Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
3.0 KING CANUTE RETURNS TO ENGLAND (Circa 1015 AD)
(1015 AD) Early March, the Hraes’ fleet landed at the Viking harbour of the Isle of Wight and the legions settled into their barracks which had remained untouched thanks to the efforts of Queen Emma of Normandy. She expected, in return, that her city of Southampton and surrounding area be spared the ravages of war, as had been her prior agreement with King Sweyn. Prince Hraerik, of course, guaranteed this when he went on to Normandy to view her progress on their tallships. Prince Valdamar carried on to Sandwich and surveyed the damage that had been done to his Unicorn scorn pole. He learned that King Athelred, himself, had pulled down the pole and had immediately been stricken down by a pox and was now carried about upon a shield.
“So, what do you think of my tallships?” Queen Emma asked Prince Hraerik at her shipyard just north of Rouen.
“They are just what we shall need,” the Prince replied. Emma led him down the main quay and up a gangplank to inspect the latest completed vessel. The Prince had not been with a woman since losing his wife, Myia, and watching Emma’s youthful sway as she strode up the plank reminded him of that fact. She took him aboard deck and led him to the captain’s cabin under the poop. “It’s the latest design,” she said as she led him to the bed. She pushed him back onto the sheets and began unbuttoning his pants, then she took his lingam into her mouth and got him all hard and wet and she lifted up her frilly dress with her many frilly skirts underneath and she sat herself down on his midriff and slid herself down onto him and then she straightened up and began to ride him slowly. She moaned a bit and Hraerik could see that she had also been alone for a time. “It’s such a nice design,” she breathed, “so nice…” and she began to come a little and it reset her focus and she began to ride him harder and then harder until they both came together. She fell off him and laid beside him on the bed. “It’s been while,” she said, and Hraerik replied, “I know it!”
They cuddled and kissed for a while like a couple that had missed each other’s company and then they began to catch up. “My brother has returned to Normandy with his legions,” she started, and then she told Hraerik about the Unicorn scorn pole and what had happened to King Athelred when he tore it down, “and now he’s carried around on a shield like your grandfather, Prince Ivar ‘the Boneless’.
“King Ivar was my son,” the Prince reminded her.
“Oh yes,” she apologized, “I keep forgetting how old you are. I rode you pretty hard for an old war horse. I hope I didn’t break anything.”
“Well,” Hraerik began, “my saddle horn was hard and now it’s soft. You’ll have to correct that presently. I don’t know what to say about your broken king though, my queen. I can explain all the other calamities that have struck England since the coming of the Unicorn pole, but this one escapes me.”
“Well, I know what it is,” Emma said. “I told Sweyn that Athelred was diseased, and the disease has caught up with him. I’ve never seen him look so sickly, even before he took down the scorn pole. But as soon as he ended up on that shield, my brother packed up his shield and came home.”
“That helps everything,” Hraerik said, kissing Emma sweetly.
“There was one complication,” Emma said, kissing him back. “Athelred attacked the other Viking mercenaries, the thingmen that he had brought over from Normandy,” and she began to tell the Prince the sordid details of it.
She told him of the English attack on two corps of thingmen, the corps in London and one in Sleswik, just north of London. “The attack was planned and executed by Ulfkytel of East Anglia,” she said, slowly and deliberately, “and the massacre in Sleswik was thoroughly carried out, but the one in London missed its mark somewhat. It was planned to strike during the Yule festivities when the thingmen would be drunk, and armed men were smuggled into their stronghold in wagons carrying merchandise for the midwinter market. But the Vikings were warned by a young Anglish girl who wished to save her lover Thord. Captain Eilif and his men escaped to Denmark with the girl, but in Slesswick, the plan succeeded, with none escaping and among the fallen was Captain Heming, Thorkel the Tall’s brother. Now Thorkel’s out for English blood. He’s switched sides and gone off with his men to meet Prince Valdamar at Sandwich.”
