Ch.1 QUEEN HELGA / PRINCESS OLGA OF KIEV

Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert

Queen Helga of Kiev

CHAPTER ONE

QUEEN HELGA / PRINCESS OLGA OF KIEV (Circa 945-948 AD)

            1.   Now then are come                   to the king’s high hall,

                  the foreknowing twain,             Fenja and Menja,

                  in bondage by Frodi,                 Fridleif’s son,

                  these sisters mighty                  as slaves are held.

                                               Anonymous; Grottasongr, Prose Edda

After Prince Hraerik avenged Ivar’s death by having a Roman general, a Roman admiral and four Roman Emperors sentenced to life on the Byzantine Island of Princes for crimes against the Hraes’, he then returned to Kiev to help Helga prepare for the spring trading cycle and the arrival of the merchant fleets.  Then he headed south with the fleets and they stopped in Gardariki to join up with the Tmutorokan merchant fleet there.  Queen Silkisif was waiting for him on the quays of Gardariki and she had her daughter by Ivar with her.  The fleets sailed on without him because he wanted to spend some time with them.  He would catch up with the fleet at Phasis.

As soon as the merchant fleet had left Kiev, Princess Helga was visited by an embassy from Prince Mal of the Drevjane of Iskorosten and they requested Helga’s hand in marriage with their prince.  Whoever controlled Princess Helga, controlled Prince Sviatoslav, and that meant the control of Gardar and the Hraes’.  The embassy was quite large and demanding in their request, telling her that a feast was being prepared for the start of the marriage ritual and Helga, once more, feared being kidnapped.  While she was entertaining the guests, she had her fourth Kievan legion called up and several thousand of them arrested the two hundred emissaries and bound and blindfolded them.  Then the Kievan cataphracts legion was assembled to escort the embassy back to Iskorosten in no polite manner and the emissaries were trotted along behind the heavy horse all the way back west to their town.

The feast had already started when the Kievan cataphracts rode up two thousand strong.  The legion commander had twenty of his cataphracts lead the two hundred emissaries into the middle of a dusty plain in front of the open gates of Iskorosten.  They stood on the plain in the warm spring heat of the afternoon sun as the main gates to the town were closed by ghostly men hidden behind the stockade doors.  Iskorosten was a Slavic name that meant town of wood and the walls that protected the town were of stockade construction, unpeeled logs with pointed tips and bark hanging down in aimless strips.  All the buildings and houses inside the walls were made of wood with shake or thatch roofs.  ‘Might as well not have walls at all,’ the commander thought as he formed up his legion in attack formation on the far end of the plain.  He then grabbed four hazel poles and rode out to the group standing across the middle of the plain and he stabbed the hazel poles into the ground to form a large square around the hostages to mark a field of battle.  When nobody came forth to challenge them, the commander dismounted from his steed in front of the two hundred ambassadors.  Their hands were bound behind their backs and they had long ropes around their necks, ten men to a rope and one rope to a cataphract.  The commander calmly walked up to the foremost cataphract and slapped the heavy horse on the rear with the flat of his sword.  The horse took off suddenly, dragging the ten men off their feet behind it and the knight put spurs to the horse and rode it in a great circle inside the four hazel poles.  He stopped in front of the main gates and cut the rope from his saddle and rode off to join the commander.  The ten men were lying dead in the dust in a long line before the town.  Drevjane warriors watched in horror and shouted insults from the parapets and a few of the dead showed signs of life as they rolled in agony in the dust.

The legion commander waited an appropriate time before calmly walking over to the next cataphract in the line and slapping that horse’s ass with the flat of his sword.  The horse reared up and pawed at the air before the knight bore down and reined him in and the horse took off across the plain with the men running behind it but they were falling and tripping over each other before the cataphract had reached the first pole and they were rolling in the dust and spinning as the cataphract turned toward the next pole and the whipping action of the rope cinched the loops around the men’s necks even tighter and choked the life out of them as they were dragged around the circuit.  The knight cut the rope and rode back to the commander.  This time the gate opened and Drevjane warriors began to filter out onto the plain with their shields and swords and they started to form up into a large rectangle that filled the space between the hazel poles.  The commander walked calmly to the next cataphract and cut the rope with his sword.  He told the ten ambassadors to walk in formation towards their men and that is what they did, dragging their feet across the dust of the plain as they looked forward and then back and then forward and then back until they got close enough to their troops to break into a trot and the line of the ambassadors melted into the warriors.

Soldiers were still pouring out of the gates and the commander was on his horse now, doing a quick estimation of their strength…three thousand and growing he told himself as he cut another line free and ten more ambassadors marched across the dusty plain.  He rode up to the knight and spat, “They haven’t even brought out their spears with them!”  Four thousand and counting the commander told himself as he cut another rope.  When five thousand soldiers had come out from the town, the gates closed and the commander cut the ropes of the remaining emissaries who then trotted across the plain, sensing an attack was imminent.  They were halfway across when the Drevjane warriors charged out into the plain.  The commander sat on his horse, surrounded by his ten knights as he signaled for the legion to attack.  The cataphracts charged en masse and swept through the Drevjane formation like flails through chaff as warriors flew about from the impacts of lances and heavy horse.  They reformed on the other side and charged through them again with the same devastating result.  When they charged the third time, the Drevjane formation broke and ran for the town but were soon overrun and cut down.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because the front gates remained closed and barred as the slaughter took place.

“Princess Helga told me that she knows some artists in Kiev that can help with the book translation,” Hraerik said to Silkisif as he was packing to leave.  “Ivar had many artist friends in the city.”

“He has many artist friends right here in Gardariki,” Silkisif replied.  “I wish you didn’t have to leave in the morning.”

“I could stay but I’ll have to delay the new start-up in Sinope that I was hoping to get up and running on my way to India.”

“Don’t do that,” Silkisif said.  “Ivar conquered Sinope.  It’s only fitting that it should be the first start-up under the new Roman trade agreement.  Where were we at with your translation?”

“I believe we were doing a second draft of Chapter Three: ‘On Kissing’.”

“A whole chapter on kissing?”

“That’s what I thought when I translated the first draft, but now I’m not so sure Vatsyayana actually wrote this chapter.  He may have copied it from an earlier Veda.  I would like us to go through the whole chapter and see if there is more to it than Vatsyayana explains.”

Silkisif read the Norse introduction and said, “I think I would like that,” and she kissed Hraerik longingly and gently and she slipped him the tongue and they played in each other’s mouths for a time.  “Let’s see Vatsayaya beat that,” she breathed into his ear.

