BOOK ONE: THE SAGA OF KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON

THE VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS

(AKA THE LYING SAGAS OF DENMARK)

BOOK ONE

“THE SAGA OF KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON”

      THE SAGA OF KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON

— KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ OF DENMARK, YORK AND STAVANGER —

 A Novel By

Brian Howard Seibert

© Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

WRITER’S UNCUT EDITION

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

(May be Offensive to Some)

Kelowna, B.C.

2022 AD


THE VARANGIANS / UKRAINIANS – BOOK ONE

THE SAGA OF KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON

Table of Contents

0.1  PROLOGUE – THE BIRTH OF DENMARK  (Circa 0 AD) 5

0.2  PROLOGUE – PRINCE ERIK’S AMLETH (HAMLET)  (Circa 450 AD) 15

0.3  PROLOGUE – THE BATTLE OF BRAVALLA  (Circa 700 AD) 39

1.0  PRINCESS ASLAUG SIGURDSDOTTIR  (Circa 800 AD) 61

2.0  PRINCE RAGNAR SIGURDSON  (Circa 810 AD) 74

3.0  KING RAGNAR SIGURDSON  (Circa 810 AD) 86

4.0  THE ROAR OF FAFNIR, THE FIRE BREATHING DRAGONSHIP  (Circa 810 AD) 99

5.0  KING RAGNAR FOUNDS LONGPHORT DUBLIN IN IRELAND  (Circa 810 AD) 113

6.0  KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ FOUNDS THE NOR’WAY  (Circa 810 AD) 119

7.0  KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ GOES TO LIERE  (Circa 810 AD) 125

8.0  KING RAGNAR’S NOR’WAY AND SOR’WAY (Circa 812 AD) 142

9.0  THE BATTLE OF THE SCHLEI  (Circa 813 AD) 154

10.0  PRINCES IVAR AND SIWARD ‘SNAKE IN THE EYE’  (Circa 815 AD) 168

11.0  KING RAGNAR RETURNS TO HRAEGUNARSTEAD  (Circa 820 AD) 182

12.0  THE BATTLE OF ZEALAND  (Circa 822 AD) 198

APPENDIX A: GLOSSARY OF TERMS.. 216

APPENDIX B: MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY.. 222

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROLOGUE  (From The Nine Books of Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus):

NOTE:  The PROLOGUE CHAPTERS are Optional Reading, as they cover The Nine Books of Danish History up to King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ whose Saga starts in Book Nine.  Please feel free to jump directly to Chapter One and the Start of the Saga if you are not interested in the Earlier History.

CHAPTER ZERO POINT ONE

0.1  PROLOGUE: THE BIRTH OF DENMARK  (Circa 0 AD)

“This Book Series is based upon ‘The Nine Books of Danish History’ by Saxo Grammaticus, written in Denmark circa 1200 AD, under the auspices of his superior, Bishop Absalon of Lund, and as translated by Oliver Elton.  The series shall attempt to put some order into Saxo’s nine books so that it corresponds with contemporary Chronicles and Sagas such as the Hraes’ Primary Chronicle, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Heimskringla Saga, among others.  While attempting this, it has been discovered that there are certain corresponding likenesses between the early Princes of Kievan Hraes’ and the Skioldung Kings of Denmark that have never been explored.  The series does this and also pushes the envelope of everything Viking and explores the possibilities of Vikings in India and Vikings in Cathay and, of course, Vikings in the Newfoundland.”

Brian Howard Seibert

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOKS ONE and TWO:

(Circa 0 AD)  The Danes began with King Humble and then his sons, Princes Dan and Angul, and these two men, through feats of bravery, earned the favour of their countrymen and gained the lordship of the realm.  Of the two, King Angul, the fountain, the beginning of the Anglian race, caused his name to be applied to the district of Jutland which he lorded over.  When the Angles of Jutland gained possession of Britain, they changed the original name of the island for a fresh title, Angleland, that of their own land.  This was to later become England as witnessed by the venerable Bede, who was a native of England, and made it his duty to record the history of his country in his most hallowed chronicle pages.

But from King Dan came the pedigree of our Danish kings in glorious succession, like channels from some parent spring.  Queen Grytha bore him two sons, Humble and Lother, and though King Humble was elected to rule upon his father’s death, fickle fate gave his younger brother, Lother, victory in war and Humble bought his life by yielding up his crown.  Forced by the injustice of a brother to lay down his sovereignty, he furnished the lesson to mankind, that there is less safety, though more pomp, in the palace than in the cottage.  But King Lother ruled with an iron fist and began to strip all his most eminent jarls of life or goods, and he, himself, was stripped of life in an insurrection of his countrymen.

THE SAGA OF KING SKIOLD LOTHERSON

His son, King Skiold, inherited his nature, but not his iron fist, and managed to avoid all traces of his father’s foul taint.  He became famous in his youth among huntsmen for his conquest of a monstrous beast, which augured well his future prowess.  Coming upon him unarmed, a huge bear attacked, but by taking off his belt he managed to bind the beast and he gave it over to his escort to kill.  Later, as he became skilled at arms, many experienced champions were vanquished by him in single combat; of these, Attal and Skat were renowned and famous.  While just fifteen years of age, he was of such huge bodily size and prodigious physical strength, with so many exceptional examples of his power that the following kings of the Danes were all called after him by a common title, the Skioldungs, theOld’ line of Danish kings (Ski Old Kungs became The Old Kings).

(Circa September of 9 AD)  So far and wide had the fame of King Skiold spread that when the Romans ventured to attack the southern Teutonic tribes of the Scandinavians, the Saxons and the Marcomanni and the Alemanni looked north to the Anglish Danes for assistance.  

The high spirited King of the Danes took his army south and he beheld the perfect beauty of Princess Alfhild, daughter of the King of the Saxons, and sued for her hand, and, for her sake alone, joined in the fight against three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest of south Saxony.  The Germanic coalition, under the experienced leadership of the Equestrian Prince Arminius of the Cherusci, attacked the Roman legions of Augustus Caesar, east of Osnabrück that included his three legions, Legio XVII, Legio XVIII and Legio XIX, six cohorts of auxiliary troops and three squadrons of cavalry.  Most of them lacked relevant combat experience and they were not marching in combat formation, being interspersed with large numbers of camp followers.  As they entered the forest northeast of Osnabrück, they found the track narrow and muddy and the weather cool and rainy.  Varus had neglected to send out scouting parties ahead of the marching troops and the line of march stretched out nine to twelve Roman miles when it came under attack.  The Germanic warriors surrounded the entire Roman army and rained down javelins on the intruders.  Arminius, educated in Rome, understood Roman tactics and was able to counter them effectively by using the superior mobility of his Teutonic foot and cavalry.  The Romans managed to fight their way to a clearing and set up a fortified night camp and the next morning they broke out into the open country north of the Wiehen Hills, near the village of Ostercappeln.  But the break-out was accompanied by heavy losses, as was a further attempt to escape by marching through another forested area, as torrential rains continued.

The Romans undertook a night march to escape, but marched into another trap that Arminius had set at the foot of Kalkriese Hill.  There, a sandy, open strip on which the Romans could march was constricted by the hill, so that there was a gap of only about 300 Roman feet between the woods and the swampland at the edge of a great bog.  The road was further blocked by a trench and, towards the forest, an earthen wall had been built along the roadside, permitting the Germanic warriors to attack the Romans from cover.  The Romans made a desperate attempt to storm the wall, but failed, and the highest-ranking officer next to Varus, Legatus Numonius Vala, abandoned the troops by riding off with the cavalry.  His retreat was in vain, however, as he was overtaken by the Germanic cavalry and killed shortly thereafter.  The Danes and the Saxons and the Marcomanni and Allemanni then stormed the field and slaughtered the disintegrating Roman forces.  Varus committed suicide, and one commander, Praefectus Ceionius, surrendered, then took his own life, while his colleague Praefectus Eggius died leading his doomed troops.

Roman casualties were high at fifteen to twenty thousand dead, and many of the officers took their own lives by falling on their swords in the approved Vanir fashion.  Many other officers were sacrificed by the Germanic forces as part of their Aesir religious ceremonies, cooked in pots and their bones used for rituals.  Others were ransomed and common soldiers were bent over their shields and then enslaved.  The Roman defeat at Kalkriese was quite complete.

The victory was followed by a clean sweep of all Roman forts, garrisons and cities east of the Rhine River, but the two Roman legions remaining in Germania, commanded by Varus’ nephew Lucius Nonius Asprenas, held on along the Rhine, preventing Arminius from crossing the river and invading Gaul.

Upon hearing of the defeat, the Emperor Augustus was so shaken that he stood butting his head against the walls of his palace, repeatedly shouting, “Quintili Vare, legiones redde! (Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!).”  The legion numbers XVII, XVIII and XIX were never used again by the Romans.

Back in the Saxon capital, when King Skiold took up the hand of Princess Alfhild, one King Skat of the Alemanni claimed parity with the Danes in the great victory and he took up her other hand.  Gloves came off and faces were slapped and challenges were made and accepted.  The next day, in the sight of the armies of the Teutons and the Danes, King Skiold fought with Skat, King of Alemannia, slaying him and crushing the whole nation of the Alemanni, and forcing them to pay tribute, which came to be called Skat-tax.  And in the realm of glory, King Skiold took as the prize of combat, the beautiful maiden, Princess Alfhild, for the love of whom he had fought, and married this princess and made her his queen.  The strong love between the Danish king and his Saxon queen spread throughout the two neighbouring lands, the northern Danes of Jutland and the Saxons on their southern border and with it came a commonality of language.  The Norse Danish tongue was softened by the Low Germanic Saxon princess and a smoother Anglish Danish language evolved that was half-way between Saxon and Norse and came to be called Anglish. Soon after, Queen Alfhild gave King Skiold a son whose attributes so strongly favoured his father’s virtues that he seemed to tread in his very footsteps.  Prince Gram‘s youth was enriched with surpassing gifts of mind and body, and he raised them to the crest of renown.  Posterity did such homage to his greatness that in the most ancient poems of the Danes royal dignity is implied in his very name.  He practiced with the most zealous training whatsoever serves to sharpen and strengthen the bodily powers.  Taught by the royal swordsmen, he trained daily in the parrying and dealing of blows.  He took to wife the daughter of his foster, Roar, she being his foster-sister and of his own years, in order the better to show his gratefulness for his nursing.  A little while after, Prince Gram, chancing to hear that Princess Groa, daughter of King Sigtryg of the Swedes, was forcibly plighted to a powerful giant, and, holding accursed a union so unworthy of royal blood, he entered on a Swedish war.  He went into Gotland, and Princess Groa, seduced by his renowned splendor, came to him there and he offered her the gifts of love.

Having won over Princess Groa, he took his army into Sweden and slew both King Sigtryg and the evil giant who controlled him.  Prince Gram desired to consolidate his empire, which he had won in war, and therefore, challenged Prince Swarin, the Governor of Gotland to combat, and slew him.

For his imperial success, Prince Gram was granted a share in the Danish sovereignty by his father, King Skiold, who was now in extreme age and thought it better to share the supremacy of the realm to assure the succession.  King Gram then declared war against Sumble, King of the Finns; but when he set eyes upon the king’s daughter, Princess Signe, he laid down his arms and the foeman turned into the suitor, and he plighted troth with her and married a third wife.  After this, King Swipdag of Thule (Norway), destroyed King Gram, who was attempting to avenge an outrage on his sister and an attempt on his daughter’s chastity.

Guthorm and Hadding, the sons of Gram (Groa being the mother of the first and Signe of the second), were sent over to Sweden in a ship by their foster-father, Brage, as King Swipdag was now the master of Zealand and Gothland, and they were placed in the care of the gentle giants Wagnhofde and Hafle, for safe keeping and training.

PARAGRAPH ON WITCHES and WARLOCKS:

There were in old times three kinds of magicians who by diverse sleights practiced extraordinary marvels.  The first of these were men of monstrous stock, termed by antiquity giants; these by their exceeding great bodily stature surpassed the size natural to mankind.  They freely wielded clubs that men could hardly lift and could blunt the blades of swords with but a glance and could raise winds by merely lifting their arms.  The second of these magicians, most famous of whom were the warlocks of the Roman Vanir, gained skill in divination from entrails, and then attained the Pythonic art of witchcraft.  They could foretell victory and forestall defeat and, further, gained the powers of the shape shifter and could alter their bodily condition.  Constant wars for supremacy were waged between these warlocks and the giants; till at last the sorcerers prevailed, subdued the tribe of giants by arms, and acquired not merely the privilege of ruling, but also the repute of being divine.  Both of these kinds had extreme skill in deluding the eyesight, knowing how to obscure their own faces and those of others with divers semblances, and to darken the true aspects of things with beguiling shapes.  But the third kind, of both men and women, warlocks and witches, springing from the natural union of the first two, gained credit for divinity with trickery of both mind and body.  Tempted by the prodigious miracles of these folk, the ancient pagan world fell to worshipping a false tripartite god religion, one branch of which beguiled the northern Germanic Scandinavians called Aesir, another which beguiled the eastern Persians called Aran, a third branch of which beguiled the even the shrewdness of the western Greeks and Latins and was called Vanir, and a fourth southern branch called Brahman.

King Swipdag, now that he had slain Gram, was enriched with the realms of Zealand and Gotland, but, because of the frequent importunities of his new wife, he brought back from banishment her brother Guthorm, upon his promising tribute, and made him ruler of the Goths and the Norse Danes.  But Hadding preferred to remain in and rule Sweden, so he assailed Handwan, King of the Sclavic Hellespont, who was entrenched behind an impregnable defensive wall in his city Duna, and withstood him not in the field, but within his battlements.  A siege ensued and Handwan was reduced to redeeming his life with gold for ransom.

After prevailing over the Sclavs, King Hadding returned to Sweden and attacked King Swipdag, who met him with a great fleet off Gotland; but Hadding attacked and destroyed him.  Meanwhile Asmund, the son of Swipdag, fought with Hadding to avenge his father, but Hadding pierced him through with a spear.  While his life flickered before him, Asmund wounded the foot of his slayer, punishing Hadding with an incurable limp.  Asmund’s body was buried in solemn state at Uppsala and attended with royal obsequies and his wife, Queen Gunnhild, loth to outlive him, committed suttee and cut off her own life with a sword, choosing rather to follow her lord in death than to forsake him by living.  Her friends, in consigning her body to burial, laid her with her husband’s dust, thinking her worthy to share the mound of the man, her love for whom she had set above life in order to share Suttee Heaven with him.

After this Hadding, now triumphant, attacked Thule.  But Asmund’s son, named Uffe, shrinking from a conflict, transported his army into Zealand, thinking it better to assail the house of his enemy than to guard his own, and deeming it a timely method of repelling his wrongs to retaliate upon his foe what he was suffering at his hands.  Thus the Danes had to return and defend their own, preferring the safety of their land to lordship of a foreign realm; and Uffe went back to his own country, now rid of an enemy’s arms.

Hadding retaliated and slew Uffe; but then, to win the hearts of the people he had subdued, he appointed Hunding, the brother of Uffe, over the realm, that the sovereignty might seem to be maintained in the house of Asmund, and not to have passed into the hand of a stranger.

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK TWO:

(Circa 250 AD)  King Hadding was succeeded by his son, King Frode, whose fortunes were many and changeful.  He approached in his fleet the region of the Kurlanders, whose King Dorn, soon fell to the Danes.  Then he travelled and found King Trannon, the monarch of the eastern Sclavs and they were soon conquered and made tributaries, and Frode made his way back home.

Finding that some envoys, whom he had sent into Sclavia to levy tribute, had been horribly murdered through the treachery of the inhabitants, Frode was stung by the double wrong and besieged closely their town Rotel, which was on an island, protected by a swift river.  King Frode diverted the river, and the town, which lacked natural defences, fell without resistance.  Then he took his army to the walled city of Paltisca. Thinking no force could overcome it, he exchanged war for guile. He ordered a report of his death to be spread about, so as to inspire the enemy with less fear; his obsequies being also held, and a barrow raised, to give the tale credit.  Even his soldiers bewailed his supposed death with a mourning which was in the secret of the trick.  This rumour led Vespasins, the king of the city, to show so faint and feeble a defence, as though the victory was already his, that the Danes got a chance of breaking in, and slew him as he sported at his ease.

Frode, when he had taken this town, aspired to the Empire of the East, and attacked the city of King Handwan.  

Handwan, seeing that the fortunes of his country were lost and overthrown, put all his royal wealth on shipboard and drowned it in the sea, so as to enrich the waves rather than his enemy.  After this, Frode took the hand of his daughter instead.

Meantime one Ubbe, who had long since wedded Ulfhild, the sister of Frode, trusting in the high birth of his wife, seized the kingdom of Denmark, which he was managing carelessly as deputy.  Frode was thus forced to quit the wars of the East and fought a great battle in Sweden to regain control of his lands in the West.

Meantime the design occurred to Frode of a campaign against Friesland; he was desirous to dazzle the eyes of the West with the glory he had won in conquering the East.  He put out to ocean, and his first contest was with Witthe, a rover of the Frisians; and in this battle the Danes won.  Then Frode explored the Rhine in his fleet, and laid hands on the farthest parts of Germany.  Then he went back to the ocean, and attacked the Frisian fleet, which had struck on shoals; and thus he crowned shipwreck with slaughter.  Nor was he content with the destruction of so great an army of his foes, but assailed Britain, defeated its king, and attacked and defeated Melbrik, the Governor of the Scottish district.

Then Frode attacked London, the most populous city of Britain; but the strength of its walls gave him no chance of capturing it.  Therefore he feigned to be dead, and his guile strengthened him.  For Daleman, the Governor of London, on hearing the false news of his death, accepted the surrender of the Danes, offered them a native general, and suffered them to enter the town, that they might choose him out of a great throng.  They feigned to be making a careful choice, but beset Daleman in a night surprise and slew him.

While he was attacking Ragnar, King of Sweden, who had been falsely accused of treachery, he perished, not by the spears, but stifled in the weight of his arms and by the heat of his own body.

Frode left three sons, Halfdan, Ro, and Skat, who were equal in valour, and were seized with an equal desire for the throne.  Halfdan, the eldest son, cruelly murdered his brothers and, though he devoted every instant of his life to the practice of cruel deeds, he died of old age and not by steel.

(Circa 350 AD)  Halfdan’s sons were Ro and Helge.  Ro is said to have founded Roskild, which later thrived under Sweyn, who was famous for the byname ‘Forkbeard’.  Ro was short and spare, while Helge was rather tall of stature.  Dividing the realm with his brother, Helge was allotted the domain of the sea; and attacking Skalk, the King of the Sclavs, with his naval force, he slew him.  Having reduced Sclavia to a province, he scoured the various arms of the sea in a wandering voyage. Savage of temper as Helge was, his cruelty was not greater than his lust. For he was so immoderately prone to love, that it was doubtful whether the heat of his tyranny or of his concupiscence was the greater.  In Thorey he ravished the maiden Thora, who bore a daughter, to whom she afterwards gave the name of Urse.  Then he conquered in battle, before the town of Stad, the son of Syrik, King of Saxony, Hunding, whom he challenged, attacked, and slew in duel.  For this he was called Hunding’s-Bane, and by that name gained glory in his victory.  He took Jutland out of the power of the Saxons, and entrusted its management to his generals, Heske, Eyr, and Ler.

Years later Helge went freebooting, once more, to Thorey.  But Thora yet lamented her lost virginity, and planned a shameful device in abominable vengeance for her rape, for she deliberately sent down to the beach her daughter, Urse, who had just become of marriageable age, knowing full well that her father would rape and deflower her.  And though Urse, once captured, yielded up her body to the leader of the attackers, she had no idea that the Viking was her father.  Insensate mother, who allowed the forfeiture of her child’s chastity in order to avenge her own; caring nought for the purity of her own blood, so she might stain with incest the man who had taken her own maidenhood first!  A great crime, with but one atonement: the guilt of this intercourse was wiped away by a fortunate progeny, its fruits being as delightful as its deflowering evil.

PARAGRAPH ON WITCHES and WARLOCKS:

Later, there was a warlock called Oller, driven out from Byzantium by Odin, who retired into Sweden, and while he was trying, as if in a new world, to repair the records of his glory, the Danes slew him.  The story goes that he was such a cunning wizard that he used a certain bone, which he had marked with awful spells, wherewith to cross the seas, instead of in a vessel; and that by this bone he passed over the waters that barred his way as quickly as by rowing.  But it was the magic of the Finns and the waters had to be frozen.  It was during a great cooling period and the Baltic had frozen over and he fled before the Danes and they could not catch him out upon the ice until it began to snow.  Now, the Finns had boards as well as bones that one could strap to their feet to stay ahead of pursuers in that particular scenario, but Warlock Oller had just recently come north from Constantinople and the Finns had not had time to teach him in the magic of the boards, so the Danes caught him out upon the snowy ice and killed him for his evil witchcraft.

THE SAGA OF KING HROLF KRAKI

(Circa 450 AD)  King Helge was succeeded by his son, King Rolf, who was comely with every gift of mind and body, and graced his mighty stature with as high a courage.  A youth named Wigg, scanning with attentive eye the bodily size of Rolf, and smitten with great wonder thereat, proceeded to inquire in jest who was that “Krage” whom Nature in her beauty had endowed with such towering stature?  Meaning humorously to banter his uncommon tallness, for “Krage” in the Danish tongue means a tree-trunk, and Rolf accepted this random word as though it were a byname of honour and rewarded the wit of the youth with a gift of a heavy gold armring.  Then Wigg, thrusting out his right arm decked with the bracelet, put his left behind his back in affected shame, and walked with a ludicrous gait, declaring that he, whose lot had so long been poor, was glad of so fine a gift.  When King Rolf asked him why he was behaving so, he said that the arm which lacked ornament and had no splendour to boast of was mantling with the modest blush of poverty to behold the other.  The ingenuity of this saying won him a second armring to match the first.  For Rolf made him bring out to view, like the other, the hand which he was hiding.  Nor was Wigg heedless to repay the kindness; for he promised, uttering a strict vow, that, if it befell Rolf to perish by the sword, he would himself take vengeance on his slayers.  Nor should it be omitted that in old time nobles who were entering the court used to devote to their rulers the first fruits of their service by vowing some mighty exploit, thus bravely inaugurating their first campaign.

Soon after joining King Rolf’s entourage, Hearse Wigg led a detachment of troops in support of his king and when Rolf fell in battle the youth avenged his death at the cost of his own life and the armrings fell into Gothic hands.

PROLOGUE  (From The Nine Books of Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus):

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOKS THREE and FOUR:

CHAPTER ZERO POINT TWO

0.2  PROLOGUE – BIRTH OF ANGLELAND PLUS AMLETH (HAMLET)  (Circa 450 AD)

“Saxo has placed the ‘Amleth’ tale here in Books 3 and 4 of his histories, perhaps thinking that his Erik Desertus (Bragi) character in his following Book 5 was the original writer of the tale of ‘Amleth, Prince of Denmark’.  I suspect, however, that this Erik Bragi ‘the Old’ had learned of the tale of Lucius Junius Brutus from the Romans of Constantinople and wrote Amleth based on that ancient tale from the founding of Rome combined with his own experience in usurping the Kingdom of Sweden from Prince Bjorn ‘of the Barrows’.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 450 AD)  FROM ‘BEDE’S ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND’:

Chap. XV.  How the Angles, being invited into Britain, at first drove off the enemy; but not long after, making a league with them, turned their weapons against their allies.

In the year of our Lord 449, Marcian, the forty-sixth from Augustus, being made emperor with Valentinian, ruled the empire seven years. Then the nation of the Angles, or Saxons, being invited by the aforesaid king, arrived in Britain with three ships of war and had a place in which to settle assigned to them by the same king, in the eastern part of the island, on the pretext of fighting in defence of their country, whilst their real intentions were to conquer it.  Accordingly they engaged with the enemy, who were come from the north to give battle, and the Saxons obtained the victory.  When the news of their success and of the fertility of the country, and the cowardice of the Britons, reached their own home, a more considerable fleet was quickly sent over, bringing a greater number of men, and these, being added to the former army, made up an invincible force.  The newcomers received of the Britons a place to inhabit among them, upon condition that they should wage war against their enemies for the peace and security of the country, whilst the Britons agreed to furnish them with pay.  Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany—Saxons, Angles, and Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the people of Kent, and of the Isle of Wight, including those in the province of the West-Saxons who are to this day called Jutes, seated opposite to the Isle of Wight.  From the Saxons, that is, the country which is now called Old Saxony, came the East-Saxons, the South-Saxons, and the West-Saxons.  From the Angles, that is, the country which is called Angulus, and which is said, from that time, to have remained desert to this day, between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons, are descended the East-Angles, the Midland-Angles, the Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber, and the other nations of the Angles.  The first commanders are said to have been the two brothers Hengist and Horsa.  Of these Horsa was afterwards slain in battle by the Britons, and a monument, bearing his name, is still in existence in the eastern parts of Kent.  They were the sons of Victgilsus, whose father was Vitta, son of Vecta, son of Woden; from whose stock the royal race of many provinces trace their descent.  In a short time, swarms of the aforesaid nations came over into the island, and the foreigners began to increase so much, that they became a source of terror to the natives themselves who had invited them.  Then, having on a sudden entered into league with the Picts, whom they had by this time repelled by force of arms, they began to turn their weapons against their allies.  At first, they obliged them to furnish a greater quantity of provisions; and, seeking an occasion of quarrel, protested, that unless more plentiful supplies were brought them, they would break the league, and ravage all the island; nor were they backward in putting their threats into execution.

AND, AGAIN, FROM SAXO:

Of these two, Angul, the fountain, so runs the tradition, of the beginnings of the Anglian race, caused his name to be applied to the district which he ruled.  This was an easy kind of memorial wherewith to immortalise his fame: for his successors a little later, when they gained possession of Britain, changed the original name of the island for a fresh title, that of their own land, Angleland.  This action was much thought of by the ancients: witness Bede, no mean figure among the writers of the Church, who was a native of England, and made it his care to embody the doings of his country in the most hallowed treasury of his pages; deeming it equally a religious duty to glorify in writing the deeds of his land, and to chronicle the history of the Church.

THE SAGA OF AMLETH, PRINCE OF DENMARK:

(Circa 500 AD)  There were two princes called Horwendil and Feng, whose father Gerwendil had been governor of the Jutes in Aar, and they were appointed in his place by King Rorik of Denmark to defend Jutland.  But Prince Horwendil held the monarchy for three years, and then, to win the height of glory, devoted himself to roving.  Then Koller, King of Thule, roving in rivalry of his great deeds and renown, deemed it would be a handsome deed if by his greater strength in arms he could bedim the far-famed glory of the rover; and cruising about the sea, he watched for Horwendil’s fleet and came up upon it.  There was an island lying near Jutland called Samso, which each of the rovers, bringing his ships up on either side, was holding.  The captains were tempted by the pleasant look of the beach, and the comeliness of the shores led them to look through the interior of the springtide woods, to go through the glades, and roam over the sequestered forests.  It was there that the advance of Koller and Horwendil brought them face to face without any witness.  Prince Horwendil addressed the king first, “By what weapons would you prefer to duel?”

“Sword and buckler will do,” King Koller replied.  “But since the issue remains in doubt, we must both agree to properly build a howe in the true Aesir fashion to house the bones of the one who is slain.”

“I fully concur with that,” Horwendil agreed.

After mutually pledging their words to this term, they began the battle.  They fought back and forth, exchanging blows for a time, but Horwendil, in his great ardour, felt berserk rage overtake his body, and he knew no steel could bite him in that state, so he tossed his shield out into the woods and he grasped his sword with both hands and rained blows upon Koller’s shield and destroyed it, and then hewed off his foot as his shield still remained and, when Koller fell, he drove his sword through him and pinned him lifeless to the ground.  Then, not to fail of his compact, he buried him royally, gave him a howe of lordly make and pompous obsequies that Samso became famous for.  King Koller’s sister, Shield-Maiden Princess Sela, was a skilled warrior who had been roving in Denmark nearby.  When she heard that her brother had fallen, she sailed straightaway to the Isle of Samso and attacked the prince with her fleet.  They fought a sea battle just off the Isle and Prince Horwendil flew into another berserk rage and cleared her shieldship’s deck of all its men and he slew her just before the mast.  He had his men erect a howe for her as well, right next to Koll’s, and the island became famous for holmgangers on both land and water.

Prince Horwendil passed three years in such valiant deeds of war; and, in order to win higher rank in King Rorik’s favour, he assigned to him the best trophies and the pick of the plunder.  His friendship with Rorik enabled him to woo and win in marriage his daughter, Princess Gerutha, who bore him a son, Prince Amleth.

Such great good fortune stung his brother, Prince Feng, with jealousy, so that he resolved to treacherously waylay Horwendil in the Viking’s own house.  When a chance came to murder him, his bloody hand sated the deadly passion of his soul.  Then he took the wife of the brother he had just butchered, capping unnatural murder with incest.  The murderer even managed to veil the monstrosity of his deed with such evil cunning, that he made it seem that he had saved Gerutha from her brother, whom he said had suddenly slipped into one of his famed berserk rages.  Gerutha, he claimed, was so gentle that she would do no man the slightest hurt, he had been forced to snuff out her husband’s extreme rage.  Nor did his smooth words fail in their intent; for he had paid courtiers to bear witness against his brother.  He even made it seem that he had married the princess so that they could share the grief of their loss together.

Amleth beheld all this in dismay, but feared lest too shrewd a behaviour might make his uncle suspect him of harbour plans of vengeance .  So he chose to feign dullness, and pretend an utter lack of wits.  This cunning course concealed his intelligence to ensure his safety.  Every day he remained in his mother’s house utterly listless and unclean, flinging himself on the ground and bespattering his person with foul and filthy dirt.  His discoloured face and visage smutched with slime denoted foolish and grotesque madness.  All he spoke sounded foolish and all he did savoured of utter lethargy.  He used at times to sit over the fire, and, raking up the embers with his hands, to fashion wooden crooks, and harden them in the fire, shaping at their lips certain barbs, to make them hold more tightly to their fastenings.  When asked what he was about, he said that he was preparing sharp javelins for his famous Viking father.  This answer was not a little scoffed at, all men deriding his idle and ridiculous pursuit, but the thing helped his purpose afterwards.  But now it was his craft in this matter that first awakened in the deeper observers a suspicion of his cunning, for his skill in a trifling art betokened the hidden talent of the craftsman, nor could they believe the spirit dull where the hand had crafted so cunning a workmanship.  Lastly, he always watched with the most punctual care over his pile of crooked javelins that he had pointed in the fire.  Some people, therefore, declared that his mind was quick enough, and fancied that he only played the simpleton in order to hide his understanding, and veiled some deep purpose under a cunning feint.  His wiliness, said these, would be most readily detected, if a fair woman were put in his way in some secluded place, who should provoke his mind to the temptations of love; all men’s natural temper being too blindly amorous to be artfully dissembled, and this passion being also too impetuous to be checked by cunning.  Therefore, if his lethargy were feigned, he would seize the opportunity, and yield straightway to violent and energetic delights.  So men were commissioned to draw the young man in his rides into a remote part of the forest, and there assail him with a temptation of this nature.  Among these chanced to be a foster-brother of Amleth, who had not ceased to have regard to their common nurture; and who esteemed his present orders less than the memory of their past fellowship.  He attended Amleth among his appointed train, being anxious not to entrap, but to warn him; and was persuaded that he would suffer the worst if he showed the slightest glimpse of sound reason, and above all if he did the act of love openly.  This was also plain enough to Amleth himself.  For when he was bidden mount his horse, he deliberately set himself in such a fashion that he turned his back to the neck and faced about, fronting the tail; which he proceeded to encompass with the reins, just as if on that side he would check the horse in its furious pace.  By this cunning thought he eluded the trick, and overcame the treachery of his uncle.  The reinless steed galloping on, with rider directing its tail, was ludicrous enough to behold.

Amleth went on, and a wolf crossed his path amid the thicket.  When his companions told him that a young colt had met him, he retorted, that in Feng’s stud there were too few of that kind fighting.  This was a gentle but witty fashion of invoking a curse upon his uncle’s riches.  When they averred that he had given a cunning answer, he answered that he had spoken deliberately; for he was loth, to be thought prone to lying about any matter, and wished to be held a stranger to falsehood; and accordingly he mingled craft and candour in such wise that, though his words did lack truth, yet there was nothing to betoken the truth and betray how far his keenness went.

Again, as he passed along the beach, his companions found the rudder of a ship, which had been wrecked, and said they had discovered a huge knife.  “This,” said he, “was the right thing to carve such a huge ham;” by which he really meant the sea, to whose infinitude, he thought, this enormous rudder matched.  Also, as they passed the sandhills, and bade him look at the meal, meaning the sand, he replied that it had been ground small by the hoary tempests of the sea.  His companions praising his answer, he said that he had spoken it wittingly.  Then they purposely left him, that he might pluck up more courage to practise wantonness.  The woman whom his uncle had dispatched met him in a dark spot, as though she had crossed him by chance; and he took her and would have ravished her, had not his foster-brother previously given him an inkling of the trap.  For this man, while pondering the fittest way to play privily the prompter’s part, and forestall the young man’s hazardous lewdness, found a straw on the ground and fastened it underneath the tail of a gadfly that was flying past; which he then drove towards the particular quarter where he knew Amleth to be: an act which served the unwary prince exceedingly well.  The token was interpreted as shrewdly as it had been sent, for Amleth saw the gadfly, espied with curiosity the straw which it wore embedded in its tail, and perceived that it was a secret warning to beware of treachery.  Alarmed, scenting a trap, and fain to possess his desire in greater safety, he caught up the woman in his arms and dragged her off to a distant and impenetrable fen.  Moreover, when they had lain together, he conjured her earnestly to disclose the matter to none, and the promise of silence was accorded as heartily as it was asked.  For both of them had been under the same fostering in their childhood, and this early rearing in common had brought Amleth and the girl into great secret intimacy before.

So, when he had returned home, they all jeeringly asked him whether he had given way to love, and he avowed that he had ravished the maid.  When he was next asked where he did it, and what had been his pillow, he said that he had rested upon the hoof of a beast of burden, upon a cockscomb, and also upon a ceiling.  For, when he was starting into temptation, he had gathered fragments of all these things, in order to avoid lying.  And though his jest did not take aught of the truth out of the story, the answer was greeted with shouts of merriment from the bystanders.  The maiden, too, when questioned on the matter, declared that he had done no such thing, and her denial was the more readily credited when it was found that the escort had not witnessed the deed.  Then he who had marked the gadfly in order to give a hint, wishing to show Amleth that to his trick he owed his salvation, observed that latterly he had been singly devoted to Amleth.  The young man’s reply was apt.  Not to seem forgetful of his informant’s service, he said that he had seen a certain thing bearing a straw flit by suddenly, wearing a stalk of chaff fixed in its hinder parts.  The cleverness of this speech, which made the rest split with laughter, rejoiced the heart of Amleth’s friend.

Thus all were worsted, and none could open the secret lock of the young man’s wisdom.  But a friend of Feng, gifted more with assurance than judgment, declared that the unfathomable cunning of such a mind could not be detected by any vulgar plot, for the man’s obstinacy was so great that it ought not to be assailed with any mild measures; there were many sides to his wiliness, and it ought not to be entrapped by any one method.  Accordingly, said he, his own profounder acuteness had hit on a more delicate way, which was well fitted to be put in practice, and would effectually discover what they desired to know.  Feng was purposely to absent himself, pretending affairs of great import.  Amleth should be closeted alone with his mother in her chamber; but a man should first be commissioned to place himself in a concealed part of the room and listen heedfully to what they talked about.  For if the son had any wits at all he would not hesitate to speak out in the hearing of his mother, or fear to trust himself to the fidelity of her who bore him.  The speaker, loth to seem readier to devise than to carry out the plot, zealously proffered himself as the agent of the eavesdropping.  Feng rejoiced at the scheme, and departed on pretence of a long journey.  Now he who had given this counsel repaired privily to the room where Amleth was shut up with his mother, and lay down skulking in the straw.  But Amleth had his antidote for the treachery. Afraid of being overheard by some eavesdropper, he at first resorted to his usual imbecile ways, and crowed like a noisy cock, beating his arms together to mimic the flapping of wings.  Then he mounted the straw and began to swing his body and jump again and again, wishing to try if aught lurked there in hiding.  Feeling a lump beneath his feet, he drove his sword into the spot, and impaled him who lay hid.  Then he dragged him from his concealment and slew him.  Then, cutting his body into morsels, he seethed it in boiling water, and flung it through the mouth of an open sewer for the swine to eat, bestrewing the stinking mire with his hapless limbs.  Having in this wise eluded the snare, he went back to the room.  Then his mother set up a great wailing, and began to lament her son’s folly to his face; but he said: “Most infamous of women; dost thou seek with such lying lamentations to hide thy most heavy guilt?  Wantoning like a harlot, thou hast entered a wicked and abominable state of wedlock, embracing with incestuous bosom thy husband’s slayer, and wheedling with filthy lures of blandishment him who had slain the father of thy son.  This, forsooth, is the way that the mares couple with the vanquishers of their mates; for brute beasts are naturally incited to pair indiscriminately; and it would seem that thou, like them, hast clean forgot thy first husband.  As for me, not idly do I wear the mask of folly; for I doubt not that he who destroyed his brother will riot as ruthlessly in the blood of his kindred.  Therefore it is better to choose the garb of dullness than that of sense, and to borrow some protection from a show of utter frenzy.  Yet the passion to avenge my father still burns in my heart; but I am watching the chances, I await the fitting hour.  There is a place for all things; against so merciless and dark spirit must be used the deeper devices of the mind.  And thou, who hadst been better employed in lamenting thine own disgrace, know it is superfluity to bewail my witlessness; thou shouldst weep for the blemish in thine own mind, not for that in another’s.  On the rest see thou keep silence.”  With such reproaches he rent the heart of his mother and redeemed her to walk in the ways of virtue; teaching her to set the fires of the past above the seductions of the present.

When Feng returned, nowhere could he find the man who had suggested the treacherous espial; he searched for him long and carefully, but none said they had seen him anywhere.  Amleth, among others, was asked in jest if he had come on any trace of him, and replied that the man had gone to the sewer, but had fallen through its bottom and been stifled by the floods of filth, and that he had then been devoured by the swine that came up all about that place.  This speech was flouted by those who heard; for it seemed senseless, though really it expressly avowed the truth.

Feng now suspected that his stepson was certainly full of guile, and desired to make away with him, but durst not do the deed for fear of the displeasure, not only of Amleth’s grandsire King Rorik, but also of his own wife.  So he thought that the King of Britain should be employed to slay him, so that another could do the deed, and he be able to feign innocence.  Thus, desirous to hide his cruelty, he chose rather to besmirch his friend than to bring disgrace on his own head.  Amleth, on departing, gave secret orders to his mother to hang the hall with woven knots, and to perform pretended obsequies for him a year thence; promising that he would then return.  Two retainers of Feng then accompanied him, bearing a letter graven on wood—a kind of writing material frequent in old times; this letter enjoined the king of the Britons to put to death the youth who was sent over to him.  While they were reposing, Amleth searched their coffers, found the letter, and read the instructions therein.  Whereupon he erased all the writing on the surface, substituted fresh characters, and so, changing the purport of the instructions, shifted his own doom upon his companions.  Nor was he satisfied with removing from himself the sentence of death and passing the peril on to others, but added an entreaty that the King of Britain would grant his daughter in marriage to a youth of great judgment whom he was sending to him.  Under this remained marked the signature of Feng.

Now when they had reached Britain, the envoys went to the king, and proffered him the letter which they supposed was an implement of destruction to another, but which really betokened death to themselves.  The king dissembled the truth, and entreated them hospitably and kindly.  Then Amleth scouted all the splendour of the royal banquet like vulgar viands, and abstaining very strangely, rejected that plenteous feast, refraining from the drink even as from the banquet.  All marvelled that a youth and a foreigner should disdain the carefully cooked dainties of the royal board and the luxurious banquet provided, as if it were some peasant’s relish.  So, when the revel broke up, and the king was dismissing his friends to rest, he had a man sent into the sleeping-room to listen secretly, in order that he might hear the midnight conversation of his guests.  Now, when Amleth’s companions asked him why he had refrained from the feast of yestereve, as if it were poison, he answered that the bread was flecked with blood and tainted, that there was a tang of iron in the liquor, while the meats of the feast reeked of the stench of a human carcase, and were infected by a kind of smack of the odour of the charnel.  He further said that the king had the eyes of a slave, and that the queen had in three ways shown the behaviour of a bondmaid.  Thus he reviled with insulting invective not so much the feast as its givers.  And presently his companions, taunting him with his old defect of wits, began to flout him with many saucy jeers, because he blamed and cavilled at seemly and worthy things, and because he attacked thus ignobly an illustrious king and a lady of so refined a behaviour, bespattering with the shame fullest abuse those who merited all praise.

All this the king heard from his retainer; and declared that he who could say such things had either more than mortal wisdom or more than mortal folly, in these few words fathoming the full depth of Amleth’s penetration.  Then he summoned his steward and asked him whence he had procured the bread.  The steward declared that it had been made by the king’s own baker.  The king asked where the grain had grown of which it was made, and whether any sign was to be found there of human carnage?  The other answered, that not far off was a field, covered with the ancient bones of slaughtered men, and still bearing plainly all the signs of ancient carnage; and that he had himself planted this field with grain in springtide, thinking it more fruitful than the rest, and hoping for plenteous abundance, and so, for aught he knew, the bread had caught some evil savour from this bloodshed.  The king, on hearing this, surmised that Amleth had spoken truly, and took the pains to learn also what had been the source of the lard.  The other declared that his hogs had, through negligence, strayed from keeping, and battened on the rotten carcase of a robber, and that perchance their pork had thus come to have something of a corrupt smack.  The king, finding that Amleth’s judgment was right in this thing also, asked of what liquor the steward had mixed the drink?  Hearing that it had been brewed of water and meal, he had the spot of the spring pointed out to him, and set to digging deep down; and there he found, rusted away, several swords, the tang whereof it was thought had tainted the waters.  Others relate that Amleth blamed the drink because, while quaffing it, he had detected some bees that had fed in the paunch of a dead man; and that the taint, which had formerly been imparted to the combs, had reappeared in the taste.  The king, seeing that Amleth had rightly given the causes of the taste he had found so faulty, and learning that the ignoble eyes wherewith Amleth had reproached him concerned some stain upon his birth, had a secret interview with his mother, and asked her who his father had really been.  She said she had submitted to no man but the king.  But when he threatened that he would have the truth out of her by a trial, he was told that he was the offspring of a slave.  By the evidence of the avowal thus extorted he understood the whole mystery of the reproach upon his origin.  Abashed as he was with shame for his low estate, he was so ravished with the young man’s cleverness, that he asked him why he had aspersed the queen with the reproach that she had demeaned herself like a slave?  But while resenting that the courtliness of his wife had been accused in the midnight gossip of guest, he found that her mother had been a bondmaid.  For Amleth said he had noted in her three blemishes showing the demeanor of a slave: first, she had muffled her head in her mantle as handmaids do, next, that she had gathered up her gown for walking, and thirdly, that she had first picked out with a splinter, and then chewed up, the remnant of food that stuck in the crevices between her teeth.  Further, he mentioned that the king’s mother had been brought into slavery from captivity, lest she should seem servile only in her habits, yet not in her birth.

Then the king adored the wisdom of Amleth as though it were inspired, and gave him his daughter to wife; accepting his bare word as though it were a witness from the skies.  Moreover, in order to fulfil the bidding of his friend, he hanged Amleth’s companions on the morrow.  Amleth, feigning offence, treated this piece of kindness as a grievance, and received from the king, as wergild, some gold, which he afterwards melted in the fire, and secretly caused to be poured into some hollowed sticks.