Prince Hraerik couldn’t tell Emma that Thorkel hadn’t switched sides, that he had always been loyal to Sweyn, and that his conversion to Christianity was a sham to get Jomsvikings into London during the siege of 1013. Thorkel had forty ships with him and they all became thingmen for Athelred inside Fortress London, but instead of attacking from within, Thorkel saw the opportunity to escort King Athelred to safety in Normandy after Emma and her children had fled and he sent a message without to King Sweyn telling him to make that offer. “London will soon ask for terms if Athelred flees,” Thorkel assured his king without the walls. King Sweyn made King Athelred the offer of amnesty in Normandy, but King Athelred would only go if his new convert, Thorkel ‘the Tall’, would provide for his personal safety. The plan worked better than anyone could have imagined. Not only did Athelred flee and London fall, but the Jomsvikings providing safety for the English king were just waiting for word from the Danish king of when to slit his throat. But that word never came. Sweyn was in love with Emma and he would not kill Athelred without talking it over with her first. And then he was dead and Prince Valdamar didn’t know that Thorkel was now working for him so, once again, the order never came.
When Athelred was called back to England by his people, Duke Richard saw his opening, and Thorkel came back with them for the ride, but it was now the Norman duke who was in control of the English king. Then Prince Valdamar went to Sandwich and erected his Unicorn scorn pole and Thorkel sat tight. He still had forty ships in a castle outside London, but when both Viking and Jomsviking thingmen came under sudden attack he took his men to meet Prince Valdamar, which turned out to be a mistake, because Valdy still didn’t know that Thorkel’s conversion and defection was a sham strategy thought up by his father, Sweyn.
“Maybe the Prince knows,” Thorkel ‘the Tall’ said, as the ropes about his wrists made him taller. He was in the campaign pavilion of Prince Valdamar on the Island of Sandwich.
“This is quite the tall tale you have, Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’,” Valdy said as some of his men pulled down on the ropes and the jarl grew taller.
“It’s Sweyn!” Thorkel grunted. “It’s a strategy only your father could have come up with! You know me. You know I couldn’t come up with such an elaborate ruse, not even as an excuse. I thought he would have told you about it. Maybe he told the Prince?”
Valdamar signaled for his men to release Thorkel. “You’re in luck,” Valdy said, “because the Prince is with me. We’ll find out! For now, join me for some wine,” and he had wine brought over for his prisoner. “The Prince is in Normandy buying some of Queen Emma’s tallships, you know, like the ones that thrashed the shit out of your fleet a few years back.”
“That was another ruse of King Sweyn’s that didn’t go near as well,” Thorkel replied.
“Likely because of you, though, not father’s plan.”
“Oh, definitely,” Thorkel agreed. “Some of your father’s plans were well beyond my pay grade.” And they laughed and shared wine and the next day the fleet sailed back to Wight to meet the Prince and Queen Emma in Southampton.
There were three new tallships in the Viking fortress harbour when Prince Valdamar brought his fleet back from Sandwich. The Prince met Valdy and Thorkel as they walked together up the quay and he said, “Thank the gods you didn’t kill him!” and then Valdy knew Thorkel had been telling the truth.
“Thorkel told me of father’s plan and I had to believe him. It had Sviatoslav ‘the Brave’ written all over it!”
“I told you,” Thorkel laughed. “You didn’t have to make me three inches taller just to find that out.”
“I’m just glad he didn’t make you a foot shorter!” the Prince said. “Young Sweyn told me of his convoluted plan. I just wish we still had your forty ships inside London!”
“Oh, Duke Richard wasn’t about to have two thousand Jomsvikings staying in London with him,” Thorkel explained. “He wanted King Athelred under his thumb, and his thumb alone.”
They had wine brought when they got to the highseats of King Sweyn’s great hall and they continued their discussion on Fortress London. “It’ll be a tough siege,” Valdamar began. “The London fyrds have gotten very proficient at defending their walls.”
“Well,” Hraerik replied, “the Drevjane of Iskorosten got very proficient at putting out fires until they met up with five thousand little Cathayan sky lanterns.”
