Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
(Circa 911 AD)
“And his shield was called Hrae’s Ship’s Round,
And his followers were called the Hraes’.”
Eyvinder Skald-Despoiler; Skaldskaparmal.
Four years after the Treaty of 907, Hraerik and Oddi once more led a fleet against the Eastern Romans. This time it was a show of force. Heavily armed longships accompanied the spring throng of merchants heading for trade in Constantinople. The longships waited on the Sea of Marmora while the merchant ships carried on with their trade in the city. The full Roman fleet was home and on manoeuvres around the Golden Horn, so there was much belching of Greek fire and a number of target ships were burned in warning. The Varangian Guard came out from behind the city walls to warn the Hraes’ to respect the existing treaty, but they ended up drinking and celebrating with the Hraes’ troops. The standoff carried on for several weeks until, eventually, a large number of Hraes’ merchants and sailors were released from Greek custody.
The previous year’s trade was marked by numerous storms on the Bosporus and the Black Sea and a number of Hraes’ merchant ships sank or broke up on reefs and the survivors were often captured and enslaved by the Greeks and forced to work off their ‘saviour debt’ by rowing in the bellies of Roman biremes and triremes. Varangians were prized as ‘debtors’ because they were born with oars, and spent most of their lives rowing, and a trireme full of Varangers was the fastest warship on the seas. So, the Roman Hraes’ Treaty of 907 became a fuller, more encompassing Treaty of 911, that included maritime laws protecting the rights of stranded and injured sailors and merchants of any nation. Strand laws more favourable to those being shipwrecked were implemented, as well as mutual laws in the handling of crimes. Asylum laws were also included granting rights of civil protection.
Once the treaty was concluded, Prince Hraerik returned to Kiev, but had extracted a promise of a visit from his son. King Oddi had been mulling over a return to Hrafnista via the Nor’Way, with perhaps a stop in Giantland along the way, followed by stops in York and Dublin and Rouen and then perhaps even a stop in Jaederen Province to visit Hraegunarstead and Berurjod before an extended visit with his father in Kiev.
Prince Hraerik told Princess Eyfura that he had convinced his son to visit him in Kiev on his return trip from the Nor’Way. Princess Eyfura told Hervor, “It is time.”
And Hervor said:
“As quick as you can equip me in all ways,
wisest of women, as you would your own son!
In dreams is told me the truth only;
No contentment shall I taste here now.”
A longship was secretly prepared for Hervor and manned by stout young warriors of Kiev. They sailed north up the Dnieper, past Chernigov to Smolensk, then portaged across to Surazh and were discharged into the Dvina. They continued north down the river, passing by Polotsk, and kept sailing all the way across the Baltic until they reached Zealand. It was late summer, so Hervor passed herself off as Captain Hervard, and she and her crew spent the winter in the harbour town that served the Royal City of Liere. She spent time in the round fortress of her great grandfather, King Frodi. Tales were still being told by skalds of a great battle upon the ice there and the fall of the House of Westmar. Newer poems were being forged of a great holmgangr fought on the Island of Samsoe between Hjalmar the Bold, representing Sweden, and his second, Arrow Odd, representing Norway, against Angantyr of Holmgard and his eleven brothers, serving King Frodi the Peaceful, and representing Denmark.
In late spring Hervor gathered up her crew and they sailed to Samsoe and arrived at Munarvag Bay one evening, just as the sun was going down. Fearing the spirits of that now infamous island, Hervor’s crew refused to leave their ship, so she had the four oared boat lowered into the water and she rowed herself to the beach of the bay. She could make out the great howe on the beach that Oddi had erected for his own men and further up on the land, just outside the woods, she saw the howe fires glowing of what looked like her relatives’ barrow.
A local farmer saw the warrior and shouted:
Who among mortals moves on the island?
Now flee you fast to find shelter !
Flee I will not to find shelter,
none do I know of the native people;
rather tell me ere we turn away:
where do the cairns lie called after Hjorvard?
Then the herdsman said:
Do not ask me — you are not wise !
Friend of vikings, you are far astray;
fare us as fast as feet can bear us —
out in the open all is evil for men.
We’ll not faint nor fear at such fire’s crackling,
though all the land be alight with flame;
men such as these who matter too small
to make us tremble– let us talk further !
Fool I call him who fares onward,
a man all alone in the murky night;
fires are moving, mounds are opening,
burns field and fen — let us faster run !
And the farmer ran off home. Hervor saw where the barrow fires burned and she followed the flames to the howe of her ancestors, ‘the barrow of the berserks’.
Then she spoke:
Wake, Angantyr, wakes you Hervor,
Svafa’s offspring, your only daughter;
the keen-edged blade from the barrow give me,
the sword dwarf-smithied for Sigrlami.
