Ch. 4.0 KING EDMUND IRONSIDE AND FORTRESS LONDON

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

 

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0 KING EDMUND IRONSIDE AND FORTRESS LONDON  (Circa 1016 AD)

 

King Edmund Ironside and Fortress London

 

(1016 AD)  King Edmund ‘Ironside’ Athelredson, like his great grandfather before him, King Alfred, was a Saxon through and through, except for the part of him that wasn’t.  His father was King Athelred ‘the Unready’ of Wessex, the Saxon heartland of the Anglo-Saxons, but his mother was Lady Aelfgifu of York, an Angle of Mercia, and he was thankful for that and he knew he had only the foresight of his forefather, Alfred, to thank for it.  Toward the end of King Alfred ‘the Great’s reign the king married his daughter, Saxon Princess Athelflaed, to the Angle Prince Athelred of Mercia in an effort to unite the Angles and Saxons of Angleland, as the island was called at that time, against the encroachment of the Norse Vikings and the Anglish Danes of Jutland, from whence the Angles of Angleland had migrated hundreds of years earlier.  Prince Edmund had worked hard to carry on his great great great grandfather’s work by himself marrying the Mercian Anglish Princess Ealdgyth, although it was no sacrifice, for he had always loved her, and he carried the famed sword of King Offa of Mercia to further remind all that he was Angle as well as Saxon and he spoke both languages equally fluently and could read and write in both King Alfred’s Old Saxon and Saint Alcuin’s Anglish miniscule font.  The army he had brought to Fortress London with him was composed Angles from both Mercia and Northumbria and Danes from the Danelaw.  What was missing here were his own Saxons from Wessex and he blamed his father for that.

Sometimes Edmund found it hard to believe that his father, King Athelred ‘the Unready’, which actually meant ill-advised, was of the line of King Alfred ‘the Great’, so far had he fallen in his later reign.  He had heard all the stories about his father’s week-long bouts of drunkenness and his nights in the whorehouses along the Thames with young women who wore freshly whiskered faces above their bodices, young wolves in sheep’s clothing, and he was amazed that his father had as many children as he’d had, although Edmund suspected that he may have had help with the last few.  Edmund adjusted the breastplate of his cuirass and it reminded him of Princess Emma of Normandy, former Queen of England.  His own wife, Ealdgyth, now held that title, a title Athelred had never allowed his own mother to bear, for one focked up reason or another.  But he had been quick to award it to Princess Emma of Normandy shortly after his mother had died during childbirth, giving his father yet another daughter to marry off in alliance.

He had heard that Princess Emma was in her city of Southampton with Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ of Kiev, or King Canute ‘the Great’ of England as he was now wont to call himself, and he heard that Canute was in Winchester Cathedral, just north of there, accepting the sworn pledges of his own Earls of Wessex, who had accepted him as their new king, instead of following the right choice of the Witan of London.  Edmund wished he could hate his step-mother Emma, but he couldn’t.  She had been more of a father to him in the last dozen years than Athelred had ever been and he poked at the one dent in the cuirass he wore, a dent right over his heart and he remembered Queen Emma telling him how the dent got there.  She was at a jousting match in Rouen, jousting being a new form of simulated combat that he found intriguing, and the breastplate had belonged to the son of a real Roman knight who had moved to Normandy and had saved her father from the king of the Franks, and a Norman knight had struck the son of the Roman knight on the chest with a lance and had unseated him.  All the knights in this new jousting game had to wear breastplates because had the son of the Roman knight worn regular chainmail, he would have died from such a blow, instead of just being unseated.  Queen Emma had been presented with the breastplate and she had given it to Edmund in London in better times and she had promised to take Edmund to Rouen with her someday to watch the new jousting matches, but the better times didn’t last long enough for her to keep her promise.  And now Prince Canute was in the old capital of England, Winchester, being crowned its latest king, which was now one king too many, so that was where King Edmund of England was now going.  He hoped his old battle-worn sword and dinted cuirass would make him look an experienced enough warrior to attract and reclaim the fierce fyrds of Wessex.  Fortress London would stand while he was away, for the fyrds of London had grown to be the fiercest of them all.  They just would never leave London is all.

The English kingship tended to be elective: on the death of a king, long live the king, the mighty earls and the great officials of the Church, the “witan” or wise, would meet in legal assembly and select a successor.  Typically the next male heir of the house of Alfred ‘the Great’ would be chosen; but sometimes the choice changed, and such choices the “wise men” made tended to stand.  But in the spring of 1016, a free choice was impossible with almost all of England sworn and pledged to a new leader who shared not blood with Alfred nor England and who barely shared the byname ‘the Great’!  And with only the Witan of London backing the next male heir of Alfred, the two present Kings of England would have to hack it out.

