Read a sample of “Three Kings – One Throne”

Sample of “Three Kings – One Throne”

 

 Chapter 4

 “Memories of a Warrior”

 

“Ivar, the  old grey-haired warrior, sat  patiently on  his  horse” “waiting for three trumpet blasts which would call him to action, but he knew that, though he was in full armour, he might have a long wait before he was required by the commander. He had volunteered to be in the reserve cavalry. All the young bloods wanted to be in the first attack for fame and glory. Fame and glory! He had been in a hundred battles  and he knew that a warrior in the first charge will have everything from logs to rocks thrown at him as well as facing  the usual weapons: spears and flying arrows. Let the glory seekers soften the enemy up and cull their numbers a bit before the reserve finish the job. He wanted to be alive at the end of the day to collect his mercenary’s pay.”
“From where he sat on his warhorse in the cover of trees, he could not see the battle front  though he could hear the characteristic  sounds  of two armies  confronting  each other: the ring of metal on metal, the oaths and bellowed threats, the whinnying of horses, and the screams of the wounded. He knew from past experience that the best way to allay anxiety was to occupy his mind. His thoughts started to wander. How did he come to be here? He had given up the mercenary  life years ago, so when the Duke’s men came to his house in Domfront, in Normandy, recruiting mercenaries, he told them that he was”
“too old for soldiering; in fact he told them that he thought he”
“was more than fifty years old. But they had said that this was not an invitation: it was a command. The Duke needed all the experienced fighters he could find. And so he had had to open the old chest and find his hauberk18  and his sword. His wife Aveline was not pleased. He had promised her that his fighting days were over. But she  knew that bad would come of it if he refused to serve the Duke. They lived very comfortably in the village. Although it was on the disputed border between Normandy and Brittany, they were well protected. The town had a wall surrounding it and a new castle to defend it. It was a busy place as it was on the pilgrim route, and this was good for their business selling grain, for not only did they supply the abbey but also the hostelries where pilgrims stayed.”
“Sitting on the horse which he had been allocated, he felt his sword hilt for reassurance. It was a weapon which had served him well for over thirty years. He fingered the bear’s  claw which had been mounted on the pommel of the sword.  His father had given it to him when he was a boy. It was on a leather thong then; his father  said that it would bring him luck. He remembered when he had first got the sword in Novgorod,19 or Holmgård as it was called in older times. What memories!”
“But the adventure had started long before that. It had begun that night when the Norwegian raiders landed in Roskilde and plundered the town. That was in 1026. The Danish king then was Cnut, but he was also king of England. He was away most of the time, and the defences of Zealand had been neglected. Ivar was just thirteen years old when the Norwegians killed his father. His mother had died in childbirth, so he had become an orphan that night. They might have killed him too, but the raiders decided that he could have some value as a slave.”
“18       Hauberk – chain mail armour covering the thighs, with long sleeves”
“19       Novgorod – meaning ‘new city’, called Holmgård by the Norsemen”
“The   old  warrior  tried  to  remember  life  before   the”
“Norwegians  took  him, but  the trauma of  the aftermath of his capture had chiselled such strong images in his mind that they had blotted out much of the detail of what had happened before he was carried off to slavery. He remembered vividly the sea battle in his first month of captivity, when he was on the Norwegian ship. King Cnut had caught up with the Norwegians and their allies the Swedes. It had gone badly for them and the Norwegian King Olof had been forced to abandon his ships in the Holy River in Skaane.20 What a journey they had had then! Only a few officers had horses; slaves and warriors had had to walk all the way to King Olof ’s capital,  Nidaros.21”
“But things did get better on the journey. In Denmark, Ivar’s wealthy father ensured that he had good tutors, most of them churchmen. They had worked him hard, but his father had got good value for the fees he had paid. On  the long journey to Nidaros from Skaane, it had been pointed out to the King that Ivar could read and write, and when the deeply religious King had visited churches on the journey across Sweden, he noticed the red-haired boy speaking Latin to the foreign monks. The King had liberated Ivar from hard, menial jobs and made him one of his servants. An educated boy would be useful to him in his religious crusade. As a young servant, he was soon to see though that, while the King had not been a bad master, he could be cruel, especially when forcing Christianity on non-believers. Then he had often been vicious. People had said that this was the main reason why he had been hated by many in his own country.”
