Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE POINT ZERO
23.0 THE LAST KISS OF KING CANUTE ‘THE GREAT’ (CIRCA 1035 AD)
(1035 AD) Prince Magnus Olafson set out from Sigtuna in early spring with a great force of soldiers, that he had gathered in Sweden over the winter. They marched through northern Sweden on foot to Helsingjaland and then went east through Jamtaland over the keel-ridge of the country and came down upon the Trondheim district, where all men welcomed the prince with joy. But no sooner did the men of King Svein Canuteson, the son of Princess Aelfgifu, hear that Magnus Olafson was in the country, than they fled on all sides and concealed themselves and kept quiet, so that no opposition was made to Prince Magnus, for King Svein was in the south part of the country. Prince Magnus and his step-mother, Queen Astrid, took over the estates of the king in both Lade and Nidaros and announced that an Eyra-Thing was to be called to elect Magnus as King of Norway and to have Queen Astrid reconfirmed as queen, as had been her title when she was married to King Olaf ‘the Holy’. They made much ado about the sanctity of Saint Olaf and of the right of young King Magnus to rule in his stead. It was not often that a martyred saint of the ethereal plane had living offspring to represent them in the material plane.
At about the same time, Duke Robert and his entourage left Apulia, in southern Italy, and sailed to Constantinople, disclosing his Papal documents to Emperor Michael ‘the Fourth’ and Empress Zoe in order to secure approval to cross Eastern Roman lands on his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Once he received his passport documents they sailed across to Chrysopolis and began a well-trodden pilgrimage trek southeast across Anatolia and down the coast of the Levant. He could have sailed around Anatolia, but he wanted to familiarize his officers and knights with the terrain that they would soon be fighting in, so they rode the path that the faithful walked and arrived in Jerusalem much earlier than the theatre group that was tailing them from the Roman capital. Gretta and her travelling thespians had carts and asses, but they could not keep up with the swift Norman knights.
Early spring in England found King Canute readying his legions and fleet for an attack upon Rouen, just across the Channel and a little up the Seine, and there was no way that Prince Hraerik could dissuade him from the misadventure. Queen Emma tried to talk him out of it as well as she handed him over the latest tall warships to come out of testing in her Southampton shipyard. Valdamar led his warfleet southeast into the Channel just as Emma’s Newfoundland tallship fleet sailed southwest along the Solent. A week later, Prince Hraerik and Princess Nadege passed their latest baby to Emma and sailed east with the English merchant fleet to Roskilde where the great merchant fleet was assembling. There was no news there of any Swedish activity in Norway and King Hardeknute of Denmark told him that King Svein of Norway was still overwintering in Agder Province so, the Prince collected tithes from the merchants of his great fleet and led them east across the Baltic to Kievan Hraes’.
In Kiev, Grand Prince Ivaraslav had just imprisoned his brother, Prince Sudislav of Pskov, for attempting to usurp Prince Mstislav’s former lands. “All my brothers are up in arms about getting a share of Prince Mstislav’s lands, even though Misty and I had an agreement that whoever of us survived the other would inherit his lands. They all complain it is too much for one prince, even a grand prince.”
“I’ll take it up with your father, King Canute,” Hraerik told him. “He’s attacking Normandy and Brittany and hoping to amalgamate them into one Papal approved kingdom to add another king under his sway. He wants to become Emperor Canute, King of Kings, of his Great Northern Empire and he wants King William ‘the Bastard’ of Normandy to be one of his sub-kings. If he made Hraes’ a kingdom and you its king, then your princely brothers would have to come to heel, all seven hundred of them.”
“I don’t think it’s seven hundred,” Ivaraslav protested.
“Including half-brothers and concubine half-brothers?”
“Well, maybe six hundred or so.”
“One kingdom will help keep the principalities from getting too fragmented to be effective. There will be a huge horde coming from the east once the world-wide cooling period is in full swing. We have to keep Hraes’ united to meet that future threat.”
“King Ivaraslav,” Ivar said, “I don’t like it. King Boleslaw of Poland was only king for a year before he died. It didn’t bring him much luck and he had great fortune as a duke.”
Prince Hraerik had never told Ivar that it was he who had killed King Boleslaw for his attack upon Prince Ivar and Kiev years earlier. It was one of those ‘on a need to know basis’ things. “Try and get used to the title,” the Prince told him. “We’ll talk about it more on my way back.”
Magnus Olafson summoned the people to the Eyra-Thing and when the bondes met at the Thing, Magnus was taken to be king over the whole land, as far as his father, Saint Olaf, had possessed it and Princess Astrid was accepted as queen until Magnus should find himself a wife to give him heirs. Then King Magnus selected his court, and named herses and lendermen, and announced bailiffs and officers in all domains and offices. He immediately ordered a levy through all Trondheim Fjord and began collecting men to proceed southwards with him, down along the coast.
King Svein and his mother, Queen Aelfgifu, were staying in South Hordaland when they heard this news of the levy of men in Trondheim and of the return of Magnus Olafson to make war upon Norway. He immediately sent out war-tokens to four different quarters, summoned the bondes to him, and made it known to all that they should join him with men and ships to defend the country. All the men who were in the neighbourhood of the king presented themselves, and the king formed a Thing, at which he made a speech and set forth his business, and announced that he would advance against Prince Magnus and have battle with him, if the bondes would aid his cause. The king’s speech was not very long, and was not well received by the bondes. Afterwards, Svein’s Danish jarls gathered about their king and made long and inspiring speeches, but the bondes listened and some said they would follow Svein and fight on his side, but some bluntly refused to do so, some were altogether silent, and some declared they would join Magnus as soon as they had an opportunity. Then King Svein said, “Very few of the bondes to whom we sent a message have appeared here; and of those who have come, and tell us to our face that they will join Prince Magnus as soon as they can, we shall have as little benefit of as those who say they will sit at home quietly. It is the same with those who say nothing at all. But as to those who promise to help us, there are not more than every other man, and that force will avail us little against Prince Magnus. It is my counsel, therefore, that we do not trust to these bondes, but let us rather go to the land where all the people are sure and true to us, and where we will obtain forces to conquer this country again.” As soon as the king had made known this resolution, all his men followed it and they sailed southward along the coast and crossed the Skagerrak to Denmark. King Hardeknute received his half-brother, Svein, very kindly and offered to divide the kingdom of Denmark with him, which offer King Svein accepted.