During the winter months the Danish fleet had been beached at the old Viking Fortress of King Sweyn on the Isle of Wight, but the Hraes’ armies had been all about England taking the submissions of one earldom after another.  In April, Canute was back from his march to York and was getting his fleet ready for an assault on London, when news of the death of Athelred gave him pause.  The Saxons of Wessex came together at Winchester and awarded the kingship to Canute, and proscribed all the descendants of Athelred.  This done, they adjourned to Southampton to give their pledges of loyalty.  It was a body of great respectability that thus gathered to pay homage, containing, as it did, both laymen and churchmen, earls, bishops, and abbots.  King Canute had changed his name to the English form of Knute, hoping it would be more accepted than the eastern name of Valdamar, or Vladimir, had been, and he now accepted the Latin Christian faith in lieu of the Orthodox Christian faith he had accepted to marry a Roman royal of the purple blood, Princess Anna Porphyrogennetos, and he then took the hand of an English lady, Princess Aelfgifu of Northampton, to wife, but like King Athelred before him, he did not make her his queen.  Queen Emma of Normandy, Aelfgifu ‘Number Two’, was giving away the bride, but only under the condition that she would not have to give up her title and Prince Hraerik of Tmutorokan was beside her giving away the groom and making sure Queen Emma got her way.  The Prince wanted to stay with Emma in Southampton, but he had heard some disturbing news about Khazar aggression in Tmutorokan so, he left England to lead the Hraes’ spring merchant fleet east, and King Canute led the Hraes’ war fleet west up the Thames to take the siege of London to the next stage.

Canute brought more legions to bear on the siege of London that had been in progress all winter.  His plan now was to totally isolate the city by blocking the Thames both upstream and downstream of the city, and a canal was dug around London Bridge wide enough to permit the long but narrow viking ships to pass into the stream west of the city and on the north side of London a ditch was dug enclosing the entire city so that none could go either in or out.  Attacks were made from time to time upon the walls after Hraes’ trebuchets had reduced them somewhat but the fyrds of London truly were fierce and they drove back the Hraes’ and then the Vikings and then the Jomsvikings pretty much in that order.  The siege continued through the month of May and went into June and then some disquieting news arrived from Wessex.

On the approach of the Hraes’ warfleet or soon thereafter, King Edmund and his army had left London.  He had managed to keep his departure secret, and he had raised further forces from the fyrds of Wessex and they were now facing the Hraes’ legion that had been holding the Viking fortress on Wight.

When Canute heard that his enemies were mustering in the southwest, he sent a force westward to look for Edmund.  But at Penselwood, near Gillingham in Dorset, the Hraes’ legion from Wight came upon the Saxon forces first.  Edmund’s success in raising the west had not been great, but it augmented the Angle and Dane forces pledged to him and, trusting in the help of God, he gave battle and won a small victory.  The Hraes’ legion couldn’t beat him so they had to withdraw to protect Southampton and Wight as they had been ordered to do.  King Edmund “Ironside” fought well at the Battle of Penselwood and added a few more dints to his cuirass, and a bit more experience to his military ‘resume’, as the Normans would say.

A month later, the force that Canute had sent out under Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’ to find King Edmund, found him, and battle was again joined at Sherstone, a little farther to the north near Malmesbury in the upper part of Wiltshire.  The encounter at Sherstone was a genuine battle, fiercely fought, and one that would live long in the memories of the Englishmen there.  It occurred after the feast of Saint John, in the early days of July.  The western campaign was under Thorkel’s command, but three prominent English earls, Eadric ‘Streona’, Almar Darling, and Algar, had come from the siege of London with him and they knew how Edmund would fight in his own Saxon lands and a Danish victory was had at Sherstone, but Thorkel took all the credit, which was something English earls liked to do for themselves.  They were soon squabbling over the victory at Sherstone, which was, at best, a draw, for Edmund and his army were still intact and roaming around the countryside as if it was they who were the Vikings roaming loose about the lands.  Thorkel insisted it was his leadership that brought about victory, but Earl Eadric Streona begged to differ, claiming that he had picked up the head of an English soldier who bore some resemblance to Edmund and he had waved it around above the shield walls clashing and had deceived the Saxons into believing that their king was dead.  Thorkel took one look at the head and said it was the head of Edmund and that he had seen the prince many times when he was Athelred’s thingman in London.  Earl Eadric was taken aback by Thorkel’s claim that his great general-ship had cost Edmund his head.  Eadric ‘Streona’, meaning ‘the Grasper’ had finally met his match in duplicity.

After the encounter at Sherstone, Thorkel took the head back to London with him and rejoined Canute before the walls, but he left a part of his Jomsviking force under Ulf ‘the Stout’ and the three English earls with orders to collect their own Edmund head if they still thought he was alive!  So, Eadric once more shifted his allegiance and he made off on his own and found the English army and he made peace with Edmund and joined him against the Hraes’.  Edmund’s army was strengthened by Eadric’s retinue, as was his prestige as he roamed about the Midlands gathering troops and gear and the story spread about his head.  After a few local fyrds that had melted into the citizenry came forth and joined him, Edmund had an army at his command, and with this host he marched to the relief of London.  At the appearance of this force, Canute found it difficult to maintain the complete siege and to fight a fierce foe at the same time.  As always, prudence was Canute’s greatest virtue, and he promptly raised the siege and withdrew to his ships.  Edmund came up with his forces to Brentford, just as some Hraes’ were busy crossing to the south bank.  The legionnaires fled, but many of the English that pursued them were drowned because of heedlessness, as they rushed ahead of the main force to get at the booty in the Hraes’ baggage train.  And Canute had left a little surprise for Edmund, for the whole Hraes’ force had not left London, and there was another fight at Brentford two days after the city had been relieved and Thorkel’s Jomsvikings caught some English troops crossing the waters and slaughtered them before withdrawing to the warfleet.

