the pool.  It was on a terrace of the palace and the pool was the length and width of a large longship and was finished in white marble.  As there were a few clothed patrons sitting on lounging chairs about the pool, Erik wrapped the towel around himself and disrobed under the cover of cloth, before stepping down the marble staircase of the pool into the water, raising the towel as he entered the water to keep it as dry as possible.  He then sat in the near end of the pool and laid his towel on the marble pavement behind him.  He was the only one in the pool so, he felt comfortable being naked as he cooled off.  Soon, a young couple came and walked over to the far end of the pool and, wearing loose draping clothing of white silk, entered the water and disappeared under the ripples.  Erik thought it odd to just walk into a pool fully clothed and just vanish under the waters like that, but he laid back again, against the side of the pool and relaxed.  They would have to come up soon anyway, or so he thought.  He started to count the seconds off in his head.  It was something he sometimes did in battle when timing had to be just right.  It was like an internal water clock that would drip out the seconds as he concentrated on other things.  Sixty.  He thought it odd that nobody else seemed to find it strange that a fully clothed couple would cool down this way, but nobody seemed to pay any attention to what they were doing at the far end of the pool.  One twenty.  Erik slid along the poolside a bit to get a little closer to the marble staircase.  He noticed that the Jats sitting about on lounging chairs were also dressed in the same loose baggy white silks that the young couple was wearing when they walked into the pool.  One eighty.  Erik was getting nervous now.  The young couple had been underwater three minutes and they were in the deep end.  Erik had his foot on the staircase and knew he could run the length of the pool much faster than he could swim it.  He would give it another minute.  He wasn’t a fast swimmer like his son, Oddi, had been.  So he would run it.  Two forty.  Perhaps another minute.  “Fock,” Erik shouted under his breath and sprang up and charged up the stairs and out of the pool.  He ran around the pool deck and dashed down the straightaway then dove in a long arcing flight, headfirst into the pool.  He entered the water and swam to where the couple had entered and he saw them under the waves just sitting still as if dead and he grabbed them both by the silks and pulled them up to the surface and paddled with his powerful legs, towing them to the poolside and he started to push them out of the water, first the young woman, but when he began to push the young man up the young man grabbed him gently by the wrist and put his finger to his mouth in the international sign for ‘the baby is sleeping’.  He then showed Erik that he was going to go under again and perhaps he should join him.  So Erik went under with the young man, who then pointed to a number of couples who were sitting underwater very still, staring at him with big round eyes, and they saw one person blow out a few bubbles and breathe in air trapped in a pocket of their silk garment.

When they went up to the surface, Erik saw the young woman sitting by the poolside smiling embarrassedly and the young man smiled gently.  “What is this?” Erik asked in broken Hindi.  “I thought you had drowned!”

“We are underwater breathers,” the young man replied in Persian, as a courtesy.  “We can stay underwater for hours.  We train in this pool.”

“Oh…thank the gods!” Erik said.  “I thought you had died.”

“Well thank you for saving us,” the young man said.  “You’re fine naked at that end of the pool.  We can’t tell from this end of the pool.”

“Erik realized that he was treading water naked in front of all these round eyed underwater breathers at this end of the pool, so he apologized and swam over to his end.  He sat back down at his end of the pool and began to relax when one of the patrons rose up from his lounge and began applauding Erik for his heroic actions, then more loungers rose until they were all up applauding.  The young couple sitting at the far end of the pool joined in and they kept clapping until Erik rose up out of the water to his waist and took a bow.  Then they all sat back down and resumed relaxing.

That night, when Erik joined his son on the balcony, Ivar asked him how his dip in the pool had gone as he offered him a goblet of wine.  Erik told him it was relaxing and had cooled him off and he asked his son what he had done on his day off.

“I visited with more of my children,” Ivar  said.  “I didn’t realize I had so many.”

“Well…two new princesses a night for three summers adds up.  You seem to have a very high success rate in India.  Why haven’t you given Helga another baby in Kiev yet?”

“It’s like I told Helga,” Ivar started, “she’s getting old.  That water clock is dripping.  I was starting to think it was me, but my success rate in Norway was pretty good, and now here…it’s great!  But that alchemist potion we’ve got her on will do the trick.”

“We still have to get you on it this winter as well,” Erik reminded his son.  “Knocking up young fertile virgin princesses is one thing, but a forty five year old woman when you’ve only got three nights a month with which to wrest a boy from her.  This drug will get you randy as hell.”

“Well, put me on it now,” Ivar said.

“Two virgin princesses a night on this drug?  You wouldn’t last a week, let alone a summer.”

“How are you and Myia getting on?” Ivar asked.  “Was she a virgin?”

“Yes.  It took a while,” Erik admitted.  “She had a tough time with it.”

“Sorry to hear it,” Ivar consoled.  “Is she still teaching you Hindi?”

“Yes.  She’s teaching me to speak Hindi and to read and write Sanskrit.”

“You’re not learning how to speak Sanskrit?”

“It’s kind of like Latin.  Nobody really speaks it anymore.  It is just written.  All the ancient Vedas and Sutras are written in Sanskrit.  All the Bhraman legal codes as well.”

“Has Myia studied that stuff?” Ivar asked.

“Yes.  She was going to school with the boys when her girlfriends were all getting married.  Indian women are supposed to be married before they are fully through puberty, so she really is an old maid, but that’s the sacrifice she made to…”

There was a knock on the door and one of Ivar’s bearers let the Maharaja into the great room.  “There was a Hraes’ prince running around naked at the palace pool this afternoon,” Rajan beamed, as he entered the room.  “Apparently he saved two underwater breathers from drowning!”

“Well, it wasn’t me,” Ivar said.  “I tend not to run around, being more of the sitting persuasion.”  Then Ivar looked at his father questioningly and said, “What’s an underwater breather?  And if it breathes underwater how could you save it from drowning?”

“Exactly!” Rajan said.  “An underwater breather is a Jat who trains to breath underwater and they can stay underwater for hours without drowning.”

“How old did they say this Hraes’ prince was?” Erik asked.

“I believe the witnesses said he was about your age, Prince Erik,” Raj laughed.

“Then I guess it was me,” Erik confessed and he told them what had happened at the pool.  “I really thought they had drowned.  The young man and his wife were underwater for five minutes.  I mean who can do that…pearl divers maybe?”

“Well, you’ll be glad to hear that your father got a standing ovation for saving them,” Raj told Ivar.  “It was quite dashing the way your father just leapt up out of the water, naked as a newborn, ran the length of the pool and dove into the deep end to save them.  Everyone there was quite impressed.  Everyone.”

Ivar poured more wine.  “Tell us about these underwater breathers,” he asked.  “How does it work?”

So, Rajan told them the story of how underwater breathing originated.  “Many years ago there was a sudden flood in a riverside community and many people were drowned.  Two brothers who had been working the surrounding fields returned home to learn their house had been flooded and their mother was still missing.  They borrowed a boat and rowed out to where their home was sitting, still under the waves, and one of the sons dove down into the water hoping to recover the body of his mother in their house.  As he swam through their house, he saw his mother in her bedroom sitting at the edge of her bed and sucking up air out of bubbles still trapped in her silken bedclothes and sheets.  He was almost out of air himself so, he joined her and drew in a breath from a bubble of air trapped in a silk sheet, then he took her and swam for the front door and the surface, just as his brother dove in from the boat above, thinking his brother had now drowned in the flood as well.  They were so happy to find their mother still alive that, every year on the anniversary of her salvation, they would hold a contest to find out who could emulate the hours their mother had spent underwater waiting for her sons to return home.

“We now hold that celebration in many places throughout India,” Rajan continued, “and here in Gujarat we train for underwater breathing and we enter many championships.  That is why I had a training pool added to my palace.  The couple you ‘saved’ are our champions that we are sending to the finals in Maharashtra Province and the young woman represents the mother waiting for her son, the young man, to save her, so when you dove in to save them both, you were like the second brother diving in from the boat up above to save them both, and that is why the people gave you a standing ovation.  They knew you were an Aesir prince by your white skin and your white lingam and they realized that you truly thought the couple was drowning and you acted quickly to save them so, to those people you are a hero.  They have all asked if you could accompany them to Maharashtra for the underwater breather festival there?  I told them I would ask you.”

“That’s where Myia’s from,” Erik replied.  “Can I ask her if she’ll accompany me first?”

“The festival’s next week,” Rajan replied, “so take your time answering.”  There was a knock on the door, so Raj took it upon himself to answer it while letting himself out.  Two more beautiful young princesses came into the great room accompanied by Myia.

“Erik’s a hero!” Ivar shouted in to Myia from the balcony.

“I’m not!” Erik shouted out to Ivar.  “I’m a fool if anything.”  And he directed the princesses out onto the balcony and grabbed Myia by the hand and led her to his room.

“What did Ivar say?” Myia said, as he led her into his room.

“I’ll tell you in here,” Erik said.  “I don’t want Ivar laughing too much.”  And he sat Myia on the bed, took the Kama Sutra book out of her hand and sat beside her and explained the events of the afternoon.

“I’d love to come to Maharashtra with you!” Myia said.  “You can meet my parents.”

“I might be a little old to meet your parents,” Erik said.

“I’ve told them all about you,” she said.  “Especially your age.  They are so impressed with what you do, and now you’re a hero!”

“Okay.  I’ll meet your parents.”

Myia was ecstatic and gave Erik a great hug.  “Now about the book,” Myia started, “it’s taken a bit of a turn on us.”  When Erik asked what she meant, she just offered to read a bit of the next chapter.

“There are two kinds of eunuchs,” she started, “those that are disguised as males, and those that are disguised as females.  Eunuchs disguised as females imitate their dress, speech, gestures, tenderness, timidity, simplicity, softness and bashfulness.  The acts that are done on the jaghana or middle parts of women, are done in the mouths of these eunuchs, and this is called Auparishtaka.  These eunuchs derive their imaginable pleasure, and their livelihood from this kind of congress, and they lead the life of courtesans.”  Myia looked down and said, “The book also says this type of pleasure performed by women is frowned upon.”

“I have visited many cultures where oral sex is treated the same as any other form of sex,” Erik said.  “I would certainly not frown upon it.”

“I was hoping you would say that because there is a later paragraph in the book that says it is okay.”  Myia continued reading.

“So much concerning eunuchs disguised as females.  Eunuchs disguised as males keep their desires secret, and when they wish to do anything, they lead the life of shampooers.  Under the pretence of shampooing, a eunuch of this kind embraces and draws towards himself the thighs of the man whom he is shampooing, and after this he touches the joints of his thighs and his jaghana, or central portions of his body.  Then, if he finds the lingam of the man erect, he presses it with his hands, and chaffs him for getting into that state.  If after this, and after knowing his intention, the man does not tell the eunuch to proceed, then the latter does it of his own accord and begins the congress.  If however he is ordered by the man to do it, then he disputes with him, and only consents at last with difficulty.”  Myia paused and then asked which type of eunuch she should play.

“Play the part of a eunuch disguised as a woman,” Erik said.  “You already have such a beautiful disguise.”  Then he mumbled to himself, “That’s what a lingam was.”

“The following eight things are then done by the eunuch,” Myia started, “one after the other: The nominal congress; Biting the sides; Pressing outside; Pressing inside; Kissing; Rubbing; Sucking a mango fruit; and Swallowing up.  At the end of each of these the eunuch expresses his wish to stop, but when one of them is finished, the man desires him to do another, and after that is done, then the one that follows it, and so on.”

Myia got up off the bed and knelt down in front of Erik with the book open on the bed beside him.  She unbuttoned his pants and pulled them off and threw them on the floor.  She then pulled off his underpants and threw them on the bed.  She then took his lingam up in her soft hands and looked over at the book.

“Number one: When, holding the man’s lingam with his hand,” and she added, “I’m playing the part of a eunuch disguised as a woman” just to remind him why the Sanskrit was written in the masculine, “and placing it between his lips, the eunuch moves it about his mouth and this is called the ‘nominal congress’.”  Myia bowed down and placed her lips around the tip of Erik’s lingam and stroked the crown with her lips and tickled the tip with her tongue.  She then stopped, looked at the book and said, “I would like to stop now.”

“Please continue,” Erik ordered.

“Number two: When, covering the end of the lingam with his fingers collected together like the bud of a plant or flower, the eunuch presses the sides of it with his lips, using his teeth also, it is called ‘biting the sides’.”  Myia bowed then looked up at Erik and added, “I’ll be gentle,” and she bowed back down and took the tip of his lingam in the fingertips of her right hand and began kissing the sides of his lingam with her lips, from tip to base, all the way around, and then she began to gently bite and nibble on the sides.  She stopped again and said, “I would like to stop now.”

“Please continue, or I shall have to spank your bottom” Erik ordered.  Myia looked up at him and smiled in encouragement at his added words, then she looked over at the book.

“Number three,” she started, “When, being desired to proceed, the eunuch presses the end of the lingam with his lips closed together, and kisses it as if he were drawing it out, it is called the ‘outside pressing’.”  Myia took Erik’s erect lingam up with both hands and began kissing the tip with a sucking motion and she did this for a long time, enjoying the swelling lingam as it grew thicker between her fingers.  She drew her knees tight together and stuck her bottom out and began rocking and convulsing as she kissed and sucked his tip and then she caught herself and stopped.  “I would like to stop now,” she whispered, breathing convulsively.

“Please continue or I’ll have you whipped,” Erik ordered.

“Number four,” she said, looking at the book, “When, being asked to go on, he puts the lingam further into his mouth, and presses it with his lips and then takes it out, it is called the ‘inside pressing’.”  Myia moved her hands down Erik’s lingam and kissed the tip and began sucking until she had drawn half of it into her warm wet mouth.  Erik convulsed a bit and leaned back on his arms.  Myia then took it out, but kissed the tip again and sucked it in once more.  She tightened up her knees once more and swayed her back and convulsed gently as she rocked back and forth several times, but caught herself once more.  She stopped, looked up at Erik with her face flushing most sensuously and said, “I would like to…”and she breathed.  “I would like to stop now,” she lied.

“Continue on,” Erik shuddered, “or I’ll have you flogged.”

Myia looked at the book.  “Number five,” she said, “When, holding the lingam in his hand, the eunuch kisses it as if he were kissing the lower lip, it is called ‘the kissing’.”  Myia grabbed Erik’s now throbbing lingam in both hands and began kissing it all over and then began kissing the tip and sucking it in and out again.  “Oh,” she breathed, “I like this part so much!” and she returned to step number four and sated her lust as she rocked back and forth once more.  Then she stopped and whispered, “I would like to stop now,” and she was out of breath.

“Please continue or I shall have us both flogged,” Erik stammered.  His lingam was over-pressured and ready to explode.  He had not seen it this large in decades.

Myia looked over at the book and read, “Number six: When, after kissing it, he then touches it with his tongue everywhere, and passes the tongue over the end of it, and this is called ‘rubbing’.”  

Myia looked over at the book and read, “Number six: When, after kissing it, he then touches it with his tongue everywhere, and passes the tongue over the end of it, and this is called “rubbing.”  Myia still had Erik’s lingam in her hands so, she just started licking it with her tongue in long luxurious laps, working her way up the sides to the tip and she licked the tip all around the heart shaped crown and began licking the end, but again she returned to step four and began suckle kissing the end and sucking it into her warm wet mouth and pulling it out again and once more she had her knees drawn up tight and the sway returned to her spine as she began rocking back and forth and a convulsing shudder ran through her body.  She felt Erik’s tip swell up in her mouth as if to explode and she deftly nipped the side of his lingam with her teeth.  “Not yet,” she whispered, exhausted.  “The best part is coming!”  Then she said, “I would like to stop now.”

“Please carry on or I will surely die,” Erik pleaded.

Myia looked at the book once more.  “Number seven: When, in the same way, he puts the half of it, meaning the lingam, into his mouth, and forcibly kisses and sucks it, this is called ‘sucking the mango’.”  Myia had tried this earlier in the morning and had sucked hard on a strip of mango fruit as if trying to suck the sweet flavour right out of the slice.  She grabbed the base of Erik’s lingam hard and jammed the rest of it into her mouth and she began sucking on it as if to draw the flavourful seed directly from Erik’s loin purse and she sucked it from the middle to the tip so fast and fiercely that the tip began swelling again and she had to give it another little nip.  “I must stop now,” she said.

“Please, please, please, please, please, please, please,” Erik cried.  “If you stop now, I am gone.”

Myia didn’t have to read the book for the last step.  “Number eight,” she breathed.  “And lastly, when, with the consent of the man, the eunuch puts the whole lingam into his mouth, and presses it to the very end, as if he were going to swallow it up, it is called ‘swallowing up’.”  Myia took her hands off Erik’s lingam and held his loin purse gently in her fingertips and jammed his lingam fully into her mouth until the tip hit the back of her throat and she swallowed it down the curve, but began gagging.  She took the massive erection out of her mouth and told Erik, “I practiced this on mango fruit this morning.  I can do this!” and she took his lingam back up into her mouth until it filled the back of her throat and she swallowed it around the curve and regurgitated it and she swallowed it down and sent it back up and swallowed it down until the tip swelled again and exploded in pulsing streams each time she swallowed it down and Erik put his hands on her head ever so gently and moaned each time he pulsed his semen into her throat.  She could feel his jewels convulsing in his loin purse as they ejected his spawning stream and she swallowed it all.  Erik collapsed back onto the bed and Myia collapsed onto his loins, his lingam still in her warm mouth.  It slowly withdrew from her throat and she caressed it with her tongue and she sucked it like a thumb.

After fifteen minutes of numb relaxation they began to stir.  “I think I did die,” Erik whispered, pulling Myia up onto the bed alongside him.  “I love it when you read me Sanskrit.  I love that book.”

Myia could feel the book under her thigh.  “I’d read you more but the next part is no good.”

“Is that the part about oral sex being bad?”

