HUNDING'S SAGA - 49: UNCANNY MEETING, Gauti Greets Ivar
Gotland welcomes 'Braendings Slange' again
'Skuli will you see everything is stowed aft of the mast partner?'
Skuli gave a quick salute and set to work. There was much to do before 'Braendings Slange' could be rowed out into mid-stream for the first part of the way east.
Hunding watched as new crew boarded at the King's staith. There was not enough room nearer his warehouse at Kopar Gata on this morning as he made ready to sail, so everything they needed would have to be carried further along the river front. As he turned he saw one crewman he had not seen for many a year.
'Ealdwin - is that really you? Ealdwin - and you have brought Aesc with you!' Hunding was overjoyed to see men he knew from the old days, working for Osferth.
'Aye, Hunding, we heard you were to sail east again', Aesc answered for them both. 'We did not want to be left out again -'
'Again? When did I last leave you out?' Hunding knew what they meant and grinned broadly. He gripped the older Ealdwin's hand to steady him whilst he helped him aboard. .
Osferth had forbidden them from sailing with Hunding, being with Knut and the other Danes. The old man did not want them fighting against their own king. Knut had proved able and Osferth was happier with trade being better than before. Now neither was no longer here - Knut had died in the last winter and Harold 'Harefoot' ruled for Harthaknut, and Osferth had died not long before Hunding sent word to all the alehouses in Jorvik for crew . So everything was as it should be in the north.
'When do we sail, Hunding?' Ealdwin asked.
'As soon as a ship comes from the south with a young man by the name of Ivar Ulfsson on board', Hunding answered and asked Skuli how much water they had stowed.
'Enough to get us to Roskilde', Skuli turned and saw his old crew mates standing beside Hunding. His eyes widened and he strode aft to meet them with a strong bear hug, 'Aesc, my good man, and Ealdwin! How good to see you both - what have you been doing with yourselves these last months?'
'Oh, this and that', Aesc laughed and tried to get his breath back from being crushed by the strongest man in Jorvik. Skuli giggled and slapped Aesc on his back.
'More that than this', Ealdwin chimed in. 'Most of the time we have been humping heavy loads up on the staiths along the Treonta for Wulfwila. She is a chip off the old block, Wulfwila is, believes in getting every ounce of our strength for the silver she pays us'.
Hunding looked closely at them both, watching as they shifted from one foot to the other. He asked,
'Does she know you want to come with me to the east?' .
'Do we have to tell her?' Aesc seemed crestfallen at the thought.
'Is she likely to swallow you both whole?' Hunding joked.
'Something like that', Aesc seemed to swallow his tongue, unable to say more.
'No backbone!' Skuli smirked. 'What is the likelihood of your fighting off Wendish freebooters if you are afraid of a woman who is hardly bigger than a pony?'
'Leave them alone Skuli', Hunding snapped. 'Look you two, I will have words with her. There are enough men in this burh she can hire'. With that he strode away to Wulfwila's warehouse. It had been months since they last spoke, and he was not just going to smooth the way for Aesc and Ealdwin. Besides, she had a good alewife working for her these days.
The ship that brought Ivar was made fast a little way upriver from 'Braendings Slange'. The lad would overnight in Ivar's home at the top of Kopar Gata and they were to sail with the tide early next morning. Herjolf had been given the task of asking Gytha and Earl Godwin if they would allow Ivar leave to sail east with him. Besides, they would put in at Roskilde on their way to the Eastern Sea, to call for Osbeorn.
'Has Herjolf been good to you?' Hunding asked Ivar, giving his giant Svear friend a playful punch on his chest.
'He talks too much', Ivar answered glumly.
'He talks too much?' Hunding laughed. 'Since when did you talk too much? Ivar, he hardly ever says more than five ways at a time!'
'He overdid it this time', Ivar tried to stop a grin creeping to his mouth, 'he said six yesterday'.
They all laughed, Skuli louder than most. Hunding slapped Ivar on the back and asked where he learned such banter.
'Svein and Harold have taught me much these past years, Hunding, but Tostig has us all in stitches!'
'I am glad you fitted in with them', Hunding had long since told the lad not to call him 'uncle', and was glad Ivar felt at home with the earl and his offspring. 'How is Eadgytha, by the way? I believe she is teaching you the skills of reading and writing'.
'Svein thinks I will be an old maid before my time, nor is Tostig taken with having to read. He says that is why we have monks in abbeys. Can you read or write, Hunding?'