Thorkel didn’t know what the Prince meant by that, but Valdy certainly did. His grandmother, Empress Helga of Kiev had the wooden walled city of Iskorosten under siege for six months and the Prince levelled the town in six hours using the Cathayan fire sparrows as the Drevjane had called them. Empress Helga fell in love with the Prince that night and they were lovers to the day she died.
“We’ve tried fire,” Valdy complained. “King Athelred’s wife, Queen Emma is right across the strait from us. We could use her as a hostage.”
“Nobody touches Queen Emma,” the Prince ordered. “I brought some of that new sex drug back from India and she’s agreed to try it with me.”
“The death drug?” Valdy asked. “You don’t want us using her as a hostage, but you’ll kill her for five minutes?”
“It’ll just be for three,” Hraerik said reassuringly, “besides, she’s my new partner. The Hraes’ Trading Company is going to be doing direct sailings to the Newfoundland and back!”
“Across open ocean?” Valdy asked. “That’s not the Mediterranean!”
“That’s what the tallships are for,” Hraerik said. “I saw how they were doing it in Cathay when I was there. They use big ships they call junks. They’ve sailed east to the Newfoundland and their ocean in a hell of a lot bigger than ours. Especially as far north as we are.”
Thorkel just sat back and drank his mead. He hadn’t been able to follow anything that they had said for the past while. But he did understand the conversation about the hostage and he had seen Prince Valdamar fall in love with Princess Aelfgifu of Northampton and now he was pretty sure he was watching the Prince of the Hraes’ falling in love with Queen Emma, Aelfgifu Number Two. “How is my wife?” Thorkel asked Valdy during a break in their conversation. “I’ve been undercover. I haven’t seen her in over two years.” Thorkel had fallen in love himself when he had kidnapped Aelfgifu Number One in Northampton.
“She’s in Kiev with my wife, Aelfgifu. Aelfrowana and your children are fine. They play with our children all the time.” The conversation gravitated to wives and children for a while and then it went back to Fortress London.
The next day Jarl Eirik arrived with his fleet and some troops that King Olaf had sent with him from Sweden. Eirik had left his son Haakon in charge of Lade and Norway, but, as he was still young, Eirik gave him a guardian in his kinsman, the famous Trondheim chief, Einar Thongshaker. In his day, Einar was the best archer in Norway; hence his nickname, the one who makes the bow-thong tremble. He, too, had fought at the Battle of Svolder, but on King Olaf’s ship and twice did his arrow seek Eirik’s life. On the third try, he drew the bow and it was struck by an arrow and broke with a loud snap. “What just broke so loudly?” King Olaf Tryggvason had shouted from the poop. “Norway from your hands,” replied the gallant archer. After Jarl Eirik and King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’, his blood brother, had become rulers of all Norway, they made peace with Einar, married him to their sister, the generous Bergljot, and endowed him with great lands and power.
Once Eirik got settled in, Prince Valdamar, or King Canute, as he was now to be called, asked his princes, jarls, generals and officers to sit in on a strategy meeting so they could learn their respective roles to be played in the reconquest of England. “While our slavers are out buying up the starving famine victims of last year’s calamities,” and Valdy took a bow as all applauded the success of his Unicorn scorn pole. None had ever seen the famous Aesir Unicorn curse applied to an enemy before; like the blood eagle, it had not been done in living memory, and the results had been catastrophic. The terror could not have been greater. The Prince knew it was important to acknowledge the success of Aesir magic when it went well, for it gave the Aesir warriors courage in battle so, he led the applause and did not stop clapping until he was sure that all fully appreciated the power the curse now held over the English people. “While the slavers are busy,” Canute began again, “we shall be out raiding. The Prince and I shall be with you until the merchant fleets leave for Baghdad and Constantinople, but spring and summer are to be used for raiding and skirmishing only. There are to be no full engagements with the English. Once contact is made, disengage. Your task at hand is to unnerve the enemy. We want to make full use of the power the Unicorn scorn pole has over them so, we allow them no victories. We hit them, then disappear like ghosts. We rape, we pillage, we burn, then we disappear. The Prince and I shall return in the fall with more legions and then we begin the siege of Fortress London and we’ll have some new Cathayan siege gear to show you.”