“Yes.  I don’t like that part.”

Erik began feeling between Myia’s wet thighs.  “Well, read it to me anyway.  I’m feeling a yoni here that is in need of some oral sex.”

“The book doesn’t cover oral sex on females,” Myia protested.

“I learned a bit about it in Frankia,” Erik said.  “Read me step six first, then the rest while I show you what I learned with Frankish girls in Gaul.”

Myia started reading while Erik started removing her skirt.  “Number six: When, after kissing it, he then touches it with his tongue everywhere, and passes the tongue over the end of it, and this is called “rubbing.”  Erik began lapping up her wetness as she read on.  “Striking, scratching, and other things may also be done during this kind of congress. The Auparishtaka is practiced only by unchaste and wanton women, female attendants and serving maids, or those who are not married to anybody, but who live by shampooing.

“There are also the following verses on the subject. ‘The male servants of some men carry on the mouth congress with their masters.  It is also practiced by some citizens, who know each other well, among themselves.  Some women of the harem, when they are amorous, do the acts of the mouth on the yonis of one another,” and Myia began convulsing as Erik began licking the ‘end of it’, but she continued reading the Sanskrit, “and some men do the same thing with women.  The way of doing this kissing of the yoni should be known from kissing the mouth.  When a man and woman lie down in an inverted order, with the head of the one towards the feet of the other and carry on this congress, it is called the ‘Congress of a Crow’.”  But Myia began convulsing again when Erik returned to ‘the end of it’ and she threw down the book and had three orgasms, one after the other.

“Are you sure your parents are okay with your being with me?” Erik asked Myia.  It was strange for Erik because he had never felt in need of someone’s approval.  But he had never met a woman who was book smart the way Myia was.  Her father was a prince and her mother was a medical alchemist, a healer.  And she wanted to be a healer and a philosopher of natural sciences and a cosmologist.

“My parents want to meet you.  They are so happy that I am going to have a child by you.  They had accepted the fact that I am a scholar and that my younger sister might have to be the one who marries, but now that you are gifting me with a Bhraman baby, they are so happy for the both of us.”

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

26.0  THE SEVEN ISLANDS OF MUMBA  (Circa 942)

“The Universe is but a Sine Wave uninterrupted.”

Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson

Seven Islands of Mumba

(942 AD)  Prince Erik and Myia joined the representatives of Ashaval who went to Maharashtra for the underwater breathers festival in the city of Mumba, the City of Seven Islands.  But it turned out that the representatives actually joined Prince Erik, for Ivar saw the invitation as an opportunity to expand Hraes’ trading so, Erik led a small trading fleet of longships and dhows from Ashaval south down the coast along the Sea of Arabia to Mumba, the City of Seven Islands.  “Prince Ivar’s home city, back in our land of Hraes’, is called Kiev, the City of Seven Hills,” Erik told Myia, as they entered the bay of Mumba.

“I thought Rome was the City of Seven Hills,” Myia replied.

“I’m sure they stole that byname from us,” Erik answered and they both laughed.  “But it is intriguing that we all follow the same religion and we all have seven hills or islands.”  Erik put his arm around Myia’s waist and drew her up against himself.

They spent a week in Mumba and if Ashaval was Ivar’s dream city, Mumba was Erik’s.  Myia insisted that they stay in her father’s palace near the Madh Fort that protected the bay of Mumba and the markets within.  Erik worked hard on the trading effort because he loved the city and wanted to make trade there an ongoing proposition, but he took time off to take Myia’s family to the underwater breathers competition.  The young couple that Erik had ‘saved’ won the endurance competition with an underwater time of almost four hours and a celebration was enjoyed at Myia’s family palace.  Myia’s parents were pleased that Myia had been chosen to be gifted with an Aesir baby and showed their gratitude by encouraging Erik and Myia to have sex at every opportunity that presented itself.  And, with the help of the Kama Sutras pages on oral sex, Erik found that Myia could entice him to rise to the occasion several times a day.

Once they were back in Gujarat, it was back to grind of learning to speak Hindi and to read Sanskrit.  As the day approached when the Hraes’ trading fleet was scheduled to return to Baghdad, Myia began to worry that she wasn’t pregnant, but, in the middle of one of their language lessons, Myia had to rush to the washroom to throw up, and she knew she was in the way.  For Erik’s test in writing Sanskrit, Myia told him she would dictate a story to him and he was to write it down correctly.

“The Prince had just slipped the bolt of the bedroom door locked,” she started, “and caught me up in his arms, lifted me from the ground, and, with his lips glued to mine, bore me trembling, panting, dying with soft fears and tender wishes, to the bed; where his impatience would not suffer him to undress me, but rather to quickly throw open my blouse.  My bosom was now bare, and rising in the warmest throbs, presented to his sight and feeling the firm hard swell of a pair of young breasts, such as may be imagined of a girl well through puberty, but never before handled: but even their soft proud bearing and pleasing resistance to the touch, could not bribe his restless hands from roving; but, giving them the loose, my skirt was soon taken up, and the stronger lower center of attraction laid open to tender invasion.  My fears, however, made me mechanically close my thighs; but the very touch of his hand insinuated between them, disclosed them, and opened a way for the main attack.  In the meantime, I lay fairly exposed to the examination of his eyes and hands, quiet and unresisting; which confirmed him the opinion he proceeded so cavalierly upon, that I was no novice in these matters, since I was well past marriageable age, nor had I said one thing to prepossess him of my virginity; and if I had, he would sooner have believed that I took him for a cully that would swallow such an improbability, than that I was still mistress of that darling treasure, that hidden mine, so eagerly sought after by the men of Maharashtra, and which they never dig for, but to destroy.  Being now too high wound up to bear a delay, he unbuttoned, and drawing out the lingam of love assaults, drove it currently, as at a readymade breach…then! then! for the first time, did I feel that stiff horn-hard gristle, battering against the tender part; but imagine to yourself his surprise, when he found, after several vigorous pushes, which hurt me extremely, that he made not the least impression.  I complained, but tenderly complained: “I cannot bear this” and, indeed, it hurt me!  Still he thought no more, than that being so bold, the largeness of his lingam (for few men could dispute size with him) made all the difficulty; and that possibly I had not been enjoyed by any so advantageously made in that part as himself: for still, that my virgin flower was yet uncropped, never entered into his head, and he would have thought it idling with time and words, to have questioned me upon it.  He tried again, still no admittance, still no penetration; but it hurt once more, and, while my extreme love made me bear extreme pain, almost without a groan, again, there was still no breech.  At length, after repeated fruitless trials, he lay down panting by me, kissed my falling tears, and asked me tenderly “what was the meaning of so much pain?”  I answered, with a simplicity framed to persuade, that he was the first man that ever served me so.  Truth is powerful, and it is not always that we do not believe what we eagerly wish.  My prince, already disposed by the evidence, of his senses to think my pretenses to virginity not entirely apocryphal, smothered me with kisses and begged me, in the name of love, to have a little patience, and that he would be as tender of me as he would be of himself.  Alas! it was enough I knew his pleasure to submit joyfully to him, whatever pain I foresaw it would cost me.  He now resumed his attempts in more form: first, he put one of the bed pillows under me, to give his lingam a more favourable angle of attack, and another under my head, in ease of it; then spreading my thighs, and placing himself between them, made ready; applying then the tip of his lingam to the slit of my yoni, into which he sought entrance, it was so small, he could scarce assure himself of its being rightly pointed.  He looked, he felt, and he satisfied himself: then he drove on with fury, its prodigious stiffness thus impacted, wedgelike, broke the union of those parts, and gained him just the insertion of the tip of it, lip deep; which being sensible of, he improved his advantage, and followed well his stroke, in a straight line, forcibly deepening his penetration; but it put me in such intolerable pain, from the separation of the sides of that soft passage by a hard thick body, I could have screamed out; but, as I was unwilling to alarm him, I held in my breath, and crammed the pillow, which had turned up over my face, into my mouth, and bit it through in the agony.  At length, the tender texture of that tract giving way to such fierce tearing and rending, he pierced somewhat further into me: and now, outrageous and no longer his own master, but borne headlong away by the fury and over-mettle of that member, now exerting itself with a kind of native rage, he broke in, carried all before him in his attack, and in one violent merciless lunge, sent it, imbrued, and reeking with virgin blood, up to the very hilt in me.  Then! then all my resolution deserted me: I screamed out, and fainted away with the sharpness of the pain; and, as he told me afterwards, on his drawing out, when emission was over with him, my thighs were instantly all in a stream of blood, that flowed from the wounded torn passage.  When I recovered my senses, I found myself undressed and a-bed, in the arms of the sweet relenting murderer of my virginity, who hung mourning tenderly over me, and holding in his hand a glass of wine, which, coming from the still dear author of so much pain, I could not refuse; my eyes, however, moistened with tears, and languishingly turned upon him, seemed to reproach him with his cruelty, and ask him, if such were the rewards of love.  But my Prince, to whom I was now infinitely endeared by his complete triumph over a maidenhead, where he so little expected to find one, in tenderness to that pain which he had put me to, in procuring himself the height of pleasure, smothered his exultation, and employed himself with so much sweetness, so much warmth, to sooth, to caress, and comfort me in my soft complaints, which breathed, indeed, more love than resentment, that I presently drowned all sense of pain in the pleasure of seeing him, of thinking that I belonged to him: he who was now the absolute disposer of my happiness, and, in one word, my fate. The sore was, however, too tender, the wound too bleeding fresh, for my Prince’s good-nature to put my patience presently to another trial; but as I could not stir, or walk across the room, he brought dinner to my bedside, where it could not be otherwise than my getting down the wing of a fowl, and two or three glasses of wine, since it was my adored Prince who both served, and urged them on me, with that sweet irresistible authority with which love had invested him over me.  After dinner, and everything but the wine was taken away, my Prince very impudently asked leave to join me in bed, and accordingly fell to undressing until completely naked, which I could not see the progress of without strange emotions of fear and pleasure.  He was now in bed with me the first time, the first time anybody had enjoined me in bed; but when thrusting his own naked body against my naked body, his naked glowing body to the fire that was mine… oh insupportable delight! oh! superhuman rapture! what pain could stand before a pleasure so transporting?  I felt no more the sting of my wounded yoni below; but, curling round him like the tendril of a vine, as if I feared any part of him should be untouched or unpressed by me, I returned his strenuous embraces and kisses with a fervour and gust only known to true love, and which mere lust never rises to.  Yes, even at this time, when all the tyranny of the passions were fully over, and that my veins roll no longer but a cold tranquil stream, the remembrance of those passages that most affected me in my youth, still cheered and refreshed me, and let me proceed.  My beauteous Prince was now glued to me in all the folds and twists that we could make our bodies meet in; when, no longer able to rein in the fierceness of refreshed desires, he gave his steed the head, and gently insinuating his thighs between mine, stopping my mouth with kisses of humid fire, made a fresh erection, and renewing his thrusts, pierced, tore and forced his way up the torn tender folds, that yielded him admission with a sting a little less severe than when the breach was first made.  I stifled my cries, and bore him with the passive fortitude of a heroine; soon his thrusts, more and more furious, cheeks flushed with a deeper scarlet, his eyes turned up in the fervent fit, some dying sighs, and an agonizing shudder, announced the approaches of that ecstatic pleasure, I was yet in too much pain to come in for my share of.  Nor was it till after a few enjoyments had numbed and blunted the sense of the sting , and given me to feel the titillating inspersion of balsamic sweets, drew from me the delicious return, and brought down all my passion, that I arrived at excess of pleasure through excess of pain.  But, when successive engagements had broke and inured me, I began to enter into the true unalloyed relish of that pleasure of pleasures, when the warm gush darts through all the ravished inwards; what floods of bliss! what melting transports! what agonies of delight! too fierce, too mighty for nature to sustain?  How often, when the passion and tumult of my senses had subsided, after the melting flow of my Prince subsided, have I, in a tender meditation, asked myself coolly the question, if it was possible in nature for any of its creatures to be so happy as I was?”

Erik quickly finished writing his Sanskrit and looked up at Myia and said, “I’m so sorry I caused you so much pain,” and he made it up to her by throwing her on the bed and focking her again.  “You caused me so much pain,” he said lying beside her afterwards.  “I was hard the first time you said I had the tip of my lingam in you.  I could hardly write after that, I was so hot.  Don’t mark me too hard,” he pleaded and he threw himself naked upon her mercies.

A week before the Hraes’ traders were to return to Baghdad, Erik took another small trading fleet to Mumba and the waves of the Arabian Sea made Myia’s morning sickness worse but she recovered in the afternoons and the two would retire into the rear cabin of their dhow to spend more time together before they were to part.  Erik stayed in the princely palace, with Myia’s parents, and had talks with her father about establishing a Hraes’ station and store in Mumba.  It was to be a coordinated start-up with Ivar’s planned station and store in Ashaval.  “Once our baby is born,” Erik started, “I would like you to start your studies with the Alchemists Guild of Gujarat.  We already have several of their alchemists doing research in Tmutorokan and I shall be bringing some of our Aesir alchemists to study in Gujarat next trading season.  But only if that is your wish.”

Myia hugged him and told him it was her desire and she gave him a longingly sensual kiss and whispered in his ear, “It’s the ‘Congress of Crows’ next year.”  Erik took his leave and returned to Ashaval in time to attend the Maharaja’s farewell banquet.

“Rajan is a bit miffed,” Ivar told his father.  “He wants all trade to go through Gujarat.”

“Mumba was founded by Gujaratis,” Erik started.  “It’s two stores!  Two stations and two stores!”

“I know.  I know.  And it’s not like he hasn’t seen our stores before, “ Ivar said.  “He’s been in Hedeby and Jelling and Liere.”

“Maybe that’s the problem?” Erik redearthed.  “He’s seen our growth.  He’s a trader and he fears you.  You have to convince him that it’s only two stores.  If that underwater breathers thing hadn’t happened…if Myia hadn’t happened it might only be one store.  One store in Ashaval.  But now it’s two stores, both in Jat cities.  That’s not asking too much,” Erik stated, staring out at his men on the beach below.  They were packing up, getting ready to go.  Again, some wouldn’t be leaving.  There were Jat women wandering the beach with their men.  Some of them would be going.

“I’ll convince him,” Ivar said.  “At the feast tonight I’ll convince him.  Just make sure you play along with me.”

“I’ll try to keep up,” Erik laughed.  “Now I want you to start taking this drug once a day, every day.”  He passed a pouch of powder to Ivar.  “You can take it with water or wine, if you wish, and by the time you get back to Kiev you’ll be as randy as a rooster.  You’ll have Helga knocked up in no time!”

The farewell feast was in the palace dining hall that opened out to the river and the tables continued out from the hall and onto the river beach sand.  Torches on poles lit up the whole scene outside the hall and candelabras overhead lit up inside.  The sun was setting in the west, behind the hills of Ashaval and the lights of the estates that ran up the hills sparkled like diamonds in the shadows as the sun dipped below the crests.  Entertainers were playing their instruments in front of the hall’s many opened doors, entertaining those within and those without.  Ivar and Erik were sitting at the head table on either side of the Maharaja and his wife and, while Erik was telling her about his experience with the underwater breathers of Gujarat, Ivar was talking to Rajan about opening two Hraes’ stations in India instead of just one.  Erik offered to introduce the queen to the couple who had won the competition in Mumba.  He had invited them to the farewell feast and he took her to the next table to visit with them.

“I’m so glad my father has found a woman here who interests him,” Ivar said.

“Yes.  He sure has taken a liking to Myia,” Raj responded.  “It’s too bad she’s not a local princess.”

“Mumba was founded by Jats from Gujarat,” Ivar reminded him.  “And at least there are no alchemist guilds there.”

“You don’t like the alchemists?” Raj asked.

“I like them, but my father gets too involved with them.  In Tmutorokan that’s all he does is study and profess with them.  They regard him as a prophet there.  He helps them communicate with Zoroaster.”

“But Zoroaster has been dead for two thousand years!”

“I know!  They have ceremonies and he goes back and talks with Zoroaster, and sometimes he journeys to the future and talks with alchemists there.  Now he has had this vision of a new horde of Huns riding out of the east and destroying all before them.”

“Like Attila of old?”

“Like Atli, but much worse,” Ivar said.  “He says they will burn my City of Seven Hills, Kiev.”

“When will they do this?”

“Three hundred years from now.”

“Oh…I thought it was imminent.  Who’s to say what will happen three hundred years from now.”

“Exactly!” Ivar exclaimed.  “That is why I was glad he found a City of Seven Islands, Mumba.  It’s hard to burn islands.  He’s finally got his head back into the family business.  Perhaps he sees the seven islands as a sign that his vision is wrong.  It’s bad for business.  And Mumba has no alchemists’ guilds.”  Ivar shook his head in relief.

“Let me think about the two stores a bit more,” Rajan said.  “Keep in mind I only agreed to one and try to be patient.”

Later in the evening Ivar left Rajan alone at the table with his father.  “Ivar tells me you’ve had visions of future Huns coming out of the east,” Raj began.  “Hordes of Huns that burn your City of Seven Hills, Kiev.”

“Yes,” Erik replied.  “They come off the Mongolian Plain, but that won’t happen for another three hundred years.  So, we won’t have to worry about it.”

“Do they attack India as well?”

“Yes.  Almost all of India.”

“Gujarat?”

“I’m not sure.  When I get back to Tmutorokan I could revisit my vision and see.  I wasn’t as knowledgeable of India as I now am, so the Indian part of it wasn’t clear to me.  With what I know now of your beautiful land and people, I will be able to make better sense of it.”

“Is there anything we can do to stop them?”

“I’m working on it,” Erik reassured Raj.

At the end of the evening, Maharaja Rajan announced that there would be two Hraes’ Trading Company stations and stores opening in India the next trading cycle.  One in Ashaval and one in Mumba.  Ivar didn’t know that the prince of princes of Gujarat funded the Alchemists Guild there and had great faith in their astrological work.  If the Alchemists Guild put great stock in the visions of Erik ‘Bragi’ Ragnarson, then so did he.