Hraerik began reading from the book.  “Chapter Three: On Kissing.  It is said by some that there is no fixed time or order between the embrace, the kiss, and the pressing or scratching with the nails or fingers, but that all these things should be done generally before sexual union takes place, while striking and making the various sounds generally takes place at the time of the union.  Vatsyayana, however, thinks that anything may take place at any time, for love does not care for time or order.  On the occasion of the first congress, kissing and the other things mentioned above should be done moderately, they should not be continued for a long time, and should be done alternately.  On subsequent occasions, however, the reverse of all this may take place, and moderation will not be necessary, they may continue for a long time, and for the purpose of kindling love, they may be all done at the same time.”

Hraerik set the book on the edge of the bed and stroked Silkisif’s long blonde hair.  ‘Aptly named,’ he thought, for her hair felt like strands of silk.

“The following are the places for kissing: the forehead,” and Hraerik kissed her forehead, “the cheeks,” and he kissed on both her cheeks and could taste the blush, “the throat,” and he spent a bit of time osculating all around her throat and neck, “the bosom,” and Hraerik placed his head on her chest just above her breasts and he listened to her heart starting to race a bit and he dappled her bosom with his lips then listened again and her heartrate was a bit faster yet, “the breasts,” and Hraerik spent a great deal of time kissing these all over, but always returning to the nipples, which were very erect by now.  He listened to her heart race faster yet.  “The lips,” he said and left her breasts and began kissing her lips gently, “and the interior of the mouth,” and Hraerik slipped her the tongue and their tips danced for a very long time and when he stopped, she whispered, “Please, please, please don’t stop”, and he kissed her once more, starting at her forehead.

When he had finished kissing her once more, she whispered,  “there may be something to your theory” then she put her head upon his bosom, breathing heavily.  “I think I came,” she shuddered.

“Moreover, the people of the Lat country,” Hraerik started reading, “kiss also on the following places: the joints of the thighs,” and he laid Silkisif down on the bed and lifted up her white silk slip and he lifted up one leg and began to kiss her knees and the inside of her knee joint then he placed that leg on his shoulder and took up her other leg and began kissing her knee.  Then he kissed her all the way down her thigh and began to kiss the inside of her hip joint and worked his way across to the other hip joint and began to work his way up her other thigh when he felt her hands on his head pulling him back down.  “Please, please, please,” she cried, “Kiss my yoni, please!” and she pulled his face into her yoni.  “But Vatsyayana is against oral” he protested.  “Fock Vatsayaya,” she cried, “please, please, please kiss my yoni!”  So Hraerik began kissing Silkisif’s clitoris as she writhed in extasy and when he had spent sufficient time kissing there, she pulled his head up to her bosom and whispered, “I want you in me now!”

Hraerik slid up and into her and began thrusting deep within her and she writhed some more and wrapped her legs around his buttocks and held him deep within her as he struggled to withdraw and she thrust him in harder and he would withdraw only to be drawn in again and she kept this up as she moaned in orgasm and he could no longer hold off exploding within her.  “Oh, you witch,” he whispered as he collapsed onto her and rolled off to the side.  “I was going to use my glove, my lambskin glove,” he said, referring to his prophylactic sheath of lamb’s intestine.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.  “I guess Vatsayaya won that kissing contest,” and she rolled over on top of him.  “Oh, I have never been kissed like that before!  I don’t think Vatsayaya wrote that!”

“We didn’t even get halfway through it,” Hraerik said.  “Gods I love you!”

“I have always loved you,” she replied.

The next morning Prince Hraerik stood on the main quay of Gardariki and he held Queen Silkisif in his arms.  “I’m afraid to kiss you goodbye,” she whispered.  “I’m still shaking from your kiss last night.”  But Hraerik kissed her long and hard anyway, then sailed off in the shieldship of a squadron of the new, fast dromon warships, on his way to India with many scheduled stops along the way.  “It’s the unscheduled stops that kill you,” he reminded himself.

Princess Helga was riding in her carriage at the head of a long column of the Fourth Kievan Legion, a ten thousand man force of crack Roman trained and equipped foot soldiers as they came upon the legion of Kievan cataphracts camped outside the walls of Iskorosten.  It was a three day march for the legionnaires and a one day carriage ride for the princess before they stood before the siege of the city.  The Kievan cataphracts blocked all access to the gates of the city but could not block access via the Uzh River.  A military camp had been established in the dusty plain before the town and a pavilion had been erected in its center which Princess Helga now entered.  She discussed strategy with the commander of the cataphracts and commended him on the slaughter of five thousand Drevjane warriors a few days prior.  He informed her of the plan to bring in catapults and trebuchets to launch a flaming barrage on the town to set it alight.

The next day, two gravity trebuchets arrived from Kiev and were quickly set up and began launching fiery projectiles into the city.  But the citizens of Iskorosten were very effective in dousing the flames using water drawn from the river, a stream of which flowed into the town.  Even with the high firing rate and range of the trebuchets, the fire brigades of the town managed to keep up.  The faster they put out the blazes that would erupt, the less chance there was of losing control and the people that lived in the wooden town of Iskorosten were very good at keeping fires under control.  The Hraes’ commander even tried launching the fiery projectiles at night, but it just seemed to make it easier to spot where the projectile had landed and there was an added element of danger to his own men in dealing with flammable liquids and ballistae in the darkness.  Princess Helga soon grew tired of the siege and returned to Kiev and her son there, leaving the military affairs to her generals.

Prince Hraerik caught up to the tail end of his merchant fleet on the Black Sea, just off the coast of Phasis, but he sailed south past them and entered a channel that had been dug to a lake south of Phasis and docked his ships at a quay just outside Ivar’s estate home on the shore.  Ivar had told his father that he planned to do it someday, so Hraerik had hired a team of Roman engineers from Trebizond to get the job done.  The Roman consul’s wife was waiting for him on the quay.  She kissed him and said, “I saw the fleet coming through so I stayed home today because I knew you would be at the end of it.  What do you think of the works?” she asked, pointing out towards the channel with a wave of her hand.  She held a riding crop in the other and Hraerik thought it had a look and a feel he was familiar with.  “It works well,” he said.

“We call it Ivar’s canal,” she added as they walked up to the manse.  “I have everything ready for the start-up,” she announced.  “I’m so excited!  Sinope!  I didn’t think this would ever happen.  Ivar promised me it would, and you’ve made it all happen.  The canal, the Roman trade agreement, the start-up!”

“How is the Phasis store doing?” Hraerik asked as he entered the house.

“Quite well,” she said.  “So is the Tiflis store.  We help each other out a lot.  The Armenians are quite efficient.”

“Yes,” Hraerik said.  “So are their generals.”

