Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER SEVEN POINT ZERO
7.0 KING CANUTE GOES TO LIERE (Circa 1019 AD)
(1019) After the Yuletide celebrations in London, King Canute brought in the new year by putting young Jarl Haakon in control of the Earldom of Worcester. He needed one of his Norse Jarls to lord over the Mercian lands that were loyal to Earl Eadric ‘Streona’, the Grasper, lest rebellion break out amongst the Anglians there. And he needed someone close to Wales and the Bristol pirates who were always trying to enslave the Gaels. Jarl Eirik’s young son seemed keen on ruling an earldom a little further from York as an expression of independence. Valdy also felt more comfortable with his most loyal lords ruling the lands around Northampton, which his first wife, Aelfgifu, ruled and returned to while he was in Winchester and then they would meet up and live together in the king’s palace in London half the time.
Canute’s other Aelfgifu, Queen Emma, lived with him in Winchester or was off in Normandy when the Prince was away with the great merchant fleet and she lived in Southampton with Hraerik the rest of the time. The new English royals were settling into a routine. Southampton was fast becoming the most secure and prosperous district in England outside of London, thanks to the security provided by the Hraes’ legion permanently stationed in the fortress on the Isle of Wight and to the growing trade that was flourishing in the Newfoundland. Prince Hraerik planned on taking Prince Ivaraslav with him to Baghdad once more to learn how to handle the eastern trade the next year on his own. The Prince was planning to sail with his tallships for the Newfoundland trade the following year. He was trying to convince Aelfgifu Number Two to join him in the western adventure, but Emma was dead-set against the idea. Her Norman and English sailors had returned with enough hair-raising stories about the Skraelings, as they called the locals there, to keep her out of that land forever!
The Skraelings of the Newfoundland were very possessive of their lands and were constantly fighting with each other over territory so, whenever the Hraes’ Trading Company wanted to set up a trading post in a native tribe’s land, they would have to fight them for every square foot of it. Only once the Hraes’ had demonstrated that they were a force to be reckoned with, could a trading post be built on a piece of land that was owned by both parties, or, more correctly, on loan from the tribe. Where the lands were bountiful, native populations were quite large and most native villages were the size of English towns and some native centers were the size of London, especially the fortified native cities of the Valley of the Mound Builders beyond the Nia and Gara Falls of the Great Lakes District. While the stories all intrigued the queen, she had written too many condolence letters to the families of lost men for her to want to ever make the trip. And they hadn’t yet lost a ship, which statistically was overdue. She fretted over the sadness that would bring to her city of Southampton. Commerce was a rough enough trade within the confines of Europe, but beyond, on the Silk Road of the east to Cathay, or on the Whale Road of the west to the Newfoundland, it could be deadly.
A century earlier, Hraerik’s son, Prince Helgi ‘Arrow Odd’, had banned the exchange of steel weapons with the natives of the Newfoundland, and this ban was maintained by the Hraes’ to keep the slight edge their steel blades had over the stone and copper weapons of the natives. The Skraelings were just entering a bronze age in which tin, mined in the north, near the Great Lakes, was traded for copper, abundant in the far south among the even more advanced civilizations beyond the sea that the Mis Sis Sip Pi River flowed into. It reminded the Prince of the dreams he’d had of the Aesir who had first used the riverways of Hraes’ to transport tin from the Britons of Cornwall to add to the copper weapons of the Vanir Persian Kings of Aran during their own earlier bronze age. The kings paid dearly for this tin because they could turn that tin into gold, for their bronze weapons allowed them to defeat the copper armed warriors of their neighbours and they turned their neighbour’s gold into their own. The gold Alchemists remained the dear friends of kings, but the new bronze Alchemists became the even dearer friends of princes and warriors. And the battle between the blade and the breastplate was born, a battle that rages on to this very day, the Prince mused, as he thought of the new armoured cataphracts being developed by the Romans and emulated by the Hraes’. They were getting so well armoured they could charge right through spear braced shield walls. He wondered if the natives there had reached the blade versus breastplate stage in their bronze age evolution or was it just beginning?