When he had passed a whole year with the king he obtained leave to make a journey, and returned to his own land, carrying away of all his princely wealth inside the sticks which held the gold.  On reaching Jutland, he exchanged his present attire for his ancient demeanour, which he had adopted for righteous ends, purposely assuming an aspect of absurdity.  Covered with filth, he entered the banquet-room where his own obsequies were being held, and struck all men utterly aghast, rumour having falsely noised abroad his death.  At last terror melted into mirth, and the guests jeered and taunted one another, that he whose last rites they were celebrating as through he were dead, should appear in the flesh.  When he was asked concerning his comrades, he pointed to the sticks he was carrying, and said, “Here is both the one and the other.”  This he observed with equal truth and pleasantry, for his speech, though most thought idle, departed not from the truth, for it pointed at the wergild of the slain as though it were themselves.  Thereon, wishing to bring the company into a gayer mood, he jollied the cupbearers, and diligently did the office of plying the drink.  Then, to prevent his loose dress hampering his walk, he girdled his sword upon his side, and purposely drawing it several times, pricked his fingers with its point.  The bystanders accordingly had both sword and scabbard riveted across with an iron nail.  Then, to smooth the way more safely to his plot, he went to the lords and plied them heavily with draught upon draught, and drenched them all so deep in wine, that their feet were made feeble with drunkenness, and they turned to rest within the palace, making their bed where they had revelled.  Then he saw they were in a fit state for his plots, and thought that here was a chance offered to do his purpose.  So he took out of his bosom the crooked javelins he had long ago prepared, and went into the building, where the floor lay covered with the bodies of the nobles wheezing off their sleep and their debauch.  Then, cutting away its support, he brought down the hanging his mother had knitted, which covered the inner as well as the outer walls of the hall.  This he flung upon the snorers, and then applying the crooked stakes, he knotted and bound them up in such insoluble intricacy, that not one of the men beneath, however hard he might struggle, could contrive to rise.  After this he set fire to the palace.  The flames spread, scattering the conflagration far and wide.  It enveloped the whole dwelling, destroyed the palace, and burnt them all while they were either buried in deep sleep or vainly striving to arise.  Then he went to the chamber of Feng, who had before this been conducted by his train into his pavilion, and he plucked up a sword that chanced to be hanging on the headboard of the bed, and planted his own in its place.  Then, awakening his uncle, he told him that his nobles were perishing in the flames, and that Amleth was here, armed with his crooks to help him, and thirsting to exact the vengeance, now long overdue, for his father’s murder.  Feng, on hearing this, leapt from his bed, but was cut down while deprived of his own sword, and as he strove in vain to draw the strange one.  O valiant Amleth, and worthy of immortal fame, who being shrewdly armed with a feint of folly, covered a wisdom too high for human wit under a marvellous disguise of silliness! And not only found in his subtlety means to protect his own safety, but also by its guidance found opportunity to avenge his father. By this skilful defence of himself, and strenuous revenge for his parent, he has left it doubtful whether we are to think more of his wit or his bravery.

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK FOUR:

Amleth, when he had accomplished the slaughter of his stepfather, feared to expose his deed to the fickle judgment of his countrymen, and thought it well to lie in hiding till he had learnt what way the mob of the uncouth populace was tending.  So the whole neighbourhood, who had watched the blaze during the night, and in the morning desired to know the cause of the fire they had seen, perceived the royal palace fallen in ashes; and, on searching through its ruins, which were yet warm, found only some shapeless remains of burnt corpses.  For the devouring flame had consumed everything so utterly that not a single token was left to inform them of the cause of such a disaster.  Also they saw the body of Feng lying pierced by the sword, amid his blood-stained raiment.  Some were seized with open anger, others with grief, and some with secret delight.  One party bewailed the death of their leader, the other gave thanks that the tyranny of the fratricide was now laid at rest.  Thus the occurrence of the king’s slaughter was greeted by the beholders with diverse minds.

Amleth, finding the people so quiet, made bold to leave his hiding.  Summoning those in whom he knew the memory of his father to be fast-rooted, he went to the assembly and there made a speech after this manner:

“Nobles!  Danes!  Countrymen!   Lend me your ears.  Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against this sea of troubles is answered before you in the ashes of the usurper’s palace.”

Prince Amleth took back the province of Aar and led the people as their new ruler.

Meanwhile King Rorik had died, and his son, Prince Wiglek, had come to the throne, and had harassed Amleth’s mother with all manner of insolence and stripped her of her royal wealth, complaining that her son had usurped the kingdom of Jutland, and had defrauded the King of Leire, who had the sole privilege of giving and taking away the rights of high offices.  This treatment Amleth took with such forbearance as apparently to return kindness for slander, for he presented Wiglek with the richest of his spoils.  But afterwards he seized a chance of taking vengeance, attacked him, subdued him, and from a covert became an open foe.  Fialler, the governor of Skane, he drove into exile; and the tale is that Fialler retired to a spot called Undensakre, which is unknown to our peoples.  After this, Wiglek, recruited with the forces of Skane and Zealand, sent envoys to challenge Amleth to a war.  Amleth, with his marvellous shrewdness, saw that he was tossed between two difficulties, one of which involved disgrace and the other danger.  For he knew that if he took up the challenge he was threatened with peril of his life, while to shrink from it would disgrace his reputation as a soldier.  Yet in that spirit ever fixed on deeds of prowess the desire to save his honour won the day.  Dread of disaster was blunted by more vehement thirst for glory; he would not tarnish the unblemished lustre of his fame by timidly skulking from his fate.  Also he saw that there is almost as wide a gap between a mean life and a noble death as that which is acknowledged between honour and disgrace themselves.

Amleth was slain by Wiglek in this battle for Jutland, and his wife yielded herself up unasked to be the conqueror’s spoil and bride.  So ended Amleth.  Had fortune been as kind to him as nature, he would have equalled the gods in glory, and surpassed the labours of Hercules by his deeds of prowess. A plain in Jutland is to be found, famous for his name and burial-place.  King Wiglek’s administration of the kingdom was long and peaceful, and he died of a horrible disease.

King Wermund, his son, succeeded him.  The long and leisurely tranquillity of a most prosperous and quiet time flowed by and Wermund in undisturbed security maintained a prolonged and steady peace at home.

He begat a son, King Uffe, who surpassed all of his age in stature, got him for a wife the daughter of Frowin, the Governor of Sleswik.  Frowin had two sons, Ket and Wig, who were youths of most brilliant parts, and their excellence.  At this time the King of Sweden was Athisl, a man of notable fame and energy.  He carried his arms into Denmark, and challenged Frowin to battle near Sleswik.  The armies fought one another with vast slaughter, and Athisl slew Frowin in personal combat.  His sons, Ket and Wig, avenged his death by slaying the Swedish king in a duel, but gained notoriety when it took both of the young men’s sword strokes to overcome the older king’s defences.  King Uffe offset this fault by dueling two Saxon princes simultaneously and defeating them.

Uffe was succeeded by his son, King Dan, who carried his arms against foreigners, and increased his sovereignty with many a trophy; but he tarnished the glory he had won by squandering his gains on excessive luxuries.

After this Hugleik was king, who is said to have defeated in battle at sea Homod and Hogrim, the despots of Sweden.

To him succeeded King Frode ‘the Vigorous’, who bore out his name by the strength of his body and mind.  He destroyed in war ten captains of Norway, and then King Froger.

After him King Dan came to the throne. When he was in the twelfth year of his age, he was wearied by the insolence of the embassies, which commanded him either to fight the Saxons or to pay them tribute. Ashamed, he preferred fighting to payment and was moved to die stoutly rather than live a coward. So he elected to fight; and the warriors of the Danes filled the Elbe with such a throng of vessels, that the decks of the ships lashed together made it quite easy to cross, as though along a continuous bridge. The end was that the King of Saxony had to accept the very terms he was demanding from the Danes.

After Dan, King Fridleif, surnamed the Swift, assumed the sovereignty.  Fridleif attacked Dublin and England and left them victorious and subject to him.  During his reign, Huyrwil, the lord of Oland, made a league with the Danes and attacked Norway.

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK FIVE:

(Circa 800 AD1)  After the death of Fridleif, his son King Frode, aged seven, was elected in his stead by the unanimous decision of the Danes. But they held an assembly first, and judged that the minority of the king should be taken in charge by guardians, lest the sovereignty should pass away owing to the boyishness of the ruler. For one and all paid such respect to the name and memory of Fridleif, that the royalty was bestowed on his son despite his tender years.

When Frode reached marriageable age, Princess Hanund, the daughter of the King of the Huns, became his wife and he passed three years in the most prosperous peace.  But Hanund was unfaithful, so Frode returned her to King Hunn.  The King of the Huns gathered up his forces and set out to attack his former son-in-law I Denmark.  King Frode preferred to fight him in Scythia, so he gathered a host and set off east.

King Frode attacked Strunik the King of the Sclavs in northern Scythia and went on to conquer King Olmar of the Ruthenians in central Scythia as well.  The host of the Huns was so huge that King Frode had his army withdraw before them and caused the Hunnish host to perish of its own large size.  After this victory, the Eastern Romans called the Danes by the name ‘Dromitai’, meaning those who run fast, really meaning those who run fast from battle.  Thus did Frode acquire a repute similar to his father, Fridleif, who was called ‘The Swift’ by the western Holy Romans because he, too, ran fast from battle.  King Frode ruled an empire from Kiev in the east to Dublin in the west and his thirty year rule was called ‘the Peace of Frode’.  He was treacherously slain using witchcraft by Prince Helgi (Oleg) ‘Arrow Odd’ in Kiev.

After the death of King Frodi, his son, King Alf ruled in Scythia and was later killed by this same ‘Arrow Odd’ in Kiev.

But before the death of Alf, King Frodi’s daughter, Princess Eyfura, had a son she named Prince Eyfur (Igor or Ivar) who lived in Scythia as Prince Fridleif.

Note 1:  At the end of the Book 5 narrative, Saxo says that King Frode’s reign took place in the time of Christ’s birth (Circa 1 AD), but that cannot be true, as some of the players come from much later times (Huns, Arrow Odd, and there’s an insufficient number of kings in the list), so some scholars speculate 450 AD as a date to coincide with the time of Attila ‘the Hun’, while this author suspects it was an even later date of Circa 800 AD to coincide with the collision of Viking traders with the Khazar Trading Empire, of which the Huns were one of seven tribes, in the resurgence of trade in the global warming period of that time.  Later, the Danish princes of Kievan Rus’ fought and eventually crushed the Khazars (and Huns) in southern Scythia, Circa 860-960 AD.  BTW, Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg, Germany, in his contemporary chronicle of the period, called the defenders of Kiev ‘Swift Danes’ and their allies ‘Runaway Slavs’.  It should be noted that these are Anglish Danish princes who likely spoke Anglish, so, when a hundred years later, the Rus’ Varangian Guard of Constantinople was taken over by English ex-pats, they likely spoke the same language.

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK SIX:

After the death of Frode (and King Alf), the Danes wrongly supposed that King Fridleif (aka Prince Ivar of Kiev), who was being reared in Ruthenia (Hraes’), 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 King 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.  When the composer of this song had uttered it, the Danes rewarded him with the Crown of Denmark.

King Fridleif, meanwhile, married the Norwegian King Amund’s daughter, Princess Frogertha, who bore him a son they named Frode in the west, but in the east he was also called Svein ‘the Old’, because he was of the ‘Old’ Frode-Fridleif line of Danish kings, by the Danes of Kiev, and he was called Prince Sviatoslav by the Slavs of Kievan Rus’.  King Fridleif raised a host and killed King Hiarn and reclaimed Denmark for himself.

Frode was being raised in Kiev when King Fridleif fell fighting the Huns in the east of Scythia, so after King Frode had avenged his father by crushing the Khazar Empire, of which the Huns were a large part, he went on to attack the Eastern Romans.  He failed in his war with Miklagard and left his son, Prince Ingild (Valdamar or Vladimir in Slav), to rule in Rus’ and he had to return to the west, for once again Denmark was being ruled by a usurper, King Harald.  He took a force west and received aid from the Norwegians and defeated Harald’s forces in the fjord of Hjorungavagr near Trondheim.  Frode went on to conquer England as King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’, but died soon after the victory, likely by poisoning.

King Frode was succeeded by his son King Ingild (Prince Valdamar of Kiev), whose soul was perverted from honour.  He forsook the examples of his forefathers, and utterly enthralled himself to the lures of the most wanton profligacy (ie: 700 wives).  Thus he had not a shadow of goodness and righteousness, but embraced vices instead of virtue; he cut the sinews of self-control, neglected the duties of his kingly station, and sank into a filthy slave of riot.  Indeed, he fostered everything that was adverse or ill-fitted to an orderly life. He tainted the glories of his father and grandfather by practising the foulest lusts, and bedimmed the brightest honours of his ancestors by most shameful deeds. For he was so prone to gluttony, that he had no desire to avenge his father, or repel the aggressions of his foes; and so, could he but gratify his gullet, he thought that decency and self-control need be observed in nothing.  By idleness and sloth he stained his glorious lineage, living a loose and sensual life; and his soul, so degenerate, so far perverted and astray from the steps of his fathers, he loved to plunge into most abominable gulfs of foulness.  It is said that he had seven hundred wives in and around Kiev and had two in England.

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK SEVEN:

We are told by historians of old, that Ingild had four sons, of whom three perished in war, while King Olaf alone reigned after his father; but some say that Olaf was the son of Ingild’s sister, though this opinion is doubtful.  Posterity has but an uncertain knowledge of his deeds, which are dim with the dust of antiquity; nothing but the last counsel of his wisdom has been rescued by tradition.  For when he was in the last grip of death he took thought for his sons Kings Frode and Harald, and bade them have royal sway, one over the land and the other over the sea, and receive these several powers, not in prolonged possession, but in yearly rotation.  Thus their share in the rule was made equal; but Frode, who was the first to have control of the affairs of the sea, earned disgrace from his continual defeats in roving.  His calamity was due to his sailors being newly married, and preferring nuptial joys at home to the toils of foreign warfare. After a time Harald, the younger son, received the rule of the sea, and chose soldiers who were unmarried, fearing to be baffled like his brother. Fortune favoured his choice; for he was as glorious a rover as his brother was inglorious; and this earned him his brother’s hatred. Moreover, their queens, Signe and Ulfhild, one of whom was the daughter of Siward, King of Sweden, the other of Karl, the Governor of Gothland, were continually wrangling as to which was the nobler, and broke up the mutual fellowship of their husbands.

After Frode was killed, King Halfdan reigned over his country about three years, and then, handing over his sovereignty to his brother Harald as deputy, went roving, and attacked and ravaged Oland and the neighbouring isles, which are severed from contact with Sweden by a winding sound. Here in the winter he beached and entrenched his ships, and spent three years on the expedition.

He killed a suitor for Sigrid, the daughter of Yngwin, King of the Goths, and later bequeathed the royal wealth by will to Yngwin, and appointed him king. King Yngwin was afterwards overthrown in war by a rival named Ragnald, and he left a son King Siwald.  A battle was fought between Siwald and Ragnald in Zealand, warriors of picked valour being chosen on both sides.  For three days they slaughtered one another; but so great was the bravery of both sides, that it was doubtful how the victory would go.  Then Ottar, Siwald’s foremost man, desirous of glory, broke through the thickest of the foe and cut down Ragnald and won the Danes a sudden victory.

After this Siwald was succeeded by his son, King Sigar, who had sons Siwald, Alf, and Alger, and a daughter Signe.  Alf excelled the rest in spirit and beauty, and devoted himself to the business of a rover.  After Sigar, it was the eldest, King Siwald, who ruled Denmark.  But Alf’s comrade, Borgar, wedded the attendant, Groa, and had by her a son, Harald, to whom the following age gave the surname Hyldeland.

Many perilous wars were fought and fortunes had so exhausted the royal line among the Danes, that it was found to be reduced to Princess Gurid alone, the daughter of Alf, and granddaughter of Sigar.  And when the Danes saw themselves deprived of their usual high-born sovereigns, they committed the kingdom to men of the people, and appointed rulers out of the commons, assigning to Ostmar the regency of Skane, and that of Zealand to Hunding; on Hane they conferred the lordship of Funen; while in the hands of Rorik and Hather they put the supreme power of Jutland, the authority being divided.  Therefore, that it may not be unknown from what father sprang the succeeding line of kings.

After this Halfdan took Gurid to wife.  But finding in her the fault of barrenness, and desiring much to have offspring, he went to Uppsala in order to procure fruitfulness for her, and being told in answer that he must make atonement to the shades of his brother if he would raise up children, he obeyed the oracle, and was comforted by gaining his desire.  For he had a son by Gurid, to whom he gave the name of Harald. Under his title Halfdan tried to restore the kingdom of the Danes to its ancient estate, as it was torn asunder by the injuries of the chiefs; but, while fighting in Zealand, he attacked Wesete, a very famous champion, in battle, and was slain.  Gurid was at the battle in man’s attire, from love for her son.  She saw the event; the young man fought hotly, but his companions fled; and she took him on her shoulders to a neighbouring wood.  Weariness, more than anything else, kept the enemy from pursuing him; but one of them shot him as he hung, with an arrow, through the hinder parts, and Harald thought that his mother’s care brought him more shame than help.

King Harald, being of great beauty and unusual size, and surpassing those of his age in strength and stature, received such favour from Odin (whose oracle was thought to have been the cause of his birth), that steel could not injure his perfect soundness.  The result was, that shafts which wounded others were disabled from doing him any harm.  Nor was the boon unrequited; for he is reported to have promised to Odin all the souls which his sword cast out of their bodies.  He also had his father’s deeds recorded for a memorial by craftsmen on a rock in Bleking.

After this, hearing that Wesete was to hold his wedding in Skane, he went to the feast disguised as a beggar; and when all were sunken in wine and sleep, he battered the bride-chamber with a beam.  But Wesete, without inflicting a wound, so beat his mouth with a cudgel, that he took out two teeth; but two grinders unexpectedly broke out afterwards and repaired their loss: an event which earned him the name of Hyldetand, which some declare he obtained on account of a prominent row of teeth.  Here he slew Wesete, and got the sovereignty of Skane.  Next he attacked and killed Hather in Jutland; and his fall is marked by the lasting name of the town.  After this he overthrew Hunding and Rorik, seized Leire, and reunited the dismembered realm of Denmark into its original shape.

Harald made tributaries of the nations that lay along the Rhine, levying troops from the bravest of that race.  With these forces he conquered Sclavonia in war, and caused its generals, Duk and Dal, because of their bravery, to be captured, and not killed.  These men he took to serve with him, and, after overcoming Aquitania, soon went to Britain, where he overthrew the King of the Humbrians, and enrolled the smartest of the warriors he had conquered, the chief of whom was esteemed to be Orm, surnamed the Briton.  The fame of these deeds brought champions from divers parts of the world, whom he formed into a band of mercenaries.  Strengthened by their numbers, he kept down insurrections in all kingdoms by the terror of his name, so that he took out of their rulers all courage to fight with one another.  Moreover, no man durst assume any sovereignty on the sea without his consent; for of old the state of the Danes had the joint lordship of land and sea.

At this time one Brun was the sole partner and confidant of all Harald’s councils.  To this man both Harald and Ring, whenever they needed a secret messenger, used to entrust their commissions.  This degree of intimacy he obtained because he had been reared and fostered with them.  But Brun, amid the toils of his constant journeys to and fro, was drowned in a certain river; and Odin, disguised under his name and looks, shook the close union of the kings by his treacherous embassage, and he sowed strife so guilefully that he engendered in men, who were bound by friendship and blood, a bitter mutual hate, which seemed unappeasable except by war.  Their dissensions first grew up silently; at last both sides betrayed their leanings, and their secret malice burst into the light of day.  So they declared their feuds, and seven years passed in collecting the materials of war.  Some say that Harald secretly sought occasions to destroy himself, not being moved by malice or jealousy for the crown, but by a deliberate and voluntary effort.  His old age and his cruelty made him a burden to his subjects; he preferred the sword to the pangs of disease, and liked better to lay down his life in the battlefield than in his bed, that he might have an end in harmony with the deeds of his past life. Thus, to make his death more illustrious, and go to the nether world in a larger company, he longed to summon many men to share his end; and he therefore of his own will prepared for war, in order to make food for future slaughter.  For these reasons, being seized with as great a thirst to die himself as to kill others, and wishing the massacre on both sides to be equal, he furnished both sides with equal resources, but let Ring have a somewhat stronger force, preferring he should conquer and survive him.

PROLOGUE  (From The Nine Books of Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus):

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK EIGHT

CHAPTER ZERO POINT THREE

0.3  PROLOGUE:  THE BATTLE OF BRAVALLA  (Circa 700 AD)

“The Battle of Bravalla is one of the most famous and hallowed of Scandinavian history.”

Brian Howard Seibert

PARAGRAPHS ON THE BATTLE OF BRAVALLA

(Circa 700 AD)  Starkad was the first to set in order in Danish speech the history of the Swedish war, a conflict whereof he was himself a mighty pillar; the said history being rather an oral than a written tradition.  He set forth and arranged the course of this war in the mother tongue according to the fashion of our country; but it is presently being put into Latin, and shall only recount the most illustrious princes on either side.  For there is no desire to include the multitude, which are even past exact numbering.  And the pen shall relate first those on the side of Harald, and then those who served under Ring.

Now the most famous of the captains that mustered to Harald are acknowledged to have been Sweyn and Sambar (Sam?), Ambar and Elli; Rati of Funen, Salgard and Roe (Hrothgar), whom his long beard distinguished by a nickname.  Besides these, Skalk the Scanian, and Alf the son of Agg; to whom are joined Olwir the Broad, and Gnepie the Old.  Besides these there was Gardh, founder of the town Stang.  To these are added the kinsfolk or bound followers of Harald: Blend (Blaeng?), the dweller in furthest Thule, and Brand, whose surname was Crumb (Bitling?).  Allied with these were Thorguy, with Thorwig, Tatar (Teit), and Hialte.  These men voyaged to Leire with bodies armed for war; but they were also mighty in excellence of wit, and their trained courage matched their great stature; for they had skill in discharging arrows both from bow and catapult, and at fighting their foe as they commonly did, man to man; and also at readily stringing together verse in the speech of their country: so zealously had they trained mind and body alike.  Now out of Leire came Hortar (Hjort) and Borrhy (Borgar or Borgny), and also Belgi and Beigad, to whom were added Bari and Toli.  Now out of the town of Sle, under the captains Hetha (Heid) and Wisna, with Hakon Cut-cheek came Tummi the Sailmaker.  On these captains, who had the bodies of women, nature bestowed the souls of men.  Webiorg was also inspired with the same spirit, and was attended by Bo (Bui) Bramason and Brat the Jute, thirsting for war.  In the same throng came Orm of England, Ubbe the Frisian, Ari the One-eyed, and Alf Gotar.  Next in the count came Dal the Fat and Duk the Sclav; Wisna, a woman, filled with sternness, and a skilled warrior, was guarded by a band of Sclavs: her chief followers were Barri and Gnizli.  But the rest of the same company had their bodies covered by little shields, and used very long swords and targets of sky blue hue, which, in time of war, they either cast behind their backs or gave over to the baggage-bearers; while they cast away all protection to their breasts, and exposed their bodies to every peril, offering battle with drawn swords.  The most illustrious of these were Tolkar and Ymi.  After these, Toki of the province of Wohin was conspicuous together with Otrit surnamed the Young.  Hetha, guarded by a retinue of very active men, brought an armed company to the war, the chiefs of whom were Grim and Grenzli; next to whom are named Geir the Livonian, Hame also and Hunger, Humbli and Biari, bravest of the princes.  These men often fought duels successfully, and won famous victories far and wide.

The maidens I have named, in fighting as well as courteous array, led their land-forces to the battlefield.  Thus the Danish army mustered company by company.  There were seven kings, equal in spirit but differing in allegiance, some defending Harald, and some Ring.  Moreover, the following went to the side of Harald: Homi and Hosathul (Eysothul?), Him…., Hastin and Hythin (Hedin) the Slight, also Dahar (Dag), named Grenski, and Harald Olafsson also.  From the province of Aland came Har and Herlewar (Herleif), with Hothbrodd, surnamed the Furious; these fought in the Danish camp.  But from Imisland arrived Humnehy (?) and Harald.  They were joined by Haki and by Sigmund and Serker the sons of Bemon, all coming from the North.  All these were retainers of the king, who befriended them most generously, for they were held in the highest distinction by him, receiving swords adorned with gold, and the choicest spoils of war.  There came also the sons of Gandal the old, who were in the intimate favour of Harald by reason of ancient allegiance.  Thus the sea was studded with the Danish fleet, and seemed to interpose a bridge, uniting Zealand to Skane.  To those that wished to pass between those provinces, the sea offered a short road on foot over the dense mass of ships.  But Harald would not have the Swedes unprepared in their arrangements for war, and sent men to Ring to carry his public declaration of hostilities, and notify the rupture of the mediating peace.  The same men were directed to prescribe the place of combat.  These then named were the fighters for Harald.

Now, on the side of Ring were numbered Ulf, Aggi (Aki?), Windar (Eywind?), Egil the One-eyed; Gotar, Hildi, Guti Alfsson; Styr the Stout, and (Tolo-) Stein, who lived by the Wienic Mere.  To these were joined Gerd the Glad and Gromer (Glum?) from Wermland.  After these are reckoned the dwellers north on the Elbe, Saxo the Splitter, Sali the Goth; Thord the Stumbler, Throndar Big-nose; Grundi, Oddi, Grindir, Tovi; Koll, Biarki, Hogni the Clever, Rokar the Swart.  Now these scorned fellowship with the common soldiers, and had formed themselves into a separate rank apart from the rest of the company.  Besides these are numbered Hrani Hildisson and Lyuth Guthi (Hljot Godi), Svein the Topshorn, (Soknarsoti?), Rethyr (Hreidar?) Hawk, and Rolf the Uxorious (Woman-lover).  Massed with these were Ring Adilsson and Harald who came from Thotn district.  Joined to these were Walstein of Wick, Thorolf the Thick, Thengel the Tall, Hun, Solwe, Birwil the Pale, Borgar and Skumbar (Skum).  But from, Tellemark came the bravest of all, who had most courage but least arrogance—Thorleif the Stubborn, Thorkill the Gute (Gothlander), Grettir the Wicked and the Lover of Invasions.  Next to these came Hadd the Hard and Rolder (Hroald) Toe-joint.

From Norway we have the names of Thrand of Throndhjem, Thoke (Thore) of More, Hrafn the White, Haf (war), Biarni, Blihar (Blig?) surnamed Snub-nosed; Biorn from the district of Sogni; Findar (Finn) born in the Firth; Bersi born in the town F(I)alu; Siward Boarhead, Erik the Storyteller, Holmstein the White, Hrut Rawi (or Vafi, the Doubter), Erling surnamed Snake.  Now from the province of Jather came Odd the Englishman, Alf the Far-wanderer, Enar the Paunched, and Ywar surnamed Thriug.  Now from Thule (Iceland) came Mar the Red, born and bred in the district called Midfirth, Grombar the Aged, Gram Brundeluk (Bryndalk?) Grim from the town of Skier (um) born in Skagafiord.  Next came Berg the Seer, accompanied by Bragi and Rafnkel.

Now the bravest of the Swedes were these: Arwakki, Keklu-Karl (Kelke-Karl), Krok the Peasant, (from Akr), Gudfast and Gummi from Gislamark.  These were kindred of the god Frey, and most faithful witnesses to the gods.  Ingi (Yngwe) also, and Oly, Alver, Folki, all sons of Elrik (Alrek), embraced the service of Ring; they were men ready of hand, quick in counsel, and very close friends of Ring.  They likewise held the god Frey to be the founder of their race.  Amongst these from the town of Sigtuna also came Sigmund, a champion advocate, versed in making contracts of sale and purchase; besides him Frosti surnamed Bowl, allied with him was Alf the Lofty (Proud?) from the district of Uppsala; this man was a swift spear-thrower, and used to go in the front of the battle.

Ole had a bodyguard in which were seven kings, very ready of hand and of counsel; namely, Holti, Hendil, Holmar, Lewy (Leif), and Hame; with these was enrolled Regnald the Russian, the grandson of Radbard; and Siwald also furrowed the sea with eleven light ships.  Lesy (Laesi), the conqueror of the Pannonians (Huns), fitted with a sail his swift galley ringed with gold.  Thririkar (Erik Helsing) sailed in a ship whose prows were twisted like a dragon.  Also Thrygir (Tryggve) and Torwil sailed and brought twelve ships jointly.  In the entire fleet of Ring there were 2,500 ships.

The fleet of Gotland was waiting for the Swedish fleet in the harbour named Garnum.  So Ring led the land-force, while Ole was instructed to command the fleet.  Now the Goths were appointed a time and a place between Wik and Werund for the conflict with the Swedes.  Then was the sea to be seen furrowed up with prows, and the canvas unfurled upon the masts cut off the view over the ocean.  The Danes had so far been distressed with bad weather; but the Swedish fleet had a fair voyage, and had reached the scene of battle earlier.  Here Ring disembarked his forces from his fleet, and then massed and prepared to draw up in line both these and the army he had himself conducted overland.  When these forces were at first loosely drawn up over the open country, it was found that one wing reached all the way to Werund.  The multitude was confused in its places and ranks; but the king rode round it, and posted in the van all the smartest and most excellently armed men, led by Ole, Regnald, and Wivil; then he massed the rest of the army on the two wings in a kind of curve.  Ung, with the sons of Alrek, and Trig, he ordered to protect the right wing, while the left was put under the command of Laesi.  Moreover, the wings and the masses were composed mainly of a close squadron of Kurlanders and of Esthonians.  Last stood the line of slingers.

Meantime the Danish fleet, favoured by kindly winds, sailed, without stopping, for twelve days, and came to the town (stead) of Kalmar.  The wind-blown sails covering the waters were a marvel; and the canvas stretched upon the yards blotted out the sight of the heavens.  For the fleet was augmented by the Sclavs and the Livonians and 7,000 Saxons.  But the Skanians, knowing the country, were appointed as guides and scouts to those who were going over the dry land.  So when the Danish army came upon the Swedes, who stood awaiting them, Ring told his men to stand quietly until Harald had drawn up his line of battle; bidding them not to sound the signal before they saw the king settled in his chariot beside the standards, for he said he should hope that an army would soon come to grief which trusted in the leading of a blind man.  Harald, moreover, he said, had been seized in extreme age with the desire of foreign empire, and was as witless as he was sightless; wealth could not satisfy a man who, if he looked to his years, ought to be well-nigh contented with a grave.  The Swedes therefore were bound to fight for their freedom, their country, and their children, while the enemy had undertaken the war in rashness and arrogance.  Moreover, on the other side, there were very few Danes, but a mass of Saxons and other unmanly peoples stood arrayed.  Swedes and Norwegians should therefore consider, how far the multitudes of the North had always surpassed the Germans and the Sclavs.  They should therefore despise an army which seemed to be composed more of a mass of fickle offscourings than of a firm and stout soldiery.

By this harangue of King Ring he kindled high the hearts of the soldiers.  Now Brun, being instructed to form the line on Harald’s behalf, made the front in a wedge, posting Hetha on the right flank, putting Hakon in command of the left, and making Wisna standard-bearer.  Harald stood up in his chariot and complained, in as loud a voice as he could, that Ring was requiting his benefits with wrongs; that the man who had got his kingdom by Harald’s own gift was now attacking him; so that Ring neither pitied an old man nor spared an uncle, but set his own ambitions before any regard for Harald’s kinship or kindness.  So he bade the Danes remember how they had always won glory by foreign conquest, and how they were more wont to command their neighbours than to obey them.  He adjured them not to let such glory as theirs to be shaken by the insolence of a conquered nation, nor to suffer the empire, which he had won in the flower of his youth, to be taken from him in his outworn age.

Then the trumpets sounded, and both sides engaged in battle with all their strength.  The sky seemed to fall suddenly on the earth, fields and woods to sink into the ground; all things were confounded, and old Chaos come again, heaven and earth mingling in one tempestuous turmoil, and the world rushing to universal ruin.  For, when the spear throwing began, the intolerable clash of arms filled the air with an incredible thunder.  The steam of the wounds suddenly hung a mist over the sky, the daylight was hidden under the hail of spears.  The help of the slingers was of great use in the battle.  But when the missiles had all been flung from hand or engines, they fought with swords or iron-shod maces, and it was now at close quarters that most blood was spilt.  Then the sweat streamed down their weary bodies, and the clash of the swords could be heard afar.

Starkad, who was the first to set forth the history of this war in the telling, fought foremost in the fray, and relates that he overthrew the nobles of Harald, Hun and Elli, Hort and Burgha, and cut off the right hand of Wisna. He also relates that one Roa, with two others, Gnepie and Gardar, fell wounded by him in the field.  To these he adds the father of Skalk, whose name is not given.  He also declares that he cast Hakon, the bravest of the Danes, to the earth, but received from him such a wound in return that he had to leave the war with his lung protruding from his chest, his neck cleft to the centre, and his hand deprived of one finger; so that he long had a gaping wound, which seemed as if it would never either scar over or be curable.  The same man witnesses that the maiden Weghbiorg (Webiorg) fought against the enemy and felled Soth the champion.  While she was threatening to slay more champions, she was pierced through by an arrow from the bowstring of Thorkill, a native of Tellemark.  For the skilled archers of the Gotlanders strung their bows so hard that the shafts pierced through even the shields; nothing proved more murderous; for the arrow-points made their way through hauberk and helmet as if they were men’s defenceless bodies.

Meanwhile Ubbe the Frisian, who was the readiest of Harald’s soldiers, and of notable bodily stature, slew twenty-five picked champions, besides eleven whom he had wounded in the field.  All these were of Swedish or Gothic blood.  Then he attacked the vanguard and burst into the thickest of the enemy, driving the Swedes struggling in a panic every way with spear and sword.  It had all but come to a flight, when Hagder (Hadd), Rolder (Hroald), and Grettir attacked the champion, emulating his valour, and resolving at their own risk to retrieve the general ruin.  But, fearing to assault him at close quarters, they accomplished their end with arrows from afar; and thus Ubbe was riddled by a shower of arrows, no one daring to fight him hand to hand.  A hundred and forty-four arrows had pierced the breast of the warrior before his bodily strength failed and he bent his knee to the earth.  Then at last the Danes suffered a great defeat, owing to the Thronds and the dwellers in the province of Dala.  For the battle began afresh by reason of the vast mass of the archers, and nothing damaged our men more.

But when Harald, being now blind with age, heard the lamentable murmur of his men, he perceived that fortune had smiled on his enemies.  So, as he was riding in a chariot armed with scythes, he told Brun, who was treacherously acting as charioteer, to find out in what manner Ring had his line drawn up. Brun’s face relaxed into something of a smile, and he answered that he was fighting with a line in the form of a wedge.  When the king heard this he began to be alarmed, and to ask in great astonishment from whom Ring could have learnt this method of disposing his line, especially as Odin was the discoverer and imparter of this teaching, and none but himself had ever learnt from him this new pattern of warfare.  At this Brun was silent, and it came into the king’s mind that here was Odin, and that the god whom he had once known so well was now disguised in a changling shape, in order either to give help or withhold it.  Presently he began to beseech him earnestly to grant the final victory to the Danes, since he had helped them so graciously before, and to fill up his last kindness to the measure of the first; promising to dedicate to him as a gift the spirits of all who fell.  But Brun, utterly unmoved by his entreaties, suddenly jerked the king out of the chariot, battered him to the earth, plucked the club from him as he fell, whirled it upon his head, and slew him with his own weapon.  Countless corpses lay round the king’s chariot, and the horrid heap overtopped the wheels; the pile of carcases rose as high as the pole.  For about 12,000 of the nobles of Ring fell upon the field.  But on the side of Harald about 30,000 nobles fell, not to name the slaughter of the commons.

When Ring heard that Harald was dead, he gave the signal to his men to break up their line and cease fighting.  Then under cover of truce he made treaty with the enemy, telling them that it was vain to prolong the fray without their captain.  Next he told the Swedes to look everywhere among the confused piles of carcases for the body of Harald, that the corpse of the king might not wrongfully lack its due rights.  So the populace set eagerly to the task of turning over the bodies of the slain, and over this work half the day was spent.  At last the body was found with the club, and he thought that propitiation should be made to the shade of Harald.  So he harnessed the horse on which he rode to the chariot of the king, decked it honourably with a golden saddle, and hallowed it in his honour.  Then he proclaimed his vows, and added his prayer that Harald would ride on this and outstrip those who shared his death in their journey to Tartarus; and that he would pray Pluto, the lord of Orcus, to grant a calm abode there for friend and foe.  Then he raised a pyre, and bade the Danes fling on the gilded chariot of their king as fuel to the fire.  And while the flames were burning the body cast upon them, he went round the mourning nobles and earnestly charged them that they should freely give arms, gold, and every precious thing to feed the pyre in honour of so great a king, who had deserved so nobly of them all.  He also ordered that the ashes of his body, when it was quite burnt, should be transferred to an urn, taken to Leire, and there, together with the horse and armour, receive a royal funeral.  By paying these due rites of honour to his uncle’s shade, he won the favour of the Danes, and turned the hate of his enemies into goodwill.  Then the Danes besought him to appoint Hetha over the remainder of the realm; but, that the fallen strength of the enemy might not suddenly rally, he severed Skane from the mass of Denmark, and put it separately under the governorship of Ole, ordering that only Zealand and the other lands of the realm should be subject to Hetha.  Thus the changes of fortune brought the empire of Denmark under the Swedish rule.  So ended the Bravic War.

But the Zealanders, who had had Harald for their captain, and still had the picture of their former fortune hovering before their minds, thought it shameful to obey the rule of a woman, and appealed to Ole not to suffer men that had been used to serve under a famous king to be kept under a woman’s yoke.  They also promised to revolt to him if he would take up arms to remove their ignominious lot.  Ole, tempted as much by the memory of his ancestral glory as by the homage of the soldiers, was not slow to answer their entreaties.  So he summoned Hetha, and forced her by threats rather than by arms to quit every region under her control except Jutland; and even Jutland he made a tributary state, so as not to allow a woman the free control of a kingdom.  He also begot a son whom he named Omund.  But he was given to cruelty, and showed himself such an unrighteous king, that all who had found it a shameful thing to be ruled by a queen now repented of their former scorn.  Twelve generals, whether moved by the disasters of their country, or hating Ole for some other reason, began to plot against his life and paid the great warrior Starkad gold to kill him, which he did.

Now the Danes made the son of Ole, King Omund, thinking that more heed should be paid to his father’s birth than to his deserts.  Omund, when he had grown up, fell in nowise behind the exploits of his father; for he made it his aim to equal or surpass the deeds of Ole.

Now Omund, died most tranquilly, while peace was unbroken, leaving two sons and two daughters.  The eldest of these, King Siward, came to the throne by right of birth, while his brother Budle was still of tender years.

His son, Jarmerik (Eormunrec), later came to be king after many struggles.  He died in battle after losing both feet and both hands.

His son, King Broder, little fit for it, followed him as king.

Then next came King Siwald.  His son Snio took vigorously to roving in his father’s old age, and not only preserved the fortunes of his country, but even restored them, lessened as they were, to their former estate.  Likewise, when he came to the sovereignty, King Snio crushed the insolence of the champions Eskil and Alkil, and by this conquest reunited to his country Skane, which had been severed from the general jurisdiction of Denmark.  At last he conceived a passion for the daughter of the King of the Goths; it was returned, and he sent secret messengers to seek a chance of meeting her.  These men were intercepted by the father of the damsel and hanged: thus paying dearly for their rash mission.  Snio, wishing to avenge their death, invaded Gothland.  Its king met him with his forces, and the aforesaid champions challenged him to send strong men to fight.  Snio laid down as condition of the duel, that each of the two kings should either lose his own empire or gain that of the other, according to the fortune of the champions, and that the kingdom of the conquered should be staked as the prize of the victory.  The result was that the King of the Goths was beaten by reason of the ill-success of his defenders, and had to quit his kingdom for the Danes.  Snio, learning that this king’s daughter had been taken away at the insistence of her father to wed the King of the Swedes, sent a man clad in ragged attire, who used to ask alms on the public roads, to try her mind.  And while he lay, as beggars do, by the threshold, he chanced to see the queen, and whined in a weak voice, “Snio loves thee.”  She feigned not to have heard the sound that stole on her ears, and neither looked nor stepped back, but went on to the palace, then returned straightway, and said in a low whisper, which scarcely reached his ears, “I love him who loves me”; and having said this she walked away.

The beggar rejoiced that she had returned a word of love, and, as he sat on the next day at the gate, when the queen came up, he said, briefly as ever, “Wishes should have a tryst.”  Again she shrewdly caught his cunning speech, and passed on, dissembling wholly.  A little later she passed by her questioner, and said that she would shortly go to Bocheror; for this was the spot to which she meant to flee.  And when the beggar heard this, he insisted, with his wonted shrewd questions, upon being told a fitting time for the tryst.  The woman was as cunning as he, and as little clear of speech, and named as quickly as she could the beginning of the winter.

Her train, who had caught a flying word of this love-message, took her great cleverness for the raving of utter folly.  And when Snio had been told all this by the beggar, he contrived to carry the queen off in a vessel; for she got away under pretence of bathing, and took her husband’s treasures.  After this there were constant wars between Snio and the King of Sweden, whereof the issue was doubtful and the victory changeful; the one king seeking to regain his lawful, the other to keep his unlawful love.

PARAGRAPHS ON THE MIGRATION OF THE LOMBARDS

At this time the yield of crops was ruined by most inclement weather, and a mighty dearth of corn befell.  Victuals began to be scarce, and the commons were distressed with famine, so that the king, anxiously pondering how to relieve the hardness of the times, and seeing that the thirsty spent somewhat more than the hungry, introduced thrift among the people.  He abolished drinking-bouts, and decreed that no drink should be prepared from grain, thinking that the bitter famine should be got rid of by prohibiting needless drinking, and that plentiful food could be levied as a loan on thirst.

Then a certain wanton slave of his belly, lamenting the prohibition against drink, adopted a deep kind of knavery, and found a new way to indulge his desires.  He broke the public law of temperance by his own excess, contriving to get at what he loved by a device both cunning and absurd.  For he sipped the forbidden liquor drop by drop, and so satisfied his longing to be tipsy.  When he was summoned for this by the king, he declared that there was no stricter observer of sobriety than he, inasmuch as he mortified his longing to quaff deep by this device for moderate drinking.  He persisted in the fault with which he was taxed, saying that he only sucked.  At last he was also menaced with threats, and forbidden not only to drink, but even to sip; yet he could not check his habits.  For in order to enjoy the unlawful thing in a lawful way, and not to have his throat subject to the command of another, he sopped morsels of bread in liquor, and fed on the pieces thus soaked with drink; tasting slowly, so as to prolong the desired debauch, and attaining, though in no unlawful manner, the forbidden measure of satiety.

Thus his stubborn and frantic intemperance risked his life, all for luxury; and, undeterred even by the threats of the king, he fortified his rash appetite to despise every peril.  A second time he was summoned by the king on the charge of disobeying his regulation.  Yet he did not even theft cease to defend his act, but maintained that he had in no wise contravened the royal decree, and that the temperance prescribed by the ordinance had been in no way violated by that which allured him; especially as the thrift ordered in the law of plain living was so described, that it was apparently forbidden to drink liquor, but not to eat it.  Then the king called heaven to witness, and swore by the general good, that if he ventured on any such thing hereafter he would punish him with death.  But the man thought that death was not so bad as temperance, and that it was easier to quit life than luxury; and he again boiled the grain in water, and then fermented the liquor; whereupon, despairing of any further plea to excuse his appetite, he openly indulged in drink, and turned to his cups again unabashed.  Giving up cunning for effrontery, he chose rather to await the punishment of the king than to turn sober.  Therefore, when the king asked him why he had so often made free to use the forbidden thing, he said:

“O king, this craving is begotten, not so much of my thirst, as of my goodwill towards thee!  For I remembered that the funeral rites of a king must be paid with a drinking-bout.  Therefore, led by good judgment more than the desire to swill, I have, by mixing the forbidden liquid, taken care that the feast whereat thy obsequies are performed should not, by reason of the scarcity of corn, lack the due and customary drinking.  Now I do not doubt that thou wilt perish of famine before the rest, and be the first to need a tomb; for thou hast passed this strange law of thrift in fear that thou wilt be thyself the first to lack food.  Thou art thinking for thyself, and not for others, when thou bringest thyself to start such strange miserly ways.”

This witty quibbling turned the anger of the king into shame; and when he saw that his ordinance for the general good came home in mockery to himself, he thought no more of the public profit, but revoked the edict, relaxing his purpose sooner than anger his subjects.

