Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
KING HARDE KNUTE OF DENMARK (Circa 918 AD)
Soon after King Ivar ‘Harde Knute’ Eyfurason was crowned ruler of Denmark, the Danes encouraged their lord to look for a suitable wife, in order to extend his illustrious line. But Ivar claimed that an unmarried life was best, citing his grandfather, King Frode, as an example, whereby his first wife’s wontonness led to a war with the Huns in Gardar over which Ivar also lorded. Still, his subjects clamoured for an heir and finally, yielding to the persistent entreaties of all, Ivar sent out ambassadors to ask for the daughter of Amund, King of Norway. He sent emissaries to Northumbria as well, in search of a suitable princess with whom he might lord over the Anglish.
One of these ambassadors, named Frok, was swallowed by the waves in mid-voyage, and showed a strange portent at his death. For when the closing flood of billows encompassed him, blood arose in the midst of the eddy, and the whole face of the sea was steeped with an alien redness, so that the ocean, which a moment before was foaming and white with tempest, was presently swollen with crimson waves, and was seen to wear a colour foreign to its nature. King Amund implacably declined to consent to the wishes of Ivar, and treated the legates shamefully, declaring that he spurned the embassy because the tyranny of King Frode of old had been borne so heavily by Norway. And the northern land still bore the scars of the Great Army that Frode had unleashed upon it. Fields still lay fallow from the terrible loss of life inflicted.
But Amund’s daughter, Lagertha, not only looking to the birth of Ivar, but also honouring the glory of his deeds, began to upbraid her father, because he scorned a son-in-law whose nobility was perfect, being both sufficient in valour and flawless in birth. She added that the portentous aspect of the sea, when the waves were suddenly turned into blood, simply and solely signified the defeat of Norway, and was a plain presage of the victory of Denmark. But when Fridleif sent a further embassy to ask for her, wishing to vanquish the refusal by persistency, Amund was indignant that a petition he had already denied should be further pressed, and he had the envoys harried to death, seeking to place a brutal check on the zeal of this brazen wooer. When King Ivar heard news of this agregious outrage, he summoned King Halfdan’s aid, and they sailed for Norway. King Amund called up his army and equipped his fleet and sallied forth to meet him. The firth into which both fleets had mustered was called Frokasund. The next day there was a great bloody battle fought partly by sea and partly on land and the outcome presaged by Lagertha came to be. But when King Ivar established his rule over Norway, the princess saw that her suitor had no legs and refused to marry her new lord.
By the death of Amund, King Ivar was freed from a most bitter foe and obtained a deep and tranquil peace; whereupon he forced his savage temper to the service of delight and transformed his ardour into love, but still Lagertha would not marry him.
King Ivar set out with his fleet to seek a marriage which had been denied him. He set forth on his voyage to Northumbria but, his father, Prince Hraerik had him stop at Hraegunarstead along the way. The place of Prince Hraerik’s birth and upbringing was abandoned and deserted, but the farm of Berurjod had been rebuilt by the former soldiers of Prince Arrow Odd and was a large functioning community of farmers and their families. Prince Hraerik took his son through the ruins of Hraegunarstead and then to the secret cave where Hraegunar had hidden the Hraes’ Gold Hoard he had taken from the fire breathing dragonship of the Romans.
“I have learned from the Alchemists how to extract the ten percent copper that the emperor added to his gold to mark it as imperial property,” Hraerik told his son. “Once we get the copper out, we can spend it anywhere safely. If the Romans catch you spending the Red Gold of Byzantium, they will execute you.”
“Death by Sprung Trees?” Ivar asked, jokingly.
“That is a Roman technique,” he answered, “but far too fast. More likely Crucifixion. Or for gold as famous as this, perhaps Impalement.”
The Romans were the original fascists and had developed or borrowed many forms of execution over the years, but Prince Hraerik had always managed to avoid death at their hands. He had forged revised instructions on a letter of execution the Roman emperor had sent with his jailers to the Holy Roman emperor in Ingleheim, thinking a savage Viking could not possibly read, or perhaps hoping he could. He held a grudging respect for Emperor Michael of Miklagard, the emperor who had taken the time to read the Tale of Brutus to his royal captive, or guest, as he called it, and he hoped that the later thought had been true.