While the Hraes’ were having their meeting, a gemot, a war council, had been summoned by King Athelred in Oxford, near the border of the Danelaw. Athelred wanted to build a closer union between the North and the South, the Saxons and the Angles. Among others who attended were two Scandinavian nobles from the Seven Boroughs, Sigeferth and Morcar, who were Angles. During the sessions of the gemot, the brothers were accused of treason and slain in the house of Eadric Streona, the Mercian earl and the result was a riot. The followers of the murdered men called for revenge, but were repulsed and driven into the tower of Saint Frideswide’s Church, which the Saxons promptly burned. Such a violation of the right of sanctuary could not be overlooked, even in those impassioned times, and only through penance on the part of the luckless King was the stain removed.
But the deed was done because Eadric wanted the wealth of the two Danes, and Athelred actually did exact forfeiture of property. But it may also be that Eadric was endeavouring to extend and consolidate his Mercian earldom and to do this he would have to devise some method to deprive the Seven Boroughs of their peculiarly independent position in the Danelaw or Danish Mercia. Whatever his purpose, he seems to have had the approval of the ill-counselled King.
Sigeferth’s widow, Aldgyth, was taken as a prisoner to Malmesbury, where Edmund, Athelred’s virile son, saw her and desired her. But Athelred objected to his son’s matrimonial plans solely because he did not enjoy the thought of having in his household as daughter-in-law a woman who could not help but be a constant reminder of a deed that was treacherous, stupid, and criminal. Passion, however, was strong in Edmund Ironside and he married the widow in spite of his father’s veto. More yet, he demanded her slain husband’s forfeited official position. Athelred again refused, so the prince proceeded to the Danish strongholds and took possession of them anyway.
Edmund’s act was that of a rebel, but his father was being carried about on a shield still, and in the Danelaw his rebellion was regarded in large part as proper vengeance. Thus fuel was added to the old fire that burned in the hearts of Angles and Saxons. The spirit of rebellion, so general in the kingdom, had now appeared in the royal family itself. Most significant of all, Prince Edmund had probably thwarted the great ambition of Eadric Streona. And here was the King’s son actually governing two strongholds of his earldom. Would he not in time supplant the low-born Eadric? It caused the earl much consternation and Athelred’s gemot seemed to have driven the Saxons, Angles and Danes further apart rather than more together.
One Viking that had come back from Normandy with King Athelred and was still standing by him was Jarl Olaf ‘the Stout’ Haraldson, but during the Oxford gemot, Olaf had learned that Jarl Eirik Haakonson had left Norway and had arrived in England so, when Athelred returned to London, Jarl Olaf headed towards York. He had two warships awaiting him on the Humber and when he got there they sailed off for Norway to, once more, Christianize the land on Athelred’s behalf. He met his blood brother there, named Ole, who had two merchant ships and they sailed together to Lade to set a trap for Jarl Eirik’s son Haakon.
The two merchant ships rowed into Lade and were hardly noticed, but when two warships were spotted a little later entering Trondheim Fjord, young Jarl Haakon and his men rowed out in a warship to see who they were. His guardian Einar was readying a larger warship to sail after him, but when Haakon rowed between the two merchant ships, ropes were raised between them and Ole’s men managed to capsize Haakon’s smaller warship. While the young Jarl and his men were in the water, Olaf ‘the Stout’ came up in his warships and took them all prisoner. Olaf spared his life on the condition that he and his followers were to leave Norway, surrendering all to sovereignty, and swearing oaths to never more fight against Olaf and his band of Christian mercenaries, his Swords of Christ. Haakon, Einar and their followers took the required oaths and were permitted to flee Norway. It was a large following, for all Norwegians who wished to remain Aesir were required to leave as well. Some sailed for The Vik which was under Danish control, others sailed for Denmark and relatives there, but most of the people of Lade followed Jarl Haakon to the Isle of Wight and the Viking fortress there.