Whether it was that the soil had too little rain, or that it was too hard baked, the crops, as I have said, were slack, and the fields gave but little produce; so that the land lacked victual, and was worn with a weary famine.  The stock of food began to fail, and no help was left to stave off hunger.  Then, at the proposal of Agg and of Ebb, it was provided by a decree of the people that the old men and the tiny children should be slain; that all who were too young to bear arms should be taken out of the land, and only the strong should be vouchsafed their own country; that none but able-bodied soldiers and husbandmen should continue to abide under their own roofs and in the houses of their fathers.  When Agg and Ebb brought news of this to their mother Gambaruk, she saw that the authors of this infamous decree had found safety in crime.  Condemning the decision of the assembly, she said that it was wrong to relieve distress by murder of kindred, and declared that a plan both more honourable and more desirable for the good of their souls and bodies would be, to preserve respect towards their parents and children, and choose by lot men who should quit the country.  And if the lot fell on old men and weak, then the stronger should offer to go into exile in their place, and should of their own free will undertake to bear the burden of it for the feeble.  But those men who had the heart to save their lives by crime and impiety, and to prosecute their parents and their children by so abominable a decree, did not deserve life; for they would be doing a work of cruelty and not of love.  Finally, all those whose own lives were dearer to them than the love of their parents or their children, deserved but ill of their country.  These words were reported to the assembly, and assented to by the vote of the majority.  So the fortunes of all were staked upon the lot and those upon whom it fell were doomed to be banished.  Thus those who had been loth to obey necessity of their own accord had now to accept the award of chance.  So they sailed first to Bleking, and then, sailing past Moring, they came to anchor at Gothland; where, according to Paulus, they are said to have been prompted by the goddess Frigg to take the name of the Longobardi (Lombards), whose nation they afterwards founded.  In the end they landed at Rugen, and, abandoning their ships, began to march overland.  They crossed and wasted a great portion of the world; and at last, finding an abode in Italy, changed the ancient name of the nation for their own.

Meanwhile, the land of the Danes, where the tillers laboured less and less, and all traces of the furrows were covered with overgrowth, began to look like a forest.  Almost stripped of its pleasant native turf, it bristled with the dense unshapely woods that grew up.  Traces of this are yet seen in the aspect of its fields.  What were once acres fertile in grain are now seen to be dotted with trunks of trees; and where of old the tillers turned the earth up deep and scattered the huge clods there has now sprung up a forest covering the fields, which still bear the tracks of ancient tillage.  Had not these lands remained untilled and desolate with long overgrowth, the tenacious roots of trees could never have shared the soil of one and the same land with the furrows made by the plough.  Moreover, the mounds which men laboriously built up of old on the level ground for the burial of the dead are now covered by a mass of woodland.  Many piles of stones are also to be seen interspersed among the forest glades.  These were once scattered over the whole country, but the peasants carefully gathered the boulders and piled them into a heap that they might not prevent furrows being cut in all directions; for they would sooner sacrifice a little of the land than find the whole of it stubborn.  From this work, done by the toil of the peasants for the easier working of the fields, it is judged that the population in ancient times was greater than the present one, which is satisfied with small fields, and keeps its agriculture within narrower limits than those of the ancient tillage.  Thus the present generation is amazed to behold that it has exchanged a soil which could once produce grain for one only fit to grow acorns, and the plough-handle and the cornstalks for a landscape studded with trees.

Snio was succeeded by King Biorn; and after him King Harald became sovereign.  Harald’s son Gorm won honour among the Danes by his doughty deeds as an explorer, for he ventured into fresh fields, preferring to practise his inherited valour, not in war, but in searching the secrets of nature and looking into marvels.

PARAGRAPHS ON THE NOR’WAY AND THE PATH TO PERMIA

Being desirous to go and see all things foreign and extraordinary, King Gorm thought that he must above all test a report which he had heard from the men of Thule (Norway) concerning the abode of a certain Giant Geirrod.  For they boasted of the mighty piles of treasure in that country, but warned that the way was beset with peril, and hardly passable by mortal man.  Those who had tried it declared that it was needful to sail over the ocean that goes north round the lands, to leave the sun and stars behind, to journey down into chaos, and at last to pass into a land where no light was and where darkness reigned eternally.

But the warrior king fought back all fear of the dangers that would beset him and opted for glory, for the increase in renown if he ventured on a wholly un-attempted quest.  Three hundred men announced that they had the same desire as the king; and he resolved that Jarl Thorkill, who had brought the news, should be chosen to guide them on the journey, as he knew the ground and was versed in the approaches to that country.

Jarl Thorkill did not refuse the task, and advised that, to meet the extraordinary fury of the sea they had to cross, strongly constructed ships should be built, fitted with many knotted cords and close-set nails, filled with great store of provision, and covered above with ox-hides to protect the inner spaces of the ships from the spray of the waves breaking in. Then they sailed off in only three galleys, each containing a hundred chosen men.

Now when they had come to Halogaland (Helgeland, named after Helge ‘Arrow Odd’), in northmost Thule, they lost their favouring breezes, and were driven and tossed divers ways over the seas.  At last, in extreme want of food, and lacking even bread, they staved off hunger with a little pottage.  Some days passed, and they heard the thunder of a storm brawling in the distance, as if it were deluging the rocks.  Perceiving that land was near, they bade a nimble youth to climb the masthead and look about, and he reported that a precipitous island was in sight.  All were overjoyed, and gazed with thirsty eyes at the sea in the direction he pointed, eagerly awaiting the refuge of the promised shore.  At last they saw it and managed to reach it, and made their way out over the heights that blocked their way, along very steep paths, into the higher ground where they had seen reindeer grazing.  Jarl Thorkill told the men to take no more of the herds than would serve to appease their immediate hunger.  If they disobeyed, the guardian gods of the spot would not let them depart.  But the seamen, more anxious to go on filling their bellies than to obey orders, postponed counsels of safety to the temptations of gluttony, and loaded the now emptied holds of their ships with the carcases of slaughtered reindeer.  These beasts were very easy to capture, because they gathered in amazement at the sight of the men, fears being unknown to them.  On the following night monsters dashed down upon the shore, filled the forest with clamour, and beleaguered and beset the ships.  One of them, larger than the rest, strode over the waters, armed with a mighty club.  Coming close up to them, he bellowed out that they should never sail away till they had atoned for the crime they had committed in slaughtering the flock and had made good the losses of the herd of the gods by giving up one man for each of their ships.  Thorkill yielded to these threats and, in order to preserve the safety of all by sacrificing a few, singled out three men by lot and gave them up to the gods.

This done, a great storm swept down upon them and carried them out to sea, and for two days they were buffeted about and took shelter under their ships’ awnings, until, at last, the storm abated and they were deposited in Permland.  It was a region of eternal cold, covered with very deep snows, and not sensible to the force even of the summer heats; full of pathless forests, not fertile in grain, and haunted by beasts uncommon elsewhere.  Its many rivers poured onwards in hissing, foaming floods, because of the reefs imbedded in their channels.

King Gorm and Jarl Thorkill drew up their sturdy ships ashore, and bade the men pitch their tents on the beach, declaring that they had come to a spot whence the passage to Giant Geirrod would be short.  And they were right.  King Gorm gained great fame from their adventures in Giantland.

After the death of Gorm, his son, King Gotrik, came to the throne.  He was notable not only for prowess but for generosity, and none can say whether his courage or his compassion was the greater.  Gotrik, who is also called Godefride or Gudfrid, carried his arms against foreigners, and increased his strength and glory by his successful generalship. Among his memorable deeds were the terms of tribute he imposed upon the Saxons; namely, that whenever a change of kings occurred among the Danes, their princes should devote a hundred snow-white horses to the new king on his accession.  But if the Saxons should receive a new chief upon a change in the succession, this chief was likewise to pay the aforesaid tribute obediently, and bow at the outset of his power to the sovereign majesty of Denmark; thereby acknowledging the supremacy of that nation, and solemnly confessing his own subjection.  Nor was it enough for Gotrik to subjugate Germany: he appointed Ref on a mission to try the strength of Sweden.  The Swedes feared to slay him with open violence, but ventured to act like bandits, and killed him, as he slept, with the blow of a stone. For, hanging a millstone above him, they cut its fastenings, and let it drop upon his neck as he lay beneath. To expiate this crime it was decreed that each of the ringleaders should pay twelve golden talents, while each of the common people should pay Gotrik one ounce. Men called this ‘the Fox-cub’s tribute’ or Refsgild.

Meanwhile it befell that Charlemagne or Karl, King of the Franks, crushed Germany in war, and forced it not only to embrace the worship of Christianity, but also to obey his authority.  When Gotrik heard of this, he attacked the nations bordering on the Elbe, and attempted to regain under his sway as of old the realm of Saxony, which had accepted the yoke of Karl, and preferred the Roman to the Danish arms.  Karl had at this time withdrawn his victorious camp beyond the Rhine, and therefore forbore to engage the stranger enemy, being prevented by the intervening river.  But when he was intending to cross once more to subdue the power of Gotrik, he was summoned by Leo the Pope of the Romans to defend the city.

Obeying this command, Karl entrusted his son, Pepin, with the conduct of the war against Gotrik; so that while he himself was working against a distant foe, Pepin might manage the conflict he had undertaken with his neighbour.  For Karl was distracted by two anxieties, and had to furnish sufficient forces out of his limited band to meet both of them.  Meanwhile Gotrik won a glorious victory over the Saxons.  Then gathering new strength, and mustering a larger body of forces, he resolved to avenge the wrong he had suffered in losing his sovereignty, not only upon the Saxons, but upon the whole people of Germany.  He began by subduing Friesland with his fleet.

After Gotrik had crossed Friesland, and Karl had now come back from Rome, Gotrik determined to swoop down upon the further districts of Germany, but was treacherously attacked by one of his own servants, and perished at home by the sword of a traitor.  When Karl heard this, he leapt up overjoyed, declaring that nothing more delightful had ever fallen to his lot than this happy chance.

BASED UPON SAXO’S BOOK NINE

After Gotrik’s death reigned his son, King Olaf, who, desirous to avenge his father, did not hesitate to involve his country in civil wars, putting patriotism after private inclination.  When he perished, his body was put in a barrow, famous for the name of Olaf, which was built up close by Leire.

He was succeeded by King Hemming, of whom I have found no deed worthy of record, save that he made a sworn peace with Kaiser Ludwig; and yet, perhaps, envious antiquity hides many notable deeds of his time, albeit they were then famous.

After these men there came to the throne, backed by the Skanians and Zealanders, King Siward, surnamed Ring.  He was the son, born long ago, of the chief of Norway who bore the same name, by Gotrik’s daughter.  Now King Ring, cousin of Siward, and also a grandson of Gotrik, was master of Jutland.  Thus the power of the single kingdom was divided; and, as though its two parts were contemptible for their smallness, foreigners began not only to despise but to attack it.  These Siward assailed with greater hatred than he did his rival for the throne; and, preferring wars abroad to wars at home, he stubbornly defended his country against dangers for five years; for he chose to put up with a trouble at home that he might the more easily cure one which came from abroad.  Wherefore Ring, desiring his command, seized the opportunity, tried to transfer the whole sovereignty to himself, and did not hesitate to injure in his own land the man who was watching over it without; for he attacked the provinces in the possession of Siward, which was an ungrateful requital for the defence of their common country.  Therefore, some of the Zealanders who were more zealous for Siward, in order to show him firmer loyalty in his absence, proclaimed his son Gunar or Ragnar as king, when he was scarcely dragged out of his cradle.  They knew he was too young to govern; yet they hoped that such a gage would serve to rouse their sluggish allies against Ring.  But, when Ring heard that Siward had meantime returned from his expedition, he attacked the Zealanders with a large force, and proclaimed that they should perish by the sword if they did not surrender; but the Zealanders, who were bidden to choose between shame and peril, were so few that they distrusted their strength, and requested a truce to consider the matter.  It was granted; but, since it did not seem open to them to seek the favour of Siward, nor honourable to embrace that of Ring, they wavered long in perplexity between fear and shame.  In this plight even the old were at a loss for counsel; but Ragnar, who chanced to be present at the assembly, said: “The short bow shoots its shaft suddenly.  Though it may seem the hardihood of a boy that I venture to forestall the speech of the elders, yet I pray you to pardon my errors, and be indulgent to my unripe words.  Yet the counsellor of wisdom is not to be spurned, though he seem contemptible; for the teaching of profitable things should be drunk in with an open mind.  Now it is shameful that we should be branded as deserters and runaways, but it is just as foolhardy to venture above our strength; and thus there is proved to be equal blame either way.  We must, then, pretend to go over to the enemy, but, when a chance comes in our way, we must desert him betimes.  It will thus be better to forestall the wrath of our foe by feigned obedience than, by refusing it, to give him a weapon wherewith to attack us yet more harshly; for if we decline the sway of the stronger, are we not simply turning his arms against our own throat?  Intricate devices are often the best nurse of craft.  You need cunning to trap a fox.”  By this sound counsel he dispelled the wavering of his countrymen, and strengthened the camp of the enemy to its own hurt.

The assembly, marvelling at the eloquence as much as at the wit of one so young, gladly embraced a proposal of such genius, which they thought excellent beyond his years. Nor were the old men ashamed to obey the bidding of a boy when they lacked counsel themselves; for, though it came from one of tender years, it was full, notwithstanding, of weighty and sound instruction. But they feared to expose their adviser to immediate peril, and sent him over to Norway to be brought up. Soon afterwards, Siward joined battle with Ring and attacked him.  He slew Ring, but he, himself, received an incurable wound, of which he died soon afterwards.

The rest of Book Nine covers the Saga of King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson and the kings who followed him:

CHAPTER ONE

1.0  PRINCESS ASLAUG SIGURDSDOTTIR  (Circa 800 AD)

“King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson’s third wife, Princess Aslaug, was a young survivor of the Saga of the Volsungs and was a daughter of King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ Fafnirsbane, so this is where Ragnar’s story begins in almost all the ancient stories (except Saxo’s).  In our series, we explore this tail end of the Volsung’s Saga because King Sigurd of Volsunga appears to be the first ‘Dragon-Slayer’ and King Ragnar of Denmark would seem to be the second ‘Dragon-Slayer’ so, it is a good opportunity to postulate the origins of Fire Breathing Dragons and how they were slain.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 800 AD)  Following the death of King Sigurd ‘Ring’, his young son, Gunar or Ragnar Sigurdson, came to the throne of Zealand and Skane, but, still being very youthful in age, he was surrounded by the guardians who had supported him during his exile in Stavanger Fjord in southwestern Thule (Norway).  They brought him back to Liere, in Zealand, and he began a very cautious rule there.

In ancient times, back when Saint Alcuin was still working on his miniscule font of the Anglish language, Europe was divided up into many various small kingdoms and principalities and over each ruled a king or a prince.  In south-eastern Europe, just north of the Roman Lands between the cities of Cherson and Constanza, there ruled an old Oster-Goth or Greutung family of royals called the House of Volsung, and, of the royals, King Sigurd Fafnirsbane was the most renowned, for he was purported to have slain a fire-breathing sea-snake or dragonship of Constantinople.  He was betrothed to the beautiful shield-maiden Brynhild, who had helped him defeat the fire-breathing Byzantine bireme.  He had been very grateful of the help and she had even blessed Sigurd with her chastity and they were both blessed with the birth of their daughter, Princess Aslaug.  But before they were to marry, King Sigurd made an embassy to the Kingdom of Thervingia, to King Gjuki of the Vaster-Goths, whose daughter, Princess Gudrun, fell in love with the visiting heroic Snake-Killer king.  Her mother, Queen Chriemhild, noticed this and thought about how great an alliance would be between the Thervings and the Greutungs, between the Vaster-Goths and the Oster-Goths of the Kingdom of the Volsungs.  The queen was also the head witch and healer of the Thervings, just as King Gjuki was the head priest or warlock of the land, so she prepared a glamorous or charmed draught of mead which the unsuspecting Sigurd quaffed, and he instantly became inflamed with love for Princess Gudrun.

When King Sigurd returned home with Prince Gunnar, Gudrun’s brother, to work out nuptial arrangements and bride-price, the prince fell in love with Princess Brynhild, and they worked out a bride-price for her as well.  A double wedding in King Gjuki’s palace was planned, but when it came time to leave for the land of the Thervings, Brynhild refused to go.  When Prince Gunnar released two ravens that his mother, the queen, had given him, Chriemhild carved some love runes into a whale bone and Brynhild relented and joined the nuptial retinue and now seemed somewhat attracted to the young Prince Gunnar.  So there was a double wedding in the palace of King Gjuki and Queen Chriemhild.

“After a few months of marriage, both Gudrun and Brynhild were with child and while Gunnar and Brynhild were visiting at the palace of King Sigurd, Gudrun and Brynhild were bathing in a stream near the greathall and Queen Gudrun insisted in washing herself upstream of Princess Brynhild, saying she was of higher station and entitlement.  Brynhild retorted that she would be of just as high a station once King Gjuki passed his crown on to Prince Gunnar, so she refused to change places, and this infuriated the spiteful young queen and she laid bare the sorcerous secrets of her theft of the love of King Sigurd, the Dragon-Slayer, and the glamoured beguiling of Brynhild’s love for her brother, Gunnar.  The princess was understandably vexed by this news, but didn’t know what to do with it.  It, however, knew what to do with her, and she quickly fell out of love with Prince Gunnar.  She didn’t see Queen Gudrun again until after the births of their babies.  Gudrun had blessed King Sigurd with a son and Brynhild had blessed Prince Gunnar with a daughter and when they got to talking children, Brynhild concluded that Gudrun had forgotten the insults and shade she had thrown her way.  This ate up Brynhild even further.  As a shield-maiden, she was duty bound to avenge the magical heist of her former lover and she discussed her quandary with her new martial arts trainer Guttorm, who was of lower station, but had many secrets, one being he always secretly loved Brynhild.  She had hired him because he was an expert in the weapons of the Romans, especially a new handheld bow that shot five arrows at a time.  Learn the language of your enemy so that you might turn it against them, she had been taught, and learn the weapons of your enemy lest they be turned upon you.  Guttorm assured her that she was correct in her right to vengeance and said he would help in whatever she decided upon by way of revenge.

As Brynhild’s love for Gunnar faded, her shattered love for Sigurd pulled itself together like broken shards of glass.  Whenever she visited with the Volsungs she would try to secretly liaise with Sigurd to try to rekindle his love for her, but the only love she garnered was Guttorm’s growing infatuation with her, but she needed Guttorm’s help, so when he secretly began to kiss her and grope her during visits, she had to allow him that much, but that is all she allowed him, though he obviously wanted all of her.  Over time, her tryst with her trainer grew more and more dangerous as their plans escalated to the point of planning the murder of Gudrun.  Guttorm began to control Brynhild, for he had enough evidence against her to expose her to King Gjuki, so, when he one day bent her over she had no choice but to let him take her from behind.  But that was all she allowed him.  As her planned visits grew more frequent, the rapes grew more intense.  She sometimes worried that Guttorm was trying to get caught, trying to force her to make a choice, and, one day, while throwing up, she knew she must gain her vengeance soon.  But Guttorm kept stalling and drawing out the planning until Brynhild was finding it difficult to hide her condition.  Finally, she ordered her rapist lover to sneak into the bedchamber of Sigurd and Gudrun and slay the woman as she slept, in order to break the spell Queen Chriemhild had placed upon ‘the Dragon-Slayer’, but, instead, when Brynhild let Guttorm into her former bedchamber, he killed Sigurd with a sword stroke in the darkness that was so violent it also killed their young son, sleeping between the couple, taking the top of his skull right off.  He then fled the room before Gudrun could see who the assailant was, but Gudrun lept out of bed and chased after him, screaming out to guards in the palace.  Princess Brynhild slipped into the dimly lit bedchamber and saw her love, Sigurd, lying dead in his bed right next to his innocent son, the top of his skull lying on the silk bedsheet, like a small white cup, red with wine.  She realised that Guttorm had murdered Sigurd to gain her love, co-conspirators in darkling murder.  She put her shield down upon the bed and she fell onto her sword and landed on it beside her lover and his son, their shield-maiden in death to guide them to Valhalla.

There was an old witch who lived in the palace of the Volsungs and she had known all along who Prince Guttorm really was…the half-brother of Queen Gudrun, who had grown up as a fosterling hostage in Constantinople.  An unknown son sent by Queen Chriemhild to ply Princess Brynhild with love philtres to win her back for Prince Gunnar, to bring her back in the fold, as it were.  But Guttorm had wanted her for himself and had drawn himself into Brynhild’s vengeance plans with that goal in mind.  The old witch had recognized Guttorm from years past and had used her magic to learn what the Prince of the Thervings was doing there and she had followed Brynhild and Guttorm as they put their plan of vengeance into action, and, from the shadows, she had seen Guttorm flee the king’s bedchamber with the blood bespattered queen in hot pursuit and then she saw the Princess Brynhild slip into the room and she followed her only to find the king, his son and Brynhild, dead upon the bed.  The old witch had known that Brynhild was pregnant, for it was getting very hard to hide, and it looked as though the shield-maiden had fallen on her sword with the intent of taking her baby to Valhalla with her.  As the witch was surveying the carnage, a baby’s arm popped out of the terrible gaping wound and the baby’s hand was clutching the umbilical cord and the fingers on it were moving.  The old witch was also a healer and she knew all about Julius Caesar’s birth by Caesarean section, so she took out the seax from her belt and she cut the baby free and she bundled the crying baby in a blanket along with the umbilical cord and the afterbirth it was attached to and she made the scene look like a proper Suttee suicide and she left.

“The palace guards captured Guttorm and he confessed to killing Sigurd and son, but refused to say why Brynhild had killed herself beside them.  A trial was held and Guttorm was sentenced to be hanged, but Brynhild’s half-brother, Atli, the new King of the Huns, arrived from Atil, the capital city of the Khazars, with a large Hunnish host and he wanted to know what had driven his half-sister to kill herself.  It was law thereabouts that anyone who drove a victim to mental straights whereby they killed themselves, were just as guilty of the death as if they had run the sword through them themselves.  When he asked Guttorm what had driven them to such lengths, he refused to talk.  When he wanted to torture Guttorm to get at the truth, King Gjuki intervened and prevented such action against his son, the condemned prince.  While the Volsungs were busy hanging the murderer, King Atli was busy hiring himself a Volsung witch.  Guttorm was left hanging in the city of the Volsungs as a warning to all and, in the night, Atli and the old witch had the body taken away and the witch carved runes into a stick and put it under the tongue of the prone corpse.

“What would you like me to ask him?” the witch asked, looking up at King Atli.

“Ask him if he knows why my sister killed herself?” Atli asked.

The old witch asked the hanged man the question and a shiver went up Atli’s spine as the dead corpse mumbled something to the witch.

“He says you asked him that question when he was living and he told you then that he had nothing to say about it.  You should have told me that he was an unwilling witness,” the old witch complained.  “I would have used a different spell on him.”

“I didn’t know it made any difference.  You can make him tell me?”

“Most witches can’t.  It takes a warlock spell.  But I’ve mastered it,” she said proudly.  “It will cost double.”

“Fine,” King Atli replied.  “Let’s get on with it.”

The witch sat there and waited.  The king, clearly annoyed by this, reached into his purse and counted out another mark of gold in coins.

“A Danish mark,” she countered.  “Not a Roman mark.”  Atli counted out another few coins until the old woman was satisfied.  She then took the stick out from under the tongue of the dead man and carved some more runes into it and returned the stick to Guttorm’s mouth.

“That’s it?” the king asked.  “That cost double?”

“It’s not double because it takes a lot more work,” she responded.  “It’s double because ninety percent of witches don’t know what the required runes are.  I could be fined by the Guild for charging less.”

“Witches have a guild?” the king asked, surprised by this.

“Of course.  The Guild is everywhere.  We’re a branch of the Healers Guild, of course, and all witches must be healers, though not all healers are witches.  What would you have me ask?”

“Tell him to tell us why my sister killed herself?” Atli demanded.

“I still have to ask him,” the witch replied.  “Politeness counts when dealing with spirits.  They can be spiteful”, she added, and then asked the hanged man the question again.

Atli shivered again as he saw the hand of the corpse squeeze the witches hand and it began to mumble.  “He says he loved your sister and she had ordered him to kill Gudrun, but he killed King Sigurd instead.  He had been secretly raping Brynhild because she needed his help to avenge herself on Gudrun for using witchcraft to steal away the love Sigurd had for her, and her mother, Witch Chriemhild, used a spell to replace the king’s love with her son, Gunnar’s love.  All this Gudrun had, years ago, confessed to in a fit of rage.”

“But why kill Sigurd?” Atli asked.

The witch asked the corpse the question.  “He says he killed the king because he was jealous of their special love and he knew that his love for Brynhild would always be unrequited.  He planned to use the murder as leverage so he could at least keep bending her over and raping her.  Tainted love is better than no love at all.”

“Fock!” Atli cursed and he looked ready to kick the corpse.  A wind whistled through the room and blew some window shutters open.

“Spirits can be spiteful,” the witch warned and King Atli sat back down.  The corpse mumbled some more.  “He apologises for the death of the boy,” she said.  “He didn’t see him in bed between the two lovers, an unsheathed sword as it were.  Is there anything else you wish to ask?”

“Ask him who benefitted most from all this evil sorcery?  Who should be punished?”

She asked the corpse the question.  The corpse, at first, did not want to answer, but the witch insisted.  “He says that Prince Gunnar benefitted the most, because Princess Brynhild was the fairest woman in all the lands and he would never have gained her love without the witchcraft.  Gudrun, on the other hand, had plenty to offer Sigurd and would have likely won him for herself, if not for the love of Brynhild, so, Gunnar definitely benefitted the most and should therefore be the one punished.”

Atli got up, but the hanged corpse mumbled some more.  “He says that Princess Brynhild successfully guided King Sigurd and his son to Valhall and they are raising the boy to be a great warrior come Ragnarok!  She asks that you consider marrying Gudrun.  She is a good woman who can offer much and she took no part in the witchcraft.  She only later learned of it.”

At the court of King Sigurd there lived an exiled king called Heimer who was the chief skald and musician of the Volsungs, and had personally witnessed the great love of King Sigurd and Princess Brynhild for their daughter, Princess Aslaug, and when they’d both died together that one night and Prince Atli, the Hun half-brother of Brynhild showed up, likely to take the young surviving princess off to the land of the Huns in Khazaria, he took the small child and hid her in the casement of a large harp he owned and he smuggled her out of the country.  The kingly old bard joined a group of refugees leaving Volsunga for Kiev and the old witch saw him and introduced him to a nursemaid who was taking a baby girl to King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs of Kiev and she asked the old bard to look after her along their way together.  Jarl Heimer told the old witch that he would do his best and he escorted the nursemaid and baby along the first leg of Princess Aslaug’s escape route.

Jarl Heimer kept Aslaug hidden away from the other refugees and would only let her out in the privacy of their little awning.  From Kiev he took her north through many small Slav kingdoms and principalities toward Oster-Gotland in southern Sweden from whence the Greutung Goths had migrated centuries earlier during the world-wide cooling period that had made Scythia impassable for hundreds of years.  The world was back into a warming cycle and the riverways and pathways were once more open to travel and Heimer, a former king and warrior, wore a great broadsword at his side to ward off thieves and he carried the great harp upon his back with Aslaug inside.  When they were far from human habitation, Heimer would let Aslaug walk beside him and she would gather flowers and berries from the wayside.  One evening, Heimer was at the edge of a small hamlet, playing his harp and singing for their supper and he sang the Lay of Brynhild and Sigurd he had written to honour Aslaug’s parents and the townsfolk were gathered around and when he got to the part where the beautiful Brynhild fell upon her sword, the harp could be heard to weep with the music emanating from it and the people were amazed.

When Heimer got further along the pathway from the village he stopped and shared bread with Princess Aslaug and he told her as they ate that the Lay of Brynhild was his best work and usually brought them the most bread and milk in donations so, she had to embrace the song in silence when he played it or they might not be dining as finely as they now were in the woods.  He reminded her to be brave, for she’d had a shield-maiden for a mother and a dragon-slayer for a father.  Nights were getting cooler as they worked their way north and Heimer had to begin asking villagers for a warm place to lie with his harp at night, but always, Princess Aslaug slept inside the harp.  When they got to the Baltic, Heimer caught a ship to cross the sea by playing old sailing chanties for the sailors but they could only drop him off in south Skane.  He would have to work his way northeast into Oster-Gotland, where he had relatives who would help him.

While trekking along the coast he came upon a dwelling and he asked the old woman inside if she had a place where he could warm himself and perhaps play her a tune or two on his harp.  She let him in, but refused to rekindle the fire until he began playing upon his harp, then she changed her tune and got a nice blaze going for him, not so much for the music, as for the gold armring she saw as he was playing.  As the fire roared, she saw a piece of costly embroidered cloth sticking out of the casement of the harp and she imagined a great wealth hidden in the harp and became determined to get possession of that wealth.  When her husband came home the old bard played him a tune or two then retired for the evening.  The old woman told her man about the wealth she had seen and she convinced old Ake to help her slay the old man for the riches in his harp.  The wicked twosome slipped up on either side of the sleeping bard and they cut his throat so the skald would sing no more.

With the evil deed done, the old couple rushed to open the harp and get at their newfound wealth, but instead out stepped a beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed young girl.  Aslaug looked up at the evil old couple and panicked, looking about for her old guardian and she rushed over to him and pulled at him and tried to wake him but soon realized that he was dead, murdered by those two.  The old man caught her up as she ran past them towards the door and he held her as they debated on whether to kill her too or not.  But Aslaug’s despair was too touching and her beauty too rare to destroy, so they resolved to spare her and adopt her as their own child.  They dressed her coarsely and allowed her no speech and the old woman told others that she was a cast-off of one of her ailing sisters that they’d agreed to adopt and raise as their own.  Young Aslaug begged them to give Heimer a fine burial by the sea and she pleaded with them to keep her silver-plate picture of her mother and father she had packed, which was not a problem for the old couple, as they saw the Alchemists’ Guild exposure to be the work of sorcerers and made Aslaug keep it in her room.  Young Aslaug memorized and remembered the Lay of Brynhild and Sigurd that Heimer had written and she remembered the instructions he had given her to tell the King of Oster-Gotland when they’d gotten there, if only they’d gotten there!  Often, as Aslaug worked as a slave, she would wonder what her life would have been like if Heimer hadn’t taken her north, but he had gotten her away just in time.

Back in the Kingdom of the Volsungs, after the bodies of Princess Brynhild and King Sigurd and his son were all burned together on one common funeral pyre, King Atli asked Queen Gudrun to marry him and so he also became King of the Volsungs and, with the Hun army of Khazaria behind him, there were no complaints to the contrary.  But King Gjuki of the Thervings and his sons, Gunnar and Hogne, did not trust the Hun and refused to attend their wedding feast.  Only after Queen Gudrun had blessed King Atli with twin boys, did the sons of Gjuki relent a bit and agree to attend the first birthday feast for the two boys.  King Gjuki warned them not to go, but they wanted to make sure their sister was doing well so, they let bygones be bygones and went to the feast anyway.  The two royal guests came bearing gifts and were immediately subdued by the Hunnish soldiery present everywhere.  King Atli ordered that the still beating heart of Gunnar be cut away from his body and he took a bite out of it in front of Gunnar, Hogni and the screaming Gudrun.  Atli took pity on the innocent young Hogni and ordered him thrown alive into a pit full of venomous snakes.  Pitying people helped him further by throwing him down a harp with which to calm the snakes, but his arms were tied and he could only play it with his toes, yet he managed to calm all but one, the largest one, and it coiled itself around Hogni’s body and bit into his heart as well and the young prince soon died as Gudrun was forced to watch it all play out.

Though King Atli had been told by the hanged man Guttorm that Gudrun had nothing to do with the magics that had killed Brynhild, he did not trust the spirit that had loved and raped his sister and he blamed Gudrun anyway, but at the same time, he loved her beauty and her body so, at night he raped her as Guttorm had raped his sister and he tied her up bent over his shield and he raped her from behind until his lust for her was sated and then he let her lay upon the floor still bound to the shield while he had his way with the young princesses of the Volsungs.  But during the day he acted as if nothing had happened and he allowed her to take care of their two sons and even used the boys to control her.  She let him control her and, once she had descended into madness, for their wedding anniversary she brought out two beautiful cups, seemingly made of ivory and with golden stems and brims and she poured them both some fine Frankish sparkling wines and she offered a toast to their marriage and they drank the wine and then she poured some more and she offered a toast to her two murdered brothers and she told Atli to look closely at the cups, for they were made of the skulls of his two young sons and her toast was that, by this, she had avenged the deaths of her two brothers.  Atli rose to kill her, but he couldn’t move.  Gudrun’s mother was a witch and she had given her a poison to put into his wine to see to that.  Gudrun walked around to his side of the table and she pulled him forward onto the table and she bent him over, pulled down his pants and she raped him from behind with a full bottle of fine Frankish sparkling wine and she drove it right into him and she struck the butt with another bottle and the cork exploded into him and the glass of the bottle broke and then she raped him again with the second bottle and she drove it up inside him and struck the butt with a third bottle and it exploded and broke inside him and she did it again with a fourth bottle and Atli was screaming in pain as the glass tore him up inside until finally he died.

Gunwar left her loving king at table, as it were, and she set fire to the palace of the Volsungs and she walked, a madwoman, all the way back to the land of the Thervings and she spent the rest of her life serving her father, King Gjuki.”

Back in Skane, Princess Aslaug was kept as a slave by the old couple, who had renamed her Kraka, and she grew tall and beautiful and as graceful as a princess and all admired her marvellous beauty.  But she seldom spoke and the local people thought her deaf and dumb.  She was only allowed to share words with the old couple that kept her enslaved, but she loathed talking with them and she fully hated them for slaying her brave guardian.  She whispered to herself each day the Lay of Brynhild and Sigurd that Heimer had sung as he’d played the large harp that Aslaug kept in her corner of the room, and she daily repeated his instructions on what to do when finding help in Oster-Gotland.  In her spare time she learned witchcraft in the hopes she could use spells to escape her enslavement and in the casement of the harp she kept all her belongings she had brought north with her from the Kingdom of the Volsungs.

CHAPTER TWO

2.0  PRINCE RAGNAR SIGURDSON  (Circa 810 AD)

“In ancient times, Norway was called Thule and was thought to be an island instead of a peninsula and we call it Thule in this Chapter and shall explore how it may have first become the Nor’Way and later Norway.  We also explore how Ragnar may have originally been named Gunar and a pro-name Hrae was added to form Hraegunar which was Anglicized to Ragnar.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 810 AD)  Prince Ragnar was the son of King Sigurd ‘Hring’ by his first wife, Alfhild.  After she died, although his father was old, he fell deeply in love with young Princess Alfsol, the daughter of King Alf of Jutland, and, when she became of marriageable age the two old kings arranged a bride-price for her.  But her brothers refused to give over one so young to one so old in matrimony, and, when King Sigurd ‘Hring’ defeated the brothers in battle on a plain near Jelling in Jutland, they poisoned her rather than give her up to become his wife.  The king then carried her sweet young body on board his ship and sailed it out into open sea and plunged his sword into his own broken heart, dying beside the body of his beloved Princess Alfsol.

Prince Ragnar became King Ragnar while still a youth in minority so, a guardianship was set up for his rule in Liere over Skane and Zealand.  At this time, King Frey of Sweden, after slaying Siward, the Vik King of Stavanger Fjord in Rogaland, South Thule, enslaved all the wives and daughters of King Siward’s kinsfolk and put them in a brothel temple he dedicated to Freya, goddess of fertility and delivered them to public outrage.  Princes and great warriors from all over Scandinavia came to the temple to make their dedications and have their way with Thulian royalty.  When King Ragnar heard of this, he wanted to go to Thule to avenge his grandfather, King Siward, but his guardians would not give him leave to go, saying it was too dangerous for one so young.  Once young Ragnar turned twelve, he gained the age of majority and led an army into Thule to drive out the Swedes.  As he came, many of the older matrons and young maidens who had either suffered insult to their persons or feared imminent peril to their chastity, hastened eagerly to his camp, all dressed in male attire, declaring that they would prefer death to outrage.  Nor was young King Ragnar, loath to use the brave shield-maidens against King Frey of Sweden and he welcomed the help of those women whose shame he had come to avenge.  Among them was Princess Ladgerda, a skilled shield-maiden, who, though a young woman, had the courage of a man, and she fought in the front ranks among the bravest of the warriors, with her hair falling freely from under her helm and flowing loosely over her shoulders.  All marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed her gender.

Once King Ragnar had justly cut down King Frey, the murderer of his grandfather, he asked many questions of his fellow soldiers concerning the maiden whom he had seen so forward in the fray, and he declared that he had gained the victory by the might of that one woman.  Ragnar had to return to Liere, but learning that she was of noble birth, he steadfastly wooed her by means of messengers.  She spurned his mission in her heart, but feigned compliance, hoping to offset a betrothal her parents had made for her with a young Jarl of Lade in Trondheim Fjord in the north.  Giving false answers, she made her panting wooer confident that he would gain his desires; but ordered that a ferocious bear and a fierce dog be set at the porch of her longhall, thinking to guard her own chastity against the ardour of a lover by means of beasts to block the way.  Ragnar, comforted by the good news of her false responses, sailed once more across the Skagerrak Sea, and, telling his men to stop in Gaulardale, as her valley was called, he went to the hall of the maiden alone.  There the beasts met him, and he was attacked first by the fierce dog and he wrung its neck, then he was charged by the ferocious bear and he thrust it through with his spear and the bear died face down at his feet.  When Princess Ladgerda saw how easily King Ragnar had destroyed the vicious beasts and she saw the bear lying facedown at his feet, she foresaw that he would give her a son that would be named after the bear.  Thus he wedded the shield-maiden in reward of the peril he had overcome.  By this marriage he had two daughters and a son Ladgerda named Fridleif ‘Bjorn’, Fridleif after her Anglish Danish father and the byname Bjorn, meaning bear, after the bear Ragnar had slain to win her heart, and they lived three years at peace, but Princess Ladgerda would not leave her Gaulardale Valley in Sogn Fjord and King Ragnar continued his rule in Stavanger Fjord and would visit her when not in Skane or Zealand.  Still, young Jarl Haakon of Lade in Trondheim Fjord would not give up his betrothal claim to Princess Ladgerda and it was a source of friction between them.

The Jutlanders, a presumptuous race, thinking that because of his recent marriage in Thule he would never return, took the Skanians into alliance, and tried to attack the Zealanders, who preserved the most zealous and affectionate loyalty towards their King Ragnar.  When the king heard of the attack while visiting with his wife in Gaulardale, he returned to Stavanger and equipped thirty ships, and, with the winds favouring his voyage, he set off against the Skanians.  Princess Ladgerda continued raising forces at home, and she went north to Lade and asked Jarl Haakon for his aid, but he reminded her of her betrothal to him and agreed to aid her with ships if she would leave Ragnar and marry him.  She refused, of course, and took a small fleet to Skane to help Ragnar.  When she got there, Ragnar had already defeated the Skanians who’d ventured to fight, near the stead of Whiteby, and when the winter was over, he and Ladgerda fought successfully against the Jutlanders of the Lim Fjord region.  A third and a fourth time he conquered the Skanians and the Hallanders triumphantly as he escorted Ladgerda back to her Gaulardale Valley.

Meanwhile, the Jutes and Skanians were kindled with an unquenchable fire of sedition and they disallowed the title of Ragnar, and gave a certain Harald the sovereign power.  Ragnar sent envoys to Thule, and besought friendly assistance against these men, and Ladgerda, whose love still flowed deep and steadfast, hastily sailed off to her husband with her son, Bjorn. She brought a hundred and twenty ships to her former husband and, when Ragnar asked her how she had gotten so many ships, she told him she’d divorced him and had married Jarl Haakon of Lade and that one hundred of the ships had come from Trondheim Fjord.  “You have been ignoring me!” she claimed.  “And Jarl Haakon would only give me the ships we need if I married him.”

“I’ll kill him!” King Ragnar growled and he put up his hands like claws and made bear noises and tickled his son, Bjorn.  The boy was growing like a bear and would soon be able to fight in battle, but not yet.  “I shall maul Jarl Haakon of Lade to death!” and he made more growling noises until young Bjorn laughed uncontrollably.

“You will not kill him!” Ladgerda told her king.  “I shall handle Jarl Haakon.  But, for now, we need his ships.”  And she was right.  King Ragnar felt destitute of all resources, and took to borrowing aid from folk of every age, crowding the strong and the feeble all together, and he was not too ashamed to insert some old men and older boys among the wedges of the strong.  First he tried to crush the power of the Skanians on a battlefield which, in Latin was called Laneus, meaning Woolly, and there he had a hard fight with the rebels.  Many Danes fell to the Skanians and their spirit would have failed them had not King Ragnar, by his manly deeds and exhortations, spurred them on to hold their lines.  And Queen Ladgerda, through matchless spirit and bravery, led her shield-maidens and Trondelagers onward in a sally about, and charged around to the rear of the enemy, taking them unawares, and thus carried the panic of the Danes into the camp of the enemy Skanians.  At last the lines of the usurping King Harald faltered and Harald, himself, was routed with a great slaughter of his men.  When Ladgerda returned home after the battle, she returned her hundred ships to her Jarl Haakon and he welcomed her home and into his longhall.  The Norwegians she had lost in battle, she’d replaced with staunch Danish warriors and all her soldiers and shield-maidens had then sworn pledges to follow her.  She had been long apart from her new husband and he rushed her inside and made passionate love to her until the wee hours of the morning.  When he had sated his lust, he fell asleep in her arms and she reached up into her gown she had taken off and placed on the headboard and took out a broken spearhead she had recovered from the battlefield and she murdered her husband.  “You should have come to the battle with me as I’d asked,” she told him as he bled out.  “Perhaps then you’d have gone to Valhall on a better stroke.”  Then she usurped the whole of his name and sovereignty; for this most presumptuous maiden thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share his highseat with him.

When King Ragnar heard the good news that his queen had made herself Jarl of Lade, he sailed north to Trondheim Fjord and told Ladgerda that he still loved her and wanted her to re-marry him.  She welcomed him into her longhall and she spent the night showing him that she, too, still loved him, but she never re-married him.  They were lovers and she raised their son, Bjorn, in Lade and trained him to be a fine warrior, but she ruled central Thule, from Trondheim down to Hordaland alone, and when King Ragnar visited Stavanger Fjord, she would visit her beloved Gaulardale and they would meet there and make love there and Ragnar would check up on Bjorn’s progress as a warrior.  One visit, Ragnar gave Bjorn a great fierce Roman war dog as a gift and he told Ladgerda, “Now you once more have a bear and a dog to guard you in your hall.”  To which she responded, “And the bear and the dog shall keep all, save you, away, my love,” and they made passionate love once more.  Yet, they never remarried.

The Danes clamored for King Ragnar to find himself another queen, one that would add a softer side to his rule, so, desiring Princess Thora, the daughter of Herodd, the King of the Swedes, he set out and brought her back to Liere.  They loved each other and by her he begot two nobly gifted sons, Radbard and Dunwat.  These also had brothers; Siward, Bjorn, Agnar, and Ivar.  And Queen Thora did bring peace to Denmark for a time, but she died long before her time.

King Ragnar sorely missed his love when he was ruling in Zealand or Skane so, he distracted himself by patrolling the coasts of his kingdoms with a fleet of warships to safeguard the seas from pirates and slavers who might seek to profit from the Danes and Skanes and Thulealanders.  While patrolling the coast of southern Skane, the king and his men put into shore to bake some bread, as they’d run out and had only barrels of flour to comfort them.

When Kraka had lived with the wicked old couple for almost a dozen years, several Viking ships sailed up the creek near their stead and a number of men came ashore carrying barrels and kettles.  When the men saw the house they went to it and introduced themselves to old Ake and Grima and told them they were with King Ragnar’s fleet and they paid the couple silver to bake their bread in the oven of the house as well as over fires in their kettles.  When the cooks returned to the ships with the bread, some of it was overcooked and hard, while others of it were undercooked and still soft and Ragnar was about to have his cooks punished for their sloth, but they claimed it not to be their faults, as in the house there dwelled a servant girl so beautiful that they’d found it hard to concentrate on their baking.  They all claimed that her exquisite beauty was that of a princess and not of a bondmaiden and that her fine looks had bewitched them all.