With the relief of London, the English fyrds considered their duty done, and soon Edmund found himself once more without a large army because it was harvest season and the crops were good and the famine had been very damaging with the previous year’s poor harvest.  The tireless Edmund then returned to Wessex to raise more of the militia there.  While he was off seeking recruits, the Hraes’ warfleet returned to the capital, resumed the siege, and attacked the city furiously by land and water, but the fyrds there remained fierce and Fortress London stood.

When Jarl Eirik heard that the Earl of Mercia, Eadric ‘Streona’, had once again returned to the English fold after both ‘the Grasper’ and Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’ had each claimed to have the head of Edmund, he assembled his retinue in York and consulted with them.  He asked Witch Hallveig if Edmund was dead.

“For the spirits to talk,” she replied, “we must make a sacrifice.”  They were in the great banquet room of Castle York, where Hraegunar Lothbrok had died of the Twelve Cuts of Poisoned Blood Snakes and all felt that there was great power in the room.  It was evening and dusk was coming earlier now that fall was the season.  After Earl Uhtred had been beheaded by Eirik, he’d had Uhtred’s head preserved by the witch in much the same fashion they had preserved Jarl Haakon’s head two decades earlier.  Jarl Eirik had Einar ‘Thong-Shaker’ bring in two finely crafted and gilt boxes and they put them up, side by side, on the highest highseat.  Eirik opened them and they held the heads of Jarl Haakon and Earl Uhtred, their dark eyes closed and their blue lips pouting.

Einar had left the hall and he came back with a prisoner.  After Earl Uhtred had been slain, it was learned that he had been giving sanctuary to a Thurkil ‘Nefja’ meaning ‘Nosy’, who turned out to be the young half-brother of Olaf Tryggvason, a man who was rumoured to have also survived the Battle of Svolder by making a swim for it.  At that most famous of battles he had commanded the Short Serpent, but as Jarl Eirik and his Norwegians cleared the decks ship by ship, Thurkil had ended up on the Long Serpent fighting alongside his brother and he was actually the very last man to dive overboard before Eirik and his men finally seized it.

Of him, Hallfred ‘the Troublesome-scald’ sang:

“Strong-souled Thurkil

 Saw the Crane and the Dragons

 Two float empty

 (Gladly had he grappled),

 Ere the arm-ring wearer,

 Mighty in warfare,

 Leaped into the sea, seeking

 Life by swimming.”

Thurkil ‘Nefja’ had survived the battle and had spent the next sixteen years in anonymity in northern England, serving Earl Uhtred as a warrior-prince.  He was discovered and captured after the Earl was beheaded and had almost joined the earl, but Witch Hallveig had stepped in and saved the prince.  She had left her five Jomsviking ‘thingmen’ back in Trondheim Fjord to protect her holdings in Hell and she had missed their ‘things’ immensely.  She was still blessed by the goddess Irpa and had not aged a day since the Battle of Hjorungavagr, or so it seemed, and her sexual appetite as a demi-goddess had taken five young men to sate.  Over a matter of months Prince Thurkil had been worn down from a virile prince to a libido pauper by Witch Hallveig and she soon made it clear what she had really saved him for.  He was to be sacrificed to Irpa for word on the head of Edmund.

When Jarl Eirik heard this he was overjoyed, having turned livid with rage when he had heard that Olaf Tryggvason may have survived the battle by swimming for it.  When he learned that his brother Thurkil had survived by swimming for it, that just increased the likelihood of Olaf having survived ten-fold.  Now at least one of them would pay.  Eirik told Hallveig he wanted Thurkil slain by Death by Twelve Cuts of Poisoned Blood Snakes just as Hraegunar had died in the very same hall, but Hallveig objected, saying Thurkil was not worthy of such a fate and that it would detract from Hraegunar’s most famous death.

“I would like to see Thurkil serve his lord, Uhtred, in death as he had in life,” and she gave Jarl Eirik the honour and pleasure of striking off Thurkil’s head with his broadsword.  Then she placed his head between the heads of Jarl Haakon and Earl Uhtred and she turned their boxes to face the fresh offering as blood pooled about its neck on the highseat.

Jarl Eirik licked the blood off his blade and with a reddened tongue he asked the witch, “While you are asking the goddess Irpa if Prince Edmund’s head is still attached to his shoulders, could you ask her if Jarl Olaf Tryggvason has outlived his brother?  Or more plainly, did he, too, survive his swim for it and make it to Wendland as rumoured?”

“I shall ask her that second question as well,” Witch Hallveig answered, “and she may respond.  The head of the brother of that focking Christian king is a powerful offering.  I think she will tell you.  I think she will be very pleased with our sacrifice.”

After the evening meal in the hall, a highchair was brought in and placed between the highseats and Hallveig sat on it while her twelve chantreusses held hands and danced around her in a ring and sang out songs that would attract spirits.  Torches and candles throughout the hall were soon set to flickering as spirits flew through the hazy air of the room.  Then a rush of wind entered the hall through the front double doors which slammed and banged open and shut and Witch Hallveig got down from her highchair and went over to the head of Uhtred just as the eyes opened.  She had been carving runes into a stick when Irpa arrived and she now forced the stick through the pursed lips of Thurkil Nefja until it was under his thick tongue.  Jarl Eirik was close behind her and he could hear Thurkil mumbling something in Anglish.  Hallveig asked Thurkil in Norwegian if Prince Edmund’s head was still attached to his torso and she received a whispered answer from the heavy lips of Thurkil in Norwegian to the affirmative.  As proof, Thurkil told Hallveig that King Edmund was presently in Wessex raising another army from the fyrds of southern England.  Then Hallveig asked Thurkil if his older brother, Jarl Olaf Tryggvason, had survived his swim after the Battle of Svolder and if he had made it to Wendland.