The small craftwork shops and factories in Southampton hummed with the sounds of glass beads being cast and looms sliding and wool spinning as trade goods were manufactured expressly for the Newfoundland trade. Smithy shops tapped away at the iron kettles and frying pans and buckets that were allowed for trade there. And the shops across the British Sea, the English Channel, were humming away in Normandy. It was an English and French venture, this direct sailing to the Newfoundland and it was in direct competition with the Norse archipelago trade through Greenland. There was no conflict with the Norwegian trade…yet. The twelve tallships of the Hraes’ venture sailed out of Southampton in the spring and the Prince prepared for another spring excursion with the great merchant fleet heading east.
The Danes had elected King Canute as their sovereign in the fall of the prior year and now they expressed a desire for Canute to participate in a coronation in Roskilde, but he did not feel comfortable leaving England in the hands of the English so, he put off any trip until the merchant fleet returned in the fall. He wanted the Prince and Queen Emma in Winchester to keep the Saxons under control and he did not yet fully trust Earl Godwin who, while spending a lot of time in Wessex, devoted most of that time to courting Princess Gytha. Canute saw his grandfather off, bound for eastern trade, and then escorted Queen Emma to Winchester for the summer.
Prince Hraerik and the English fleet waited in Roskilde Harbour while the great merchant fleet assembled and they then sailed across the Baltic to Hraes’ and on to Kiev. Prince Ivaraslav ‘the Wise’ had just returned from a victorious battle near the Al’ta River against his brother, Prince Sviatopolk ‘the Accursed’, who had fled off towards Poland with his remaining troops. Ivaraslav promised to join the Prince in Baghdad once he consolidated his rule in Kiev, so Hraerik led the great fleet south to the Bay of Cherson, where their fees and tythes were collected. Then a portion of the fleet sailed south for Constantinople and the rest sailed east for Baghdad, Cathay and India. When Ivaraslav failed to show up in Baghdad, Prince Hraerik sent a message to Prince Mstislav of Tmutorokan and then took part of the fleet on to India. He had to buy Untouchables there to make up for the shortfall in slaves that peace in England had brought about. When he got back to Baghdad, Prince Mstislav was at the Caliph’s palace waiting for him.
“Now that your father, Prince Valdamar, is now King Canute of England and Denmark, one of you young princes is going to have to take part in the Hraes’ trade. It does, after all, pay all the bills in our land of Hraes’,” the Prince extolled. “No trade, no princes.”
Prince Mstislav had assumed that his older brothers would have taken over trade, so when his father had given him Tmutorokan while partitioning out Hraes’ to his sons, he had sat back and enjoyed the women and the weather of the southern principality, but now he saw an opportunity opening for a younger sibling, so he said, “I’ll help you,” and from that day forward Mstislav worked harder than Hraerik had ever expected. He was bright and energetic and he learned quickly; he reminded Hraerik of his Khazar wife Serah. He had taken over Queen Silkisif’s city of Tmutorokan and he also took charge of Hraes’ interests in Cherson. He controlled everything outside of Gardariki, Hraerik’s city, where the gold of Hraes’ was stored, and the Hraes’ navy was berthed, and the legions of cataphracts were stationed, the new cataphracts with plate armoured knights and mail and plate blanketed horse. Gardariki was the golden city of Gardar, Hraes’, and it was built to show off that gold and to hold it securely within its walls. The gold of Gardariki had financed King Sweyn’s decade and a half war with England and had paid for the eastern legions that Prince Valdamar had borrowed to recapture England and become King Canute. Some believed it was the English silver, the Danegeld, that had paid for the Danish victory, but that coin had hardly covered the Jomsvikings and other mercenaries that the Danes had paid to ‘help’ King Athelred. It was the gold of Gardariki that had paid the legions who did the grunt work.
Prince Mstislav took one split second to decide that, if his older brothers weren’t going to work with the Prince, he was going to jump at the chance.
When the Prince parted with Mstislav in Cherson, after showing him how to collect the tythes and execute the final accounting, he said, “I shall be leading the Newfoundland fleet west next year. Can you handle the great merchant fleet for me while I am gone?”
Mstislav was completely taken off guard by this request, but he looked skyward, bit his lower lip, then said, “I can do it!” The Prince knew he could. He had made sure that plenty of resources would be available to help Prince Ivaraslav, but now, that help would be working for Prince Mstislav.