King Ragnar had been lonely a long time and took interest in their tale and asked his chef who the girl might be.  “The old couple said she was their daughter, Kraka,” the cook replied, “but I found it hard to believe, as the young girl’s eyes seemed to throw daggers at her parents when they weren’t watching her.  I think she has been enslaved by them.  She is of much finer bearing than that lot!”  Ragnar guessed that his men were exaggerating her beauty to stave off their deserved punishment, however he was intrigued by their tale so, Ragnar ordered that this Kraka should immediately be brought in front of her king, but they were bidden to bring her to him neither dressed nor undressed, neither full nor fasting, neither alone nor in company.  The messengers found the maiden as fair as the cooks had said and repeated the king’s demand.

“Your king must be out of his mind, to send such a message,” said old Grima, Ake’s wife; but Kraka told them that she would come as their king wished, but not until the next morning.

The next day she came to the shore where the ship lay.  She was completely covered with her splendid hair, worn like a net around her, and carried only a small purse.  She had eaten a leek before coming, and had with her the old couple’s sheep dog, so that she had fulfilled Ragnar’s three demands.

Kraka’s wit impressed Ragnar almost as much as her divine beauty, her golden locks and her bright blue eyes which shone like the heavens in morning’s light.  He asked her to come on board, but she would not do so until she had been promised peace and safety.  When she was promised sanctity and came aboard, Ragnar looked at her in delight.  He thought that she surpassed all women in beauty, and offered a prayer to Odin, asking for the love of the young maiden.  He welcomed her under the awning of his ship and then he offered her a gold-embroidered dress which Ladgerda had once worn and he offered it to Kraka in verse:

“Will you have this golden dress?

 It suits you well, a princess blessed.

 Your hair of gold, it matches well.

 How in coarse abode do you now dwell?

Kraka answered, also in verse:

“I dare not take the golden dress.

 It suits not me, I must confess,

 for Kraka am I and will always be,

 a herder of goats down by the sea.”

Ragnar knew then, by her verse, that she’d had some training by a skald or bard and he promised her any help she needed or desired.  “Anything?” she asked as she set her purse upon a small table.  She put the golden dress on in front of her king and then withdrew her long hair from within the dress and she smoothed it out on her body most properly.

“Who are you?” Ragnar asked this amazing young woman who had been neither clothed nor unclothed, but now stood fully dressed before him without baring a glimmer of her smooth white skin.  “And don’t tell me Kraka, Princess…?”

“Princess Aslaug,” she answered, “and I shall tell you my tale if you’re serious in your offer to help me.”

Ragnar told her he was most serious in his offer and even offered to marry her right away, now that he’d learned she was of royalty.

“I am the daughter of King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ Fafnirsbane of the Volsungs of the Greutungs, the Oster-Goths that migrated south to Roman lands centuries ago.”  Ragnar nodded that he knew who her people were, for the Vaster-Goths bordered on Skane and the Oster-Goths bordered on them, straight east of where they were sitting.  “My father was murdered and my mother, Princess Brynhild, is dead and our skald, Jarl Heimer, brought me north as a child, carrying me secretly in his harp casement.  The two inhabitants of this stead, thinking dear Heimer carried gold in his harp, murdered him for it, but found me inside instead.  We were going to Oster-Gotland to get help for the Land of the Volsungs, but I was enslaved here and my guardian Heimer has watched the waves roll from a grave by the sea here for nigh on twelve years while I have toiled in slavery.”

“Beautifully said,” Ragnar whispered.  “Jarl Heimer taught you well.”  Then Ragnar called out to his chef and the cook came in with savoury food and wine for the two.  There had been a reason for Ragnar’s strange requests.  “Thank you, Henri,” Ragnar told his chef, for he had been captured in a raid in Brittany and was quite good at his job.  “You were right to suspect that Princess Aslaug here was a princess who was kidnapped by the couple in that house.”  Then he turned to Aslaug and said, “Eat up.  There was a reason for each and every request I made of you today.”

“Ahh,” Aslaug agreed.  “Dressed or undressed so I could wear this dress,” and she pressed the dress smoothly to her body once more, “and fed yet not fed so I can eat this fine cuisine.  But what of the couple’s sheep dog?”

“Two out of three isn’t bad,” Ragnar replied and they made small talk as they ate.  “Now, how may I help you, for I suspect the task will be a large one, judging from your tale thus far?”

Princess Aslaug opened her purse and took out the silver plate exposure of her mother and father together.  “Have you ever seen one of these before?” she asked.

“Yes I have,” Ragnar said, and the princess was visibly surprised.  “It’s by the Guild, is it not?  The Alchemists’ Guild if I’m not mistaken.  I have met several times with the King of Oster-Gotland here and he has several of these from the Guild in Baghdad.”

“Jarl Heimer was taking me to the King of Oster-Gotland for help!  Can you take me to him?” Princess Aslaug asked him excitedly.

“No!” King Ragnar told her flatly.  Her mouth fell open in shock.  “I’m going to help you,” Ragnar added.  “I am more powerful than the King of Oster-Gotland.  I am the King of Denmark and I shall help you with your task and for that you shall marry me…should you find me worthy,” he added, ‘of the task,’ he thought.

“They allowed me to also keep my mother’s wedding ring and this letter which she wrote for me before her tragic death.  I guess I have that to thank them for.”  She passed the ring to Ragnar and she began reading him the letter:

“Dear Aslaug,

I know I have been acting strange lately, but I have learned that Queen Gudrun’s mother used a magic love spell to steal your father, King Sigurd ‘the Dragon-Slayer’ from me and I have just learned that there is now another fire-breathing dragon that threatens our land and Sigurd is under her spell and must be freed from it so we can go fight the dragon.  I am afraid I must have Gudrun killed to free your father from the spell, but if something goes wrong with my plan, Jarl Heimer has instructions on what must be done and how he must save you.  Please follow his instructions to the letter and know that your father and I shall love you always, even in death.

Love,

Your mother, Brynhild”

Ragnar took the letter from Aslaug and re-read it.  It was written in Old Gothic runic script that Ragnar could just make out, but it said exactly what Aslaug had read.  “Your evil couple up there,” he said, nodding towards the house, “let you keep the silver plate exposure because they thought it sorcery, which they feared to take from you, and the ring because they thought it was copper, for it is of the Red Gold of Byzantium, which has copper in it, and the letter?  They could not read.  You owe them nothing.”

“Jarl Heimer brought me north so we could fetch a great warrior to slay that dragon my mother was warning us of.  It is a fire-breather.  His brother, Jarl Brak, stayed behind in Volsung to help the hero fight the dragon when Heimer was to send the warrior south.  Will you still help me?”

“Your father killed one of these?” Ragnar asked.

“Yes.  But my mother was a shield-maiden.  She helped him.”

“Well, it so happens that my former wife just happens to be a shield-maiden, a great shield-maiden, and if your father killed one of these fire-breathers, then so shall I.”

“You’ll go to our Land of the Volsungs and kill this fire breathing dragonship, this sea snake?”

“If you will give me the chance of marrying you.”

“Then I will now go home and await you,” she added. “If my king’s mind does not change and you slay the dragon you can send for me and I shall come to marry you.”  She was about to go back to the evil couple’s cottage, but Ragnar said, “I really can’t leave you behind with these evil people!”

“Oh, I can handle them,” she replied, getting up, “besides, I have their dog.”

“No.  I mean I really really really can’t let you stay with these people!”

“And I said, I really really really can handle them.”

“My third request,” Ragnar said, “the dog.  I didn’t want the dog getting hurt protecting them.”

“The dog!” she said, sitting back down.  “Three out of three?”

“Yes, three out of three.  When I told chef Henri that he was correct, he sent men up to the house.  I didn’t want the dog to get hurt protecting them.  I thought it was your dog.”

“I guess it is now.  You were right.  He has always protected me, and he would have protected them too.”

“I’m sorry.  It’s what we do.  We patrol the coast looking for pirates and slavers, and that includes enslavers as well.  Come north with me to Thule and meet my shield-maiden ex-wife, Ladgerda.  You can stay in her palace in Lade and look after our young son Bjorn while we are off slaying your dragon and we’ll be back in the fall.”

CHAPTER THREE

3.0  KING RAGNAR SIGURDSON  (Circa 810 AD)

For People Who Claim There Were No Viking Shield-Maidens:

“Beside men-warriors there were “women-warriors” in the North, as Saxo explains.  He describes shield-maidens, such as Alfhild, Sela, Rusila, Ladgerda and the three she-captains, Wigbiorg, who fell on the field, Hetha, who was made queen of Zealand, and Wisna, whose hand Starkad cut off, all three fighting manfully at the Battle of Bravalla.”

The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus

(Circa 810 AD)  King Ragnar took Princess Aslaug away from Skane and they sailed north up the coast of Thule to Trondheim Fjord with their small fleet and were soon docked just off Jarl Ladgerda’s palace in Lade.  Ladgerda came out to greet them and she saw immediately the beauty of the golden haired young girl with Ragnar, and she saw the girl wearing her old golden dress that her king had given her years ago.  She had to admit that it now fit her better than it had fit herself because of the muscles she now carried through her training as a shield-maiden.

“Jarl Ladgerda, this is Princess Aslaug,” Ragnar introduced the two women to each other.  “She is from the Land of the Volsungs, just north of the Roman lands.”

“Welcome, Princess Aslaug,” Ladgerda said.  “I see that King Ragnar has found a use for the golden dress he had given me years ago.  I daresay, it fits you well.”

“Thank you,” Princess Aslaug replied, smoothing the dress out against her body.  “Your palace looks wonderful from the fjord.”

“Come in then,” Ladgerda continued warmly, realizing just how young the princess was.  “It looks even finer from within.”

“I want to take you to Constantinople,” Ragnar started, addressing Ladgerda, “and buy you a new dress of gold.”

“Well, thank you, husband,” Ladgerda said, as though to remind Ragnar that although they were no longer married, they still carried on as though they were.  Ladgerda then linked arms with both Aslaug and Ragnar and she walked between them as she led them up the quay and into her longhall.  She introduced the princess to young Bjorn and the boy instantly took a liking to the older princess.  “Are you my new step-mother?” Bjorn asked Aslaug innocently.

“I hope to be, someday,” Aslaug answered and she looked up at Ragnar and smiled.

“Yes, we hope to be,” Ragnar stammered.  “There is a little matter of a dragon to be slain on our way to Constantinople.  Apparently it takes a great hero and a great shield-maiden to do it.”

“So I am to earn this Roman dress of gold?” Ladgerda asked.

“Only if you can find it in your heart,” Ragnar started, “to help me save the Greutung Oster-Goths of Volsung from this fire breathing dragonship that threatens them.”  And Ragnar went on to explain the events that had unfolded while he was patrolling the coasts of Denmark and Skane.

After a few days of preparation, King Ragnar and Jarl Ladgerda sailed south down the coast of Thule to Zealand and Liere, where they stopped for a few days so King Ragnar could set his kingdom right before setting off on their dragon quest.  Then they sailed their small fleet of warships across the Baltic Sea to the Duna (Dvina) River and they sailed south up it into Scythia.  There was a portage between two Slavic villages and the fleet was soon sailing down the Danu Apr (Dnieper) River past the Poljane Slav city of Kiev on the right bank, which was ruled by King Olmar of the Poljane, and south past a series of rapids, which were difficult to traverse, until they neared the estuary on the Scythian or Black Sea, and the lands of the Greutung Oster-Goths and Volsungs was on the right bank, stretching past the Boh or Bug River to the Dan-Ister (Dniester) River.  The Therving Vaster-Goths then ruled the lands from the right bank of the Dan-Ister to the estuary of the Dan-Istros (Danube) River.

King Ragnar led his fleet into a small tributary of the Danu Apr and left a force to guard the ships and the rest went to a village on the shore and hired horses to ride to the Castle of the Volsungs.  As they stood at the front gates they saw that a new palace had been built within it and Ragnar asked to meet Jarl Brak, who was sent for and met them at the entrance.

“Princess Aslaug sends her regards,” Ragnar spoke from horseback, “and her regrets, for your brother Heimer was murdered in the north but has been avenged.”

“I suspected something had happened,” Brak said.  “It’s been years.  I’m his brother, Brak.  Welcome to Volsunga.”

“I’m King Ragnar Sigurdson of Denmark,” Ragnar introduced himself, “betrothed of Princess Aslaug.  She has sent me to slay a fire breathing dragonship on her behalf.”

“I’d say you were a decade late,” Brak started, “but, surprisingly, you are not.  You are just in time.  Please come inside and we shall show you hospitality in our fine new palace.”

Brak led them inside the castle to the front porch of the palatial longhall and had stewards tend their horses as he led them through the palace doors and to the guest highseats.  Once they’d had some food and wine Brak told them that they’d had no king since the death of King Sigurd and King Atli after him.  “The Khazars rule everything now, through one of their tribes, the Huns, but they are nomadic horsemen and traders and do not bother us in our castles and walled cities.  They are only interested in establishing their trade route through our lands to the Eastern Roman Empire.”

“Shouldn’t they be trading via the Scythian Sea just south of here?” Ragnar asked, somewhat amazed at a land trade route so close to water.  “Ships carry cargo with so much more ease.”

“Like I said,” Brak replied, “the Huns are horsemen, no more at ease on ships than they are in castles.  They prefer camels and wains and, I daresay, the Roman Emperor prefers that they forego ships, for the Roman navy rules both the Mediterranean and Scythian Seas and they wish to keep it that way.”

“So there is no more Roman fire breathing dragonship to be slain?” Ladgerda said, as she sat beside Ragnar on the highest guest seat.  “So much for my dress of gold,” she lamented.

“Oh, there is still a dragonship and there is still gold, much gold,” Brak said.  “The Khazars wish to secure their trade network with Constantinople by building a fortress on the Tanais (Don) River.  The Alchemists’ Guild doesn’t want this to happen.  The fortress is half finished and the Roman Emperor will soon be sending another fire breathing Byzantine bireme full of gold to Sarkel to finance its completion.  The Guild shall be sending me a messenger soon with details of the ship’s departure from Constantinople and they also shall be giving me a book that I am to send north to the farthest reaches of civilized man where it is to be safely kept until they send for it.”

“A book?” Ragnar asked.  “You mean a folded scroll?”

“No,” Brak said.  “It is an ancient bound book known only to the Guild, except for a new type of folded scroll from Cathay that is quite like it.  I only know of this because I am a member of the Steel Guild.”

“Like the Black Smiths’ Guild?”

“Yes, but we specialize in steel, not the black iron of the smiths.  We work only with Damascus steel and Indian steel as well as the alloys of it.  Very specialized,” Brak said, proudly.

“Why would they want a book taken north?” Ragnar asked.

Brak hummed and hawed a bit then said, “It is supposed to be magical, the magics of the Magi’s.”

“You mean witchcraft?” Ragnar said.  “I’m familiar with witchcraft.  As king, I am head warlock of Denmark.  I look after the Guild healers and witch’s in Denmark.”

“It’s not witchcraft,” Brak replied.  “It is Magi science, a different type of magic.  I don’t know much about it, but they want the book north to keep it out of someone’s hands for a time.  Is Denmark at the ends of the earth?”

“No,” Ragnar said, “but Thule is, and Ladgerda, my shield-maiden, is from what the Greeks call Thule, from Lade in Thule and, by my grandfather, I also rule Stavanger in Thule.  We could keep it in Thule for the Guild.”

“That is good, for, to only the northern ruler who takes responsibility for the book, will the Guild give the details on the Byzantine dragonship and the gold it carries.  The gold is cursed and will not be able to be used in southern lands.”

“That should not be a problem.  I have no intention on staying in southern lands.”

Jarl Brak, thinking that the couple sharing the highseat together, would want to share the palace master suite together, showed them to the unoccupied royal suite of the palace.  Ladgerda was about to ask for a separate room until she saw the king’s suite.  It had a meeting room with Roman couches, and a dining room with a dozen chairs around a round table and two dressing rooms and a master bedroom with a huge bed that could sleep a cohort of soldiers, or a maniple at least.  “You keep to your side of the bed,” she told Ragnar.  “I don’t want to have any more of your children.  It interferes with my training.”

“Fine!” Ragnar said.  “I’m betrothed anyway.”

But while they waited for the Guild messenger to arrive, they enjoyed being waited on by the palace staff and were continually being brought splendid dishes of foods from Rome and Baghdad and even the city of Atil in Khazaria.  And with the dishes came the goblets of fine wines from Italy and Spain and Greece and even Frankia, the western land of the Holy Roman Empire.  And with the wines came fond recollections of their past times together and the realization that they’d never had a bad time together, only wars and politics and their separate realms had drawn them apart.  Each night in bed, they would sleep closer and closer together until one night, when they’d had a bit too much wine, their bodies actually touched, and the friction from it kindled a spark that ignited the lust that had been building up within them, essentially, from the very beginning of their quest together.  They made passionate love together all night long, or, at least until the alcohol made them pass out together.

When Ragnar woke up in the morning, he didn’t have to wonder if they had, while drunk, done it or not, for he was still hard and still inside her when he opened his eyes.  He kept very still so as not to disturb her, but she slowly opened her eyes and asked, “Did we?” and then she felt him grow larger within her and she groaned, “Oh, gods!”  She realized that he was beside her and had slept in her half the night and she grabbed the headboard and she pulled herself towards it and slid off of him.  “You’re still hard!” she said, reaching into her field pack atop the headboard.  She pulled out a glove kit and slipped a sheath over his weapon and tied it off.  “No sense in letting a good sword go to waste,” she said, climbing atop him, and she rode him for an hour, or much of it, until they both came together again.

They relaxed in each others’ arms, still half cut, and Ladgerda said, “You’d better not have knocked me up!” and she punched him on the arm.

“It’s okay,” Ragnar said.  “You married me again last night.”

“No!” Ladgerda stammered.  “I must have been drunk.”

“We both were,” Ragnar said, “so I won’t hold you to it.  But you whispered, ‘I marry you, I marry you, I marry you,’ three times into my ear while we were just reaching orgasm together.  But it wasn’t in public so you’re not bound by it.”

“It’s coming back to me,” she admitted.  “I’d take it back, but I think I meant it.  I should only take it back if I didn’t mean it.  I hope this doesn’t fock up your betrothal with Aslaug.”

“I’ll make her my primus wife, if that’s okay with you.  She can’t complain about that and then you can keep up your training and we’ll only visit occasionally like we used to do when you only ruled Gaulardale.”

“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with her.”

They slept very closely together, very closely indeed, in that great bed at nights, until the messenger arrived from the Guild with a book, a departure schedule, and a contract drawn up in both Gothic and Latin script in two copies.  King Ragnar signed both copies and tucked one into his wool shirt as he handed the messenger the other, and he took the book and schedule.  The messenger then told Brak that the Guild was ordering him to accompany the book north and to protect it upon pain of death.  “Fock!” Brak said, and then he nodded his acceptance of the order to the messenger.  “I owe all my training to the Guild,” he told Ragnar, once the messenger had left.  “And the Guild is our only ally against the Romans and the Khazars.”

They all shared the guest highseats and had some wine while Brak talked.  “There has always been something going on between the Romans and the Khazars, some kind of connection, and now the Romans are trying to get the Khazars to accept their Orthodox Christian faith as well.  That will bind them together tighter than you two have been this past week.”  When Ragnar and Ladgerda sat a bit apart from each other, Brak said, “I’ve heard you down the hall.  It’s hard not to.”  But then he resumed, “But the Guild is trying to break that alliance and they’re bringing in some Jewish Rabi’s to try and convince the Khazars to become members of that faith and it’s costing the Guild a lot of gold for that, because the Jews don’t often let those not born into the faith join into it.  But the Jews would likely do it for free for what the Romans have done to them over the centuries.”

They all knew what the Romans had done to Jerusalem, so Ladgerda asked, “Why are the Romans and the Guild at each others’ throats?”

“I used to think it was because the Romans stole the secret of Greek-fire from the Guild for their fire breathing biremes, but it goes way back farther than that!  Back to the times when the Romans were Aesir like us, but the Vanir form of Aesir.  Their Odin was Jupiter, or Zeus Pater, their Thor was Mars, and their Frey was Mercury.  Back then, the Magi of the Arans, the original Vanir, were the Alchemists’ Guild, but the Romans rejected their science.  They had their own science, the science of their engineers in their legions and it grew until, Pliny ‘the Elder’, their head scientist, wrote an encyclopedia of books, the folding scroll type, on their science, and the Romans have claimed their science superior ever since.  But the Romans are a martial state, who follow their own fasces beliefs, so, whenever they need a new secret weapon, they steal it from the Guild, including steel!  They’re always trying to steal the Guild advances in steel making, especially the rust proofing.”

“The Guild has rust proof steel?” Ragnar asked, and he and Ladgerda looked at each other as though it was an almost sensuous idea.

“The Indian Guild has had some types for centuries,” Brak admitted, “but I’m not allowed to talk about it.”

“Are you allowed to talk about Pliny ‘the Elder’?” Ragnar asked, challengingly.  “How can you be so sure his science doesn’t work as well?”

“Have you heard of Mount Vesuvius?”

“Of course,” Ragnar said.  “That’s the volcano that erupted near Rome.”

“Back in 79 AD,” Brak began, “when Mount Vesuvius began belching out black smoke, Emperor Tiberius sent Pliny ‘the Elder’ to the city of Pompey to see what science could be done to stop the volcano.  It was going to cost a fortune to move all the people away and rebuild Pompey and Herculaneum in new locations, so Pliny came up with the idea of filling Mount Vesuvius’s crater full of Roman concrete.  He assured the Emperor there would be no need to evacuate the cities and he took sixty of Rome’s top scientists to Pompey to do the engineering required to get the job started,” and Brak drank some wine and continued, “but before they could pour one cubic yard of cement, Mount Vesuvius blew up and killed Pliny and half his scientists!  And it killed a whole lot of other people too!  Roman citizens were pissed off about it, so the Emperor claimed that Pliny ‘the Elder’ was in Pompey while on holidays and anything he did was on his own time and not official government policy.”

“What about the thirty scientists that died with him?” Ladgerda asked.  “Were they on holidays with Old Pliny too?”

“Exactly!” said Brak.  “The Guild would never have attempted something so foolish.  Just try putting a cork in a steaming kettle and then you’d have second thoughts about pouring concrete into a steaming volcano.  Safety comes first with the Guild.  They would have evacuated the people.  They even had Guild scientists there right up to the last few days trying to get people to leave on their own.  A few did, so a few lives were saved.”

Ragnar was glad that Brak was so heartily defending the Guild, because he was the one who had just signed a contract with them.

A few days later, King Ragnar’s small fleet of warships were all packed up with gear and ready to sail into the Scythian Sea.  It had taken a few days to freshly slaughter all the black sheep in the Land of the Volsungs, most of them at least.  The raw sheep skins were then sewn together to form rawhide awnings for Ragnar’s shieldship and then the awnings were packed into tanned leather bags and sealed and then barrel after barrel of sour wine (vinegar) were loaded into the ship.  Ladgerda and her shield-maidens had spent days sewing up rawhide clothes for the first wave assault team that were to take the Roman ship.  The sheep skin clothes were sewn woolly side out and consisted of head dresses to cover their helmets, and Ladgerda included rams horns on the toques, and loose fitting shirts that could be quickly doffed, and shaggy loose fitting pants that could be quickly shed if on fire and the legs were long, to cover their boots as well.  The maidens even sewed shaggy wool covers to go over their shields and Ragnar and his team painted their shields with magic charms and symbols, on the advice of the old head witch of the Volsungs.  But Ragnar, himself, was a very poor warlock, for he wanted to paint legends upon his shield instead.  He wanted something special, something different.

“Wasn’t Princess Aslaug’s mother, Brynhild, a shield-maiden?” Ladgerda asked Ragnar.  “Wouldn’t she have had a shield?  Perhaps you should paint charms on that?”

“Princess Aslaug would love it if I brought back her mother’s shield with many a story painted upon it.  The old witch loved the idea and she located Princess Brynhild’s old shield and had it taken down from a wall of the new palace.

King Ragnar rejoined his men and he painted the legends of his Denmark upon it:

There was an oxen plowing away the island of Zealand from the coast of Skane on one quadrant,

And there was Hedin and Hogni battling in Valhall on another quadrant,

And there was Beowulf fighting with Grendal on another quadrant,

And then there was Thor battling the Midgard serpent as it encircled the world on the last quadrant, but for some reason Ragnar painted the serpent encircling the world via the riverways of Scythia that he had just so recently traversed.

The old witch had several beautiful young witches with her who were helping the men paint their magical symbols on their shields and the old woman took the girls to Ragnar’s shield and she said, “There is a message painted on this shield, and the one of you who can tell me what it is shall serve the king his supper tonight should he so wish.”

The girls all studied the paintings on the shield and they all agreed that the quadrant with the giant Midgard serpent was the one with the message, but none could figure out the meaning.  The old witch mixed up a potion that would cause the girls to have hallucinations and she told all that Thor would give the message to the chosen one.  The girls all began hallucinating, but only one girl began speaking.  “The serpent is a trade route that our king shall found and slaves shall be fed the serpent in Zealand and, for every slave sold at the other end, a small gold egg shall be laid here, in Kiev,” and she stood in front of the shield and pointed out where Kiev would have been had it been drawn upon it.  The old witch took some paint and marked a dot where Kiev had been pointed out.  “And why is Zealand plowed away from the mainland?” the old witch asked the girl.  “Because only the Danes shall rule Kiev,” the girl said, still in her trance.  “And why are Hedin and Hogni shown battling in Valhall?”  “Because King Ragnar has a spot reserved for him in Valhall in the distant future, after having fallen from the bites of a dozen blood snakes.”  “And what of Beowulf and his struggle with Grendal?” the old witch finally asked the girl.  “Because King Ragnar’s own trade route shall not go through Kiev.  He has drawn the way he has come here, but he shall return another way, a Nor’Way, and his trade route shall go through Giantland.”

“Is there anything else?” the old witch asked the girl.

“Yes.  I shall serve King Ragnar his supper tonight in Volsung, and I shall serve King Ragnar his mead in Valhall.”

“Who shall rule the route through Kiev?” Ragnar asked the girl quickly.

“Your son,” she answered staring up at the sky.  “Your Volsung son yet to be born.”

“What is the name of this son?” Ragnar asked.

“Your shield shall be called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,” she answered.

“No.  My son.  What shall my…”

Then the girl snapped out of her trance and couldn’t remember why she was standing in front of the shield or why everyone was standing around her, staring at her.

That night, in the palace, in the master suite dining room, the young witch named Gerda served Ragnar and Ladgerda their supper and they asked her to join them and they shared their meals and their wine with her.  Then after supper they took the girl into the master bedroom and Ladgerda undressed both Gerda and Ragnar and she went to the dressing room and came back out with towels, for Gerda was a young virgin witch, who was not being trained in spells that required sex.  Ladgerda laid Ragnar upon the bed and she got him wet and hard and she showed Gerda how to ride him like a Valkyrie.  Then Ladgerda had her straddle his hips and Gerda lowered herself onto his sword until her shield was pierced and her blood flowed out upon the towels and Ladgerda had the girl do everything at her own pace and comfort level and King Ragnar soon flowed inside the young witch.  Then shield-maiden Ladgerda joined them in bed and they enjoyed each other long into the night.

The next morning, the palace cooks brought breakfast up to the master suite and Witch Gerda once again served King Ragnar and Jarl Ladgerda their meal and joined with them.  In the afternoon, King Ragnar led his small fleet of warships down the Dan Apr River and out into the Scythian Sea.  Ragnar stood at the forestem of his shieldship with Ladgerda on his right and Brak on his left and he asked them, “Why did the young Witch Gerda call Princess Brynhild’s shield, Hrae’s Ship’s Round?”  While a shield was commonly called a ship’s round, or the leaf of a sea tree, or a sea wain’s wheels, Hrae was a very uncommon name that Ragnar had never heard before.

“I would have called it Brynhild’s Ship’s Round,” Brak admitted.

“Or Hild’s Wheel,” Ladgerda chimed in.

“Wasn’t Princess Brynhild’s husband called Gunnar?” Ragnar asked, and Brak confirmed that, indeed, it was.  “We ancient Oster-Goths don’t have the name Ragnar,” Brak added.  “Perhaps she meant Hrae-Gunnar, as in your shield’s name?”

“Perhaps,” Ragnar said.  “She was in a hallucinogenic trance.  Hrae-Gunnar,” he repeated.  “I like it!”

After they had left the Land of the Volsungs, the old witch gave Witch Gerda some more of the potion she had wrought the day before and she was again in a hallucinogenic trance.  The old witch and her young followers then led Witch Gerda to a small ship on the creek nearby and they laid her upon a cot under the ship’s awnings and a dozen warlocks of Volsunga took their turns going into the tent and they each drank mead with her and made love offerings with the young witch to Odin for the success of King Ragnar’s quest and, when they’d done, the old witch and her girls went into the tent and the girls held Gerda down as the old witch wrapped a cord around Gerda’s throat and strangled the life out of her, and young Gerda died the proper bloodless death of a witch and went to Valhalla to await and serve her king.

The twelve warlocks each carried a torch and they lit the kindling and firewood that were already in the small ship and then they went into a twelve oared boat and they rowed it and towed the burning ship down the tributary and out into the main river and towards the Scythian Sea, but the ship burned down to the waterline long before they made the sea and it slipped under the waves of the Dan Apr.

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0  THE ROAR OF FAFNIR, THE FIRE BREATHING DRAGONSHIP  (Circa 810 AD)

“Beside men-warriors there were “women-warriors” in the North, as Saxo explains.  He describes shield-maidens, as Alfhild, Sela, Rusila, Ladgerda and the three she-captains, Wigbiorg, who fell on the field, Hetha, who was made queen of Zealand, and Wisna, whose hand Starkad cut off, all three fighting manfully at the Battle of Bravalla.”

The Nine Books of Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus

(Circa 810 AD)  Jarl Brak was familiar with the Scythian Sea and he guided King Ragnar and his war fleet around the Greek Peninsula (Crimea) and past the city of Cherson.  “The Khazars control Cherson now,” Brak told Ragnar and Ladgerda as they skirted around the peninsula just out of sight of the land.  They sailed up the east coast of the peninsula and entered the Sea of Maeotia (Azov) and sailed north-east across it to the estuary of the Tanais (Don) River.  They rowed up the Tanais and used their sail when the wind cooperated.  “We have half-giants in Thule,” Ragnar told Brak, “that just put out their arms thus,” and he held out his arms, “and they then get a wind at their backs.”

“That would be a handy skill to have,” Brak replied.  Ragnar took out the departure schedule the Guild messenger had given him and he pinned it against the forestem as he read the Gothic script of it.  “The fire breather is called Fafnir,” Ragnar said, “and I think the Latin script calls it Justus.  It looks to be a week away.”

“Fafnir, it is.” Brak said.  “A little over a week so we’ll have time to prepare.”

“Can you read the Latin?” Ladgerda asked him.

“A little,” Brak admitted.  “Most Romans speak Greek these days, so I know Greek better.  We used to trade a lot with them, but the Khazars control all trade now.”

“Perhaps we can put an end to that,” Ragnar said, somewhat presciently.

When they got further up the Tanais, Brak had them turn up a small tributary in the afternoon.  “We’ll have to camp here for the night,” Brak explained, “so that we can sneak past the fortress construction at first light.  We should attack Fafnir from the north-east, from upstream, so we can attack with more speed,” and Brak began drawing the river and fortress in the wet riverbank.  “That will give Fafnir less time to spew fire upon us.  Also, if we camp upstream it will be safer.  Nobody goes further upstream, but other Roman ships may come before Fafnir shows and we might be spotted here.  No other Roman ships should have Greek fire spouts on them, but they are all armed.”

They set up their awnings on the shore, but could have no campfires because the smoke might be seen, so they ate their food cold.  Ragnar and Ladgerda kept their awning on the shieldship and they enjoyed the privacy the strakes afforded them.  In the morning they ate more cold food and set off with their ships before dawn.  They rowed with masts unfooted and they could see the fortress construction high up on the west riverbank as they skirted up the east bank in the sheltering darkness.

They rowed a little past the fortress and set up a surveillance position up a tributary that would consist of Ragnar’s shieldship and a shuttle-ship that would watch for Fafnir and the rest would camp far enough upstream that they could have small fires.  They had a good view of the river downstream from their surveillance camp and would be able to see Fafnir’s approach for many miles unless the ship approached in the early morning light as they had done.

“It is unlikely they’ll use stealth,” Brak assured them.  “The Romans used to ship their gold via war fleets, but the Greek fire is such a, uh, powerful weapon that they now send gold shipments on just one fireship.  It saves them money, but the fire breathers like to travel in the middle of rivers in broad daylight so they can’t be easily approached.”  Brak was going to call the Greek fire a terrible weapon, but he said powerful instead, so as not to upset Ladgerda, because her husband, Ragnar, was part of the first assault group.

Ragnar had to stay with his shieldship at the surveillance point and they unpacked their sheepskin awnings and kept the ship covered in them at all times and they kept the sour wine at the ready, to be poured over the awnings at Fafnir’s first approach.  Vinegar soaked woollen rawhides, according to the Alchemists’ Guild, were proof against Greek-fire, and the Romans had stolen Greek-fire from the Guild, so they would know.  They had a double crew of sixty men aboard the twenty four oar ship so that half could row and half could pour as they attacked.  The other warships would stay well back until the first assault team took out the forward bronze fire tube.  Once the forward tube was out, the other warships could attack the bow, but the assault team had to sweep the deck as quickly as possible.  Brak didn’t think the Romans could turn the rear tube upon their own deck, but it would be deadly for all if they did.  The fireship could go up instantly in flames and kill all aboard, both Roman and Dane.

Ladgerda commanded the shuttle-ship so that she could stay close to Ragnar and she would try to bring him warm food, but it was always cold when she got back from the main camp.  “I prefer cold food and a warm woman,” Ragnar would tell her as they shared their awning, “over the reverse.”

One day they were watching the river and a Roman cargo ship ferried a group of people across the waters and Brak watched them disembark and he told Ragnar that it looked like Khazars leading a Slav embassy, perhaps Kievan Poljane, on their way to Khazaria.  “I think they are taking a Slav princess to Atil,” he added.  “The Khazars have their way with Slav royalty,” Brak said, as if it no longer happened in Volsunga.

“Take some men,” Ladgerda said, “and go save her,” and she looked up at Ragnar.

“I have to stay here and watch for Fafnir,” Ragnar said.  “I’m leading the first assault wave.  Take Brak and some men and go after her.”

“I’m in the first assault wave too!” Brak protested.

“I’ll cover for you,” Ragnar offered.

“Fock it!” Ladgerda said.  “I’ll take some men and go save her myself!”  And she gathered two dozen warriors and shield-maidens about her on her shuttle ship and they sailed across the river and up a little creek for as far as it would carry them and then they began tracking the Khazars for hours before they came upon them camping and attacked them.  There were a dozen Khazar troops and a few Poljane protecting the young princess, but the Thule warriors made short work of them and it took Ladgerda a while to calm down the young princess who was standing in front of the warriors and keeping them at bay with a bodkin, a long needle that she had pulled out of her long blonde hair.  One of their Volsunga guides could speak a bit of Poljane and he told Ladgerda, “She doesn’t believe that a warrior like you is a woman.  She says you killed two Khazar soldiers.”  Ladgerda bared her breasts in front of the girl to convince her of it and the young princess finally agreed to come with them.  She put the bodkin back into her hair and walked regally along with them.  The warriors gathered up the fallen and cleared up the camp so it looked as though nobody had ever fought there and they put everything in their ship and took it back to their main camp.  It was dusk by the time they got back and Ragnar was ready to send out a search party when they beached their ship.

They always used the men with the sharpest vision to watch out for Fafnir from treetops and early one afternoon a shout came down from the branches that a Roman bireme had been spotted and the sun had played upon its bronze forward fire tube.  The ship was alone and being rowed at a leisurely pace.  Only two warships were back at the main camp so, four warships came out from under branches at the forward surveillance point and rowed out into the Tanais River and south at full speed.  The river current and a fair wind added to their speed and they were almost past the unfinished fortress when the Byzantine fire officer at the forestem of Fafnir spotted their masts and billowing sails.  A rope ran from the forestem to the mast and to the stern stem which suspended the sheepskin awning over the shieldship to the topstrakes and over the oars and men sat on the rope and poured vinegar over the awnings as the ship raced south.  Under the awnings, the first assault group donned their shaggy shirts and shaggy britches and plunked their shaggy toques atop their helms and began pouring sour wine all over themselves.  They then doused their shaggy shields and prepared to fight.

Ragnar was all shaggy and soaked as he peered past the forestem out from under the awnings and directed the rudderman at the stern.  Brak was on the other side of the forestem advising Ragnar on the approach.  He was all shaggy and wet as well.  The Roman fire officer was directing his men as they loaded Greek fire into the bronze firetube and they could hear great bellows being pumped from below deck as the whooshing carried out over the waves.  The Roman fire officer and crew were dressed in shining golden armour of the latest scale mail and Brak told Ragnar, “Their scale mail shirts are of a linen and glue laminate that is stronger than steel but so light it floats and is yet fireproof!  I want to get me one of those and so should you!”

Then Fafnir roared and an arc of Greek fire shot upwards with a great “Hraaaeee” sound and the flames arced over the waves at the shieldship but fell just short and to the left side and landed on the water, still burning fiercely.  The shieldship swerved to avoid the blaze on the billows and the oars just ploughed through the flames.  The fire officer at the bireme’s forestem threw his helmet onto the deck and hastened his crew in recharging the firetube and re-pressurizing the bellows system.  Brak warned that the Romans would have one more shot before they would be able to attack them.  “That is the Hraaee,” Ragnar exclaimed, “from the Hrae’s Ship’s Round!”  And they both looked out as a second shot soon followed, and Fafnir roared once more, “Hraaaeee,” and a long trail of liquid flame arced heavenward.  Ragnar and Brak both jumped up on the topstrake at either side of the forestem and roared back.  “Hraaaae,” they shouted, imitating the roar of the fire-tube, as the fiery fluid flew towards them, then they grabbed at the awnings, jumped to the deck and pulled them closed just as the flaming emulsion hit.  The Greek fire landed on the wet awnings and the vinegar in the soaked sheep’s wool boiled but would not burn nor allow the sticky flaming gel to adhere, and the flaming mass of Arabic petroleum rolled off into the waters.  Small bits of flaming liquid penetrated the awnings here and there, but the Volsung craftswomen had done their jobs well.  The first assault crew threw back the awnings and launched grappling hooks up at the closing bireme and they tied off the ropes to their stout rowing benches and pulled in their oars just as the shieldship started snapping off the oars of Fafnir and the ropes sprang taut and thrust the two ships together.  The assault crew threw up short boarding ladders and kept their shields overhead to protect themselves from the arrows that were spattering down all over the deck.  The Danes charged up the ladders and immediately fell into deadly combat with the Roman marines waiting for them on the deck of Fafnir.  Ragnar and Brak led the team forward and they cut down the marines in a vicious assault as they made their way towards their one target….the forward firetube.  The Byzantine fire officer had his sword drawn to protect his secret weapon and recognized Ragnar as one of the wild berserks who had shouted at them crazily from the attacking ship.  He lashed out at Ragnar and his sword stuck into the edge of Hrae’s Ship’s Round and Ragnar thrust out with his sword and cut the officer’s jugular, killing him instantly.  Greek fire was spattering across the deck from a leak somewhere and Ragnar tore off his shaggy shirt and started beating out the flames as Brak led men to the rear of the ship to take out the rear fire tube.  More shaggy shirts came off as men fought to control the flames.

As the other warships approached the bow, Ragnar waved them back because the whole ship could go up if the leak wasn’t found and the fire wasn’t controlled.  And if the ship went up, the gold went down, all the way to the river bottom.  They found a leather sack of Greek fire that had been cut and was spewing the fiery liquid across the deck and Ragnar grabbed the sack and flung it out into the waters and it floated and spewed more flames and then blew up into the air and splattered fire all over the waters.  The men on board the ship, all the men on board the ship were glad it had not gone off while aboard.  Ragnar waved for the other warships to approach and, once the flames were all out on deck, Ragnar led his crew back to help Brak attack the Romans who had all bunched up around the rear fire tube and were making a last stand.  When the men from the other warships began flooding aboard, the Romans held up their swords in surrender while protecting themselves with their shields.  “Yield and bend!” Ragnar shouted and the warriors that took the surrenders of the Romans bent them over their shields and raped them from behind.

When Ladgerda came aboard, Ragnar apologized for his men, but she just said, “If I had a cock I might join them!” and they rushed below deck to find the gold.  On the first deck were the slave rowers all chained to their benches and Ragnar ordered the Roman handlers to release them, then they went to the lower deck and found the chests of gold around the base of the bireme’s mast.  Brak soon joined them there and he had a large crew with him to haul the chests away.  There were ten small chests of gold around the mast, but it still took four strong warriors to carry each one, so Ragnar reckoned there must be five thousand pounds of gold there, Roman pounds, of course.  While the men were loading the gold aboard Ragnar’s shieldship, Ragnar got busy on deck stripping the laminate armour off of the fire officer he had killed.  “Brak said it’s the world’s finest,” Ragnar explained to Ladgerda and she began stripping some off of the poor fellow next to the fire officer.

Once the gold was secured in the ballast section of Ragnar’s shieldship and ballast had been tossed overboard, Brak and Ragnar collected up the rest of the advanced Roman armour and were beginning the figure out how to strip off the fire tubes when some sharp eyed men shinnied up the masts to look south because pennants had been spotted above the waters there.  It was a fleet of Roman biremes, probably bringing workers or materials, but each of them had Roman marines aboard and the spotters estimated a dozen ships, so Ragnar ordered a last scavenge of Fafnir before they scuttled her.  They slit another leather sack of Greek fire and it erupted into flame as it flowed across the deck and they rowed away from Fafnir and as they approached the unfinished fortress, Fafnir blew up and spewed flaming Greek fire right across the Tanais, blocking any path forward the approaching fleet had.

At the fortress, Roman troops were loading themselves into cargo ships to row out and attack the pirates and recover the gold but, when the bireme blew up, they chose to stay in the safety of their quays.  Ragnar led his small war fleet north up the Tanais River past the fortress and the Roman cargo ships and they collected their gear from the surveillance camp and then from their main camp.  Black smoke was still belching skyward to the south, so they knew the Roman biremes would still be delayed, but they knew that once the smoke stopped, the Roman pursuit would start.  The Danes rowed their ships in shifts because the wind continued to blow down from the north and they could not even tack upstream.  Fortunately, they had released and saved all the galley slaves that had been rowing the Roman dragonship Fafnir, and they had spared all the Roman marines that had surrendered and been bent over.  At first, the Roman marines refused to help with the rowing, but a few of them were bent over Danish shields once more and the rest took up oars while they could still sit at rowing benches.

While the slaves and Romans rowed, Ragnar, Ladgerda and Brak gathered about one of the chests of gold and smashed the lock on it and opened it up.  It was filled with gold bars, each weighing a Roman pound, but the gold was red in colour!  It was definitely gold because it was heavy as hell, twice the weight of lead, but it shone a bright red in the evening sun.  “What the fock!” Ragnar exclaimed as he held up a bar to show Brak and Ladgerda.  “This gold is cursed!”

“It’s the Romans!” Brak spat.  “They’ve put copper in the gold to mark it as the Emperor’s!  The copper turns the gold red.  I heard some of the Guild metallurgists talking about it last time I was training in Damascus.  They showed me some red gold armrings they’d gotten from the Armenians.  They called them the Red Gold Rings of Byzantium.”

“Why would they turn their gold red?” Ladgerda asked.

“For security on major gold shipments.  The mint in Constantinople adds ten percent copper to the gold to turn it red and then they cast bars and they give client states ten percent extra in payment or loan.  Once the fire breathers deliver the red gold, they send their metallurgical engineers out to the site to purify the gold.  It prevents theft, because anybody in Roman lands who is caught with the red gold is summarily executed.  Only the Romans have developed an economical purification process so, they often pay out contracts in red gold, and when the contract is fulfilled, they purify the gold for the contractor.  Even the Guild can’t purify the gold economically.  The gold is worthless in Roman lands and is a pariah anywhere else.  As you so aptly put it, it is cursed.”

