Down by the blue Danube, a hooded man in a long black cape ran to get away from the biting winter winds. This was the worst winter in Etelköz in many years. He didn’t want to be late for the secret blood oath ceremony of the lords of the seven Magyar tribes in the city hall of Kecskemét. A chill ran through his spine. When he entered the hall, evening had fallen over the Carpathian Mountains. The ceremony hadn’t started yet.

The seven lords from Jenő, Kér, Keszi, Kürt-Gyarmat, Megyer, Nyék, and the Tarjá tribes had arrived to this city hall. Lord Álmos was also amongst them. Something big was going to take place here this evening. They jostled in the middle of the hall. A conference ensued. A pagan priest presided over this meeting. They sat in high thrones around a bucket of spitting fire in the middle of the hall.

“The rulers of Pannonia will push us farther if we don’t do something,” said Lord Keszi.

“They’ve gained massive strength since their invasion of Pannonia,” nodded Lord Megyer.

They nodded in agreement as Lord Kér added, “The Bavarians must be avenged, no matter how long it may take. Be it a bloodthirsty battle, bring them to their knees on the Great Plains. Pannonia will be ours.”

“Yes, those traitors must be pay for their behaviour, how they had invited Prince Kurszán, our Magyar kündü kagán, and ruthlessly butchered them at the dining table. But we need to be careful and gain enough strength to match theirs. Let’s not forget the Bulgars, the Moravians, and the Frankish of the plains that we are up against. We must stand united. We must form a confederation to that effect,” suggested Lord Jenő.

They sat rummaging for a while, and then Lord Kürt-Gyarmat spoke breaking the cold silence.“Ah! But who could forget the bloody banquet of Fischa? Who could forget how they ambushed and killed our lord, Prince Kurszán. We also need to appoint one of us to head this confederacy.”

“This war, even if we can pull it off in the end, will be long, and bloody. Are we up to it?” asked Lord Nyék.

“It will be difficult, undoubtedly, spanning over many years, I’m sure, but I have someone in mind who could be our supreme leader of this confederacy, if we are to go ahead with it ‘til the end, that is,” said Lord Tarjá.

“Who do you have in mind?” asked Lord Keszi.

All the lords looked at Lord Tarjá in anticipation.

“Our Lord Álmos, Duke of Onoğur,” he declared, looking at Lord Álmos. “Why not appoint him?”

“But, I’m on my last leg already. Age breaks me even as we speak,” said Lord Álmos.

“You may be old, but not still so old. However, you’re also wise. Politics and negotiations are your forte. Besides, you’re the great Álmos. Remember the dream your mother, the Princess Emese, consort of the Scythian King, had? That a turul impregnated her by divine decree? You were clearly born to be our leader, Lord Álmos. I believe we can put our fate in your hands,” said Lord Tarjá.

“Hmm, also, let’s not forget young Árpád, your son. Should anything happen to you, Duke Álmos, we could always appoint him as commander-in-chief of the army confederation. It is time that the Magyars came out of Pontic Steppes and Etelköz. The Moravians and the Bulgars have used our horsemen time and time again to fight their own battles. Everyone has had a piece of Pannonia, just name it: the Scythians, the Slavs, the Lombards, the Nomadic Avars, the Huns, the Romans, the Bulgars, and the Frankish. Our turn awaits on the plains,” said Lord Keszi.

“Yes, indeed. We have descended to hateful, barbaric raiders. The blood thirsty hordes that  gorge on blood, a nation of pillagers, plundering and torching villages,” said Lord Tarjá.

The man held a scroll in his hand. He hid himself behind a thick stone pillar and eavesdropped. He saw a table in the middle of the vast room. The seven lords talking and shaping a destiny.

“What should we do then?” asked Lord Kürt-Gyarmat. “In the name of our great ancestor Attila, an expedition must be led into Pannonia. Our experience with the vassal Svatopluk says that the rulers of Pannonia are weak. However, we must not underestimate their power. If we do win, we will change everything. We will make history.”

“United, I believe we can do this. A bloody long war it may be, but we will make ingress in small migration into the plains. And I also believe it to be a huge responsibility we are about to undertake and put on your shoulders, Lord Álmos,” Lord Keszi commented.

They sat pondering for a few minutes around the crackling fire in the aluminium bucket, making its presence known by spitting occasional flying cinders around. The lords looked at the mesmerising fire until fire rose within their hearts. Then Lord Nyék cried out. His passionate outburst stirred the other lords.

“Now or never, before it is too late, and as we stand together today, we must make an oath and seal this fellowship of brotherhood in blood.”

All the seven lords cried out unanimously. “Bonded by blood oath. History in the making.”

The seven noble lords then stood up and walked to the table in the middle of the room. They queued along the table in their ceremonial attires of long robes. The pagan priest placed a chalice with a face of a deadly viper engraved on it in the middle of the table. Lights were also imparted off the reclining fire torches on the hall’s cold, stone walls.

The pagan rites began. In the slight light, the man saw the seven lords drawing black stone wash-knives from their sheaths, slinging down the slick long shirts. With the knife, the knafa, they lacerated a tiny fraction of skin on their wrists. The lords stepped towards the bowl, one after another, and squeezed some blood into the chalice. Soon, the chalice held an amount of scarlet sacred blood, enough for everyone to drink. The master of ceremony, the pagan priest, then announced:

“Following this sacred ritual, as of today we elect Duke Álmos of the Danubian Onoğur as leader of this confederation. His son, Árpád is appointed commander-in-chief.”

The lords conceded with a war cry which sounded off a grimly message through the dark hall. The ceremony was over after that. The lords now jostled in a corner of the hall and made their egress. The man saw the Magyar lords and the three Pechenegs leave the city hall one by one. They mounted their horses and rode off. He sat down on the floor of the city hall and wrote upon a scroll:

This decisive moment for the Magyars of the lowland was a promise to oust all of its ruling powers, the Bulgars, the Frankish, the Bavarians and the Moravians, forever from Pannonia. Ironically, the Magyars and Turkic Pechenegs were united in this. The Magyars spoke their language, too, although the Pechenegs were once a foe. This pact of the confederation promised a future annexation of a Magyar homeland on the Carpathian Basin by gradual and hostile land-taking.

When the man came out of the hall, he looked up at the stars. He saw the dots of stars in the sky form a horse with a rider at the helm. He shot an arrow from a terse bow into the future. The arrow had flung far. The man took his cape off. He looked young as he walked along the Danube. At the far end of the river, he stopped to take a breath as he came up to the entrance of a village outside the citadel of Etelköz.

II. Around 895-96: The Carpathian Basin

Árpád, son of Duke Álmos, had to stop several times on the grassy steppes of the Carpathian Mountain. He led an army of the seven Magyar clans for a battle, a battle which would mark victory for Hungary of the Magyars in the settlement of a homeland. This was not the first battle here. The Carpathian Basin saw many warring nations. Nomads and semi-nomads fought relentlessly for control of the Basin: the Slavs, the Huns, the Tartars, the Vlachs, the Bulgars, the Pechenegs, the Moravians, the Byzantines, the Bavarians, and the Romans over several centuries. The rains fell yet again to prepare the field for another imminent battle, now underway.

Prince Árpád thought of his father Álmos, who was now frail. A bucket of tame fire burned in the far end of the tent. They stopped here to rest, at the entrance of the Great Hungarian Plains.

The journey over the mountain terrain was arduous. Árpád chose this strip of land by the Danube for a few days of army camp. This was a dangerous mission. The fire in the tent flickered at a sudden cold spell from the north through the tent. Goulash was being stewed outside the tent in large-cast iron pots over fresh fire to feed the army. The vapour from the stew rose high like dark mist, clouding much of this area by the Danube. The vastness of the Ural region buffered the army from the battlefield, not far from here.

As Árpád and Álmos poured over the maps in the tent that afternoon, they heard distant cries. The cries hollered through the winds into the camp. These didn’t sound like ordinary war cries, or war drums. They were different. Prince Árpád came out of the tent. He took his tethered horse and untied it swiftly. He had to find out about the cries. He mounted the horse decisively and followed the winds. His horse was fast. Árpád rode it like a winged chariot. It stopped at the entrance of a village. Males, females, and families were in total disarray as they fled. He saw pillaging, armed men in horses piercing swords into men and taking their young daughters and wives. Then the looting and the torching of the village began. Raiders went into their little huts and took whatever they found here. In the midst of this chaos, a young maiden ran up to Árpád.

“Please, please save me.”

Árpád looked at her, picked her up in one sway, and then rode away into the dusk. Then he stopped on the grassy steppes and got off the horse. She was still on the horse, trembling like a new leaf in a storm. Prince Árpád looked at her. She wore an exquisite red gown and bejewelled headgear. Árpád commanded her to get off the horse. She followed his orders. He asked her to take her headgear off so he could take a better look at her. She took it off. Then Árpád took her by the arm and pulled her closer. He looked at her young, dark, almond eyes and fair skin.

“My name is Prince Árpád, son of Duke Álmos,” he said.

She stepped back at the name like a frightened Gazelle. “I-I am the village chieftain’s daughter,” she replied. “My name is Pirosko.”

“What happened here? Tell me. Do not fear, dear Pirosko.”

“They, they s-said, those plunderers, the-that they are the Vlachs, but I’m not sure, they could also be Magyars,” she stammered.

Árpád looked at her. He frowned. He was silent, and serious. Then he said:

“Are you sure?”

“I could be wrong, but I thought that’s what I heard from villagers,” she said.

“No matter. No harm will come to you, I promise. Tomorrow, we lead an army to the plains; you will stay here in my tent. Do you understand?”

“They took my brother and killed my father. They slashed their swords through the necks of many. And you think I’ll be safe in your tent?”

“You don’t have a choice, Pirosko. Whether we win or lose, we still must fight them for a promised homeland. We believe this is our destiny. This is the only way to bring peace in the region. A Magyar kingdom needs to be established to put a stop to raiders and invaders coming like this in waves.”

“But the Magyars, are they any different from other plunderers?” she snarled.

“I promise you: this will end here,” Árpád said, then pulled her in his arms.

Pirosko began to cry. She must stand up to this man, Avar-Onogurs; his ancestors were no better when it came to plundering. The raiders took everyone she ever loved. Then she looked up to him and placed a tight slap across his face. Árpád wasn’t ready for this. But he took it on the chin. He disengaged himself from her, returned her bejewelled gear, and walked up to climb back to his horse. He mounted his horse and waited for Pirosko.

Pirosko looked around her and only saw dark clouds descending over the steppes. There was no other way but to go with him. She would have to think of something to avenge what was taken from her. She mounted on horseback. They both headed towards the army camp. It was evening by the time they arrived. Árpád’s men came forward to hold the horse’s rein as he dismounted. Then he helped Pirosko to dismount. He told his men to take Pirosko to a tent, where she could spend the night safely. In the morning, she could decide what she wanted to do. She was his responsibility, as saviour of this young girl. She had to be saved from the raiders at any cost, the valiant Árpád thought.

The army sat down for yet another night of Hungarian goulash under the starry night. They sat in separate groups as they ate spoonfuls from the wooden bowls. This dinner was also served to Álmos and Árpád in their tents. Pirosko entered the King’s tent, followed by a slave. Pirosko bowed before old Álmos. He sat on his high throne, the lord of lords of the seven clans with Árpád sitting beside him.

“Speak up, my child. Do not be afraid,” said the old lord.

“My ancestor was the great Attila,” she spoke.

“I see: you are a descendant of no other. No matter; we are related, then. I am also a descendant of Attila. My son is leading the Magyars to a war on the plains.”

“Yes, my Lord, I understand. But a group of Vlach raiders has ransacked my home, killed my family, and torched the villages like the raiders before them.”

“What do you seek?”

Pirosko was quiet. Then she said boldly, like a princess, “Justice.”

“I may be able to give you justice. But you must wait until we win this land to ensure security.”

“That, maybe, but I have my own ways of getting it, my Lord.”

“I see it in your eyes that you seek justice through revenge.”

“Allow me this little secret,” she said.

“Why must I keep you alive, then? My people have done nothing to harm you.”

“Because I can give you valuable information. That is why you will need to keep me alive until I get my revenge.”

“Valuable information? What valuable information could you possibly give us?”

“You will be surprised, my Lord, by how much I know. I was in charge of my father’s scrolls. I’m also a scroll writer myself.”

“So, you tell me that your scrolls can be trusted?”

“Yes, my father’s scrolls taught me about your old enemies, when the allied Bulgars and the Pechenegs raided your land. These are recent histories, when the allied forces of the Magyar and the Byzantines attacked Bulgar. The Pechenegs were your enemy who, at the behest of the Bulgars, killed your men at the time. They plundered your land and took your women and children. Now the Pechenegs are your allies. You even speak a Turkic language. I also read the scrolls on the blood oath that my father had witnessed and written as a man at the city hall.

“Your father was at the secret meeting? How did he get in?” Lord Álmos asked.

Pirosko stood quietly.

“You may go now,” Álmos said.

After she left. Lord Álmos looked at Prince Árpád and said, “Be careful of that girl. You can never know whose side she is on. You cannot trust anyone.”

“As you say, my Lord.” Árpád bowed deeply and left Álmos alone to go toward his own tent. On his way, he looked at Pirosko’s tent just two tents away, and saw that she stood outside in the dark. Árpád looked at her curiously. She didn’t see him. Árpád saw that he spoke to a man in a foreign language. He drew closer in the cover of darkness. He saw the man pull a sword and attack Pirosko. She screamed. Árpád jumped in like a leopard. He tackled the man on the ground. The man lost. Árpád took him as prisoner.

Árpád saved Pirosko’s life again. This softened her heart towards him.

“Who was he?”Árpád demanded.

“A Bulgar spy.”

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth.”

“The truth?”

“Yes, the truth that you have saved my life.”

“And then?”

“When he knew he couldn’t get anything out of me, he tried to kill me, when you saved me again.”

“If I’m your saviour, why’re you so angry with me? Because of what my people may have done?”

“Yes. I read much about the Magyars’ raids and plunders, one too many on the plains. How can I trust you?”

“Well, you just have to.” Saying this, Árpád picked her up and carried her into his tent. Her head inclined towards his broad shielded chest like a shy bride.

“What else can you tell me?” Árpád cajoled Pirosko, who now lay by his side under the same sheepskin blanket.”

“He told me that Bulgar is now an ally of the King of Eastern Francia. Your army may have to face the allied forces.”

“What did he trade that information with? Certainly not with the ‘truth’ you told him?” Tell me what else did you tell him?” he demanded.

“I told him about the legend, the turul.”

“The turul? What about it?”

“The legend of turul that it would lead you to victory, according to the scrolls of your grandmother Princess Emese’s dream,” she said.

“I see. Well, hopefully, we’ll have our once enemy, the Moravian leader Rastislav, on our side by then. With his help, we will invade all of Pannonia soon. But before that, we must win some lowland on the plains.”

“Will this be a long, bloody battle then?”

“We’ll have to wait and see, but hopefully not the one today. This will be short and easy, but our formidable enemies must be defeated, and we must make all of this land ours; this is our promised land.”

As they lay engaged in pillow talk, they heard a horse stop before the tent. Prince Árpád got dressed. He looked at her and said, “Stay there.”

Then he came out of the tent in the pitch dark. There was an informant.

“It better be good,” Árpád said.

“Bulgaria and the Pechenegs, our old enemies, have resurfaced and have attacked the Magyars in Etelköz.”

“Hmm, Have they now? Okay, you may go.”

Árpád called the seven lords to another tent for an emergency meeting. This was the eve of the battle; in a few hours, the army would enter the Carpathian Basin. Árpád showed the land on the map that they could easily capture at the moment. It was the sparsely populated area located in the northeast of the Danube around the Tisza River. This was an easy target without encountering much resistance. This would pave a stepping stone.

When the sun finally rose, the confederation of the Magyar entered the basin, encountering shepherds and a weak army. This was a clear win for Árpád and his soldiers. This battle took them the same time as it might have taken a turul to scour across the plain. Victory was gained in just minutes within short sweet hour. It was a strategic and impressive move. When the enemy retreated, this became the Magyars’ first territory, with more dangerous wars around the bend. The army practically returned intact to the campground. But as Árpád entered Álmos’s tent with the news, he found Pirosko seated by his bed. The Duke by then had passed away.


This is a work of fiction and fantasy. However, some Magyar accounts have been gleaned from The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat by Lendvai Paul.