“On his return to his capital, the King had experienced one disaster after another as his power had been challenged and he had lost support. Eventually, the monarch had been forced into exile in the land of the Rus together with his warriors and servants.”
“20       Skaane – a Danish province in what is now southern Sweden”
“21       Nidaros – Trondheim”
“The Rus were the descendants of the Swedish traders who”
“had settled  around Novgorod many years before.  They were ruled by Grand Prince Jaroslav,  a man of great wealth and formidable power. He had welcomed King Olof to his town and had looked after his visitor generously. But despite the prince’s lavish hospitality, the Norwegian had been waiting for an opportunity to return to Nidaros. And he got his chance in”
“1030 when a messenger arrived to tell King Olof that the jarl22 whom King Cnut  had put in his place to rule Norway had drowned. The deposed  King had seen  his chance to reclaim his throne and had set off west  with two hundred and forty warriors. The Grand Prince had provided all the warriors with weapons and armour. But this army was very small. They were so short of men that Ivar had been enlisted. The King had told him that, as he was then seventeen, he should become a warrior. And so the boy had found himself marching to war in fearsome company, carrying weapons that he did not know how to use.”
“When they had passed through Sweden, the King of that country, Anund, had added four hundred of his best men to the Norwegian army and had given King Olof permission to recruit more men as they marched through Jaernbaraland23  over the mountains towards Nidaros.”
“As they had proceeded, the King had managed to recruit more fighters  on the way by making promises  of land and plunder, but most of the recruits were farmers and, apart from shields, many did not have proper weapons. However, the army had gained major reinforcement  when, near the Norwegian border, they had met up with a large force of seven hundred real warriors which had been brought to serve the King. Remarkably, this fighting band was led by a fifteen year-old boy, Harald Sigurdsson. He was the King’s half-brother.”
“Harald was very tall for his age; in fact he was the tallest”
“warrior in the army. He was also very sure of himself. Ivar had heard him talking to his men to encourage them. The young Norwegian had proclaimed that his mission was to restore his brother to the throne and that he was confident that the army, with the help of God, would succeed in this. In fact, there had been an air of confidence throughout the force now that they were over two thousand strong. That confidence was to be shaken when they reached the hill overlooking Stiklestad. There they had got their first sight of the enemy. Below them there was a huge force formed into three columns, each following a banner. There had been thousands of men, at least three times as many as they were.”
“But nothing could have daunted the King’s resolve, although he did take the precaution of keeping his young brother behind the shield wall. This wall was a compact semi-circle of shields carried by his strongest men to defend him, the King and his skalds.24  It also protected the King’s standard.”
“Olof ’s battle plan recognised the numerical weakness of his force in relation to the enemy. He issued orders for his men to spread out on a wide front, to prevent being outflanked, and then to make a charge at the enemy, trying to throw them into confusion. The shield wall was to advance behind the charge.”
“In the event, Olof ’s impetuous nature caused the plan to fail. Unable to control his fury at those who opposed him, the King had broken out of the wall brandishing his sword and had charged headlong at the enemy. Soon after he had been killed, (first he had received an axe wound to his thigh and then one of the enemy commanders had speared him), both skalds had been butchered.”