“I heard about General Kourkouas.  However did you manage that?  A life sentence from his own courts?”

“I whispered in Emperor Constantine’s ear.”

“Remind me never to cross you,” she said as she opened their bedroom doors.

“You’re family,” Hraerik said, grabbing her around the waist.  Some men came into the room with his trunks as she started to remove his boots.  “Anything in mind?” she said, striking her thigh with the riding crop.  “The children are in school in Phasis, so we have the whole afternoon to ourselves.”

“I started translating the book,” Hraerik told her.

“Into Latin?” she asked.

“No, Norse,” he answered.

“That’s no good,” she said, striking her thigh with the crop.  “I don’t read Norse any more than I read Sanskrit.”

“I’ll read it to you,” he said, pulling the book out of a trunk.  She began undressing him while he found his place.  “Chapter Three: In Kissing,” he started.

“You’re going to read me a chapter on kissing?” she laughed.  “Am I going to be slipping you some tongue?”

“Don’t laugh,” Hraerik said.  “It’s a very dangerous chapter.  I think I may have gotten Queen Silkisif pregnant.”

“She’s too old to get pregnant.  What’s the next chapter about?”

“It’s called ‘On Pressing, or Marking, or Scratching With the Nails,” he said.

“And the next one?”

“Chapter Five: On Biting, and the Means to be Employed with Regard to Women of Different Countries.”

“Ivar forbade me from biting,” she said.  “He said it made him look like he couldn’t handle camels.”

“Well, there is that,” Hraerik replied.  “But if we keep the bites small, they won’t look like camel bites…”

“Excellent!  Let’s do bites and means employed on women of other countries.  Does it cover Roman girls?  Women of the Levant?  Armenian whores?”

“Just Indian girls, I’m afraid.  On Biting:  All the places that can be kissed, are also the places that can be bitten, except the upper lip, the interior of the mouth, and the eyes,” he started.  “You didn’t want to do the kissing chapter, so I’ll start because I know all the kissing parts.”  She started nibbling on Hraerik as he read.  “The qualities of good teeth are as follows: They should be equal,” and Hraerik began inspecting her teeth as he was reading, “possessed of a pleasing brightness, capable of being coloured, of proper proportions, unbroken, and with sharp ends.”  ‘But not too sharp,’ he thought.  “The defects of teeth, on the other hand, are: that they are blunt,” and he continued checking her teeth by inserting fingers into her mouth to get a better look, so she started nibling his fingers, “protruding from the gums, rough, soft, large, and loosely set.  You seem to be appropriately equipped.

“The following are the different kinds of biting:

  The hidden bite.

  The swollen bite.

  The point.

  The line of points.

  The coral and the jewel.

  The line of jewels.

  The broken cloud.

  The biting of the boar,” he concluded.

“One:” he started again.  “The biting which is shown only by the excessive redness of the skin that is bitten, is called the ‘hidden bite’.”  He paused.  “This is the type of bite we want,” he whispered, and he began to kiss her tenderly on the forehead.

“The following are the places for biting: the forehead,” and Hraerik nipped her forehead, “the cheeks,” and he nibbled on both her cheeks and could taste the blush, “the throat,” and he spent a bit of time nipping her all around her throat and neck, “the bosom,” and Hraerik placed his head on her chest just above her breasts and he listened to her heart starting to race a bit and he grazed her bosom with his teeth then listened again and her heartrate was a bit faster yet, “the breasts,” and Hraerik spent a great deal of time nibbling these all over, but always returning to nip at the nipples, which were very erect by now.  He listened to her heart race faster yet.  “The lips,” he said and left her breasts and began biting her lower lip gently and then he kissed her intensely on the mouth.  She whispered, “Please, please, please don’t stop”, and he nibbled her once more, only more forcefully this time, starting at her forehead.

She was breathing heavily when he finished the second, more forceful go round and he was about to have her do the biting, but then he remembered the thighs and he pushed her down on the bed and started nibbling at her knees and worked his way up one thigh and began grazing the inside of her hip joint and worked his way over to the other hip and then he felt her hand on his head steering him lower and he began nipping her clitoris as she convulsed on the bed.  Then he slid up her body and entered her and they were both convulsing on the bed until they came together.

“Ohhh…so that’s the biting,” she said, letting out a deep breath.

“There’s more,” Hraerik said.  “We are just beginning.  Two:  When the skin is pressed down on both sides, it is called the ‘swollen bite’.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” he answered.  “Three:  When a small portion of the skin is bitten with two teeth only, it is called the ‘point’.  Four:  When such small portions of the skin are bitten with all the teeth, it is called the ‘line of points’.  Five:  The biting which is done by bringing together the teeth and the lips, is called the ‘coral and the jewel’.  The lip is the coral, and the teeth the jewel.”

“Let me try this one,” she offered.  And she started with Hraerik’s forehead, which was hard to do with just upper teeth and a lower lip and they fell back on the bed laughing, but she did better with the cheeks and his lower lip was easy so, she played with it a while and switched to kissing then went back to biting before moving on to his throat, which she nibbled at, then put her head onto his bosom and thought of his son.  She moved on to his nipples and sucked on them until she got enough of a rise to nip them between her teeth and then apologetically used her upper teeth and lower lip.  She slid down his body, skin on skin, and began nibbling his navel and slid further down to nibble on the inside of his hip.  She didn’t make it to the other hip, preferring to nibble on his lingam, nibbling on both sides base to tip, before sliding it into her mouth completely.  She moved it in her mouth as though reining it about and then she slid up Hraerik’s body and mounted her steed.  Hraerik could tell she was a good rider by her steady gait which she maintained as though looking about for a good place to race and she picked up the pace as though crossing a meadow towards a track and she moaned as she tucked down her head and put heels to his flanks and broke into a gallop and she was breathing hard and moaning often and then her steed erupted into her and she collapsed onto his chest and savoured the pulsing throbbing eruptions within her.  She’d ridden her steed hard and did not want to put it up wet so, she slid back down his body again and licked and kissed his lingam until it was preened to her satisfaction.

“This book is dangerous,” Hraerik said later and she agreed.  “Again, I couldn’t stop to use my glove.”

“We’re family,” she said.  “I would love nothing more than to have our baby growing up with Ivar’s.”

The next day, Prince Hraerik and the consul’s wife sailed to Sinope with a fleet of warships and a start-up ship and crew.  They left the children in Phasis because they didn’t know what they would find in Sinope, but the town was bustling, and her estate had been kept for her return.  Ivar had given a neighbour some gold to look after it and he had done just that.  They purchased a building that was soon converted to a store and warehouse and the start-up crew started setting up inventory while the consul’s wife hired locals to train.