“It would be best if you met the great merchant fleet as they assemble in Roskilde Harbour,” the Prince told him. “Let them know whose boss from the get-go.” Then the Prince got up and went. He met with Prince Ivaraslav in Kiev and learned that the prince had just married Princess Ingigerd of Sweden, Olaf Skotkonung’s daughter. Ivaraslav was a northern prince, ruler of Rostov and then Novgorod and now Kiev. He was busy strengthening his Varangian alliances instead of ensuring that the trade gold kept flowing.
King Canute surprised his grandfather and was waiting for him at Roskilde harbour when he returned from trading in the east with the great merchant fleet. He told Hraerik that Queen Emma was waiting for him in Winchester and that Jarl Thorkel was taking care of things in London, but he urged Hraerik to make haste in getting back.
“I’ll be overwintering in Roskilde palace and in King Frodi’s Fortress in Liere,” he told the Prince. “I have left a letter with Queen Emma that you two are to read to my English subjects over Yulefest. Keep a close eye on the Saxons for me.”
When the Prince got back to Southampton Harbour, he was met by Queen Emma. She wasn’t in Winchester and there were only eight tallships in the harbour. He was worried and took out his optical scope and he could see Queen Emma on the main quay and she held a large placard that was lettered in the not-so-miniscule Anglish font of Alcuin and it said, “4 Ships in Rouen” and he realised that Emma had remembered how much he had worried the last time they were short ships, and he waved her thanks.
During Yulefest, the Queen and her Prince read out King Canute’s letter to his English subjects on Christmas Day in the king’s palace and it read:
CANUTE’S PROCLAMATION OF 1020 .
1. Canute the King sends friendly greetings to his archbishops and suffragan bishops and to Thurkil the Earl and all his earls and to all his subjects in England, nobles and freemen, clerks and laymen.
2. And I make known to you that I will be a kind lord and loyal to the rights of the Church and to right secular law.
3. I have taken to heart the word and the writing that Archbishop Lifing brought from Rome from the Pope, that I should everywhere extol the praise of God, put away injustice, and promote full security and peace by the strength that God should give me.
4. Now I did not spare my treasures while unpeace was threatening to come upon you; with the help of God I have warded this off by the use of my treasures.
5. Then I was informed that there threatened us a danger that was greater than was well pleasing to us; and then I myself with the men who went with me departed for Denmark, whence came to you the greatest danger; and that I have with God’s help forestalled, so that henceforth no unpeace shall come to you from that country, so long as you stand by me as the law commands, and my life lasts.
6. Now I give thanks to God Almighty for His aid and His mercy in that I have averted the great evil that threatened us; so that from thence we need fear no evil, but may hope for full aid and deliverance if need be.
7. Now I will that we all humbly thank Almighty God for the mercy that He has done to our help.
8. Now I command my archbishops and all my suffragan bishops that they take due care as to the rights of the Church, each one in the district that is committed to him; and also my ealdormen I command, that they help the bishops to the rights of the Church and to the rights of my kingship and to the behoof of all the people.
9. Should any one prove so rash, clerk or layman, Dane or Angle, as to violate the laws of the Church or the rights of my kingship, or any secular statute, and refuse to do penance according to the instruction of my bishops, or to desist from his evil, then I request Thurkil the Earl, yea, even command him, to bend the offender to right, if he is able to do so.
10. If he is not able, then will I that he with the strength of us both destroy him in the land or drive him out of the land, be he of high rank or low.
11. And I also command my reeves, by my friendship and by all that they own and by their own lives, that they everywhere govern my people justly and give right judgments by the witness of the shire bishop and do such mercy therein as the shire bishop thinks right and the community can allow.
12. And if any one harbour a thief or hinder the pursuit, he shall be liable to punishment equal to that of the thief, unless he shall clear himself before me with full purgation.
13. And I will that all the people, clerks and laymen, hold fast the laws of Edgar which all men have chosen and sworn to at Oxford;
14. for all the bishops say that the Church demands a deep atonement for the breaking of oaths and pledges.
15. And they further teach us that we should with all our might and strength fervently seek, love, and worship the eternal merciful God and shun all unrighteousness, that is, slaying of kinsmen and murder, perjury, familiarity with witches and sorceresses, and adultery and incest.
