Vikings in Byzantium
Let’s just get this out of the way, but the History Channel’s production of Vikings has given a sexy cachet to the fiercest warriors of the Middle Ages. When Delilah put out a call for stories in a Viking erotic romance anthology, my heart just went pitter-pat with excitement.
And then the excitement sort of dissipated.
My knowledge of Vikings is limited given their era is out of my purview. My field of study is Late Roman into the early Byzantine (roughly 200-600 CE), and the Viking Age starts around 790 CE. I worried I would not have sufficient knowledge to pull off a believable story.
Except that Delilah mentioned in her call for submissions the “Rus who served in the Byzantine Varangian Guard”.
I could totally do that.
I have seen Rus murals in churches on Gotland in Sweden. I’ve been to Istanbul, which, when it was Constantinople, was the center of the Byzantine Empire. I’ve studied Migration Period art alongside my examination of Byzantine mosaics. I just needed to set my story in a time and place that felt comfortable to me.
And during my story research I discovered one very particular time and place: Constantinople on the 18th of June in 860.
The Vikings didn’t just search for new lands and opportunities via conquests in the West, they also went East, into what is now Russia, traveling along the Dnieper, Don, and Volga rivers. Eventually these Rus, as the Russian Vikings were called, reached the Bosporus, the strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. On June 18, 860, the Byzantine emperor Michael III was on campaign in Asia Minor with most of his army. His navy had been deployed to Sicily. The capital, Constantinople, was left unguarded.
A fleet of two hundred Rus vessels invaded the Bosphorus, plundering towns and sacking monasteries along the way, eventually reaching Constantinople. Michael’s army was called back to defend the capital and repulse the invaders. Soon after, a Rus delegation visited the capital requesting baptism into the Christian faith. Some of their number joined the imperial fleet. These men became the precursors of the Varangian guard.
My story, “Protecting Her”, opens on the morning of June 18, 860. Our heroine, Aelfrun, is hiding in a monastery when the Rus descend upon her world, inexorably changing her life – and her heart.
BY REGINA KAMMER
A Byzantine noblewoman seeking refuge in a monastery loses her heart to an invader when Constantinople is sacked by the Rus
Constantinople, 860 AD
Aelfrun stared up at the shadowed stone ceiling and tugged back the linen tunica bunched around her hips. The blackness just before the rite of First Hour was the best time for self-pleasuring. In lonely cells all around her, the monks of St. John Stoudios slept heavily. They wouldn’t hear her panting breaths or muffled moans as she frigged herself to fantasies of nude novices in the bathhouse.
She slid her anxious finger through her slick sex, recalling that afternoon’s sensual inspiration—brothers preening and joking as they disrobed in the changing room, others unabashedly parading their sleek oil-sheened athleticism, all unaware the attendant folding towels was a woman hiding in their midst.
She vigorously stroked her awakening pearl of pleasure. Surely, the more lustful acolytes also lay awake, gripping their cocks, sliding palms over rampant shafts, seeking erotic release in frenzied masturbation—
A crash shattered the night. A scream. Aelfrun froze under the thick woolen blanket, her hand stilled between her legs.
Beyond the wooden door of her cell, the clap of leather soles hurrying down the stone hall accompanied the worried whispers of monks unused to clamor. Whispers intensified becoming shouts of fear and warning.
Invasion! The monastery was under attack. Tall men. Blond men. The army of Satan. The End of Days had come.