Back in Nidaros, Queen Astrid, Magnus’ step-mother, who had come to Norway with him and had financed the expedition, was held by him in high honour and esteem. But then Alfhild, King Magnus’s mother, came to the court, and the king received her with the greatest affection, and showed her great respect. But Alfhild was ill pleased that Queen Astrid was treated with more respect, had a higher seat, and more attention. Alfhild wanted a seat next to the king, but Astrid called Alfhild her slave-woman, as indeed she had formerly been when Astrid was Queen of Norway and King Olaf ruled the land, and therefore would on no account let her have a seat beside her, and they could not lodge in the same house.
When King Canute sailed up the River Seine with a large fleet into Normandy to hold Duke Robert accountable for his failed attack on England, he was hoping to catch the Normans by surprise and claim an easy victory. But on the north bank of the Seine, the walled city of Rouen was sealed up and prepared for siege. Word of Canute’s war preparations had filtered out of England and the local Norman herses were not taking any chances with their Duke away in Rome. So Canute attacked and took the unwalled village on the south side of the Seine and set up his headquarters there. His tallships were impervious to attack and they controlled the river.
From the south village of Rouen, Canute had his forces throw up a ditch around the city of Rouen with a rough palisade of logs atop it, quite similar to the siege works he’d had constructed around London two decades earlier. This allowed one legion of foot to remain outside Rouen and keep it isolated so no supplies could reach the city by land or river. Then he took two legions of cataphracts and he led them west to conquer the towns and cities of Normandy. King Canute had expected Normandy to be a lot like England, where the only stone walled cities and towns were those that the Romans had built walls around over five hundred years earlier, but Normandy was not like that at all. It was a very martial state and every town and every city had a stone keep built by the local Norman lord to protect himself and his people from other Normans. So every conquest was a siege and a battle and if forces weren’t left to occupy the keep, it was quickly reoccupied by the Norman locals. And if insufficient forces were left to occupy a keep, the locals would sneak back into their castle through secret tunnels and slaughter the troops left in occupation.
Even the towns that didn’t have keeps were a problem, because the locals were quite violent in the defence of their abodes and even the women were proficient in arms. King Athelred’s army had faced this problem when he had it attack Normandy years earlier and had lost it virtually to a man. If Brittany had been so defended, Canute saw the problem Duke Robert had faced when he had attacked them. Word had come up from Rome that the Pope had given Duke Robert the penance of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for that failed attack, so Canute urged on his forces afresh.
In Jerusalem, Duke Robert and his retinue had been enjoying themselves and seeing the sights and visiting the holy sites for several days before Gretta and her pursuing theatre troupe finally arrived. She rented a hospice next to the hospital that the duke had rented and she had her troupe set up their play, ‘Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’, within it and soon there were pilgrims coming to be entertained. A few days later, a courtier from the duke’s entourage came to them to arrange a group audience of the play. The Normans, being proud of their Danish heritage, were very intrigued by such a strangely named play taking place in an Arab controlled city. The courtier was told that the play was based on ‘Brutus, Prince of Rome,’ but had been given a Scythian accent so as not to offend the Arabs of the city. This intrigued the Normans even more and they booked the hospice recital for the very next day.
Gretta went through her trunk of poisons and selected one of her slower acting concoctions that would kill the Duke a week later. She didn’t know how long the duke planned to stay in Jerusalem. She just wanted enough time for her troupe to be out of Islamic controlled territory when Duke Robert emulated the ending of her play. But, unlike her play, where they all die of poisoning at the end, she wanted to specifically target the duke and she had placed one of her operatives at work within the hospital’s kitchen next door. The operative had been waiting on the Normans for several days and she had noted the duke’s preference in wines. He used a strong red wine for purifying the water he drank and had developed a taste for a local wine which he drank for pleasure. Gretta made sure she had plenty of that wine on hand for the evening’s meal to be served while the play ran. It was not often that a target was so cooperative with their preferences.
Duke Robert and his entourage of about sixty arrived that evening and they sat in the great hall at tables before the stage with the duke and his officers taking up the large central table. As the meal was served and the play began, the Duke was pleased to learn that his favourite local wine was available with the meal. One of Gretta’s operatives was in charge of the wines at the main table and she made sure the duke was getting his fair dose of the poisoned wine as the evening progressed. It was a controlled environ, so small doses were administered to the duke to keep the taste unadulterated. Halfway through the play a courtier arrived from the hospital next door with an important message for the duke that had arrived by courier from Italy. He opened and read the message, then stood up and announced to his men that King Canute had attacked Normandy. All the officers stood up as well and Duke Robert told them that they must return to Rouen immediately, as it was under siege. They would collect their army in Apulia and save their country.
The Normans left and packed up their gear at their hospital and rode off into the night, while Gretta’s troupe finished the play for the few other customers that were left in the hospice. She went through the inventory with her operative who had been serving the duke and they concluded that he had not consumed enough of the poison to kill him, only enough to make him ill. And on the way north, Duke Robert fell ill and had to ride in a carriage with the gear.
Prince Hraerik and Princess Nadege had arrived in Constantinople with a slaver fleet of untouchables from Gujarat and the Prince learned that Gretta had taken off with her troupe of thespians after Duke Robert, who had come through the Roman city on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Hraerik suspected that the duke was using the pilgrimage as a ruse to scope out Eastern Roman lands for his planned conquest; it was what Prince Svein would have done. He decided to stay in Gretta’s suite in the Red House with Nadege and await news of the hit. That night, they, too, took in a show, but it was a witchcraft display in the basement dinner theatre of the Red House. The Prince, too, had a table front and center and the couple were entertained by magic shows and witchcraft that included the transformation of witches and warlocks into various animals and of sexual acts with those various animals that transformed back into humans on orgasm and a finale of flight in which a number of beautiful naked witches flew above a large pool of water and splashed down into it and flew out of it and Hraerik was attracted to the head witch, who was Vanir, but knew some Aesir and Aran craft as well. He had watched her perform before when he was alone in Constantinople and had spent some time with her before. She was youthful and had fiery red hair and flashing green eyes and a taut body that was built for the shows and Hraerik invited her to join them at their table and he introduced Witch Hama to Witch Nadege.