Thurkil croaked much about that affair.  “King Olaf dove under the waves and, though gravely injured, swam under six vessels before coming up for air between ships, then he swam under another six and came up next to Princess Astrid’s Wendish longship.  Her men dragged him out of the waters and they hid him under the forecastle while Astrid awaited her share of the plunder.  Then they sailed to Wendland together and yet live in a monastery as man and wife and Astrid gifted Olaf with a wheelchair built in Tmutorokan to Prince Hraerik’s design that was inspired by King Ivar ‘the Boneless’, for Olaf was crippled by his Svolder injuries and his great exertion in the final swim.”

Hallveig turned around and told Eirik and Einar what Thurkil had told her.  They’d heard some of it, but it wasn’t loud enough for them to hear all of it.  Hallveig was about to step down from the highseat, but Jarl Thurkil croaked some more:

“Princess Astrid had poisoned her older sister to get Olaf for herself, and she finally got him after the Battle of the Svold.  Her younger sister, Gunhild, was pregnant in Ipswich when she was murdered by King Athelred’s two female spies and Gunhild only slept with Jarl Pallig the night of their murder because she wanted to share herself with the jarl before they were killed.  She was always faithful to King Sweyn and the girl child she’d had was his.  Princess Thyra was also pregnant when she was murdered by the two women spies, but pregnant by her new lover.  The two spies killed Thyra’s young boy by Sweyn, but they couldn’t kill Gunhild’s daughter by Sweyn, so they kidnapped her and raised her as a spy.  She is the youngest of the three women punished for poisoning King Sweyn and should be shown some clemency.  The same can be said of Princess Gyda.  Her sons with King Sweyn are King Sweyn’s true sons.”  Then Jarl Thurkil croaked no more.

When Witch Hallveig turned around to tell Eirik and Einar what Thurkil had said, Jarl Haakon’s blue eyes opened brightly.  He whispered at Hallveig, “Tell Prince Valdamar to cease and desist,” but she could not hear him, for she was talking to the jarls.  Earl Uhtred’s eyes were laughing at Jarl Haakon’s eyes and Haakon glared back at him angrily.  Uhtred laughed a croaking laugh that Hallveig did hear and she said to the jarls, “I think he just laughed!”  But the eyes in both heads were now closed and Thurkil had even seemed to have somehow spit the stick out from under his tongue.  Hallveig picked her runestick up off the highseat and she closed the boxes with the heads and she passed them to Einar.  Then she picked up Thurkil’s head by the hair and she swung it casually as she walked out the hall with her twelve chantreusses trailing her.  She was going to preserve the head so it could serve the Earl Uhtred.

Jarl Eirik sat on the highest highseat next to Thurkil’s pool of blood and he put his forefinger into it and he then sucked the blood off of his fingertip.  ‘So, Jarl Olaf is alive and not well,’ he thought.  ‘I’d kill him, but I’d likely be doing him a favour,’ he thought, as he pictured spending years with Jarl Sigvald’s wife, Astrid.  Then he pondered what Thurkil had said about Princess Gyda and how her sons by Sweyn really were Sweyn’s sons.  ‘Had Sweyn thought that he had been focking Gyda behind his back, so far back?’ he asked himself.  ‘The spirit of Sweyn must have thought that about Jarl Pallig and Queen Gunhild for the spirit of Thurkil to have brought that up,’ he told himself.  Eirik thought back to the Yulefest many years ago when Gyda had sat upon his lap.  ‘She thought I loved men,’ he realized.  ‘She thought I wouldn’t be aroused by her so, she sat, sure that I wouldn’t want her.’  Then he realized that he had become very aroused and he had taken the drunken woman to her bed and had focked her by force.  ‘No wonder she was so flustered the next day,’ he rationalized.  “Focking talking heads!” he shouted.  “They can drive one crazy!”

Jarl Eirik sent a messenger off to London to warn King Canute that Prince Edmund was not dead and was raising an army in Wessex and then he made preparations to lead his own army south to assist Canute and he planned to pass through Mercia on the way through and punish Earl Eadric for his duplicity by sacking his earldom.  The northern Vikings sailed up the Trent into Mercia and sent the fleet back to York.  They would not be returning until Fortress London fell.  As they made their way south through the earldoms of Mercia, Jarl Eirik and his troops plundered everything.  Gold, silver, weapons, armour, horses, cattle, sheep, harvested crops and people.  It was fall and the slaves would be sent to the schools in Kiev for training over the winter.  The jarl hadn’t pillaged so indiscriminately since King Sweyn’s reign when they’d delayed conquering England just so they could harvest slaves.  Young women were taken for the pleasure of the soldiers and young men to help handle the beasts and wains full of grains.  The old were left alone and buildings were untouched because they would all soon belong to King Canute.

