Byznatyne mercenary

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
It is X century, east-south of Europe. Rus warriors are attacking Byzantium, but not only these two nations take part in the war...

Submitted: September 18, 2012

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Submitted: September 18, 2012



BYZANTYNE MERCENARY by Krzysztof Strzegomski (

In the frosty morning, it was Olaf’s turn to guard the camp. For 18 months he had been on military service in Byzantyne Emperor army as a mercenary. For him - the Viking, and his family, which now was far north, it was a great honor.

Now he was patrolling the guard path around the camp, walking slowly, as he was ordered. It was so cold that frost rimed a small metal disc he was wearing on a rope around his neck. He put it under his clothes to warm it up. He shook, as the cold plate touched his body and felt chill drops of water going down his skin. He was lucky not to guard the camp at night, when it was much, much colder. The path he walked, was on a top of a low rampart made of earth. On one side of the rampart was a dry moat, full of hidden pickets, adjacent to palisade, surrounding the camp. On another side, the rampart slope turned to a 200-meter yard - a meadow, on the end of which, there were hidden pits and in the distance of another 20 meters thorns formed another protection zone.

Bored, Olaf looked at the area in front of the camp. Quite large distance (almost quarter kilometer) was the only protection from an unexpected bow shot. During the briefing, the commander was speaking about Rus camp leavings, quite fresh, seen by scouts 20 kilometers from Byzantyne camp. That meant, all guards should be significantly careful that day.

Anyway, enemies appeared. Guards spotted some sappers with axes on the first line of fortifications. They chopped a passage through the thorns. Fiercely, pack of riders came along and reached the foreground of fortifications. Although the first lines fell into hidden pits, the next ones were overwhelming the palisade with arrows, turning back every time they came near to it, to pick new arrows and return with another wave.

However before that happened, Olaf took cover behind the palisade. “Polovtsi are attacking from this direction? That looks strange.” - noticed one commander. - “They must be allied with someone else.”

Indeed, a quarter later defenders spotted Rus warriors marching with harpago - a siege hook. Suddenly, all archers started shooting burning arrows towards it. After they shot a salvo, one of burning arrows hit the chest of bearded Russian warrior. Long beard, coated with human tallow and remains of fat from his food started to burn. The grubby warrior fell down.

Despite a furious attack on harpago, Rus warriors, marching among Polovtsi waves, finally approached the palisade. If the defenders had been able to count the enemy soldiers and compare their amount with own army, they would have known, that for each defender there are almost three attackers. However no one from the first line of defenders couldn’t make such calculations, as their abilities in that domain was reduced to number of fingers in their hands. Not even the officers could count the waves of incoming invaders because the flights of arrows made them keep their heads down. They only knew, they were outnumbered.

The harpago, operated by Rus warriors, hooked the highest layer of logs, which formed the blanks of the palisade, and torn them. Several logs fell into down.

A primitive siege weapon - harpago was often very destructive for wooden fortifications. It was tearing layers of logs one after another. When the gap became approximately half of the wall high, attackers were trying to fill it with some inflamable substance - mostly tar, but sometimes even hay was used. After starting the fire, the heat was getting inside the fortification wall, which began to smolder slowly. In short time the defenders were not able to stand on the top of fortification, because of terrible smoke coming out, and finally the wall crashed.

However at that moment, a reverse situation occured. Only several layers of fortification logs had been damaged, when defenders brought siphon, a long ceramic pipe, filled with Greek fire. Having pointed the siphon to harpago, Byzantyne soldiers fired it.

The enemy tried another maneuver. Mounted archers were flooding the palisade with arrows. Laddermen approached the fortification. The assault started. Attackers managed to climb on the wall in several places.
Invaders appeared also at Olaf’s section of the wall.Three soldiers came onto the platform behind the palisade. Together with other warriors, Olaf moved towards them. After a moment an enemy was blocked, and fighting turned into pushing each other with shields. Stucked adversaries made it impossible to walk onto the palisade platform to their troops, as the ladder was just behind stucked soldiers back. Besides, in short time, the ladder was damaged with stones, thrown by other defenders.
Olaf was standing eye to eye with one of assulting soldiers. “Viking! For sure!” - he thought - “Rus must have hired him, just as Byzantynes had hired me.”
Viking managed to push Olaf away. Olaf stumbled, but didn’t fall. That allowed the stucked attackers to release. Almost immediately two defenders were slain and fell right to Olaf. On another side soldiers threw one attacker down from the platform and wounded two others. That made the narrow platform less crowded and fight turned into a series of duels. The viking definitely chose Olaf for his adversary and moved towards him. Heavy axe fell on Olaf’s oak shield, he counterattacked with his sword. The adversary dodged, waved his right hand and hit Olaf’s shield again, trying to knock him down with this tactic. But Olaf agily tilted his shield so that the blade of the axe slid off it . That gave Olaf a good position to counter attack. He thrust his blade. It sank home in the Viking's belly. The Viking looked down in stunned disbelief, swayed briefly and collapsed in death.
Olaf looked around. The battle was coming to the positive end. Most of Rus infantry moved back. Scattered fighting was ongoing atop the palisade. Defenders from secure sections were joining Olaf and others to repulse the invaders. The enemy were dying, their bodies tossed over the wall like garbage.

Olaf looked at the dead Viking. “A typical Norman warrior” - he thought -” Wait a moment! His neck!”.Olaf felt excited. On the defeated man neck there was a strap with a metal plate, suchlike his own.

“I have killed a fellow-countryman” - thought Olaf - “I didn’t know him personally, but he must have come from my village. That’s the fate of the mercenary”. He felt sorrow, but also nostalgic for his homeland. “He died carrying his weapon” - Olaf cheered up after a moment - “Odin would welcome him in Valhalla”. That perspective made the remorse go away, but the nostalgy remained in his heart.


Something like that story might have happened for real in the early medieval Eastern Europe (VII - X century). Vikings from Scandinavia were taking journeys to south - to Constantinople, the city of wonders, using “medieval hi-ways” - Russian rivers, spreading from south to north. Their activities were trifold: trading, pirate attacking and mercenary service. Sometimes one ship, sailing from Scandinavia was at first suddenly attacking and looting villages of Rus tribes (ancestors of Russians), located near the river, several hundred kilometers south Vikings were trading with another Russian tribe, and on the south they offered a military service as mercenaries to the rich Byzantyne Empire. If they were refused (what didn’t happen very often, as Byzantyne rulers appreciated Viking warriors), they would give the same offer to Rus tribes. Some Vikings, called Varangians or Varegs by Rus, even became leaders of Rus (e.g. Rurik)
Rus wars with Byzantium had always an economical background - they fought either for great tribute, the Empire would pay for not destroying Constantinople or for trade concessions. Nomadic tribes like Polovtsi were often took for such campaign as allies. On the other hand, Byzantium sometimes paid gold to Nomads to attack Rus teritories, in order to destabilize Rus politics, and thus prevent from their attacks.

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