'I can read', Hunding answered without having to say he could not write. Ivar nodded understandingly. Time at sea would 'round him off' a little more, Hunding thought to himself.
'Braendings Slange' slipped out of the Hymbra. The long sand spit that was Spurna Head glistened in the late morning sun to larboard. Astern, to steerboard was
'What do you see, Ivar?' Hunding looked over the lad's shoulder but needed to keep an aye out ahead for other ships entering the mighty river.
'I see a ship coming out from over there', Ivar answered, nodding. He stretched out an arm for Hunding to see. All Hunding could see was what looked like a knarr, a trading ship.
Hunding looked longer this time, there being no vessels to watch out for,
'Even if they were to follow us, we would lose them before half a day's sailing had gone past. True, we have a strong following wind, but she seems to be wallowing with cargo athwart her',
Ivar kept his eyes on the following vessel for a long time, until she was hidden from sight by the swell, and turned to look forward. Did he look forward to sailing to Roskilde? Hunding kept his mouth shut and his eyes open, as all seamen should.
The crossing to Ribe went by fairly quickly. Hunding put in for water and whilst he sought shelter for himself, Ivar and the crew, Skuli saw to the stowage of barrels and chatted with the fishermen. He learned much, such as about the three Frisian ships that shadowed Jylland's west coast.
'I will have to tell Hunding', Skuli thought, and as soon as stores were covered and tied fast he followed the others to a lodging house near the haven used by traders.
'Three Frisian ships have been seen hogging the coast', Skuli told Hunding as soon as he set eyes on him. 'Freebooters, from what I have been told'.
Hunding looked up, Ivar with him. Aesc almost dropped the ale he held. Ealdwin snorted and tried to keep the ale he had swallowed from spraying over Hunding. Herjolf came past just then from the midden and turned to ask Hunding what the dark looks were for. He turned and stepped on Ealdwin's toes, bringing the Aenglishman's ale back up and over himself.
'I thank you, Ealdwin', Herjolf looked down at the red silk tunic he still had from when he had stood guard over the imperator Basil's crown. Ealdwin's ale covered his whole chest, the trail of ale having turned the red dark. 'Can this be washed off?'
'You have weeks to find out', Skuli told him drily, bringing laughter from the other crewmen.
For all his height, Herjolf did not push his weight about and he laughed with them, then his jaw set. He leaned over the table Hunding sat at and jerked a hand toward a newcomer,
'Hunding, what was that Skuli said about the Frieslanders being off the coast?'
'I said there was talk of three ships scouring the Jylland coast for prey', Skuli hissed. 'Why do you ask?'
'Look over there, Hunding', Herholf nodded toward the door.
A tall, stout straw-haired fellow stood outside the inn, by the doorway. Clad in leather padding, wearing leather breeks the newcomer would not pass for a Dane by the cut of his clothing. He stood out from all those who passed, looking up at him, scurrying past. He looked more like a Seaxan from the days of Aethelred with his shoulder-long crinkled flaxen hair tied at the nape of his neck.
Hunding thought for a short time and spoke up,
'Can you talk to him, Skuli - keep him talking? Herjolf and I can creep around him and grab his arms'.
So whilst Skuli took the man's eyes from what was happening around him, Hunding and Herjolf snatched the Frieslander
'What -!' the outlander could utter no more before Herjolf clapped a shovel-sized hand around his mouth and between them Hunding and he pulled him inside. Skuli tied a gag to the fellow's broad, bearded jaw and he was on the straw-bedecked floor, trussed like a deer on a pole.
'Give me one of your weatherproof covers, one that you put over your barrels', Hunding asked the innkeeper. 'We can put the fellow on board, out of sight of his friends'.
'We keep him as hostage?' Skuli grinned.
Hunding nodded, smiling,
'We hold him hostage until we turn into the Kattegat past Skagen. Then we set him down on Laesoe, and make haste for the Isefjord'.
'Will they not catch us up?' Ivar spoke up for the first time, worried. He had heard of the Frieslanders selling men off as thralls to the Moors for their ships.
'They will not bother chasing us past Laesoe', Hunding assured him.fellow
'They would be too far from safety, unable to flee to the Skeldt attacked', Skuli added, looking down at their wide-eyed hostage.
Next morning the three Frieslander ships shadowed them north along.the coast, past Skagen, their hostage bound to the sail and in plain sight of the other ships' masters..