“So why is this gold so famous?” Ivar asked.
“I’ve told you the story of how King Sigurd Hrae and your grandfather, Prince Hraegunar Lothbrok, stole the red gold hoard from the fire-breathing dragonship Fafnir many times.”
“Very many times,” Ivar acknowledged. “But how did it get to be so famous?”
“When I was imprisoned in Ingleheim, a German skald came to visit me in my cell every day. He wanted to learn the sagas of old. The Christians converted the Germans at a very early time and they burned all the rune sticks and scrolls from pagan times. All their ancient tales were lost and he wanted to learn our northern tales. I told him the story of our Hraes’ Gold Hoard and he turned it into a Rhine Gold Hoard and our King Sigurd Hrae became King Sigbert and our Hrae Gunar became Gunnar. I think the only name he got right was Fafnir. When I was telling him the tales he seemed to be writing them down in Latin, but after hearing the tales retold by other German skalds over the years, I’m not sure he could write that well. So now we have an Anglish version of the German tale of the slaying of Fafnir and an Icelandic version of the Hraes’ tale and dozens of versions in between. Worse yet, other tales and sagas are being re-written with flying fire-breathing dragons appended to them. It’s not necessarily the kind of famous the original skald, me, would like to see.
“The German skald was supposed to help me escape the dungeons of Ingleheim, but he did nothing. He just showed up everyday seeking more material until, finally, your Uncle, Duke Rollo…he was King Hraelauger back then…sailed up the Elbe with two hundred ships and saved me.”
“Thank the gods for Uncle Rollo,” Ivar said.
“Let’s load up this gold and I’ll take it back to Tmutorokan and I’ll take the copper out of it and send your half to Kiev.” Once they had loaded up Prince Hraerik’s flagship, the prince had another request for his king. “I have more gold buried at Hrafnista,” he said. “It’s a bit out of our way, but this gold is from Giantland, all stolen from giants and dwarves and Bjarmians.”
“That’s the best kind of gold!” Ivar exclaimed. “My bride can wait a bit.”
Before they set sail for Hrafnista, Prince Hraerik asked for volunteers from among the Tmutorokan and Kievan Hraes’ to stay and rebuild Hraegunarstead in his father’s honour, using the model of Berurjod as King Arrow Odd had established, and a dragonship full of men and much gold was left behind there.
When they set sail north to Hrafnista in Halogaland, all Prince Hraerik’s relatives came out to welcome him and they gave him a great banquet to greet him with and they gave him a fortnight of feasting, just as they had when King Arrow Odd had visited them a few years before. He introduced all his relatives to his son, King Ivar, ruler of the Hraes’ and head of the Hraes’ Trading Company and they invited him to stay and rule over the island but all knew he could not. He dug up all his Giantland gold and shared much of it with his kin, and gave half of it to Ivar then they prepared the fleet for a journey to Angleland and battle. The people of Hrafnista brought him fine gifts and gave him fine wishes and great auguries for his upcoming conquests.
Prince Hraerik and his son sailed in Hraerik’s flagship at the forefront of the fleet down the coast of the Nor’Way and then straight across the North Sea to Angleland and the Northumbrian coast. The captains of the fleet were astounded at the accuracy of the course the Prince had led them on and they attributed it to the Alchemists’ devices he was using to gauge their position but Hraerik attributed it more to the fine summer weather they were sailing in. They beached their ships just east of York and began a march inland, leaving a huge force to guard their vessels. As they approached the city of York, a party of riders and a train of carriages came towards them from the city. Prince Hraerik took an optical scope out of his saddlebag, looked through it and said, “I believe it’s Princess Blaeja and she is under the Raven Banner of the Hraes’ Trading Company.”
“Let me see,” said King Ivar, reaching out for the scope. They were at the head of their two thousand Roman cataphracts with a full army behind them. “It’s the Raven Banner alright.”