It was an uneventful return trip the Hraes’ merchant fleet completed, first rejoining the main fleet in Baghdad, where Ivar first felt the stirrings of his father’s drug, then linking up with the fleet from Khwarizm and Cathay, when Ivar started feeling stirrings all the time, and then sailing through the rivers of Armenia and Georgia to Phasis and the Scythian Sea coast, by which time Ivar could go no further.  He bid his father goodbye and the main fleet slipped into the sea while Ivar’s small fleet of warships stopped in Phasis so he could visit his estate and the consul’s wife there.  She had given birth to Ivar’s son while he was in India and she felt ready for a romp with her patron, but she never expected the pent up fury of the ride that he gave her.  It was a full week of sex in the bedroom and sex in the kitchen and sex in the great room and she had a Hraes’ store to run in Phasis while Ivar slept and recovered and then it was sex in the woods and sex on the lake and the wild rough sex she had started with devolved to a whip and whimper sex as she wore out and then Ivar was gone.  Two weeks later, the consul’s wife was throwing up in a washroom and she knew she was pregnant again, and Ivar was in Kiev eyeing his wife Helga.

“What’s gotten into you?” Helga said.  “You’re as randy as a rooster!”  She was exhausted, having spent the last hour focking with her husband.  “I missed you,” she said, “and your timing is perfect.  We have three full days.”  She caught her breath and she attacked him.

“I was on fire for you,” Ivar said as they rested after the second round.  “I’m going to overwinter with you, here in Kiev.  We’re going to make a son together, come hell or high water.”

“How went the trading?” she asked.

“Trading was great, but let’s not talk business.  Not until my lust is sated.  Your lips are like bellows…pump up my love.”  And Helga put her lips around his cock and sucked him hard again.  Then she straddled his hips and rode upon his steed until he gave up his seed, once more.  “We’ll be doing this all winter,” she warned him.  “Are you up for it?”

“Your lips are my bellows.  You tell me.”

“Oh,” she whispered, “I’m going to ride you so hard, and put you up so wet!”

That was the first afternoon Ivar was back in Kiev and his timing was perfect for making a baby boy, but it wasn’t perfect for running a trading empire and the knocks were piling up at the bedroom door.  “I’m trying to knock up my wife and my attendants are trying to knock down my door,” Ivar complained as he threw his clothes back on.  He went out into the hall and announced that his wife was pregnant and called for three days of celebrations and feasting in Kiev.  The whole merchant fleet was to be entertained and provided for during the festivities, and he went back to bed with his wife.  They could hear festive preparations being made in the main hall of the palace and soon they could hear musicians playing out in the hall and the palace filled with the smell of sweet meats and strong ales.

“Let’s go out and see what is going on,” Helga whispered, listening to the noise out in the hall.  Servants were no longer knocking at the door and all interruptions had ceased.  “I think there’s feasting going on in our hall!  Get dressed, Ivar, and let’s see what is going on,” she said, slipping into a silk gown.  Helga touched up her hair and makeup and the couple slipped out of the master bedroom and stalked down the hallway and entered the main hall.  A few of the feasters saw the expecting couple and began applauding them as they walked to their highseat.

“I told them you were pregnant,” Ivar whispered as they sidled into their seats.

“You what?” Helga said, sitting down.  “I’m not pregnant.”

Ivar sat down beside her.  “Don’t start our first three days with negativity.  You’re pregnant.  I’m sure of it!”  A serving girl brought Ivar ale and served Helga milk.  “See…even the girl thinks you’re pregnant.”

“Only because you said I am!”

“Only because I believe you are.  We could stop now and never have sex again and you will still be throwing up two weeks from now…”

“I don’t throw up.”

“But I think you are right in thinking that we should keep working on this until we’re sure.  Let’s finish our ale and milk and we can have our highseat spread served us in our room.”

As the festive couple sat and drank, people would walk up to their highseat and make wonderful toasts.  Poets came forward and recited warlock blessings and musicians serenaded the couple.  “Perhaps we could eat here,” Helga said, and food was soon served up.  The couple ate as more people offered up praises and blessings, but once the meal was finished, they returned to their room and had more ‘assurance sex’ as Ivar called it.

This carried on for the next two days, but once the feasting was over and the sex was over, it was back to business.  Ivar and Helga went through accounts and balanced books.  Chests of gold were collected and chests of silver were paid out.  The Hraes’ Trading Company ground out gold for Prince Ivar just as it had done for his grandfather, King Frodi.  The Fenja and Menja of Gardar, the land of forts, garnered gold for all who dared its wild waterways.  Soon the merchant fleets returned to their homelands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Normandy, Northumbria, Ireland and Iceland.

Once the fleets had left Kiev, Ivar was champing at the bit.  He was taking the potion his father had given him, daily, and he couldn’t have sex with Helga because she claimed she wasn’t pregnant and to have sex beyond their three day window was to risk having a girl instead of Svein.  And they had been planning for Svein for many, perhaps too many, years.  One day a message arrived from Prince Erik about some news he had regarding the Romans and their General Kourkouas.  He had been seen in Armenia.  Ivar told Helga that he was going to Gardariki to talk strategy and new ships with his father but he sailed, instead, to Phasis and slept a week with the consul’s wife who was now showingly pregnant.  He stopped in at Gardariki on his way back and spent several days there discussing strategy and a new ship design.  Kourkouas was supposed to still be fighting the Caliphate in the Levant so, having him spotted meeting clandestinely with his own Armenian people in Baghdad controlled territory would not likely bode well for the Hraes’ and their newest trade route.  The day he was leaving, Ivar met Queen Silkisif, who was coming to meet with her foster-father, Erik.  They chatted a while and the three of them had lunch together and when Ivar left, Silkisif once more told Erik, “He has Oddi’s eyes.”

Ivar made it back to Kiev in time for his three day sex foray with Helga.  She still maintained that she was not pregnant but the only thing she was correct about was that she never threw up.  So, once more Ivar was out in the cold once the three days were up.  This time Ivar arranged for a message to arrive from Gardariki and he sailed off to meet the consul’s wife in Phasis, but at this point in her pregnancy she was throwing up all the time.  Ivar cut his visit short and decided to visit his father to see what could be done about the drug he was taking, but while he was on his way, he decided to visit the city of Tmutorokan first. 

“My father told me to never come here,” Ivar said, looking down at his feet.

“Why would he tell you that?” Queen Silkisif asked.

“He knows I like my sex rough.  I guess he thinks there could be something between us.  I was hoping there could be.”

“He told me you raped women,” Silkisif said sternly.  “Do you?”

“Perhaps he learned that I raped a woman once, but I thought she was one of our slaves and as soon as I found out she wasn’t, I stopped.  I was twelve and curious.”

“You know I was married to your brother Oddi,” Silkisif started, “and he gave me two sons.”

“I knew them both and they were both fine men.”

“Your brother promised me a daughter, but he died before we could see that promise to fruition.  Would you like some wine?”

When Ivar said yes, Queen Silkisif had a servant bring a bottle and two glasses and she took them off the tray and she put them on Ivar’s shield and she led Ivar’s carriers to her master suite and had them set the shield upon her bed and she sat down beside him and sent the men out of the room.  “You have Oddi’s eyes,” she said almost dreamily as she poured them both some wine.  They talked about Ivar’s brother as they drank wine on the bed and Ivar knew that there could be no rough sex after that.  Oddi would never have approved.  As they got intimate Ivar asked Silki, that was her intimate name, to make love to him as she had to his older brother.  It was gentle and loving, not what one might expect from the world’s greatest warrior, but, perhaps because he was the greatest, he would do just that.

Oddi spent a week with Queen Silkisif in Tmutorokan and he treated her like he had always treated Queen Helga, lovingly and preciously.  The night before he was to leave, Silki told Eyfur a story.  “Your brother almost didn’t marry me,” she began.  “He pursued me and wanted to impress me and I told him that I was very impressed by him and then he met my foster-father, Prince Erik, who had just been recognized as my father, King Olmar’s, grandson by a daughter of his first marriage, so we were both directly of King Olmar’s blood and Prince Oddi knew that he was Prince Erik’s long lost son, Helgi, by his first wife, Gunwar.  He realised that I was his aunt and our bloodlines were too close for marriage under the Christian faith, which we were both practicing.  We were both broken hearted.

“When I poured my broken heart out to my father, who was near death by then, he told me that Prince Erik’s mother was actually his adopted daughter.  A baby had been given him by a nurse from Volsunga and he had taken the voluptuous nurse as a concubine and had raised the baby girl as his second daughter, side by side with his first.  When the Khazars, the Huns came and demanded a daughter of his for their king, he had sent off the girl he had adopted.  ‘I had always loved them both equally,’ he told me, ‘but when it came to hard choices I let blood decide their fates and I gave my adopted daughter to them, letting my love for her turn from blood to water.’  The gods punished my father, because when his only daughter married, she died in childbirth along with her baby.  He was punished again when he learned that Erik’s mother, who had been kidnapped by Vikings on the way to the Hun king, had died in childbirth as well, but Erik had survived and my father finally admitted that Erik was his grandson, but he never told Erik that he was his adopted grandson because he was so ashamed he had sent his mother off to the Huns.  ‘Helgi is not too closely related to you by blood,’ he told me, ‘but before you tell him this,’ and he continued very slowly, ‘there is something that I must tell you, and, I’d be wise to swear you to secrecy before I told you, but I can only ask that you consider it.’  I was very anxious about this, but I agreed to consider secrecy.  ‘I only took your mother as my concubine,’ he began and my jaw dropped, ‘because I knew there was something special about the baby girl she was giving me.  Your mother was the daughter of a powerful Volsung witch and she would not be transporting a baby girl to safety in Kiev unless there was a powerful reason for it.  When my first daughter died in childbirth, my first wife died of grief soon after.  Your mother became my “primus wife” and we grew to love each other and were blessed late in life with you.  I had always asked your mother what had been so special about the baby she’d brought me and finally, on her deathbed, she told me.  The baby girl she had named Asif was the daughter of Princess Brunhild, she was the half-sister of Princess Aslaug, whom Jarl Heimer had snuck through Kiev years earlier to escape the Huns.  Jarl Heimer died taking little Aslaug, the daughter of King Sigurd ‘Fafnirsbane’, to the north to escape the same fate that I had agreed to deliver Princess Asif into…a marriage with a Hunnish king.  I was devastated with the simultaneous loss of your mother and the revelation she had left me with.  So, Prince Erik and Duke Rollo are more closely related than the half-brothers they thought they were, for on the maternal side, their mothers are both daughters of Brunhild, Aslaug through love, and Asif, it turns out, through rape.  They were both the wives of King Ragnar Lothbrok but, even more, were sisters who didn’t even know it.  My dear little Asif didn’t die all alone in the north.  She died in the hands of her half-sister.’  But what my father didn’t know was that she had died by the hands of her half-sister, Princess Aslaug, the witch and healer Kraka, who had sacrificed the slave captive Boddi so that her baby, Erik, might live.  She had been jealous of the love that King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ had shown for this dark haired young captive he had returned from the east with.  Had she known that Boddi was her half-sister, Princess Asif, her decision would likely have gone the other way.  Prince Erik owes his life to secrets.  Or perhaps to the gods.”

“How do you know that part?” Ivar asked her gently.  He sensed she was near tears now.

“Your father Erik, my foster-father, has consoled me over the years, or perhaps we console each other would be more appropriate, but our love for each other has grown quite inappropriate and has pushed the bounds of foster-father and daughter and while keeping my father’s secret, I asked your father, after we’d had sex, about how his mother had died.  He told me that Kraka had to make a choice that mid-wives sometimes do and she’d chosen to save the baby over the mother.  Ragnar, himself, had told Erik that there’d been jealousy between the two women and Erik, himself, suspected that the jealousy had saved his life.  It was a guilt he carries to this day, just as the prophesy of death by snake bite had been a burden for him, until it swept his son, your brother, away instead.”

“Why are you telling me this now?” Ivar asked softly.

“Because I love you, Ivar.  And I want us to share the pain of the Snake Prophesy with each other and I want to unburden myself of this as well.  I love your father, and I share the loss of Helgi with him as well, but I cannot share this with him.  It is far too sad.  It breaks my heart and I fear it would Erik’s too, so let me get back to the marriage before I start crying.  I wanted to keep the secret, but, even more, I wanted to marry Helgi so I proposed to him.  I told him that I learned that my mother was the daughter of an Aesir witch and my father still followed Perun and that I would be willing to revert from Christianity to Aesir if he would do likewise so that we could be married.  Helgi laughed and told me that he had kept his fingers crossed during his baptism so, he would certainly be willing to take me up on my offer and, after my father died, we were married.  I miss your brother Helgi so much!” and Silki did begin to cry.  She crawled under Ivar’s arm and they both cried for Oddi.  The two lovers slept all night in each other’s arms and in the morning they made love and broke fast together before Ivar sailed off to Kiev.

This time, Ivar got back in plenty of time for Helga’s three day window, but he need not have worried about it.  Helga was pregnant and her three day window was out the window.  “Good!” Ivar exclaimed.  “I don’t have to wait for the three days!  We can have sex right now,” and he swept her off her highseat and onto his shield and he took her as they were going down the hallway, before he could get her to their bedroom and then his men put his shield on the bed and he took her again in the bedroom.  “It’s assurance sex,” Ivar claimed.  “Thank the gods that you’re pregnant, but I want to make sure.  I want to be assured that you are pregnant.”

“I can assure you I’m pregnant,” Helga laughed.  “I think I was pregnant when you first said I was.”

“I knew it!  Something just felt right about it.”

Over the winter Ivar was having many new ships built.  They had lost a lot of ships and men to Greek fire in two separate attacks so, the new ships were being equipped with the new gravity trebuchets and rawhide sheepskin awnings.  They were also adding rams to the bows of the ships and reinforcing them with iron.  Roman ships no longer had rams because catapults and ballista had made them obsolete, but the Greek fire had proved so effective that rams were to be used in conjunction with vinegar soaked awnings to attack the fireships with.  And tons of tonstone was being brought out of Sweden as ammunition for the new trebuchets.  The much denser stone would theoretically be able to shatter single planks in the hulls of the heavy Roman dromon warships and Erik had come up with a new design of ram that rode below the water surface and broke the waves in a way that actually allowed the ship to be rowed faster even though it weighed more.

When spring came, Helga was well into her pregnancy.  She felt it was a boy and her healers agreed, divining that it was a boy as well.  The Hraes’ merchant fleet soon arrived and Helga saw her husband off.  Everything seemed fine, but Ivar was taking the Kievan legions with them to protect the fleet along the new trade route and she began to worry about her husband.

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

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

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

Roman Midwife at Work

(943 AD)  The merchant fleets of the north began arriving early, first the Danish fleet, then the Swedes, followed by the Norwegians and Icelanders, the Angles of Northumbria, the Normans of Frankia and lastly the Irish.  The City of Kiev was full up to the rafters and the Dnieper held two thousand ships within the quays of Kiev.  The Pechenegs that ran the Dnieper portages had never seen so many ships and the Greeks of Cherson bolted up their city gates until the throngs of longships had passed.  But one Kievan Christian ship did not turn east across the Scythian Sea, but continued on south sailing past Constanza and Messembria.  It was going to Constantinople under a white shied of truce with an embassy that was to protest the inhumane use of Greek fire and the crucifixion of captured Christians, which was against Roman laws of the time.  The ambassadors were also instructed to plant an idea in the emperors’ ears, that General Kourkouas took credit for a false victory in Nicomedia because he has eyes on the throne.

The northern merchant fleet was soon joined by the merchant fleet of Tmutorokan, adding another five hundred ships to the already massive flotilla as it passed by, hugging the north coast of the Scythian Sea.  Soon it reached the city of Phasis and turned inland.  The Rioni River seemed to swell at the influx of ships as though the billowing sails were drawing salty furrows up into the Georgian hills.

“I’m stopping here to visit my Roman wife,” Ivar told his father, “and I’ll have to tell the store start-up crew here to prepare to go to India.”

“Good luck with that,” Erik shouted from his ship.  “They were supposed to go back to Denmark after the Tiflis start-up.  And give my best to the consul’s wife!” he laughed as he waved goodbye to his son.  Erik had his men rowing while sailing to catch up with the warships at the vanguard of the fleet.  Two Hraes’ legions were being transported in those ships, one from Kiev and one from Tmutorokan, and a combined legion of cataphracts.  The cataphracts were to secure the Rioni-Kura portage and ride patrols between Phasis and Tiflis and one legion of foot would be stationed in Tiflis to protect the city.  The second legion would accompany the fleet as it passed by Bardha, and scouting parties would be sent into the city to look for Romans from General Kourkouas’ legions of the Levant.  Then the legion would melt into the merchant fleet and embed themselves inauspiciously amongst the merchants as a security precaution.

A week later, Ivar and a half dozen warships sailed from Phasis to the Rioni-Kura portage and were assisted by the last of the people from Tiflis, as they packed up their gear to await the return portage.  Ivar took some of them in his ships to save them from walking.  He stopped at Tiflis for a day to see how his hot spring had turned out and was very pleased with the result.  There were crowds of visitors in the city and many of them were using the hot spring.  He even soaked in it for a few hours and spent the night in the inn he had stayed at with his father.

The next day they were sailing past Bardha and they must have caught the locals by surprise because they could see an army training in a huge field a mile from the river.  Ivar pulled out his optical scope and surveyed the scene.  He could see that it was likely local militias in training, but it looked as though they were being trained by Roman officers and legionnaires.  “General Kourkouas!” Ivar hissed under his breath.  “I know he is behind this,” he said to himself.  Ivar had his men unfoot their masts and they rowed east past Bardha, which was too far inland to be seen, even with the scope his father had given him.  Once they were well past the city, they reset their masts and soon the river turned south and Ivar saw a small river entering the Kura from the Bardha side.  One of his officers told him it was called Turtle Creek and it flowed from Bardha.  He had his fleet sail single file up the creek, but it soon narrowed too much for maneuverability so, they rowed back to the Kura estuary and hid the ships amongst the reeds there.