The two witches hit it off and were soon talking shop and discussing Aran magic in particular, but Hraerik couldn’t relax. He kept thinking about Gretta and her operation. He asked Witch Hama if she’d ever used the Zombie drug in her witchcraft and the beautiful witch admitted she had only heard of the drug, but was very interested to learn what it could do. Hama knew that Hraerik was part warlock, part prince, but she had only heard of some of the things he was purported to have done and was very curious to learn more, so when he invited her to join them up in their suite after the show, both witches were surprised. Up on the eighth floor, Hraerik told them both that he wanted to use the Zombie drug to fly to Jerusalem and see how Assassin Gretta was making out with her hit on Duke Robert. Witch Nadege was pregnant again, she wanted lots of children now that she wanted what Misty and Nado had had, and Hraerik didn’t want her using the Zombie drug in her present condition. He wanted to use the drug with Witch Hama and Nadege to monitor their use of it.
Witch Nadege was a healer as well as a sorcerer, so the first thing she checked was the health of both Hama and Hraerik to assure them each that their partner was free of pestilence as a courtesy to both. Then while she was measuring out the Zombie drug and the antidotes and explaining their uses to Hama, Hraerik was undressing himself and Hama kept looking at how fit the Prince was for a reportedly old man. As Nadege was giving her the drug, Hraerik began undressing Hama and after Nadege gave him his dose he led Hama to the bed and began kissing and caressing her. Soon he was atop her on the bed and he entered her and began thrusting within her and they began focking hard and when she came, her spirit hovered above the bed and Hraerik kept thrusting until his spirit, too, hovered above the bed and he took Hama by the hand and they flew out the window and off to Jerusalem. As they flew above the city, Hraerik began to sniff and Hama knew that his warlock senses were picking up the scent of a lover and he soon located Gretta in bed in her hospice room and he joined her and began having sex with her and she began moaning in her sleep and Hraerik entered her mind and they dreamt together while Hama floated above them and Gretta told Hraerik what had transpired during their play that night. Hraerik collected some of her memories and then exited her still sleeping body and joined Hama’s spirit above and they flew north along the pilgrimage way until they found the Norman retinue riding in the night.
Prince Hraerik couldn’t see Duke Robert riding with his men so he thought perhaps the duke had died, but he knew that Gretta was quite certain he’d not taken enough poison to do that, just enough to make him ill so he checked the carriages until he found him. He wanted to know what the duke had planned so he took Hama by the hand and he twisted time a bit and they travelled back until Duke Robert was just entering the carriage and telling his men that they were to retrace their steps back to Chrysopolis and their ship. “It was the wine at the play,” he told his men. “It tasted different. The acting troupe was watering down our wine and I think I’ve caught a pestilence from the Jerusalem water. I’ll be fine, but we have to keep going,” and he waved his men on as he slumped in the carriage seat and rested.
‘How did you do that?’ Witch Hama thought.
‘Time is a dimension,’ Hraerik thought back. ‘I just bent it a little. But, we have to go back now!’ and he clutched Hama’s hand and they swept off back north and back to the present and back to the Red House of Constantinople. Witch Hama came back to life and Nadege helped her revive and helped Hama kiss Hraerik back to life. “This part you may have to do sometime without help,” Nadege told her and Hama kept kissing Hraerik until he took a great gulp of air and revived.
“Fock!” Witch Hama blurted out. “That was awesome!”
“Then you’ll do it again with me tomorrow night?” Hraerik asked.
“Focking right!” she exclaimed. “I want to learn this.”
The next night, Hraerik and Nadege took in the witchcraft show again and, once more had a table front and center and they were entertained by more magic shows and witchcraft that had witches disappearing and reappearing and a warlock that could dive into the earth and disappear and come back out of the ground a number of paces away. Once more there was a finale of flight in which beautiful naked witches flew above the large pool of water and splashed down into it and flew out of it and head witch, Hama, flew rapidly around the room to dry off and then landed naked in the chair next to the Prince, who wrapped her in his cloak as the Romans about him gasped. They left and went straight up to the eighth floor; there was no need for clothing where she was going.
While Nadege was measuring out the Zombie drug and the antidotes, Witch Hama threw off the cloak and began undressing Hraerik. After Nadege gave them their doses they went over to the bed and began kissing and caressing each other. Soon they were making love on the bed and their spirits soon flew out of the window again and this time they flew south along the pilgrimage way until they found the Norman retinue riding in the night again and this time Hraerik twisted time forward until they reached the hostel that Duke Robert had rented in Nicomedia on their way to Jerusalem and the Normans swung into the courtyard and dismounted and the proprietors greeted them warmly and made room for them. Duke Robert had paid them in gold last time and had tipped very well. The only other guests there were from Constantinople.
As they hovered above the Norman retinue, Hama asked, ‘How are you going to kill him?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Hraerik thought. ‘I’d like to finish poisoning him, but unless I can figure out a way to do it, I’ll probably just take possession of one of his bodyguards and run him through.’
As they were watching from above they noticed some guests peering at the duke from their hostel room. ‘We may not have to,’ he added. ‘I recognize one of those guests. He was Emperor Basil’s head spy in England years back. He’s supposed to be working for Empress Zoe now. Poison is her modus operandi.’ They would have to be returning to their bodies soon, so Hraerik twisted time a bit more and they watched the proprietor and two spies from Constantinople sneak into Duke Robert’s room while he was sound asleep and they dripped some kind of poison into his ear as he slept and the duke never woke up again. He was buried the next day in a small Christian church in Nicomedia under a stone simply marked Robert ‘the Magnificent’. His officers planned on returning to collect him after they saved Normandy from King Canute ‘the Great’.
Back in Kiev, an eastern Pecheneg horde arrived on the Steppes out of Khazaria and they rode straight for the Hraes’ capital and attacked it. The gates were quickly bolted shut upon their approach and the wild horsemen, lacking siege equipment, surrounded the city and the walled suburb on the east side of the Dnieper and they set out to starve them into submission. Messengers were sent by longships down the center of the Dnieper to Novgorod, Constantinople and Baghdad informing the Grand Prince Ivaraslav and Prince Hraerik and the great merchant fleet of the siege. It was neither a warning, nor a call for help. It was more of a notice for the Prince to bring his Tmutorokan and Cherson merchant ships north with him along with all the other northern ships so that the southern ships didn’t miss out on the fun. But the Kievan suburb on the east side of the river began to run short on supplies and the east bank of the river was shallow enough for horse archers to control the waters there so the people sent messages to Kiev by rocket propelled foot bows that they would have to surrender before the merchant fleet got back and chased off the marauders. They were fired a reply to hang tough because Grand Prince Ivaraslav was on the way with reinforcements.