As the Viking army swept eastwards around Oxford, raping, pillaging and plundering as they were wont to do, King Edmund’s fresh army caught its trail of destruction and went after it.  The pursuit was on so, the Viking army ceased its raiding and marched their Anglish slaves as quickly as they could to stay ahead of the Saxon army.  The Vikings left small herds of stock on the pathway to delay the English and they would intersperse silver amongst the animals so that the soldiers would stop and check each beast to see if it had a pouch of silver tied about its neck or a gold coin stapled to its ear.  Sometimes they would dress captive women in their plunder armour and leave them in formation and, with their long hair they looked like Vikings from a distance and the Saxon army would slow up and approach these ‘Viking’ units with extreme caution and then they would discover that they were Anglish women and treat them in pretty much the same way that the Vikings had.

“Who amongst my legion is tired of running,” Jarl Eirik addressed his encamped troops,  “and would like to stay and fight tomorrow to delay the English?”

A small number of berserks and warriors stepped forward.  Jarl Eirik took them aside and explained their mission and then he made sure they got the choice cuts of meat in their evening meals and they got choice young Anglish women in their tents.  The next morning the group was equipped with English weapons and armour and they were left in formation on the pathway for the Saxon army to find.  The English troops had wasted too much time approaching armed Anglish women with caution so they marched up to the group and many hadn’t even drawn their swords when the Vikings and berserks fell upon them.  The attack happened so suddenly that the English forces panicked and began fleeing and the Vikings cut them down en masse until Edmund and a force of knights worked their way to the vanguard of the army and charged the small knot of Vikings and killed them all in a fiercely fought battle.  The Viking warriors all fought well and earned their places in Valhall many times over.

Later that day, another troop of Anglish armed women were spotted on the pathway and they were approached with extreme caution, which delayed the main army and, when it was discovered that the troops were actually armed Anglish women, the English troops fell upon the relieved girls and stripped them of their armour, then stripped them of their clothes and raped them all right there on the pathway, causing further delay.  King Edmund caught up to the vanguard and admonished his troops, not for their rapes, but for their tardiness.  He had the women sent back to the officers at the rear of the formation where they could be bred with dignity and not delay.

The Viking army continued to leave small herds of livestock and wains of hay on the pathway and they were all salted with silver and other booty, but when it got to Kingston they had to ford the Thames to get on the south side of it before they reached Fortress London on the north shore and got trapped.  Edmund’s officers all knew this and they sped up their troops to try and catch them while crossing.  Their knights would play havoc with the Viking foot-soldiers in the waters, so, Jarl Eirik left them a final present, several dozen hay wains sitting across the pathway that were salted with gold coins and a large herd of cattle that were found grazing off of the hay wains.  First, the English vanguard drove off the cattle and began ransacking the wains and sifting the gold coins out of the grasses, then the main army came upon them and were told that the cattle had been grazing out of the wains and they began slaughtering the cattle to get at the gold they had eaten and King Edmund and his officers couldn’t stop them.  The English fyrds were unpaid soldiers and their rewards were honour and plunder, whatever goods that could be had while on campaign, be it wine, women or wealth, and the troops considered the gold to be plunder and it was theirs!

An opportunity was missed.  King Edmund could see the Viking army crossing the Thames off in the distance.  Had they not stopped for the gold the English could have caught many of the Vikings halfway across the river and the carnage would have been great and the victory glorious.  But the gold and the silver they were collecting at Earl Eadric’s expense did benefit Edmund in one way, the local fyrds flocked to join his army because word of the abundant plunder began to spread.  And news travelled faster than Jarl Eirik’s plunder laden army or the gleaning army that was in pursuit.  When the Norwegians arrived across the river from Fortress London they learned that the siege had been lifted and King Canute and his fleet had withdrawn to the Isle of Sheppey.  There were still a few Hraes’ regiments on the other side of the Thames, but the river was too deep to ford safely so they were going to fend for themselves.

Jarl Eirik turned his forces southeast and headed for the Isle of Sheppey.  The retreating Hraes’ had told him that supplies were running down, so his plunder would be welcomed there and there were slaver knars at both Sheppey and Sandwich that were waiting to take slaves and captives east.  Jarl Eirik became determined to not expend any more livestock or Anglish women fending off the pursuit of the English, but King Edmund was, if nothing else, persistent and just north of Otford the English army caught up with him again.  The Viking jarl put together a delaying force comprised of young Anglish male captives dressed in Viking armour and Viking berserks dressed in English armour and the berserks formed a shield wall and forced the Anglish to fight the Saxons while their main army made for Sheppey and, with their captives and plunder, crossed in awaiting longships to the island.  Another select group of berserk warriors took their hard earned seats in Valhall.

“I’m glad you made it through from York,” King Canute welcomed Jarl Eirik.  “We need the supplies you brought.”

“Fortunately the famine is over,” Eirik started, “and the crops were excellent and the cattle were fat.”  He settled into his second highseat and the wine Valdy had passed him.  “Witch Hallveig warned us that King Edmund was gathering a Saxon army, but I didn’t think he would have it mobilized so quickly.”