16. And further, we command in the name of Almighty God and of all His saints, that no man be so bold as to marry a nun or a consecrated woman;
17. and if any one has done so, let him be an outlaw before God and excommunicated from all Christendom, and let him forfeit all his possessions to the King, unless he quickly desist from sin and do deep penance before God.
18. And further still we admonish all men to keep the Sunday festival with all their might and observe it from Saturday’s noon to Monday’s dawning; and let no man be so bold as to buy or sell or to seek any court on that holy day.
19. And let all men, poor and rich, seek their church and ask forgiveness for their sins and earnestly keep every ordained fast and gladly honour the saints, as the mass priest shall bid us,
20. that we may all be able and permitted, through the mercy of the everlasting God and the intercession of His saints, to share the joys of the heavenly kingdom and dwell with Him who liveth and reigneth for ever without end. Amen.
While Queen Emma and Prince Hraerik were in London reading King Canute’s letter to his subjects, King Canute and his wife, Queen Aelfgifu, were celebrating Christmas Day in his palace in Roskilde. Emma had refused to give up her title in England and Aelfgifu had loved her so dearly that she preferred to let her keep it, however, no such love existed between Aelfgifu and Harald’s mother, Queen Gyritha, who also was determined not to give up her title easily. She was old enough to be Aelfgifu’s mother, but she was still younger than Canute and still quite beautiful. She had given birth to her Harald after marrying King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’, Valdamar’s father, after their victory at the Battle of Hjorungavagr, and Prince Valdamar had met her and got to know her well enough to know that there was a good chance that Harald was old enough to have been King Harald ‘Bluetooth’s offspring.
There had always been a rumour circulating around Zealand that, when Prince Sweyn had brought his Hraes’ and Norwegian fleet south to conquer Denmark, King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ had thrown a last fast fock into his wife, Gyritha, before fleeing with his fleet to Jomsborg, and that her son Harald had been the result of that fast fock. When King Sweyn had conquered Roskilde he took all the wives of Harald ‘Bluetooth’, but Queen Gyritha had refused him so, her daughter, Gunhilde, had stepped forward and offered herself to King Sweyn and Sweyn took her up on it, for she was a beautiful young virgin that had crawled into bed with him and they were married for a week before Gyritha relented and offered herself to Sweyn instead. They were barely married a week when Sweyn learned that young Gunhilde had become pregnant during their brief marriage, so, King Sweyn did the honourable thing and took both mother and daughter to wife along with ‘Bluetooth’s other wives. But when the two pregnant queens gave birth, it was Queen Gyritha that preceded Queen Gunhilde by two weeks, thus making her son, Harald, the oldest child by Sweyn in Denmark, even though Gunhilde had become pregnant two weeks before her, which led many common folk to say that baby Harald was the son of Harald ‘Bluetooth’ and not Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’, that he was the product of that one last fast fock.
Queen Gyritha literally threw herself at King Canute when they were alone together one fall afternoon, and Canute decided to find out for himself if this was true and he agreed to the secret tryst with Gyritha. As the queen had not yet given up her master bedroom in the palace, that is where the clandestine couple repaired to.
He rushed in to her, kissed her lips and then, with trembling fingers, bared her breasts, which he covered with kisses. He then absolutely tore off her clothes, not even sparing her chemise, and she stood before him as naked as the day she was born. In a few seconds he had doffed his clothes and she saw his huge member, so stiff and hard and erect that it stood well past his navel. It was a monster the like of which she had never seen and she had seen a few monsters while queen and single. All her modesty disappeared as if by magic, and she removed her hands which she had instinctively placed over her exposed breasts and she took those hands and lowered them around his monster and then she fell to her knees and took the tip into her mouth and it filled her palate and there was so much more of it. She kissed down the side of it and sucked and kissed her way back up the other and she took the glans into her mouth again and swallowed in a bit more this time before kissing her way down the thick long shaft of it once more.