“It was at about this  time when Ivar had noticed Harald being attacked. He had rushed to his aid. Although Ivar was not”
“24       Skalds – court poets who were enlisted to record the events of the battle”
“a trained warrior, he could wield an axe, which he had done”
“to good effect. He had killed two of the attackers by planting his axe in their backs as they had been slashing at Harald in front of them. Ivar had then helped a man who was trying to protect Harald from the onslaught. He recognised the man as one of the warriors who had been with the King in Novgorod. To judge by his decorated helmet, fine neckband and polished chainmail, he was a nobleman. Others gathered round to fend off the attackers for the boy was now helpless with a ghastly gash down his left arm and a cut on his leg. He must have had a blow on the head too for his helmet was missing and there was blood on his scalp. The two of them had bundled the boy on to one of the pack horses, and tied him with his head on one side and his feet on the other. They were very lucky to get away from the fighting and had only managed to do so because of the miracle.25”
“As  soon  as  the King had been killed, it had begun to get dark even though this  was in the middle of the August afternoon. There had been confusion as warriors on both sides could not identify their enemies because of the increasing gloom. Some had fallen to the ground to pray in response to this divine intervention, but not the two men with the horse. They wanted to escape the inevitable slaughter of the King’s men by a victorious enemy.”
“Those four years since he had been seized from his home had been packed with remarkable experiences for a young boy, but old Ivar recognised that it was then that a new and even greater adventure had begun, and central to this adventure was to be the unconscious  fifteen year-old boy who was lashed  to the horse which the nobleman and the slave had hurried from the field of battle.”
“25       On  31 August 1030, there was a total eclipse of the sun over Norway”
“between 13.40 and 14.53”

“Chapter 16”

“Byzantium” “Harald Sigurdsson and Ivar stood a while watching the ships” “northbound  from Miklagård being prepared to make the portage from the Dnieper to the River Lovat. They moved on along the quayside towards where all the oxen and horses were being fed prior to them starting their long trek.”
“As they walked past one of the waiting ships, there was a shout. “Well, by the gods, Ivar Olavsson!””
“Ivar turned in the direction the shout had come from and saw a face he recognised. But it was an older and much more weather-beaten face than when he had last seen it. However, there was no doubt – it was one of his friends from Roskilde: Aksel, son of the sea captain.”
““I’d recognise that red hair anywhere! What are you doing here? Have you become a merchant?” asked Aksel.”
“Harald interrupted. “I’ll leave you for a while to talk to your friend.” And, with that, he made off back to their ship.”
““No, I’m not a merchant. I’m a warrior, though I serve as a slave. That man is my master,” he said, pointing in the direction of Harald’s disappearing back.”
““Ah, so it was true! Some said that you had been taken by the Norwegians, but most thought that you were dead. Come aboard and have a cup with the crew. We are all Danes. Mead”
“is the best we can offer, I’m afraid.” Pointing to the bow of the”
“ship, he said, “We have barrels of wine, but they will stay shut until we get to Hedeby57 market.””
“Ivar clambered aboard the ship and took the wooden cup offered to him.”
““So, how did you come to be here, and with the Norwegians? Now we are all brothers with them of course, our King Cnut rules Norway as well as England and Denmark,” said Aksel in a scoffing manner.”
““I have been very lucky. My master is good to me. Sometimes he is like a friend, but most often he treats me like any other warrior in the force. I even get to share the plunder. We have all done well so far.””
““Why  don’t  you join us?  We  lost  men when  we were attacked by the Pechenegs south of here. I could pay you well.” “I have taken an oath to serve Harald Sigurdsson until he”
“releases me from it.” “What kind of oath?” “A blood oath.””
““Why did you do that? What exactly happened after you were kidnapped?””
“Ivar recounted his story but, before he could finish, he was interrupted by the appearance of Harald and a large group of the Varangians.”
““We  have come to take some  tribute for you using  the trader’s trail of our master, Prince Jaroslav,” shouted Harald.”
““What do you mean? We pay the tax when we reach Novgorod!” replied Aksel. His crew nodded and called out in agreement.”
““This  is a little extra payment to my men for protecting you here.””