King Canute and his legions were already out in south England raiding and plundering and they began working their way towards the city of Canterbury, where they expected to find Jarl Sigvald and his Jomsvikings under siege. Instead, they were out and about and carrying on commerce with the locals. Sigvald explained to Canute that King Athelred had sent Ealdormen with an offer of twenty thousand pounds of silver to sit in Canterbury peacefully and stay out of any fighting for a year.
“I thought it was better to accept the offer,” Sigvald said, “than have Canterbury under siege for a year, so I took the silver, in your name, of course.”
“And how long does this payment indispose you for?” Canute asked.
“Until the fall,” Sigvald said.
“We won’t need you until fall,” Canute told him. “If you get another offer from London’s Ealdormen, take it, then warn them you will stay out of the fray, but you can no longer guarantee your men will. They’ll likely gamble you will control your men. That will deprive Athelred of another twenty thousand pounds of silver to use against us. If we need your men, we’ll let you know, but you can sit tight and control Canterbury and enjoy your Saxon women,” and Canute gave him a sly wink and left. He didn’t even ask Sigvald how much of the silver was left.
Jarl Eirik was systematically plundering southern England, using the rivers, just as King Sweyn had taught him a few years earlier, when news came that his son had just arrived at their fortress on Wight. Norway had, once more, fallen into Christian proselytizing hands, but this time conversions were not being forced. Aesir were being allowed to leave if they gave up lands and titles, but it was a lot to ask of those who had been forced to accept Christianity two decades earlier and were familiar with both faiths. And the slaves of Norway were joyous, for slaves had a long history in the Christian faith and the one Christian heaven accepted all good people including slaves while the many and varied Aesir heavens accepted none. Now the slaves of Norway were being promised an afterlife.
But now, the Christian slaves of England were being sold to Hraes’ slavers at heavily discounted prices because the famine sweeping across the country precluding feeding them, and their afterlives were in jeopardy, totally depending on what lands they would end up being sold in. In Byzantine lands their faith would be respected, in Muslim lands they might be allowed to join the Islamic faith, but in Jewish lands their religion would not be respected and they would not be allowed to join the Jewish faith because one had to be born into it. Except for the Khazars, who had been allowed to join the Jewish faith to spite the Byzantines. Worst case would be Aesir lands, where they would be allowed no faith and no prospect of heaven, for they were considered no more than just chattel and could be killed at any owners whim and anyone else’s for that matter, as long as they could pay replacement costs. As the famine progressed, free born children and youths began show up on slavers ships to avoid death by starvation, but their sale could cost them their very souls if they landed in the wrong place.
Jarl Eirik had difficulty steering his longship through the throng of slaver ships in the fortress harbour, but he was soon with his wives and children in King Sweyn’s great hall there. Haakon and Einar told him what had happened in Lade and the old Jarl vehemently cursed Jarl Olaf for taking his realm, but secretly thanked him for sparing his family. He freed up some longhalls within the walls, halls that had housed legions that were now housing themselves in English mansions and enjoying Saxon maidens, and then he got the men of Lade working on new longhalls outside the fortress walls. Once he was satisfied with the arrangements, he rejoined his Viking warriors on the mainland.
While King Canute and his jarls and generals were executing their spring hit and run campaign, Prince Hraerik was working with Queen Emma to outfit their ships for a trade mission to the Newfoundland. But the direct sailing aspect of the venture was being kept under strict wraps. All but captains and owners were led to believe the mission would go by way of Iceland and Greenland, the Norse controlled route that had just fallen into Jarl Olaf’s Christian hands. The Prince explained to Emma that the Greenlanders felt it their right to be able to control Newfoundland trade, Erik ‘the Red’ even banning it altogether for many years, fearing it would cause people to leave the settlements of his misnamed land. It wasn’t till after the death of Erik that his son, Leif ‘the Lucky’ was able to start expanding Newfoundland trade, but they were not taking advantage of the full potential of the land, did not even fully know the full potential of the land. But Hraerik’s son, Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’ had lived there for a few years, had wives and children there and knew the potential and had always planned to someday establish trade there. Death took him years too soon. It was being said in his sagas that he lived to be three hundred years old, but Hraerik told Emma that it was he who was prophesied to live three hundred years.