While Ivaraslav was still at Novgorod instilling his son Valdamar as prince there, news came to him of the Pecheneg siege of Kiev. He then collected a large army of Varangians and Slavs, and sailed down the Dnieper and entered his city at the main quay. The Pechenegs were innumerable. Ivaraslav led an army out the northern Golden Gate of Kiev and he had his Danish and Varangian legions in ·the centre, the men of Kiev on the right flank, and the men of Novgorod on the left. When they had taken a position before the city, the Pecheneg horde advanced against them and they met on a hazel pole marked battlefield just north of the Golden Gate. The combat was fierce, and if the Kievan troops moved forward too far from their city walls, the Pecheneg horse would threaten to envelope them in a circular attack they liked to engage in, so Ivaraslav moved his heavy cavalry on his right flank to join his cataphract legion on his left flank and he advanced forward on his center and left flank and kept his right flank pinned against the Kievan wall and when the Pecheneg light horse moved into the open area between his troops and the walls on the left, the cataphracts closed in behind them and cut them to pieces. Then Prince Ivaraslav pinned his left flank to the city walls and moved his right flank forward and shifted his cataphracts along the rear file and when the void began to fill with more Pechenegs the cataphracts trapped them and cut them to pieces.
The Pechenegs were thus deprived of the mobility they required to fight their kind of open warfare, their attack and retreat style of fighting with bow and arrows. They were no match for the armoured heavy horse in close quarter fighting and their losses were literally piling up and restricting their mobility even further. With the dead piling up on either flank, the Pechenegs could never seem to get the circular archer attack going and toward evening Prince Ivaraslav and his forces began moving away from the walls to get the upper hand. When darkness came, the Pechenegs fled in various directions, and many drowned as they tried to cross rivers and streams in the dark.
Back in Denmark, King Hardeknute welcomed his half-brother, King Svein of Norway, in the sharing of the Danish kingdom, but he had half expected Svein to refuse the offer and ask for assistance in retaking his own Norway. But that little problem was overcome when King Svein unexpectedly fell ill and died. His mother, Queen Aelfgifu wanted to return to England, but Queen Emma, Aelfgifu Number Two, would only accept her back there as a princess, not a queen so she languished in Denmark by the grave of her dead son. Her other son, Prince Harald Harefoot, was officially in charge of England in his father’s absence so he could not go to Denmark to fetch his mother, Aelfgifu Number One, but he was unconvinced that his brother Svein had died of illness. He sent news of Svein’s death and his suspicions to his father, King Canute in Normandy.
When King Canute learned of the death of his son, King Svein, he was shaken to the quick and soon became ill as a result of the severe war hardships he had endured, and when he noticed that his forces were waning and that he was about to die, he summoned his earls about him and told them to follow Earl Godwin and ordered them not to return home until they had brought the war to an end. He ordered them to bear his corpse on their shoulders into battle until the enemy had fled, in order that he might gain more fame in death to add to that which he had gained in life. They were not to quit until they had victory and for his grave, they were to present his corpse to the Cathedral of Rouen for interment next to Duke Rollo, his relative. They should therefore promise the inhabitants liberty, so that the Normans would willingly give their love to his memory.
When it became clear to the Normans that the English would at once leave their country after gaining victory, they promised King Canute a place of honour in death next to their Duke Rollo and by showing a little willingness they freed themselves from great fear and danger. The dying king soon learned that the young Duke William ‘the Bastard’ and his mother, Herleva, and his Uncle Robert ‘the Bishop’ and the Athelings, Princes Edward and Alfred, had all agreed to honour Canute as he’d requested, and his dying became the salvation of all the survivors, both Norman, Danish and English. He was near death when they carried him into Duke Robert’s palace in Rouen and Canute ordered that did not want to die alone and that his children in Rouen should attend his deathbed. Bishop Robert and Herleva looked at each other as if to say, ‘How many children could he possibly have in Rouen?’ Jarl Ivar ‘the White’ stepped forward and told them. Soon, a dozen toddlers were in the room accompanied by their mothers who had been blessed with born of the purple blood by Canute on his first trip to the Vatican and then a dozen babies were in the room at their mothers’ breasts who had been blessed with great northern empire blood from the last time Canute had been to the Vatican and then Princess Donalda of Scotland came into the room with her nannies and the three babies of King Malcolm of Scotland’s daughters and she held each one forward for King Canute to kiss.
“Do you remember when I took you to Paris?” Canute whispered to Donalda.
“Oh, I do, so vividly! You sent me back to Rouen in a great train of royal carriages escorted by a full regiment of knights. The people of Rouen thought that the Queen of Frankia had arrived, and they’ve treated me as a queen ever since, right to this day!”
“One last kiss,” Canute whispered to his favourite princess, “and may Scotland always be free.” Donalda leaned forward and kissed Canute warmly upon his lips. “So tired,” Canute whispered as he fell into a sleep from which he never awoke.
His corpse was carried throughout Rouen and around the south camp by his warriors, as he’d helped the Danes and English to victory, as if he were still alive, and then they immediately asked the inhabitants of Rouen to inter him as agreed and promised in return to go away. The Normans eagerly took his body and placed it in a marble sarcophagus next to Duke Rollo and he was interred in the Christian Aesir fashion in which Duke Rollo had been interred.
When Duke Godwin led the victorious English troops back to Southampton without their king, Queen Emma, Aelfgifu Number Two, literally had a bird. She wanted King Canute buried in Winchester, like a proper King of England! And she claimed the kingdom for her young son, King Hardeknute of Denmark! She had been promised by Canute that her young son would have priority over her older sons by Aethelred. They had been living in Normandy so long that she no longer trusted them as her own English sons. They were Normans to her and, although Norman herself, or possibly because she was Norman herself, she knew that the Normans had always had their own designs on England and those designs did not include her remaining queen. But in order to remain Queen of England, Emma needed her official husband, King Canute ‘the Great’, interred in the Cathedral of Winchester.