Then she held his testicles in her hands, one in each and she sucked first one into her mouth and savoured his sack a while before releasing it and taking up the other in past her lips and onto her tongue and she savoured that orb as well. Kissing her way back up the tall shaft she took the tip back between her lips and she swallowed up even more of it this time and she wetted it and rose again up off her knees and kissed his belly and then his chest. He placed his hands on her buttocks and he lifted her up close to his body and drew her toes up off the floor and he set her vaginal lips over his glans and slowly slid her onto the monster and she sucked in her breath as he absolutely filled her and she felt somehow that there was so much more of him to come yet and she braced herself as he turned and lowered her onto the bed and then slid her out a bit and threw himself into her as he, too, landed on the bed and she cried out and gasped in at the same time as he drove himself almost fully within her and he withdrew and thrust into her and he did this for a long time as she wrapped her legs around his buttocks to try to control the penetrations, but she could not. She swore she could feel his stiff monster so deeply within her as to be pressing against her white belly from within.
“Oh, please, please stop!” she cried and when he stopped she pulled him back within her and began thrusting at his shaft herself in much shorter strokes this time and she began to come all over the big thing and, when she stopped her short quick thrusts, he withdrew from her and he pulled her by her legs to the edge of the bed and he knelt down on the floor and began kissing and lapping her vagina as though to devour her flow and then he began sucking up her clitoris and drawing it up between his lips and she thought he was going to suck it right off her body and then she felt as though she was leaving her body and she began having huge orgasms one after the other as he sucked on her and worked his thin chin deep into her vagina. “Please, please stop,” she cried again, and he stood up and picked her up by the waist a few inches and slid her back onto the bed and he entered her again and began thrusting into her and he filled her so fully that her flow was forced out to the lips of her vagina and it wet more of his shaft, which he threw further into her and soon she was gasping with each thrust and the wetter she got the faster he drove it into her until he, too, was gasping and soon after his glans pulsed within her and shot huge spurts of hot fluid deep inside her and he had filled her so that it couldn’t escape and she felt the fluid flow within her nether reaches until it was almost cool, much cooler than the hot regions it was flowing into and it was a feeling she had never felt before and she began to come as he pulsed within her and she could almost feel his great testicles working hard to fill her and she could still taste those orbs she had tried to swallow whole but couldn’t and she used her legs to drive him deeper and deeper inside her and she knew she had triumphed over the monster and she squeezed with her legs as the last of the flow was injected into her and she took it in to cool herself down.
Gyritha laid back, exhausted and Canute collapsed atop her still inside her. He rolled off her to the side, but he had so filled her that his member pulled her over on her side beside him. They breathed heavily and hugged each other and then she panicked a bit and got the sudden urge to pull off him and it took her an effort to get herself free of him and she recollected herself. Canute was resting on his side as she shook her head at the sensations she’d experienced, and fear and sexual pleasure were what stood out for her and the last bit of fear had caused panic and she scooted down to have a look at this monster she had slain and was hanging down limp and lifeless and still huge. She took it in her hands and lifted it and let it drop with a slap as it hit his hip, but the tip still dragged across the bed and she did this a few times and it began to stiffen and for some strange reason she got the compulsion to put it into her mouth and suck on it before it got too large to fit her palate and she got almost half of it in past her lips and she tried to swallow it down but it had already grown too large and the monster had somehow sprung back to life because there was now no dropping it back across the bed as she’d been doing. It was pointing out straight at her in accusation of how she’d dared attempted to slay it and it wanted to bite her again.
Canute laid on his back and he pulled Gyritha atop him and he held the monster by the neck as she slid her vaginal cowl once more over its head and it struggled to escape as she tried to confine it and she rode it hard and then it rode her and she rode it again until they flowed together once more and they rested again side by side and she felt as though he were some kind of machine for he’d flowed just as much as he’d flowed before like some great siege engine that was cranked up and down and discharged the same load over again and then pulsed with the recoil back and forth, in and out, until it came to rest. She vowed not to touch it again but they talked for a while and she was sure the beast was slain. They talked about other lovers and children they’d had and monsters they’d seen and she was always drawn back to it, to look at it, tease and torment it and, once more, it came back to life. She knew she wouldn’t be walking too much too soon but she tempted the dragon back into her den and they danced once more this dance of life and she dared the gods bless her again so she could match the title of her king.
After their conversations about children, Canute was convinced that King Harald had been the son of Harald ‘Bluetooth, not his half-brother, a son of Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’. He had meetings with his retainers and a meal with his men before catching up with his wife at their palace suite.