“Another hundred or so years to go,” Hraerik said as Emma snuggled in his arm in the captain’s bed of one of their tallships. Emma was outfitting three of her own and Hraerik, the three he had purchased from her.
“Will the alchemist drug keep you alive that long?” Emma asked in disbelief.
“I was born in 810,” Hraerik said, “and though I’ve died a few times since then, I’ve always managed to get back up and dust myself off and here I am a healthy two hundred and five! Two oh five and still alive!”
“Thank you for sharing some of the drug with me. You’re sure it helps with childbirth?” Emma asked.
“That is one of the things it does help with. It makes one more virile and capable of handling the results of that virility. But first we have to survive this new drug of mine, this sex drug,” Hraerik told her, and he took out the vials of poison and antidote and began to explain how they worked together.
“I ingest a measured amount of the antidote,” and Hraerik poured antidote out of the vial and onto a spoon and he sucked it off the spoon and swallowed it. “Now the antidote is in my system, but it must be taken after the poison to work so, when we make love and I come inside you, you are essentially being injected with the antidote, that is why you cannot wear an internal glove and are at risk of pregnancy.”
Emma watched the Prince as he talked and her gorgeous green eyes were as big as saucers. She’d gulped when he swallowed and he had her undivided attention. Their lives were at stake.
“Now we’ll mix your spoonful of antidote into your lip colouring and make a gel of it and you can put it on in front of the mirror while I dispense the correct amounts of the poison.” Emma took the lip gel and brushed it onto her lips carefully. “Try not to smear it,” Hraerik warned, “until you kiss me with it once you’ve come out of your death.”
They sat naked on the edge of the bed and Hraerik gave Emma her spoonful of the sex drug and then waited a bit and took his, while Emma crawled between the sheets and laid herself back for Hraerik. He swallowed the poison and then crawled between the sheets on top of her and he mounted and entered her and started thrusting deeply within her. He began thrusting faster and faster and soon they were off, two spirits flying and focking in mid-air, and the world was below them and the sun was above them, warming their bodies. They came together in a massive orgasm and Hraerik flowed freely within Emma and then they were in a meadow with lush grasses and sweet flowers and Hraerik realized he was in Emma’s body and she was above him thrusting deeply into him and he heard her breath, “Oh God!” and she came into Hraerik rather quickly, but recovered and began focking him some more until they both came together again in a massive explosion. Now they were in the Emma’s palace where they liked to sneak off and make love and they alternated bodies and positions for what seemed hours but was only minutes and then they were back in the captain’s bed and when Hraerik exploded one last time within Emma she came back to life and started breathing heavily and she saw that the Prince was dead and laying atop her and she pulled his head to her and she kissed his lips and she got some of the lip gel onto her tongue and she slipped her tongue deep into his mouth and he soon came back to life and began breathing suddenly. Emma pulled his head to her chest and they both caught their breaths and hugged each other closely. Then Hraerik slid off her and laid beside her.
“I’ve never come that hard in my life!” Emma gasped. “And so many times! Is that how it is with you? One great series of pulses?”
“So many questions,” he answered. “Just lay back and enjoy it for a while.”
“Oh…I am,” she replied, still trying to catch her breath. “Did we really go to all those places?”
“Enjoy them,” Hraerik said, pulling Emma tightly against his body. He had been inside her body, felt her, experienced himself through her and it took some getting used to, but he knew they were now connected as they had never been before.
“Can I sleep inside you tonight?” Hraerik blurted out.
“What?” Emma said. “Only one man has done that.”
“Not because I have to,” Hraerik said, “but because I want to.”
Later, that night when they were really back in Emma’s palace suite, Hraerik had his way and slept inside her.
A week later, when the prevailing winds were right, six tallships, captained by sailors Hraerik had taken with him the year before, sailed north up the coasts between England and Ireland and then caught the prevailing wind westward and sailed off directly towards the Newfoundland. They carried goods to trade with the natives there, iron ships kettles and glassware and colourful cloth and clothing to be exchanged for furs and hawks and hopefully gold.