“Who came up with this idea?” Ragnar asked.

“Some Roman Emperors would add copper to the gold Byzants to debase their coins and profit from it.  They could add about five percent copper before the Byzants started to show a reddish hue.  It’s not much, but the profit went straight into a corrupt Emperor’s pocket.  The Emperor who came after would then have to clean up the mess and, I guess, that is why they developed the process.  To clean up their debased coinage.”

“So, if I added as much gold again to this, the red would disappear?” Ragnar said.

“Theoretically,” Brak answered, “as long as they only added ten percent to start with.  Sometimes they add more.”

“How can we tell how much they added?”

“I would have to consult with a philosopher called Archimedes,” Brak replied.  “He came up with a method for that, but I’d have to look it up and his books are found in Constantinople.  I guess we’ll have to start that trade route you were dreaming about.”

“Witch Gerda!” Ragnar said to Ladgerda.  “Once again her visions of my shield paintings are correct.”

“What about Hedin and Hogni fighting in Valhalla?” she asked.

“Knowing that old witch,” Brak started, “young Gerda is probably already in Valhall awaiting Ragnar.”

“You mean she’s dead?” Ladgerda asked, astonished.

“The Volsungs are old school,” Brak replied.  “She’s likely been sacrificed to garner Odin’s support for Ragnar’s quest.”

“That’s three out of four,” Ragnar said.  “What about her vision about Giantland?”

“Well, we have a dozen Roman biremes driving us north to what land exactly?”

“Fock!” Ragnar replied.  “Giantland!”

Even with the double shift of rowers, a few days later the masts of a dozen Roman ships were spotted by a sharp eyed sailor who had shinnied up the mast of the rearmost ship of Ragnar’s fleet.  “Roman red pennants aft!” the agile spotter shouted, and the message was passed up the fleet one ship to the next.  The double banks of oars on the biremes added to the speed of the ships even though their fixed frame design added to the weight of them.  This caused Ragnar to direct his fleet up the right fork of a tributary that fed the Tanais, the Khopel (Khopyor) River, and the river soon grew noticeably narrower and shallower.  The Romans picked up on this and redoubled their efforts at the oars.  They wanted to catch the pirate ships before they ran out of sounding depth.  They soon closed upon Ragnar’s stern-most ship, but, by then, the river would allow single ship traffic only so the rearward longship slowed and prepared for battle with the foremost bireme.  The Roman marines dropped down onto the deck of the longship and the Danes fought them melee style and bought the rest of the fleet another day’s rowing before they were massacred to the man.

The rest of Ragnar’s fleet rowed hard, the freed slaves of Fafnir rowing the hardest on the king’s promise of freedom and a few more Roman prisoners were bent over Danish shields to get a better effort out of that lot.  They even rowed, albeit more slowly, at night, but the Romans must have done likewise, for midday the next, word came up the fleet once more that Roman red pennants had been spotted once more.  Brak was taking soundings and the river would be soon running out of depth for the heavy fixed frame biremes.  The lighter shell framed longships had a much shallower draft so they all prayed to Odin as the Romans closed and the river shallowed.  Just when the forward bireme was getting within arrow shot of the rear longship, it lurched to a sudden stop.  Then the sound of timbers crunching carried forward up the fleet and they knew a few of the Roman ships had collided.  They carried on and soon the biremes disappeared behind a curve in the Khopel.

King Ragnar’s fleet rowed up the river until it became too narrow to row in, so they stood and paddled with their oars until it got too shallow and they walked in the river ahead of their ships, drawing them along behind them on ropes.  Ragnar sent scouts ahead to search out the river’s source and to find a river beyond and they found the source of the Sura River via a short portage and they rowed down the Sura until it flowed into the Itil (Volga) River, which flowed from west to east, so that Ragnar was not sure which way to go and they set up camp at the confluence and sent a ship out either way to search for a clue.  They were to row either way for two days and come back with reports in another two days, but the ship that had gone east came back after a day and they had a Norse guide with them.  They had found Norse trading ships on the Itil that were heading back to northern Thule via the Northern (Barents) Sea and they’d invited King Ragnar to come with them.  Being Thulealanders they had all heard of King Ragnar of Stavanger and of Jarl Ladgerda of Lade even though they all hailed from the very north of Thule.  Ragnar left a ship at the confluence to await the return of the western crew and they broke camp and sailed to the Norse camp further east, for these Thulealanders were the half-giants that could hold out their arms and get favourable winds.

The leader of the Thulealanders introduced himself as Jarl Arthor and he was as tall a man as Ragnar had ever met, with blonde hair and beard and blue eyes and a hawkish nose.  They camped together for a few days and waited for Ragnar’s two ships and Arthor told them many tales from the past, for he was a teller of tall tales.  Trading with the Bulgars on the Itil or Volga as the Bulgars called it had been brisk and profitable and with the Khazars on the southern Volga even more so.  Arthor told them that he came from a line of traders that had traversed the Northern Sea hundreds of years earlier until the weather changed and the sea stayed frozen year round, but the world seemed to be warming because the sea was thawing again in the spring and the Thulealanders were again beginning to trade along the northern route.

“Is this route of yours through Giantland?” Ragnar asked him nervously.

“Oh, no,” Arthor assured him.  “Nobody goes through Giantland.  We go right beside it though.”

“Good,” Ragnar said, relieved at the news.  When the two ships came from the west, everybody packed up the camp and they sailed east down the Volga and turned left up its tributary, the Kama River, and sailed north to its source, where Arthor had set up a portage to the Northern Dvina River which would take them to the White Sea, which led to the Barents.  Arthor had numerous log rollers placed along the portage for rolling his ships along on and Ragnar noticed that his ships were all very short and stout, strongly built.  They spent a day rolling ships to a central campsite where they stayed the night and then they used more rollers to take them along another day to the source of the Northern Dvina.  “The rollers will stay here until we need them to go back in the spring,” Arthor explained.  He then told Ragnar that some day he planned to build a permanent portage way there with a longhall and supply stores where the campsite was located.

“Perhaps I could help you with that,” Ragnar offered, “should you be looking for royal backing.”

“More and more traders are starting to join us in the crossing,” Arthor answered.  “It may end up a good investment.”  Ragnar bought some of the fine goods that Arthor had traded for with the Bulgars just to seal their deal.

They sailed north-west down the Northern Dvina, again with a wind at their backs, and then sailed north across the White Sea past Kandalaks Bay to the Kola Peninsula where they waited for a great wind that would take them across the Barents Sea in one great storm that required stout ships.

“Your warships are all new so they should be strong enough for one trip across,” Arthor assured them, “but you will need your awnings all out for the crossing.”

The warships of Ragnar’s fleet all had standard oiled woollen awnings that covered their decks, but when Ragnar took out the sheepskin awnings for his shieldship, eyebrows raised a little.  They ran their ropes and installed the sheepskins wool side in so they wouldn’t ice up and the awnings completely sealed out the elements.  “That looks very warm,” Arthor said, as he watched the install.  “The crossing is very cold.  If this works well, I think I might try it next year!”  They waited a few days and then the storm came up that Arthor had been waiting for and the dozen longships sailed out into the Barents and were caught up in the mother of all storms.  For two days the storm battered at Ragnar’s shieldship and it creaked and groaned with its burden of gold and there were times when Ragnar and Ladgerda thought that the only thing holding the ship together was the sheepskin awning, which was frozen as hard as a rock on the outside, but warm as a roast on the inside.  Ladgerda began vomiting from all the tossing and turning and they thought, at first, it was sea sickness, which many were suffering from, but then they realized it was because she was pregnant.  The storm deposited all the ships at the mouth of a great fjord on the northmost tip of Thule.  “This is our Way Fjord,” Arthor explained, “where we all meet in the spring and wait for a storm to take us across the other way.”

They all sailed into the fjord where a basecamp had been left and they camped there a few days and repaired their ships while Ladgerda recovered, but she continued vomiting.  Arthor had a stock of lumber set there for repairs and he paid the local Sami to watch the camp for him once in a while.  Once the repairs were made they sailed out of the fjord and around the north horn of Thule and down the western coast towards Lade.  Arthor and his Thulealanders broke away and sailed into their home fjords with much waving and many goodbyes along the way, but as soon as the half-giants left, the winds began to falter and work against the Danes and soon a storm came up and swept them out across the North Sea and all the way to the eastern coast of Ireland.

CHAPTER FIVE

5.0  KING RAGNAR FOUNDS LONGPHORT DUBLIN IN IRELAND  (Circa 810 AD)

“The Ui Imair (sons of Ivar), Princes of Waterford and Dublin were the descendants

 of Ivar (the Boneless?) Ragnarson, the Irish son of Ragnar Lothbrok and they

 were followers of the Raven Banner (of Ragnar Lothbrok fame).”

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 810 AD)  When the war fleet of King Ragnar of Denmark landed on the eastern coast of Ireland, it was at a town midway down, called Dub-Gael and they began trading with the locals immediately, Ragnar not wanting to admit he was lost.  Ladgerda continued vomiting and it was apparent that her pregnancy was not progressing well.  Queen Imaira came down from the town to welcome the traders and King Ragnar introduced himself and Princess Ladgerda and he asked the queen if there was a healer in the town.  “I am the main healer in our land,” she told him.  “I could have a look at her if you wish.”  Queen Imaira examined Ladgerda under the awnings of their ship and determined that rough sailing had affected the pregnancy.  “She can no longer sail and it would be best if she came to my palace and rested more comfortably.”  So, Ragnar and some men escorted the queen and Ladgerda to the Dub-Gael palace and the healer queen examined Ladgerda further.  “She cannot sail,” the queen again said, “and she must refrain from any sex or other activity that might stir her up further inside.  She could lose her baby.”

King Ragnar thanked the queen for her hospitality and he began asking her about Dub-Gael.  The town and her surrounding land of Fin-Gael had just finished an inconclusive war with a northern clan and the town had lost a lot of their men folk, including their king.  When Ragnar asked her if she thought a trading station would help the town, she was all ears.  Ragnar told her about his travels in Scythia and that he was considering establishing trade routes to Constantinople in the east.  He wanted to build a number of trading stations in Ireland, England and Frankia to promote this eastern trade.  Queen Imaira was very excited by the idea and she offered to let some land to Ragnar on the coast by the River Poddle where it formed a great pool.  It made for a good harbour.  As winter approached, Ragnar took the gold the Irish had given him for the goods he had purchased from Jarl Arthor and he and Brak began melting it down and combining it with the red gold of Byzantium until it was no longer red and they spent this gold having a long fort constructed along the coast south of the Black Pool and their trading station was called Dub-Lin, the Lin meaning pool in the Irish tongue.  The slaves they had freed were paid gold to work on it and the Roman soldiers they had captured worked on it to gain their freedom.

Because there were many widows in the town from lives lost in the recent war, many women came down to the beach to watch the construction and soon many of the freedmen that were working on the longfort were living in the town.  Many Roman soldiers were soon asking permission to join them in living with the women of the town because the women found the Christian Romans particularly attractive.  But there were two kinds of monotheism being practiced in Ireland at that time.  Many of the Irish had been practicing the one true god religion of the Prophet Zoroaster for over a thousand years and others of the Irish followed the one true god religion of the Prophet Jesus that the Romans had brought to Ireland and that the Angles and Saxons and Welsh of Britain now followed.  So the Roman marines tended to fraternize with the Christian Irish women and the rowers, who had been allowed no religion, tended to align themselves with the ladies that followed the teachings of Zoroaster.  The Danes were left out of the mix, except for Ragnar, who, being a king, was of a station that fit well with the religion of royalty that Queen Imaira followed.  She often visited with King Ragnar and Princess Ladgerda in the royal suite and she pleasured Ragnar on Ladgerda’s behalf and she pleasured Ladgerda because only penetrating sex was forbidden in her condition.

Ragnar wanted to take his Red Gold Hoard of Byzantium, his treasure, back to Stavanger before winter set upon them so, he left Ladgerda in command and Brak in charge of construction, made his goodbyes with Queen Imaira, telling them all he would be back in the early spring, and he sailed off to Lade in his shieldship.  When he arrived in Lade, both Princess Aslaug and Prince Bjorn and his two daughters ran down to the quay to greet him.  All the people of Thule had been worried, for King Ragnar was supposed to be back by fall and winter was setting on them.  Ragnar introduced them to his young Slav concubine princess and showed Aslaug and Bjorn all the Roman armour and all the red gold of Byzantium he had captured as proof that he, indeed, had slain the fire breathing dragonship and there was great feasting among the Trondelag people.  Princess Aslaug wanted to marry her king right there, in Lade, but Ragnar told her he wanted to marry her in Liere.  But that night, after the feasting, he whispered, “I marry you, I marry you, I marry you,” and Aslaug did the same and they went to bed together and Aslaug gave Ragnar her maidenhead. 

The next days they sailed south to Rogaland and Stavanger Fjord and they stayed a few days in his estate there and he hid much of his red gold treasure in a special treasury cavern that his grandfather had built there when he had ruled in Thule.  But Ragnar set aside some of the gold and ordered his Rogalanders to build him a dozen sturdy little oak ships like the ones Jarl Arthor used for his ‘Way’ crossings at the extreme northern tip of Thule and he ordered others to spend the winter trapping foxes and ermines and beavers for their pelts.  Then they sailed off to Liere in Zealand and the couple were officially married in the palace there and Ragnar declared Aslaug his primus wife and made her his Queen of Denmark.  It was not very long before Aslaug was vomiting in the mornings and was diagnosed by the healers as being pregnant.  By Yule celebrations, Aslaug was so ill that she was refusing Ragnar’s advances, so he brought his Slav concubine Princess Boda into bed with them and whispered the marriage phrase into her ear three times and then Aslaug assisted her in giving Ragnar her maidenhead as well.  In the spring, Princess Boda was in the ‘way’ and was vomiting just as Queen Aslaug had been.  The queen was well past her illness by then and was proudly starting to show.  Ragnar bid them goodbye and sailed off for Ireland.

Ragnar and a small fleet of warships left Liere and returned to his estate in Stavanger, where he picked up his dozen special ‘Way’ ships already laden with furs and he had some of his men sail the new ships to Lade to await him there and he led his small fleet of warships to Ireland.  He wanted to offer Queen Imaira the protection of Denmark to stave off any further attacks from hostile clans and he needed troops to guard his new Dub-Lin longfort trading station.  Many of the rowers they had freed the previous year had expressed interest in doing trading in the east with Ragnar and their experience in the east made them a valuable asset.  The Romans were to remain in Ireland, free to live and marry there, but still captives of war and confined to the Irish lands.  When he got back to Queen Imaira’s palace in Dub-Gael, Princess Ladgerda had just given birth to another daughter for Ragnar and Imaira was well along in her pregnancy.  He learned that two Roman officers had taken their new Irish wives and had escaped in a boat to Britain.  They would, undoubtedly, be working their way south through Europe in an attempt to return to Eastern Roman lands and Constantinople.

“We should have sacrificed the Romans all to Odin,” Jarl Brak told him after giving him the bad news.  “I fear they may cause trouble for us with both the Romans and the Khazars.  You have taken the Red Gold Rings of Byzantium from the Romans and a Slav princess from the Khazars.”

“I plan on taking a lot more from them than that,” Ragnar declared boldly.  “I think those Roman officers will respect the lives of their fellow Romans still here in Ireland and not cause us too much trouble.  The fact that they took their Irish wives with them tells me that they acknowledge and accept their debt to me for giving them second lives.”

Ladgerda agreed with Ragnar, saying, “Those Irish lasses shall keep their officers in line.”  She was determined to join Ragnar with the new spring trading effort and could not be talked out of it, so she left her baby under the care of Queen Imaira to be raised with her baby when it came.  Ragnar left some of his ships and men under the care of the queen and the rest he took with him to Lade.  There he left some warships and troops to protect Ladgerda’s interests and they loaded more furs onto the dozen Nor’Way ships that were waiting there and they sailed north to meet Jarl Arthor and his Thulealanders at Raven’s Island off the north tip of Thule.  It was the last island that benefitted from the warmth of the Thule Current that carried warm southern water north up the coast.  It was the last island in the north that had trees and the only birds there were ravens, hence the name.  They had left a ship and crew there in the fall to build a meeting hall there and when they arrived it was ready for them and King Ragnar declared it be called Hrafnista, meaning Raven’s nest.

Jarl Arthor was already waiting there with his dozen Nor’Way ships and he inspected Ragnar’s new Nor’Way ships.  “They’re oak!” he declared joyously.  “These will be plenty strong enough to handle the storm!”

All the Thulealander’s ships were made of pine, which did not last as long in salt water as the oak, but the only oak that grew in Thule was on the southern end in Rogaland and Agder.  It was too cold for oak any further north, even in this warming period that Europe was experiencing.  Ragnar had always suspected that his grandfather had conquered Thule more for its oaks than for anything else, because Denmark had been totally cleared of oaks for Danish warships and the longships were only getting longer and this took even more oak.  The masts were all pine, though, tall and straight and strong from Trondheim Fjord, for that is where the best ones were found.  The winter had been hard on sheep as well, for the ships now all had sheepskin awnings to keep out the waters and the cold.

The Nor’Way merchant fleet sailed to the ‘Way’ Fjord to gather and await the storm that would take them across the thawing Barents Sea and deposit them in the White Sea.  While they were waiting, King Ragnar declared that the large fjord should be henceforth called the Varanger Fjord, Va meaning Way and Ranger meaning Wanderer and he further stated, “and those, and only those, who make the great Nor’Way crossing can call themselves Varangers and Varangians.”

CHAPTER SIX

6.0  KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ FOUNDS THE NOR’WAY  (Circa 810 AD)

Northern Thule (Norway) with Hrafnista (Red Dot), Varanger Fjord (Yellow Dot) & White Sea (Orange Dot)

(Circa 810 AD)  King Ragnar renamed Jarl Arthor’s ‘Way’ Fjord the ‘Varanger Fjord’, meaning the Fjord of the Way Wanderers and he declared that only those who made the great stormy Northern Sea crossing from Europe into Asia could call themselves Varangians, Way Wanderers of Hraes’.  And he called his company, the Hraes’ Trading Company, and he had all his men and shield-maidens and all the traders swear oaths of fealty to him and his new trading firm.  Then the weather turned and the great storm approached and they all went out to their ships, lashed down the awnings and sailed east into the Barents Sea.  For two days they were battered by the dark brooding storm and could barely tell if it was day or night and then suddenly the storm passed and they were deposited in the calm of the White Sea.

Ragnar and Ladgerda pulled open the sheepskin awnings of their stout new Nor’Way ship and when his men saw the evergreens on shore, they seemed to be the greenest trees they had ever seen and the water was the bluest of blues and the sunshine was so golden it hurt their eyes.  It was Ragnar’s second crossing, but for many of his men it was their first, and it invariably left a deep impression upon them as they realised that they were now Varangians.

They sailed south across the White Sea to the estuary of the Northern Dvina River and they rowed up the river and traded with the local Biarmians and Permians as they sailed south and east and rowed past Giantland.  The Biarmians traded rich fine furs for iron goods, knives and kettles and the Permians traded their swords of silver and gold for the Varangians’ swords of steel.  King Ragnar named Arthor’s portage Hawknista, for it had as many hawks about it as Hrafnista had ravens, and he left two dozen men there to build a longhall and storage sheds and the rest of them floated their ships down the source of the Kama River and when it got wide enough they rowed and sailed south to the Volga River, trading with the Permians as they went, and some of the Permians spoke Bulgar and some of the freed rowers in Ragnar’s company of men spoke their tongue because the Romans had been fighting and trading with Balkan Bulgars for over a century, and the rowers told him that news had been traversing Scythia about a pirate group who had destroyed an invincible Roman fireship and had kidnapped a Kievan Slav princess, the daughter of King Olmar of Kiev, and both the Romans and the Slavs were scouring the northern lands looking for the pirates.

“Ask them if the Romans have any idea who these pirates could be,” Ragnar told his men.  The rowers’ Bulgar wasn’t good, but they learned that the Romans thought the pirates might be Northern Goths of some unknown origin.  “Tell them we are only Danes and Norse and that there are no Goths here,” and Ragnar gave Brak a quick look and a wink.  After another week of trading and rowing they entered the lands of the Bulgars and some of them spoke Greek, which Brak had been teaching Ragnar, and they learned more about these wanted pirates and of the great searches being made for them.  The Bulgars inspected the stout Nor’Way ships of the traders and told them that the pirates had the longships of the Goths and that they should be wary of anybody with that type of ship.  The pirates were not just after gold, but were likely slavers as well, for a whole Khazar-Slav embassy had literally been swallowed up by them near the river that a Roman fire breathing bireme had been plundered and burned upon.  One of the Goth longships had been attacked and destroyed, but they had fought to the last man and the rest had escaped back to their northern lands.

King Ragnar and his Hraes’ Trading Company spent two weeks trading in the land of the Bulgars, and the Bulgars traded gold Byzants of Rome and silver Dirhams of Baghdad for the rich furs the Varangians brought south with them.  And the nomadic Bulgars that came to trade from farther east had horses to exchange for swords.  When Ragnar wanted to go further south down the Volga to trade with the Khazars, the Bulgars told them not to.  Only they traded with the Khazars.  Ragnar and his men still had a few furs left to trade, but not enough to squabble over, so they sailed back up the Volga and traded the rest with the Burtas who lived on the west bank of the great river and they got some wains and wagons from them and loaded them all into their little Nor’Way ships.  Perhaps it was because Ragnar had Ladgerda, or perhaps because of other motives, but Arthor even bought himself a nice young Burta girl to keep him company under his Nor’Way ship awnings.

They got back to Hawknista a little earlier than they had expected, so Ragnar paid his traders gold to work on the portage station and they built a barn for the horses and they cut hay from meadows and they modified the wains to carry their ships, a towing wain on the front and a tag wain on the back end of the ships and, for the first time, Arthor was portaging ships without manpower and log rollers.  Ragnar paid volunteers gold to overwinter and care for the station and he left Danish troops to provide security.  He left them a few of his new Nor’Way ships and Ladgerda told his commanding officer to show the Romans the ships if they came looking for pirate longships.

Ragnar and Ladgerda enjoyed their last night together in the new Hraes’ longhall and they shared the highseats with Brak and Arthor and everyone was in high spirits as the trading had gone very well and even Arthor’s old traders were impressed with the profits they had all made.  Jarl Arthor was so impressed with the longhall that King Ragnar’s gold had enabled that he asked Ragnar’s permission to be put in charge of Hawknista and overwinter there.

“Is that why you bought yourself a fine young lass?” Ladgerda asked.  “She shouldn’t be down there serving the men their ale,” she added.  “She should be up here sharing the highseat with you!”

“I saw her and I liked her,” Arthor admitted, “and I talked with her some in the Bulgar tongue and I wanted to take her back to Halogaland so she could teach me Burta over the winter, but now I think my primus wife would be too jealous to let me keep her.”

“Ah, the real reason,” Ragnar said, beaming with the ale he’d been drinking.

“That is true,” Arthor said, “but I never expected this longhall to be so fine and so large.”

It was true, Ragnar saw, as he looked about the hall.  There were sixty benches for the men down each side of the over-long longhall and bedchambers at the one end for Jarls and officers and a master suite at the very end for Ragnar and Ladgerda, but the men had added an extra touch, a second master suite above the first, tucked up into the rafters, and Ragnar had assigned it to Arthor and his new concubine and he and Ladgerda had enjoyed hearing the new floorboards squeak and creak above them as the Jarl broke in his new Burta wife and fresh sawdust had drifted down from the ceiling above them.  It had been heartwarming for Ladgerda and she had shown her approval of it in her own lovemaking with Ragnar.

“Well, Arthor,” Ragnar declared, “I make you Jarl of Hawknista, to rule as long as you wish.  Now we all have to leave early in the morning, so Ladgerda and I shall be retiring early and so should you and yours.”

Looking out about the hall had warmed Ragnar’s nether regions, so he got up and waved his men good evening and he extended his hand and guided Ladgerda down the highest highseat steps and he escorted her arm in arm to their master suite.  They got undressed and hurried under their sheets and blankets and waited to hear Arthor and his concubine tiptoeing up their stairs and they waited excitedly for the creaking to begin and they, too, began making love to the cadence of the floorboards.  As they later rested in each others’ arms, Ragnar said, “The life of a trader like Arthor can be hard on a marriage.  If the ice-free season isn’t long enough for the trader to sail out and then back home in one summer, if he has to overwinter in another land, his marriage withers and he loses his family.  Arthor started traversing this route too soon and had to overwinter for several seasons and it was hard on his marriage.”

Ladgerda thought about their own marriage and said, “Being a trader king can be even harder on a marriage.  Take more care of Aslaug than you did of me!” and she punched him on the arm and they cuddled some more.

The next day, the Varangians sailed down the Northern Dvina and were soon crossing the White Sea and awaiting their storm off the Kola Peninsula.  It came and took them away for two days and then deposited them at the mouth of Varanger Fjord and they stayed there another two days and repaired ships and awnings before sailing around the North Cape and down the coast of the Nor’Way.  Ragnar took Ladgerda to her realm in Trondheim and Prince Fridleif ‘Bjorn’ and his sisters were waiting there for them.  He spent a few days in her longhall palace and visited with his children before sailing off to Ireland.

Queen Imaira was waiting for him at Longphort Dub-Lin with a shield-maiden named Rusila and Ragnar gave Imaira the armoured shirt of a Byzantine fire officer, which the red haired warrior maiden found appealing.  He spent time there with his son, Imair, by the queen and with his daughter by Ladgerda, and Ragnar, Imaira and Rusila shared the highseats together in their longhall palace before Ragnar had to leave for his own palace in Liere.

CHAPTER SEVEN

7.0  KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ GOES TO LIERE  (Circa 810 AD)

“When Saxo tells us that Ladgerda bore Ragnar a son and she named him Fridleif, it raises very many questions, as the Old Skjoldung Fridleif-Frodi line of kings plays an important part in the Zealand rebellions that Ragnar has had to continuously put down.  Was Ladgerda an Anglish Dane and was she related to this line of kings?”

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 810 AD)  When the war fleet of King Ragnar of Denmark landed on the eastern coast of Zealand, it was beached in front of the harbour town that served Liere, a little farther inland.  When he arrived at his palace in Liere, he learned that Queen Aslaug had already given birth to a fine young son she had named Lauger, after the shield-maiden, Ladgerda, and King Ragnar added the prenom Hrae, in respect of the roar of the dragon Fafnir and as a born prince of his new company Hraes’, and he came to be called Hraelauger or Roller.  Young Princess Boda was about to give birth soon after Ragnar had returned, but complications arose and the head witch healer and midwives of Liere could only save the baby and they presented Ragnar with another fine son he named Erik, meaning Ever Ruler, and adding the prenom Hrae, for Hraerik.  “She was too young,” the healer said.  “We couldn’t save her.”

Ragnar blamed himself for the death of the young princess, the daughter of King Olmar of Kiev, and thought it best to occupy himself with kingly business, and he resolved to find solace in warfare and conquest.  To that end, he decreed that every father of a family should place in the king’s service whichever of his children he thought most contemptible, or any slave of his who was lazy at his work, or any wife or daughter who was of doubtful fidelity.  And though this decree seemed little fit for his purpose, he showed that the worst of the Danes were better than the best of other nations.  Also, before heading off on campaign, he enacted that every piece of litigation should be referred to the judgment of twelve chosen elders, twelve jurors.  This law removed all chance of incurring litigation lightly and would help Queen Aslaug rule in his absence.  Thinking of his successful trading station in Ireland, he next looked to the Angles of Britain and took up arms against them, and attacked and slew in battle the ruler of Eorforwic, King Hame, the father of Prince AElla, a most noble youth who fled the city.  The Britons had called the place Eburacon, meaning grove of the Yew trees, and the conquering Romans called the town Eboracum and made a city of it.  When the Danish Angles conquered it, after the Romans, they called it Eorforwic, meaning city of the boar, so, when King Ragnar conquered the city, he renamed it Boarvik, or Bjorvik, Norse for city of the boar.

Then King Ragnar took his army north and he killed the Earls of Scotland and of Pictland, and of the isles that they call the Shetlands, and made his young sons Roller and Erik masters of the provinces, which were now without governors.  He also deprived Thule of its chief by force, and commanded it to obey Fridleif, whom he also set over the Orkneys, from which he took their own earl.

Meantime, the Anglish Danes of Jutland, who were most stubborn in their hatred of Ragnar’s line, were obstinately bent on rebellion.  They rallied to the support of Jarl Harald of Zealand, once an exile, and tried to raise the fallen fortunes of the rebel.  By this foolhardiness they raised up a rebel army against King Ragnar, who set out to check the rebellion with his fleet of loyal Danes who crushed the army of the rebels, and drove Harald, the leader of the conquered army, a fugitive into Frankia.  The estates of those who had risen with Harald, he distributed among those who were serving as his soldiers, thinking that the fathers would be worse punished by seeing the honour of their inheritance made over to the children whom they had rejected, while those whom they had loved most lost their patrimony.  Then King Ragnar led his army south into Saxony, following the retreat of Jarl Harald.  There he came up against Charlemagne, who happened then to be tarrying on those borders of his empire.  King Ragnar’s fleet  intercepted the Frank’s sentries and eluded the watch that was posted on guard.  But while he thought that all the rest would be easy and more open to his attack, a woman who was a soothsayer, a Witch of Rouen, warned Emperor Charlemagne that the fleet of King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ was moored at the mouth of the River Seine. The emperor, heeding the warning, managed to engage the enemy, who were thus pointed out to him by witchcraft.  A battle was fought with King Ragnar and his fleet, but Charlemagne and his army did not succeed as happily in the field as he would have liked.  And so that tireless conqueror of almost all Europe, who in his calm and complete career of victory had travelled over so great a portion of the world, now beheld his army, which had vanquished all these states and nations, turning its face from the field, shattered by a fleet of Danes.

A meeting was held between the two leaders and Emperor Charlemagne ceded to King Ragnar and his Hraes’ Trading Company numerous trade benefits and a number of trading stations in Frankia, including Reric in north Germany and Hedeby in south Jutland, and westwards to the Seine and beyond in northern Frankia and Brittany.

King Fridleif (Gudfrid) of Jutland was a little harder to appease and he threatened to drive Emperor Charlemagne out of Denmark and chase him all the way back to Aachen, his capital.  King Fridleif of the Anglish Danes led his warfleet up the Eider River and attacked the Franks and Obodrites that had been at war with the local Saxons there for years.  He was victorious in battle and took several districts from them.  He razed Reric and recaptured Hedeby and further built up the defensive Danevirk wall that separated Jutland from Saxony, depriving King Ragnar of two trading centers he had hoped would provide markets for his Nor’Way goods.  But the Nor’Way was closer to the western side of Jutland anyway, so Ragnar focused on his gifts he had received in Frisia and west Frankia, at the River Seine and beyond and he established Hraes’ trading stations in Rouen and Bayeux instead.  The battle brewing between the Angles and the Franks was not conducive to trade, so Ragnar kept clear of that one.

Emperor Charlemagne sent a Frankish army, under his son, Charles Junior, down the Elbe River and they ravaged some of the territory that Fridleif had captured, built and garrisoned a fortress there, and then returned to Aachen.  Prince Drozko of the Obodrites then led a force into the Schlie and recaptured some territory, but was murdered by assassins while rebuilding Reric.  King Fridleif retook all his captured territory and sent a fleet of two hundred ships to Frisia and conquered it, taking further trading stations from King Ragnar.  Fridleif then compelled the merchants of Frisia to pay him skat tax.  It soon became apparent to Ragnar that the Anglish Danes were after more than just southern territory.  They seemed to be interested in eastern lands as well.  And he was right.  The Danes of Jutland were very aware of King Ragnar’s trek across the Baltic and through the riverways of Scythia to Reitgotland and of his attack on the Roman Emperor and of his winning of the Red Gold Hoard of Byzantium.  Fridleif listened with envy about his slaying of the fire breathing dragonship, Fafnir, and of his new name of Hraegunar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurd-Hringson, ‘Shaggy Breeches’ being all he had left unburned after fighting the fire breather.  Some Anglish Danes came to suspect that their king had attacked the Holy Roman Emperor solely because King Ragnar had successfully attacked the Eastern Roman Emperor.  King Fridleif had even sent some of his own Anglish officers across the Baltic to retrace Ragnar’s steps.  It didn’t take the officers long to report back that worldwide warming was opening up very lucrative trade routes that would soon be grinding gold for the King of Zealand.

There was a rumour started at this time by certain Germans of the Empire that King Fridleif had died, murdered by an assassin of his wife, the Queen of Denmark, but this was only because King Fridleif had shifted his focus east.  He was watching King Ragnar watching Sweden.  News had just come from that land that their king was dead, long live the king, and that his sons by Princess Thora had been deprived of their rightful thrones by the slander of a Prince Sorely of Sweden who had robbed them of their inheritance.  The new King Sorely had picked a poor time to challenge the Zealand Danes, for King Ragnar had been building up his forces to take east to attack the Sclavs of the Dvina River to open up a southern trade route into Scythia and he needed a compliant Sweden supporting that route, not threatening it.  Ragnar had been raising an army against the Sclavs, and he had summoned an assembly of the Danes, promising them that he would give the people most wholesome laws, however, as he had enacted prior that each father of a household should offer for service that one among his sons whom he esteemed least; he now enacted that each should arm the son who was stoutest of hand or of most approved loyalty for this next campaign.  He had also called upon Jarl Ladgerda to bring an army down from Lade and she came with a hundred and forty ships and their son, young Fridleif Bjorn ‘Ironsides’ in his Roman fire officer’s cuirass, and Queen Imaira of Ireland sent ships under the command of the shield-maiden Rusila in her Roman fire officer’s cuirass, and ships came from Northumbria and the Orkneys and the Faroes as well.  And from all these lands he had recalled his full Centuriata of Hearses, his officers and Jarls he had left to rule his conquered lands for his sons, as governors until his boys grew old enough to rule.

All this war gear that he had been assembling to take against the Sclavs, he now took against King Sorle.  And more.  He had been freely passing out Roman armour and weapons he had captured from the Dragonship Fafnir, but he had kept one item for himself.  It had been crated up in the belly of the beast and nobody was even sure what it was because it had been crated up in pieces, a gift for the King of the Huns, and it had taken a long time for Ragnar to assemble it properly and even longer to learn how to use the damned thing.  It had never been used in battle before, and it was so bright and shiny that the king wasn’t even sure if it was supposed to be used in battle, or if it was more of an ornament of past times.  It was an old Roman war chariot all trimmed in silver and gold with four huge razor sharp scythes extending outwards from each of its two wheels.  A team of four huge white horses had been matched to draw the thing and Jarl Brak had forged chain mail armour for the horses, to protect them as a man would be protected.  He’d said it was a Parthian thing, cataphracts they called it.

When the Danish fleet of over five hundred ships landed in Sweden, King Sorle met them with his much smaller army, and quickly offered King Ragnar the choice between a full scale battle or a duel, and when Ragnar chose personal combat, Sorle proposed he go against his champion, the famous warrior Starkad.  Ragnar laughed at this.  “It would not even be seemly for a prince to go up against a king,” the King of the Danes shouted.  “You wanted to be King of Sweden, so let us two have at it!”  Ragnar wanted the Swedish warriors added to his force, and that included the great Starkad, so he had to goad Sorle into combat.  “King against king,” Ragnar said from the deck of his chariot, “and to the victor goes this fine Roman war machine all trimmed in gold.”

King Sorle looked at the Roman weapon and he thought that it alone would kill half his army, so he could not turn down the chance to win it.  “Even if we fight to a draw,” he replied, “I get the chariot.”

“Agreed,” King Ragnar responded.

As they were gearing up for battle, Ragnar walked past the champion Starkad and said, “You’re looking fit for a man so advanced in age.”

“Fock You!” Starkad replied.

“After I kill King Sorle, I shall be leading his army with mine against the Sclavs of the Dvina.  Are you familiar with the Sclavs?”

“I focking hate them,” Starkad admitted.

“Good,” Ragnar replied.  “I shall make sure you get to kill as many of them as you wish!”

King Sorle chose Starkad as his second in the holmganger and, when King Ragnar chose his son, Fridleif, as his second, Jarl Ladgerda stepped forward in his place.  Starkad laughed at this.

“Fock you, Starkad!” Ladgerda hissed, and when the shield-maiden Rusila stepped up beside Ladgerda, Starkad stopped laughing.

Jarl Brak was helping King Ragnar with his weapons and armour and Rusila passed him the Roman cuirass that Ragnar had given Queen Imaira and Brak passed Ragnar the trident sword they had forged for him together, the sword they called the ‘Long Serpent’, a serpent or a blood snake being a kenning for a sword.  Brak had been teaching Ragnar the secrets of steel he had learned from the Guild, for he would not pass on his secrets to lesser men, and they had spent the last few years forging fine trident guarded swords for trade with the Permians in the east.  This had built up Ragnar’s arm and grip strength well beyond that of kings and the sword that Brak passed him reflected this, for it was a full hand longer than a normal Viking sword, and, using Guild secrets, it was fully as strong as a shorter sword, but required greater strength in its handling.  When Ladgerda passed Ragnar Brynhild’s shield, ‘Hraes’ Ship’s Round’, he refused it, saying he did not want it damaged.

“Your best war gear is required here,” Brak counselled.  “The shield boss has a lip on it that you’ve trained yourself to employ against adversaries.”  The shield had been built using the latest Roman technology that included a steel lip formed into the boss for hooking and leveraging an opponent’s shield and Brak had trained Ragnar in its use.  Ragnar took up ‘Hraes’ Ship’s Round’ and Brak buckled a Roman helmet with cheek pieces upon his head and Ragnar stepped into the ring drawn into the Swedish soil that represented the island within which the holmganger would be fought.  King Sorle stepped into the ring from the eastern side and they paced around the circle, measuring up their opponent.  Back and forth they went around the edge of the circle and then they closed in upon each other and exchanged blows on their shields.  Sorle noticed the added length of Ragnar’s sword and decided to test its strength, feeling the added length would have introduced a greater chance of fault in the forging of it.  He hacked viciously at it with his own sword and steel rang out on steel as they fought thus, but no fault could be found, and as they disengaged, Ragnar lashed out with it and the extra hand of steel caught Sorle across the cheek and first blood was drawn from that cut.

They circled each other some more and when they would engage each other, Ragnar would always seem to inflict a cut or slash here and there about Sorle, nothing serious, but always drawing blood, due solely to the added length of Ragnar’s Long Serpent.  And when Sorle closed in with shield against shield to try and use the added length against him, Ragnar would catch Sorle’s shield rim up in the lip of his shield boss and lever the shield outwards, exposing Sorle to stabbing thrusts that bruised him through his chainmail.  Soon, King Sorle was bruised and bleeding and panting for breath and asking for a pause.

“I will give you pause by accepting your surrender,” Ragnar replied.  “I will spare your life, but only if you bend over your shield and submit to me!”

King Sorle spat into the soil at this and continued fighting.  They circled and clashed some more and Ragnar put a cut upon his other cheek and one across his forehead, just below his helmet and Sorle’s blood was pooling and forming mud with the soil of Sweden.  As Sorle tired, he used his shield more and Ragnar caught its rim up in his groove, pried it outwards and thrust his sword over it in a stabbing stroke that caught a prior rent in the chainmail and Long Serpent bit deeply into the Swedish king’s heart and Sorle fell down into his pooling red mud and died.

King Ragnar stood sweating and breathing heavily over Sorle’s body and Brak and Ladgerda led him out of the circle and sat him down on the deck of his chariot and they began stripping his armour off.  “The best gear is what saved you here,” Jarl Brak said, as they pulled off his Roman cuirass.

“I think it was the forging hammer and all the work we’ve done together that gave me the edge over him,” Ragnar replied.

“I think it was both,” Ladgerda and Rusila chimed in at the same time.  Then Prince Fridleif and Ragnar’s other sons came up and congratulated their father on his victory.  King Ragnar instilled his son by Thora upon the Swedish throne and had Starkad and the Swedish army swear allegiance to Biorn ‘Ironsides’ and then he led them all east to fight the Sclavs of the Dvina River.

Two days later, the Danish fleet took harbour in the mouth of the Dvina River and King Ragnar’s army camped upon a great open plain that sat far below a distant hill upon which rested the fortified town of the Sclavs.  After viewing the size of the Danish force, King Daxo, of the Sclavs, sent forth envoys suing for a trade agreement and the tithes and taxes that went with it, to which King Ragnar replied, “The Danes pay tithes and taxes to none!.  It is the Sclavs that shall pay us skat!  We shall bend you over your shields before this day is through!”

The Sclav officers went back to their fortified hilltop town, and several hours later they rode out again carrying hazel poles across their saddle horns.  With these they marked out the battlefield, then they came to the Danish camp and asked King Ragnar if he approved of their markings and whether the morrow suited him for battle.  King Ragnar stood upon the deck of his Roman war chariot, as the sunlight danced upon its golden trim, and he approved of the markings and looked up to the sky for the position of the sun and he said, “The day yet holds enough time for us to bend you before your superiors, so, let us proceed with this today!”  The envoys hiked up their shields and rode off to their capital.  Ragnar reasoned that the day was fine and the morrow might bring rain and his team and chariot lost much of their momentum when plowing through mud, and he had lost his chance of testing the war machine upon the Swedes by doing personal combat instead and he didn’t want to leave this opportunity to chance and the frivolous nature of weather.

The sun was waning in the west before King Daxo and the Sclav army sallied forth from their walls and rode out to the eastern side of the hazel poled markings.  Ragnar gathered his horsed Centuriata about himself and his chariot, the vanguard of the Danish formation, and he led his army of Danes and Swedes as one across the great open plain.  Prince Fridleif led a small brightly coloured cavalry group that was to protect the right flank of the array, while King Biorn of Sweden commanded the mounted troops defending the left.  Jarl Ladgerda led the Norse and Danish foot soldiers she’d assembled in three ranks on the right and the shield-maiden Rusila led an equal formation of Irish and Britons and Swedes on the left.  And she kept Starkad close at hand as the two seemed attracted to each other as famed warriors, Rusila liking Starkad for his fame and warrior form, Starkad liking Rusila for her fame and flaming red hair, like that of the warrior god, Thor!

King Daxo’s army was mostly foot.  What cavalry he had he’d surrounded himself with as he watched the armies close upon each other from the safety of a rearward hilltop position.  The battle commenced with volleys from the archers and then spears were thrown as they closed.  King Ragnar drove his chariot out from the ranks of his army and straight at the Sclav shield wall and he turned abruptly left at the last second and the scythe blades on the right wheel of his war chariot chewed up the shields of the Sclavs and lopped off arms that had held them out and he went down the vanguard of the whole right flank of their force, tearing up bucklers and tearing up men and Brak was beside him shooting off arrows as fast as he could and when they got to the end of the rank, they looped around and did the same against the left flank of the enemy so that when the two armies collided the full first rank of the Sclav army was gone.  The ancient Roman war chariot was built more for show than go, but when it went, it caught everybody by surprise, even the Danes themselves!  King Daxo sent some of his cavalry forward to slay any of his troops that even thought of running.

When the great champion Starkad saw the carnage before him, he went berserk and two of the four swords he had strapped to his giant belt sprang forth and he began hacking into the mangled Sclav line as soon as Ragnar’s chariot had passed.  By the time the rest of the line caught up with him, he was surrounded by bodies and he was working on his second set of swords, having broken the first two over the armour of the Sclavs.  The Shield-maiden Rusila was soon fighting at his side as the front ranks engaged and she marvelled at his berserk fury.  And she could see that he was hard as a rock in his Berserk ecstasy and she wanted him.  She fought her way over to him, but not too close, as he was reckless in his rage, and Ragnar drove his chariot up nearby them and, when Starkad’s third sword was broken, Ragnar threw him the Long Serpent and he caught it up, glanced his thanks, and continued his hacking attack.  When his fourth sword snapped, Brak threw him his overlong trident blade and Starkad carried on, the swords of the Danes biting through the Sclav steel armour as though leather.  Rusila fell back with the first rank to breathe while the second rank engaged and she joined Ragnar and Brak on the chariot deck.

“He’s magnificent!” she said.  “A champion of champions!”