Braendings Slange.danced on the waves, closer to the shore when they reached Laesoe, their 'shadows' waiting some way to the north, out of sight. With his hands still bound behind his back, Herjolf and Hunding lowered the Frieslander over the side. The sea was thigh deep here. He floundered to the shore, still gagged, and tried to run across deep sand to the foreshore.
By the time Skuli turned the ship southward their freed hostage stood atop a rise, jumping like a king's fool to draw the eyes of his crew. Braendings Slange passed into a coming mist, out of reach of the Frieslanders.
'You would never guess what happened', Ivar boomed breathlessly after running from the shore to greet his half-brothers. Beorn and Svein strode forward after Osbeorn, the youngest. They laughed together, play-fought and let Hunding and the crew walk to a loud welcome.
Harthaknut was in Wintunceaster, leaving the jarls to rule for him. None of them was at hand, however, and Ivar spent the night with one of Astrid's maids. The morning dawned well, a brisk north-westerly wind bending the treetops. There would be ample to fill their sail from the mouth of the Isefjord, through the sound to the tip of Skaane where they would veer eastward.
A thin mist crept along the coast. Hunding's ship was being rowed now and as Hunding steered he watched for tell-tale ripples where the sea hid skerries. Braendings Slange slid through the water towards Sjalsoe on the west side of Gotland. Rik now farmed here, close to Gythi's own steading. They would drink together later. Whilst Skuli oversaw the stores being stowed Hunding could show Ivar and Osbeorn around the isle.
'Hunding, we meet again', a tall fellow stepped forward. A wide-brimmed hat put his patch and one good eye in shadow, his long blue cloak swept the ground. Gripped in his bony right hand the man had a long, stout staff.
Hunding turned to see him and knew at once who had spoken,
'Gauti, we have not met in a long time', Hunding smiled and reached out his right hand. Gauti took it, his grip firm.
'Hunding you have some young friends with you. Might I know their names?'
'You may, friend. This young man on my left is Osbeorn, son of Astrid. On my right -'
'You have Gunnlaug's son'.
'Ulf's -' Ivar began, unable to finish. He caught Gauti's good eye, fixing him with an anvil-cold stare.
Saying nothing, Hunding put a hand on his shoulder and steered him to safety, away from Gauti's side. He would speak to him later, but for now talk would have to be light - of everyday matters. Later, at Gythi's home Hunding took Ivar to one side and gave him a dressing-down,
'Never do that again, Ivar. The old man who spoke to you is the high-born one'.
'He is a nobleman?' Ivar asked.
'He is more than a nobleman -'
'A king?' Ivar was becoming annoying.
'In a manner of speaking, Ivar, he is a king. More than that, perhaps. Do not speak to him like that again, is that.clear? We may meet him again later', Hunding'told him. 'We may need his help'.
'Are you afraid of Gauti?' Ivar pressed.
'You will understand one day, Ivar', was all Hunding would say by way of an answer.
'Hopefully', Ivar shrugged.
They said no more about it. In the evening Rik showed at Gythi's home. Ale was poured, food cooked and Gythi's woman Gunnfrida built up the fire. Very late in the evening Gauti came. Gunnfrida welcomed him, smiling broadly. Gythi put an arm around his shoulder and steered him to the best seat, near the hearth, and ale was poured for him. Gauti looked around at the men who sat beside and across the hearth, then fixed Ivar with a stare. He beckoned, bony finger crooked, for Ivar to sit by him,
'Ivar, what I said before about your being Gunnlaug's son -'
'And my saying I am Ulf's son?' Ivar countered.
'And you saying you are Ulf's son', Gauti nodded. 'You are not. Your father is nearer than you might think'.
Ivar blinked. He looked up into the rafters, and back at - Gauti was gone. He looked around, at Hunding, Skuli, Aesc and Ealdwin. They all talked and laughed, with Osbeorn spinning yarns about this and that at Roskilde and tales from further afield. Ivar was dumbfounded. Gauti was nowhere to be seen and no-one seemed to see he was no longer there. His ale cup sat on the bench where he had been.
'Who are you looking for son?' Hunding asked. Ivar stared, opened his mouth. The words would not come. 'Gauti told you something, did he not?'
'He said something about my father being closer than I might think', Ivar mumbled.
'Have some ale, son. Eat something, you must be hungry', Hunding gripped Ivar's arm and reached for a platter with wildfowl. 'Here'.
Next - 50: Holmgard.
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