Before Stamford Bridge
Briggs sat in his office half-heartedly listening to Professor Malcolm drone on endlessly about how his sub-committee, specifically set up to keep him and his cronies occupied and away from the Institute’s daily affairs, had devised a clear set of protocols regarding the use of the Teleportation Gate which they insisted must now be followed.
His mind drifted while he stared out of the window, stifling a yawn while secretly hoping that the ground would open up and swallow the bloody man and his infernal sub-committee once and for all.
Doing his best to ignore the aging academic’s affected nasal voice, typical of anyone born into England’s snooty, privileged elite who are taught from an early age at exclusive public schools like Eton and Harrow to use received pronunciation whenever conversing, to differentiate themselves from what their social circles deem to be the common rabble, in other words the majority of England’s population; Briggs began conjuring with names from the past. Who among the many would prove worthy of further investigation?
Since he had delivered a paper barely a month earlier to the Royal Society on the first successful trip back in time to witness the battle of Hastings, Dr Gilbert Briggs’ UK Advanced Science Institute was inundated with requests from countless academics, researchers and authors, in fact anyone with an interest in history across the nation and beyond, to visit specific historical events.
There were so many that Briggs demanded his researchers not only do preliminary research on each one, but also prioritise them into four distinct categories which he facetiously termed, Yes, Maybe, Could Be, and Not a Bloody Chance in Hell, much to the great amusement of his team. In other words, for most of the requests it would be years before they would be looked at again.
In the meantime, Britain’s long history gave him a number of possibilities to choose from until someone more worthy of his time appeared. To his way of thinking, most of those listed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles were nothing more than bit players. A few stood out as possibly worthy of further consideration. At a pinch, some may even prove to be vaguely interesting.
One thing Briggs and his team soon came to appreciate during their search for targets is that the process of nation building at best produces a mere handful of individuals who could be said to stand out from the crowd.
Brought back to reality by Malcolm’s incessant droning on about his protocols, Briggs suddenly experienced what could only be described as a Eureka moment. “Where are you going man, I haven’t finished with you yet? Damn it all, get back here!” the professor indignantly demanded, when Briggs suddenly got up before rapidly heading for the door to his office.
“Sorry. See my secretary; she will arrange another appointment for you in a month or so. I’ve just remembered something extremely important which demands my immediate attention.”
Malcolm was beside himself with fury. “Well really, this is the final straw. I resign, do you hear me Doctor Briggs – resign!”
Briggs strode off down the corridor heading for the historical research department. With the merest hint of a smile on his face, he muttered, “resignation accepted you old sod – good riddance!” Now perhaps he could get on with business without any more interruptions and deliberate interference by fools. He made a mental note to sack the rest of Malcolm’s supporters within the Institute at the earliest opportunity.
Harald Sigurdsson had led a life most people with an adventurous spirit could only ever dream about. In fact his life story read like a tale written by the likes of H. Ryder Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, or perhaps even Jack London. Like most people beyond Norway’s border, Briggs knew precious little about the man except that he was born sometime during the year 1015, only to die in his fifty-first year on the 25th of September, 1066.
As the king of Norway, he had arrived in England at the head of a Viking invasion force to support Tostig Godwinson, who promised him the English crown when they beat his brother king Harold. Both he and Tostig perished during the fierce battle with Harold’s Anglo-Saxon army on and around the stone ford crossing the river Derwent close to the area known as Stamford Bridge in the East Riding of Yorkshire. In Harald’s case he would die soon after being struck in the neck by an arrow.
The popularly held belief that Stamford Bridge was actually a village at the time, supposedly accessed via a bridge straddling the Derwent, which, according to legend was defended singlehandedly by one of Harald’s berserker warriors, is nothing more than a myth.
Harald was the oldest son of the Hardrada clan, part of the Fairhair dynasty of Norway. From 1030, at the tender age of fifteen, until he returned to become the rightful king of Norway, ruling as Harald the third after the death of his nephew Magnus the Good in 1046, he spent the intervening years in exile as a mercenary, first in service to the Kievan Rus’ court where he met his future bride, Elisiv of Kiev, and later in the employ of the Byzantine Emperor, Alexios Komnenos.
Since sending someone back through time to simply tag along with Harald on the off chance that something previously unknown about him may occur was clearly out of the question, one specific event in his life had to be chosen. After endless debate, Briggs and his team unanimously decided that their observer should investigate the considerable amount of time Harald spent as commander of the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian guard in Constantinople.
Owing to the way the Teleportation Gate appeared to bend time, whoever he sent back as an observer would feel as if they really were there for a number of years, even though in reality it would be no more than a few hours before they were returned to the present.