Another week later and the merchant ships began sailing off to Roskilde to join the Hraes’ fleet. A few merchant ships sailed from Ireland and England, more from Normandy and Friesland and Prince Hraerik and King Canute sailed with them to lead the Hraes’ fleet to Kiev and then on to Cherson for tithing and finally on to Baghdad and Constantinople and India and Cathay.
Princess Svia and the elder Prince Ivaraslav were already in Constantinople to handle trading there so Prince Valdamar handled Baghdad, and Prince Hraerik handled Cathayan and Indian commerce. Trading went well and the Prince spent some time with his children in Mumba and everyone there was still grieving the loss of Myia. Hraerik rejoined Prince Valdamar in Baghdad and they left early to prepare their additional legions for transport to England. When they got to Kiev, Valdy’s son, young Prince Ivaraslav didn’t want to release any legions for service in England, claiming that Pechenegs were acting up and the legions would be needed to protect Kiev and the surrounding cities. Prince Valdamar and his son almost came to blows and Ivaraslav refused to pay his father a Novgorod tax that was due Kiev. Finally, to keep the peace, the Prince called up an additional legion from Tmutorokan instead and they left for England with only one mobile legion and one cataphract legion in lieu of two of each as they had planned. Their strategy of overwhelming force and heavy siege equipment was in jeopardy due to Pechenegs and a delayed Silk Road caravan due to the size of their ordered siege equipment. Their fall campaign was not getting off to a good start, but they left without some legions and siege gear because they didn’t want it getting off to a late start as well.
King Athelred and his officers were hoping that the Vikings would be easing up in the fall and would then go into winter quarters at Wight, but the fall arrival of fresh Hraes’ troops from the east signaled otherwise. The news must have been hard on the shield borne Athelred, for he became extremely ill shortly after hearing it. His rebellious son, Prince Edmond returned from the Danelaw with his new wife and he took charge of England’s defence. Prince Hraerik was glad that Queen Emma had stayed in Southampton over the summer. Edmond was Athelred’s son by his first wife and he held no affection for their Norman queen. He summoned Earl Eadric of Mercia to London with his forces but they soon had a falling out and Eadric fled London with forty ships and men and sailed down the Thames to join King Canute at Sandwich.
With the arrival of additional Slav troops from Hraes’, the Saxons of Wessex gave up the fight and accepted Canute as their king and provided fresh horses for the Hraes’ mobile legions. It was difficult transporting horses over such long distances so, only the heavy horse of the cataphract legions were brought over from Hraes’.
A few days later, King Canute moved on London and, with Earl Eadric following, started northward, crossed the Thames at Cricklade in Wiltshire, and proceeded toward the Warwick country. Prince Edmund took a force south to meet him, but the militia balked and suddenly became sticklers for legal form and regularity, and refused to go on without the presence of the King and the aid of London. As neither was forthcoming, the English militia dispersed to their home counties. Once more the summons went out to the fyrds and, once more, the militias insisted that the King be in personal command of the force. King Athelred crawled upon his shield and was borne out to the field, but all could see that the hand of death was upon him and they refused to follow the king as well. Athelred became even more gravely ill and was carried on his shield back to London.
With the second attempt at fighting having failed, Prince Edmund left the South to its fate, and rode north to Northumbria to seek the help of Earl Uhtred. Such was the chaos of England at the time that the Saxon South accepted the invader, while a prince of the house of Alfred looked to the north and the Angles and Danes for aid in the half-Scandinavian regions beyond the Humber that had once so readily submitted to King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’. Earl Utred gave Edmund troops and the prince took them south to meet Canute, but he went west through Mercia and pillaged Earl Eadric’s lands as he passed through them. Canute led his forces eastward into Bucks, marching his army in a northeasterly direction toward the Fenlands, and thence northward through Lincoln and Nottingham toward York. When Earl Uhtred learned of this attack on his territories, he hastened back to Northumbria, but he was not in position to fight, having given Prince Edmund a large part of his troops and, driven by necessity, he submitted to Canute, and all Northumbria with him, and they gave hostages. But Earl Eadric wanted Utred executed for the lives lost in his lands that Prince Edmund had so viciously passed through so, he was slain, and with him Thurkil, the son of Nefia. And after that the King Canute made Jarl Eirik earl of Northumbria with all the rights that Uhtred had held. And it was Jarl Einar ‘Thong-Shaker’ that killed Uhtred for sending Jarl Olaf ‘the Stout’ from Northumbria to Norway and endangering the young Jarl Haakon of Lade. Jarl Eirik gave his son an earldom in Northumbria to rule over in lieu of Lade.