“I’ll leave you with the start-up crew and their ship,” Hraerik started, “and when I get back to Phasis I’ll send the children here with the next Hraes’ ship out.”

“Thank you, Hraerik!” she said, and she kissed him goodbye.  “This is so exciting!  My own Hraes’ station in Sinope!”

Back in Phasis, Captain Biorn arrived from Tiflis to tell Hraerik that the portage was almost complete.  The children had left for Sinope that morning, but Hraerik had decided to leave several warships and their crews to keep things secure at their estate.  Hraerik and Biorn sailed together up the Rioni and were the last ship portaged to the Kura River.  They caught up with some ships of the merchant fleet in Tiflis that were doing the Cathay leg and Hraerik put in an order with one of them for some additional toys and kites and sky lanterns, a lot of sky lanterns.  Hraerik and Biorn soaked themselves in Ivar’s Sulphur Spring there and after, Hraerik placed an order for a quantity of local sulphur for his alchemists in Gardariki.  He told the local merchant that he would pick it up on his way back.

“What do you want sulphur for?” Biorn asked.

“Our chemical alchemists are using it for experiments, and I have a little project of my own that will require some.”

They left the sulphur spring and Hraerik liked to pamper himself before the two week sailing to Baghdad, so he booked himself and several of his officers into a new inn that just opened up in Tiflis to help handle the extra visitors brought in by Ivar’s sulphur spring investments.  Hraerik felt a little guilty for not patronizing the old inn that he and Ivar used to stay at, but he felt he had to check out the improvements brought about by his own son’s great business acumen.  And, of course, everything was new.  Hraerik passed Biorn and the other officers the keys to their rooms and they went and had supper in the dining hall.  As they ate and chatted, Hraerik remembered telling Ivar that he may have made a mistake by sparing Biorn his life because acts of kindness were seldom rewarded in kind.  But Biorn was always at Ivar’s side when he needed him and was even fighting beside him when he died in battle.  And Biorn ran the Baghdad trading while Ivar and Hraerik took off for trading in India, Ivar’s little piece of heaven on earth.  And now it was Hraerik’s little piece of heaven and he wondered how Myia and the rest of their family was.

When they arrived in Baghdad, Biorn took command of the fleet and began setting up kiosks in the markets, while Hraerik located Roxanna and Saleem to catch up on the latest news in the Caliphate.  The Romans and the Arabs were still at war int the Levant, but the Caliphate was gaining ground now that General Kourkouas was no longer leading the Byzantine forces and the Caliph knew it was Hraerik he had to thank for that favour.  The girls toured Hraerik around the markets and they met Biorn and Maharaja Rajan at the Caliph’s palace for feasting.  “The Caliph will be very happy to see you this year,” Rajan stated as he greeted the Prince warmly.  “He is actually winning a few battles in the Levant now!”

After the meal, but before entertainments started, the Caliph requested Prince Hraerik’s presence at the head table.  Hraerik saw that there was plenty of room there, so he took Biorn, Saleem and Roxanna up with him and introduced them all to the Caliph, who had a fine gift for his guest.  The Caliph knew that Hraerik was a famous poet and skald from the northern lands so, he had the finest book binders in Baghdad create a gold trimmed and jewel encrusted volume of ‘The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor’ for him.  The folios of the book were made of the newest media available called paper and was a local Baghdadi linen-hemp production and the binding was in the latest book format with the print in the finest Persian script in black and multi coloured inks with numerous hand painted illustrations signed by some very famous local artists and it was the illustrations that really drew Hraerik to the book.  The Caliph was suddenly embarrassed when he thought for a minute that perhaps Hraerik couldn’t read Persian, but when Hraerik began reading out the subtitles and reading out the famous signatures on the illustrations, he relaxed.

Later, while relaxing in his suite, Hraerik told Roxanna that he would have his own artists back in Gardariki study the illustrations and use the same format for illustrations of his translation of ‘The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana’ that he was working on.  He brought out his manuscript book and compared it with the fine finishing of the Sindbad book that the Caliph had given him.  “I didn’t have the heart to tell the Caliph that paper isn’t new and has been used for hundreds of years in Cathay.”  But the two women were more interested in the Kama Sutra and offered to help Hraerik with his next chapter.

“Chapter Six:” Hraerik started.  “Of the Different Ways of Lying Down, and the Various Kinds of Congress.”  The girls gathered around Hraerik, all sitting at the edge of his bed.  “On the occasion of a ‘high congress’ the Mrigi (Deer) woman should lie down in such a way as to widen her yoni, while in a ‘low congress’ the Hastini (Elephant) woman should lie down so as to contract hers.  But in an ‘equal congress’ they should lie down in the natural position.  What is said above concerning the Mrigi and the Hastini applies also to the Vadawa (Mare) woman.  In a ‘low congress’ the women should particularly make use of medicine, to cause her desires to be satisfied quickly.  The Deer-woman has the following three ways of lying down: The widely opened position, the yawning position, and the position of the wife of Indra.  One: When she lowers her head and raises her middle parts, it is called the ‘widely opened position’.  At such a time the man should apply some unguent, so as to make the entrance easy.  Two: When she raises her thighs and keeps them wide apart and engages in congress, it is called the ‘yawning position’.”

“What is a Yoni?” Roxanna asked.

“And what is a High Congress?” Saleem added.

“This is a lingam,” Hraerik said, lifting his limp cock up off the bed.  “And it fits into your Yoni with a glove.  Don’t let me forget the glove.”  Hraerik knew it was going to be a long night, but he also knew he was going to enjoy every minute of it.

After two weeks in Baghdad, Prince Hraerik and Maharaja Rajan sailed down the Tigris River in Raj’s flagship dhow, followed by hundreds of various ships of their combined merchant fleet.  “You might want to consider staying in Ashaval for the first month,” Raj told the Prince.  “All the births should be over in Mumba by then.”

“By the gods,” Hraerik asked, “how many are there?”

“Well, there’s Myia and her sister, your wife,” Raj started, grinning.  “And I think both your young acolytes are pregnant as well.”

“Should I head to Mumba right away?”

“You’ll be able to do a week in Ashaval,” Raj said, “and you may have to stay in Mumba for three weeks to be there for all the births, but then you’ll be wanting to spend the next month back in Ashaval, trust me on this.”  And they both laughed.

“Your sons in Jelling want to spend the summer in Kiev and Gardariki,” Hraerik told Raj, “if it’s okay with you.”

“It’s okay with me if it’s okay with you,” Raj answered.  “Who will they be staying with, if you’re still coming here?”