“57       Hedeby – in Viking times a prominent  Danish market town, now  in”
“Germany and called Haithabu”
““We don’t  need protection here. Where were you when”
“we faced the Pecheneg at the great rapids’ portage? Then we needed help. We lost two crew.””
““That’s as may be. I want some share of your cargo.””
“From the threatening manner of the warriors behind their commander, it was clear that Aksel might have to accede to Harald’s  demands,  but first he tried to get Ivar to intervene. “Ivar, can’t you do anything to stop this? We have worked hard to get these goods.””
“Ivar avoided eye contact with his friend  and looked very uncomfortable as he told him, “There is nothing I can do. I am a slave.””
““But at least you could try!””
““Sorry, it would be best for you to do as they ask.””
“Ivar knew  what the  Varangians  were capable of.  They might easily ransack the ship and, if resisted, there could be deadly results. He quickly decided on the best course of action to avoid a confrontation. “Sir, they have wine in the hold.””
“Aksel growled at him, “You treacherous bastard! Your father would be ashamed of you.””
“Harald shouted again, “Unload three barrels and quickly, or we will come and do it ourselves.””
“Ivar sat watching the men untying the covers which protected the barrels from the weather. To have protested to Harald would have been suicidal  for him; a slave’s life  was cheap. But through his action, he had made enemies  of his landsmen. He knew that Aksel and his crew would make sure that word of what they saw  as his  betrayal of them became known in his home town. He had put himself in the position of a permanent exile.”
“While  the  Varangians  were  enjoying  their  wine,  the Danish  crew quickly unloaded their cargo. So, by the time the Varangians came back in a drunken state looking for more to drink, the goods had been dispatched north on the horse-”
“drawn wagons  which would carry them to where their ship”
“could once more be launched. The following day, Harald set off south down the river which would eventually flow into the great Dnieper and transport them to Kiev.”
“As the ships glided towards  the quay at Kiev, the crews caught sight of the amazing St Sophia Cathedral. The building had thirteen cupolas which glinted in the June sunshine. Around some of them, there were still large wooden structures of scaffolding where the builders were putting the finishing touches to the magnificent cathedral. But Harald’s men would not have the opportunity to go through the Golden Gate and explore the impressive city, for at the quayside they were met by a delegation of military officials. Word had already reached Kiev that the Varangian reinforcements were nearing the city. Harald was given orders  to disembark  and leave his ships in Kiev. His force was to be supplied with horses and, the next day, they were to leave for the Snake Ramparts where another group of Varangians were defending the settlements against renewed attacks by the Pecheneg.”
“During the summer of 1033, Harald’s warriors had a number of successful actions against the nomads. The technique employed by the Norwegian was to be assertive in the defence of the isolated settlements. Instead of passively defending  them against attacks by the wild horsemen, Harald sought out their encampments and took the fight to them. His success gained him more followers as members of the existing Varangian force joined up with his small army. By early autumn, when he made his way back to Kiev, he had over five hundred men under his command. But it was not only his generalship which attracted his new followers: the word had gone round that he intended to move on to Miklagård the next year.”
“After a winter and spring spent repairing and maintaining his fleet, preparations were ready for the veterans of Stiklestad and their reinforcements to travel south. Harald had been advised”
“by the captains of trading  vessels overwintering in Kiev that the”
“best time to leave would be early June. This would bring them to the great rapids at a time when the water level was at its most favourable. To transport his extra warriors, Harald had bought several monoxyla ships. These were craft made by Slavic people which they sold to traders for negotiating the Dnieper to the Black Sea. They were simple but very large dugout logs which could transport up to sixty men.”
“The journey south was safe and fast until the ships reached the great rapids. There the ships once more had to be dragged overland until, further south, the river once more ran calmly. But this portage was a very dangerous one because the Pecheneg, aware that travellers were at their most vulnerable when manhandling their ships over land, often ambushed the crews.  With  his  very large force  and his  aggressive  tactics, Harald successfully avoided the nomads  and, ten weeks  after leaving Kiev, his fleet sailed out of the Black Sea and along the Golden Horn, the waterway to Constantinople.”