Leaving most of his men to guard the ships, Ivar took a party of fifty south to scout the land.  They were moving under the cover of tall reeds when they saw ten men leading a large creature behind them.  Most had never seen such a beast before, but Ivar knew from his time in India that it was a war elephant, because he saw a wooden tower on the brute’s back.  The men training with the elephant soon heard a horn blast and one of them tied the foot of the beast to a small stake in the ground and they left, and joined a militia group off in the distance for lunch.  Ivar’s men went to the elephant and tried to lead it away, but it stuck its head down, curled its trunk and refused to move.  Fifty men pulled on ropes that were already around the brute’s head, but they could not move it.  Ivar wondered how a thin rope on a stake could be used to restrain the beast when fifty men couldn’t budge it.  Then he thought that perhaps these people had some trick to control and guide the animal around.  So, Ivar left ten men to hide in the reeds and watch the men in training when they returned and he led forty men further along the reeds to spy on the militia group in training.  As they progressed along the reeds, Ivar took out his scope and studied many more groups of men being trained by Roman officers and the legionnaires looked to be from the same units he had faced in Nicomedia.  They were officers under the command of General Kourkouas.  Ivar and his men followed Turtle Creek all the way to Bardha and found militia units in training all the way to the city wall.  The Hraes’ returned to their men near the elephant and the men explained to Ivar how the elephant was controlled.  They has seen the men take hold of the beast’s reins and place them on either side of its neck then feed them through a hole in a cross-beam of the tower, and by pulling up the creature’s head with a pulley, they controlled it.

Soon all the men in training heard a horn sound and they began returning within the city walls.  The ten men training with the elephant stripped the tower off its back and set it down nearby for the mahout to sleep in.  Only one small man, the mahout, stayed with the elephant and the Hraes’ quickly overpowered and captured him.  But with the tower sitting on the ground, they no longer knew how to control the beast.

Ivar talked in Hindi to the small man who cared for the elephant and learned that the elephant was in musth and was too dangerous to keep in the city for a few days because it could go into a rampage and kill people.  Ivar also learned that there was only the one beast in Bardha and had been gifted to the city by a maharaja and that the Romans now wanted it trained for war.  The mahout led the elephant down the creek to the estuary where their ships were hidden, but it was too large for the longships and could rampage if forced aboard.  Ivar asked the small man who the Romans were planning to attack, but the man said he didn’t know, only that the Romans were from Jerusalem and were training the locals to attack somebody nearby, perhaps the people lording it over Tiflis.  Ivar told the Indian slave that he was freeing him and would take him to Gujarat or Maharashtra, whichever he preferred, but he could not stay here.  He also explained to the elephant handler that he could not take the elephant along, nor could he leave it in the hands of the Roman enemy.  The Indian understood and, though he loved the beast, he longed to return to India and he tried to remember what freedom was like.  He sat quietly in Ivar’s shield ship while he was bound up in the stern.

“I wanted to kill the elephant,” Ivar started, “but I wanted the beast to fall in the Kura River so we could tow him behind us.  Then the Romans will never find him and know what has happened to their secret weapon.  We tied the small rope around the beast’s front foot and drove the stake into the riverbank.  I passed out spears to six of my officers, six spears each, and they surrounded the creature and stabbed five of their spears into the wet sand and charged the beast with their sixth.  They thrust the long razor tips into him, going for the lungs, heart and belly and he staggered from the strikes, but he did not go down.  Nor did he fly into a rage.  He just turned away from the thrusts and, as he circled, my men had to jump back or be hit by his tusks or his tail.  They pulled their fifth spears out of the earth and charged him again, thrusting six blades into his flanks and shoulders and still the elephant did not fall, but turned again, this time erratically and the spear butts sticking out of him slapped down some of my officers, knocking one of them into the river.  Five of them grabbed their fourth spears and the elephant looked to run, but its foot reached the end of the rope and a slight tug from the stake stopped it.  My men charged from the sides once more, going for the heart, lungs and viscerals.”  Ivar took a long drink of wine.  He was in Baghdad, in the Caliph’s palace drinking with his dad and Rajan.  He waited until they were about to ask something and then said, “They drove their spears deep and the elephant dropped to its knees, but made no sound other than its laboured breathing.  Deep red blood spilled across the river sand and the blood was the colour of death.  But the brute got back up and shook the spears as if to toss them back at his attackers then he staggered away from the river and slapped the men on that side with his spear butts, knocking two of them into the mud.  ‘Drive it towards the river,’ the men watching shouted.  I ordered them to be quiet.  They were making more noise than the dying elephant.  Four men grabbed their third spears and charged.  The two from the rear thrust their spears in his flanks, driving him forward and the two at the front planted their spear butts into the riverbank as the beast fell forward and impaled himself upon them.  His front legs collapsed under him, but his rear legs remained straight leaving his haunches skyward at an odd angle.  He lashed out with his trunk as he fell and knocked both attackers before him into the river.  For the one man, it was his second time in the drink.

“The elephant was struggling to breathe and his rear legs were pawing at the ground, driving him forward through the wet sand and towards the river.  Four men grabbed their second spears and drove them deep into the beast, but he still breathed on though his rear legs did finally collapse out behind him.  All six men then pulled their first spears out of the sand and drove them deep into the brute and he stopped breathing for a bit, then started up again.  I had my bearers carry me forward and I pulled Tyrfingr from her sheath and, in an act of mercy, I swung the famed blade at his neck in a downward arc that did not stop until it bit into the earth below the elephant.  The beast was dead, its head severed from its body.  We put the head in my ship and we used the rope on its front leg to tow the beast out into the river.  At first the beast would not budge, so I had my men pour buckets of water onto the sand and it soon slid into the water.  We used more water to erase any signs of the killing of an elephant and we towed the body behind us as we progressed down the river.  I did not want General Kourkouas to know what had happened to his secret weapon!  When we turned into the Araks tributary we cut the body free so it could make its way to the Caspian Sea.”

“What did you do with the head?” Rajan asked excitedly.

“Why I sold it in the Blue Market of Baghdad this morning,” Ivar stated.  “I don’t know if my customer wanted it for the ivory or for mounting.”

“Have you told the Caliph about General Kourkouas yet?” Erik asked.

“I’m not sure if we should,” Ivar answered.  “I’d like to take care of Kourkouas myself and save our Caliph the trouble.”

“That might be best,” Erik said and Raj nodded in agreement.

Much later, in Ashaval, Erik told Ivar about a vision he’d had while hanging nine days on the life tree, Yggdrasil.  They were sitting on their balcony sipping wine and watching their men unpack their awnings below.  “I saw giants from Giantland, during the age of ice, killing a great wooly elephant and they did it much like your men, but the spears they used were a foot long and they stuck them in a long handle and would stab the beast and the foot long section would stay in the beast and they pulled another foot long section out of a waist pouch, stuck it into the handle and pierced the beast again with it, then took out another from their pouch and a group of giants would keep doing this until the giant beast was dead.  I thought they had invented these nodularized spears so they didn’t have to carry six long spears at a time, but now I think they just got tired of the elephants slapping them down with their own spear butts!”

Ivar was laughing hard when there was a knock on their door.  It was two young Jat princesses looking for Ivar and one very pregnant Jat princess named Myia looking for Erik.  “You’re late!” she said to her prince.  “Thus, I am late,” and she patted her swollen belly.  Erik got up and led her into his bedroom.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “I didn’t know you were in Ashaval!”  He pulled back the silk sheets from the bed and he sat her down and undressed her.  “Please, lie down and rest.”  Erik covered her with silk and went around to the other side of the bed, undressed, and joined her under the covers.  He watched the radiant glow of her face and she smiled up at him softly as he cradled her in his arms and she quickly fell asleep.  Only with her next to him did he realize how much he had missed her.  She worked so hard to be treated as an equal, as a scholar, as a woman, but she was so much more than that.  Man created life, but woman took that seed within her and gave it her all: she gave it a little part of her, she kept it within her and protected it as it grew, it bathed in her warmth as she sheltered it from a cold and hostile universe, she kept it in a perfect and pristine environ and it never wished to leave, but leave it must and Erik knew that it would leave soon, thrust out into a world so cold that no one was safe, be they born king or slave.  He had seen them die as children, royals because they were not wanted, slaves because they were not needed, and everything in between.  He had seen so many young men dying on the battlefield and calling out for their mothers, for that place of perfection their souls had remembered, the perfection of that swollen belly that Myia now wore so well.  She was so much more than equal.  She slept with the gods now and on the morrow, she would give the world a gift that no man ever can and we shall all watch and wish we were her equal.

The next day, Erik told Ivar that he would not be attending to the market and would be staying in with Myia.  That afternoon her water broke and Erik sent for the birthing healers.  They arrived at the prince’s bedroom just as the baby was crowning and Erik saw a tuft of wet Scythian hair, poking out towards the light, before the two older women chased him from the room.  “But I want to cut the cord,” Erik complained.  And the healers promised to call him in for the cutting.  Erik sat at a table in the great room and placed his knife upon the burled oak of the table.  It was a patterned Damascus knife he had made in his youth under the tutelage of Brak, a metallurgical alchemist from Damascus, and even Brak admitted that it was a beautiful blade.  Erik had made it in dedication to the gods for allowing him to make it off a frozen lake that had started cracking under his feet, under his foot-blades of the dwarves, when he was halfway across it.  He didn’t believe in the gods, preferring to put his faith in his arm and in science, but it’s an easy thing to mentally promise the gods a knife when one loves forging them anyway.  And now he would dedicate it to his child.

There was a gentle tapping at the door and Rajan walked into the room.  “I heard it was happening,” he said as he sat down across from Erik.  “Is it happening?”

“It is happening, my friend,” Erik answered.  “Thank you for coming, and thank you for gifting me with an old maid of eighteen almost a year ago.”

“Anything for our Aesir guests,” Raj said, bowing modestly.

A baby cried out from the bedroom and a healer came to the door and called for Erik.  He grabbed the knife off the table, spat on it and wiped it with his shirt as he entered the bedroom with Raj following at a distance.  The other healer held the baby in one arm and had her free hand wrapped around the umbilical cord.  When she was satisfied that the baby was breathing on its own and all blood flow through the cord had ceased, she passed the cord to Erik and told him to cut it and she touched the place she wanted it cut at.  The blade was so keen that Erik laid the cord upon the edge and when he pulled the knife away, the cord fell away in two.  Erik could see Myia watching him and smiling softly.  “It’s a girl,” the healer announced, holding the baby up for Erik’s inspection, then she took the baby over to Myia and put it in her arms.  The older healer then left and the younger healer planned to stay with Myia all night long.

When Ivar returned from trading, Erik and Rajan told him of the birth. They had a celebration feast brought into the suite and Erik offered Myia and her healer some food, then rejoined the princes on the balcony.  Soon there was a knock upon the door and two more young Jat princesses were vying for Ivar’s attention.  Rajan retired and Erik slept on the couch in the great room.  The next day Erik and Ivar started setting up the new Hraes’ Trading Company store and station in Ashaval.  Rajan had already shown Ivar two locations in Ashaval that had buildings ready for purchase or rent, but Ivar wanted a station that was in the heart of the city, yet had sea access.  One of the Ashaval merchants had such a location but would sell it only and at a steep price.  Ivar paid five hundred marks of gold for the place, but the store was big, the warehouse had access to the sea and from the station you could see the riverbank of Rajan’s palace where the Hraes’ merchants beached their ships and pitched their awnings.  It gave him a sense of security knowing that, in the busy part of the trading season, he would be able to signal many Hraes’ merchants if help was ever needed.  Erik agreed with his choice and said, “I hope I can find a location like this in Mumba.”

“When will you be going there?” Ivar asked.

“We should have this store set up in a couple of weeks and Myia should be ready to travel with your sister, baby Kura, by then.”

“If you want to leave sooner, I can finish the set-up here,” Ivar offered.

“I’m learning from you,” Erik told his son.  “I’m watching and learning how you adapt each store to its local environment, to the local customs.  Trying to keep up with your ideas is a learning experience in itself.”

“Plus it gives my little sister more time to build up her strength for the trip,” Ivar added.  “Everybody wins!”

Erik sent some Hraes’ merchants to Mumba early, but two weeks later he and Myia took their baby to her parent’s estate just outside the City of Seven Islands.  Myia’s parents welcomed them all into their home and insisted that Erik operate out of their home while setting up his new Hraes’ store and station in the city.  Erik told Myia’s father what type of building he was looking to buy and where he was looking to find it.  He stood on the beach of her father’s estate and pointed to the city across the bay and told him he wanted to be able to see it from the beach.  The merchant fleet set themselves up on the beach and the next day Erik sailed into Mumba with Myia’s father and they found just such a place.  Erik bought it for three hundred marks of gold and signaled for his Danish start-up crew to come join him.  It took a couple of weeks of hard work to get everything set up and Erik began to notice subtle differences between the preferences of the Jats in Ashaval and the Jats in Mumba.  He also found suppliers of products that couldn’t be found in Ashaval and he sent a ship of the items back to Ashaval to see if Ivar wanted to market them in the store there.

Once all the major details were ironed out, Erik could relax and let the Danish crew take over and train local staff.  It was about this time that Myia started to notice him in a way other than as a father and they spent an afternoon together in their room and he resumed his training in reading Sanskrit.  “Where were we at?” Erik asked her, kissing her gently.  “I can’t even remember,” he whispered.

“You’re such a fibber,” she replied.  “We were at ‘The Congress of Crows’, she reminded him and began tearing off his clothes.  The couple spent the next month in the marital bliss of newlyweds, even though they were not wed.  Erik’s status as a Bhraman gave their relationship the sanctity of marriage, so they enjoyed the pleasure of each other freely.  It was days spent relaxing on beaches and nights baby sitting and reading ‘the Book’.  It was an unforgettable time of their lives, but it passed too quickly.  Complications began to emerge.

“I think we’ll be going to war with the Romans when I get back,” Erik told her.  “There is a Roman General Kourkouas who intends to drive us out of Armenia and our trade route runs through that land.”

“The Romans are very powerful,” Myia stated.  “How will you defeat them?”

“We have no intentions of defeating them,” Erik answered.  “We typically crush them in a few battles and lay siege to Constantinople until the Romans agree to our terms.  Then we continue trading with them peacefully for another forty years or so.  It sounds bizarre, even more so when I say it now, but that is the way it has always been.  No siege, no terms.”

“How big is Hraes’?” Myia asked in wonderment.  “I mean…the Persians couldn’t defeat them and the Caliphate can’t beat them.  How big is Gardar, this ‘Land of Forts’?”

“It’s not that Hraes’ is big,” Erik answered slowly.  “It’s more of a concept than a country.  More a company than a kingdom.  We’re good at what we do and we make a lot of gold doing it.  And gold wins wars.”

“But the Romans?  How much gold do you have?” Myia blurted out, then apologized.  “I didn’t just say that.  Pretend I didn’t ask.”

“I remember once, in Angleland,” Erik started, “a king was bragging to me about how much gold he had in his country’s treasury.  I told him I made that much gold each trading season, and I don’t even own half of the company.”

“Should I be worried about you?” Myia asked.  “I don’t want to lose you.”

“No.  I’ll be fine.  I’ve been doing this for a while.  I’ve learned to stay out of the line of fire, which is very important when dealing with the Romans.  It’s Ivar that I’m worried about.  He takes too many risks.  He leads his warriors from the front, from the vanguard.”

“Yes,” Myia said.  “Ivar ‘the Boneless’.  Even warriors in India have heard of him, and they all fear him.  Some say they don’t, but they are lying.”

One day Myia came to Erik with a problem.  “Some young girls from my sister’s school want to go to the university here, but their parents are forcing them to get married.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Erik said.  “Perhaps we could pay for their education?”

“It’s more than that,” Myia said.  “Their parents want children and that requires marriage.”

“I’m not following you,” Erik said.

“If they have to get married, they will have to stop their studies.  They’re Jats, so they are considered to be barely in the warrior caste, so we tend to have to marry down and that will end their studies.  But if you gave them Aesir babies,” Myia whispered, “they wouldn’t have to get married at all and could graduate to university.”

“Just how old are these girls?  I know it is your custom to marry before fully through puberty, and that is just too young for me.  You, at least, were eighteen, my love.”

“I know,” Myia pleaded.  “My parents were willing to let me be an old maid, but even I knew that it wouldn’t last, so when I got the chance to go to Gujarat and have an Aesir baby, I jumped at it.  It gave me my freedom, forever.”

“Is that what I am to you?  A ship that you sail to liberty?  A steed that you ride to freedom?”

“I love you!” Myia said.  “I ride your steed for my own personal pleasure and yours too, I hope.”

Erik burst out laughing.  “Yes,” he admitted.  “It is very pleasurable for me as well.  Why are we even arguing about this?  As long as you are okay with this, I’ll help your friends.  But you have to be with us as well and we have to go by the Book.”

“They are both very pretty,” she whispered.  “And I’ll help.  I know we had problems with my virginity, but most girls find it much less painful than I did.”

“I know about virgins,” Erik lied.  “I was young once.  I’ve had my share.”

Both girls wanted boys and, unfortunately their periods had occurred simultaneously, so Erik had the same three days to impregnate them before he had to return to Baghdad.  So they all slept together and thanks to Myia’s growing skills at the ‘Nominal Congress’ and the ‘Congress of Crows’, Erik was able to make love to the two young girls several times a night for the three days in a row, but Myia did not ride his steed again until several days before he had to leave.  She was a fast learner and it was her three days to have a boy.