“He does make his presence felt!” Ragnar agreed.  “But he has to rest soon or he’ll be done.”  That wasn’t about to happen, as King Daxo had sent his famous champion riding to the aid of his left flank and the huge warrior lept from the saddle and shoved his way through his own ranks toward Starkad.  The warrior Hergrim was known to Starkad and he sheathed his swords and withdrew behind his lines and fetched his club, for Hergrim was well versed in sorcery and knew how to blunt steel.  Rusila’s Irish warriors were learning this as Hergrim battled his way through them and their swords would not bite the Sclav champion.  Irish warriors were piling up as Rusila worked her way towards him, but Starkad came up and paused her and said, “Let’s see him blunt this,” and he showed her his steel banded wooden club.  Warriors were withdrawing before Hergrim, so Starkad found plenty of room to fight him as he stepped into the forefront and they instantly flew into a furious combat that many stopped to watch.  Hergrim lashed out quickly with his fine sword and Starkad responded surprisingly fast with his large club, parrying his stroke and shattering a quadrant of his shield.  They circled each other, looking for openings, and began hacking at each other with sword and club.  Another quadrant flew from Hergrim’s shield until it barely sheltered his shoulder and arm and he lashed out at Starkad with his sword and it glanced off the great club and deflected down into the body of a slain Irish warrior and it stuck fast into the Irishman and as Hergrim struggled to free it, Starkad caught him across the temple with a blow from his club.

Hergrim blacked out and when he awoke, he was fettered over a tripod of shields and Starkad had pulled of his breeches and was raping him from behind.  He cried out in anguish and he struggled, but the Irish warriors about him held him fast.  Rusila was back with Ragnar and Brak on the war chariot deck, watching, and she said, “He’s magnificent,” and Ragnar knew she was referring to the size of his huge member.  When Hergrim began struggling so hard that the Irish were losing control, Starkad withdrew and walked calmly in front of him and punched him in the face until he had knocked out all his teeth.  Then he opened Hergrim’s bruised and battered mouth and he thrust his member down his throat and when Hergrim would start suffocating he would withdraw it and give him a strangled breath.

“I don’t believe this,” Ragnar told Rusila, “he’s performing rappatio on the Sclav!”

“Rappatio?” Rusila repeated.

“It’s very old school,” Brak explained.  “The ancient Vanir Roman generals would perform  it on defeated generals.  When Hannibal Barka was finally defeated by the Romans, he fell on his sword rather than let them do this to him,” and they all watched as Starkad once more thrust his member deep down Hergrim’s throat.  He flowed into Hergrim and filled his lungs and, this time, when Hergrim blacked out, he never woke up again.  The Irish warriors who had been taking a beating from the witchcraft of Hergrim let out a fierce cheer and they brought Starkad some wine and helped him rest upon some shields.

“He’s magnificent!” Rusila repeated, and Ragnar said, “I’ve heard of rappatio, but I’ve never actually seen it done,” but Rusila didn’t hear him.  She was busy taking food and wine over to their champion.  “Those two scare me,” Brak said, as he watched Rusila go after Starkad.

Ladgerda’s formation on the left was slowly driving back the Sclav right wing, keeping pace with Ragnar’s Centuriata in the center, but the loud cheering from the Danish right wing unnerved the whole Sclav army and they started to slowly give more ground and their front ranks soon realized that there were no longer ranks behind them as all that could, turned and ran.  The front ranks knew that they’d be slain as soon as they turned about, so they surrendered and were quickly bent over their shields in the old school Roman fashion.  The cavalry that King Daxo had sent forward to stop anyone from running were overwhelmed by the vast withdrawal and many were killed by their own fleeing foot.  King Daxo, himself, could be seen on the hilltop, surrounded by his princes, and they all turned and fled, riding off past their town and into the woods beyond.  They didn’t want to get trapped behind their own walls in a city they no longer had the manpower to defend.  Prince Fridleif led his troop of Danish cavalry after the fleeing Sclavish troops, but they rode straight past the fleeing foot soldiers and entered the main gates of the town before they could be closed and they closed them off themselves and held them as the foot ran past the town and into the eastern woods after their king.

King Ragnar drove his chariot over to the left wing and picked up Ladgerda and he drove the Roman war machine into the fleeing Sclavs and the whirling scythes cut many to pieces and the heavy team trampled many more as they cut a huge swath into them as they drove towards the walled town.

“Where’s Rusila?” Ladgerda asked, as they were cutting their swath.

“I’m sure she’s back at the ships with Starkad by now, probably focking under the awnings.”

“Those two scare me when they’re together,” Ladgerda said, and Brak and Ragnar both began laughing. 

By evening, a large contingent of the Danish army occupied the Sclav citadel, the troops occupying the homes of the former Sclav soldiers and, most likely, being served and serviced by their former wives.  The rest of the army remained at their camp and guarded the ships and the Irish took wine and roast meats to the ship of Rusila, their leader, and she shared it with Starkad as they shared each other under her awnings.  A great feast was being organized in King Daxo’s former palace on the hill in the center of his walled city.  King Ragnar shared the highest highseat with Ladgerda and Brak and Daxo’s oldest queen shared the second highseat and Prince Fridleif and Daxo’s youngest queen shared the third.

It was later learned that King Daxo and what was left of his army fled south up the Dvina River and down the Dnieper to Kiev, the City of Key, to King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs.  The Scythians, also, who were closely related by blood to Daxo on his mother’s side, are said to have been crushed in the same disaster.  King Ragnar made Prince Hwitserk ruler of the Land of the Sclavs, but soon learned of a planned attack of the Anglish Danes of Jutland upon his own Kingdoms of Zealand and Skane so he hastened back to Denmark to protect his holdings there.  It would be good to tackle any insurrection now, while he had his full army assembled.  But when he got back to Zealand he found no rebellion in the offing.  There were no Anglish armies wandering about the Isles.  King Ragnar took his army to the Isle of Fyn and overwintered there so as most safely to be able to monitor King Fridleif of Jelling without provoking him to action, and to best monitor the manning of the Danevirk by the Anglish against any attack from the south, from Emperor Louis ‘the Pious’ of the Holy Roman Empire.

While residing in Fyn, King Ragnar fell in love with a young maiden, the daughter of Esbern of Fyn, a wealthy farmer, whom Ragnar began treating very generously.  He would often invite Esbern and his daughter to his palace longhall for feasts and banquets and he even allowed the two to share his third highseat next to him and, of course, his beautiful young daughter was always invited to sit between the two men, right next to Ragnar.  Ragnar would often give gifts to the two and, of course, would always pass the gifts directly to the daughter as she sat right next to him.  Esbern soon realized that this regal attention was being visited upon them due to a lustful desire for his daughter on the part of Ragnar.  Since his young daughter was more than a year short of marriageable age, he had her watched quite closely.  He would be open to discussions of betrothal, but only after his daughter had reached the age of twelve, the age of marriageability.

King Ragnar, not being too respectful of his own laws, felt that the young girl had returned his affection and thought that love would somehow find a way, so he ventured in disguise to the neighbouring farmstead and, brandishing gifts and gold, conspired with the matron there to procure the affections of the young maiden next door.  In the morning he exchanged a dress with the woman, and went next door in womanly attire and offered to assist the young maiden as she was busy winding wool on spindles.  Cunningly, he set his hands to the work of a maiden, mimicking what the young girl was doing, though he was little skilled in the art.  As they talked through the day he told her that he had helped the neighbour woman next door in exchange for a place to sleep so the young girl offered to share her room and bed with her at night, as she had no other accommodation to offer her.  In the night, as they slept naked together, he embraced the maiden and gently deflowered her as she slept.  The young girl awoke as the older woman assaulted her, but she feigned sleep for fear of waking her father in the next room.  She just thought it was perhaps something the older woman was doing in her sleep.  When she woke up in the morning, there was blood upon her sheets and the older woman was gone.

Having gained his desire, King Ragnar returned to his highseat hall and quickly invited Esbern and his daughter to his next banquet.  Whenever Esbern and his beautiful young daughter sat next to him on their third highseat, the smell of the young girl rekindled fresh memories of their secret night together at the farmstead and Ragnar would be given added lust which he lavished upon Ladgerda and Rusila, who shared his master suite with him while the army bivouacked nearby.  When they made love together at night, Ragnar and Ladgerda marvelled at how large Rusila’s swollen belly was becoming as she carried the child of Starkad, who had stayed in the east serving young Prince Hvitserk.

One evening, as Ragnar was feasting, he noticed that the young daughter of Esbern was edgy and uncomfortable and was showing the signs that Rusila had recently gone through on the second highseat on the other side of him.  He knew then that she was pregnant and this added even more fuel to the lust he visited upon the women of his own household.  As the young girl grew big, and began to show, her swelling belly betrayed her outraged chastity, and her father, Esbern, not knowing to whom his daughter had given herself to be defiled, persisted in asking the girl herself who was the unknown seducer.  He had been having her closely watched because he did not trust royal lust, but her watchers had seen no young lustful men anywhere near her.  She steadfastly affirmed that she had had no one to share her bed except her handmaid one night, and so Esbern gave the affair over to the king to investigate.  The law in Denmark only protected children, so the debauching of young girls eight years of age or under was considered rape and was judged most harshly by the kings and princes who lorded over the lands, but the deflowering of young girls between eight and twelve was usually subject to fines, and young women twelve and over were to be protected by their fathers and family and marriage usually followed the outrage of chastity.

King Ragnar investigated the matter and met with all the folk who had been watching the young girl and he announced that he would not allow an innocent young girl to be branded with an extraordinary charge, and declared that he would avow his belief in her innocence by taking her to wife in his own household, thereby taking all responsibility for the results of her young pregnancy and by this generosity he partially removed the young woman from societal reproach and prevented her father, Esbern, from suffering any insult to his family.  He also added that the son to be born of her would be considered to be of his own line, and that he wished him to be named Ubbe, meaning ‘lone wolf’.  Esbern and all the people of Fyn were amazed at the wisdom of Ragnar’s judgement in the matter and Ragnar took the young girl to wife well before her marriageable age with the full whole-hearted consent of the locals.

“I’m not sleeping with you in our bed while you fock a ten year old girl!” Ladgerda lamented.  “I didn’t even know it was possible for a girl so young to get knocked up.”

“Either did I, my dear,” Ragnar calmed her, “but I am doing this solely for the sake of the young girl and the hamingja of her family.  Perhaps it was Loki, himself, who put seed inside her.  Anything becomes possible with the gods.”

So, Ragnar had the dressing room of his master suite made up into a second bedroom and he would sleep with Ladgerda and Rusila together some nights and with the young girl other nights.  But when Ragnar would sleep naked with the young girl and get hard in the middle of the night, he would avail himself of her privates as she slept and she would awaken and feign sleep because she recognized him to be the old woman that had ravaged her at their farmstead and she dearly loved her Ragnar for going to so much trouble to make sure that love somehow found a way.  She kept that dear secret to herself, but she vowed to tell young Ubbe that Ragnar really was his father, and she was soon pregnant again after giving birth to Ubbe anyway, and there was no question as to who was the father that time.

CHAPTER EIGHT

8.0  KING RAGNAR’S NOR’WAY AND SOR’WAY (Circa 812 AD)

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, September of 9 AD, by O.A.K. Varusschlacht (1909)

(Circa 812 AD)  When King Skiold of the Anglish Danes had led an army through Saxony to the Alemanni it had been to answer a call for aid throughout the Teutonic lands for troops to fight the Romans and their legions in the Teutoburg forest of Lower Saxony.  Emperor Augustus lost three legions in the deep forests of Germany and they were never heard from again, mostly.  King Skiold had fallen in love with a Saxon princess after the battle, for there was much feasting and celebrating after the great victory, but an Alemanni king had also fallen in love with her and they fought a battle themselves, the Danes and the Alemanni, over her hand and the Danes won.  When King Fridleif, many years later, many many years later, again led the Anglish Danes against the Alemanni, they were the Roman Empire and they were so much harder to beat.  King Fridleif had fought Emperor Charlemagne to a draw and was now at war with his son, Emperor Louis ‘the Pious’.  After defeating the Alemanni, Fridleif had planned to take Zealand and Skane from King Ragnar, but when he heard of the great success King Ragnar had had against the Swedes and then the Sclavs, he directed his army south against the Franks once more.  He could not afford a war on two fronts.  So he changed his plan to take over Ragnar’s Southern Way somewhat and he allied himself with the Obotrite Slavs and built a fortress on the Wendish Island of Jom, at the mouth of the Oder River and the Anglish Danes sailed along the Slavic coast of the southern Baltic to the Nieman River and they rowed up it, instead of the Dvina, to make their way into the Land of the Slavs and to King Olmar’s Kiev, his City of Key, in order to trade with the Eastern Roman Empire and Constantinople.

This eastern trade was more important to the Anglish Danes than ever before, for they were now at war with the Western Holy Roman Empire and all trade with the east had to come from the east because it no longer flowed up from the south.  And to deal with the Caesar of the Eastern Roman Empire, one had to deal with the Kaezar or Khagan of the Eastern Khazar Empire and that meant dealing with the Huns, the most powerful tribe of the seven tribes of the Khazar Federation.  King Fridleif had to cater to the wants and needs of the Obotrite Slavs and the Wend Slavs and the Pripyat Slavs and the Drevjane Slavs and the Poljane Slavs and then the Huns and then the Khazars and finally the Romans of Constantinople in order to get the goods the Anglish Danes used to just buy from the Saxon merchants and Frisian traders just south and west of them.  It was a process.  But the Anglish traders went out and, with the warming trend that was lengthening seasons, they could leave and return in one long summer season, which was of utmost importance to them.  But they were going through so many different lands and peoples that their approach, by necessity, had to be different than that used by King Ragnar and his Zealand Danes, the approach of bashing everybody that stood in between him and his goals.  When the Jutland traders arrived in Kiev and met the Zealand traders, they were ordered not to tell them who they really were.  And they were not allowed to participate in the slave trade.  The Roman word for slaves was actually serviles or servants, and the Anglish term slaves came from the Slavs that the earlier Gothic traders would capture and sell in Vanir Roman Constantinople.  So the Slavs did not like slave traders and the Anglish Danes needed the Slavs to like them.  And they needed the Huns to like them and they needed the Kaezar of the Khazars and the Caesar of the Romans to like them as well.  So, the Jutland Danish traders were very secretive and very likeable and the Zealand Danish traders were nothing of the kind.  They were bellicose and drunk, trading in furs and flesh, fighting everywhere they went and they enjoyed themselves everywhere they went and became renowned for their fighting and bargaining skills.

Now Ragnar had spent almost five years in developing his new Southern or Sor’Way and at least twice that developing his beloved Nor’Way, and had quickly compelled all other nations to submit; but he found the Permians to always be in open defiance of his sovereignty.  He had conquered them and had just conquered them again, but their loyalty was always shifting about like a sail in a blustery wind.  When they heard that he had come once more, they cast spells upon the sky, stirred up the clouds, and drove them into the most furious storms.  This would halt the Danes from sailing for varying lengths of time and they would often run out of food and supplies.  Then, again, the storm would suddenly abate, and the weather would become scorching hot and the heat was no easier to bear than the cold and wind had been.  And the mischievous excesses in both directions affected the bodies of the traders alternately, and it affected their health and dysentery killed a lot of them.  So the Zealand Danes, being pent in by the dangerous state of the weather, were dying of bodily plagues that arose on every side.  But the Danes persisted and went on and got to the country of the Kurlanders and the Sembs and were treated as the most revered of conquerors, and this enraged King Ragnar all the more against the arrogance of the Permians, and when he attempted to attack them for it, their king, whose name is not known, was struck with panic at such a sudden invasion of the enemy, and at the same time had no heart to join battle with them; and fled to Matul, the prince of Finmark.  He, trusting in the great skill of his archers, harassed with impunity the army of Ragnar, which was wintering in Permland.  For the Finns were wont to glide about freely on slippery timbers called skis throughout the winter countryside and were able to approach and depart very quickly and, as soon as they had shot their arrows at the Danish enemy, they would fly off as speedily as they had come and were very nimble in attack and retreat.

Ragnar was amazed with this turn of his fortunes when he considered that he, who had conquered Karl of Holy Rome at his pinnacle of power, was now being dragged under by an unarmed and uncouth race.  He, therefore, who had signally crushed the most glorious flower of the Western Roman soldiery, and the forces of a most great and serene Emperor, now yielded to a base mob with the poorest and slenderest equipment; and he whose lustre in war the might of the strongest race on earth had failed to tarnish, was now too weak to withstand the tiny band of a miserable tribe.  Hence, with that force which had helped him bravely to defeat the most famous legions in all the world and the weightiest weapon of military power, and to subdue in the field all that thunderous foot, horse, and encampment; with this he had now, stealthily and like a thief, to endure the attacks of a wretched and obscure populace.

In desperation, King Ragnar decided to abandon the Aesir way of marking battlefields with hazel poles and fighting in the light of day and decided to resort to fighting in the Christian Byzantine way: at night and through ambush.  He had Kurlanders who could ski teach his men the way of it and after the Finns had attacked them one day, his men, all picked warriors, skied behind them and followed their trail in the snow over mountain and valley until they arrived at dusk before the great winter camp and they waited in the forest hidden under white silks they had traded for in Constantinople until it was night and the Finns and Perms had all gone to sleep in their white woolen tents.  They silently skied up to the tents, two warriors to a tent and, on the shrill bleat of a Roman war whistle, they fell upon the tents and pulled them down atop their sleeping host and the Danish warriors bled the white tents red and none were allowed to escape the confines of the wool, but by the freedom elicited by death.

Ragnar took no pride in his victory over the Finns and Perms through this stealth and ambush, for it was not the Aesir way of the fist and foot, yet he was just as pleased at the defeat of the Finns as he had been at that of Karl, and he admitted that he had found more strength in that defenceless people than in the best equipped soldiery; for he found the heaviest weapons of the Romans easier to bear than the light darts of this ragged tribe.  Here, after killing the King of the Perms and slaying the King of the Finns, Ragnar set an eternal memorial of his victory on rune stones, which bore the runic characters of his deeds on their faces so that the gods could look down upon them and remember who the Danes were and who they had trod upon.  And Ragnar learned from this and he had all his traders and men trained in how to ski on boards and skate on bones and he took this craft back home with him and he trained all his sons in it so they could benefit from not just the skill, but in how their king had learned from it.  He taught his sons that traders must first learn the language of their clients, and then the skill set.  Only then could they trade with them as equals and not as guests.

While King Ragnar was thus employed in the establishment of both the Nor’Way and Sor’Way trade routes, young Prince Ubbe was used by his grandfather, Esbern, to make an attempt upon the kingship and the highseats of Denmark and Skane, and, casting away all thought of safety for his grandson, Esbern claimed the emblem of royalty for his own head.

When Ragnar heard of this arrogance on the part of his father-in-law from Jarls Kelther and Thorkill, of Sweden, he made a hasty voyage towards Gothland.  Esbern, finding that these two jarls remained devoutly loyal to King Ragnar, offered them bribes of lands and gold to desert the king.  But their loyalty could not be compromised and they answered that their will depended on that of King Biorn Ragnarson, declaring that not a single Swede would dare to do what went against their king’s wishes.  Esbern speedily made an attempt at bribing Biorn himself, addressing him most courteously through envoys and plying him with gifts.  Biorn said that he found it contemptable to favour of an infamous brother such as young Ubbe over the love of a most righteous and famous father.  The envoys, themselves, he punished with hanging, because they counselled him to commit so grievous a crime and the Swedes, moreover, slew the rest of the train of the envoys in the same way, as a punishment for their patricidal preaching’s.  So, Esbern doffed his covert efforts and mustered his forces openly, and went publicly forth to war.  But Ivar, the Zealand ambassador to Jutland, seeing no righteousness on either side of the impious conflict, avoided all unholy war by voluntary exile, and he stayed in Jelling and convinced the Anglish Danes to stay out of the fray.

King Ragnar attacked and slew Esbern in the bay that is called in Latin Viridis; he cut off the dead man’s head and bade it be set upon the ship’s prow, a dreadful sight for the seditious.  But Prince Ubbe took to flight, and sought protection with his brother, Prince Ivar, in Jelling.  When Ivar learned that the uprising in his country had been quelled by the punishment of the rebel, Esbern, he went to Zealand and Ragnar received him with the greatest honour, because, while the unnatural war had raged its fiercest, he had kept out of it all.  Now he stepped in and began the long slow process of reconciling Ragnar and Ubbe.

Meanwhile, back in the land of the Sclavs, Daxo worked to covertly overthrow King Hwitserk Ragnarson, who ruled over his former citadel and lands, by slowly developing a peace with the Danes that involved Sclavs making a peace and working at trade in the new Sor’Way that Hwitserk was growing with his father.  But the former Sclav King Daxo had, in truth, been preparing an army with weapons, who feigned to be trading and rode into the city in merchant carts and carriages, and they made a murderous night-attack on the longhall palace of their host.  King Hwitserk and his Centuriata smote this band of robbers with such a slaughter that they were surrounded with heaps of Sclav warriors bodies, and the few of the Centuriata that still stood could only be taken by letting down ladders from the roof above.  The final twelve companions of his Centuriata were captured at the same time as their king and were given leave to go back to their country, but they chose to remain with their king and chose to share the dangers of another rather than be quit of their own.

King Daxo, now moved with compassion at the beauty of Hwitserk, and, undoubtedly, fear of King Ragnar, offered him not only his life, but his daughter in marriage, with a dowry of half his kingdom, choosing rather to spare his comeliness than to punish his bravery.  But Hwitserk, unable to deal with the depths of his defeat, refused the offer and embraced a sentence of doom, saying, that Ragnar would exact a milder vengeance for his son if he found that he had made his own choice in selecting the manner of his death.  King Daxo was perplexed by his rashness, but promised that he should die by the manner of death which he, alone, would choose as his punishment.  Prince Hwitserk accepted this leave as a great kindness, and begged that he might be locked in an old longhall and be burned alive with his friends while drinking and banqueting.  King Daxo speedily complied with his prayers that craved for death, and by way of kindness granted him the end that he had chosen.

When King Ragnar heard of this, especially his son’s chosen manner of death, he began to grieve immediately.  He put on garbs of mourning, outfitted his shieldship, and sailed from Liere to Stavanger Fjord and he went straight to his Ragnarstead estate, well within the protection of the long fjords there, and he broke the news to Princess Aslaug (Kraka) that their third son was dead.  Their elder sons, Roller (Ragnald) and Erik were out tending the herds, but Jarl Brak came in from the forges and heard the news alongside Kraka and the three of them broke down in tears together.  When the older sons came in from the fields, they too learned of their brother’s demise and they both vowed to make King Daxo pay for the horrible death he had executed upon young Hwitserk.

But King Ragnar was beyond vengeance in his grief and, in the exceeding sorrow of his soul, took to his bed and showed his grief by groaning.  Kraka comforted him in bed and they mourned for a full week, but his wife, who had more than a man’s courage, tired of this weakness, and began, once more, to put heart into him with her manful admonitions.  Drawing his mind off from his woe, she bade him be zealous in the pursuit of war; declaring that it was better for so brave a father to avenge the bloodstained ashes of his son with weapons than with tears.  She also told him not to whimper, but make war, not to cry, but make war cries, not to wail, but take the whale road south and avenge their son.  Upon these words, Ragnar became determined to exact revenge, so, shaking off his melancholy garb and putting away his signs of mourning, he revived his sleeping valour with hopes of speedy vengeance.  King Hraegunar left Jarl Brak in charge of the Nor’Way trade, and Princess Aslaug in charge of the Stavanger Vikingdom, but he took Princes Roller and Erik away from Thule and back to Liere with him to make preparations for war.  They were now at an age to learn of and partake in warcraft.  So he put his Kingdom of Denmark in charge of Ivar, and embraced with a father’s love young Ubbe, who was now restored to kingly favour and his mother’s love.  Then he and his Norwegian sons led his great warfleet over to Hraes’ (Rus’), in ancient Scythia and he, once again, made war on the Sclavs of the Dvina River.  When the Sclav officers once more saw King Ragnar upon their ancient battlefield with his great team of horses standing on the deck of his Roman war chariot, with his sons on either side of him, and the great Danish army behind him, they charged King Daxo with treason, bound him in chains, and sent him out of the citadel to beg mercy of King Ragnar.

And Daxo was not shy, nor quiet in his begging for mercy as he lamented on his knees in the dust behind King Ragnar’s chariot.  Daxo pled his case, admitting to Ragnar that he had stolen the kingdom back from his son, but had then offered King Hwitserk his own daughter in marriage, and half the kingdom as his share and full royal title as co-King of Sclavia, but, inexplicably, young Hwitserk had refused his offer and demanded to be put to death in a manner of his own choosing.  “My daughter even pleaded with him to marry her,” Daxo begged, “and she and her handmaiden prepared him his last supper and they both shared themselves with him on his last night and pleaded with him to relent and accept the offer, but he took only their love and not their advice.  The next day, a great pyre was built around an old longhall for King Hwitserk, we, allowing him to bear his royal title right to the end, in case he should relent and share Sclavia with us, and then my daughter had Aesir witches mark her handmaiden with a spear as a sacrifice to Odin in their prescribed manner and she was burned in the longhall with your son, King Hwitserk, and his twelve boyars, as the Slavs called them.  This sacrifice to Odin, as your son called his ritual death, was all performed in the greatest respect of your Aesir religion.”  Daxo wanted to tell Ragnar that he felt that Hwitserk preferred death to his offer because he was vexed and ashamed of the ease with which he had lost his kingdom, but he chose rather to say, “My daughter had a son by King Hwitserk, and he now rules in my stead as we speak.”

King Ragnar and his sons were taken aback by Daxo’s long lamentation and they could not believe what King Hwitserk had been offered by the Sclavs.  Officers and witnesses were brought forth from the citadel before King Ragnar and they all swore oaths and many of them were Danes, the healed wounded of his son’s Centuriata, and they all confirmed what Daxo had told them.  Finally, Daxo’s young daughter was brought forth from the citadel with her baby at breast and Ragnar saw that she was beautiful and, he too was at a loss as to why his son had preferred death to this.  “We have named him Prince Hwitserk,” Daxo’s daughter said, and she passed the baby up to King Ragnar on his chariot and Ragnar held the baby and he could see Hwitserk in those eyes and he passed the baby around to his sons and then back down to the daughter.  “We wish your grandson, Prince Hwitserk, to rule in your son’s stead,” she added, pulling forth her fine young breast and putting baby Hwitserk to work upon it, “and we hope that whenever you come through Sclavia to trade that you will stop and visit with us.”

Ragnar looked down upon the beautiful daughter of Daxo and asked, “Will your son, the new King Hwitserk, make me the same offer that the old King Daxo made my son?”

She looked up at King Ragnar and it took her a bit to fathom what he was asking for.  “Yes,” she answered firmly.  “He will share half his kingdom with you and he offers you my hand in marriage.  Typically a boy would turn twelve before he could decide who his mother marries, but I speak for him, so his youth is not a factor.”

Daxo was spared and taken away in chains for imprisonment in the farthest reaches of the world, Thule, and Sclav hostages were taken before Ragnar and his sons led their Centuriata into the capital and celebrated King Ragnar’s marriage to Daxo’s daughter.  They honey-welled for a week in the master suite of the palace and when Daxo’s daughter began vomiting, Ragnar knew it was time to take her father and the hostages back west with his sons.  King Ragnar showed, on this occasion, the most merciful moderation towards the slayer of his dearest son, since he sufficiently satisfied the vengeance which he desired, by the exile of the culprit rather than his death.  This compassion shamed the Sclavs out of any further rage against such a king, who could not be driven even by the most grievous wrongs to inflict death upon his prisoners.  Ragnar soon took Daxo back into his favour, and later restored him to his country, upon his promising that he would every year pay him a tribute barefoot, like a suppliant, with twelve elders, also unshod.  For he thought it better to punish a prisoner and a suppliant gently, than to draw the axe of bloodshed; better to punish that proud neck with constant slavery than to sever it once and for all.  Then he went on and appointed his son Erik, surnamed Wind-hat, over Sweden.  Here, while Fridleif and Siward were serving under him, he found that the Norwegians and the Scots had wrongfully conferred the title of king on two other men.  So he first overthrew the usurper to the power of Norway, and let Biorn have the country for his own benefit.

Then he summoned Biorn and Erik, ravaged the Orkneys, landed at last on the territory of the Scots, and in a three-days’ battle wearied out their king Murial (Maelmuire), and slew him.  But Ragnar’s sons, Dunwat and Radbard, after fighting nobly, were slain by the enemy, so that the victory their father won was stained with their blood.  He returned to Denmark, and found that his wife, the daughter of Esbern, had in the meantime died of disease.  Straightway he sought medicine for his grief in loneliness, and patiently confined the grief of his sick soul within the walls of his palace in Liere.  But this bitter sorrow was driven out of him by the sudden arrival of Ivar, who had been expelled from his Kingdom of Northumbria in Angleland.  For the Anglish and Gauls had made him fly, and had wrongfully bestowed royal power on a certain AElla, the son of the King Hame that King Ragnar had slain so many years before.  King Ragnar took Prince Ivar to guide him, since he was acquainted with the country, gave orders for a fleet, and approached the harbour called York.  Here he disembarked his forces, and after a battle which lasted three days, he made AElla, who had trusted in the valour of the Anglish and Gauls, desirous to fly.  The affair cost much blood to the Anglish and very little to the Danes.  Here King Ragnar completed a year of conquest, and then, summoning his sons to help him, he went to Ireland, slew its king Melbrik, besieged Dublin, which had been conquered by another Irish clan and was filled with wealth of barbarians, attacked it, and received its surrender.  There he lay in camp for a year, restoring Queen Imaira and his son Imair to power there.  And then, sailing through the Mediterranean Sea, he made his way to the Hellespont and won signal victories there and established a trade agreement with the Romans of Constantinople, but it was subject to the approval of a corresponding trade agreement with the Khazars and, though he gained support from the Huns, the Khazar Federation, itself, failed to ratify it.

King Ragnar came to the conclusion that there was a blood secret between the Caesar of Constantinople and the Kaezar of Kazaran, the city of the White Khazars, across the Volga River from the Khazarian Huns city whereof Attila was born, the City of Atil.  He pondered this secret connection as he crossed all the intervening countries, and completed the establishment of his Sor’Way and its prosperous advance.

CHAPTER NINE

9.0  THE BATTLE OF THE SCHLEI  (Circa 813 AD)

VIKING RING FORTRESS

(Circa 813 AD)  While King Ragnar was establishing his Southern Way or Sor’Way trade route, the exiled Harald, meanwhile, with the adherence of certain Danes who were cold-hearted servants in the army of Ragnar, returned to Zealand with renewed sedition, and came forward claiming the title of king.  He was met by the warfleet of Ragnar, returning from the Hellespont; and Ragnar drove him from the island and Harald fled, once more, through Saxony to the Franks and he asked Emperor Louis the Pious, Charlemagne’s son, who was then stationed at Mainz for help.  But Louis, filled with the greatest acolytic zeal, imposed a condition on the Dane, promising him help if he would agree to follow the worship of Christ.  For he said there could be no agreement of hearts between those who embraced discordant faiths.  So Prince Harald allowed himself to be converted to the Christian faith and, bolstered with Frankish and Saxon auxiliaries, he conquered Reric, Ragnar’s trading town on the continent, just south of Zealand.  Trusting in the support of the Franks, Harald built a church in the land of Sleswik, with much care and cost, to be hallowed to God.  Then he pulled down the shrines and temples that had been dedicated to Odin and to Thor and to Frey, and outlawed the sacrificers and abolished all witchcraft and was the first to introduce the religion of Christianity to his heathen country.

When King Ragnar heard this news he led his warfleet south and they ravaged the coast and drove Prince Harald west along the coast into Jutland.  But King Fridleif ‘the Swift’ was there with an army of his own, protecting his Danevirk fortification from a possible attack from the Frank and Saxon troops he had learned were active in Schleswik and he would only allow Harald entry into his kingdom if he deserted Christianity and returned to the Aesir faith of the Danes.  Though Prince Harald had been the first introduce the Christian faith into Denmark, he quickly became the first to turn his back on it, for at his back was a fast approaching Zealand army, and this illustrious promoter of holiness proved a most infamous forsaker of the same.  When King Fridleif learned from Harald that the Frank and Saxon troops in Schleswik had been provided to him by the Emperor of Frankia to fight a war against King Ragnar, Fridleif seized an opportunity to regain the patronage of the Emperor while gaining the Kingdom of Zealand and he offered to allow Harald and his remaining Franko-Saxon troops to join his army and take the war to King Ragnar.  He had been watching King Ragnar grinding gold out of his Nor’Way and Sor’Way trade routes and he wanted a part of it, the southern part, and Ragnar’s Kingdom of Zealand was like a cork stopper into the Baltic and King Fridleif wanted to use Harald as his corkscrew to gain control of it.  Prince Harald discussed the offer with his Frankish officers and they agreed to support the Anglish Danes in a war against the Norse Danish king that had just burned the new Christian church in Reric.

When King Ragnar and his army came up to the wall of the Danevirk, he demanded that King Fridleif send out the treasonous Zealander, Prince Harald, and his Frankish troops.  King Fridleif did just that and more.  His own Anglish Danish troops came out alongside Harald’s and the King of the Angles rode in front of them and offered battle against the King of the Danes.  King Ragnar could not believe his ears, so he repeated his demand in Anglish Danish instead of the Norse Danish he had used, thinking perhaps King Fridleif had heard him wrongly.  But King Fridleif repeated his offer to battle in Norse Danish as well and awaited his rival king’s response.

“That’s what I thought you said,” King Ragnar answered.  “I was just making sure I had heard you correctly because I’d heard that Ludwig, the King of the Franks, had given you the byname ‘the Swift’, because you had run from him instead of doing battle.”

King Fridleif turned red with rage at this insult, but he controlled his words because it was partly, perhaps even mostly, true.  “I shall send out officers to mark a field of battle, subject to your approval,” was all he said and he rode back to his Danevirk.  King Ragnar rode back to his troops and had them set up a camp in Schleswik a short distance from the Danish wall.  He watched the Anglish officers ride out and set four hazel poles into the earth, defining the size of the square battlefield.  King Ragnar then rode out with his officers to inspect the field of battle and they made the field wider, turning it into a rectangle.  King Fridleif rode out with his officers and addressed king Ragnar, “You obviously have more troops at hand than I have, but I have sent word down the wall to gather more men, so, if you could wait a day or two, we can match your new size.”

King Ragnar agreed to this, not wanting to seem as if he and his Norse Danes needed an advantage, but he also knew how long it took to collect men from down a long and sparsely defended wall, so he set his men to building a Roman ring fort in front of their camp.  He had just returned from fighting and trading in the Hellespont and he had observed the construction of just such a fort on the approach of his warfleet on the Scythian steppe just off the Dnieper River north of Cherson.  Ragnar set a millstone in the center of his fort and put a short pole into the hole of the milestone, looped a long anchor rope around it, paced out a hundred steps with the rope in hand, tied the rope to his spear with a knot, and began tracing a circle into the dirt as he walked around the millstone.  He could see King Fridleif and his officers observing every move he made, very curious as to what he was doing.  He then paced out another ten steps and tied a knot about the spear and walked around again, tracing out the outer perimeter of the berm they would be constructing, and then he paced out another ten steps and did the same for the outer perimeter of the ditch they would be digging to get the material for the berm.  He had made sure to use knots that stayed in the rope when he withdrew the spear because the Romans had used the knots to square up the fort into equal quadrants.

King Ragnar sent half his men into some nearby woods to fell trees for a palisade and he set half his men to digging the ditch and throwing the earth between the two lines for the berm.  While they were digging he took the rope and walked to the nearest point along the outer berm perimeter he had marked upon the ground to where his ships were beached on the shore and he pushed his spear into the ground, pulled the rope taunt about it and tied it off.  Then he used his sword to trace a straight line in the dirt all the way back to the millstone.  This would be one of four roads inside the fort that would divide the keep into the four equal quadrants.  The road would be a spear’s length wide on each side of his line so he had two of his officers mark out two lines on either side of his straight centerline while he used their spears to mark the distance as they walked back to Ragnar’s spear.  The king then took the rope off his spear but left the spear in the ground and he walked back past the millstone with the rope to the opposite perimeter and he lined his spear, on the far side, up with the pole in the millstone and he took a spear from an officer and planted it in the ground where the outer berm perimeter was marked and, once more, pulled the rope taut about it.

Ragnar left three of his officers to trace out the width of that road just as he had done with the first and then he tried to remember what it was that the Romans had done to make sure that the crossroad was perpendicular to the main road.  He put the knot from the outer ditch perimeter marking around the spear that was in the outer berm perimeter and then he walked back to the millstone, took the rope loop off of the center-pole, and looped the rope around a spear and he traced an arc into the ground on one side of the millstone and then marked another arc into the ground on the other side of the millstone.  Then he had an officer take the rope off of the one spear that was stuck in the ground and put it around the opposite spear that was stuck in the ground on the other side of the millstone, the spear that was close to the ships, and Ragnar traced another two corresponding arcs into the ground on the cross sides of the millstone, and where the two opposing arcs on the cross sides intersected was where the crossroads would be perpendicular to the main road.  As Ragnar was telling his officers how to mark out the crossroads, one of them said, “Don’t look up now, but one of King Fridleif’s officers is at his elbow drawing out everything we’ve been doing on a sheet of vellum.”  King Ragnar slowly peered over to the Danevirk wall and he saw Fridleif showing his officer what he wanted added to the vellum drawing.  “I wish I’d done that,” Ragnar confessed to his men, “when we were watching the Romans!”  And the men all laughed.

It took two days for the men to throw up the berm and another two for them to erect the palisade, but King Fridleif kept making excuses for a few men yet missing and Ragnar was in no hurry because he had sent ships back to Zealand to fetch more men.  Once the Roman ring fort was completed and King Fridleif’s vellum drawing was done, he suddenly had enough men at hand for battle.  Since King Fridleif’s men had all come off the Danevirk wall and King Ragnar’s men had come straight off warships, there were few horses about so it was all foot soldiers that would be doing the fighting that day.

The Zealand Danes lined up in three ranks between the east hazel poles of the battlefield and the Jutland Danes formed up twixt the west poles and drums beat and shields were pounded as they moved forward against each other.  Arrows flew as they closed and then spears were hurled and finally the shield walls crashed and the hacking began.  Men screamed as arms and legs were severed and the dying bled out and turned the earth into mud, red mud, and men were tripping over limbs and slipping over viscera and boots were being lost in the mud and men fought on in bare feet as the ‘blud’ squished between toes.  Men threw their shoulders into shields but the shield walls stood fast and the swords whipped out from between them like long razors and bit deep into bone and spear tips would spring out from the arcs of the shields and would pierce vital organs and always there was the heavy beating of drums and the blowing of trumpets and horns and whistles all playing the opera of death.  Valkyrie minstrels carried off the dying and Ragnar’s Raven Banner seemed to be attracting more of the birds for the ravens’ bloody banquet.  After a few hours of fighting, they were down to two ranks and the formations no longer swept from pole to pole, but shrank down to maintain two ranks so the men could at least step back and catch a breath.

The shield walls began to budge, but where they bulged here they began to sag there so that the clashing bucklers took on more of a ripple or wave than lost ground.  As evening approached, horns sounded and drums ceased and the fighting stopped and the two sides drew apart and the Zealand Danes trudged east, back to their Roman ring fort in exhaustion and the Jutland Danes ambled back behind their beloved Danevirk.

The next day, officers from both sides rode out and adjusted the Hazel poles, making them not nearly as wide apart so that the reduced numbers of the Danes would be able to form three ranks on each side.  Then the Zealand Danes formed up between the east hazel poles and the Jutland Danes formed up between the west poles and, once more, drums beat and shields pounded as they moved forward against each other.  Arrows flew and spears were hurled and then the shield walls crashed and the hacking began anew.  Men spent another day dying and bled out over the field again and the earth turned to mud much sooner.  All day the drums beat their beat and horns and whistles sounded and the opera of death played on.  Valkyries chose their dead and carried them off to Valhall and shield-maidens carried the wounded back behind their respective walls for saving.  Ragnar’s Raven Banner fluttered in the breeze at the center of their shield wall and the banners of the Anglish Danes and Saxons and Franks flew above the center and wings of their formation and when the three ranks became two and they no longer stretched from pole to pole, trumpets sounded and the troops went back behind their separate walls, exhausted.

The next day, King Ragnar barely had enough men left to properly defend their Roman ring fort palisade, so he didn’t send officers out to adjust any poles or troops out to do battle.  “If they want to fight,” he told his men, “they can come and attack us here.”  But nobody came.  They didn’t have enough men left to man their Danevirk and could only man the eastern section that faced the Zealanders.  King Fridleif sent out officers carrying white shields and they requested a pause of two weeks so that more men could be gathered.  The timing worked out well for Ragnar because he expected his ships to return with more troops by then, so he quickly agreed.

Ragnar’s sons, Ivar and Siward came from Angleland with more troops, leaving their brother, Agnar, in charge of Northumbria, and they settled in Zealand and raised more Danish troops there and landed on the east coast of Schleswik and beached their ships in front of King Ragnar’s Roman ring fort.  King Ragnar and his remaining men had been busy the two weeks, having run protective stockades from the ring fort down to the sea to protect their supply route and ships.  It reminded Ivar of their longphorts in Ireland.  The two boys wanted to stay and fight but Ragnar sent them back to Zealand to raise even more troops and to quell any rebellions that might erupt in his absence.  He was preparing for the possible long haul.  King Fridleif may have garnered the byname ‘the Swift’ from the Germans for his swift withdrawal from a war with Emperor Charlemagne and the Frankish Empire just before Charlemagne’s death, but he was no fool.  His father, King SigFrodi, had boasted he was going to capture Aachen, the capital of Frankia, in a drunken rage and that insane challenge had been passed on to his son, Fridleif, but the young warrior was not going to be drawn into a long war with the Frankish Empire when he could just fight a short one with Zealand, so, here they were, and Ragnar had to admit that Fridleif was good.  By allying himself with the usurper Harald, he had even managed to get grudging support from the Empire.

The Franks were not aware that Prince Harald had turned his back on Christianity and when it had been brought up by Emperor Louis ‘the Pious’, Harald told him that King Fridleif wouldn’t let him practice the faith in Denmark, so, Louis gave Harald a Fief in Saxony called Rustringen, to which he could repair to in order to keep up the faith, and the Emperor agreed to provide Prince Harald and King Fridleif with additional Saxon and Frankish troops to replace the ones he had lost battling the godless King Ragnar, Hring’s grandson, and Ragnar garnered the Latin name for Ring, Anulo, because the name King Anulo was not as frightening as King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ was becoming.  King Fridleif’s brother, the Sea-King Odd, brought his warfleet down from Jelling with fresh Anglish Danish troops and Prince Harald returned from Frankia with his fresh troops at about the same time as the sons of Ragnar had come, but Ragnar put the fighting off another week because he didn’t want his sons being drawn into it.  Once they had sailed back to Zealand, Ragnar prepared his host to take against that of King Fridleif and Harald.

This time, they fought on the Battlefield of the Schlei, as they came to call it, between the walls of the Danevirk and the Roman ring fort, for almost a week straight, heading out each day to slay each other and returning back again with their wounded and their dead and without victory to either side.  This time King Ragnar sent officers out to ask for a pause while more men could be gathered.  Winter was coming on and this slowed down the whole process.  And Ragnar had two trade routes, the Nor’Way and the Sor’Way to administer in the spring, so he was hoping this would be the last war arrow he had to pass out to his people.  But that was not to be.  The battle drew on all through the winter and, as spring approached, Ragnar had lost over ten thousand of his finest warriors and champions and he told his men that enough was enough.  He sent officers over to the Danevirk with white shields and a request for peace talks.

King Ragnar knew from his meetings with various Romans and Khazars in Constantinople that there were many groups vying for control of the northern end of his Sor’Way and he also knew, as an experienced eastern trader, that if he failed to make the seasonal sailings that he’d committed to, there were others in the wings that would step in and replace him.  He was already making tremendous profits in gold and silver from his two trade routes and he had enough sons and shield-maiden daughters to run both, so, he had to settle this battle with the Jutland Danes for once and for all and a peace deal seemed the best path forward.  What he didn’t know was that King Fridleif and his Jutland Anglish Danes were already one of the groups waiting in the wings.