“The coast on their southern, starboard side ran in the direction of the setting sun and, as they sailed along it, more and more buildings came into view on the hills further inland. The city was surrounded by a wall along the shoreline making it appear very inhospitable. Since none of Harald’s crew had been  to  Constantinople  before,  they did not  know  where to find a harbour. Very soon, however, they heard trumpets blasting the warning that a foreign force was approaching, and six war galleys appeared from a bay, heading towards them.”
“The Varangians prepared their weapons in case their reception was to be a hostile one. Very soon, the first galley, which was leading the fleet, approached Harald’s ship. It stopped just out of arrow shot and waited for the others.”
““Put your weapons away,” shouted Harald to his men. As he did so, he climbed up on to the prow and held up both of his hands to show that he was unarmed.”
“The Turkish rowers took up their oars and, once more, the”
“galleys started moving towards the fleet. The Varangians could now see armed warriors standing ready for action behind the rowers. When the Byzantine  galleys closed on the fleet, a man standing at the bow of the first galley started shouting to them in a language they could not understand.”
“Harald tried shouting  back in Norse,  but he was clearly not understood either. The warriors in the galleys were staring menacingly at his ship.”
““Sir, let me try,” said Ivar.”
““How can you do any better than I can?” Harald’s indignation was plain to hear.”
““I can try Latin.””
“Harald was surprised. “Do you speak Latin? What makes you think that they will understand Latin?””
““The rowers are slaves. There is a good chance that some of them are prisoners from a country where the language is spoken.””
““Well, try then.””
“Ivar clambered over the warriors  sitting  at their rowing benches and joined Harald at the bow. He called out in Latin, “We are friends. We come to serve the emperor.””
“The man at the bow of the galley clearly did not understand, but there were shouts from among the crew. Several called out to the spokesman, obviously translating Ivar’s speech.”
“One of the rowers  was dragged forward to stand  by the spokesman at the bow. The slave was instructed to call out to the ship in Latin.”
““Do you come from the northlands?” he called. “We do,” Ivar answered.”
““What did he say?” asked Harald tetchily. “He asked where we come from,” said Ivar. The man called out again, “Follow our ship.””
“Ivar translated and Harald gave the order to man the oars. The  other  ships  in  the  fleet, seeing  what  the  commander”
“was  doing,  followed  the  flagship’s  example. And  thus  the”
“Varangian fleet made landfall in Prosphorian Bay, the bay of the communion bread. Ivar the slave became an important man in the negotiations which followed with the commander of the harbour until the Varangians were able to link up with other Norsemen who had been in Miklagård long enough to learn the language and could act as interpreters.”
“From the interpreters, they learnt that the most powerful figure in the land was not an emperor, for Byzantine now had an empress, Zoe. However, the empress had a new husband, her second, who, although designated as Emperor Michael IV, was subservient to his wife. It was the emperor who, having heard that the leader of the newly arrived force of Varangians was a man of importance, sent for Harald to negotiate terms and to give him instructions about his first assignment.”
““What do you know about the new husband?” Harald asked his interpreter.”
““Ha, he is a gold-digger! His family are not of royal blood. They are silversmiths and he has a reputation for silver clipping!””
““What’s that?” asked Harald.”
““He cut bits off silver coins before circulating them and kept the silver clippings. The old woman is forty  years older than him and fell for his beautiful teenage physique!””
““When did they marry?””
““Well, that’s a story. They married on Good Friday this year. Her previous husband was still alive that day but, by the end of the day, he was dead; found cold on the floor of his bath house!””
““Where are we going to meet him?””
““You are summoned to the royal palace today. Be careful. Michael is very powerful. Empress Zoe has put him in command of all forces.””