“Yes,” Valdy agreed, “he has the advantage here.  We beat him and he raises another army and our numbers keep going down and are not easily replaced.  I withdrew our siege from London because I got word from the Prince that he is returning ahead of the merchant fleet with two Hraes’ legions.  That is all he could get.  Eastern Pechenegs are attacking Kiev, led by a notorious Khan Putin of Georgia.  The Prince will meet us at Ipswich and we shall fight King Edmund in Essex where we’ve had many victories.”

Jarl Eirik agreed that they’d enjoyed many victories in Essex, but he then expressed concern about their plan to gain their victory over Edmund and the English.  He told Valdy that Witch Hallveig had sensed that Jarl Thurkil Nefja, Olaf Tryggvason’s brother was in York and, sure enough, they found that he had been serving Earl Uhtred for the past sixteen years after the Battle of the Svold, so they sacrificed him to get an answer about Edmund’s whereabouts, but they had also asked about Olaf’s whereabouts as well and were told, among many other things, that Olaf Tryggvason was alive and unwell and living with Princess Astrid, Jarl Sigvald’s wife in a monastery in Wendland.”

“I have sent a messenger to Canterbury,” Valdy said, “ordering Jarl Sigvald and his Jomsvikings to join us here.  He is expected anytime.  He’ll want to know about that!”

“Exactly,” Eirik agreed, “but the goddess Irpa told Hallveig many other things.  She confirmed that it was the three women in black that had attended to King Sweyn at Gainsborough that had poisoned him, but only the older two were Athelred’s spies.  They were the ones that murdered Queens Gunhild and Thyra in Ipswich with all the others, but they couldn’t kill Gunhild’s young baby daughter so they kidnapped her and raised her as their own.  That girl is the youngest of the three in black and they raised her as a spy.  Goddess Irpa has instructed us to show her clemency.”

“But I do,” Valdy swore.  “I don’t fock her nearly as hard as I fock the older bitch!”

“Still, we are to show her more,” Eirik said, putting his head down.  “And I know what King Sweyn’s spirit told us to sacrifice in our upcoming battle, but Irpa went to the trouble of adding that both Gunhild and Gyda were fully faithful to King Sweyn, even though Gunhild was found murdered in bed with Jarl Pallig and your father was kind enough to share Gyda with me.  I have a feeling that King Sweyn’s spirit now knows the truth and does not want us to follow through with his post-death orders.”

“I’m not going to give those murderous spies any more clemency than I’ve already shown them!” Valdamar hissed.  “The sacrifices shall be made!  The curse of the Unicorn scorn pole has worked wonders for us.  All England has been afraid to join Edmund’s armies because of what happened to their lands and their king.  The scene is ripe for the appearance of Irpa and Thorgerder in the upcoming battle.  The English are so spooked, the first five arrows from each hand will set them running.  I’ll not be deprived of that because someone wants clemency, goddess or not!”

“As you wish,” Jarl Eirik responded.  “I shall send for Witch Hallveig to join us, but you’ve seen the goddesses at work for yourself in your youth.  They are not to be trifled with.”

“Of course not,” Valdy concurred.  “Everything shall be accorded Witch Hallveig as she sees required and the sacrifices shall be made in the most respectful of manners.”

Jarl Eirik ordered one of his captains to take two ships back up into Mercia and to give his son a message to send Witch Hallveig to Ipswich by sea.  He told him to tell Hallveig to bring her chantreusses and all she would need to call Thorgerder Helgibruder and the goddess Irpa.  “And tell her to bring the talking heads,” he added, shaking his own.

The next morning Jarl Sigvald arrived with his Jomsvikings from Canterbury and they were ferried across to the island in longships just before the English army arrived on the shore.  King Edmund sat on a white charger in Kent and watched King Canute welcome Jarl Sigvald to the Isle of Sheppey.  When the Jomsviking jarl heard that King Olaf was alive and living with his wife in Wendland, he had a veritable English bird.  Edmund knew Jarl Sigvald quite well, but he could not understand the antics that the jarl was going through has he tossed his helmet and threw his gloves and he launched a great battle-axe out into the waters between two ships.  The young English king didn’t think that the Jarl was a berserker, but he was in some kind of frenzy in front of the Viking fortress.  King Edmund set up his pavilions right there and his army camped where they could watch the enemy at all times.

King Canute didn’t mind at all.  They were living in longhalls and Edmund was living in a tent and Valdy could keep an eye on the English army better than Edmund could see the Hraes’ for at least the Hraes’ legions had a tall stockade covering their daily trips to the shitters and their drying laundry and their drinking and debauchery.  The Hraes’ slaver knars had wanted to leave with the Anglish captives, young men and women that Jarl Eirik had brought with him from Mercia, but Prince Valdamar kept a dozen girls for himself, Jarl Eirik kept a few of the boys and they passed the rest out amongst their men.  The slavers would have wait for their slaves until the Hraes’ army sailed from Sheppey into Essex and the fighting got serious.  Meanwhile they all watched the English shitting off the riverbank of the Thames and they watched them washing their clothes in the waters downstream and they watched the English pavilions dissolving into the mud that became the English camp when it rained and the weather seemed to be getting cold and stormy.