“They’ll be staying with Princess Helga when they’re in Kiev and with Queen Silkisif when they’re in Gardariki.”

“Princess Helga was King Ivar’s Queen Helga before they got demoted, but who is this Queen Silkisif in Gardariki?” Raj asked suspiciously.

“She was my foster-daughter and had a baby with Ivar and now she’s my foster-wife.  I love her and want to keep her within the family fold, as it were.”

“Very prudent,” Raj said.  ‘It’s fine to have Ivar’s many babies here, out of the way, but babies, heirs at home, must be taken care of or they can be used against you.”

“She’s beautiful,” Hraerik said.  “All Ivar’s wives are beautiful.”

“How many of his wives are you keeping in the family fold?”

“He had a Roman wife in Phasis, but I’ve moved her back to Sinope to run a new Hraes’ station there.  She’s beautiful as well.  Ivar taught her the business and she’s really good at it.”

“What about Princess Helga?  In the fold as well?”

“No.  She’s different.  She’s Ivar’s first wife, the love of his life.  She’ll never remarry.  A certain Prince Mal in one of our provinces wanted to marry her and she presently has his city under siege and will kill him if she gets the chance.”

“He wants to marry her so he can control young Prince Svein?”

“No doubt,” Hraerik replied.

“Well, you’d better get her into the fold,” Raj advised.  “Petty princes in control could jeopardize your company and your country.”

“If Helga doesn’t kill him, I will,” Hraerik said determinedly.  “I have some siege gear coming back from Cathay.  A special project I’ve been working on.”

“I’m glad it’s for Prince Mal’s city and not mine,” Raj mused, putting his hand on Hraerik’s shoulder.

“Prince Mal will be easy,” Hraerik said.  “Queen Helga, on the other hand, will be the tough one to rein in.  She is a blue majestic island fir in a sea of princely green tamaracks.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“Ivar and I used to always joke about the Swedes,” Hraerik explained, “and how the only thing they could do with perfection was make Swedish princesses.  They seemed to excel at that and only that.”

“So, Queen Helga is the perfect princess.”

“Yes.”

When they arrived in Ashaval, Hraerik went directly to the Hraes’ store there and performed a quick inspection.  All imported stock from last year was long gone and only local stock remained as well as that brought in from Mumba.  Prince Hraerik had brought fifty percent more ships this time, but he didn’t think it was going to be enough.  As long as they couldn’t keep up the supply of merchandise, it gave a reason for not bringing in slaves for sale.  Slavery existed in India, but it was not a prevalent practice and Hraerik wanted to keep it that way out of respect for his first wife, Princess Gunwar.  And to that end he was planning to introduce Khazar Vayar to India this trading cycle.  Ivar had always provided the Maharaja with gifts of the sturgeon roe,  but now the Hraes’ had sufficient quantities to begin exporting to India.  Prince Hraerik had decided to punish the Pechenegs for their desertion of his Roman campaign by doubling their required production of the roe from the south Dnieper River.

“How was everything at your store today?” Rajan asked Hraerik, as he sat on the balcony overlooking his ships at the usual suite in the maharaja’s palace.

“Everything was good.  We got the special ship with the Khazar Vayar unloaded.  The product traveled well, and we started selling it today.”

“Excellent!” Raj said, sitting down.  “Now I won’t be the only royal in India having access to it.  I could swear that some royal visits I was getting was for the Khavayar alone.”

“It will only be sold through the Ashaval store, as requested,” Hraerik added.

“Just until we have enough for both stores,” Raj laughed.  “Gujarat comes first!  But I have a special treat for you tonight.  Two older princesses and they’re sisters.  Apparently, they’ll be able to go to university together if they have Aesir babies.”

“Really.  I’m glad to help them out then,” Hraerik said, innocently.  “They’re still virgins, right?  I don’t want to have to glove up.  It’s counterproductive to knocking them up.”

“Of course,” Raj said.  “All the girls are checked by our royal physician, no matter how young they are.  Children can be curious.  How’s your translation coming along?”

“It’s coming along.  Some chapters have sections that deal with the handling of young princesses and I have to check them out too so, young is good as well.”

There was a knock on the door and two older princesses entered and Raj used it as his cue to leave.  The girls were perhaps sixteen, Hraerik guessed as they entered shyly.  That was older for India, he admitted to himself.  The Prince spent a week in Ashaval tending to trading during the day and making love to young princesses at night as he expanded on his translation of ‘The Kama Sutra’, then he sailed to Mumba and met Myia and her sister Mahara at their parents’ estate on the bay.

“You two are quite the sight!” he said, as he hugged them both together.  They were both very pregnant and Mahara looked ready to pop any day.  Their mother came into the room with refreshments and welcomed Hraerik into their home.

“I have your suite all ready,” she told him.  “My husband is at the store getting it ready for your inspection tomorrow.”  She passed Hraerik a glass of cooled orange juice.  “He is really quite nervous about it,” she added.

“It’ll be fine,” he reassured her.

Later, in the privacy of their suite, Hraerik surveyed the damage.  He sat the sisters beside each other on the edge of their bed and began undressing them.  When they were naked, he listened to their swollen bellies, first Mahara’s and then Myia’s.  He was amazed.  Both babies were very active in their wombs and Mahara’s baby was kicking quite vigorously.  Then the young women undressed Hraerik and saw that he was hard.  “I think Nominal Congress is required here,” Myia said and Mahara agreed as they pushed him down on the bed and started to devour him.

Mahara was still sleeping when Hraerik woke the next morning, but Myia was stirring so he turned to that side and kissed her then rolled her onto her other side and whispered in her ear, “I think Anal Congress is required here,” and he spit on his fingers and lubricated her anus before entering her.  Mahara slept through the whole thing the two were done, dressed and drinking juice by the time she woke up.

Hraerik and Myia’s father sailed across the bay together to inspect the store and go through inventories.  Hraerik wanted to be done by noon because his two pregnant acolytes were arriving at the estate that afternoon and he wanted to be there to greet them.  The store was good, but the Indians did not have the inherent efficiency of the Romans.  Hraerik doubted if anybody could outdo the consul’s wife in that regard and he remembered his son in Sinope, conquering all before him, including the consul’s wife, and he could see how those two must have been instantly attracted to each other.  ‘Oh, to be a fly on the wall watching those two have rough sex,’ Hraerik thought and immediately drove it out of his mind, trying to focus instead on what Ivar would recommend, to improve their Mumba store.

“There is a certain sensuality,” Hraerik told Myia, “in India that isn’t to be found in other parts of the world and I don’t think it is being properly reflected in our stores.”