“How many girls,” Erik asked Ivar when he got back to Ashaval, “do you think you’ve gotten pregnant this trip?”

“All of them!” Ivar answered.

“How many is all of them?”

“Two a night for three months,” Ivar said and he did the mental math, “about a hundred and eighty.”

“How do you do it?” Erik asked his son, and he told him about his liaisons in Mumba.  “I did two a night for three days and it almost killed me!  And you’re doing two a night for three months and you’ll be doing Saleem in Baghdad and your Roman wife in Phasis and Helga is ready to pop in Kiev!  It’ll kill you yet!” Erik warned him.

“If I visit my wives in Denmark and Norway it’ll kill me,” Ivar admitted.  “They’ll kill me!” and the father and son both laughed.  These were the good problems.  But there were bad problems as well.  Roman armies and Khazar fortresses between Ivar and half his lovers and they really did want to kill him.

The father and son spent their last evenings on their balcony in Ashaval laughing about the good problems and discussing how to handle the bad.  Finally Rajan told them, “Pay them off!  Pay them off!  The Romans do it all the time!”

“We don’t pay tithes,” Ivar started, “and we don’t pay off our enemies.”

“We’ve never paid off our enemies,” Erik admitted.  “We are Aesir.  We crush our enemies,” but there was a thought in Erik’s head that said, ‘perhaps we should start.’

Erik and Ivar met up with the rest of their merchant fleet in Baghdad and they heard reports from the Caliph’s men at the Tigris-Araks portage that a plague had broken out in Bardha.  Ivar felt that the news may have been a ruse to cover up the military activity he had seen there in the spring.  The fleet met up with the Caspian fleet returning from Khwarizm and Cathay and as they sailed past Bardha, the area seemed suspiciously quiet.  Ivar sent a cavalry unit to check on the city and when they came back, they reported that the city flew a quarantine flag and there was no response from the towers at the locked main gates.  They rode around the city and found all the city gates shut so they left the city in peace.

“I’m going to come back here later with a fresh Kievan legion, after we deal with Theophanes and his dromons” Ivar told his father.  “We don’t want the fleet infected by a plague, if there really is one here, so we should just carry on and leave them in peace for now.”  Erik agreed.  He had seen a Khazar army ravaged by plague many years ago.  It was not pretty.

Ivar was at the vanguard of the fleet and broke away with a few warships to visit with his new wife and her Hraes’ station in Phasis, then he rejoined the rear of the fleet a few days later.  With hard rowing and good tacking, Ivar’s warships soon caught up with the vanguard.  Ivar told his father that he would see him in a month.  After that, all hell would break loose.

“Oh, you are a sight to behold,” Ivar told Helga when he met her on the quays of Kiev.  Her belly was swollen and rounded and ‘even bigger than Myia’s’, he thought as he put his hands upon her and he felt a small kick.

“You’re late,” she 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.”

The next day, Helga gave birth to an eight pound baby boy and they named it Svein, meaning swine, the deadly foe of snakes.  “He is handsome like you,” Helga said, laying on the bed.  Ivar spent some time with them then got to work on fleet accounts.  Gold was collected and gold was paid out and the merchant fleets headed north, but their warships stayed.  They would be heading back south with Ivar ‘the Boneless’ Erikson in an attack upon the Roman navy 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 his wife goodbye and his baby was no longer in her belly, but swaddled in her arms and he gave the boy a kiss as well and left with his warships and his legions.  He met Erik and his legions and their new warships at Cherson and they set off in search of Theophanes and his fifteen fire-breathing dromons.  After famously sinking Ivar’s treasure ships off the coast of Constanza, Theophanes had retired with his fleet to the harbour of Messembria with orders to keep the Scythian Sea free of Varangians.  Half the Roman fleet was hunkered down in the Golden Horn harbour of Constantinople, sheltering behind the great chain that sealed off the harbour mouth, and the other half was still in the Levant, supporting General Kourkouas in his war upon the Caliphate.

The Varangian fleet set upon Constanza first, storming and pillaging the surrounding coast while the people sheltered behind the walls of the city.  Pearl divers had been busy there, recovering gold from the bottom of the sea, where Ivar’s ships had gone down in flames.  Ivar and Erik went through the divers’ collections in sheds along the beach of Constanza.  “That’s from Nicomedia,” Ivar said.

“And that’s from Amastris,” Erik said.

“That’s from Sinope,” Ivar said.

As they went through the sheds, they found more and more gold and silver items that the divers had dragged up from the seabed.  “Just leave it,” Erik said, as Ivar was about to start gathering up his loot.  “This is just what they recovered in today’s dives.  The rest is in there,” he said, pointing at the city walls, “and we don’t have time for a siege so we can take it back.  It’s better they think we didn’t see this,” and Erik led his men away from the sheds and ordered them off the beach.  “We’ll let them recover it all for us.  We’ll come back after we’ve dealt with the Romans, then we’ll take it all back.”

The Hraes’ war fleet left Constanza as quickly as they had arrived and they hugged the coast and sailed south for Messembria.  They had just recently raided the area so, they were familiar with the harbour there.  The city was on a peninsular island quite similar to Sinope and was designed to be defended from land attack and not from sea.  There was a long strip of land connecting the island to the mainland and the harbour ran along the sandy southern side of the strip.  Erik knew that Theophanes would have his dromons backed up to the beach in a long row ready to be rowed out to sea at the first sign of any enemy and would have the bronze tubes of the Greek fire systems at the ready to belch out their deadly brimstone.  “We shall use the peninsula, itself, as a weapon against Theophanes’ dromons,” Erik announced.  “We shall come down the coast at full speed with our new ships and nose into the beach on the north side of the peninsula and we’ll use our trebuchets to attack the rudders of their ships and our rocket propelled arrows to attack the bronze fire tubes on their sterns.  Their torsion catapults have half the range of our gravity trebuchets so, they won’t be able to fire back at us.  And the flammability of the bronze tubes is a weakness we can exploit using the range of our Cathayan arrows.”

So, that was what they did.  They rowed down the coast, spotted the Dromons on the opposite side of the peninsular land bridge and began firing rocket propelled arrows at the bronze fire tubes that were glistening in the noon sun and unleashed trebuchet tonstones at the rudder boards of the dromons.  In the first volley of rocket propelled arrows, two of the fire tubes took direct hits and the explosions of the rockets set the Greek fire tanks below deck aflame and the volatile vapours and liquids exploded, blowing the sterns right off the ships.  The trebuchet rounds destroyed many of the rudder systems on ships as they lay exposed from the rear.  The rudders were armoured, but the high velocities of the dense tonstone rounds tore right through the wooden shielding.  The next volley of arrows set off three more bronze tubes and the resulting explosions tore off three more sterns, but now five ships were on fire and they all had Greek fire tanks under their forward tubes as well and soon vapours were wafting across the harbour waters and, when they ignited, the forward tanks of the burning ships exploded and sent their contents of Greek fire flying out across the waters and it floated there and spontaneously combusted so that ships that were starting to row out to get away from the tonstone and rocket arrow barrage were catching fire as the Greek naphtha mixture stuck onto the strakes of the ships and set them ablaze.

Another volley of rocket arrows and more bronze tubes were exploding and soon all the dromon fireships were burning, victims of their own inhumane weapons.  Byzantine marines could be seen running across decks like Roman candles and then throwing themselves into flaming seas.  The harbour had become a catastrophic fog of fiery flames and belching smoke.  And the few surviving men who had made it to the beach stood upon the white sand as their melting skin dripped onto the coarse grains and they all stood there blind and holding their arms half-cocked in front of them, not letting skin touch skin.  Ivar watched through his scope as the skin fell away from burned hands and arms and the men took on the hue of skeletons and, as the shock wore away and the pain took sway, the screams began and they carried across peninsular sands and the Hraes’ let out a great shout of ‘Hraaaeee’!

The Hraes’ ravaged the peninsular island city of Messembria and the surrounding inland estates before sailing south to Constantinople.  The embassy they had sent there in the spring had soon returned to Kiev with news that their complaints had all been rejected by Emperor Romanos Lekapenos.  Princes Erik and Ivar now had a list of demands that they wanted to, traditionally, nail to the main gates of Constantinople, which meant they would have to draw out the Roman navy in battle, defeat them and somehow overcome the chain that would undoubtedly then be blocking the Golden Horn harbour, which sheltered the main gates.  But when the Hraes’ war fleet arrived in Constantinople, the harbour was almost empty.  They learned from some local merchants there that the Caliph of Baghdad had stepped up his efforts to drive the Romans out of Judea so, the rest of the Roman navy had left for the Levant to take more troops to Jerusalem.

“The ships they left,” Erik started, “are all biremes and don’t look to be fitted with Greek fire.  We can take a dozen of our ships, commandeer some local wains, modify them to carry the ships over the peninsula to the other end of the harbour, then sail them up to the main gates and nail up our demands.”

“Fock that!” Ivar replied and he commandeered a twelve oared boat from one of the warships, gathered twelve of his best warriors and had his bearers help him into the boat and they rowed toward a point of the chain that they could just fit under and entered the Golden Horn.  They put a white shield on the mast and footed it while they rowed toward the main quay and they berthed the boat in front of the main gates.  They unfooted the mast, took the white shield off it and Ivar had his bearers carry him up the dock while he used a small axe to nail their list of demands to the shield and when they got to the gates, he borrowed an axe from one of his men to nail the shield to the right gate.  Then they returned to their boat, rowed it back to the chain, went under it and returned to Ivar’s shieldship.

“Or you can do it that way,” Erik told his son.  “You have to quit putting yourself at risk,” Erik told Ivar under his breath.  “And my way allowed us some time for pillaging the local estates.”

“I know some of these local merchants,” Ivar replied.  “I don’t want to plunder their estates.”

“That’s what happens when you take a Roman wife,” Erik lamented, shaking his head.

“Can we just get back to Constanza and get my gold back?”

As they sailed past Messembria, they could still see the burnt timbers of ships in the harbour and Ivar asked, “Did a vision show you how to destroy the bronze tubes of the fireships?”

“Not exactly a vision,” Erik replied.  “Your grandmother came to me in a dream.”

“Queen Alfhild?”

“Yes.  Apparently, she read about it in a future saga.”

“One of our family sagas?”

“No.  She said it was a Swedish saga,” Erik explained.  “Our family sagas are called Lying Sagas and are destroyed in the future.  But this Swedish saga has you in it and, of course, they call you Ingvar.”

“Nobody can seem to pronounce Eyfur,” Ivar complained.  “It’s either Ivar or Ingvar.  Mother used to have fits!”

“Well, Eyfura isn’t really a name.  Queen Alfhild came up with it.  She wanted to name her daughter after herself, but she had already named her son Alf after herself and thought Alf and Alfhild might be a little confusing.  When we were retreating from the Khazars before the Battle of the Goths and Huns, she had seen a lonely little pine on a tiny island of the Volkov River and she called it Eyfura, Island Fir, so she named your mother that instead.”

“And she named me Eyfur, after herself.”

“Yes.  I told her everybody would end up calling you Ivar or Ingvar, but she insisted on Eyfur.”

“Eyfur ‘the Boneless’,” Ivar mused.  “I have the Anglish to thank for that byname.”

“And the whole world fears Eyfur ‘the Boneless’.  I could see it in the Romans.  When you were being rowed across the Golden Horn in your little boat, the Romans would see you, perched upon your shield, and would suddenly realize you were Ivar ‘the Boneless’ and they would start backing their ships away.  It was quite the sight, all those Roman biremes backing off a twelve oared boat.”

“What did grandmother tell you about this Swedish Ingvar?”

“She told me the saga says that you destroyed fire breathing dragonships by shooting fire arrows down their fire breathing throats.  And she told me your son, Svein, was in it too.”

“And what does he destroy?”

“He destroys an elephant.”

“But I killed the elephant, with Tyrfingr.”

“It’s a Swedish saga!  Exactly which part of it do you think they would get right?”  And they both laughed good naturedly.

“You’d best be careful,” Ivar warned.  “You may marry a Swedish girl yourself someday.”

“I wish!” Erik said.  “If it had been a Swedish girl that had written that saga, she would have gotten it right!”

“What else did she say?”

“She told me that my Gunwar and your Uncle Rollo are in the Christian heaven together.”

“That’s great.  It’s nice to see their converting was rewarded.”

“She meant they’re together in heaven in the Christian biblical sense.”

“Oh…not so great.”

“But your grandmother assured me that she and I would be together in Valhall.  She told me she is there now, waiting for me.  Your mother, Hervor, is there with Oddi and they are living like gods.”  Erik paused, as though hesitating.  “I asked her if I was going to die soon, die in battle.  She told me my seat in Valhalla was assured, whether I died in battle or in a straw death, because I had already sacrificed so many young warriors to Odin.”

“That must’ve hurt,” Ivar said.  “I mean for somebody who doesn’t believe in the gods, is all.”

“But she didn’t answer me and she started getting evasive as if I wouldn’t like the answer she would give me.”

“So, how do you feel about spending eternity with her?”

“Well…she was my first love.  And she’s still the most beautiful woman I ever saw.  You know, when you remember seeing a woman in a certain way, just once in your life, where all the strength leaves your body and you just shiver thinking about that one memory?”

“Ah,” Ivar said.  “I call it the ‘Helga effect’.  I saw her that way the first time I saw her in Chernigov and I almost fell out of my saddle.  It was love at first sight.  If you saw Alfhild that way once, you’ll be fine with her in Valhall.”

“But ours was an unrequited love.”

“You two never did it?”

“No,” Erik lied.  “We did sleep together once, but it was after I married Gunwar and I was winning Alfhild for King Frodi.  We slept with Tyrfingr between us.  It was still in its scabbard,”  Erik reminded Ivar.

“I keep Tyrfingr in her scabbard,” Ivar insisted.  “I was going to use Tyrfingr’s pommel to nail our demands up in Constantinople, but I remembered the curse and the danger and I asked one of my men for an axe instead.”

“Good,” Erik said.  “Still, you must try to minimize how much risk you expose yourself to.  Soldiers come and soldiers go and some soldiers retire to their farms and some soldiers die, but a prince is always at risk.  You’re born a prince, you die a prince and there is no retirement in between.  A prince will always have to defend his lands so, a prince must learn to manage his risks.  Let your best warriors take the vanguard and the greatest risks.  Old soldiers are everywhere, but old princes are few and far between.”

“Well, I’m thankful that you, at least, have made it to ‘old prince’.”

“I hope so,” Erik said, “but I didn’t like the way Alfhild was getting evasive when I asked her if I was to die soon.  I think my days may be numbered.  But promise me you’ll minimize risks, at least for the next while.  No more Constantinople stunts for a while.  Okay?”

“I promise,” Ivar swore.  “But tell me more of your dream.”

And his father told him things that would have to be done if he died, as his dream seemed to indicate.  He asked Ivar to take care of his children in India.  When Ivar asked if there was more than Kura, Erik reminded him that more were imminent.

As the war fleet approached Constanza, masts were unfooted and ships were rowed, hoping to catch the Romans with their gates open, but the people were still on edge up and down the coast and at the first sign of ships, the gates were bolted shut and the women and children locked up inside.  But they did catch some divers who were still out in the sea waters.  When they got back on land, they were captured and questioned.  They had recovered almost all the gold that was recoverable and it was all still in the city.  None had been shipped back to Constantinople.  There were a few ships that had sunk too far out for divers to get to because the Scythian Sea bottom dropped down quickly and the depths were too great.  Erik asked the divers if they had ever heard of the underwater breathers of India and he told them about some of the breathing techniques the Indians used.  Ivar set up the siege of Constanza while Erik worked with the divers to try to recover the gold from two more ships, for which he offered them a share of the recovered gold.  He told the divers they could have their shares of gold outright or he would write them out bank drafts for gold out of a famous banking house in Cherson.  The divers may not have known about the underwater breathers of Gujarat, but they all knew about the Hraes’ Trading Company and so they all chose the velum notes.  They knew the Romans of Constanza would confiscate any gold they were caught with.

Erik spent time with the divers, teaching them how to trap air underwater in silk garments and how to gently fan absorbed air out of the water to replenish the trapped air as they breathed it, but they learned that the system didn’t work well at depths below twelve feet.  The air wouldn’t stay trapped in the silk as pressures increased, so, they purchased huge amphora from within the walls of Constanza and they trapped air in the inverted amphora and experimented with breathing the trapped air.  They settled on using huge cylindrical ceramic pots that they inverted and let down underwater on ropes from ships above.  The divers could swim up into them to breathe, then dive down to the sea bottom to recover more gold by tying ropes to chests and bars and statuary.  So, while Ivar was busy trying to starve the Romans into surrendering, Erik was supplying them with food and wine in exchange for the goods he needed to recover the rest of the gold.  But instead of getting angry, Ivar went out with the divers and had them teach him the dive procedure Erik had developed.  In the water he felt free.  He didn’t need a shield to get around on and he was as mobile as many of the divers.  When Erik developed some strap on fins he could attach to his upper legs, Ivar became as fast as any of the divers and he would swim down to great depths by breathing underwater out of the ceramic pots of air that were lowered for him.  The gold from two more ships were recovered by diving in this fashion.

As the siege dragged on, Ivar became impatient and told his father that he wanted to sail to Bardha the next week and find out what was going on there.  He told his father that he wanted to capture the city and treat it the same way they had handled Tiflis.  He wanted to capture or crush any standing army they had there and enslave half the town and tax the remainder in the ancient Roman way.

“You’re going to piss off the Caliph,” Erik warned.  “We got off lightly with him over Tiflis, but only because we had attacked Nicomedia and half the Roman territory in Anatolia.  You know, an enemy of my enemy is still my friend, even though he may enslave the odd far-flung citizen.”

“Well,” Ivar said, holding his arm up and pointing toward the city, “what do you call this?”