King Fridleif was under pressure as well.  He had his own trade route to the east that he was working on through Wendish Slav lands, but there was one catch…the Slavs wouldn’t allow slave trade through their lands and most of the gold King Ragnar had been grinding was through slave trade.  His Viking ships had been raiding the coasts of England and Ireland for years and once the gold was gone from the monasteries and churches, then the people began disappearing as well.  Captured and unransomed, they ended up in the slave markets of Baghdad and Constantinople, all transported via the Nor’Way trade route, but now Ragnar was transporting slaves south through his Sor’Way trade route and the profits were even higher.  King Fridleif had been supporting Prince Harald’s claim to Zealand in order to take control of this Southern Way trade, what he called his Dan’Way trade route to get into the lucrative slavery business.

A pavilion had been set up at the center of the Battlefield of the Schlei and the Kings and Prince and their officers rode up, the Zealanders from the east and the Jutlanders from the west and when King Ragnar was sitting across the negotiating table from King Fridleif, he might as well have been looking in a mirror, for they were about the same age, with the same long blonde hair, with the same curl and the same reddish beard.  What was different about them was the nose.  Ragnar’s was short and upturned, while Fridleif’s was long and rather regal looking.  They had the same broad shoulders and they leaned forward into the table with the same crossed arms, which was the only thing that belied the mirror image, for the arms would have been crossed oppositely for it to have been a reflection.  Ragnar had just asked Fridleif what it would take to make peace with him and the Jut king answered, “We’ve had discussions with Emperor Louis of Frankia and he agrees that you will have to turn the Kingdom of Zealand over to Prince Harald, here, and your Southern Way trade route to the Anglish Danes of Jutland.  It is too much that you would have both the Nor’Way and the Dan’Way trade routes, but, if you make peace with us here today, we will leave you your holdings in Thule and Angleland and Ireland, and that is a fine offer, for we believe Northumbria and the Angles living there to be part of our people, just as you believe the Zealanders to be part of yours.”

King Fridleif had answered Ragnar in the Norse Danish tongue of the Zealanders, so King Ragnar replied in flawless Anglish Dane, “Emperor Louis and his Germans have just finished giving you the moniker ‘the Swift’, and by that they don’t mean ‘fast at running’, but rather ‘fast to run from battle’ and, though now I see that they are wrong in giving you such a base byname, for you are quite good at battle, still you cozy up to the Germans and beg their support and you are now fighting using half an army of Franks.  Though I shall find it hard to match you man for man with an emperor’s support behind you, I cannot accept such an offer, nor peace under such conditions.”

“Then we shall meet tomorrow morning on the battlefield of the Schlei,” King Fridleif responded grimly in Anglish.  “We have another half army of Franks on the way, so you’d best be ready for that one the day after tomorrow.”

Ragnar gave one last look into the steel blue eyes of Fridleif and he saw his own.  He knew that Fridleif knew the tide had turned in his favour and the offer he gave was one that would be taken by those who bowed to Emperors, but Ragnar was not that man and Louis was not a real Emperor.  He had met a real Emperor, a real Porphyrogennetos, born of the purple blood of Augustus Caesar Emperor, Michael ‘the First’, in Constantinople last year.  His veins carried the blood line of the Caesar that King Skiold of the early Danes had helped deprive of three legions and when Augustus had turned toward the Teutoburg Forest of Saxony and shouted, “King Skiold!  Give me back my three legions!” Skiold had just laughed and helped himself to the Flower of Saxony, Princess Alfhild, and he made her his queen and he learned her low German language, or at least some of it.  Then Ragnar realized why he had been looking at his own image for the last hour.  He and King Fridleif were both sprung from the line of Skiold, the Skioldung line of kings.  Ragnar got up, gave Fridleif a nod and turned around and left.

The next day the Zealand Danes lined up in three ranks between the east hazel poles of the battlefield and the Jutland Danes in four ranks between the west poles, so many more men did they have.  The drums beat and shields were pounded and arrows flew and spears were hurled and the shield walls crashed violently and the thrusting and the hacking started once more.  Men died bravely and some died fearfully and all died crying for their mothers as if their cries could carry them swiftly back to the womb and safety.  The fighting went on all morning and then halfway through the afternoon a cavalry regiment arrived from Frankia and joined in on the fray.  It was the first mounted unit to fight in the battle and they had arrived ahead of the Frankish foot that was expected to arrive the next day.  King Fridleif wanted to defeat Ragnar before the foot arrived so that he would owe less to the Frank support they’d been receiving, so he jumped on a horse to lead the Frankish cavalry into battle and as they were harrying some foot on their right flank a soldier lunged out of the ranks and killed the horse out from under Fridleif and the king was thrown over the first rank of Zealanders and was cut to pieces by the second.  They didn’t even know it was the king they had just killed until the Frankish officers asked for a pause in the battle to recover the body of the Danish king.

King Ragnar was leading his men in the vanguard, surrounded by his Centuriata and he saw the cavalry dismounted over on his left flank so he sent a troop of archers to dispatch them while they were standing still, not yet knowing that King Fridleif had fallen.  When the archers got a short distance away, they started shooting their arrows into the throng of lancers sitting on their horses with their shields down.  The Franks were caught by surprise and a number of them fell dead from their horses while the foot before them attacked suddenly with their spears and killed many of them as well.  The cavalry officers that were in the midst of the foot, gathering up the body of the king, were themselves cut to pieces and the leaderless Franks rode into the foot soldiers to save their officers and the foot pulled them down from their mounts and killed them in savage hand to hand combat.  The lieutenant of the foot soldiers was a good rider, as many of them were, and he jumped upon a horse holding the golden helmeted head of the Jut king high in the air and he started to ride behind the Anglish Danish line waving the head of King Fridleif and some of his men rode behind him carrying the body parts and the armour of their king.  When this group of Norse Danes rode past the center, the Norse vanguard began cheering and the Anglish vanguard looked back in horror as they saw their dead king and enemy cavalry behind them and Ragnar’s Centuriata took advantage of their surprise and renewed their hard assault and the Anglish center began collapsing.  Soon King Ragnar and his men had broken through the center and were threatening to cut off the Jut Danes from the safety of their beloved Danevirk and the rout began in earnest.  The Anglish Danes broke into a run for the Danevirk and the newly established Norse Danish cavalry threw down their body parts and began riding them down and lancing them from behind.  And the Norse Danish foot soldiers were hard on their heels and, of course, there was only one gate through the wall and only a small stream of Jut Danes could pour through it and the rest were trapped against the wall and ended up jammed against it so tight that they couldn’t fight and those that tried, died, and those that surrendered were bent over their shields right there under their protective Danevirk.

Many Anglish Danes did manage to get through the gate and they manned their wall and closed their gate, still it was a great victory for the Zealand Danes and they dragged their buggered prisoners back with them, away from the wall, before arrows started to fly from it.  Once they were a safe distance from the wall, the prisoners were bent over their shields again for the benefit of those on the wall who might have missed the earlier show because they were too busy running.  King Ragnar saw Prince Harald watching the debauchery from the safety of the wall and he didn’t know if Harald had gotten back to safety or had been up there watching the whole day, but the prince didn’t seem too concerned about the slaughter, which meant that it was a significant force of Franks that would be arriving on the morrow.  Ragnar planned a short celebration for his men, but they needed rest for the morrow.  Some would retire early and take their prisoners to bed with them because it was in their nature, and some would do the same because the camp followers were few and far between and expensive, but King Ragnar had two camp followers of his own, two young girls who had been taken at the sack of Reric.  The prisoners would all be offered back for ransom and the unransomed would be taken east with the spring merchant fleet and would be sold in the slave markets of Baghdad.  Only Christian slaves were accepted in Constantinople, to save them from heathens, and those would have to come from Angleland and Ireland and the few Frank prisoners that were taken here today.

The next morning Ragnar heard that some of his men had learned from their prisoners that more men were expected to arrive during the day and these were Jutish Danes being brought in warships by Jutland’s Sea-King Odd and it was said to be as large as the Franks’ expected army.  Ragnar had lost almost half his men during the prior day’s battle and, between the Danes that made it back behind the Danevirk, the Frank army that was on the march and the Danish warfleet that was on its way, Ragnar just did not have enough men to even hold his ring fort.  He told his men to prepare the fleet.  “We are heading back to Zealand!”

CHAPTER TEN

10.0  PRINCES IVAR AND SIWARD ‘SNAKE IN THE EYE’  (Circa 815 AD)

(Circa 815 AD)  King Ragnar and his warfleet were met at the harbour town that served Liere by his sons, Ivar and Siward.  Messengers had come home and told the boys to expect the return of their father, the king.  They had finally won the battle, but had lost the war.  King Fridleif had refused to negotiate an amicable peace and had lost his life in that final battle, but King Ragnar had lost so many men winning it, they could not hold the field against fresh Frankish and Anglish Danish troops that were replacing Fridleif’s losses.  But Ragnar was confident that King Fridleif’s death would set back the Anglish Dane plans by at least a year so he made plans of his own to lead a spring merchant fleet east across the Baltic and then south through Scythia to Baghdad and Constantinople, while his foremost man in Stavanger, Brak, would lead a second merchant fleet across the Nor’Way for trade with the Volga Bulgars and Khazars.  He would leave his sons, Ivar and Siward, in charge of Zealand and Skane while he was off trading and when he got back in the fall it would be with paid Roman mercenaries and he would take the war, once more, back to the Schlei and the Anglish Danes before their beloved Danevirk.

Back in Liere, King Ragnar went through his plans with Princes Ivar and Siward and they thought it a fine strategy and looked forward to seeing the rented legions their father had talked about.  For enough gold and prospects of booty, an ally of Rome could rent a legion of five thousand Roman foot or a cataphract legion of three thousand Roman knights or both if required.  Ragnar had spent much gold while he had been visiting the Hellespont and this attracted the attention of the Emperor Michael and they’d had discussions of King Ragnar’s Sor’Way venture and the way Slav hurdles could be overcome along the ‘Way.  The Romans were particularly interested in serviles, or slaves, to man the oars of their naval fleet, the galleys and biremes and new triremes that gobbled up manpower, and the slaves that the Danes had been bringing from the north, the Anglo-Saxons and Irish and Frisians were all strong and very adept at rowing, so the Emperor was open to supporting the Hraes’ or Rhos, as they put it, Trading Company militarily for repayment in serviles and furs and gold.  When the Emperor brought up Roman trade tariffs, Ragnar told him flat out that the Hraes’ Trading Company paid tariffs to no one, that being the main reason that mercenaries might be required to deal with the many intervening kingdoms between the Danes and Romans.  Now the Romans were known to tariff anyone who dealt with them, so it looked as though the trade agreement had hit some rocks, but the Romans really needed the serviles, as they were at war in the Levant and a strong naval presence was required, so the Emperor had relented and gave a verbal approval for tariff-free trade.

King Ragnar would have preferred to stay in Zealand and protect his realm, but his victory had bought them some time and he needed to keep his verbal agreement with the Romans so that a contract could follow.  International trade was always complicated, but the benefits were very lucrative.  And Prince Harald had garnered himself an Emperor of the Franks, so Ragnar needed Imperial support as well, in the Emperor of the Romans.  And King Ragnar had just acquired several thousand Anglish Dane and Frankish prisoners of war who were just the types of men the Romans needed to row their war machines.  In his haste to depart the continent, Ragnar had not had the time to offer the captives up for ransom, and in his rush to get the spring trading underway, he forgot to send messengers to Jutland with names of men and ransoms requested for each of them and this would prove to be a mistake.

In both Aesir and Vanir law, people who were captured in war or in raids had to be offered for ransom by relatives for three days or the captives were considered kidnapped, an act of piracy, but if some captives were ransomed and others left because of lack of relatives with wealth, those captives then became legally enslaved and could be kept or sold by their captors at their discretion.  When the Irish merchant fleet arrived in Liere from Dublin, Queen Imaira sent along Irish slaves, young men, women and children that had been captured from rival clans and had been offered up for ransom and the ones in Liere were the sorry unransomed.  Likewise, when Prince Agnar sent his Anglish merchant fleet to Liere from York, he sent along Anglish and Saxon men, women and children captured in raids upon Mercia and Wessex and also unransomed.  Ransoms started at essentially the cost of slaves, but went up in price with the status and standing of the captives and could be quite profitable when it involved princes and royalty, but the value of slaves in Baghdad or Constantinople was just that, the value of a slave.  A prince stripped to his waist to show the strength of his back was worth no more than a farmer thus stripped, and perhaps, even quite a bit less.  Likewise, a princess stripped naked to show the pleasure that could be had with her was worth no more than that of a maiden equally blessed and her haughtiness could make her worth a whole lot less.  So ransoms were a custom well practiced save by pirates and a growing number of Norse Vikings who were raiding European coasts indiscriminately.  The Norse Vikings were the small merchant raiding fleets of the Vik Kings of the many fjord petty kingdoms that ranged up the coast of northern Thule and their captives were often not offered for ransom because their fleets were too small to risk sitting offshore for the three days required for legal ransoming.  If defending warfleets came upon them, or other Vikings for that matter, they could quickly lose their lives and their goods, so they raided in a hit and run fashion out of necessity rather than choice.  When they found themselves raiding in a secure locale, they would always opt to ransom captives, for the profits could be that much greater.

Regardless of the reasons, the Nor’Way trade route was being frequented by more and more traders who were taking kidnapped captives east and selling them as serviles, rather than properly enslaved captives.  And now, King Ragnar himself was becoming party to this practice as a result of his war with the Franks and Anglish Danes.  When he sailed east with his large merchant fleet, the pirates of the Baltic fled before him while others joined him posing as merchants with slaves to sell beyond Scythia.  Thus the crimes of slavery were multiplied.  And when they sailed up the Dvina, the fleet stopped and traded with the Sclavs while King Ragnar slept with King Daxo’s daughter and spent time with his son, young King Hwitserk, before leading the fleet on.  The Sclavs had traded furs and honey and amber and captured Slav serviles for cloth and woolens and weapons and many Sclav merchants paid Ragnar a tithe and joined up with the Hraes’ merchant fleet and headed south with them.

The fleet stopped along the banks of the Dnieper and traded in the city of Kiev, while King Ragnar visited with King Olmar of the Poljane Slavs.  There were Khazar traders in the city and they were surprised to find northern Hraes’ traders there.  They all knew of the Hraes’ traders on the Volga and some had even dealt with Ragnar trading in the city of Bulghar on the Volga, but they had not expected to see the Hraes’ trading fleet passing through Khazar controlled territory which included Kiev and all Dnieper lands south to the Scythian Sea and up to Roman Cherson.  Ragnar told them he had a verbal agreement with Emperor Michael of Constantinople for his Sor’Way trade route and they seemed happy with that explanation.

Back in Denmark, Prince Harald led an embassy to Liere representing both the Anglish Danes of Jutland and the Emperor of Frankia and he renewed his claim to the Kingdoms of Zealand and Skane, but, more importantly, asked the whereabouts of the Anglish and Frankish prisoners of war he had lost and further inquired as to why they had not been offered up for ransom after the Battle of the Schlei.  Princes Ivar and Siward had shown Prince Harald all due respect and Ragnar’s sons shared the highest highseat of the great longhall in Liere, while the visiting prince sat alone on the highest guest highseat.  “I think that ransoms were not offered,” Prince Ivar began, “due to the threat of impending attack from fresh Frankish and Danish forces.  All captives have been taken east for sale as serviles.”

“Serviles?” Harald repeated, “as in slaves to the Roman Empire?”

“As in slaves to anyone in the east,” Ivar corrected him.

“Emperor Louis is going to go bat shit crazy!” Harald exclaimed.  “His army is still occupying King Ragnar’s Roman ring fort.  The Frank officers are all copying King Fridleif’s vellum drawing of it and are taking measurements so they can build their own Roman ring forts when they’re on campaign.  I think he’ll send them here.”

“Let him!” Prince Siward said.  “If the Franks had a tough time fighting Danes on the Schlei, just wait until they come and fight Danes in Denmark.”

“Perhaps we could offer the emperor wergild for his warriors,” Prince Ivar said, a little more practically.  His father would be getting gold for them as serviles so he could use the gold to rent Roman legions and Ivar wanted to stall the Frankish emperor until the Roman legions arrived.

“He’s Christian,” Harald said.  “He’s not going to accept gold for his warriors.  He’s going to want them back!”

“Perhaps we can get them back for him during the next trading cycle?” Ivar pondered.

“That’s a year from now,” Harald replied.  “The Franks won’t wait that long.  He’ll attack you before that.”

Prince Ivar looked over to his brother for an answer.  “Let him!” Prince Siward repeated.  “He’ll be on our turf this time.  It will go far worse for him.”

“I don’t want Zealand wrecked,” Harald admitted.  “There’ll be nothing left for me to claim.”

“The Anglish Danes aren’t going to let you claim Zealand anyway,” Ivar assured him.  “They’re only using you and your claim to take it for themselves.  They want Ragnar’s Sor’Way.  They’re already calling it their Southern Way, their Dan’Way.”

“I have their word,” Harald protested, but he knew Ivar and that he only spoke the truth.

“And they have your Frankish support.  Once they have Zealand, they won’t need you or your Franks.”

“Fock!” Harald cursed.  “I kissed Emperor Louis’ ass for that support.  I even became Christian for it!”

“If you want Zealand, you’re going to have to take it for yourself,” Ivar told him.  “Do it without the Jutlanders, with only Louis’ army and the Angles won’t have a claim on you.  You’re their ally.  You’ll be able to hold it next to them as an equal.  Emperor Louis will see to that.  What ever Frankish forces you have, we’ll meet you with an equal number of Danes and we’ll fight it out between Zealanders alone.  Leave the Angles out of it and it will keep them out of Zealand!”

“I want to include my Skanian allies,” Harald agreed, excitedly.

“Fine,” Ivar answered.  “We’ll just meet them with an equal number of Danes.  Then we can deal with all the rebels at once.”

“I’ll stall Emperor Louis on his missing men,” Harald assured Ivar, “and I’ll be back with the Franks and Skanes in a week.”  He left Liere and took his embassy to Skane.

“Really!” Prince Siward said to Ivar later.  “The Skanians?”

“Dividium et Imperium,” Ivar replied.  “Divide and Conquer.  First we’ll beat the Franks and the Skanes.  Harald won’t do this without his relatives in Skane.  And then the Angles will come to avenge their dearly departed Prince Harald and we’ll beat them as well.  We don’t stand a chance if they come at us all at once, that’s what father was afraid of, but separately, Ragnar would have killed for a chance to deal with those two armies separately.”

“You’re a focking genius, Ivar,” Siward said.  “Ragnar will be so proud of us when he gets back!”

The two princes began drilling their warriors to get them into prime battle condition and they prepared a battlefield south of Liere that had come to be called ‘Loth’ and sometimes ‘Laneus’ in the Latin of the Romans, meaning Shaggy or Woolly supposedly after the grass, but it was really named after Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ and they would have put in the ‘Brok’ if breeches or pants could somehow be worked into a field name or perhaps if a brook had run through it.  But it was just one big ass shaggy grass field and the two princes and their officers set about placing hazel poles at the corners.  Then they trained and marched their men about the field to pack down the shaggy grass and they put floating buoys out past shore so that warships coming from the south would see where the field of battle was.  Then they waited for Prince Harald.

Prince Harald soon arrived with his Franks and was met on shore by his Skanian relatives and their forces.  It would be another battle of foot soldiers, for Ragnar and his army had wiped out the Frankish cavalry had had come up from Aachen with the Frankish foot.  Prince Harald preferred to have his relatives about him during the fighting so he made up his center vanguard with his personal Centuriata and his brothers and uncles and their Skanian troops and he split up the Franks into two formations on his wings.  Princes Ivar and Siward combined their personal Centuriatas into one vanguard and they split an equal number of Zealanders into two formations on the wings and they sent the rest of their troops back to Liere as they had agreed.

The Franks beat a few drums but there were no horns or trumpets, only Roman war whistles for communication within ranks, and no arrows flew and no spears were hurled.  This was personal, between princes, and the shield walls crashed and the hacking began.  There was hard fighting for about two hours, then the ranks thinned and melee fighting took over.  Then a huge Skanian of amazing size fought his way up in front of Prince Siward and promised that Siward should straightaway rejoice and be whole, as he was about to consecrate him to join all the souls the prince had overcome in battle and had sent to Valhalla.  Nor did he conceal his name, but said that he was called Rostar ‘the Skanian’.  Prince Siward faced off against the giant and was fighting him bravely but had to give up ground in front of him and move about him quickly, as speed was his greatest ally in fighting such a huge man.  Prince Ivar saw that Siward was up against more than he could handle, so he started working his way toward his brother to help, but he couldn’t get through the throng between them.  Rostar ‘the Skanian’ kept thrusting at Siward with his long sword, but Siward would dart out and evade the thrust and then dart in and give the giant a thrust of his own, but his sword would not bite, or if it did it made a mere flesh wound.  The two circled each other and kept up this thrusting dance for a while as Ivar watched and began to suspect that magic of some sort was involved, for, indeed, Siward’s thrusts were not being felt by the giant when they landed.  Siward was fast, springing forward, thrusting hard and then bouncing back, but the strokes he landed had no effect on the giant.  Ivar called one of his men over and took a weapon off his back and worked on it as he watched his brother.

Siward moved in and jabbed the giant with his sword to no effect and when the giant thrust out with his sword Siward sprang back out of range, but only almost this time.  The giant had been holding back a bit on his thrusts so that Siward sprang back less and less each time, then the giant lunged at him and used a full stroke and Siward didn’t move back quite enough and the tip of the blade caught him slightly in the eyeball and cut him across his cornea in an S-curve and it blinded him and for some reason both his eyes watered up and he couldn’t see to dodge the next blow, then he heard a loud crash and he thought he might have fallen, but, no, he was still standing, and when he’d wiped the tears from his good eye he saw that it was the giant that had fallen on his back dead with an arrow in his eye.

Prince Ivar finally got up to his brother and stood next to him, bow in hand, with another arrow nocked and ready.  “I had to shoot him in the eye,” Ivar said.  “He had some kind of magic spell on his skin that wasn’t allowing you to stab through it.  It probably would have stopped arrows too.”

“I think he blinded my eye,” Siward said and he showed his face to Ivar.  Ivar took his battle gloves off and pried Siward’s eyelids open and he could see that the cornea was cut but there was no blood flowing, no fluid at all, but the cut was in a squiggle like a snake and Ivar said, “It’s a snake!  That focking giant put a snake in your eye!  What kind of magic is this?”

But while they were talking, the Skanians were watching, and they saw their champion, Rostar ‘the Skanian’ lying dead on the ground, killed by one lone arrow, and he was supposed to be proof against all battlefield injury and chatter went through the Skanian ranks that the Danes had more powerful magic and some of the Skane troops began to turn tail and run for their ships.  They believed that magic could work for you in battle, but it could also be turned against you by a more powerful witch or warlock and the Danes must have found just such a warlock, so they fled.  As Prince Harald’s surrounding Skanians melted away from him, his Centuriata took responsibility for the prince’s protection and began marching in reverse, not running, but withdrawing and they took the prince with them.  Suddenly the Frank formations on the wings found that they were being attacked from the rear as Danes poured through the center and swept outwards behind them.  Many were slaughtered before they could even turn to face them, others were in melee combat with a Dane in front of them and were hacked down from behind.  Many others just threw down their weapons and, being young Christians, were completely surprised when the Danish warriors tore off their pants, bent them over their bucklers and plowed them a new furrow on a big ass shaggy grass field that could now be called ‘Lothbrokless’.

Meanwhile, Prince Siward was being tended to by a young witch healer that was helping patch up the wounded.  Some thought that he who did this miracle wished to declare, by the manifest token of his eyes, that the young man was to be cruel in future, in order that the more visible part of his body might not lack some omen of his life that was to follow.  When the young witch healer saw the curved marking of a little snake in his eye she said, “I don’t think this is magic at all!  When the Skanian, this Rostar, thrust at you, the blade was vibrating and as the cut went in the sword vibrated up and down and that is why the cut curves up and down like a snake wriggling across your eye.”  She made up a magic poultice and wrapped it in cloth and told Siward to keep it over his eye and perhaps sight would come back to it, but vision would never be very clear through that one eye.  Still, there were Danes who claimed that the giant, Rostar ‘the ‘Skanian’, had used magic to put a snake in Siward’s eye.  Hence it happened that Siward got the widespread name of Sigurd Snake-Eye, for Sigurd was the Skanian form of the Zealand name Siward and it was a Skanian that had put the snake in him.

Prince Agnar arrived late with some Danish troops he had under his command in Angleland, but arrived too late to help his brothers, Princes Ivar and Sigurd Snake-Eye, but just in time to help them celebrate their great victory with a feast.  He had also brought some fresh Saxon captives with him and was planning to take them down the Sor’Way and follow his father to sell them to the Romans during this trading cycle.  “We’ve captured another two thousand Franks,” Ivar told Agnar as they celebrated on their highseats in Liere, “and perhaps you could take them along and give them to Ragnar so he can rent more Roman legions.”

Both Agnar and Sigurd thought that was a great idea, so Ivar offered to take Agnar’s Zealand troops back to Angleland and help his herses hold the country while Agnar was traversing the Sor’Way.  “Just don’t do any raiding while I’m gone,” Agnar warned his brother.  “The Saxons are getting really pissed about all the raiding I’ve been doing.”  So, after a few days of preparation, Prince Agnar took his slaves and captives east and then south and Prince Ivar led the Danish troops back to Angleland.  When he arrived in York with the troops he found York Castle under siege by a Saxon army.  He caught the Saxons by surprise and drove them off temporarily, but the Danes holding the castle told him it was not provisioned for a long siege and recommended a withdrawal to Zealand until they could return with more troops, so that is what they did. 

Meanwhile, Prince Agnar sailed across the Baltic with his merchant fleet and visited with his young half-brother Hwitserk in Sclavia before sailing south to Kiev.  There he stopped and visited with King Olmar, who warned him that the Khazars were up in arms with the Romans for trading tithe-free with the King Ragnar and the Danes.  Because he was passing through Khazar controlled land, they were entitled to a tax on all goods passing through their lands.  When Emperor Michael told them that the Romans would pay the Danes’ tithes, the Khazar Kagan refused, and it became apparent that there was more to it than just scat.  The Khazars and their Hun tribe felt threatened by the fierce Norsemen and wanted to buy all their furs and slaves and resell them in the southern lands.  They wanted to directly control and profit from all Hraes’ trade.

A few weeks later, Prince Agnar and his slaver merchants joined his father, King Ragnar, in the Saint Mamas quarter of Constantinople, the only Polis within the city in which the Hraes’ or Rhos were allowed to stay while trading.  Ragnar had rented a great estate just inside the walls and the merchant fleets were beached along the shore outside the walls and the king welcomed his son into his great hall and they dined and had wine together.  Ragnar thanked Agnar and blessed his sons, Ivar and Siward, who was now Sigurd Snake-Eye, for the additional Frankish serviles, but he said, “There is some blood bond between the Romans and the Khazars, and I can’t learn what it is, but the Romans are refusing to rent me the legions they’d promised last year because the Khazars are worried I will attack them with the legionnaires.”

“Will the Romans allow us to sell our slaves here?” Agnar asked.

“Oh, yes,” Ragnar confirmed.  “They want all our serviles and even more, for which they pay in fine golden Byzants, but they can’t rent us mercenaries because they don’t want trouble with the Kagan of the Khazars.”

“Perhaps we don’t need the legions,” Agnar offered.  “Ivar and Sigurd defeated the Franks on the field of ‘Loth’ which they can now call ‘Lothbrok’ thanks to the Franks that were bent over on it.”  And he raised his wine goblet and they toasted that success.

“But Prince Harald and his Skanians escaped,” Ragnar lamented.  “He’ll get more troops from Louis ‘the Pious’ and he and the Jutlanders will attack us again.  Jutland is thrice the size of Zealand and the Holy Roman Empire is at least thrice the size of Jutland.  If we can’t buy Roman support we’ll have to turn Zealand over to Prince Harald.  Emperor Louis won’t allow the Angles to take it from him and it will be easier for us to take it back from Harald and his Skanians than from the Angles, should they get their hands on it.  Harald may even share the Sor’Way with us if we make sure it grinds gold for him as well.”

“Will the Angles let him let us?” Agnar asked.  “They do have their own southern way through Slav lands.  The Anglos of Angleland talk about it.”

“And the Angles of Jutland think it is their best kept secret,” Ragnar spat.  “No.  They want our Sor’Way because the Wends and the Obodrites won’t allow them to run serviles through their Slav trade route, and serviles are where the big money is in both Baghdad and Constantinople.”

“The Christian Frank captives I brought keep claiming that the Christians of Constantinople can’t buy them as slaves because of some Papal Bull or other.”

“They prefer pagan slaves, that’s true enough,” Ragnar said, “but they bond the Christians they buy from us and, by the time they work off their debt, their best years are spent anyway.  Then they’ll send them back to Frankia.  Their pagan serviles they just kill and grind up for dog food when they’re spent, but they’re not supposed to do that with Christian bonds, so they send them back to burden their relatives.”

“That’s focked!” Agnar said.

“It’s a rough trade,” Ragnar admitted.

Prince Agnar spent the rest of the summer running the trade in Constantinople while his father sailed off with a merchant fleet to Baghdad.  This was the Zealand Danes trade secret, for the Romans were at war with the Caliphate of Baghdad and such business would be frowned upon by Emperor Michael.  And the Hraes’ trade secret was kept about as long as the Angles.

One day a messenger came from the east and told Prince Agnar to pack up his merchant fleet and meet his father on the Scythian Sea near Cherson.  When the two fleets met up, Ragnar explained that he didn’t want to meet him on Roman lands because he had traded slaves for silver Dinars and spices and other Arabic goods that the Romans might try to confiscate.  “I think we’ll have to put more focus on our Nor’Way trade,” Ragnar told his son.  “At least the Khazars aren’t at war with anyone…yet.  They’ve officially converted to Judaism so they can keep clear of this ongoing Christian Muslim conflict.  But that’s not likely to work, since the other two followers of their Book can’t seem to get along with the Jews.  Thank the gods we’re Aesir!”

“Amon to that!” Agnar agreed using the ancient ‘all-men’ blessing of Zoroaster.

When the two returned to Zealand from the east they learned that the Saxons of Wessex and Anglos of Mercia had driven the Norse Danes out of Anglish Northumbria and a lot of it had to do with Viking raiding and a lot had to do with the Zealanders’ wars with the Anglish Danes and the Franks and their past connection with the scholar Alcuin of York.  “Raise a force and retake Angleland!” King Ragnar ordered his sons.  “I am going to overwinter in Stavanger with Queen Aslaug, and I want York back before spring.  We may have to turn Zealand over to Prince Harald to keep it out of the hands of the Anglish Danes and we can’t lose both!”

After King Ragnar had sailed off to his Vikingdom of Stavanger Fjord, the sons debated over how to accomplish their task of retaking Northumbria while still maintaining a defence of Zealand against a possible attack of the Angles and Franks.

“You lost Angleland,” Sigurd said, “so you should get it back!”

“York was already under siege when I got there,” Ivar argued.  “The position was untenable when I got it from Agnar.”

“It was fine when I left,” Agnar interjected.  “I even took Saxon and Mercian slaves east with me when I left.”

“But that’s why the Saxons already had York under siege!”

“Then you should both go,” Sigurd said.  “I’m still getting treatments for my eye from the young witch that saved it on the ‘Field of Lothbrokless’.”

“You mean the cute young witch that you keep visiting with?” Ivar asked, laughing.  “Shall we go retake Angleland, Agnar?”

“Let me check my schedule,” Agnar replied.  “I can squeeze it in between a raid upon Ireland and an attack on Frisia.”

After raising an army to plunder and ravage Angleland, the two princes sailed off with their warfleet, leaving Prince Sigurd to hold Zealand and his cute young witch.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

11.0  KING RAGNAR RETURNS TO HRAEGUNARSTEAD  (Circa 820 AD)

(Circa 820 AD)  King Ragnar and his fleet arrived at Stavanger Fjord and continued north to Master Island and then to Rennes Isle to check in with a few of his chieftains he had left in charge of certain duties while he was ruling in Denmark and then he sailed east and south into the town of Stavanger which was often called Stafangr at that time.  He checked in with the town hearse, the military officer he left in charge of the town’s protection, just to let him know that any messengers that had to be sent to the king would now go further on up the fjord and not to Liere in Denmark.  The town had been founded by his grandfather, King Hring, two generations earlier and it had doubled in size since his father, King Sigurd had begun trading in the east.  But Ragnar was in a hurry to get home, so he did not stay long or survey much.  He had not seen his wife, Aslaug, in almost a year and the closer he got to her, the more he longed for her smell and her taste and the feel of the woman.

King Ragnar led his small fleet southeast, deeper into Stavanger Fjord, and then they sailed straight east to the very end of it, to the source.  The day was almost spent and Ragnar missed his two sons and hungered for her, who spoiled them, and he wished that perhaps he had built his stead outside the town of Stafangr, but it was more secure nestled in at the end of the fjord, because a fleet would have to penetrate deeply without being sighted to get at his family when he wasn’t there to protect them.  And there was a lookout tower located amongst the trees along the coast where they had turned straight east and a great directional horn had sounded when Ragnar’s fleet had sailed past and they heard the friendly signal, but those far down the fjord had heard it even more loudly and they would know their king and father approached.

A narrow greensward ran along the south edge of the fjord of Hraegunarstead, between the mountains and the vik, a lush meadow the freemen called the bitter green.  At its westernmost point stood a watchtower where another lookout monitored the fjord for ships and listened for the sounds of the directional horn that would warn them if it was friend or foe.  Ragnar watched all the folk of Hraegunarstead rushing along the bitter green to welcome their Vikings home.  In an instant it would be known which warriors were not returning from their dangerous duties, be they trade or war.  Everyone ran across that meadow.  Only the old folk walked.  It was said the bitter green was watered by the weeping of new-found widows; it was a verdant green.

After warning horns had been heard, a longship was spotted sailing up the fjord toward Hraegunarstead.  It was Ragnar’s ship and with a small fleet behind and back of him and the whole household rushed out onto the bitter green to welcome him home.  Erik watched as his stepmother, Kraka, ran amongst the throng along the meadow to greet her husband.  He and his half-brother, Roller, walked calmly, as brave warriors would, But they were still young and impatient, a dozen years old, and they, too, soon broke out in a run and the two boys raced each other to catch up with the throng.  The people stood about, apprehensive, gathered in small moving knots, facing west and swaying with the cool fall wind.  The distinctive white and red sail of Ragnar’s ship could be seen above the waves and, as it neared, a white shield could be seen suspended above it from the mast.  And Ragnar’s Raven Banner fluttered madly above it.  Murmurs raced through the throng as the ship’s bulwarks rose up out of the waters and soon the oars could be seen chomping at the waves.  Men could be made out on the foredeck and then men could be seen scampering about mid-deck, gathering up the sail and unfooting the mast.  As the ship passed along the shore the crewmen at were not at work on the oars waved happily at their people on the shore.  And the people on shore ran back along the bitter green, following the longship’s progress.  Erik and Roller, too, ran with the throng, and soon passed Kraka, and broke away from the group so they could be at the head of the fjord to help haul the ships up on the beach.  Ragnar’s shieldship was rowed till near the shore, then the oars were raised, and it coasted up onto the beach, scudding softly into the salty sand.  Ropes were let out and men jumped into the water and splashed through it as Erik and Roller each took up a rope and pulled it taut.  Soon the multitude grabbed them up and all hauled the ships ashore, as the Vikings stowed their oars.  Roller was at the forestem, below the fierce dragon’s head, and was the first to give Ragnar a hand down off the topstrake.  Erik rushed up to Ragnar and hugged him and the two boys led him to Kraka, who hugged and kissed him warmly.

King Ragnar’s great longhall was the largest of many buildings at Hraegunarstead, a great meadow of a farm at the head of Stavanger Fjord, closed off all around from other land by the heavily forested mountains that surrounded it.  A large craft-house where all the wool was spun, and the cloth was woven stood to the south of the hall, while a long shipwright’s shop, where the sturdy ships for crossing the Nor’Way were built, stood to the north, all three facing west, opening out onto the vik.  Farther down the shore was a large smithy shop where iron was being smelted and steel was being forged.  The sound of the forging hammers could be heard out across the waters, for smith-work would not be stopped for anything short of war.  The homes of Ragnar’s freemen were nestled into the slope behind these buildings and behind the smithy shop there was a greying dilapidated hall in which the household slaves slept.  And behind that were several new slave halls where unransomed captives were held before the spring sailings across the Nor’Way and now the new Sor’Way that was just opening up.  Between the halls and the rising meadow was a loose crescent of outbuildings: a dairy-house where the cows were milked, and the cheeses were moulded and a salt-house where the meat was laid up.  There were cattle barns, horse stables, sheep sheds and granaries and beyond them all, the meadows, fields and pastures rising gently to meet the surrounding mountain forests.  And running down from the mountains was Ulf Creek, wandering and ranging its way south-west through the fields then west through the little settlement and just south past Ragnar’s longhall, where a little wooden bridge crossed it, then out across the beach and into the vik, where it fed the fjord. 

The great longhall of Hraegunarstead was of a size befitting Ragnar’s station as King of Stavanger Fjord and Jaeren Province, being thirty-two feet wide, a hundred and forty feet long and standing twenty-four foot at the gable peak.  It was of massive post and beam construction–the huge, squared timbers having been hauled out of the great mountain forests surrounding the farm–with board and batten walls and a steeply pitched pole and thatch roof that, from the front porch at the gable end, seemed to arc up into the very heavens.  The posts and beams were detailed in carved reliefs of ancient religious motif–the work of finely skilled craftsmen–and the designs marched down the doorposts and across the great oaken entrance doors, twin story panels at the front of the hall.  The heavy front doors were opened with effort by Roller and Erik and Ragnar and Kraka stepped into the main hall and there was a vestibule with a great square entrance hearth where a fierce fire roared, keeping the chill of the doorway at bay.  Ragnar warmed himself in front of the fire as Kraka took his cloak from his shoulders and his sons stripped him of his weapons.  The inner front wall of the hall was studded with pegs upon which guests hung their outer garments and weapons, but Kraka carried his cloak within and the boys followed along with his sword and axe.  In the front half of the hall sleeping benches were butted up endwise to the heavy plank side walls, twelve on either side upon slightly raised platforms, and the walls themselves were adorned with the painted shields and silver inlaid weapons of Ragnar’s hired men and the four walked past them as Ragnar’s men began to file into the hall.  Halfway down the longhall, two sets of triple highseats faced each other, backed against either wall, sitting above the worn plank floor, each upon its own dais.  The highseats, too, were handsomely carved and behind them the walls were rich with tapestries.  Kraka led Ragnar to the highest highseat and she sat him down and then joined him on it, sitting down beside him closely.  In the back half of the hall two dozen more sleeping benches hugged the walls on each side and again and some of Ragnar’s men filed past the highseats and went to their respective benches and started stowing their gear.  Down the centre of the hall ranged six long narrow flagstone hearths spaced out evenly between the two rows of sleeping benches leaving an open area between the two sets of highseats where audiences and entertainments took place.  The wood smoke from the hearth fires rose freely up into the beams and rafters where it blackened them with creosote before escaping through smoke-holes in the thatched roof.  Beyond the main hall were the bedrooms, three plank walled chambers on either side with a six-foot hallway between them.  And at the very back of the hall was the kitchen and scullery where the feasts and the meals were prepared.

The evening was late, but supper had been held off at the sounds of the horns and now at supper were all Ragnar’s men, both hired and free, and the women and children of the stead attended their usual places.  Roller’s mother, Erik’s stepmother, Queen Aslaug or Kraka as she preferred, sat with her king in the highest highseat, and the boys, the young princes, shared the second highseat.  Jarl Brak soon entered the hall from his work in the smithy shop and he joined them on the third highseat with a slave girl he had chosen for the evening.  The matching highseats on the opposite side of the hall were empty, reserved only for guests of high station when they attended upon their king.  Below them the people of Hraegunarstead were occupied with their meals, sitting at the ends of their sleeping benches or on stools with their trencherplates on their laps, devouring roasted and boiled meats, baked breads, meal cakes, curds and cheeses, then washing them down with milk or ale.

Kraka pumped her husband for news of Denmark and the world about it, and for news of his other sons and other wives and of his war with the Jutes.  She called all the folk of Jutland Jutes even though most of them were Angles and only on the northern tip of the peninsula lived Danes who called themselves Jutes.  It was a slight slight, she supposed, for it was the Jutes that had ferried the Saxons across the North Sea in their little ships to southern Angleland after the Angles had conquered and taken the northern half from the Britons and the Angles and Saxons have been scrapping over the island ever since while the Jutes sit in their little corner or Kent of southern Angleland and watch the big show.  When Ragnar told Kraka that they were winning all the battles, but slowly losing the overall war, she lamented the loss but secretly, deep inside, she knew it meant she’d have more time with her husband and a small part of her rejoiced.  She didn’t like the Danes, especially the Zealanders, who had refused to accept her as their queen just because she had been enslaved a few years in Skane.  Now they could be to the Anglish Danes what the Britons were to the Anglos and Saxons of Angleland.  The thought put a warm feeling in her belly and she hoped her husband was up for it.

The next morning, Jarl Brak showed King Ragnar the new project he and his smiths had been working on in the smithy shop down by the waters.  The smithy shop was a long-weathered shed of ancient stone construction with its whole front left open to the sea.  There had been two forges there, but Brak had added two more, complete with coal fired hearths, combustion air bellows and huge flat stone anvils.  His steel smiths were already at work heating strips of steel to a white hot glow and hammering them together to form a tri-layer sword blade.  “One of your Sor’Way traders brought me some iron from a certain mine in Sweden that has pure iron with no carbon contaminants in it,” he told the king.

“But don’t we want carbon in the iron?” Ragnar asked.  “Isn’t that what makes it carbon steel?”

“We want a little,” Brak explained, thinking back to what he had learned in the Alchemists’ Guild, “but bog iron has too much carbon and that makes blades brittle.  With this pure Swedish iron we can add as little or as much as we want.”  He then walked Ragnar over to some long soapstone boxes that lined the back of the shop and they were full of long strips of steel that rested in coal dust.  “We filled these soapstone chests with iron strips in beds of coal powder and fired them for many weeks and the heated carbon from the coal soaked into the iron very slowly in a controlled fashion and the longer we soaked them, the harder the steel that the iron turned into, so we use a harder strip for the center of the blade, the one that holds the odd or edge, and we pancake it between two softer strips and hot forge it into one blade.  The harder, more brittle center strip is reinforced by the two more flexible strips on either side, giving swords unique qualities by varying the carbon contents of all three strips.  It’s new with the Guild, and came out of the Cathay Guild and parts even further east.”

“There are parts further east than Cathay?” Ragnar asked, surprised.

“Just the one,” Brak said, “the Land of the Rising Sun.”

“How big is this land?”

“Very small,” Brak answered.  “I’ve heard it’s a number of islands about the size of your Angleland and then that’s it, just water after that, the great Atlantean Sea for thousands of miles, sailing east until you reach Ireland.”

“Didn’t an Irish priest sail west until he reached land?” Ragnar asked.  “I heard some Irish priests talking about it in Dublin.  Queen Imaira sainted him for it.”

“Then he must have sailed for thousands of miles,” Brak replied.

“Your probably right.  Those Irish are a stubborn lot!  And so are the Anglish.  My Angleland is up in revolt.  I had to send Ivar and Agnar to tune them up.”

“Ivar will tune them up!” Brak assured him.  “He has a fine ear for music.”

“Sure!  The music of sword play,” Ragnar said, using the kenning for battle.

“Funny you should say that,” Brak interjected.  “This new sword type has a peculiar ring to it.”

“What do you call it?”

“I dunno?  Just a peculiar ring, like a vibrating ting.”

“I meant the sword type.  What is the forging type called, like Damascus?”

“Oh!  It’s from the east, and they had an oriental name for it…Sammy, I think.”

“You mean Sammi, like the Finns?”

“No.  Sam My, I think.  I just call it three strips pancaked.”

“Pancakes won’t sell swords,” Ragnar replied, ever the merchant.  “We’ll call it Tri-Blade to go with our Tri-Guard.  You’re still putting the Raven Banner guards on it, right?”