Prince Hraerik and Princess Nadege remained in Constantinople, awaiting the return of Gretta, and were entertained in the Red House by Witch Hama, who was quite taken by her new warlock and witch couple; especially the warlock who could bend time. But as their relationship took off, Witch Hama became Witch Nadege’s Iry Dada, a third wheel on their chariot of love. And, as the relationship progressed, Warlock Hraerik learned that Witch Hama had been possessed by another warlock who came down from Novgorod, or , more precisely, Staraya Russa, annually for sex and witchcraft with his Hama. When he checked into who this northern warlock was, he knew that Witch Hama was in trouble.
When Gretta was returning from Jerusalem with her troupe, she retraced her steps all the way back, in case something had happened to delay the Normans. She knew that her troupe could not catch up with the swift mounted Normans, but she thought perhaps she would get lucky and find that they had been stopped for some border infraction or another, to be fined and relieved of their gold. Pilgrimages were like that…unpredictably dangerous. They stayed the night at the hostel in Nicomedia that they had followed the Normans to, and when she asked the proprietor about Duke Robert, he replied that they had returned and gone again. But as they were leaving the town Gretta saw a small church with a fresh grave nearby and the headstone said Robert ‘the Magnificent’ in common Latin, but ‘the Magnificent’ sounded Norman. She didn’t know what Duke Robert’s byname was, and, perhaps as a leading assassin, she should have found that out, but ‘the Magnificent’ definitely sounded Norman and she made a mental note of the grave’s location.
When Gretta got back to Constantinople, she was surprised to find Prince Hraerik, Witch Nadege and Witch Hama all there sharing her master suite on the eighth floor of the Red House. While there was no such thing as a three wheeled chariot, there were definitely four wheeled chariots for larger war parties and, in this case, for larger love parties, and Gretta just joined right in with them. She later told Hraerik about the grave she had found on the way out of Nicomedia and the Prince confirmed that, indeed, Duke Robert’s byname was ‘the Magnificent’. He then told her that he and Witch Hama had time travelled to finish the job of poisoning him, but that the operatives of Empress Zoe had beat them to it and had poisoned him at the hostel in Nicomedia.
“That prick proprietor there,” she lamented, as Witches Hama and Nadege were pleasuring each other on the bed beside her, “told me that they had come and gone!”
“He was in on it. He let her spies into the room to poison the duke in his sleep. I don’t know what they used, but they poured the poison into his ear.”
“I know what that is,” Gretta said, as they both stopped to watch the other two starting to orgasm, “it’s fast acting and doesn’t leave a trace unless one is looking for it.”
“And guess who was leading the operation,” Hraerik told her. “Your old handler from England!”
“Nooo!” she said in disbelief.
“He’s working for Empress Zoe now.”
“But why would Zoe off the duke?”
“She may have learned about Duke Robert’s plans to appropriate King Sweyn’s plan to attack Constantinople and take the Throne of Rome.”
“How would she hear of that?”
“A little mechanical birdie may have landed on her windowsill and planted that idea in her head,” and Hraerik nodded over to Witch Hama, who was now driving Witch Nadege into orgasm.
“Transmutation?” Gretta asked.
“Yes. Old school witchcraft.”
“But what would be mechanical about old school?”
“Nothing,” Hraerik admitted. “I just threw that in because mechanical birds were one thing I shared with Emperor Theophilus many years ago.”
“That must have been many years ago. Didn’t he die, like two hundred years ago?”
“Many years will do. No need to get specific,” and he grabbed Gretta and began pleasuring her as well.
When the great merchant fleet had left Constantinople for Cherson they met up with the rest of the fleet and Prince Hraerik asked Witch Nadege to collect tithes while he took Gretta back to Gardariki. News had awaited them that Grand Prince Ivaraslav had defeated the Pechenegs in battle and had driven them back into Khazaria, so the Tmutorokan trading fleet accompanied them east as well. The Prince and Gretta got reacquainted, but that is not why he had come to Tmutorokan. He had to meet with General Wu’s son from Cathay, who was in charge of training the Hraes’ legions and special forces.
“Witch Hama is in trouble,” Hraerik told Gretta. “She has been in a relationship with a northern Aran warlock, the grandson of a warlock that King Frodi hired, the grandson of a warlock that my son, Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’, had tried to kill many times, but couldn’t. He will possess Witch Hama and kidnap her and take her north with him.”
“How do you know this?” Gretta asked.
“I knew his grandfather, and his father; it is what they do. His magic is evil. He will imprison Witch Hama in a tower in Staraya Russa and will use her for breeding his sons and for training them. He will never release her. He doesn’t know I’m coming, but if he takes Hama, he will know all about me and will sense when I am coming for him. I have to do this now and I have to do this quickly. His type is very hard to kill. Arrow Odd was the greatest warrior of his time and he could not kill one of these. Not when it knew he was coming.”
Gretta knew that Hraerik was about to do something so dangerous that he thought he may not survive it. There was a deliberateness to the way he was talking that unnerved her. “Can I help?” she asked.
“No, but General Wuson has a team trained. They are called Black Ninjas and they follow the way of the Ninjas of the Emperor of Cathay.”
“Black Jesus!” Gretta cursed. “This is serious shit. Let me help.”
“You have to stay here,” Hraerik told her. “If I’m killed, take the gold of Gardariki to King Sweyn’s castle on Wight. Stay with Princess Nadege there and help her take care of my new family. And you can visit Princess Gyda and her children in Winchester from there anytime you want.”
The Prince met with Wuson and they went through the gear required for the task Hraerik had outlined. He had worked with Wuson, developing some new helmets with drop down eye loops that held optical glass that protected the eyes from arrows. If the glass was tempered like steel, it could protect eyes from spear thrusts as well. These helmets were manufactured in the Guild factories of Gardariki and the glass came out of the optical scope factory in the city. By polishing a curve into the outer glass it made them stronger and lighter, but the inside glass had to be curved as well or it caused a distortion of vision, but with the distortion it actually improved some warriors’ vision and by curving the inside at a slightly different radius, it improved other warriors’ vision. All Hraes’ legions were being equipped with these new spectacle helmets and other countries were emulating the drop loops even though they did not have the technology required to put glass in them. Just having the loops often kept archers from trying to shoot them in the eye, for glass was difficult to see at a distance.