“I would call the siege of Constanza, recovering your own gold.  And the Caliph will call our destruction of the Roman dromons in Messembria, avenging our fallen brothers.  And nailing a list of demands and concerns to the gates of Constantinople might be called colluding with the enemy.  Now, had we entered the Golden Horn with our fleet and destroyed the Roman ships that were sheltering there, and had we pillaged the estates surrounding Constantinople until the Romans had to recall half their fleet from the Levant to chase us off, thereby relieving the Caliph’s forces in Judea, then he might forgive us our transgressions in Bardha.  But the way things sit now, you’d better find Roman legions in Bardha before you enslave anybody.”

“You’re right.  I’ll crush their standing army and if I find Roman training officers leading their cohorts, I’ll send them as captives to the Caliph and enslave half the town.  If I don’t find Romans, I’ll just plunder the city and surrounding area and I’ll give it back if the Caliph gets all pissy about it.”

“Agreed.  We can only part with a legion here though.”

“Fine.  We left a legion of cataphracts in Phasis and a legion of foot in Tiflis, so, with another legion I’ll be able to handle anything that Bardha has to offer.”

“That night, Erik had a fitful sleep.  He dreamed again of the Huns of the Mongolian plains and their future quest to conquer the world.  He came up with a plan while he dreamed and for it, he would need a special favour.  He asked the ghost of Princess Blaeja for help and later in the night she appeared in another dream.  They talked for what seemed a long time but was likely just minutes.  “When I dreamed of the Huns of the Mongolian plain,” he told Blaeja’s spirit, “the Cathayans hatched a devious plot to kill him, but something went wrong with it and it never came to fruition.  I need you to go fix it for me, or these warriors will succeed in conquering the world.”  The spirit of Blaeja listened to the plan, then told him she could not help him because he wasn’t Christian.  “If I help you, I shall pay dearly for it, but I will help you if you forgive me one slight,” and Blaeja told him a little tale of Ivar’s past.

“Don’t tell me what you are going to do to Ivar,” Erik said.  “If you do me this favour, I will forgive you your slight.  The world is at stake here.”

She granted him the favour and apologized in advance for the future slight.

“Are you going to kill him?  Is he the one I have foreseen dying?”

“You told me not to tell you what I was going to do.”

The next evening, while Erik and Ivar were sitting and drinking wine, Erik asked him a question.  “Did you poison Princess Blaeja?”

“What do you mean?” Ivar asked.

“I had a dream last night and Princess Blaeja Senior’s spirit told me that you poisoned her.  She said that she died because you poisoned her.  So, did you?”

“Yes, I poisoned her.  I did it for Oddi and the old man.  She put the poison on the blood snakes that killed your father, Ragnar.”

“We avenged the death of Ragnar.  Oddi plundered Blaeja for her part in it.”

“Oddi plundered Blaeja, my ass.  They had two children from that plundering and they weren’t twins!  She fell in love with him.  You might as well have Irene of Athens plunder me for all the wrongs I’ve done!”

Every few hundred years, the Greeks would bless the world with a woman of unparalleled beauty, from Helen of Troy to Roxanna Oxyartes to Irene of Athens and men would die fighting for them.

“Well, she’s still pretty pissed about it,” Erik said.  “I don’t think I’ve been sensing my own death, it might be yours.  I don’t think you should go to Bardha.  Stay here and run the siege and do some more diving.  I’ll go to Bardha.”

“What if you go to Bardha and get killed?  How would I handle that?  No!  You tell Princess Blaeja that it’s not over yet!”

“Damn!” Erik said.  “I’m missing half my dreams.  That’s exactly what Blaeja said, ‘And tell Ivar it’s not over yet’.”

“I shouldn’t have poisoned her,” Ivar admitted, taking a long drink of wine.  “You and Roller gave King AElla the death of the Blood Eagle and I wanted to outdo you.”

“By poisoning a princess?”

“No.  ‘It’s not over yet’ is what I whispered in Blaeja’s ear as she died.  My revenge on King AElla is still to come.  I thought Blaeja had figured it out so, that’s why I poisoned her.  I didn’t want her to stop my plan.”

“What is your plan?” Erik asked.

“I’ll tell you when I get back from Bardha.  It’s a crazy plan.  I don’t even know how I came up with it.  I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“I just don’t want you going to Bardha.  Let’s just both stay here.”

“And let General John Kourkouas win?  Our fates are predetermined.  If I die in Bardha, it’s because I have already died in Bardha.”

“Don’t say that.  That’s just an Aesir belief.  A religious tale.”

“Says the man who doesn’t believe in gods but talks to ghosts.”

“The older I get, the harder it gets to not believe in the gods.”

“Says the man who’s going to live forever!”

“Not forever, son.  I know I don’t live long enough to stop these Huns from Mongolia.  That’s why I need a ghost to help me stop them.”

“Well, I’m sorry I disappointed you.”

“You’ve never disappointed me.  Is there anything you’d like me to take care of just in case something does happen?”

“Can you take care of Helga and Svein for me?  Make sure you take care of Silkisif and ask her to tell you a story or two.  And look after the Roman consul’s wife?  And tell Raj that you have a ghost taking care of this Mongolian problem?  He’s really concerned about it.  I wrote a song for Raj called ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’ and I never got to play it for him.  If I play it for you, can you play it for him?  I know you’ve been studying the cartar and the sestar.”

“I’ll only do it if you write a song for me.  You’ve never written me a song.”

“I wrote the music for your poem, ‘Gunwar’s Song’.”

“The music is only half a song.  I want you to write me a full song, words and music.”

“I know exactly what to write about.  I’ll never forget your first trip to Gujarat and your discovery of the Underwater Breathers!  If I die in Bardha, I want to be reborn in Gujarat.  That is my heaven.”

The night before Ivar was to depart for Bardha they had a feast for him in the largest hall outside of Constanza.  They hired local musicians and dancers and Ivar sang ‘Flight of the Valkyrie’ and he gave his father a folio of the words and music to learn.  Then he played and sang his new song, ‘Breathing Underwater’ for his father:

  C  Em         Am  F/C                                                                         by Metric

“I’m the blade, you’re the knife

          C  Em           Am  F/C

I’m the weight, you’re the kite

           C              Em

They were right when they said

          Am           F/C

We were breathing underwater

        C            Em

Out of place all the time

      Am               F/C          C  Em  Am  F/C

In a world that wasn’t mine to take

         C  Em  Am  F/C

I’ll wait

           F/C

Is this my life?

 Am      C

Ahhh

      G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

           F/C

Is this my life?

 Am     C

Ahhh

      G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

Am                   F, Plus

         C  Em         Am  F/C

I’m the blade, you’re the knife

          C  Em           Am  F/C

I’m the weight, you’re the kite

           C              Em

They were right when they said

           Am             F/C

We should never meet our heroes

           C              Em

When they bowed at their feet

       Am            F/C

In the end it wasn’t me

          F/C

Is this my life?

 Am      C

Ahhh

      G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

           F/C

Is this my life?

 Am     C

Ahhh

      G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

Am                   F, Plus

C           Em

Nights are days

          Am                         F/C

We beat a path through the mirrored maze

              C

I can see the end

    Em

Ahhh

       Am              F/C

But it hasn’t happened yet

              C

I can see the end

    Em

Ahhh

       Am              F/C

But it hasn’t happened yet

          F/C

Is this my life?

 Am      C

Ahhh

      G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

           F/C

Is this my life?

 Am     C

Ahhh

      G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

     G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?

     G             Am

Am I breathing underwater?”

The next morning Ivar’s warships sailed east across the Scythian Sea.

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

28.0  THE DEATH OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’  (Circa 944)

            “Erik came to me in a dream and he said, ‘Ivar the Boneless

is Prince Igor of Kiev’, so I researched Ivar the Boneless.  It was said in

the Sagas that he had no bones in his legs. 

                                                                                                Brian Howard Seibert

Erik’Saga Map: Bardha’a and Khazar Fortress Where King Ivar Died

(944 AD)  Prince Ivar sailed off to Phasis with a third of the war fleet and Prince Erik took over the Constanza siege operations in addition to the gold recovery operation.  Ivar visited a week with his wife and son in Phasis while the Kievan cataphracts, five thousand men, prepared to head inland.  The consul’s wife was pregnant again and hoping for a daughter this time.  She was proud of the way she was running the Hraes’ store in Phasis and asked Ivar when she would be able to start up a store in Sinope and if she would be allowed to run both the Phasis and Sinope stores at the same time.

“Yes,” Ivar told her.  I want you to manage both stores and a start-up in Trebizond as well if you wish.  That should make you the richest consul’s wife in the Eastern Roman Empire.”

“And I love you for it!”  She smacked her riding crop on her hand and surveyed Ivar’s naked body on their bed.  “You know that!”  She was just four months pregnant and fully capable of the rough sex that Ivar seemed to need.  The rough sex she was so willing to dispense.

Ivar’s war fleet stopped in at Tiflis to collect up most of the Tmutorokan legion that was stationed there.  He left enough legionnaires there to hold the city walls against any large force and they had been storing up provisions all summer against a long siege, should one occur.  Once more he bathed in his sulphur springs there and he marvelled at all the tourists that had come there to soak in the spring and cure them of aches and pains and worse.  As he was sliding onto his shield to be borne away, he had a passing wish that the springs had the power to grow back legs.  But the awe and fear that his four great warriors instilled in the other patrons soon drove that wish away.  ‘What would I do with legs,’ he thought, as he strapped Tyrfingr about his waist.  ‘Would I be a greater warrior without my famed sword and my infamous battle platform?’

“I think not,” he said, and his men looked up at him and then carried on when no further instructions followed.

The war fleet continued down the Kura River and, as they approached Bardha, they saw a great herd of swine on the open field before the far off city.  A few men wanted to kill them and shot some of them with their bows, causing the rest to squeal loudly and run up further on the landAs the fleet beached upon the riverbank, the Hraes’ saw a great army coming down from the land before the city and one man was somewhat ahead of the host and he was waving the Hraes’ legion away.  He had a sling and he took a projectile out of a pouch and slung it at Ivar and it landed at his feet.  It was an apple, the fruit of healers.  He slung another apple and it landed, again, at his feet.  Then Ivar decided he wasn’t going to wait for the third apple: “There’s some kind of witchcraft behind this,” he shouted, and he grabbed one of the pig hunter’s bows and he shot an arrow at the apple slinger.  The arrow hit the man on the nose and they heard a noise like snapping horn. He flung back his head, and they saw that he wore a hood with a large bird’s beak on it.  He screamed loudly and ran back towards the army and suddenly the troops all broke and ran.

The cataphracts had been the first to land, so Ivar told his commanders to chase them down and kill them.  “They may have the plague,” Ivar said, “so tell your men to use their lances and not to touch them.”  So, the cataphracts set off after them at great speed as Ivar shouted, “And keep your eyes peeled for ambushes!”  There was a great slaughter on the field that day and the fleeing troops died by the thousands.  They could not run fast, nor long, before they were doubled over in pain and they could not seem to fight back.  Ivar’s commanders could see Roman legionary officers amongst their ranks, but the Romans couldn’t put up much of a fight either.

“It’s the plague!” one of Ivar’s commanders rode back and shouted.  “I told my men to use spears only and not to dismount for any reason.”  As the Hraes’ legions formed up and began marching down the road to the city they could see bodies lying all over the field to the right.  Thousands of bodies, tens of thousands of bodies a mile wide and miles long, but the field ran out of bodies before it ran out of miles and soon, they could see the high walls of Bardha off in the distance.  As they got closer, they could see tents all around the city walls.  There were legionary tents and merchant’s awnings and Ivar told his officers to keep the men away from them.  “These weren’t here last spring when we were spying on Bardha.  They must be for plague victims, to keep them out of the city.  Soon they saw a great crowd of women who were sitting in front of their tents and playing beautiful music.  “They are the camp followers of the Romans,” Ivar warned his men, “and they carry the plague.  All tents are off limits.”

The front gates to the city were wide open and unattended.  The Hraes’ army just marched right in and took over.  The streets were empty as were many of the buildings.  Ivar took over the satrap’s palace and had his men billet in the empty buildings.  Soon a few civilians came out into the streets, but they were all off limits and left free to go about their business.  Ivar had his bearers carry him up to the second floor of the palace and they located the satrap’s master suite.  They pushed open the double doors and the suite was empty except for a beautiful young girl who was on a small bed in a corner of the huge bedroom.  The satrap was long gone and had left one of his concubines behind, likely because she was sick.  She was gorgeous, in the Greek sense, with long brown hair, sensuously dark eyes and red pouting lips.  She covered her mouth and coughed gently.  “Stay in your bed,” Ivar told her in Persian.

Erik had gone through the protocols to be followed if plague had indeed afflicted Bardha, as Ivar had suspected.  Masks were to be worn, hands were to be washed with strong soaps and fouled surfaces were to be washed or avoided.  The healers and medics that were embedded in the Hraes’ legions had been tasked with keeping the troops safe and cloth masks were being made out of fine silk and linen, the absorbent linen to be set between outer layers of fine silk of the type used by the underwater breathers.

Erik had servants replace the bedding on the satrap’s large bed and he had them replace the young concubine’s bedding as well.  He had food brought in for the girl and, had she not been sick, he would have slept with her too.  ‘If she gets better, I think I will,’ he thought.

Some of Ivar’s men had similar ideas and were no match for the charms and enchantments of the Roman camp followers and they snuck out to the tents outside the city walls and laid with them.  The next morning, eighteen men were sick with the plague and by the end of the week, lay dead.  Ivar ordered their bodies burned along with the thousands who had been slaughtered on the battlefield by the river.

Over the next few weeks, Ivar sent out raiding parties to look for more Romans and to pillage the surrounding countryside, and they found plenty of plunder about.  The rich of Bardha had all moved out of the city and into their surrounding estates and, of course, they took their wealth with them.  Ivar had sent a ship back to Constanza with a message for his father.  He told him that there was plague waning in Bardha and for him not to come and that they were presently raiding to great effect.  He asked Erik to handle the spring merchant fleet, as he wished to overwinter in Bardha and meet up with it on the way through.  And he told him, “Oh yes, we have killed many Romans here.”

The plague was, indeed, waning and the city was returning to normal, but the young girl in Ivar’s bedroom did not seem to be recovering.  She kept slowly getting sicker and was soon completely bedridden.  She was still very beautiful, thanks to her youth, but she was getting too weak to even cough.  One night when Ivar’s bearers had placed him on the satrap’s bed and left, he noticed that the girl had fallen half out of her bed.  He tried to call back his men, but they had closed the double doors behind them, so he lowered himself out of the bed and slid across the floor and pushed the girl back up into her bed.  He wanted to wash his hands after touching her, but the wash basin was on the other side of the room, so he wiped his hands off on his bedding and climbed back into bed.

Ivar was sleeping in the satrap’s bed and he heard a voice coming from the corner of the room and it was speaking in Anglish.  The girl in the corner was calling out to him.  “Ivar.  Ivar,” she said.  “Come, come make love to me,” she said in Anglish and Ivar looked over to the corner and could see by the candlelight that it was Princess Blaeja, Senior, but she looked young and beautiful again.  “Come make love to me,” she said again in Anglish.  Ivar slid out of bed again and slipped across the floor to Blaeja.  She put her hand out and pulled Ivar up into her bed.  “Make love to me, Ivar.”

Ivar was naked and he began tearing off Blaeja’s bedclothes.  “I’ve missed you so,” he said.  “I love you so much,” he swooned deliriously.  He entered her and began to thrust in and out as she moaned.  He exploded within her and collapsed on top of her and Blaeja whispered gently into his ear, “It’s not over yet!”  He panted for a moment then rolled off her.  It was the beautiful young girl that he rolled off of, and she was dead.  He lurched off of the bed in shock and slid across the floor and sat back against the wall.  He shouted for his men and when they came running, he told them to take him out of the room.  He was in a sweat and he told them to sound the alarm.

“We have to leave Bardha at once!” he ordered.  “Sound the alarm and ready the men!”  Soon alarm bells were clanging all over the city in the middle of the night and the troops packed up and were ready to sail as day broke in the east.  One of the last officers to leave Bardha went up one of the city towers to gather his maps and he could see the fleet now in the water getting ready to sail and he was about to leave when he saw Roman legions marching in the west.  A lot of them.  He called one of the commanders up and he pointed them out to him.  There were perhaps ten legions coming up the road from the west.  They could see catapults already being set up along the riverbank to the west to block off any retreat by ship and there were cataphracts forming up along a ridge.

“It must be General Kourkouas!” the commander said as they packed up their maps and left the tower.  They rode out of Bardha and called out to the fleet as they approached the riverbank.  “The red cloaks are coming,” they shouted.  “The red cloaks are coming.”  The war fleet pulled away from the shore and headed east down the Kura.  The officers loaded their horses into the last longship out.

General Kourkouas watched from the ridge and cursed vehemently in Latin.

Once Ivar’s war fleet reached the Caspian, they headed north up the coast to the Kuma River estuary and the Khazar fortress there.  It had been built to block off Hraes’ access to the Caspian and was the cause of the Hraes’ building of the Rioni-Kura portage route.  Ivar said, “I’ve taken sick, and I see that it will be the death of me, and I’ll be the last of our men to die from the plague.  But, before I go, we’ll battle our way through the Khazars here and I’d like to see Queen Silkisif one last time before I die.”

Ivar formed up his legions before the fortress, one on his left and another on his right with his cataphracts on the flanks and his battle platform in the vanguard, dead center.  The Khazars sent forth a matching force and the clash began.  Ivar pressed forward and found a seam between the Khazar forces and began to drive through the shield wall using mighty strokes from Tyrfingr and felling all enemy before him.  As his warriors carried him forward, deep into the enemy vanguard, Ivar suddenly stopped swinging Tyrfingr and the famed blade tumbled from his fingers.  Ivar pitched forward and fell from his shield on the ground among his enemies.  They reeled back and away from Ivar as he laid upon the ground, dying.