A group of cavalry officers broke away from the carriage train and galloped toward the Hraes’ forces. “Princess Blaeja sends greetings,” one cavalry officer shouted from the group. “She’ll be with you presently and suggests you set up your camp by the stream just ahead.”
“Tell the princess we shall do as she requests,” Prince Hraerik shouted and the officers rode off to rejoin the train.
Hraerik knew that his son Oddi had set Princess Blaeja up with a Hraes’ trading station in York, but she only controlled her own small corner of York which included Castle York, the Hraes’ Company Trading Station of York and a few surrounding streets and fields. The rest he knew was controlled by various Northumbrian princes who were all allied with various southern Angle and Saxon kings. And he knew and trusted only Blaeja.
“Welcome to Northumbria,” Princess Blaeja said as she stepped down from her royal carriage. “We have a great welcoming banquet and royal reception set up for you.”
“You haven’t changed a bit, Princess Blaeja” Prince Hraerik lied. But she was still a fine looking woman, he thought as he introduced his son, King Ivar, to her. Then Princess Blaeja introduced her daughter, Princess Hraegunhild, and her son, Prince Hraegunar to their paternal grandfather, Prince Hraerik. “King Arrow Odd was their father, gods rest his soul.” Prince Hraerik could see some of Oddi and some of Blaeja in Hraegunhild, but Hraegunar was all Oddi.
Princess Blaeja told Hraerik that the Saxon Princes of York had gathered up their armies and had fled into Umbria and likely would not be back to face an army of such size as the Hraes’ army. When they entered the city of York, the Angles there were fearful of the Hraes’ and stayed in their homes as the Hraes’ guests were escorted to York Castle, which was also a Hraes’ Trading Company station, and a large one at that. King Ivar stood aloof from his relatives until Hraegunhild started introducing her daughters and she introduced young Princess Blaeja who was blonde and very pretty and thirteen years of age. He decided right there that he wanted Blaeja to be his new wife.
During the evening feasting, Princess Blaeja made sure she sat beside Prince Hraerik and after the meal she told him, “King Oddi told me that you dream of great kagans riding into Tmutorokan from the east with hordes of horsemen and they will all be killers and rapists and slavers. Will they come here?”
“No. They will not come here,” Hraerik answered. “They will not manifest themselves in our lifetimes.”
“Oddi told me they wouldn’t come for hundreds of years, yet you are working on a plan to stop them. How? How will you stop these terrible hordes?”
“Oddi told me you are a member of the Alchemists’ Guild,” Hraerik stated.
“Yes. The Medical Guild,” Blaeja replied. “Not your Magi’s Guild and certainly not at your level.”
“So, if I told you that I have facilitated conversations between a Magi who died two thousand years ago and a future man of science who won’t be born for another thousand years, what would you say?”
“I would say I’m glad that I am not at your level. I don’t know if I could handle that.”
“I can’t stop them but perhaps I can deflect them in the future a bit. Deflect them and protect the people that I care about.”
“Will many people lose their lives?”
“Millions. Many millions. But not here. In Khitai, in the far east. I have forewarned the Alchemists in Cathay but I cannot help them. They will have to come up with their own plan of action.”
“Oddi told me you plan to use your enemies, the Khazars to hold back these hordes. He said you work with lesser evils for the greater good.”
“I can tell from what Oddi told you that he held you in great respect.”
Once York was secured, Prince Hraerik had an errand to run in Ireland, so he took part of the Hraes’ fleet and they sailed for Dub Lin. Prince Ivar remained in York to consolidate their gains while Hraerik took his Tmutorokhan Hraes’ troops west. Word had come that Dub-Lin had fallen to the Irish and it was founded by Sigurd Hrae and his agent, Torgis and was part of the Hraes’ Trading Company holdings. So, a hundred and twenty longships descended on Dub-Lin and recaptured the town.
A quick search and Hraerik found Princess Olvor’s dilapidated mansion just as Oddi had described it, but much the worse for wear, and he knocked on the front door. A young woman answered and Hraerik could make out a resemblance to Gunwar.