“Later in the day, Harald led his Varangians  through the city streets,  guided by their interpreter. The men looked in wonderment  at the buildings,  the houses,  the fountains  and”
“churches in this the greatest and wealthiest city in the world.”
“They  saw  exotic, colourful  flowers  and trees  with fruits  of types they had never seen before. Street vendors sold foods which were unknown  to them and, as  they marched along the streets, children called out in a language which was totally bewildering. And the heat – they had never before experienced such overwhelming, oppressive, baking air. For though, while traversing the Black Sea it had been hot, there was always a sea breeze to cool their bodies, but here in the still air, where the wind was hindered by the tall buildings, they gasped for breath.”
“Their  route  took  them  past  the  Strategion, the  prison, and the Church  of Urbicus  before they reached the Wall of Byzantium which protected the royal city. Here, the warriors were obliged to leave their weapons at the guard post before being permitted  to  pass  through  the  gates.  Constantinople was a city of intrigues, and a band of five hundred armed men entering the heart of the city was a threat not to be accepted by the authorities.”
“Once through the gate, the breathless Norsemen had even more reason to gasp. There in front of them was the huge structure of the church of Hagia Sophia and, behind it, the Royal Palace. The men were led to the Hippodrome in front of the palace to wait and get refreshment while Harald and the interpreter were led off by royal officials to meet their new employer.”
“When Harald later emerged from the palace, it was with the news that his force had been assigned to hunt Saracen corsair pirates in the Aegean Sea. They were to man fast sailing and rowing craft called ousiai. These were designed to be fast and manoeuvrable enough to catch the Arab pirate dhows which were wreaking terror and destruction in the Empress’s territory in the Aegean. Each craft carried fifty rowers and fifty warriors. Harald’s forces would man ten of these vessels as a flotilla, under the command of the head of the navy.”
“And so it was that, for the first two years of their stay in”
“Byzantine, the Varangians fought sea and land battles against the”
“Saracen pirates. The enterprise was very popular with the men as it was extremely  profitable. Each mercenary  was paid a living wage, but most attractive was the plunder. Many of the dhows they captured were heavily laden with booty from  nefarious activities. For each ship they captured, Harald had to pay one hundred marks to the Empress, a relatively modest sum. The remaining value of the ship and cargo was shared among the crew. Since the rowers were all slaves and received no share of the plunder, the Varangian warriors began to amass large sums of money, and their leader, taking the largest share,  became spectacularly wealthy. From this time, using traders as couriers, Harald and some of his men started to send silver and gold back to Kiev for safekeeping by Jaroslav. For, by now, Jaroslav had moved his court, his power base, from Novgorod to Kiev.”
“But, as well as becoming rich, the Varangians in the flotilla gained a significant reputation because of their success in their mission. Such was the recognition of their part in clearing the Aegean of pirates that, at the end of the assignment, Michael appointed Harald and his force  to be part of the Varangian Guard. This was an elite troop of Varangians with responsibility for the personal safety of the Empress and her entourage. To mark his achievements,  Harald was promoted to the rank of officer in the Guard and presented with his own standard, The Land Ravager.”
“In  the  following  year, 1037, Harald’s  Varangian Guard troop was appointed to travel to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, the Church  of the Holy Sepulchre had been badly damaged in wars for possession of the city. Empress Zoe had reached an agreement with the Caliph of Egypt to be allowed to repair this, the holiest place in Christendom. An army of craftsmen had been assembled in Constantinople, and they were to travel to Jerusalem to rebuild the church. In addition, this presented an opportunity for some high-ranking royal family members to”
“make a pilgrimage. Empress Zoe’s two sisters, both of whom”
“were nuns, were to accompany the craftsmen to the Holy Land. But the journey was long and very dangerous as the travellers would have to cross hostile territories. Thus it was that Harald was put in command of an armed escort charged with protecting the group on their hazardous journey. At the end of the successful venture, Harald and his men were richly rewarded.”