The Prince had complained to his optical scope people of having trouble seeing at night, that lights at night got blurry and they told him to get the new special lenses put into his drop loops because it often improved night vision. So Hraerik was having the new tempered lenses added to his Black Ninja helmet because the operation was going to take place at night and he wanted improved night vision for it. He wasn’t getting older, he told himself, it was just world-wide cooling making the atmosphere denser and seeing at night that much harder.
When Prince Hraerik left Gardariki, he left it with twelve Black Ninjas, but they weren’t black at all. They were all Kievan Danes from a long line of Danish warriors that had lived in Kiev from the time of King Frodi forward. They were all tall and strong and sharp eyed, in blue, green and hazel, and long haired in blonde, red and brown and they were each trained in all the martial arts, in hand and knife and sword and spear, in bow and arrow and rockets and a new weapon from Cathay that used black powder to fire an iron bolt, in horse and chariot and armoured knight, in boat and ship and longship, both normal and tall and they could fight on land and they could fight on sea and they could even fight under it, for they were all trained underwater breathers.
As they sailed up the Dnieper in a very fast lateen sailed sloop, Hraerik heard the men grumbling about numbers. They were twelve and Prince Hraerik made the thirteenth man and that did not bode well with them. “I do not come with you as a man,” the Prince told them, “but as a warlock, and I am worth two of any one of you, and you are worth two of any one of my finest Exeyes officers, so, by my reconning that makes a group of twenty eight total. But if I unleashed our total group of twenty eight on a full Roman legion, I would pity that legion, for Emperor Augustus himself would be looking towards the Teutoburg Forest and would cry, ‘Give me back my Legion!’ and I would tell him they lie in the Black Forest courtesy of the Black Ninjas!”
With that, the Black Ninjas let out a cheer of, “Hraesss!” and no more was said of numbers. Just before Kiev, Hraerik and his men caught up with Princess Nadege at the head of the great merchant fleet and he jumped aboard his shieldship and joined her at the forestem.
“Who are they?” she asked him as the men sailed ahead in their sloop.
“They are my new acting troupe,” Hraerik told her. “We are going to do a new play I wrote, called ‘Black Jesus’, in Novgorod, so you shall have to lead the fleet to Roskilde and I shall catch up with you there.”
“You’ve been acting strange since we met Witch Hama,” Nadege told him. “We’re still going to try to have what Misty and Nado had?”
“Yes,” Hraerik told her and he kissed her deeply. “But even they had Iry Dada, and Gretta and Hama may just be our Iry Dada, if that is okay with you.” He realised that he was falling in love with her, trusting her more, sharing more with her, but he couldn’t tell her about this new warlock, this new threat. It would put her in danger. If he missed the hit on this target, he could go after her if he knew about her. He had to block Nadege out of his mind completely. When his son, Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’, had missed the hit on the warlock’s grandfather, Warlock Senior had killed Helgi’s son, Vignir ‘the Giant’.
In Kiev, Prince Hraerik congratulated Grand Prince Ivaraslav on his great victory over the Pechenegs. “Perhaps it will help keep your brothers from trying to steal Chernigov from you.”
“And Tmutorokan,” Ivar reminded him. “I have decided I don’t want to be king,” he told his grandfather. “I wish to stay a warrior prince and my brothers will respect what I hold because I will use my strength to protect them all.”
“And the Hraes’ Trading Company?” Hraerik asked.
“Misty was doing well with you before he was possessed by Iry Dada,” Ivar said. “Pick another prince and I shall tell him to serve you.”
“It’s not serving me,” Hraerik said. “It’s serving our generations old family company.”
“Service is service,” Ivar spat. “Service is not for kings or warrior princes. I will become your king before I become our company’s servant. I am born of the purple. I serve no one.”
Prince Hraerik would have told him that most of the Roman Emperors that he’d met in his long life had all spent their lives serving Rome. But it was not a lecture that ever went over well. Time seemed to be the best teacher of all.
Prince Hraerik and Princess Nadege parted ways at the Smolensk-Surazh portage and Hraerik rejoined his men aboard the sloop and they portaged on to the Lovat River and sailed for Staraya Russa. All the way up the Dnieper from Kiev, Hraerik had been taking double doses of the Alchemists’ Elixir of Life and he was feeling as strong and as fast as he had ever felt, stronger, for he had power that only comes with age. Excessive age, without aging.
They sailed up the Lovat and took a left at Lake Ilmen and they beached their sloop on the south bank of the lake and they walked the rest of the way towards the town. They could have sailed right up to the town and docked at one of the quays, but the Prince could already sense the warlock sniffing out for danger. They stopped on a hill above the town and they sat in the pines and looked down upon the site. There were over a hundred homes and shops in the town and there was a wooden stockade all around it and in the center there was a large manse and in the courtyard of the manse was a tower, not overly tall, made of logs laid cabin style. It stood a little taller than King Canute’s Tower of London, but that wasn’t really a tower, having been built as a place instead. Suddenly, Prince Hraerik got the feeling that his grandson had died. “Long live King Canute ‘the Greatest Of All Time’,” he whispered and then put the thought out of his mind.
“The warlock will have a small army in the town,” he told his ninjas, “all bought and paid for and very well trained. And in the center is his manse, his mansion, and there he will have a dozen personal bodyguards, all warlocks in training, all strong and fast, and they’ll all bend you over your shield before they kill you. Very old school. Very Roman. The Aran are the Vanir. We Aesir are the Aran, but we came back south and we beat them. The Aran that fled Troy became the Vanir and founded Rome. The Aran of Persia fled Zoroaster and became the Brahmans of India. These are pure Alan Aran warlocks and we Aesir are the only ones that have ever beaten them. You are all fully trained Aesir warlocks, correct?”
“We’re fully trained Black Ninjas,” one of them reminded Hraerik.
“Even better,” Hraerik responded. “Now, if you’re fighting them and you are winning, they may try to disappear underground. Don’t let them do that. Grab them by the hair or the head and don’t let them go under. They could come up anywhere. Take their heads off. That is the best way to kill them. Don’t go after the head warlock,” Hraerik warned them and he looked each of them in the eye until they blinked, “leave him for me. He is very powerful and will soon be going into full lust. If you fight him and lose, he will fock you to death. He will bend time and then bend you and he will have his way with you for hours and when you die, he will be back as though he’d been gone but a second.”