“How was she?” Aelfgifu asked Canute.
“She wants to remain Queen of Denmark,” he answered.
“I meant in bed…how was she in bed?”
“I can see why my father kept her as queen,” Canute said. “She is a fine example of Danish beauty, inside and out.”
“Your father was Aesir,” she reminded him. “He kept many wives as queens. I wish to be Queen of Denmark. We are Christians. You must choose.”
“You know what my choice will be, Aelfy,” Canute said, walking over to his wife on the bed and kissing her.
“I know, Valdy, but I don’t love her. I wish we could share her together, but I have no feelings for her.”
“You don’t mind if I enjoy her while we’re here, in Denmark?”
“Oh, God no! I could certainly use the help with you. You are so…driven…by your impulses. Thank God we’ve had Princess Gyda here to help me with you,” and she looked over at Gyda, who was already in their bed.
Even though Canute had enjoyed Gyritha for three hours that afternoon, he enjoyed Aelfgifu and Gyda for another three hours that night. He was still driven, no longer able to do the twelve straight hours he’d do in his youth, but he could still take up a respectable portion of it. And he still had seven hundred wives back in the east, back in Kiev, many of them Polish, and though King Burizleif of Poland had taken back many of his Cherven lands, he knew better than to try and take back Prince Valdamar’s Polish wives. They pined for their prince and had prayed to the gods that the English would win their war with him and he’d return to the east and now they prayed for an English rebellion.
When Prince Hraerik returned from the east to Roskilde Harbour with the great merchant fleet, he was surprised to see King Canute already there, and he had Jarl Eirik and Earl Godwin there with him. The Prince knew something was up, but Valdy claimed that they were taking King Harald’s Danish army out for manoeuvres and training to ensure they were still up to Hraes’ standards. “Queen Emma awaits you in Winchester,” Valdy concluded. “She is holding down the fort for us until you get back.” Hraerik left it at that, but he knew that, if Jarl Eirik was in Denmark, a battle would soon be in the offing. He just wasn’t sure if the Danish army was going for ‘training’ against King Olaf in Norway or against the former King Olaf in Poland. North or south, the ‘training’ was going to culminate in a battle. But Prince Hraerik missed his Emma and sailed for Southampton with the English portion of the great merchant fleet.
The Danish army was freshly equipped and provisioned and set off in ships east along the Baltic until they got to the Island of Jom and met with the Jomsvikings in Jomsborg. Canute had a message sent to King Burizleif in Wend, requesting the head of Jarl Olaf Tryggvason, or, if that was unsuitable, challenging Jarl Olaf to battle. “My grandfather, King Ivar ‘the Boneless’, had no legs and was borne into battle on a shield carried by his retainers,” Canute’s message read, “so don’t let your dead legs keep you from this fight!”
“Never have I shirked from battle,” came Olaf’s reply, “and the same can be said for King Ivar, who invented the fine wheeled chair I am in. Shield borne I shall come with ten thousand Poles and Norwegians. Meet me in Stargard with one of your famed mobile legions and we shall do battle.”
King Burizleif was relieved. He thought that King Canute was after the two boys that Bishop Thietmar had left with him after the sack of Kiev. The boys were the princely sons of King Athelred by Queen Emma, and King Canute had promised not to hurt them, so he sent them to Prince Ivaraslav in Kiev instead, with orders that they be slain there, no doubt. When the Poles had taken Kiev, they found the two Latin Christian boys in chains there, so they turned them over to the local Latin Christian church community and the bishop had then found out who they were and was going to take them back to Germany with him, but Burizleif had learned who Thietmar had in tow and relieved him of his burden, thinking they might be of value if Canute ever faltered, but when Valdamar turned up in Jom with two legions, Burizleif was ready to turn the boys over to him, but soon learned that it was not boys he was after, but rather the brother of Thurkil Nefia, Jarl Olaf Tryggvason. He breathed a sigh of relief and promised himself that he would send the two young princes south to the court of the King of Hungary at first opportunity.