“You must be Hraegunhild,” Hraerik stated. “I’m looking for Olvor.”
“I am Hraegunhild,” the woman answered nervously as she watched the six armed Hraes’ troops that stood at attention behind the man, “but I’m afraid my mother has passed away.”
“Do you mind if I come in? I have similar news about your father, Arrow Odd. I am afraid that he has died.”
As Hraegunhild had not seen her father since she was a child, she took the news rather indifferently, but when Hraerik informed her that he was her grandfather, she warmed up to him somewhat. She offered him some wine and Hraerik told her about Oddi`s death and they talked for hours. Hraegunhild knew that she was named after Hraegunar Lothbrok, but she thought that Hraegunar was Oddi’s father, not his grandfather. And she had no idea that Oddi’s birth name was Bjorn by his father and that he was named Helgi by his mother the day before she died in battle.
“Skalds are naming all my sons as being the sons of Hraegunar Lothbrok,” Hraerik joked. “Oddi, under the name Bjorn Ironsides is called a son of Hraegunar and my son, Ivar the Boneless is another son of Hraegunar. And my name, Hraerik Bragi Boddason is not a son of Hraegunar, but my nickname, Hvitserk, because I wear white silk shirts, is a son of Hraegunar.” They both laughed. “And the name Hraegunar, itself, is a misnomer because he was actually named Gunnar, but Hrae was added to his name because that is what he roared back at a fire-breathing dragonship that he was attacking. And his father, Sigurd, was called Sigurd Hrae because he, too, roared. After they defeated that Greek fire-breathing Byzantine ship and traversed the Nor’Way back from the east, they were blown off course on their way home and landed on the shores of Ireland. They spread much gold amongst the people here and they gave your grandfather, who was king in these parts, a Byzantine fire-officer’s plate-mail corselet before they left for home. Your grandfather, in return, gave them the land here in Dub-Lin, meaning Dane Land, to establish a trading settlement.”
“The Irish here now say the land was taken,” Hraegunhild offered.
“It was given by your father. Hraegunar told me directly. The trading company that Sigurd established never traded in places they were not given land. Even if the land consisted only of a clear meadow in which we could spread out our wares on hides, Sigurd requested title to that meadow. The famed Jaederen swords we sold, alone, would tempt our clients to give us land for our trading posts and settlements. The silks, the spices, the red gold rings of Byzantium….we took lands from nobody. In Frankia, many settlement lands were given to Sigurd and Gunnar and they maintained many trading settlements along the coast of Frisia, but when they destroyed that Byzantine fire-breathing dragonship and stole the famed Hraes’ gold, the Franks took the lands back. The Byzantines were offering them a better deal on silks and spices to get back at us. Hraegunar sacked Paris just to get his titles and trading settlements back. And seven thousand pounds of silver to teach them a lesson to boot.”
“And now that you have taken your town back,” Hraegunhild started, “what are your plans for Dub-Lin?”
“Why….she is yours now. In the name of your father, I am giving you Dub-Lin. You are family and shall hold it as your part of the Hraes` Trading Company, the company that your great grandfather, Sigurd started. And I have gold and silks and spices for you. And many gifts from your relatives. Your father was a very wealthy man. He ran a little trading settlement for us called Kiev. His fleet attacked Constantinople, and not just once. When your father died, people mourned him from Frankia to Baghdad. Your father was the bravest, toughest man I have ever known, but he was also a good man who fought slavery and championed women.”
“Before I can accept this boon,” Hraegunhild confessed, “I must warn you that I am a Christian.”
Hraerik laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. “Your grandmother, Gunwar was a Christian. She built the first Christian church in Tmutorokhan. The Hraes’ Trading Company is owned and operated by persons of many religions, of many colours and both genders. Most of our clients are Christians. That will not be a problem.”
It took several weeks for Hraerik to get Hraegunhild set up as an agent of the Hraes’ Trading Company and there were many tears when he left. The Irish did not like the Norse, but they always seemed to love the Hraes’.