The next day a Hraes’ regiment was spotted on the riverbank well upstream of the English army and the Vikings on Sheppey could see from the standards that it was from the London siege, so ships were sent to fetch them and they told a story of their hiding until the Thames became fordable, but when it did, a local fyrd had started across the Thames from the other side to go help defend Fortress London.  The Hraes’ regiment waited until they were almost all the way across, then formed up on the riverbank and shot volley after volley of arrows into the fyrd.  The Saxons were falling like snowflakes in a pond, but showed great courage by charging into the withering volleys as the arrows ran out.  Then spears were cast into the Saxon fyrd and shaft bearing shields split as heavy spearheads struck hard and more English bled out in the waters of the Thames.  As the Saxons neared shore, the Hraes’ counterattacked and the shield walls crashed in the shallows of the river’s edge and Saxon shields were shattered by the swords of the Danes and the axes of the Slavs amongst them.  Only wounded Saxons survived the onslaught as the Hraes’ hacked their way through the fyrd and kept going to the other side of the Thames and made good their escape.  The English waters ran red with Alfred’s finest, for the Hraes’ could not but admire the courage with which the Saxon’s had fought, being caught by surprise and all.

King Canute blessed the regiment with Mercian women during a feast in their honour that stormy night and when he asked them if there were any further men still back towards London from their siege they boldly told him that they were the last.  “Enjoy your women tonight,” Canute said, “for in the morning they will be on their way to Kiev and we shall be on our way into Essex.”

But King Canute changed his mind later that night.  He had no love for slavers so, when Jarl Eirik’s army had arrived to join his, the Viking Fortress became very crowded so, he had sent the slavers and their knars around to the other side of the island to camp under their awnings.  He sent messengers the two miles or so across the island to wake the slavers and tell them to bring their ships back to the fortress under cover of darkness and then he had his own marines row their warships around to the slaver camp and both parties beached their ships on the respective blocking of the other ships so it looked as if the warships were still beached in front of the Viking fortress.  Where the slavers were short a few ships, awnings were spread over timbers to look as if they covered some ships.

In the morning Canute told the Hraes’ slavers they were to hold the fortress for a week and enjoy the Anglish women before leaving for Kiev.  Then the Viking army disappeared into the trees on the backside of their fortress and marched to their warships on the other side of the island.  The Thames was so wide at this point of the river that the north shore was well out of sight and the Viking warships disappeared into the morning mists as they sailed north and followed the coast of Essex up to the River Crouch and then sailed into the estuary.  Then it was the Hraes’ slavers who were watching the English army shitting into the river and washing their clothes downstream.

When the Prince got back to Baghdad from India, young Prince Mstislav of Tmutorokan, had a messenger waiting there who told him that the Khazars were back and had been doing some raiding in Gardariki lands and were raising an army to attack Tmutorokan with.  The Prince had planned on spending a week with his agents in Baghdad, Anise and Saffron, but had to settle for a night, and he cut trading short and returned to Tmutorokan with the great merchant fleet.  The Prince had already sent one Gardariki legion to Kiev to link up with a Kievan legion there prior to sailing to England to help King Canute in his war with King Athelred’s Edmund.  So, they were short men if they were going to have to fight the Khazars again.  Hraerik didn’t want to release the merchant fleet to return north, because the fleet was an army unto itself, but the merchant warriors did not want to stay in the south too long or they would be trapped there if the Rivers of Hraes’ froze up early.  He would lead the merchant fleet to Cherson to pay their tithes, but he was waiting for a messenger he had sent to Constantinople to return.  He had sent a message to Emperors Basil and Constantine that the Khazars were back and intended to attack both Tmutorokan and Cherson and, as part of their Trade Contract of 943, the Hraes’ and Romans were required to support each other against common enemies.  He told the Emperors that he would aid the Romans of Cherson against the Khazars once again if they would but provide him with two Roman legions to augment his own Hraes’ legions.  There would, of course, be a charge of ten thousand pounds of gold for the Hraes’ support against the Khazars.

Emperor Basil was still in conflict with the Bulgars and he jumped at the chance to get Hraes’ aid against a Khazar attack, so the messengers returned from Constantinople with ten thousand pounds of the Red Gold of Byzantium and the assurances that a Roman fleet with two legions would meet the Prince in Cherson.  The red gold would, of course, only be purified if there was a conflict with the Khazars.  Once the Prince got that news, he left Prince Mstislav in Tmutorokan to prepare the legions and he led the great merchant fleet to Cherson for tithe payments and release for return north.  By the time they got to Cherson, the two Roman legions were already there waiting for his orders.  He sent them on to Tmutorokan while he completed the tithing of the great fleet and then he headed back to Gardariki to raise his own mobile legion.

When the Khazar army entered Tmutorokan lands from the east, they were met by Eastern Roman, Gardariki Hraes’ and Tmutorokan Hraes’ legions and were overwhelmed and surrendered and had to pledge allegiance to both Hraes’ and Rome prior to being bent over their shields by both Hraes’ and Roman troops.  The Hraes’ troops were Aesir, or formerly Aesir Orthodox Christians, so they were quite used to the religious significance of deflowering the anuses of surrendering captives, but the Romans were formerly Vanir in ancient times and were full Orthodox Christians, quite unaccustomed to the ceremonies of their common tripartite god religions of yore.  They watched their Hraes’ compatriots having their way with the Khazar captives and soon, cohort by cohort, they joined in on the rapes of the Khazar soldiers.  They had all studied their own Roman history and they knew that when the Vanir Romans marched back east and conquered the Aesir Greeks, who had driven them out of Troy per the great Trojan War of Homer, the Romans of that ancient time had felt great pleasure in bending captured Greeks over their shields and had even forced some Greeks to fight them just to take that revenge upon them.  So their history was told in the ancient writings of The Aeneid by Virgil. 