Hervard, Hjorvard, Hrani, Angantyr !
From the roots of the tree I arouse you all,
with helm and corselet, keen-edged weapon,
gear and buckler and graven spear.
All but to dust have Arngrim’s children,
men of evil, in the mound been turned,
if of Eyfura’s sons no single one
to me will speak in Munarvag.
Hervard, Hjorvard, Hrani, Angantyr !
May it seem to you all within your ribs
as if in mound of maggots you mouldered away,
if you fetch not the sword forged by Dvalin;
it becomes not ghosts costly arms to bear.
Then Angantyr answered her:
Why do you hail me, Hervor, daughter?
To your doom you are faring filled with evil !
Mad you are now, your mind darkened,
when with wits wandering you wake the dead.
No father nor kinsman in cairn laid me;
‘It was our banes who laid us in this barrow,’
they kept Tyrfingr, the two survivors –
one alone did wield it after.
You give me a lie ! May the god let you
rest whole in your howe if you’re holding not
Tyrfingr with you; unwilling you are
to give the heirloom to your only child.
‘Even though child, with your mother plot wild,
a revenge on the bane of your brothers.
One survivor doth claim you deprived him of fame,
by baring your breast to the other.’
With those words the barrow opened, and Angantyr spoke angrily:
Hel’s gate is lifted, howes are opening,
the isle’s border ablaze before you;
grim outside now to gaze around you –
to your ships, if you can, quick now, maiden !
No blaze can you light, burning in darkness,
that your funeral fires should with fear daunt me;
unmoved shall I remain the maiden’s spirit,
though she gaze on a ghost in the grave-door standing.
Then Angantyr said:
I tell you, Hervor — hear my words out ! –
what shall come to pass, prince’s daughter:
trust what I tell you, Tyrfingr, daughter,
shall be ruin and end of all your family.
You shall bear offspring who in after days
shall wield Tyrfingr and trust in his strength;
by the name Hraerik known to his people,
born the strongest beneath the sun’s curtain.
Then Hervor said:
A human indeed I was held to be
ere I came hither your hall seeking;
hater of mailcoats from the mound give me,
peril to bucklers bane of Hjalmar !
Beneath my back is laid the bane of Hjalmar,
All around it enwrapped in fire;
In the world walking no woman know I
Who would dare in her hand to hold this sword?
Then Hervor said:
I will guard it and grasp it in hand,
The keen-edged sword, can I but obtain it;
No fear have I of the fire burning;
The flame grows less as I look towards it.
Fool you are, Hervor, in your heart’s daring,
With eyes open to enter the fire !
The blade from the barrow I will bring, rather;
O young maiden, I may not refuse you.
Son of warriors, you do well in this,
The blade to me from the barrow yielding;
king, to keep it I count it dearer
than were all Norway beneath my hand.
You see it not — you’re in speech accursed,
woman of evil ! — why you’re rejoicing;
trust what I tell you, Tyrfingr, daughter,
shall be ruin and end to all your family.
I will go my way to the wave horses,
chieftain’s daughter, cheerful hearted;
I care not at all O king’s companion,
how my sons will strive hereafter.
You shall keep Tyrfingr with contentment long;
the bane of Hjalmar in hiding (sheathed) keep;
touch not the edges — in each is poison;
worse than deadly, doom-bringer to men.
Farewell, daughter ! fain would I give you
twelve heroes’ lives — trust what I tell you ! –
the goodly strength and strong endurance
that Arngrim’s sons left after them.
And now Hervor said:
May you all lie unharmed in the howe resting –
to hasten hence my heart urges;
I seemed to myself to be set between worlds,
when all about me burnt the cairn fires.
Hervor went down to the beach and curled up in a fur in her four oared boat and held Tyrfingr close to her breast. With dawn came her longship, with a soft drawn-out scud, into the sand of the beach. She showed her crew the hilts of Tyrfingr and pulled the sword free of the sheath and, in morn’s waxing light, some could make out a glow along the blade’s edges and some could not. She sheathed the sword, they loaded up the boat and sailed back to the port town that serviced Liere. With the last of the gold that her grandmother had given her, Hervor bought their supplies for the long trip back to Kiev. It was summer’s end before Hervor’s ship slunk into a quay of the city.
“We must be patient,” Princess Eyfura told Hervor. “Whenever it is that Arrow Odd returns to Kiev, you must cut him with the blade and let the poison do the work. The bones of my son, your father, have kept the poison trapped within the blade, so it is stronger now than ever, thus, even in death, Angantyr shall play a part in avenging his brothers. We do not want to kill Oddi. Any blade could do that. But the poison in this blade has been paid for by the blood of your father. It is imperative that the poison of the blade, the blood of Angantyr, kill Oddi.”