“In the years which followed, the Land Ravager flag flew in several  countries  where the  Varangian Guard troop  was engaged in campaigns to exert Byzantine power. But, in the three-year campaign to recover Sicily from the Saracens, the authority of Harald the leader was challenged for the first time. The commander of the Byzantine army, Georgios Maniakes, or Gyrgir as he was known by the Varangians, a man who was said to have a physique even bigger than Harald’s, fundamentally disagreed with Harald about tactics. When Harald refused to accept orders from him, saying that as a Varangian  Guard officer he answered only to the Emperor, the general excluded the troop from his army and told them fight the Saracen independently. Further animosity arose when, disaffected by Gyrgir’s method of apportioning plunder, a force of three hundred Norman cavalry mercenaries joined up with Harald’s force.”
“Once more, Ivar’s skill in speaking Latin became of importance. He acted as interpreter and liaison between the Normans and Varangians. The Norsemen quickly learned respect and admiration for the Normans’ style of fighting, their heavy horses, and their skill with the lance. But the allying of the Normans  with the Varangians  was greeted with fury by the general who then refused to apportion any of their previous plunder to the Normans. This caused the cavalry to defect and travel to Italy to offer their services to the enemies of the Emperor.”
“The defection of the Normans later made life very uncomfortable  for Harald’s  men when they had to face the same Norman cavalry when combating the Lombard revolt in”
“southern Italy the next year. It took great courage for the foot”
“soldiers of the Byzantine army to face and defeat the solid rows of Norman horsemen who charged with their lances levelled against them.”
“The last four years of Harald’s time in the employ of the Byzantine Emperor were spent  with Michael in a long and bloody but ultimately successful campaign to suppress a revolt by the Bulgars.  At the end of this  long war, the Varangians returned  triumphantly to  Constantinople  marching behind the victorious Emperor. The ferocity of the young Varangian Guard officer in the hard battles had earned him the nickname of Harald Hardrada, Harald the hard ruler.”
“The Varangians were well known in Constantinople as hard-drinking men. The nickname for them was ‘winebags’ and, on their return from the long campaign, it was not long before the celebrations turned into a long, drunken orgy lasting several days. Ivar was caught up in the general mood, and he joined in the festivities. This included visits to the Varangian concubine ‘harem’ where slave girls were kept specifically for the pleasure of the Varangians; the hope of the authorities being that this provision would save the female citizens of the city from  being bothered by the drunken warriors.  Frequently, a girl was ‘adopted’ by a particular warrior, and they lived as man and wife. Thus  it was that some  of the Norsemen  never left Miklagård when their contract expired. They stayed  on and were assimilated into the population.”
“It was in the harem that Ivar met a Norman slave girl called Aveline. He recognised her at once. She had been among the slaves which the Varangians had found on one of the Saracen ships that they had captured when they were in the Aegean. She had been sold  on for silver to a Byzantine trader as part of the crew’s booty. From his visits to the harem, Ivar learned that she was the daughter of a Norman merchant. She had been kidnapped by Breton raiders when she was a girl from the village”
“of Domfront on the border between Brittany and Normandy.”
“The Bretons had sold her as a slave to Arab traders. She was well educated, and Ivar was able to converse with her in Latin.”
“At first,  he was content to share  her with other warriors but, after several days, he became more possessive and then, impetuously, claimed her by paying the harem keeper for ownership. But, for Ivar, there was no option for him to settle with Aveline. He was a slave and owed duty to his master. Where Harald Hardrada went, he must follow. Indeed, he should have asked his master’s permission to buy the girl, and he feared the consequences if Harald discovered what he had done. The reality was that he had to keep his ownership of the slave girl secret. The only course open to him was to hide Aveline. Money was not a problem for the Dane, and so he rented a small house near to the Varangian barracks for her to live in until he decided what to do.”
“What Ivar could not have known was that the influence of Byzantine politics  would very soon  force him to make a decision.”