The Roman legions returned to Constantinople with tales of the Hraes’ general Sphengos, the brother of General Sveinald and Prince Sviatoslav of old, and his quick conquering of the Khazar host.  They told of the innumerable Khazar troops who had been captured and how the Aesir, like the Vanir of old, bent their captives over their shields and how the Roman troops had been ordered to help them or they would have been there so much longer.  From the description the legionnaires gave of Sphengos, Emperor Basil suspected that this Sphengos must be the one who was a brother of Prince Vladimir or Valdamar, Sviatoslav’s son, because the Sphengos who was a brother of Sviatoslav and Sveinald would have been elderly by now and hardly able to bend anyone over a shield.  So, messengers were sent to Tmutorokan and Gardariki to thank them for their help and for them to let the Romans know when they wanted their red gold purified.  Prince Hraerik was no longer in Gardariki to accept their thanks because he was in Kiev leading two mobile legions north and then west to England to take part in the reconquering of the country.  The Red Gold of Byzantium was already locked up in the Don Jon keep of Gardariki and would be purified at Hraerik’s convenience.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:

A.D. 1016.  This year came King Knute with a marine force of one

hundred and sixty ships, and Alderman Edric with him, over the

Thames into Mercia at Cricklade; whence they proceeded to

Warwickshire, during the middle of the winter, and plundered

therein, and burned, and slew all they met.  Then began Edmund

the etheling to gather an army, which, when it was collected,

could avail him nothing, unless the king were there and they had

the assistance of the citizens of London.  The expedition

therefore was frustrated, and each man betook himself home.

After this, an army was again ordered, under full penalties, that

every person, however distant, should go forth; and they sent to

the king in London, and besought him to come to meet the army

with the aid that he could collect.  When they were all

assembled, it succeeded nothing better than it often did before;

and, when it was told the king, that those persons would betray

him who ought to assist him, then forsook he the army, and

returned again to London.  Then rode Edmund the etheling to Earl

Utred in Northumbria; and every man supposed that they would

collect an army King Knute; but they went into Staffordshire, and

to Shrewsbury, and to Chester; and they plundered on their parts,

and Knute on his.  He went out through Buckinghamshire to

Bedfordshire; thence to Huntingdonshire, and so into

Northamptonshire along the fens to Stamford.  Thence into

Lincolnshire.  Thence to Nottinghamshire; and so into Northumbria

toward York.  When Utred understood this, he ceased from

plundering, and hastened northward, and submitted for need, and

all the Northumbrians with him; but, though he gave hostages, he

was nevertheless slain by the advice of Alderman Edric, and

Thurkytel, the son of Nafna, with him.  After this, King Knute

appointed Eric earl over Northumbria, as Utred was; and then went

southward another way, all by west, till the whole army came,

before Easter, to the ships.  Meantime Edmund Etheling went to

London to his father: and after Easter went King Knute with all

his ships toward London; but it happened that King Ethelred died

ere the ships came.  He ended his days on St. George’s day;

having held his kingdom in much tribulation and difficulty as

long as his life continued.  After his decease, all the peers

that were in London, and the citizens, chose Edmund king; who

bravely defended his kingdom while his time was.  Then came the

ships to Greenwich, about the gang-days, and within a short

interval went to London; where they sunk a deep ditch on the

south side, and dragged their ships to the west side of the

bridge.  Afterwards they trenched the city without, so that no

man could go in or out, and often fought against it: but the

citizens bravely withstood them.  King Edmund had ere this gone

out, and invaded the West-Saxons, who all submitted to him; and

soon afterward he fought with the enemy at Pen near Gillingham.

A second battle he fought, after midsummer, at Sherston; where

much slaughter was made on either side, and the leaders

themselves came together in the fight.  Alderman Edric and Aylmer

the darling were assisting the army against King Edmund.  Then

collected he his force the third time, and went to London, all by

north of the Thames, and so out through Clayhanger, and relieved

the citizens, driving the enemy to their ships.  It was within

two nights after that the king went over at Brentford; where he

fought with the enemy, and put them to flight: but there many of

the English were drowned, from their own carelessness; who went

before the main army with a design to plunder.  After this the

king went into Wessex, and collected his army; but the enemy soon

returned to London, and beset the city without, and fought

strongly against it both by water and land.  But the almighty God

delivered them.  The enemy went afterward from London with their

ships into the Orwell; where they went up and proceeded into

Mercia, slaying and burning whatsoever they overtook, as their

custom is; and, having provided themselves with meat, they drove

their ships and their herds into the Medway.  Then assembled King

Edmund the fourth time all the English nation, and forded over

the Thames at Brentford; whence he proceeded into Kent.  The

enemy fled before him with their horses into the Isle of Shepey;

and the king slew as many of them as he could overtake.  Alderman

Edric then went to meet the king at Aylesford; than which no

measure could be more ill-advised.  The enemy, meanwhile,

returned into Essex, and advanced into Mercia, destroying all

that he overtook.  (Continued Next Chapter)