Canute did not like the idea of sending only one legion into Poland, but he knew that while Olaf Tryggvason lived, his sons in Hraes’ would always be under danger of attack from him for the death of his brother, Thurkil Nefia, in York. His Exeyes officers assured him that the Polish army was in Wolin City on the island of Wolin so, they took their ships along the internal seaways of Poland and sat with the fleet outside the Harbour of Wolin and Canute commanded the fleet that monitored the Polish army, while young Earl Godwin led the mobile legion south into Poland. Jarl Eirik would not be held with the fleet while Godwin attacked his arch-enemy alone so the two earls headed to Stargard together with their legion.
Princess Astrid begged Olaf not to meet the Danes in battle but he would have it no other way. They met at a field outside of Stargard that Olaf’s officers had already marked out with hazel poles.
The two armies collided and they fought for two hours before the Polish wing began to give way before the Hraes’ Danes and when Jarl Olaf was carried on his shield to lead a Norse force to bolster them, Jarl Eirik was waiting with a Norse force of his own, all berserks, and they fell upon the Polish wing and fought their way to the former king and Jarl Eirik slew Jarl Olaf as he fought bravely from his shield. One of Olaf’s legs, his right one, had fallen out from under mail and Eirik hacked it off above the knee and Olaf bled out as they fought on and he grew quite pale and he died. Eirik had held off from striking the leg off, but the retainers left it swinging freely and Jarl Eirik was wielding his sword called Leg Biter and finally he could no longer desist from the blow. He’d much rather have struck one that took Olaf’s head off instead, but the sword cried out for a leg and Eirik could only ignore the pleas of his blade for so long. It was a battle, after all, and both Poles and retainers were trying to kill him as he was trying to kill Olaf. When the Polish army was routed, they left Jarl Olaf on the field on his shield, so Earl Godwin went up to the body and struck off the head and gave it to Jarl Eirik, who had been with his berserks, driving the Poles and the Norwegians from the battlefield. They did not give them chase nor bend them over their shields. The captured Poles carried the body of their jarl upon his shield, sans head, back to Princess Astrid.
Jarl Eirik brought Jarl Olaf’s head back to Wolin to show King Canute, who said, “There is a witch in Jomsborg who can preserve it for you until you can get it back to Witch Hallveig in York. I’m sure your father, Jarl Haakon, shall want to have a word or two with it, tete-a-tete, back in Northumbria.” The Danes were quick to pick up new Norman phrases, or perhaps it was just that their English queen was Queen Emma of Normandy.
“Oh, I’m sure he will!” Eirik replied gleefully. “Let’s get this head to Jom as quickly as possible. And make sure you thank Earl Godwin for his valiant efforts at Stargard. He led his legion well.” And the young earl blushed at the compliment.
“In that case,” Canute started, “I think I may grant him permission to ask Princess Gyda for her hand in marriage, should it so please him.”
Earl Godwin beamed brightly and could not get words out to express his joy.
“I don’t think our young earl is interested,” Jarl Eirik said in indignant jest. “Do you find something awry with Princess Gyda?”
“Yes!” the earl stammered. “I mean, No! I wish very much to ask her for her hand.”
They found a witch in Jomsborg who could put a proper spell on Jarl Olaf’s head and she cut runes into a stick and put it under the king’s thick tongue and it croaked words into her ear and the witch told Jarl Eirik, “I’m not sure what this means but, the head says it was one of Jarl Thorkel ‘the Tall’s Jomsvikings who came to Poland and told him that you had slain, had beheaded, his brother Thurkil Nefia in York.”
Both Jarl Eirik and King Canute grew angry over this apparent betrayal by their Jomsviking comrade. “Why would Thorkel betray us and, even more strange, why would Jarl Olaf tell us that he did it?” Canute asked Eirik.
“Jarl Olaf wants to talk to his brother,” Eirik said.
“What?” Canute cried.
“I had Thurkil Nefia’s head spellbound and preserved by Witch Hallveig after the beheading. Thorkel’s man must have told Olaf, and now he wants to talk to his brother’s head. He knows that by telling us who leaked the intel, we now owe him that. After Haakon gives him an earful, I’ll have to let him talk with Jarl Nefia,” Eirik added, shaking his head. “It’s the least we can do for him.” The witch put Olaf’s head into a plain wooden box built for the strange cargo and Jarl Eirik carried Jarl Olaf under his arm as they walked toward their ships.