“Oh yeah!” Brak assured him.  He knew how much Ragnar liked branding and the Hraes’ Tri-Guard was becoming famous along the Nor’Way trade route.  It was a steel guard with Raven Banner shaped tips pointing forward towards the blade to keep blows from deflecting outwards.  “Our Tri-Guard will now have a new Tri-Blade.  Three plies of finely tuned steel custom forged for the sword play!”

“Now that will sell!  Now show me the ting!”

Brak had his foremost smith bring over two of the Tri-Guard Tri-Blade swords and the smith flipped him a sword and they started the sword play for their king.  The young smith was fast with his blade, but Brak was very quick for an old guy and the blades were ringing off each other and each blade had it’s own peculiar ting that would ring out and vibrate a little after the blades had crossed against each other.  “The ting of the swords varies,” Brak explained as the two men dueled, steel on steel, “with the weight of the blade, the carbon contents, and the quality of the forging.  Get one of the heavier swords,” Brak told his adversary, and when he came back, Ragnar could hear the difference in the ting of the blade and he also saw that, suddenly, Brak had gotten faster than his apprentice.  Then Brak broke off and got a bad blade from their small reject pile.  “This one has a cold spot in the forging,” Brak said, as they began dueling again, and Ragnar could hear the flat spot in the ring of it.  Brak stopped dueling and said, “We can actually test the quality of the blade by the ting of it!” and he rested both hands on the pommel of the sword.  The pommel was another peculiar aspect of the Hraes’ Tri-Sword.  It was a spherical piece of tonstone with a steel ring formed around it and forge welded to the hand grip to counterbalance the weight of the blade, and the tonstone, if properly refined, had the same weight density of gold, but the hardness of iron, and it was this tonstone that had first caught the attention of the Guild.

The Alchemists’ Guild was renowned for its ability to turn lead into gold, using their Baghdad batteries called Arcs, but a Greek named Archimedes had come up with a way of detecting the gold plated lead statues and art works, which he had called weight by water displacement or buoyancy.  Because tonstone had the same specific weight as gold, it passed the Archimedes test, and such gold plated objects could no longer be detected.  And where was this tonstone found, one might ask?  “While your trader was in Sweden, he picked up another load of tonstone,” Brak added.  “You can sell it to the Guild through the Khazars next summer.”

Ragnar led Brak down to the shoreline, away from his men a bit.  “The Khazars have been causing trouble for us,” he told the old Goth.  “They want to control everything, Volsung, the Thervings, Kiev.  All of it!”

“You can still portage across to the Don River,” Brak added, “can’t you?” he asked.

“They’ve started on the Fortress of Sarkel again.  The Romans loaned them more gold.”

“Red gold?” Brak asked.  “More red gold rings of Byzantium?”

“Yes,” Ragnar answered.  “And they don’t send out just one fire-breather anymore.  They send at least three!”

“That’s too focking many to attack,” Brak said, sitting down on a great flat stone next to him and staring out into the fjord.

“There’s some kind of connection, some kind of blood bond between the Romans and the Khazars,” Ragnar complained, “but I can’t find out what it is.  And that focking Prince Harald has the Franks up in arms against us.  I’m going to have to give him Zealand just so he’ll share the Sor’Way with us.  I have to keep it out of the Angles hands.  They won’t share!”

“Will Harald?” Brak asked.  “Will the Angles let him keep it himself?”

“Harald kisses Louis ass, and with the Franks behind him, the Angles will have to let him, and they will as long as he shares the Sor’Way with them as well.  Ivar had a plan to fight Harald and his Franks on Zealand and kill them all, especially Harald, but he ran off and got away.  Ivar captured all the Franks that survived though and I got gold for them in Constantinople.  They’ll all be spending the next twenty years working off their bonds rowing those new Roman triremes.”

“They’re probably already rowing those fire-breathers,” Brak spat in disgust.

“Yeah!” Ragnar spat as well.  “Anyway, if Ivar had killed Harald, maybe the Frankish problem would have gone away.  Then we could handle the Angles, but combined, we can’t hold her.  If I let Harald have Zealand, it will save him face for having run off and leaving Louis’ Frank troops there to be bent over their shields and sold in the east.  And I’ll only let him have it if he shares.”

“We need that Swedish tonstone,” Brak lamented, “and this new iron.”

“We’re Vikings!  We can smuggle it.  We’re half pirate, half merchant, and we can always haul through the mountain passes if need be.”

Brak looked down at the water.  They needed ships to haul heavy cargo.  Mule trains were expensive and the wains always broke down.  Especially hauling tonstone.  It weighed a ton!  One good cargo knar could haul as much tonstone and iron as twenty mule trains, and a lot quicker too!  That’s why the Roman lands went all the way around the Mediterranean coast, or used to.  Their Roman legions didn’t go anywhere that their ships couldn’t go by sea or river.  They tried, but their biggest defeats were in areas their supply chain couldn’t reach.  “Fock it!  Let’s have lunch,” Brak offered and the two men and their smiths headed up for the great hall.  All the other free folk of Hraegunarstead were also going up to the great hall for lunch and Ragnar saw his son, Erik going into the hall alongside the dwarf, Dvalin.

“Why is Erik walking in with Dvalin?” Ragnar asked Brak.

“They both work with me in the smithy shop when they can,” Brak said, “and Dvalin has agreed to teach Erik the language of the dwarves.  Erik picks up languages fast.  He’s a quick study in the smithy as well.”

“I don’t know how he could learn it,” Ragnar said.  “It’s like the twittering of birds.  I pick up languages pretty fast, but not that one.”

“I know,” Brak agreed.  “They’re starting to talk it when they’re working in the shop and it’s like a couple of ravens chattering.  I had to tell them to speak Norse.  It was distracting the men from their work.”

They sat down in their highseats and a slave brought them their trencherplates of meat and bread and cheese and horn cups of ale.

“Good,” Ragnar agreed.  “Distractions cause rejected work and that costs silver.  But it’s a good thing for young Erik to learn.  Someday we might begin trading in Giantland.”

“Fock!” Brak cursed.  “You’ve been to Giantland, Ragnar.  You know that’s not going to happen anytime too soon.  I’ve heard the stories coming out of there.”

“It’s not as bad as the tales make out,” Ragnar calmed him.

“When you say that, I know it’s worse.”

“What are you two talking about?” Kraka asked as she joined Ragnar on the highest highseat.

“We were talking about Erik learning the dwarf tongue,” Ragnar told her as he kissed her.  “It’s like the twittering of birds.”

“I like the twitter of birds,”  Kraka said regally.  “They’re like two robins talking away.”

“I’m hearing two ravens cawing,” Ragnar said and Brak laughed.  “Where’s Roller?”

“He rode up into the higher fields to check on the cattle,” Kraka answered.  “I packed him a lunch.  He’ll be back for supper.”

That night Erik got up out of bed and put his outer clothes on and was going to sneak out of the bedroom he shared with his brother.  “Where you goin’?” Roller said as he was walking to the door.  Erik looked back and saw Roller’s blonde hair and flashing blue eyes by the moonlight that eked into the room through the translucent mica panes of the window between their beds.  His head was poked out from under his woollen blankets.

“Dvalin and I are working on a special project in the smithy shop,” Erik told him.  “I’ll be back later.”

“You two are up to no good,” Roller said and he ducked back under his blankets.  The fall air was cool and soon the shutters would be closed on the windows and there would be no moonlight to give him away, Erik thought as he snuck out of the longhall.  Dvalin was waiting for him at the smithy and they both stepped in and lit some candles off the covered coals of one of the forging hearths.  “I’ve got it here,” Erik said, pulling out a large key to the women’s slave hall of the stead.  The two set to work forging a copy of it.  Dvalin pumped a bellows and got the coals back aflame as Erik got some key stock.  They heated up the material and beat it to a matching thickness to fit the locks and then they filed the teeth to match the key Erik had taken from the post behind Ragnar’s highseat.  “We’ll meet at the women’s slave hall this time tomorrow,” Dvalin told Erik in Dwarf tongue.

“Don’t worry,” Erik replied in Dwarf, “I’ll keep my end of this bargain.”

When Erik got back to the longhall, he put the key back in its place and snuck back in his room.  He half expected Roller to comment on something, but he could see he was asleep by the faint light carrying through the mica.  He took the key he had made and tied a cord around it and put it under his bed then undressed and crawled under his wool blankets and settled into his feather mattress and drifted off to sleep.

The next night, Erik met Dvalin at the women’s slave hall where Ragnar kept his captive female slaves that were to be taken east in the spring.  Dvalin passed Erik a torch and lit it off the burning torch he carried and Erik unlocked the Roman merchant lock that sealed off the hall with the key he kept around his neck.  He tucked the key back under his shirt and they proceeded into the building.  There were willow barred slave pens on either side of the hall and each held about a dozen women and girls.  Erik had promised Dvalin six of them for a night if he would teach him the tongue of the Dwarfs.  Dvalin was a slave of low standing and hadn’t had a woman since arriving in the west so he made sure he had found repair work to do in the hall and he had already selected the women that he was interested in and had shown some interest in him.  It was mostly red haired Irish women that had shown a curiosity in Dvalin and it was because there were some dwarfs in Ireland and the women had heard tales of them.

“I’d like this one,” Dvalin told Erik in Dwarf, “and that young one over there.”  Then they moved on to the next pen and Dvalin selected another two that had shown interest and they stopped at a third pen that held another woman and a young girl that the dwarf picked out.

Dvalin led the women to the back of the hall where there was a pen for any captive royal princesses that might be taken.  It was empty, but it was the only pen that had beds in it.  The other pens had straw on the floor for beds that would be changed out weekly.  Erik followed behind the six women and then went up to the door of the princess pen and unlocked it.  Dvalin led the women into the pen and Erik put the torches into holders on the hall posts and locked the door behind them and watched from outside the cage as Dvalin undressed each and every woman.  He walked back and forth in front of them, waiting for one to show some interest.  He was a full head shorter than the women, except for one of the girls, a blonde Anglish maiden who was still quite a bit taller.  Dvalin then started undressing himself and he stood in front of them and they could see that he was hard and not at all short in one respect and soon an Irish woman stepped forward and offered herself up as though to save the others.

There was one large bed in the center of the pen and it must have been queen sized, for it was much larger than the other princess beds, and Dvalin led his queen into that bed and they coupled for a good half hour under the blankets.  The queen was soon moaning in her pleasure and her sounds awakened passions in two others and they joined them in bed as well.  Finally the fourth woman joined in, leaving the two girls standing in the middle of the pen, naked.  After an hour of love making, Dvalin shouted to Erik in dwarf, “Help me, Erik!  I’ve bitten off more than I could chew!” and he looked over at the girls standing.  “Help me, Erik!  I’ve saved the young ones for you!”

Erik wasn’t sure of himself, but he had just turned twelve and was now of marriageable age, so he felt he should partake and he unlocked the pen and stepped inside, locking the pen behind himself.  He took the two young girls over to a princess bed and they began undressing him and he took them into bed under the covers, and the one girl who’d had some experience went first and took Erik’s virginity and then Erik took the second girl’s.  As they were making love, one of the torches sputtered out and when they were finished the second went out.  “Let’s stay awhile in the darkness,” Erik heard Dvalin say in Dwarf.  So Erik slept with his girls, one under each arm and Dvalin shook him awake a few hours later and told him it was time to leave.  Faint light was coming in through mica windows and Erik saw that it was almost dawn.  They straightened up the princess pen as best they could and Dvalin said he had an assignment there first thing in the morning and would do a better job of it in the light, so they returned the women to their respective pens and slipped out of the women’s slave hall and returned to their own respective halls.

In late fall a messenger ship arrived from Zealand with word of negotiations with Prince Harald, who was staying in his estate near Jelling in Jutland.  Common relatives had offered to broker a peace between the prince and his king and Harald had agreed to accept rule in Zealand and share the Sor’Way with Ragnar.  He was to also patch up any grievances the Franks had with Ragnar’s sale of captive Frankish troops at no cost to Ragnar and Harald would be allowed to share the trade route with the Anglish Danes as well, but only if they demanded it.  The handover was to take place in the spring just prior to the sailing of merchant fleets over the ‘Way.

A little later, another ship arrived from Angleland with news that Princes Ivar and Agnar had been successful in retaking York and the rule of Northumbria.  It was also agreed that Prince Sigurd Snake-Eye would join the brothers in Angleland shortly after the handover of Zealand to Prince Harald.

A few weeks before Yulefest it was discovered that one of the young captive slaves in the women’s slave hall had been impregnated by some male of Hraegunarstead, a young Irish girl, and then an older Irish woman was soon found to be pregnant as well and soon four others were throwing up too.  An investigation was started and all fingers were pointed at the dwarf Dvalin except for two.  When those fingers began pointing in a princely direction, the investigation was hushed up and the slave women were returned to Ireland under the caring watchful eye of Queen Imaira of Dublin.  “Those women slept with us to get pregnant,” Erik told Dvalin in Dwarf as they worked their penance off in the smithy shop under the strict tutelage of Jarl Brak.  “They wanted to get sent back to Ireland instead of being shipped off to Baghdad!”

“That is quite likely,” Dvalin replied in Dwarf.  “But wasn’t it a fine night?  Was it not well worth it?”  Dvalin had stopped swinging his forging hammer and he looked out from the shop towards the fjord.  He longed for his home in Giantland, but he knew his only way back was across the Nor’Way in one of the special Nor’Way ships they built specifically for the great crossing.  He was already a Varangian, for he had made the great crossing one way already.  He wondered if crossing back the other way could make him an Un-Varangian.

CHAPTER TWELVE

12.0  THE BATTLE OF ZEALAND  (Circa 822 AD)

“The Danish Angles of the Anglo-Saxons called England, Angleland, because they had conquered the northern half from the Romano-Britons first, but the German Saxons of the Anglo-Saxons preferred to call it Anglo-Saxony, because they had conquered their half last.  It was the Saxon King Alfred ‘the Great’ of Wessex, who had married his eldest daughter, AEthelflaed to an Anglo-Mercian king, and Alfred was the first who had called himself King of the Anglo-Saxons and called the country England.”

Brian Howard Seibert

(Circa 822 AD)  King Ragnar and his fleet arrived at the harbour town that serviced Liere in early spring and the king and his troops rode to Liere and were welcomed by Prince Sigurd Snake-Eye.  “Welcome father,” Sigurd said gayly.  “I thought Agnar would beat you home, but he has yet to arrive.  Ivar wanted to rule Angleland for a while, so Agnar is leading the Danish troops back for victory celebrations.”

“They’ll be short celebrations then,” Ragnar told his son, “because Prince Harald has accepted our offer to rule for us in Zealand.  Half the troops will be returning to Angleland with Agnar and half will be going to Stavanger.”

“And what of me?” Sigurd asked.

“You shall be joining Agnar and Ivar in Angleland,” Ragnar answered as they entered the palatial longhall in Liere and went the highseats where slaves had refreshments ready for the king and his officers.  The captains and hearses poured in behind them and sat at their benches and waited for the servant girls to wait upon them.  “What shall all three of us be doing in Angleland?  We only need one prince there.”

“One of my sons can rule York while the other two go out and raid Wessex and Mercia.  We need more slaves for both the Nor’Way and the Sor’Way, which means twice as much raiding.  And don’t forget to offer ransoms.  I don’t want to hear any complaints from the Saxons!”

The Zealand merchant fleet continued making preparations for the spring sailing across the Sor’Way as King Ragnar would still be leading the Scandinavian merchant fleet south while Prince Harald ruled in Zealand and kept the peace between the Angles and the Danes.  If the Angles wanted to send their own merchant fleet down the Sor’Way, they would have to lead it on their own.  But when Prince Harald arrived in Liere at the head of his Frankish troops for the handover, he told Ragnar that the Angles were still planning on using their own land based trade route through Wendland.

“That’s all the Franks you brought with you?” Ragnar asked suspiciously.  He thought that Harald had perhaps hidden some in reserve somewhere.  “That’s all Emperor Louis would give me,” Harald complained.  “Just the troops he had stationed in your Roman ring fort in Hedeby.”

“That’s going to leave you severely short handed.  How are you going to man all the posts we have in Zealand and Fyn?”

“We’ll manage,” Prince Harald said confidently.  “You needed all the posts manned in case the Angles attacked you.  I, on the other hand, do not have that problem.”

“All right then” Ragnar replied.  “Prince Agnar and Sigurd will be taking our Danish troops back to Angleland for some raiding and I shall be leading the great merchant fleet east and we’ll pick up your Skanian merchant fleet along the way.  ”Be diligent in your rule here.  I don’t want to hear a bunch of Zealander complaints when I get back from Baghdad.”

Princes Sigurd and Agnar sailed west to Angleland with half the Danish forces and Jarl Brak led the other half north to Stavanger, while King Ragnar led the great Hraes’ merchant fleet east across the Baltic.  Brak would station the troops in the town of Stafangr before leading the Norse merchant fleet across the Nor’Way.  They left later than the Sor’Way traders because they had to wait for the Barents Sea ice to melt before the great storm would come and carry them all the way across the Nor’Way and deposit them in the White Sea.

Prince Harald settled into the palace in Liere and his new rule there.  He kept the bulk of his meagre Frankish troops in Liere and sent a cohort off to Fyn to show token sovereignty over the island.  The Frank commander there soon returned back to Liere with news of military sightings in nearby Jutland.  Warships were seen gathering in the harbour off Jelling and troops were assembling there as well.  They had also heard reports that the Angles had sent only a small group of merchants off to Constantinople via Wendland.  The Frankish officer wanted to withdraw his five hundred men from Fyn and bring them back to Liere.  He warned Harald that the Angles were planning an invasion of Denmark.  But Prince Harald assured the captain that the Angles were their allies and the activity was likely just training manoeuvres.  The officer got back to Fyn just in time to be captured along with the rest of his cohort.  The Angles invaded the little island with a force of at least ten thousand men.  The Franks didn’t even raise a sword.  They knew the drill and they bent over their shields and surrendered.  But the Angle soldiers didn’t rape the Frank troops and they treated them with great respect and called them allies and allowed them to go back to their Roman ring fort outside Hedeby and told them to tell Emperor Louis that his troops in Zealand would also be allowed to return unharmed to Hedeby as allies.

Most of the men of Fyn were either off to Constantinople and Baghdad with the great Hraes’ merchant fleet or in Angleland or Stavanger with the sons of Ragnar Lothbrok.  So the Anglish troops settled in on Fyn and were bivouacked with the wives of the men who were away and pretty much had their way with them and their daughters and their sons if so inclined.  They stayed on the island and feasted and drank and ravaged and plundered while their Prince Hemming, called the Sea-King Odd, meaning edge, because he had been considered the Spearhead of the dead King Fridleif, waited for Harald to make a move.  After Fridleif’s death in battle against King Ragnar’s troops near Hedeby, the Angles of Jutland chose his young son, the seven year old Prince Frodi, as their new king.  Prince Hemming had been his brother, Fridleif’s sea king, prior to his death and remained sea king under the young King Frodi, who remained in Jelling with his guardians.

Prince Harald sent messengers off down the Sor’Way to warn Ragnar and messengers of to Ingleheim pleading for aid from Emperor Louis.  After a month of ravaging Fyn, the island was almost plundered out, so the Angles began raiding in Zealand and carrying off their women.  Still there was no response from Harald, so they began occupying south Zealand and plundered and ravaged there.  Harald was waiting for a return messenger from the Emperor but, when the messenger came he would only talk to the Frankish commander and he gave the Emperor’s instructions.  “You are to march south and surrender to the Angles, who will return you safely to Frankia.”  Emperor Louis had gotten his cohort back from the island of Fyn and they told the emperor that they’d been treated surprisingly well by the Angles, which was more than King Ragnar had ever done, bending his Frankish troops over their shields and then selling them in Constantinople, not once, but twice!

The commander of the Franks gathered up his fifteen hundred troops, the bulk of the regiment that had manned the Roman ring fort outside Hedeby, and he marched them to southern Zealand where they surrendered to the Anglish troops who were raping and pillaging there.  The Sea King Odd had them ferried across to Fyn where he bivouacked them with the Fyn wives while he completed the plundering of Zealand.  His occupation forces on Fyn feasted the Frank troops and favoured them with the ravaged wives of the island until the warfleet could return from the invasion to ferry them back to Hedeby where their remaining cohort awaited them.  Still, there was no response from Prince Harald.  After a month, Zealand was fully occupied and Liere was surrounded and Prince Harald surrendered with the few Skanian troops that remained loyal to him.  The Sea King Odd sailed back to Jelling with him and put him under house arrest on his estate outside the city, then he took King Frodi and his family and guardians back to Liere to establish his rule over Zealand.  Then Odd sailed to Fyn and feasted with the Frankish troops and gave them gifts of Zealand women and plunder and he gave them gold to give to their emperor.  He told them that Prince Harald would be allowed to visit his estate in Saxony as soon as his family was settled into his princely estate outside Jelling.

After the death of King Fridleif, his son Frodi, aged seven, was elected in his stead by the unanimous decision of the Danes.  But they decided that, due to the young age of the new king, a large group of guardians should assist in his rule, lest the sovereignty should fail due to the youthfulness of the ruler.  The Angles of Denmark paid such respect to the name and memory of King Fridleif, that the royalty was bestowed on his son despite his tender years.  So a selection was made, and the brothers Westmar and Koll were summoned to the charge of bringing up the king.  Isulf, also, and Agg and eight other men of rank were not only entrusted with the guardianship of the king, but also granted authority to administer the realm under his name.  These men were as rich in strength and courage as they were in wealth, and were endowed with ample gifts of mind as well as of body.  Thus the unified state of Denmark was to be governed with the aid of regents until the king became a man.

The wife of Koll was Gotwar, head witch of the Anglish Aesir, and she was so skilled at flyting and insults that she could paralyse the most eloquent and fluent men by her glib tongue and extraordinary insolence.  Words were her weapons and she not only trusted in questions and riddles, but was quick with seithr answers.  No man could subdue this woman, who could not fight, but would shoot darts from her tongue instead.  Some she would argue down with a flood of impudent words, while others she seemed to entangle in the meshes of her quibbles, and strangle in the noose of her sophistries; so nimble a wit had the woman.  Moreover, she was very strong, either in making or cancelling a bargain, and the sting of her tongue was the secret of her power in both.  She was clever both at making and at breaking leagues; thus she had two sides to her tongue, and used it for either purpose.

Westmar had twelve sons, three of whom had the same name, Grep, and these three boys were conceived at once and delivered at one birth, and their common name declared their simultaneous origin.  They were being trained to be exceedingly skillful swordsmen and boxers.  King Frodi had also passed on the supremacy of the sea to Prince Hemming, the Sea King Odd; who was very closely related to the king.  Koll rejoiced in an offspring of three sons.  King Frodi had a sister, Gunwar, surnamed ‘the Fair’ because of her manifesting beauty.  The sons of Westmar and Koll, being ungrown in years and bold in spirit, let their courage become recklessness and were thought to be on a path both foul and degrading.

And this is what King Ragnar found his Zealand had devolved to when he returned from his trading in the east.  The island had been raped and plundered, as had Fyn, and a great Anglish army now occupied the land.  The Sea King Odd rowed out from Liere with his warfleet to challenge King Frodi, but the size of the great Hraes’ merchant fleet made attacking it a daunting task, for the merchants were all Vikings and Varangians, fully armed and ready to fight to protect their trade goods and leader.

“I’ll let you pass!” the Sea King Odd said.  “But the Sor’Way is now the Dan’Way and next year you traders will find us here in Liere to accept your tithes.  If you, King Ragnar, care to dispute this, I shall gladly meet your warfleet with mine, and whatever size fleet you bring, I shall match it ship for ship and send the rest of mine away and I give you one month to respond and don’t dally about it like Prince Harald did!”

“I accept your challenge!” Ragnar shouted in reply and he led his merchant fleet through the sound between Zealand and Skane and sent his merchants home with a call to arms of all his dispersed fleets throughout the Norse Sea region.  He then carried on with his own merchant fleet and they went to Stavanger Fjord where half his Danish troops were stationed.  Princes Agnar and Sigurd came from Angleland with the other half of their Danish troops and they made preparations for war on Rennes Isle at the mouth of the fjord.  Jarl Ladgerda and Fridleif came to Rennes Isle with her Norse warfleet and Queen Imaira sent her Dublin Danish warfleet under the experienced command of the Shield-Maiden Rusila and her sons by Finn of Fin-Gael and Starkad.  King Biorn of Sweden led a warfleet from Birka to help his father.

Soon after King Biorn left Sweden, Prince Huyrwil, the lord of Oland, rose up in revolt against the Swedes and made a league with the Anglish Danes and joined the attack on King Ragnar.  As the two warfleets were assembling, Biorn and his father, Ragnar, watched as Prince Huyrwil and his small Oland warfleet sailed right by them and went on south and joined the Anglish Danish fleet.  The Sea-King Odd had met with King Ragnar earlier and they had agreed to fight their naval battle in the narrow sound between Skane and Zealand and the Norse Danish fleet was beached and camped along the Skanian coast as it gathered and the Anglish Danish fleet beached along the Zealand side of the sound.  The sons of Ragnar set up their awnings on the south side of the king’s huge Roman red pavilion he had picked up in Constantinople and the wives of Ragnar set up their tents on the north side.  Once a few last straggler warships had arrived on the coast of Skane, the Norse warfleet hit the water and rowed out to the middle of the sound.  The Anglish warfleet was not long assembling to meet them and the Sea-King Odd counted the warships facing him and he sent a third of his fleet sailing south to return to Jelling in Jutland.  Odd always met his foes with an even number of ships, taking pride in the fact that he had never needed an advantage to win his sea battles.

King Ragnar suffered under no such illusions.  The Finns had taught him that much in the snowy wastelands of Permia and he had learned, the hard way, to make use of any advantage he could garner from an enemy, so he, too, counted the ships of the Angles.  He also felt it might motivate his young sons if he put his experienced shield-maidens, Ladgerda with her son and the Trondheim fleet and Rusila with her sons and the Irish fleet on the right flank of his Stavanger warships, and he placed his sons, Biorn and Ivar and Siward and Agnar with their Danish and Swedish warships on his left.  His Stavanger sons, Roller and Erik, had wanted to come, and were almost old enough to join in, but Princess Aslaug would countenance no such thing, so they reluctantly stayed at Hraegunarstead with their mother.

The Sea-King Odd had no such mixing and matching to do.  He put half his Centuriata officers in charge of half the Anglish warfleet on his right flank, and he put half his Centuriata officers in charge of the other half on his left flank.  In the center he placed his shieldship and six others to face King Ragnar, and the six other ships were filled with berserker warriors, the followers of Westmar and Koll, the foremost guardians of young King Frodi, who was also yet too young to fight.  As the two warfleets closed with each other in the middle of the sound, Odd saw the shield-maidens and their fleets on his left and he pulled the berserks out of the line and sent them back and around his own fleet to attack them from his far left.  The sea-king ascertained that it was there that the Norse were weakest and it was there that he would gain a quick victory.

Once the ships had rowed close enough, the men at the bows all began shooting their arrows skyward and the rowers grabbed their shields from the top-strakes and strapped them to their backs in time to thwart the shower of darts.  But they remained at their oars and drove the warships forward into the fray as the decks danced with the sway of arrows thwacking their way into wood.  As the two fleets collided with the snapping of oars and the lurching of rowers, grappling hooks were thrown out into opposing ships and the bulwarks collided and boarding planks went down and groups of warriors crossed them and set up little fighting bridgeheads on the opposing ships’ decks.  King Ragnar led a group of his finest warriors across a boarding plank and onto the shieldship of King Odd, but he could see him nowhere.  The fighting was hard and their bridgehead could make little progress, for Odd’s ship had been manned with the bravest of his warriors, but, still, Ragnar could not see Odd anywhere and he would stand out because he was a very big man.

“Where the fock is he, Brak?” Ragnar shouted as the two fought their way to the mast.

“He was on his shieldship,” Brak said, as they took a breather behind their shield wall, “and this is his shieldship…”

“He’s up to no good!” Ragnar shouted.  “Take over this attack for me.  I’ve got to find him!”  But the Angles were fighting back hard and used their breather to drive the men away from the mast.

The Sea-King Odd had slipped away from his ship and had joined Westmar and Koll of their shieldship and they led the small berserker attack fleet around their own and sailed straight for Shield-Maiden Rusila’s ships.  When the ships collided and were lashed together, a swarm of raging berserkers leaped across the topstrakes, not waiting for planks, and landed on the foredeck of Rusila’s ship and began attacking her warriors and shield-maidens and drove them back towards the mast.  There was much carnage and the mad berserks were soon in a sexual frenzy and were raping the captured shield-maidens and were even falling upon the dead ones.  The Warrior maiden Rusila was amidships driving another swarm of berserkers back onto their own ship and was trying to protect her youngest son Gunholm, who could barely hold his own against the wild berserks.  She had just driven the last of the berserks she was facing off her ship when King Odd and Westmar and Koll and their group of berserks arrived fighting from the foredeck.  She pulled her shield to her left and just turned to face them when the butt of King Odd’s great spear struck her smack on her forehead and she was out like a candle in the wind.

Young Gunholm stood over his mother to defend her against Odd, but Westmar struck him up the side of his head with a great club and the boy fell senseless to the deck.  Her other sons, Brodd and Bild were in the next ship over, fighting for their lives, and her other sons, Bug and Fanning were in the ship on her other side fighting hard as well.  When Rusila woke up she was bent over her shield and looking down at her son, laid out on the deck and she was being raped from behind and she swung her fist back at King Odd, who was in her, but Westmar caught up her arm and held it fast while Odd had his way with her.  Koll had been holding her from the other side and they had cleared away men from the sides so that her sons on the other ships could see her being ravaged by the sea-king.  Brodd and Bild and their men had driven all their berserks back into the other ships and they rowed over to attack King Odd, but he was already finishing up and had withdrawn his great member from within Rusila and it was still dripping with his flow as he turned to face them.

“Let her go!” the two boys shouted.  “Let her go and come fight us!”

“You are both brave young men to have driven off a ship-full of berserks.  We’ll let her go, if you let us board your ship to fight you, and if we win you must join us in this war!”

“Come aboard then!” Brodd shouted, “but you must all leave her ship and let her go.”

“Leave her to her whelp!” Odd shouted as he led Westmar and Koll and their berserks across boarding planks that Brodd and Bild had thrown out between their ships.  The berserks filed across them and assembled in the foredeck area of the boys’ ship.  Westmar had thrown Rusila down like a used wet rag and she sprawled across the deck and slid over to Gunholm and found he was still alive, but she couldn’t revive him.  He needed a healer, fast, and there were many raped shield-maidens on board in the same condition.  Rusila and the other raped and wounded maidens began rowing her ship out of the fray and to the rear center of the Norse fleet where the healer’s ship sat.

Back on the deck of Brodd and Bild’s ship, the battle was not going well for them.  It was apparent that this group of berserks were of stauncher mettle than the first had been, for half their men were dead already and the rest would soon follow, so Brodd told his men to throw down their swords.  “We must join them or die,” Brodd said.

“Let us die, then,” Bild said.

“And what of our mother?” Brodd asked.  “Can we protect her from Valhalla?”

“Fock!” Bild cried.  “Throw down your swords men.  We must join them.”

The berserks paused in their fighting so the men could throw down their swords and surrender to join them, but King Odd told his berserks to take them by force and they grabbed the men who had surrendered and tore their pants off, tossing the broks into the sea, and they bent the men over their shields and raped them from behind.

“I only meant that you and your brother will join us to fight with us,” Odd told the boys.  “Your men’s fighting day is done.  They’ve surrendered and have now been taken and their ears shall be notched and they shall never be allowed to fight Angles again.  You two shall be spared all this, for I want you to fight with us the rest of this day, as agreed?”

“As agreed!” the two boys shouted.

The battle had been raging all this time and ships were lashed together in deadly combat up and down the line.  While King Ragnar’s right flank was being driven back on the far wing where the berserks had attacked, his left wing was holding and his center right was gaining water where Ladgerda and her son, Fridleif, faced the Oland warfleet of Prince Huyrwil, driving it back to the brink.  Here the Sea-King Odd placed some of his returning berserks and the sons of Rusila, to bolster the line, as it were.  Odd had captured the other two sons of Rusila, Bug and Fanning, in much the same manner as he had the first two, and they were all posited at that point in the line to help the Oland Swedes, who seemed more farmers than warriors, and were losing ships fast.

King Ragnar had been looking for the Sea-King Odd, but had found his Shield-Maiden Rusila, wounded and tending her son, Gunholm, in the healer ship instead.  The boy had been revived by a young healer witch, but he was still weak and groggy.

“The Sea-King Odd attacked us with a fleet of berserks,” Rusila told her king.  “They cleared our decks then left.”

“So that’s where he went,” Ragnar whispered, holding Rusila close, as she held Gunholm.  “I knew he was up to no good!”  Ragnar left Rusila with her son and sent some ships to help on the right and he resumed his search for Odd.  He joined Ladgerda and told her that Rusila and Gunholm had been injured, so she went to the healers ship, leaving Fridleif in charge of the fleet.  Then Ragnar got word from Brak that Odd had been sighted back in the center of his fleet, so he returned to Brak and his shieldship.  Brak and their men had cleared the decks of two ships while he was off and about and Brak pointed out the berserk ships that Odd was surrounded by.

“He keeps moving up and down the line, putting berserks where they are needed most,” Brak told Ragnar.  “He’s pretty mobile.  It will be hard to get through to him.”

“We’ll have to fight our way through to him,” Ragnar replied.  “We’ll have to break through his line of ships.”

“That’s going to be hard slugging with this lot in front of us!”

Just then there was a lot of movement of ships on their right flank and both Brak and Ragnar watched as Ladgerda’s son, young Fridleif took it to the Oland Swedes and Prince Huyrwil pulled his whole warfleet out of the line and fled for Zealand.  But Fridleif led his Trondheimers after them across the sound in pursuit.

“Leave them go!” Ragnar shouted across the waves, but Fridleif was too far down the line to hear him.  “Fock!  He’s taken off after them,” Ragnar told Brak.  “Ladgerda’s gonna kill me!”

“I don’t think it’s a trap,” Brak said.  “Let them fight it out.”

“She’s still going to kill me!”

The fighting was going so hard that the gap in the line just sat there for a time, like some gaping wound in need of bandaging, but eventually Shield-Maiden Ladgerda took some ships  into the opening and were soon met by Anglish warships and they began engaging each other until the opening was closed off by ships lashed together and in battle.  Meanwhile, her son, Fridleif had chased Prince Huyrwil and his fleet into a harbour along the coast of Zealand and they had to turn and fight.  The Oland Swedes lashed their ships together into one great battle platform and Fridleif’s Trondheimers assailed them from all sides and the fighting raged the whole afternoon and evening.

King Ragnar and Jarl Brak kept attacking the Angles before them but could never seem to get any closer to the Sea-King Odd, no matter how many decks they cleared.  It was becoming a battle of attrition…whoever ran out of ships first…lost.  Evening waxed as the afternoon waned and the fighting raged on into night until darkness forced the fleets apart.  King Ragnar led his Norse Danish fleet back to the Skanian coast and the Sea-King Odd led his Anglish Danish fleet back to the Zealand shores.  The cooks onshore had been ferrying food and drink out to their respective ships all afternoon and evening, but they got up and cooked a late supper for the famished marines and troops that returned in the darkness.  Princesses Ladgerda brought Rusila and her son, Gunholm, into the red pavilion of Ragnar, and they set the boy up in a camp cot to sleep and the women joined Ragnar in his kingly bed.  The boy was recovering from his injury and had to be monitored and it was too much for Rusila to handle alone.  The threesome made love while Starkad’s son slept on the other side of the huge pavilion.  When Rusila tried to sleep she tossed and turned, worried about her other sons whom she’d learned were captured by the Angles.

Many of their men had been captured as well, but had been ravaged and then released on their own recognisance to never again fight the Angles.  They loitered and helped out in camp, but were held in contempt by the unblemished warriors.  A warrior was expected to fight to the death and go happily on to Valhall, but sometimes the logistics of battle didn’t always facilitate that happening.  Ragnar would at some point console the fallen warriors, but right now he needed warriors that wanted Victory or Valhalla, so he avoided even making eye contact with those of the notched ear.  But he did ask Brak to spend some time with them and talk about weapons and the forging of them.  Many fallen warriors took up weapons manufacturing, where their experience with the song of the sword actually helped them in their new careers.

Back on the Zealand coast, Prince Fridleif’s fleet fought against Prince Huyrwil’s battle platform well into the night before retiring to the Danish shore to set up camp.  Bjorn did not want to give the Swedes a chance to escape into Denmark.  The Olanders stayed out upon the waters and camped on their battle platform and rested, awaiting the Norse attack that would follow on the morrow.  At midnight, young Brodd and Bild met with their brothers, Bug and Fanning, and they told them they were bugging out.  The Sea-King Odd had only required them to join with him for the day and it was midnight and they had already cut their ship free from the battle platform.  But Bug and Fanning claimed that Odd had pledged them for the entire battle, so they were not free to bug out with them, so Brodd and Bild and their few men left rowed off quietly into the night.

The Sea-King Odd and his Anglish fleet had sailed back to Liere to sleep at night in their own beds and they would be taking their time in the morning assembling the fleet to take back out in the sound and over the night word was passed round that young King Frodi would pay in cold hard gold and future recognition the help of any Zealand Danes that would join the Anglish Danish fleet in the morning, and there were many hungry young men from the surrounding countryside who flocked to Liere to test their luck.

In the morning, those on the Skanian coast were taking their time assembling the fleet, but it was more due to the patching up of the wounded so they could rejoin the fray.  King Ragnar had lost half his ships, as had the Angles, but the half that remained were only half manned by healthy warriors and the wounded needed time to swell their ranks.  The king and his wives sat around a great hearth before the pavilion and broke fast with pancakes and syrup brought them by the cooks and Ragnar’s sons slowly drifted into the periphery and took up trenchers to eat with them.  Ivar had held the immediate left flank fast alongside his father’s vanguard, and Biorn and his Birka Swedes had assisted him throughout the day.  Siward and Agnar held the far left and had cleared the decks of many Angle ships, but it was known that the right flank had bore the brunt of the attack and that many Anglish berserks had lost their lives at great cost at that end of the battle line.  At least Gunholm had recovered his senses over night and was once again ready to rejoin the fight.  Rusila had not wanted that, but rumours were circulating that the quarter giant son of Starkad had been killed the previous day and Gunholm wanted to quash the rumour by joining King Ragnar in the vanguard.  He wished to further his giant skills of blunting the sword blades of the enemy and Brak was the first to welcome that aid.  He was a swordsmith and he wanted to see it firsthand.

Only one fleet was in a hurry that morning and it was Prince Fridleif’s Norse fleet.  They wanted to take the attack to the Swedes on their battle platform before any more ships could escape away into the night as one had been observed doing already.  They attacked at dawn and the battle raged for hours and Bug and Fanning both fell fighting alongside each other and the two princes, Fridleif and Huyrwil battled it out on the last center warship left to the Swedes of their platform and both were hurting from the many wounds they’d both received throughout the sea battle and Huyrwil tired first and had no shieldwall left to find respite behind and Fridleif saw that he was no longer keeping his shield high enough in front of him and Fridleif made a quick thrust above the buckler and, as Huyrwil raised his shield, the tip of Fridleif’s sword caught him in the throat and the rising shield lifted the thrusting sword upwards, right into Huyrwil’s brain and he died instantly.  It is said that the Danes of Zealand named that harbour after the prince who died there.

When King Ragnar finally got his fleet reassembled, they sailed out into the sound and the only ship they found there was that of the brothers, Brodd and Bild, who rejoined them, saying they had won their freedom for the day and would now fight alongside their mother, Rusila.  But they only had a few men in their ship and asked for more, but Ragnar had none but wounded to give them.  His own ships were all half manned or worse and he and Gunholm showed them the ships all down the line with their decks half empty, or half full, as Ragnar preferred to describe them.  Ladgerda and Rusila joined them on Ragnar’s shieldship and they asked the boys of their brothers, but were told they had committed to more than just a day.

“The Sea-King Odd,” Bild explained as he hugged his mother, “only asked us to join him for the day, but he asked them for the battle, so they refused to leave with us.”  Bild didn’t know that his brothers were already lying dead on the deck of the Oland battle platform.

“And we heard news,” Brodd added, “that King Odd had sent out a call to all the young men of Zealand to refill his flagging fleet.  Some said he felt entitled to use King Ragnar’s own people against him if they entered the fray voluntarily, as he only had kingly control over his own Anglish subjects.”

“That’s bullshit!” Brak exclaimed.  “He swore to fight ship against ship, and he sent the rest of his Anglish fleet back to Jutland.  To reman his ships in Liere is fully athwart his agreement!”

“I’m hoping that my own subjects would refuse to take up sword against me,” Ragnar said, but he knew that the Angles had gold from their own southern trade route and he knew, too, the ways and wants of men, so they waited for the Anglish Danish warfleet to arrive.

When the Sea-King Odd arrived with his fleet, the decks were full and their wounded Angles had been left in Liere in their young King Frodi’s care, and all the men there were fresh and in high fighting spirits.  King Frodi had his men run down the red war-shield of his shieldship’s mast and they ran up the white peace-shield in its stead.  As they were turning their ships to the north to sail back up the sound to Stavanger, Brak stood up on the topstrake and gave the Sea-King Odd the middle finger salute of the Army of the Impalers and he shouted, “Up Yours!” over the waters.  The Danes knew naught of the Army of the Impalers of Walachia, as the Oster Goths of Greutunga did, but the Sea-King Odd fathomed the Volsung Jarl Brak’s message and gave him the salute of the Impalers in return.

Prince Fridleif and his fleet arrived in the sound just in time to rejoin his father’s fleet and he let his half-brother, King Biorn, know that he had put down the revolt of Prince Huyrwil for him, so King Biorn led his Swedish fleet back to Birka on that note.  But Fridleif also had to tell Rusila that her two sons, Bug and Fanning, had died in the fighting and were buried with full honours in a howe along Huyrwil’s Harbour in Zealand.  The rest of the warfleet sailed north through the sound and they returned to Thule and Angleland and Ireland respectively.  The Angles of Jutland now controlled King Ragnar’s Zealand and his Sor’Way, or the Dan’Way, as they now called it.  So Ragnar returned to Stavanger and his Princess Aslaug and his sons Roller and Erik and he focused on building his Nor’Way Hraes’ Trading Company that sailed over the north cape of Thule into Asia and on to Baghdad and Constantinople.

THE END

OF

BOOK ONE

THE SAGA OF KING RAGNAR ‘LOTHBROK’ SIGURDSON

SEE ATTACHED APPENDIXES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Coming Soon:  BOOK TWO – THE SAGA OF PRINCE ERIK ‘BRAGI’ RAGNARSON

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 Roman 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 Hraerik 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–Black 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 Hraerik 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 Hraegunar Sigurdson?).

Regin–blacksmith 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 Black 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; Hraerik’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 Sturluson–twelfth Century Icelandic author of the Prose Edda and possibly Egil’s Saga.

sound–marine passage connecting two bodies of water.

Sovar–Turkic tribe of the Khazar Empire.

strait–narrow passage between two bodies of water.

strake–a row of planks running the length and forming the sides of a ship.

strand–seashore or sandbar off a coast.

thing–assembly (see althing).

Thor–Aesir god of thunder; possible son of Odin.

thrall–slave.

trireme–ship having three banks of oars on each side.

troll–giant; also, etin.

Tyr–Aesir god of justice.

Valkyries–handmaidens of Odin who selected those to die in battle. Also, may have been women who fought in early Germanic battles or worked behind the battle lines slaying the wounded enemy.

Valhall–dwelling place of Odin, where those slain in battle are rewarded.

Vanir–southern gods in constant conflict with the northern Aesir.

Varangians–early Greek and Slavic name for Norsemen in Russia.  May have been derived from Varanger, possibly meaning way-ranger or way-wanderer.

Viatichi–Slav people of the upper Don River.

Vik–bay area of present-day Oslo.

Vikar–legendary Norwegian king who was sacrificed to Odin by the warrior giant Starkad.

wain–wagon.

Wends–a main branch of the Slavic peoples; also Poles.

withy–plaited willow twigs used as rope.

worm–dragon or snake.

Ygg–nickname of Odin.

APPENDIX B: MAP OF EASTERN EUROPE OF THE NINTH CENTURY