He cried, “Hervor, Hervor,” but the Khazars around him didn’t understand.  His bearers stood before him and stopped fighting.  The Khazars stood still as well.  Ivar was calling out for his mother and his mind went back to the slave quarters in Kiev, when he was raping her.  This time he knew it was his mother he was raping and he drove deep inside her, thrusting hard and slow, deeper and deeper, trying to return to her womb and the bliss he knew as her baby.  He exploded inside her and sighed, “Hervor”, one more time, then died.  He walked by the Christian heaven and he saw his Uncle Rollo there with Gunwar and they waved at him as he walked past and he realized that he had his legs back.  Then he walked by Valhall with a noticeable spring in his step and he saw a great many doors there and great stands and an arena for entertainment.  He saw Achilles battling Hector on the sands once more and he saw a great many other heroes watching from the spacious stands and quaffing ales and enjoying many other pleasures.  He saw his grandfather, Ragnar Lothbrok, surrounded by Valkyries, and he saw his twelve half-brothers there and he saw Oddi and Hervor waiting for him to join them.  Hervor offered Ivar wine and a chair and sat back down between the two sons of Erik ‘Bragi’.  To one she had given life and to the other she had delivered death.

“We didn’t kill him,” the Khazar commander shouted to the Hraes’ officers.  “He bears no wounds.”

Biorn stepped forward and said, “Leave us go through in peace and we’ll attest to that.  He had the plague.”  Biorn used the butt of his spear to flip Ivar’s body onto his shield and his bearers picked the shield up as Ivar lay on his back with his arms dangling out over the edges.

“Take his sword,” the grizzled old Khazar commander said, picking up Tyrfingr by the bloody blade and placing it upon the shield beside him.  “Our Kagan saw this sword once and ordered Prince Hlod to return it to the Hraes’.  He refused and died in battle soon after.”

“There may be Romans after us,” Biorn warned him.

“Good.  We’ll kill them for you,” the old Khazar said.  “They are slaughtering all our fellow Jews in Constantinople, just as they crucified your fellow Christian Varangians.  Go in peace and tell all we didn’t kill your prince.”

Biorn led the war fleet up the Kuma River and the old portage to the Kuban.  There were still a few horses there and some personnel who made a living portaging a few scattered traders across, but all the gear was still there, the wains, the ropes and the grease.  They used the heavy horse of the cataphracts to draw the ship laden wains along and they slid the longships into the Kuban River.

While they were portaging the ships, they prepared Ivar’s body with care and laid him in a casket, then continued on their way and landed at the city of Tmutorokan and told Queen Silkisif that it was Ivar’s dying wish to visit her one last time before he left this earth.  Queen Silkisif told them that she carried his child and that she wanted to bury him in a Pagan grove inside the city.  Biorn told her he had died of the plague and his body should be burned in a stone boat burial in Kiev, but she insisted that they give her the body.  “They burned my Oddi in a stone boat burial in Kiev, without consulting with me.  Now give me my Ivar!”  Biorn turned Ivar’s body over to her, then left and went to Gardariki to tell Prince Erik what had happened.  Silkisif had Ivar borne into the city with great honour and prepared him for burial with costly unguents.

“Let me deal with Silkisif,” Prince Erik told Biorn.  “Tell everyone that you burned his body on the Kuban River and I shall make sure it is done.  Tell Princess Helga that I shall be in Kiev after I take care of a little matter with the Khazars.  And tell Princess Helga that I recovered all of Prince Ivar’s gold that was recoverable, except for six chests of it, and I’ll bring it to Kiev with me.”

Biorn left the Tmutorokan legion in Erik’s care and sailed off to Kiev with the rest of the war fleet.  He did not look forward to going there with the news he bore, but spring trading would be starting soon and Ivar had been a big part of that effort.  Prince Erik took the Tmutorokan legion back to the city of Tmutorokan and gave Silkisif a big hug and she cried into his chest for a long while.  “I’m not giving him up to you,” she whispered into his shirt.

“I know,” he replied.  “Just be careful with his body.  It could carry the plague for years.  I’ve already instructed Biorn to say his body was burned on the Kuban and I told him I’d see to it that it was done, so he doesn’t have to lie like I will be.  Let’s have some wine together.  We’ll bury him tomorrow.”

They drank wine together in her hall and she cried the whole time so, Erik grabbed a bottle of wine and some goblets and took her up to her suite and they drank some more.  When Silkisif was drunk and started nodding off, he took her to her bed and undressed her.  He admired her beauty for a moment, then laid her down on her bed and covered her up.  He went over to the other side of the bed, unstrapped Tyrfingr and undressed himself.  He considered putting Tyrfingr in the bed between them and shook his head.  He was well beyond requiring that kind of youthful chivalry.  He laid in bed next to Silkisif and he took her in his arms and she slept in the crook of his arm and cried on his shoulder.  When she woke up in the morning, she asked him if they had gone too far.

“Too far to go back to how we were before,” he lied.  “Do you want to go back to where we were before?”

“If we could go back to where we were before, I still wouldn’t want to.  I have always needed you and now I need you more than ever,” and she rubbed her swollen belly.  Erik tucked her back into his arm and said, “I need you more than ever now, too.”

Prince Erik and Queen Silkisif quietly buried Ivar in a secluded corner of a Pagan grove and Erik made love to her that evening when she was sober and they shared each other’s sadness and helped refill each other’s hearts and Erik spent a week in Tmutorokan with her.  When he was getting ready to return to Gardariki, she told him that she felt guilty keeping Ivar all to herself.

“We can’t even give up a part of his body for burial in Kiev,” Erik told her.  “He died of the plague.  His body would have to be burned.”

“Still, I feel terrible about it.”

“I’m glad we have Ivar here in Tmutorokan with us.  But perhaps there is something I can do to make everybody feel better.”  And he told Silkisif about his plan.

“That is why I love you,” she said.  “That is why I have always loved you.”

Prince Erik took a large fleet of ships, a legion of troops, a legion of cataphracts and some chests of gold up the Kuban River.  They portaged to the Kuma and sailed down it and approached the estuary.  A huge Khazar army came out to meet them.  Erik had a white shield mounted at the top of his shieldship and he met with the grizzled old Khazar commander.  “I’m Prince Erik,” he said, “Prince Ivar’s father.”

“I know who you are, Prince,” the commander said, bowing respectfully.  “All Khazars know who you are.  If they don’t, I teach them.”

“I studied my son’s body and have determined that he, indeed, died of the plague.  I shall ensure it is written so in our family sagas.”

“Thank you.  It will help make sure there are no misunderstandings.”

“I would like to help you seek revenge on the Romans for what Emperor Romanos is doing to your Jewish brothers in Constantinople.  The Romans attacked my son in Bardha, causing him to withdraw from the city while he was sick with the plague.  This is what resulted in his death.  I have six chests of gold, six thousand marks, that I will pay you if you crush the Roman army in Bardha if it is still there.  I have a fleet to take you there quickly and I have a legion of foot and a legion of cataphracts that shall remain in reserve at your disposal.  I shall accompany you and your army to observe only.  We must not be involved in this battle unless it is absolutely necessary.  Does this offer work for you?”

“Yes, Prince.  It does.”

The Hraes’ fleet took the Khazars down the Caspian to the Kura River and Bardha, where the Jewish Khazars crushed the Roman legions of General Kourkouas, but the general had already left for the Levant a few days prior.  He was soon joined by the fleeing remnants of his army.  There would be hell to pay at the Imperial palace in Constantinople.  Kourkouas had diverted ten legions to Bardha from the army of the Levant without clearing it with the Emperor, and Emperor Romanos was already suspicious of the general’s motives in Armenia.  Heads would roll, and it could go all the way up to Romanos.  Ten legions.  Half of their legionnaires had escaped, but most of their eagles were left in Bardha.

It was early spring when Erik went to Kiev, still well before the arrival of the spring merchant fleet.  Helga was waiting for him on the main quay of Kiev and she had baby Svein in her arms.  He hugged them both and carried Svein as they walked into Kiev and King Frodi’s palace.  After lunch they tried to work on requirements for the upcoming trading season, but talk always worked its way back to Ivar.

“I just wish we had a body or even ashes to bury here in Kiev.  Just a part of him like King Frodi, a part to bury next to his grandfather.”

“He died of the plague.  No part of his body would ever be safe.  It had to be burned.  But perhaps there is a part of his body that is safe, that has never been exposed to the plague.”

“I’m not sure I follow you,” Helga said.

“When is the last time you and I visited Chernigov together?”

“Why it hasn’t been since…,” and she smiled slightly.  “Shall we go tomorrow?”

Erik and Helga took a carriage and armed escort to Chernigov and they visited a small Pagan grove and cemetery at the edge of town.  Some workers dug up a gravesite and hauled up a wooden casket that was well worn with age.  In it, they had buried Ivar’s errant legs.  After the medics had saved Ivar’s life, his troops went out and searched the woods for his legs and brought them back into the town.  While Ivar was recovering in Kiev, Erik and Eyfura and Helga went back to Chernigov and had a little burial ceremony for his legs.  It was sometimes customary for princes who lost limbs in battle to have them buried with great ceremony, as if the prince himself had died in battle, and the limbs often ended up being buried more ceremoniously than the prince’s body if he had fallen out of favour.

“We should bury one leg next to King Frodi in Kiev,” Erik suggested, “and the other next to King Frodi in Denmark, as King Frodi was buried.  He was parted out.”

Erik was surprised when Helga thought it was a great idea.  She told him that sending out parts of Ivar would explain why they didn’t have all of Ivar.  “We should part out some of his leg to Sweden and Norway, as well.  Perhaps even Normandy.  He has cousins there and they’re even forgetting how to speak Danish there, everything is Frank there, French this and French that!  Focking Christians!” she said.  “They’re taking over the world!”

“Yes, that is a great idea!  I’ll go visit William in Normandy.  It’ll give me a reason to visit.”

“William died two years ago,” Helga reminded him.

“Oh…yes!  I’ll go visit young Richard.”

Helga knew that Erik would be going to Denmark to console Ivar’s Christian wife as well.  “Say hello to Queen Mother Blaeja for me,” was her grudging request.

“We’ll have to hire a man to keep track of all this,” Erik said.  “We have a company book of stores and their managers, but we should set up a book for all our relatives in Normandy and Ireland and Angleland…”

“And Norway and Sweden and Denmark,” Helga said.

“And now Iceland,” Erik added.  ‘And,’ he thought, ‘Phasis and Baghdad and Gujarat and Maharashtra.’

“I’ll be coming back with the spring fleet,” Erik told Helga once they had completed the planning in Kiev.  He sailed north from Kiev with a dozen warships and a cargo of one leg.  He had been out of touch with the north and did not want any surprises.

Prince Erik visited the Hraes’ station in Birka and the Swedish King Halfdan in Uppsala, where he left a bit of leg, then he visited Queen Mother Blaeja and King Gorm ‘the Old’ and Queen Thyra and their sons, Prince Knute and young Prince Harald in Liere, where he left a lot of leg, and he visited Thyra’s parents in Jelling before setting off for Norway.  In Northmore he met up with Arne and in Southmore, Lagertha and her children and he saw a bit of Ivar in the son of a local Chieftain of Trondheim.  In Angleland Erik visited York, and Princess Hraegunhild and her family there.  In Ireland he visited Hraegunhild and her family in Dub-Lin and in Waterford he visited the Ui Imair and there were a lot of them from the line of ‘Lothbrok’.

In Normandy, Erik visited Duke Richard, the great grandson of his brother, Roller, or Duke Rollo as he was known there, but Erik’s French was better than Richard’s Danish so they conversed mostly in the French.  The Franks no longer spoke Frankish and the Normans no longer spoke Norse.  They all spoke French, which was a Romance language, the Roman tongue, which Erik had also learned to speak.  People read Latin, but didn’t speak it, Erik had told Ivar in Ashaval, when he was learning Sanskrit from Myia, but he had generalized it.  There were still people in the Eastern Roman Empire who spoke Latin.  They discussed their laws in Latin and the Emperors all discussed strategies in Latin.  It was exclusionary.  Property of the Porphyrogennetos.  And Erik had been taught it by the Emperor Theophilos, himself, while locked up in the dungeons of Constantinople.

Prince Erik visited his son, Baldwin, in Flanders and they talked about his mother, the Nun who had been saved by the Viking, and they laughed.  They knew Sister Saint Charles and also knew that she needed saving from no one.  When he returned to King Gorm in Denmark, he had time to visit the sons of Maharaja Rajan, in Jelling, and in Liere.  And he plied their mothers with gifts of gold and jobs and titles.  Just how generous Erik had become on meeting Raj’s sons, made him suddenly realize what a good friend the Maharaja had become.  He joined the spring merchant fleet in Liere and he headed off for India, with a few planned stops along the way, and no unplanned ones.  It’s the unplanned ones that kill you.

His first stop was in Kiev, where he helped Princess Helga organize the Hraes’ velum passes for the various trading groups and their destinations, as well as collecting the tithes for the trading.  Baby Svein ‘the Old’ was doing well and was being doted over by his older sister, Alfhild.

His next stop was in Tmutorokan, where he visited with Queen Silkisif and upped their doses of his Alchemists’ drug using the portions Ivar and Helga were consuming to bolster both Silkisif’s and his own share.  He would be needing it, he thought, if he was going to keep up with the pace Ivar had set for himself over the years.  He was a driven man.  “I have a book for you,” Erik said, “but it’s not finished.  I’m translating the Kama Sutra from Sanskrit into Norse.”

Silkisif began reading it and asked, “Will you be providing pictures?”

“That’s a great idea!” Erik said.  “I wish I had Ivar’s artistic talents.”

“It’s going to be hard to follow these positions without pictures,” she said.

“I’ll teach you the positions,” Erik offered.  “You just have to bone up on this section,” and he turned to the pages on Nominal Congress and Congress of the Crows.  “It helps me bone up.”

“I like step six,” she replied.

“You’re going to like it a lot more when I do it on you!”

Erik spent a week with Silkisif in Tmutorokan and, thanks to the Congress of Crows, they made it through the first twelve pages of the translation.  The Prince knew a lot of Ivar’s artistic friends in Kiev, so he made a mental note to add drawings and paintings to his translation.  Myia had artist friends in Maharashtra as well, he thought.

His third stop was Phasis, and he just caught up with the tail end of the merchant fleet by the time he arrived.  He made it there in time for the birth of Ivar’s daughter by the consul’s wife.  He consoled her and plied her with gifts and gold and reassured her that Ivar had told him their plans about the Sinope and Trebizond start-ups.  She asked him to stay longer in Phasis.  “I have to catch up with the rest of the fleet,” Erik explained.  “I’ll spend more time here on the way back,” he promised.  He felt it was important to keep her well within the family fold.  She now had two of Ivar’s children and he could see that they were unmistakably his.  He did not want her returning to the Romans, so her success with Hraes’ stores was suddenly a priority.  And the Phasis store was well organized and surprisingly well run.  Not so surprising, he reminded himself…she was, after all, Roman and they were known for their efficiency.

The fourth stop was Tiflis, but that was short, just a quick inspection of the store and a soak in Ivar’s hot spring.  He stayed overnight in the inn he had shared with Ivar and he missed his son and he felt so alone on this trade mission without him.

The fifth stop was Bardha.  He had watched the Khazars beat the Romans outside the city and he had watched from a distance as the Byzantines were driven from the field, but he didn’t enter the city.  This time he inspected the city of Bardha to see how much damage the Khazars had done there.  But they were saved from much of the ravages and pillaging of a city being sacked because they had just had a plague there.  The Khazar troops were afraid to enter the city.  They had seen firsthand what the plague did to Prince Ivar.  They had all seen him fall from his shield, even the ones who hadn’t.  Erik talked with the city elders about starting a store in Bardha and he cited the successes of the Tiflis trade merchants since the Hraes’ store was established there.  But it was too soon.  The city was still reeling.  Struck by a plague carried in by the Roman trainers from the Levant legions, then sacked by Varangians who slaughtered their plague ridden home militia and their Roman officers.  They had even killed their Indian elephant, a gift from some maharaja.  Then recaptured by Armenian Roman legions only to be sacked again by an army of Khazars.  Erik left them his offer and had a distinct feeling that somehow, someway, Ivar would have closed the deal.

The sixth stop found him in Baghdad being consoled by the Caliph who blamed the Roman intruders for the death of a king and a trading magnate.  Erik was comforted by both Roxanna and Saleem and was glad to have them help keep the grief he had felt in Tiflis at bay.  He found that he really needed them.

The seventh stop was Ashaval, in the province of Gujarat, and Erik met Rajan there.  “I’m sorry,” Raj apologized.  “I just couldn’t go to Baghdad knowing Ivar would not be there to meet me.”

“I know what you mean,” Erik replied.  “It took both Saleem and Roxanna to keep me on an even keel there.”  They were sitting on the balcony of Ivar’s suite in the palace.  “Now that I’m here, I’m going to throw myself into my work here for two weeks, then I’ll meet Myia in Mumba for two weeks and come back here for two weeks and bounce between stations all summer.”

“Would you like,” Raj started, “would you like one princess while you are in Gujarat?  Just for the company?”

“No thanks, my friend,” the Prince replied.  “I’ll need the usual two princesses, if at all possible.”

“It is our pleasure,” Rajan assured him.  For hours they talked and then there was a gentle knock at the door and Raj let himself out as he let the two young Jat princesses in.

The eighth stop was in Erik’s heavenly city of Mumba, in Maharashtra province.

“How was spring trading?” Myia asked, hugging Erik warmly.  Thank you for sending a messenger with the news.”  She was staying at her parents’ estate on the bay.  “I’m so sorry for your loss!”

Erik could feel her swollen belly as they hugged and he kissed her, then knelt down and kissed her belly.  “We have to stop meeting like this.”