The men gulped at this. They all gulped. Hraerik continued, “We’ll wait until dark and sneak into the town over the stockade, then we’ll make our way to the manse and scale the walls and drop down into the courtyard. We’ll kill all that we find guarding the courtyard, but every one of them that dies will be sensed by the head warlock and he will rouse the rest and our surprise will be lost. Don’t worry about the tower. It is reserved for the witch we are trying to save from him. If he gets his hands on her she will be locked in the tower and at the full moon the full lust will come over him and he will mate with her for days, he will fock her for three days straight and it will almost kill her and she will pray that he gets her pregnant, for, if not, it will take her a month to heal and he will be right back for her. This could go on for a full year before she conceives, or she could die in the trying. Witches train their whole lives for this, but they die all the time. So, we are going to kill this one warlock and save at least one witch.”
As they waited for darkness, they took their war gear out of their kit bags and started to gear up. Their armour was all black leather, treated with special glues and emulsions to make it harder than forged steel and it was silent and had no reflection, being the blackest of black in colour. And their helmets were of forged steel clad in this leather and they had spectacle drop loops that held tempered optical glass in them to protect their eyes from arrows. And their lower face and throat and neck were protected by loose hanging chain mail with each ring black leather wrapped. Their bodies were fully protected from their heads to their toes and it was all in black armour. They were not called Black Ninjas for nothing. “Did I tell you that each warlock can shoot iron arrows out of each fingertip?” Hraerik asked them.
“No sir, you did not,” one of them said. There was no leader among this twelve. They were all equally trained and all matched so that any one of them could lead if required, but all led until death or injury required otherwise.
“Well, you’ve been told. And the rest will be told you on a need to know basis.”
When darkness came, they slipped down the hill to the town and went up each other and over the stockade into the streets. Groups of three took different paths and the Prince led one of them. The manse was a huge square two floored building, a hundred full paces a side, with an open courtyard in the middle and the tower, which was the footprint of a small longhall and twice as tall as the manse, stood in the very center. Hraerik was glad his helmet had been fitted with the special optical lenses which helped him see better in the dark. There was no stopping eyes aging, one could only protect them from it. Again, the men climbed upon each other to get onto the roof and scampered across it and rappelled down into the courtyard below. They left their ropes in place and hid them down the backsides of columns. There were four young warlocks guarding the courtyard entrance from the eastern street and Hraerik sent six of his men to dispatch them. The rest he led along the courtyard perimeter to clear any warlocks, but none were found. They looped around the yard and came back to the entrance area to find that their assault group had silently dispatched all four warlocks and they carried their heads to prove it. Still, as warned, a bell could be heard clanging from within.
Hraerik led his men into a building entrance nearby just as the yard began to fill with young warlocks. They were all tall and dark haired and carried swords and shields, but no armour, as they scoured the yard and found the headless bodies near the gates. One of the Black Ninjas had left the front gates slightly ajar and this caused several of the warlocks to venture out into the street to look for interlopers. Hraerik led his men west through the building. This type of manse usually had its important rooms at the back of the courtyard, away from the gates, for better security, so, that is where he led his ninjas. They advanced with swords and shields in hand and at the ready and they came upon and surprised a group of warlocks who were crossing a hallway to go out into the courtyard. The ninjas overwhelmed them and made short work of them, with several trying to escape by disappearing into the earth through wide cracks in the floorboards, but the wood slowed them enough for the men to catch them by the hair while others lopped through their necks with swords. Several of the men had leather sacks with them and the heads were all posited into the sacks and carried along. Some Aran witchcraft had spells for raising dead warriors, so the heads were kept for security against that happening.
When they got to the west end of the building, the head warlock was in the great hall with a dozen of his acolytes and they were all armed and were at various stages of armouring themselves when the Black Ninjas burst into the room. Several warlocks raised their hands and fired five iron arrows from each hand at their attackers, but the full armour of the ninjas protected them and they engaged the warlocks with sword and buckler and melee fighting of a naval style broke out throughout the hall. Men were falling on both sides very swiftly and Hraerik cut down a young warlock to get at the headmaster. The great warlock looked about, trying to find the leader of the attackers, but the ninjas were all dressed the same and he could not spot Hraerik, but the Prince saw him right away and was fighting toward him. The young warlocks were at a disadvantage because of their lack of body armour and were falling fast, but more of them were coming back from the courtyard and more were coming down from upstairs and they were better armoured.
One of the Black Ninjas had just beheaded a young warlock near the great warlock and the leader struck him hard on the helmet with his sword and stunned him, then he seemed to pause before dispatching him and administering that final stroke, but in that pause that took but a split second, the warlock dragged the young ninja warrior through the hall and out into the courtyard to the tower and he hauled the young warrior up the stairs by the scruff of his mail and threw him over the edge of the bed in the upper chamber. He then lifted the mail shirt and tore away the pants of the man and he pulled his member out from under his fine mail shirt and he entered him from behind and he ravaged him for an hour straight before he came in him and then he dragged the man back down the stairs and to the hall and he stood the man before him and was about to behead him when Hraerik lunged ten feet straight across the hall and took the warlock’s head half off with a slice of his razor sharp sword. Hraerik tried to finish the job, but was attacked by a warlock who was trying to stab him through his armour with a seax.
“Kill him!” Hraerik ordered, and some ninjas could see that the great warlock wasn’t dead even though his head remained attached by just a thread of flesh. The warlock was using his hands to blindly try to reattach his own head to his body and seemed to be succeeding, but the ninjas near Hraerik were under attack as well. Hovering over the warlock was the dying ninja warrior he had raped in the tower and, as he pitched forward in death, he had a seax of his own in hand and he fell atop the warlock and used his last breath to carve that last thread of flesh away with his knife and the warlock died with him.