They had all agreed with Briggs that there was absolutely no point in sending anyone back to accompany Harald during his abortive invasion of England, simply because it is one of the most widely recorded events in English history, second only to the battle of Hastings. Over the next two weeks Briggs poured over everything the researchers could find on Harald Sigurdsson; or Harald Hardrada as history would remember him, during his time in Constantinople.
Harald arrived in the fortified city sometime in 1034, soon after being discharged from duty in the army of the Kievan Rus’ grand prince, Yaroslav the Wise, where he rose to the rank of captain. He and his posse of cut-throats joined the many mercenaries already heading for the Byzantine Empire’s capital in search of adventure, employment and riches.
It was during his long voyage south through Russia and the Ukraine aboard a longboat on the great rivers, following the age old Viking trade routes with the Middle East, that Briggs sent his new ‘observer’ Max through the Teleportation Gate to join him. He had been chosen specifically for his command of Old Norse, his powerful build and almost photographic memory. He was recommended as a future observer by one of the young female research undergraduates employed at the Institute. Briggs found out later she had put his name forward simply to rid herself of his unwanted amorous advances, a fact which Briggs kept from him.
The Byzantine Emperor at the time in question, Alexios Komnenos, had many enemies especially within his own court who were only too willing to end his life. Like his predecessors, Alexios could not place his personal safety in the hands of his own army, simply because they could be bought. Instead he relied upon his totally loyal Varangian Guard, made up exclusively of Germanic peoples from the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland as well as a growing number of disaffected young Anglo-Saxon warriors from England.
The Guard was first formed under Emperor Basil II in 988, following the Christianization of Kievan Rus’ by Vladimir I of Kiev. By the end of the eleventh century, it would be made up solely from the ranks of those Anglo-Saxons who now found themselves disinherited by William, Duke of Normandy and his Norman invasion force.
Max in his new guise as Nils Holdstrum, stuck to Harald like glue. In fact they became firm friends. After meeting Harald he decided to ignore Briggs’ instructions, issued before he travelled back in time, that under no circumstances must he form any kind of relationship, or have any personal involvement with Harald or any other player in the unfolding events, citing the very real possibility of Max altering history.
When Harald rose through the ranks by his deeds to become the commander of the Varangian Guard, he promoted Max as one of his captains. During the time they spent together in the Emperor’s employ, along with their comrades they saw action on at least one occasion beyond Constantinople’s massive walls, in the partial reconquest of Sicily from the Arabs in 1038. They also fought alongside a contingent of recently arrived Norman mercenaries who had come to Italy seeking adventure, along with Lombards from Apulia. Soon after the Sicilian campaign, the Byzantine catepan or local ruler, Michael Doukeianos, had a force of Varangians, including Max and Harald, stationed at the town of Bari on the Adriatic coast of the Apulia region of Italy.
Barely two years later on the sixteenth of March, 1041, another army of mercenaries arrived on the scene to threaten Byzantine control. Once again Max and Harald were called upon to fight. This time their enemy proved to be none other than their former allies, the Normans. They engaged in what amounted to a one sided battle near Venosa. Many of their fellow guards drowned in the subsequent hasty retreat across the Ofanto River, after losing the day. Both Harald and Max were lucky to survive.
On the first of September of the same year, Exaugustus Boioannes arrived to replace the disgraced Doukeianos as catepan. But he fared no better than his predecessor. Two days later on the third of September, Max, Harald and the remaining Varangians under his command were soundly defeated in battle once again by the Normans. It was during this moment of utter carnage and total confusion on the battlefield that Max was suddenly whisked away. Like all of Brigg’s observers then and now, he was returned much against his will.
Somehow Harald managed to survive until the following year when he returned to Kievan Rus’ a wealthy man, to marry his first love, Elisiv, and to plan his campaign for the Norwegian crown. Four years later in 1046, he would finally succeed when his nephew Magnus the Good died soon after agreeing to share the kingdom with him, having no stomach to fight his own uncle. From then until his death on the twenty-fifth of September, 1066, at Stamford Bridge, as Harald the third, thanks to his austere no nonsense rule, Norway became a relatively peaceful country. On his death, he was survived by his second wife Tora Torbergsdatter and his four children, Ingegard, queen of Denmark and Sweden, Maria Haraldsdatter, Magnus the second and Olaf the third of Norway.
After Stamford Bridge, Harald was returned to Norway. Initially buried at Mary Church in Trondheim, where his body remained until the end of the twelfth century, he was then re-interred at Helgeseter Priory, until it was demolished in the seventeenth century. What happened to him after that is pure conjecture.
One thing that no one within the closed world of academia, or outside it for that matter, can deny is that Harald Sigurdsson otherwise known as Harald Hardrada, or Harald the third, was one of history’s most significant players.