“The campaign against the Bulgars  had taken its toll on Emperor Michael. He was taken seriously ill shortly after the army’s return. This illness marked a change in the fortunes of Harald and his men. As the Emperor was dying, there was a power struggle to contrive to find his successor. Under duress from his relatives, the Emperor agreed to adopt his nephew Michael as  his  son  and heir. The  aging Empress  then  fell under the influence of a new emperor, Michael V, one who did not approve of the use  of foreign mercenaries.  She was persuaded by him to appoint as her advisor Harald’s arch- enemy, Gyrgir.”
“Within days of the installation of the new Emperor, Harald received a summons to attend a meeting with Michael and Gyrgir. “Ivar, we are summoned to the palace on the orders of the”
“Emperor. I need my ceremonial robes,” said Harald.”
““And your sword, sir?””
““Yes, the gold-hilted one.””
“As an officer in the Guard, on special occasions, Harald had the right to wear a white and scarlet robe. His rank also entitled him to carry a sword presented to him by the Empress. The gold hilt denoted his rank.”
““Tell Halldor Snorrason and Ulf Ospaksson that, as my highest officers, they should come with me to the palace.””
““In their ceremonial uniforms?””
““Yes. I want to impress the new Emperor to get his attention. I have decided that the time has come to return home. I have received word that my nephew Magnus has become King of Norway and Denmark.””
““And you should have received precedence?” “Exactly.””
“Ivar accompanied the party to the palace dressed  in his military byrnie, a mark that his rank was that of mere soldier. They were ushered into a large room where the huge figure of Gyrgir sat together with a smaller man in a white robe. At regular positions around the walls, there were armed Varangian guards, but not of Harald’s troop.”
““Your Royal Highness, this is Harald, the Varangian officer.” The Emperor looked Harald up and down disdainfully. “Your Royal Highness, I have a request to make,” said Harald. Michael was clearly annoyed that Harald had taken the”
“conversational  initiative. “I called you to a meeting, not the other way round,” he answered, and then added inquisitively, “What is your request?””
““I  wish  to  be given permission  to  leave the  Emperor’s service and to return to my country.””
““Damn you, I will decide how and when you are to be discharged.” Looking at Gyrgir, the Emperor said, “You deal with the formalities.””
“The general rose to his feet and glowered at Harald. “You”
“have become very wealthy in the service of the Empress – too”
“wealthy. You have deprived her of what is rightfully  hers. You are accused of fraud.””
““But my accounts show the division of plunder is as the law requires.””
““Guards!  Seize these  three officers and take them to the”
“Strategion,” ordered Gygir.”
“Resistance was impossible. Harald and his two fellow officers were stripped of their weapons, and their hands were bound before they were marched off to prison.  Ivar moved forward to pick up the ceremonial weapons to take them back to the barracks. As he did so, Gyrgir stepped forward and smashed the back of his hand across Ivar’s face. “Leave them, get out!” he ordered.”
“What Ivar and the three officers were not to know was that the real purpose of the arrest was to eliminate some of the Empress’s loyal support, for Michael planned to depose her. Later in the week, Michael had her exiled to a nunnery and assumed total power himself with the help of disloyal Varangians. But his coup was short-lived. There was a huge revolt among the people when news spread that the Empress had been deposed. In the street fighting, more than three thousand people perished in one day before Michael was forced to flee to a monastery for sanctuary, and the Empress was reinstated. Her vengeance was swift. Harald and his officers were released from prison and he was given the responsibility of capturing Michael and exacting the  traditional Byzantine punishment  for  treason:  blinding. Harald’s  men dragged the fugitive from  the monastery  and Harald personally  gouged out his eyes.  And then there was further bloody work to be done: the disloyal Varangians were rounded up by Harald’s men and then hung or put to the sword.”
“The coup was over and Harald Hardrada was at the zenith”
“of his power and influence in the Byzantine court.”

 

 

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