At the death of their lord, some of the young warlocks fled out into the courtyard and disappeared into the earth, but many in the hall fought on to the death. “Don’t let them escape to the courtyard!” Hraerik ordered his men as they fought on. He counted eight Black Ninjas still standing and fighting and there were still warlocks coming down the stairs. They allowed the warlocks to drive them back across the hall to the double doors of the courtyard. The doors were designed to be barred from the inside but the doors had double post handles on the outside. Hraerik could see that from the huge iron nuts on the inside so, they fought their way to the open doors, launched one last vicious attack on the warlocks and, as the warlocks fell back, they went out the doors and slammed them shut as iron arrows rattled against them on the other side. Hraerik ran his sword through the double post handles, edgewise for strength, and they ran for their hidden rappel ropes and were up on the roof by the time the warlocks had burst the doors open. They took their rappel ropes to the outside wall and slid down it and disappeared in a black stream into an alleyway. The town was waking up by then and the ninjas made it over the stockade before the walls started flooding with troops. They skirted the edge of the surrounding woods and headed back to their beached sloop by the lake. As they were crossing a clearing a dozen armed warlocks sprang out of the earth in front of them.
“Charge!” Hraerik shouted and the ninjas slammed shield-first into the warlocks and a skirmish broke out and another two ninjas fell driving a remaining few warlocks back into the earth. They dragged the bodies of the ninjas along with them as they ran across the clearing. “Will this keep happening?” one of the Black Ninjas asked Hraerik as they continued on to their ship. “Not once we get our ship into the water,” the Prince shouted while running. “I don’t think they’re underwater breathers!” When they got to their ship they didn’t even stop to pull the branches off that had hidden it. They dragged it out into the water just as another dozen warlocks popped out of the earth and they rowed hard as the warlocks shot iron arrows at them from each of their fingertips. “Can they fly?” another Black Ninja asked. “The great warlock could,” Hraerik answered, “but he’s dead. I have his head in my bag. Who has the other bag?” Hraerik asked, as the men rowed. “I have it tied to my belt,” another Black Ninja shouted as he rowed. “But there’s only a few heads in it. We were killing so many of them, I couldn’t take them all.”
“That’s okay,” Hraerik reassured him. “Only the great warlock could revive dead warriors and he’s dead!” Hraerik liked saying that. ‘Slaint saints and dead warlocks,’ he thought and then he remembered his premonition about his grandson, Canute. They rowed north across Lake Ilmen to the Volkov River and to Novgorod. Canute’s namesake, young Prince Valdamar, Ivar’s son, was ruling there. He would re-supply what was left of his Black Ninjas, and he looked down at the two black armoured bodies at his feet, and they would return to Gardariki with a message of success for Gretta and an apology of loss for General Wuson. He would borrow a warship from the Hraes’ store in Novgorod and catch up with the great merchant fleet in Roskilde. They would have news about Canute. As the warship sailed across the Baltic Sea, Hraerik weighted the two bags of heads with ballast stones and he dropped them into the deepest part of the sea. But he kept the great warlock’s head in an Aesir head box he had purchased in Novgorod. ‘Witch Nadege will know what to do with it,’ he told himself.
“I don’t know what to do with it!” Princess Nadege told him in Roskilde. “Warlocks always scared the shit out of me. Even dead ones!”
“Can you at least prepare it?” Hraerik asked. “I’ll ask Witch Hallveig what to do with it.”
“I’ll prepare it,” she told him, “but Witch Hallveig may be done.”
Prince Hraerik had learned upon his return that King Canute had indeed died, of the rigours of his war in Normandy, and that Magnus Olafson had taken the crown of Norway from King Svein who then had died in Denmark, in King Frodi’s old fortress near Liere. Young King Hardeknute of Denmark, his son by Emma, had agreed to share the Danish throne with King Svein and had now worked out a deal to share the English throne with King Harald ‘Harefoot’, whom Canute had left in charge of England. The Prince didn’t want the same thing happening to his son as had happened to Svein, so he offered to lead the great merchant fleet against King Magnus, but Hardeknute didn’t feel threatened by the young Norse king. So they finished tithing the fleet and released it to disperse.
They stayed a few extra days in Roskilde while Witch Nadege prepared the great warlock’s head. While the couple were in bed in their suite in the palace, Nadege asked, “Has the goddess Irpa kept up her blessing with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know,” she said, shyly. “The full Irpa she gave you?”
“I would never use the full Irpa on you,” Hraerik told her. “You are far too young, and far too fine.”
“If I can pass your children through my vagina,” she told him, showing him her swollen belly, “then I’m sure it can handle anything Irpa might throw my way!”
The Prince couldn’t argue with that logic. “Let’s find out,” he said.
Once the head was fully prepared and re-boxed they set sail for England.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:
A.D. 1035. This year died King Knute at Shaftesbury, on the
second day before the ides of November; and he is buried at
Winchester in the old minster. He was king over all England very
near twenty winters. Soon after his decease, there was a council
of all the nobles at Oxford; wherein Earl Leofric, and almost all
the thanes north of the Thames, and the naval men in London,
chose Harold to be governor of all England, for himself and his
brother Hardacnute, who was in Denmark. Earl Godwin, and all the
eldest men in Wessex, withstood it as long as they could; but
they could do nothing against it. It was then resolved that
Elfgiva, the mother of Hardacnute, should remain at Winchester
with the household of the king her son. They held all Wessex in
hand, and Earl Godwin was their chief man. Some men said of
Harold, that he was the son of King Knute and of Elfgive the
daughter of Alderman Elfelm; but it was thought very incredible
by many men. He was, nevertheless, full king over all England.
Harold himself said that he was the son of Knute and of Elfgive
the Hampshire lady; though it was not true; but he sent and
ordered to be taken from her all the best treasure that she could
not hold, which King Knute possessed; and she nevertheless abode
there continually within the city as long as she could.
The Prince Hraerik’s New Chronicle of the Hraes’ for the year read:
(1035 AD). While Ivaraslav was still at Novgorod, news came to him
that the Pechenegs were besieging Kiev. He then collected a large
army of Varangians and Slavs, returned to Kiev, and entered his city.
The Pechenegs were innumerable. Ivaraslav made a sally from the city
and marshalled his forces, placing the Varangians in ·the centre, the
men of Kiev on the right flank, and the men of Novgorod on the left.
When they had taken position before the city, the Pechenegs advanced,
and the combat was fierce, but toward evening Ivaraslav with
difficulty won the upper hand. The Pechenegs fled in various directions,
but as they did not know in what quarter to flee, they were drowned,
some in the Setoml’, some in other streams, while the remnant of them
disappeared from that day to this. In the same year, Ivaraslav imprisoned
his brother Sudislav in Pskov because he had been slanderously accused.