“What do you think we need?” Myia asked.

“Everything is oriented to the old,” he started.  ‘We’re in a country in which girls are married before they’re in their teens and our stores are set up for forty year old mothers to bring their twenty year old daughters in to shop for them.”  Hraerik looked around the bedroom at his four wives and realized they were all under twenty, some well under that age, and he realized that Ivar’s model of keeping trading in the warehouses and keeping families in the stores needed to be modified to reflect how young Indian families actually were.  “We have mothers that are barely teenagers coming in to shop for their children and we have to make them want to come back.”

“What will make them want to come back?” Myia asked.

“Let’s ask Mahara,” Hraerik said, and Mahara looked up from her studies.  “Not right now,” he added.  “But after she has her baby, let’s all go shopping with her, to our store and others, to markets and to kiosks and we’ll ask her as we go.  As we leave a market or a store, we’ll ask Mahara, ‘What would you have liked to see there?’ and ‘What would have made your shopping experience better?” and we’ll see what she says.”

“I’m not sure,” Mahara interjected, “that I want to be put on the spot like that.”

“We’ll be buying you an awful lot of really nice stuff,” Hraerik replied.

“I’m in!” Mahara said and got back to her studies.

A few days later Mahara went into labour and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and they named him Eyfur.  Hraerik wanted to give him an Indian name, but Mahara’s parents wanted to give him an Aesir name to remind all of whom Mahara’s husband was.  A few days later Meena had a baby boy and a few days after that Misha had a baby boy.  Not much shopping was done that week, but eventually they managed to get out to the markets and bazaars and it rapidly became apparent that young mothers needed more assistance than older mothers.  And they learned that, with Myia still carrying, pregnant mothers needed even greater assistance.  While they worked on ideas that would improve shopping for young mothers, Myia went into labour and had a baby boy as well.  Hraerik kissed his wives goodbye for a time and sailed back to Ashaval.  Never had the ocean seemed so quiet.  When Hraerik arrived back at Rajan’s palace the first thing he did was ask the royal physician for a list of ways to make young mothers more comfortable while shopping.

One evening in Ashaval, Prince Hraerik was enjoying some wine on the balcony overlooking his merchant fleet and Maharaja Rajan asked him if he had had any further visions about the future invasion of horsemen from the eastern Mongolian plain.  “Will they invade India?” Rajan asked.

“I asked that question,” Hraerik replied, “of my dreams, before I went to sleep one night, and a dream came to me and showed me that they would not.”

“That is good,” Raj said.

“But the dream warned of an imminent invasion of Gujarat coming from the south in just over a decade from now.  We must prepare for it in all our future plans.  We must protect Ashaval and Mumba from this upheaval.”

“How do we do that?”

“We must keep our predominantly Jat cities unaligned and flexible, willing to work with whatever rulers come to power in the south as we now do with the north.  Please for give me if I use the term ‘we’, but I now have a lot of children here, not as many as Ivar, mind you, but enough to feel a part of your Jat community.”

“Well, we have a decade to prepare for it and with forewarning we…”  There was a knock at the door…”can make plans.  Tomorrow.”  Raj welcomed two young Jat princesses into the suite then said, “Until tomorrow then.”

“Until tomorrow, my friend,” Hraerik said as he showed the girls into his suite.  One thing he did not tell Raj about the dream he’d had was the sense that it was the financial success of the twin cities of Ashaval and Mumba in his dream that caused the invaders to covet Gujarat.  But he was committed to his new family in Mumba and to his extensive offspring in Ashaval.  He was now as committed to these twin cities as he was to the twin cities of Kiev and Tmutorokan.  It was a commitment he’d accepted as a Bhraman of the Aesir by gifting young Jat princesses, such as the two in his suite, with the blood of Hraegunar Lothbrok and he looked up at the red and black raven banner on the wall above the double doors as he led the two young virgins into his bedroom.

Princess Helga was arriving in her carriage again at the dusty little plain in front of the town of Iskorosten, the city of wood that would not burn down.  The legions of Kiev had kept up a siege all spring and summer and had been launching all forms of fiery ordnance into the city, but the better the Hraes’ would barrage the town, the better the Drevjane would get at putting out fires.  It was determined that the Uzh River was providing Prince Mal with an inexhaustible supply of water with which to fight fires, so the engineers attached to the legions proposed to divert the river away from the town by building a series of dams meant to force the flow into an old looping course that the river had followed several hundred years earlier.  And Princess Helga was there to witness the expensive diversion.

The commander of the cataphracts was there to welcome her as was the general in charge of the legion of foot soldiers.  They had a lunch prepared for her in her pavilion and after the late lunch they led her carriage to where the main and diversionary dams were constructed upstream of the town.  As the diversionary dam’s sluice gate was gradually opened, the main dam’s sluice gate was slowly closed, and the flow of the Uzh River was gradually transferred to the old riverbed that had bypassed the town hundreds of years previous.  One of the engineers even suggested that the old riverbed had been naturally bypassed over two thousand years ago.

“When the rivers curve,” the engineer explained, “the outer banks of the curve are eroded and the curves grow longer and longer until the hydraulic forces back the water up to a level where the water overflows the banks and forms a direct stream again.”  He waited for the princess to nod in understanding, so she nodded, and he carried on.  “We are diverting the river back into one of these curving loops that existed before the town was built and it bypasses the town and rejoins the river several miles downstream, where we have built another dam that will prevent water from backflowing up towards the town.  Once the river water is fully diverted through this ancient loop, we shall close the sluice gate on the downstream dam as well.”  The engineer again waited for an understanding nod and when the princess nodded, he asked, “Shall we begin?”  And to this question, Princess Helga nodded.

The whole process took over two hours and while the engineers and soldiers were adjusting sluice gates and sealing up leaks, Princess Helga wandered along the riverbank, followed by an armed escort, and she walked until she could see the wooden palisade of Iskorosten off in the distance.  Nearby she saw a beaver dam that ran across the river and she pointed it out to one of the officers escorting her.

“It is a beaver dam,” the officer said.  “We could have used it instead of the one we built, but the engineers said it was too far from the old riverbed for us to use it.”

“But won’t the beavers need the water you’re diverting?” the princess asked.

“The engineers said that the beavers will move their dam to the new river location,” the officer told her.

“The dam that your engineers built for me back there cost me a thousand marks of gold.  I hope the beavers don’t charge me a like amount for their efforts.”

The men all laughed at her jest.

Once the diversion was effected, it did not take long to see the drop in water level downstream of the beaver dam.  When Helga got back to her carriage she saw troops of cataphracts and foot soldiers standing guard on either side of the dams.  The commander of the legion told the princess that the Drevjane would try to destroy the dams once they saw what had been accomplished.  It was dark by the time Helga got back to her pavilion.  The commander promised her that fiery barrages would resume on the morrow and that Iskorosten would be burning by nightfall.  Helga retired for the night and slept fitfully.  She didn’t know who to feel sorrier for: the Drevjane of Iskorosten or the beaver of the Uzh River.  She was wakened by a rumbling noise early in the morning.  When she got up and dressed and went outside, she saw officers and men running towards the river.

“Have the Drevjane attacked the dam?” she asked a passing officer who was riding back from the Uzh.

“No,” he said.  “Apparently the beaver have.”

Princess Helga had her driver prepare the carriage and they took it up to the dam works they had visited the day before and the dam was gone, washed away.  The commander was there and when he saw her arrive, he walked over to the carriage and told her, “We were guarding the dam against Drevjane attack, but the beavers snuck in right under our noses and undermined the dam.”  He seemed quite embarrassed by this oversight of the Drevjane Uzh River ally.

“I guess they didn’t want to move,” she said and later in the day she returned to Kiev.

In the fall, the merchant fleet returned from Baghdad and Princess Helga was waiting on the main quay of Kiev to welcome Prince Hraerik back from another successful trading mission.

“There’s a rumour,” Hraerik started, “that you’re having beaver problems in Iskorosten.”

“Nothing we can’t handle, “ Princess Helga replied.

“We always have problems with beavers at our portages,” Hraerik said.  It seems we’re always rowing up tributaries by the time we reach another river within portage distance, and beavers love tributaries.”  Hraerik took young Svein up into his arms.  “You’re getting big!”

“You mean tributaries like the Uzh River?”

“I just mean Varangians know how to take care of beaver.  Let me help you with them.”

“I don’t want to hurt them,” she said.  “Why should beaver suffer just because I want Prince Mal to suffer.”

“We want Prince Mal to suffer.  You’re not in this alone.  Let me help you.”

“I promised Ivar I’d handle the Drevjane myself.”

“Ivar made me promise I’d help you.”

“You’re just saying that.”

“No.  I had a prescient dream that I was soon to die, but I wasn’t sure the dream was about me.  I had Ivar’s word on things he would do for me if I died fighting the Romans and I promised him certain things I would do for him just in case my dream missed me and hit him.  Helping you with the Drevjane was one of them.”

“I wish your dream wouldn’t have hit him.”

“I wish my dream would have hit me!”

“Don’t say that!  We all love you, right Svein?” and the child smiled.  “Don’t ever say that.”

“Thank you,” Hraerik said, stroking the cheek of the child.  “What if I promised you I would defeat the Drevjane for you using only a child’s toy, and no beavers would be hurt in the process.”

“A child’s toy?  A toy that Svein could play with?”

“We’ll take him along and he can play with the toy and start the attack.”  Hraerik could see that Helga was intrigued by his offer.

“It’s six hours by carriage,” she started, “I don’t know if Svein can handle six hours on the road.”

“I know a short cut that will shave an hour off,” Hraerik offered.

“And no beavers will be hurt?” she mused.  “Okay.  We’re in, right Svein?”

“Yes, mama,” Svein said proudly.

Hraerik and Helga worked together going through the Hraes’ books, charging and discharging the northern merchant ships so they could go home.  By the week’s end they were done and ready to venture to Iskorosten and the siege still taking place there.  Several wagons trailed behind Princess Helga’s carriage and in them were the toys that Hraerik said he would use to crush Prince Mal.  “I told you I would use a child’s toy but, of course, it will take more than one of them to do it.”

“How many have you brought?” the princess asked.

“Five thousand.”

“Five thousand?  What are they?”

“The Cathayans call them sky lanterns and their children use them to worship the spirits of their ancestors.  They’re made of silk paper and you light a candle inside them, and they rise up into the sky and float to their ancestors in their Cathay heaven.”

“It sounds Christian!” Helga spat.

“Oh, there are no Christians in Cathay,” Hraerik responded.  “There are Buddhists, there are Confucians, there are Hindus, there are Jains, but there are no Christians there.”

“And we need five thousand of these sky lanterns?” Helga asked.

“I thought we’d use them in the traditional Cathayan way and offer them up for the five thousand Drevjane warriors that died in the Battle of Iskorosten.”

“That’s very poetic,” Helga said, looking down at little Svein who was playing with toy soldiers on the floor of the carriage as it trundled along.  “But you are the most famous skald in the north,” she added.  “And this will defeat the Drevjane?”

“If all goes well,” Hraerik assured her.

By using Hraerik’s shortcut, they arrived at the camp before the walls of Iskorosten in five hours, so they had a few hours to kill before their planned evening ritual.  Hraerik wanted to take a force of cataphracts to the other side of the Uzh River to watch the forest there, so they left Svein with Helga’s handmaiden in her pavilion and they rode in Helga’s carriage to the location where the main dam had been.  Hraerik could see that the troops had built a rickety bridge across the posts that remained of the destroyed dam.

“Don’t worry,” Helga said as they got out of the carriage, “the beavers did a much better job of repairing their dam.”

Hraerik smiled at Helga and took her hand to help her down the steps.  Then he turned and gave some instructions to the commander of the cataphracts.  As the commander rode off, Helga shouted, “and don’t hurt any of my Drevjane subjects!”  He stopped his steed, turned and said, “we shall spare all we can, my queen.”  There were still officers in the legions who had been in service long enough to remember when Helga was a queen and had funded the formation of the Kievan legions and they all loved her and would follow her wishes to the letter.  And she loved her legions in return.

“Where is the beaver dam?” Hraerik asked Helga.

“It’s down the river here a bit,” she said.  “Come, I’ll show you,” and she took Hraerik by the hand and led him to the riverbank and they walked down the bank in the fall afternoon sun and they talked as they walked, of beavers and Varangians and of trade routes and lost sons and husbands.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is burning-of-iskorosten.jpg
The Burning of Iskorosten

After an evening feast in honour of the Drevjane dead, five thousand Cathayan sky lanterns were passed out to the legions in camp.  Young Prince Svein was on a cataphract mount and Hraerik held the horse steady and stood by his grandson’s side.  Princess Helga gave Svein a very small spear and the prince would attempt to launch the spear as a signal of when to light the lanterns.  It was dark enough so Hraerik nodded to Helga who told Svein to throw the spear.  The prince threw the spear and it just passed between the ears of the horse before sliding down its armoured face and lodging in the ring-mail armour of the horse’s foreleg.  Hraerik stepped forward, pulled the spear free of the mail and waved it back and forth as a signal to all the men, then he gave the spear to Helga.  “Keep it for Svein,” he said.  “His first spear cast.”

Helga took the spear and watched Hraerik as he passed Svein a lit lantern and the young boy released it into the night.  The sky lantern was an inverted bag made of very light silk paper with a candle mounted on thin wires below it and the heat from the candle released hot air into the paper balloon and it rose up into the air with thousands of others and a slight breeze swept them all up and they drifted towards Iskorosten.  Then Helga held Svein as Hraerik lit her lantern with a burning kindle stick put to the wick of the candle, and she saw that, jabbed in every candle, right next to the wick, was a fine stick of sulphur.  He passed the sky lantern to the princess and she and Svein both released it up into the night air.  Then Hraerik lit a lantern for himself and leaned into the saddle of the horse and into Helga and all three of them released the last sky lantern skywards.

Five thousand sky lanterns were aloft and beaming in the darkness as they drifted over Iskorosten and when the candles ran out of wax the lanterns started to descend into the town.  Many landed in the thatch roofs of the houses and buildings and soon the hot glowing sulphur sticks set the paper balloon bags alight and they, in turn, set the thatch ablaze.  Soon there were thousands of buildings ablaze in the town and bells were clanging and gongs were sounding and the firefighters of Iskorosten were battling blazes once again.  But it seemed all the buildings were burning all at once and the firefighters stood in the streets with their buckets of water and they didn’t know where to throw them because everything was on fire.  The fire chief ran around instructing his men to throw the water on the corduroy logs that covered the streets of the town to keep dust down.  “The roads are our only means of escape,” he shouted.  People streamed out of their houses and into the streets and soon all the sealed gates of Iskorosten were thrown open and the people of the town came out all black with ash and coughing from the smoke and they sat in groups in the dust and the legions of Kiev walked amongst them passing out pitchers and goblets of water and then they began passing out blankets and the people wrapped themselves in blankets against the cool fall air and they turned and watched their city burn.

There were armed warriors within the walls that refused to come out but eventually they came out through the gates and threw down their swords and shields and were bound hand and foot by the legions.  Everybody was watching for Prince Mal, but he never came out of the city.  Later in the night, a group of fighters came out of the city and surrendered.  They were from the grand hall of Prince Mall and they told Hraerik and Helga that they had all sworn to burn to death in the hall before surrendering but fire is a terrible thing and they all made good their escapes rather than burn.  One man claimed that he had even seen Prince Mal fleeing with his hair and clothes aflame, but the hall collapsed and crushed him.

Hraerik sent Helga to check on Svein in her pavilion and she came back out in tears and Hraerik rushed over thinking something had happened to the boy but Helga said he was fine and sleeping with the handmaiden but it was on coming back out, when she saw her town and her people in such a terrible state that the lanterns of her cheeks flowed tears.  Hraerik took her into his arms and said, “The town can be rebuilt.  The people, though shaken, are alive and well and it would seem that only Prince Mal has died.”  And he held her for a very long time as they both watched the palisade start burning.  Finally, he took her to her pavilion and tucked her in with her son.  Then he went out and walked amongst the legions and their captives and made sure that Queen Helga’s orders to her commander were followed to the letter.

“You haven’t slept,” Helga said as she joined him at the command pavilion in the morning.

“I’ll sleep in the carriage on the way back to Kiev.”

“On the way home,” she said, taking him by the arm and walking him over to a mess tent.  They both ate and talked.  “You’ve really impressed me,” Helga said.  “I always wondered why Ivar would talk about you so much after your battles with the Angles and the Saxons and the Romans.  Now I know.  With just a child’s toy you literally crushed Prince Mal.  No rapes, no slaughter.  My commander and my generals would follow you into battle against the gods right now.  And they’d expect to win!  I let you do me this one, how did you put it, one small favour and now I owe you a favour in return.”

“You owe me nothing,” Hraerik said.  “I made a promise to my son and you allowed me to fulfill it.  It is I who owes you a favour.”

“You poets are so full of it!”

Later in the morning, Princess Helga made a speech to the people of Iskorosten, promising to send them craftsmen to help them rebuild a city of brick and stone.  “It will have no walls,” she added, “for only friendship stands between the Hraes’ and the Drevjane”. 

Helga could see that Hraerik slept fitfully on the way back to Kiev and, when they arrived there in the evening, she had her staff unlock King Frodi’s great bedchamber and make it up for the Prince, then she rejoined Hraerik in her highseat hall and they shared her highseat while he ate.  “I’m sorry Prince Svein kept waking you up on the way back,” she apologized.  “He was very excited to learn that he gets to keep his little spear.”

“That’s fine,” he replied.  “I’m going straight back to my hall once we’ve eaten.  I need some rest.”

“I’ve had my staff make you up a bed here,” she said, and she led him down the hall to King Frodi’s bedchamber.

“The last time I was in this room,” Hraerik said, “the chamber door was locked, and nobody knew where the key was.”

“Don’t worry,” she said as she started undressing him.  “Queen Alfhild won’t be visiting you here tonight.”  When she had him naked, she laid him back on the bed and tucked him under the blankets.  “Only I shall be visiting you here tonight.  I have a sterling reputation to maintain with my people so, it will only be this one night and I will be gone when you wake in the morning.”

When Hraerik woke up the next morning, Princess Helga was still sleeping.  He woke her up gently by stroking her lean body softly.  He watched her breasts rise and fall through the thin silken sheet and he marvelled at what a perfect Swedish princess she truly was.  Age had not affected her beauty at all.  As she woke up, he took her into his arms.  “I thought you were going to be gone in the morning,” he said.

“You impressed me with your taking of Iskorosten, and you really impressed me with your taking of me last night,” she answered.  “Why don’t you stay here in the palace till the end of the week.”  It was her turn to peek through the sheet and she saw his stiff steed grazing in the silk  “I’ll take my chances with the staff and try to sneak back to my bedroom in half an hour.”

“Why half an hour?” Hraerik asked, and she climbed atop him.

At the end of the week she told Hraerik that she and Svein would be overwintering in Gardariki.  She didn’t ask, she just told him.  And then she set to work revising the Hraes’ taxation system.  Previously, taxes were collected over the winter months by the Prince of Kiev and his men.  It was during such a tax collecting effort that her husband, Ivar, had lost his legs during a Drevjane ambuscade.  But Helga now planned on overwintering in Gardariki for the foreseeable future so, she set up a more standardized form of taxation with quarterly payments that were collected by local officials and forwarded to Kiev.

Queen Helga of Kiev