“Our two young acolytes have already given birth to their boys,” Myia announced.  “I’m still a week off.”  She took Erik into the nursery and they visited the girls and their sons.  Soon Myia’s parents joined them and they were carrying baby Kura with them and it was evident that they were very proud of the little Aesir cluster they were developing in Mumba.  A week later, as predicted, Myia gave birth to a baby boy as well and they named him Eyfur.

Prince Erik spent the summer sailing between the City of Seven Islands, Mumba, and the first city of the Jats, Ashaval, and spent time with his babies and with the young children of his son, Ivar.  The children seemed so numerous last year, but with their father now gone, it was comforting to have so many about.  Soon the summer was waning and in his last two weeks in Mumba, Princess Myia had another favour to ask of him.  “I would like you to marry my younger sister, Mahara, if it pleases you?” she asked.  “She loves you as family and she is almost as pretty as I am.”

“No one is almost as pretty as you, Myia,” Erik said.  “Does she want to go to the university as well?”

“No,” Myia answered.  “She wants children and thinks you are a great father.  I am your Aesir wife, but she would be your Hindu wife.”

“And how do my university wives feel about it?”

“They support the idea,” Myia said.

“And your parents?”

“They love the idea.”

“How many children does Mahara want to have?”

“At least twelve,” Myia said.  “I know I am asking a lot.”

“I have spent time with Ivar’s children in Gujarat, and he has a lot.  Twelve is not that many.  I would be happy to marry Mahara, but only if it pleases you.”

“Yes, it pleases me!” Myia said, hugging him.  “Now we must get back to the book,” she said.  “I’ve found a position that is most recommended for first night.  We should practice it.”

Prince Erik learned that he must get married right away if the newlyweds were to try for a boy.  So that is what they did.

Prince Erik retraced his steps back north and spent a week in Gujarat, then a week in Baghdad and two weeks in Phasis, where he went to great pains to keep his new Roman wife within the family fold.  In Tmutorokan, Silkisif had just given birth to a baby girl by Ivar and she promised to work on his translation of the book when he got back from Kiev, so he carried on to Kiev and helped Princess Helga close out the trading season.  It was strictly business with Helga.  She was Ivar’s wife and always would be.  But books had to be balanced and Indian zeros incorporated and Indian negative numbers used for stores suffering from conflicts and famines.  Then Kievan legions had to be released to Prince Erik’s command in an upcoming attack upon the Romans and warships that stayed to fight had to be equipped and paid.  And there were many of them and more coming from the north.  Prince Erik’s quick circuit through the allied kingdoms of the northern lands the previous spring had paid dividends.  Helga agreed to send the gathering fleet south in two weeks to meet the Tmutorokan fleet at Cherson.

On his way through the Dnieper Rapids with his fleet, Erik stopped and met with the Pecheneg Kagans and Kagan Beks.  The Yavdi-Erdem of the shining gold horses were the first to offer their support.  Their Kagan Baitzas said, ”The Great Kagan trains no more.  Where do we follow you?”

“If you are willing, Constantinople.  They have been negligent in following the trade agreement we have with them.  This has resulted in the death of our Kagan in training.  We must put the Romans back on the shining path.”

The Kuerci-Cur of the bluish horse, the Qabugsin-Yula of the bark hued horse, the Suru-Kul-Bey of the silver grey horse, the Qara-Bey of the Scythian horse, the Boru-Tolmac of the grey horse, the Yazi-Qapan of the dark brown horse and the Bula-Copan of the piebald horse all joined in with the Yavdi-Erdem on the Hraes’ attack on the Eastern Roman Empire.

“I have a week off to spend with you, and only you,” Erik told Silkisif once he got back to Tmutorokan.  “Where were we on the book?”

“I was to study the Nominal Congress and the Congress of Crows,” she answered.  “It took a while to get over the gagging reflex, but I think I have it under control.”

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

29.0  THE HRAES’-ROMAN TREATY OF 945

Queen Silkisif of Tmutorokan

(945 AD)  Queen Silkisif traveled with Prince Erik to the quays of Gardariki and his war fleet was waiting there.  She whispered, “Stay safe, my prince.  Come back to me.”

“I want to stay here,” he replied.  “I want to stay inside you.  I never want to leave.”  They kissed on the quay for the longest time and then he left.

His war fleet had all the brand new ships, the fifteen dromons that he and Ivar had built to attack Theophanes’ fire breathing dromons and another fifteen that had been completed since.  They had two hundred Roman bireme dromons that had been copied or captured, five hundred thirty-six oared dragonships, six hundred thirty-oared longships, a hundred of the Caliph’s war dhows from their Caspian Sea fleet and another hundred dhows from Gujarat.  They were supported by hundreds of cargo knars and all ships carried four oared to twelve oared boats on their decks or on lines.  All ships were equipped with catapults of one type or another and all the new ships had the new gravity trebuchets that had been used to such great effect against the Roman fleet of Theophanes.  And the new dromons all had the new speed increasing rams and the anti-Greek fire gear. 

Prince Erik met the war fleet of Kiev on the sea in front of the Greek city of Cherson and Princess Helga had outdone herself.  That fleet was twice the size of the Tmutorokan war fleet.  As the two fleets closed in from the east and west, the legate of Cherson sent his best dromon, the fastest new model of the Roman fleet, out from their safe harbour towards Constantinople with the message that the Rhos were attacking them with an innumerable fleet that covered the sea.  The Prince chased after it with two of their new dromons and soon caught up with it and escorted it, a ship on each side, for a bit before breaking off and returning to their own fleet.  The two fleets joined up and sailed away from Cherson.  Erik put it in the words of his son, Ivar, when he told his captains, ‘he knew too many merchants in Cherson to sack the city.’

But the Kievan war fleet had been even larger when it left Kiev.  The Kievan legion of cataphracts disembarked from their ships at the first Dnieper Rapid and joined the horde of Yavdi-Erdem Pecheneg warriors and, as they progressed south, they were joined by the other hordes of Pechenegs and, once the fleet was through the rapids, they all rode south across the Scythian plain towards Constantinople.  The Bulgarian king sent word to the Roman Emperor that the Hraes’ were on their way with hordes of Pecheneg warriors as their allies.

When Emperor Romanos Lekapenos heard of the vast forces approaching Constantinople, he sent envoys to Constanza with gold and gifts for the Hraes’ and Pechenegs riding against him.  The Pechenegs accepted the gifts and rode off to attack Bulgaria instead.  The Hraes’ legion of cataphracts decided to occupy Constanza until they heard from Prince Erik on the Roman offer.  And the people of Constanza let them into the city because the Prince had just conquered their city by siege a few months earlier and they were in no condition to weather another one.  But Prince Erik was attacking Constantinople by sea and the Hraes’ did not stop until they reached the harbour of the Golden Horn.

Half the Roman navy was in the harbour, protected by the great chain across it and the rest of the navy was still in the Levant.  The Romans offered the Prince the same tribute that was paid to Prince Helgi in their treaty of 907, which was 960,000 marks of silver, plus an additional tribute to be determined.  Prince Erik accepted the million marks of silver, but insisted that the added tribute consist of the dismissals of General John Kourkouas for his illegal incursions against the Hraes’ in Armenia, Domestic Theophanes for his inhumane Greek fire attack upon the Hraes’ Christians in 941 and the Emperor Romanos Lekapenos himself for ordering the crucifixions of the captured Hraes’ Christians, which was against all existing Byzantine laws.  Both General Kourkouas and Domestic Theophanes were in Constantinople, having been recalled to the capital to face disciplinary action for their transgressions and failures and it was agreed that they would both be sentenced to life in monasteries as monks in repentance for their crimes against humanity and fellow Christians, but the Emperor had imperial exemption from criminal charges in the execution of his duties as Roman Emperor.

Prince Erik sent a Roman legal embassy inside the walls of Constantinople to argue his case and they stated that, since there were five Emperors ruling Constantinople instead of the usual one, only the elder Romanos was protected by exemption, since he was the principal Emperor, and, since it was his three sons, Christopher, Stephen and Constantine, who had also ordered the executions, they should be punished instead.  It appeared that Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos was the only Emperor who had protested against the executions, so he, alone, held no liability for the inhumane treatment of the Hraes’ Christians.  While the deliberations were going on, the Hraes’ forces ravaged the estates surrounding the city walls.  The Viking warriors that had brought their ships from the west had to be kept occupied.  As the attacks went on, the legal proceedings took on a new urgency.  A week later, the sons of Romanos Lekapenos rebelled and announced that their father, the principal Emperor, would be joining his General and Domestic in a life sentence at the Island of the Princes monastery just southwest of Constantinople.

“He was the only general besides General Sun Wu,” Erik admitted to Captain Biorn, “that I would not want to go up against.”  General Wu bowed in deference.

“He’s that good?” Biorn asked.

“The Lekapenos family has been cranking out famous generals for generations.  And John won’t be the last of them.  Even Prince Ivar gave him grudging respect.  Their line of generals has always commanded the best legions, the most renowned regiments and even our own Varangian Guard here in Constantinople.  They’ll never forgive us for this.”

“We’d better keep an eye out for them,” Biorn warned.

“I have a man in Constantinople that does just that for me.  He watches the families, the Lekapenos, the Phocases, the Skylitzes…”

The next day the Romans had a new Trade Agreement drawn up and nailed on a white shield to the main gate in the harbour.  This time it was Erik who was rowed out to get it and this time it was on a dragonship that had been portaged around the horn and slid into the water from the land locked end of the harbour.  A dozen other dragonships slid into the water and waited as the Prince was rowed to the main gate and pulled the contract off the shield.  While he was so occupied, his sailors put a table and chair and sunshade on the dock there.  Erik sat down and began going through the document.  It was written on four folios, two copies of each in both Latin and Greek and was set up so one could select the language of preference, so Erik chose the Latin and began marking in changes on the vellum in ink with a pen he had with him.  Soon the huge gate opened and a lawyer came out and asked Erik in Greek what he was marking on the document.  “I’m making a few changes in Latin,” Erik responded in Greek.

“Can I help you with them?” the lawyer asked.

“Do you speak Latin?” Erik asked him in Latin, and got a blank stare.  “Do you speak Latin?” Erik asked him again, but in Greek.

“Very few people speak Latin,” the lawyer answered in Greek.

“Could you send one of them out?” Erik said.  “If I’m being helped with a Latin document, I prefer to be helped by someone that at least speaks the language,” and he resumed marking up the document in Latin.  The lawyer went back inside the gate and came out a while later with a judge.

“You wished to speak with someone in Latin?” the judge asked in Latin.

“Yes,” Erik replied in Latin.  “I’ve marked in a few changes to both copies of the Latin agreement and I’ve initialized them.  And I’ve signed the bottom of both across from where the Emperors have signed.  If I leave them with you, can you have the Emperors initial the changes as well?  Just nail my copy back on the gate when it’s ready.”

“Where did you learn to speak Latin?” the judge asked Erik in Latin.

“I was personally taught Latin by your Emperor Theophilos while I was being entertained in Constantinople for a few months,” Erik answered.

The judge took the documents and walked back to the gate with the lawyer.  “He said he was taught Latin personally by Emperor Theophilos,” the judge told the lawyer in Greek.

“But Emperor Theophilos reigned a century ago!” the lawyer protested.

“Most curious,” the judge said absentmindedly in Latin.

Erik’s sailors packed off the table and chairs and folded up the wood and silk sunshade and they all jumped down onto the dragonship’s deck and rowed away to the far end of the harbour.  Erik rode off in one of Ivar’s many carriages while his sailors hauled the ships out of the water and portaged them back to the Bosporus.

The next day, Erik, using his optical scope, spotted a copy of the agreement nailed to the white shield on the harbour gate.  The Hraes’ duplicated their effort of the previous day to retrieve it, then they sailed to Constanza to pick up their legion there.  While in Constanza, Prince Erik learned that Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos had the sons of former Emperor Romanos arrested for treason and imprisoned with their father on the Island of Princes.  The Hraes’ war fleet then split off to Kiev and Tmutorokan to prepare for the new trading season, which would include Constantinople for the first time in several years.

Back in Tmutorokan, Queen Silkisif was reading from the book.  “Number one: When, holding the man’s lingam with his hand, and placing it between his lips, the eunuch moves it about his mouth and this is called the ‘nominal congress’.”  Silkisif bowed down and placed her lips around the tip of Erik’s penis and stroked the crown with her lips and tickled the tip with her tongue.  She then stopped, looked at the book and said, “I just don’t understand why you can’t translate lingam as cock, ‘while holding the man’s cock in his hand’ sounds better than lingam.”

“Please continue,” Erik ordered.

“Number two: When, covering the end of the lingam ‘or cock’ with his fingers collected together like the bud of a plant or flower, the eunuch presses the sides of it with his lips, using his teeth also, it is called ‘biting the sides’.”  Silkisif bowed then looked up at Erik and added, “I’ll try not to hurt you,” and she bowed back down and took the tip of his penis in her fingertips and began kissing the sides of his penis with her lips, from tip to base, all the way around, and then she began to gently bite and nibble on the sides.  She stopped again and said, “I would like to stop now.”

“Please continue, or I shall have to spank you” Erik ordered.  Silkisif looked up at him and smiled, then looked over at the book.

“Number three,” she started, “When, being desired to proceed, the eunuch presses the end of the ‘cock’ with his lips closed together, and kisses it as if he were drawing it out, it is called the ‘outside pressing’.”  Silkisif took Erik’s erect penis up with both hands and began kissing the tip with a sucking motion and she did this for a long time, enjoying the swelling penis as it grew thicker between her fingers.  She drew her knees tight together and stuck her bottom out and began rocking and convulsing as she kissed and sucked his tip and then she caught herself and stopped.  “I would like to stop now,” she whispered, breathing raggedly.

“Please continue or I’ll have you whipped,” Erik ordered.

“Number four,” she said, looking at the book, “When, being asked to go on, she puts the ‘cock’ further into her mouth, and presses it with her lips and then takes it out, it is called the ‘inside pressing’.”  She moved her hands down Erik’s penis and kissed the tip and began sucking until she had drawn half of it into her mouth.  Erik convulsed a bit and leaned back on his arms.  Silkisif then took it out, but kissed the tip again and sucked it in once more.  She tightened up her knees once more and swayed her back and convulsed gently as she rocked back and forth several times, but caught herself once more.  She stopped, looked up at Erik with her face flushing most sensuously and said, “I would like to…” and she breathed, “I would like to stop now.”

“Continue on,” Erik shuddered, “or I’ll have you flailed.”

Silkisif looked at the book.  “Number five,” she said, “When, holding the cock in her hand, the princess kisses it as if she were kissing the lower lip, it is called ‘the kissing’.”  She grabbed Erik’s now throbbing penis in both hands and began kissing it all over and then began kissing the tip and sucking it in and out again.  “Oh,” she breathed, “I like this part so much!” and she returned to step number four and sated her lust as she rocked back and forth once more.  Then she stopped and whispered, “I would like to stop now,” and she was out of breath.

“Please continue or I shall have us both flailed,” Erik stammered.  His penis was over-pressured and ready to explode.  He had not seen it this large in months.

Silkisif looked over at the book and read, “Number six: When, after kissing it, she then touches it with her tongue everywhere, and passes the tongue over the end of it, and this is called “rubbing.”  Silkisif still had Erik’s penis in her hands so, she just started licking it with her tongue in long luxurious laps, working her way up the sides to the tip and she licked the tip all around the heart shaped crown and began licking the end, but again she returned to step four and began suckle kissing the end and sucking it into her warm wet mouth and pulling it out again and once more she had her knees drawn up tight and the sway returned to her spine as she began rocking back and forth and a convulsing shudder ran through her body.  She felt Erik’s tip swell up in her mouth as if to explode and she deftly nipped the side of his penis with her teeth.  “Not yet,” she whispered, exhausted.  “The best part is coming!”  Then she said, “I would like to stop now.”

“Please carry on or I will surely die,” Erik pleaded.

Silkisif looked at the book once more.  “Number seven: When, in the same way, she puts the half of it, meaning the ‘cock’, into her mouth, and forcibly kisses and sucks it, this is called ‘sucking the mango’.”  She asked Erik what a mango was, but she grabbed the base of Erik’s penis hard, before he could answer, and jammed the rest of it into her mouth and she began sucking on it from the middle to the tip so fast and fiercely that the tip began swelling again and she had to give it another little nip.  “I must stop now,” she said.

“Please, please, please, please, please, please, please,” Erik cried.  “If you stop, I am done.”

Silkisif read the last step.  “Number eight,” she whispered softly.  “And lastly, when, with the consent of the man, she puts the whole ‘cock’ into her mouth, and presses it to the very end, as if she were going to swallow it up, it is called ‘swallowing up’.”  Silkisif took her hands off Erik’s penis and held his scrotum gently in her fingertips and jammed his penis fully into her mouth until the tip hit the back of her throat and she swallowed it down the curve, fighting off her reflex to gag.  She regurgitated it and she swallowed it down and sent it back up and swallowed it down until the tip swelled again and exploded in pulsing streams each time she swallowed it down and Erik put his hands on her head ever so gently and moaned each time he pulsed his semen into her throat.  She could feel his gonads convulsing in his scrotum as they ejected his spawning stream and she swallowed it all.  Erik collapsed back onto the bed and Silkisif collapsed onto his loins, his penis still in her warm wet mouth.  It slowly withdrew from her throat and she caressed it with her tongue and then she sucked it like a thumb.

The Saga of Ivar ‘The Boneless’ Erikson

The End

To be Continued in

The Saga of Svein ‘The Old’ Ivarson

            THE SAGA OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’ ERIKSON;  GLOSSARY

APPENDIX A:  GLOSSARY OF TERMS

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.

THE SAGA OF IVAR ‘THE BONELESS’ ERIKSON

APPENDIX B   MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY: