The rule of the Chieftan Rurik of Novgorod is one that would one day be recognized as one of the most influential reigns in Russian history. It was his reign that laid the groundwork for a united Rus’ ruling over the bulk of Eastern Europe. However, it was a single gift he bestowed upon his daughter Helga that would shape military theory in Europe until the modern day by creating an order of royal warriors known as the Princesses of Blood (Царевна Крови or Tsarevna Krovi in modern Russian).
Among the Norse, there was a ritual that was used to bless holy warriors. A person would be sacrificed to Odin with the warrior anointed in their blood. It was believed that the ritual would result in Odin blessing the warrior with his power. In actuality, it siphoned the life energy of the sacrifice to the anointed warrior. The result was an increase in strength, durability, agility, stamina, and cunning but it also led to an increase in aggression and the potential to enter an adrenaline-fueled trance of rage.
The ritual would typically not increase the abilities of the warrior beyond what could potentially be seen in a warrior who gained their abilities through other means. So, it was not always obvious what the exact effects of the ritual were and some people would witness a ritual and still deny that they observed any significant effect.
There were two groups of people who would typically undergo the ritual. The first was the most ferocious Vikingrs who would use the ritual to elevate themselves to even greater heights by becoming Berserkers. The other group was women who wished to become shieldmaidens.
The Norse had more respect for the concept of female warriors than many other cultures at the time. However, they recognized that women were physically weaker than men and as such would struggle to keep up with a male fighting force. The ritual would elevate shield maidens who underwent it at roughly the same level as the above-average male warrior who did not undergo the ritual. So, shieldmaidens who were dedicated to taking on being a warrior as their primary vocation would use the ritual to maintain their effectiveness.
This practice passed with little significance for many centuries until the rule of Rurik. Rurik was not a man of half measures and he doted upon his daughter, so when Helga expressed an interest in becoming a shieldmaiden, he spared no expense. She was fashioned with the best armor and weapons that money could buy and was introduced to experienced warriors who could mentor her and train her. But, it was with the blood sacrifice to Odin that Rurik outdid himself.
In an effort to make his daughter the best shieldmaiden ever, he put on the most extensive sacrifice to Odin that any had seen. He prepared 8 sacrifices that were all arranged in opposites in a circle around his daughter. One young, and one old. One woman, and one man. One Slav, and one Norse. One willing, and one unwilling.
Helga was elevated to levels of power previously unseen. It was said that she had the strength of a bear, skin as hard as steel, the balance of a cat, could outpace a horse, and a mind like an entire library full of scholars. However, she also experienced a battle lust that was unquenchable that drove her to constantly crave combat. She also found herself losing her mind completely when entering her battle rage and at times entering the rage without meaning to. Especially if she had not participated in a battle for several weeks. Helga would prove to be an extremely effective shieldmaiden, but not a long-lived one as she would eventually succumb to the madness of her condition. At her own request, the Blood Eagle was performed on her at the age of 32 to send her to Valhalla.
That was thought to be the end of the matter until several years later when Helga’s brother Igor (who by that point sat on the throne himself) had a daughter. Even as an infant, it quickly became apparent that she was demonstrating signs of the extreme version of the blood ritual her aunt had undergone despite having not participated herself. Over the years, the same thing would continue to be noted in daughters of the Rurik dynasty. It wasn’t until modern times that researchers have established that the modifications to the typical ritual managed to bind the power to the royal family instead of to an individual.
The process ultimately became well documented. The blessing/curse of the blood ritual would apply to any female descendants of the current ruling king of the Rus’. More distant relatives were free so long as the child was born after the death of the king they were descended from. The effects of the blood ritual would start off slight, typically manifesting as unusual strength of the infant. As the girl grew, her powers would grow with her. Even into adulthood, their powers would continue to grow as they aged.
From a psychological standpoint, the battle lust would not manifest immediately. At the younger ages, they would simply feel a restlessness that would lead to them having difficulty staying still. Despite their elevated intelligence, they would often struggle to stay still for academic lessons without balancing them carefully with physical activity. As the Princesses approached their teenage years, around the time when most girls would develop an interest in the boys and men around them, these Princesses would develop a similar interest in entering battle instead.
Similar to how their physical powers grew stronger with age, so too did the mental effects. Over time, the Princesses would find their battle lust growing stronger and stronger with the rage trance becoming harder and harder to control. In their teenage years, they would feel a strong desire for battle but one that could be controlled. In their early twenties, that desire would become ubiquitous with mental stress occurring if they went too long without combat with their rage state occasionally occurring without their prompting. By their late twenties, the mental stress would manifest immediately upon leaving combat and the unintentional raging would become more frequent. By their thirties, their existence would become small moments of lucidity breaking up a life as functionally a feral beast. None were ever recorded as having lucid moments in their forties, but few lived that long.
Because of the slow loss of control at older ages, most Princesses preferred to die in battle at a younger age. Stories of glorious death would be told to them from a young age and many would end up fantasizing about their deaths in battle the same way other girls might fantasize about their marriage. Typically, they would reach their peak effectiveness in their early twenties with the deteriorating mind becoming too much of a hindrance in their late twenties. Past the age of 25, most would charge into battle with the hopes that each battle would be their last.
From a cultural standpoint, the royal family made the decision to celebrate their Princesses of Blood as holy warriors. They leaned into the idea of their family being blessed by Odin. Emphasis was placed on their prowess in combat with attention drawn away from the negative psychological effects. Attempts were made to portray the Princesses as possessing all of the regal bearing that Princesses of other kingdoms were expected to have. Though, the occasional moment of slipped rage would remind the people how different they truly were.
When Christianity spread to eastern Europe, the Princesses of Blood remained even though it was now uncouth to worship Odin. Because of how intricately they were tied to the royal family, the Russian Orthodox Church rebranded them as being blessed by the Christian God. Records of how the initial ritual was performed were destroyed. Under the new Christian doctrine, it became seen as a sign that the Rurik Dynasty was chosen by God and should remain in power. An elite force of the best warriors in Europe who were unquestionably loyal to the family helped maintain power from a practical standpoint.
The Rurik Dynasty and their Princesses of Blood ruled for nearly 400 years. Long enough that their presence became accepted as fact with their origins passing into myth and legend. Their end came when the armies of the Mongol Empire arrived. The Princesses of Blood were very effective at countering an army in a pitched battle or for rooting out entrenched foes. Even with their high personal mobility, they were of little use against the lack of supply lines and high total mobility that the Mongols possessed.
In addition, the Mongols utilized a form of shamanism that gave them communion with animals in their service. This resulted in, among other benefits, expansive scouting abilities that allowed them to spot the presence of a Princess long before they engaged and open lines of communication to coordinate disparate forces. As soon as they realized the threat they posed, the Mongols made a practice of avoiding battles where the Princesses were present. The Princesses could not be everywhere at once and so the Mongols would raid and pillage wherever they weren’t.
As the economy of the Rus’ collapsed under this pressure, the Mongols also applied a secondary form of attack. They realized that the military strength and morale of the Rus’ was centered around the Princesses of Blood. The fact that the Mongols could not take them in an open battle remained a source of motivation since the Rus’ people held onto the hope of a single good battle driving the Mongols out. However, the Mongols were not above the use of assassins.
Carefully selected catspaws and spellcasters who had the potential to actively counter the abilities of the Princesses were either funded or deployed by the Mongols. With how few the Princesses of Blood were, it did not take many successful attempts to remove them as a military threat. One by one, they died in inglorious fashions. With their deaths, so too died the motivation of the Rus’ to resist the Mongols. The kingdom of the Rus’ collapsed and became a subjugated province of the ever-expanding Mongol Empire. With the subjugation, the Princesses of Blood stopped manifesting. With time, their existence passed from history, to myth, to legend as their deeds were lost to time. They would be forgotten with time like many other orders of magically enhanced warriors.
Forgotten that is, until Ivan III achieved independence from the Golden Horde and became the de facto ruler of Russia. It wasn’t long after that when the first Princess of Blood in centuries was born.