Reports were coming in from Norway that fall about Jarl Olaf travelling along the shores and up through the dales; wherever it was practical, and he was summoning the peasantry and even slaves to public assemblies where he presented his case. His appeal was to national Norse pride and to the people’s sense of loyalty to Harold Fairhair’s dynasty. Almost everywhere the appeal was successful, but in the north the men who loved the old order were not willing to yield without a struggle. While Jarl Olaf was proselytizing in southern Norway, Jarl Eirik sent Einar back to Norway to organize the northern resistance of Halogaland, Namdalen and Trondheim while Olaf was occupied in the south. Jarl Eirik was needed in England and also feared that Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’ would get Northumbria if he left to retake Norway and Jarl Eirik wanted both.
While Prince Hraerik commanded a legion to control southern England and spent his time between Wight and Southampton, King Canute led his legions through Mercia and Bristol subjugating any further resistance outside London. In Norway, both Aesir and Christian parties were active, Jarl Einar in the Trondheim Fjord and Jarl Olaf in the South. All through Lent the fleets were gathering. Finally on Palm Sunday, March 25, 1016, the Viking dragonships clashed with each other at the Nesses, near the mouth of the Christiania Firth. Neither force was great, though that of the Northmen and Einar was considerably larger than the pretender’s host, but at the Nesses for the first time the cross figured prominently in Norwegian warfare: golden, red, or blue crosses adorned the shining shields of Jarl Olaf’s kingsmen. After mass had been sung and the men had breakfasted, Olaf and his kingsmen sailed out and made the attack. The outcome was long uncertain, but finally victory was with King Olaf. Jarl Einar and his small fleet of Aesir then sailed to York to help in the English fight. The attempt to dislodge the new king was put on hold for the time being.
After the submission of virtually all England, King Canute returned to his ships in the south and made preparations to attack London. That city alone showed the old determination to resist and King Athelred and Prince Edmund and a number of the English earls were there with their armies to protect the walls and, as always, so too were the London fyrds. King Canute immediately began preparations for a last descent upon the stubborn city; but before his longships had actually left harbour, England lost her king. April 23, 1016, Athelred died. To say anything in real praise of the ill-counseled king was impossible, so Prince Edmund didn’t even try. He just took up the crown, became King Edmund, and carried on with the defence of Fortress London.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:
A.D. 1015. This year was the great council at Oxford; where
Alderman Edric betrayed Sigferth and Morcar, the eldest thanes
belonging to the Seven Towns. He allured them into his bower,
where they were shamefully slain. Then the king took all their
possessions, and ordered the widow of Sigferth to be secured, and
brought within Malmsbury. After a little interval, Edmund
Etheling went and seized her, against the king’s will, and had
her to wife. Then, before the Nativity of St. Mary, went the
etheling west-north into the Five Towns, and soon plundered
all the property of Sigferth and Morcar; and all the people
submitted to him. At the same time came King Knute to Sandwich,
and went soon all about Kent into Wessex, until he came to the
mouth of the Frome; and then plundered in Dorset, and in
Wiltshire, and in Somerset. King Ethelred, meanwhile, lay sick
at Corsham; and Alderman Edric collected an army there, and
Edmund the etheling in the north. When they came together, the
alderman designed to betray Edmund the etheling, but he could
not; whereupon they separated without an engagement, and sheered
off from their enemies. Alderman Edric then seduced forty ships
from the king, and submitted to Knute. The West-Saxons also
submitted, and gave hostages, and horsed the army. And he
continued there until midwinter.