“That witch seems as good as Witch Hallveig,” Canute said, stopping. “Wait here. I have to ask her something. Jarl Eirik sat on a stump by the side of the road and he waited for his king and every once in a while he would open the box and look at the head and smile and say, “Jarl Haakon’s gonna have a few sharp words for you!”
Soon King Canute was walking along the road with the witch trailing behind him. He had asked the witch if she could tell him for certain if King Harald the Second of Denmark had been the son of King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ the First and she told him she would need a body or a spirit to ask. He told her that King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ had been killed by the arrow of a Jomsviking named Jarl Sigvald and that King Harald was buried at the head of a fjord on the other side of the Island of Jom. So, King Canute and Jarl Eirik took the witch by ship to the fjord and she told them she couldn’t help them because a small wooden church had been built over the grave of the king and she could not contact the spirit of the king through the aura of the Christian church.
“I’ll fix that!” Jarl Eirik said and he got a few of his Aesir followers to take torches and they burned down the church. King Canute calmed his Christian followers by assuring them he had plans to replace the wooden church with a fine stone one. Once the ashes cooled a bit, the witch could contact the spirit of the king.
“He will not talk to me,” the witch told Canute, “but he grieves.”
“Who does he grieve for?” Canute asked her.
“He has recently lost a son,” she said, “a year or so ago. It was the Harald the Second you asked of.”
“So, Harald the Second isn’t the son of King Sweyn?” he asked her.
“If this Harald has died just over a year ago, I can say with certainty that he isn’t,” the witch confirmed.
“If I give you gold enough to build a stone church with, will you give it to a Christian who can get it done?”
“I know the Bishop of Wolin,” the witch replied. “I treat him for his gout. I’ll give him the gold and I’ll make sure he gets it done.”
Canute gave the witch the gold and then gave her some more for her trouble.
“When the church is done,” she said in thanks, “the Bishop of Wolin will send a message to the Bishop of Lund and your Danes will know it has been done.” She thanked him again for his generosity. The Danish army ‘manoeuvres’ were completed and the warfleet returned to Roskilde.
King Canute enjoyed Gyritha the rest of that fall in Roskilde and she tried hard to get pregnant so she could have a claim to stay Queen of Denmark, but she began having hot flashes and she realized her time for that had passed. On Christmas Day, King Canute and his wife, Princess Aelfgifu, were coronated King and Queen of Denmark at the king’s palace in Roskilde and when they returned to Winchester in the early spring, Canute left Queen-Mother Gyritha the palace for her use. Canute had planned to leave shortly after Christmas but he stayed longer when he learned his son, Prince Mstislav of Tmutorokan, would be soon arriving to lead the great merchant fleet east; the king and queen stayed to greet him and introduce him to Queen-Mother Gyritha.
The royals then sailed to Southampton and took carriages to Westminster and relieved Hraerik and Emma so they could return to Southampton to prepare for their tallship sailings for the Newfoundland spring trading. The glass shops and looms of the city had been buzzing all winter preparing trade goods for the Skraelings there.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:
A.D. 1019. And this winter died Archbishop Elfstan [of
Canterbury]: he was named Living; and he was a very provident
man, both as to God and as to the world.
The Prince Hraerik’s New Chronicle of the Hraes’ for the year read:
(1019 AD) Sviatopolk advanced with a large force of Pecheneg warriors,
and Ivaraslav collected a multitude of soldiers, and went forth against
him to the Al’ta River. Ivaraslav halted at the site where Boris had been
slain and, lifting up his hands to heaven, exclaimed, “Boris! If I could
trade places, I would!” When he had thus spoken, the two armies attacked,
and the plain by the Al’ta was covered with the multitudinous soldiery of
both forces. It was then Friday. As the sun rose, they met in battle, and the
carnage was terrible, such as had never before occurred in Hraes’. The
soldiers fought hand to hand and slaughtered each other. Three times
they clashed, so that the blood flowed in the valley. Toward evening
Ivaraslav conquered, and Sviatopolk was injured and fled the field.
His retainers bore him to Brest on a litter and in the wilderness between
Poland and Bohemia, he died a miserable death.
Thus Ivaraslav settled in Kiev, together with his followers, and wiped away
the sweat of his labors now that victory was won after a hard struggle.