HUNDING'S SAGA - 10: ENLIGHTENMENT, Meeting Gauti for the first time
Listen... and learn from the Allfather
As they pulled away Hunding could hear cheers from those gathered on the strand behind, to see the king's men humbled. Without looking aft he steered across a strengthening south-easterly wind. Aesc, Tofig and Odd let down the great square sail. The rest of the crew stowed the oars.
'Did we get anything to eat?' Hunding called to Odd from where he stood at the steering arm.
'Good thing someone thought about that at the right time', Tofig roared back, laughing on his way astern to join Hunding. He added, The way you were mooning over that red-head, I could have been forgiven for thinking you were enthralled by her! Aye, we have enough stores aboard to get us to Gotland, but no further'.
'Why Gotland, when we should strike east?' Hunding demanded angrily.
Knowing the answer, Tofig smiled as he tested Hunding's knowledge of the seaways around the south of the Svear kingdom,
'Have you been east before?'
'No, only as far as Bornholm -' Hunding began.
'No but nothing! On Gotland there are safe havens for us to buy stores to last us as far as Holmgard without starving', Tofig clapped a hand on Hunding's left shoulder. 'Fear not, the Svear will give us their best counsel as to what is happening in the east - where best to steer clear of, the best portage between riverheads and so on'.
Hunding answered, humbler than before,
'Very well Tofig, I am sorry for my outburst. I bow to your greater knowledge'.
'You will not be sorry', Tofig smiled and grasped Hunding's left hand warmly. 'You will not be sorry about that, mark my words'.
Braendings Slange hugged the southern shore of the Svear kingdom for a day. Aesc called out from where he sat astride the sail,
'Land to the larboard quarter!'
Very shortly he was still astride the mast as it was hauled down and he leapt off onto the deck. Tofig was already making ready to go ashore with the weatherproof bags and the crew ran the oars out to row onto the shore in a broad bay. The low land around the small bay on the south-west of Gotland looked altogether different from hilly Bornholm. A few fishing boats bobbed about in the pale early morning sun, their crews watching Hunding's ship slide past them under oar as if cutting through a great millpond.
'What are you doing here, Tofig?' one of the fishermen called through cupped hands, plainly familiar with the Dane even from as far away as ten oar lengths.
'We are looking for food stores, Rik. Do you know who can sell me enough food and drink to last a hard-worked crew as far as Holmgard, at least?' Tofig waved back and asked further, 'How is Asta?'
'She is well, thankyou. At least as well as she can be after giving birth to a big baby boy', Rik called back joyfully.
Tofig whistled through his front teeth and grinned broadly, telling the fisherman his regrets that they could stay only a short time,
'We would stay awhile if we had the time, Rik, but we have cargo to take to Holmgard. There might be a few hours to spare'. He looked back to Hunding, who nodded. 'Aye, we have a few hours. Is Gythi still about?'
'He still deals', Rik pointed toward the left side of the bay where a short leadland pointed north to form the western edge of the bay around Burgsvik. 'He has fewer swine thanks to the two-legged ones that came early one morning last week out of the mist and took half of them'.
'Did you know if they were Jomsvikings, or Rus?'
'Oh, they were Jomsvikings. The Rus raid along the eastern shore of this god-forsaken sea', Rik spat into the water. 'Damned fish are not biting today!'
'I did not think they came this far east', Hunding stared disbelievingly at Tofig.
'What, the fish or the Jomsvikings?' Tofig grinned mischievously toward Rik and winked,
'The Jomsvikings! Fish, indeed!' Hunding shook his head when he realised his leg was being pulled.
'Lean times call for longer trips when you want something for nothing!' Tofig grunted. 'Good old King Svein has put a bounty on their heads in Danish waters. That is why they did not chase us into Roenne, so they raid the Svear instead!
'Svein Tvaeskegg has put his foot down at last?' Hunding remembered the days when the Jomsvikings roamed loose around the Danish islands in the days of the old king, Harald. He turned a blind eye as long as some of their bounty came his way. 'I was born at the wrong time!'
'These are different times, Hunding. Silver is in short supply too. Svein is greedy for spoils and he hates sharing! Otherwise he would not be bothered. Besides, he needs the silver to build ships. I hear he is thinking of raiding the Aenglish shore again. Aethelred is a weak king and there is no lust for fighting Vikings as there was in the days of Aethelstan.
The ship was rowed up onto the strand close to the small settlement of Burgsvik. Some of the dwellings hd been torn down to frighten anyone thinking of taking on the Jomsvikings whilst they went ashore to steal Gythi's hogs.
'What do you want here?' a man's clipped challenge took Hunding aback. He turned to look at an elderly one-eyed fellow dressed in a blue cloak and wide-brimmed hat.
'Rik told us we could buy supplies here!' Hunding snapped.
A lazy smile spread across the man's lips when he saw Hunding reach for his hort sword. He asked again,
'What do you hope to gain by threatening me? My ravens could rip your eyes from their sockets on my say-so. Have a care, Hunding'.
'I see no rave-' Hunding began before the flapping of blue-black wings above him stopped him short.
'Beg forgiveness and let us be away!' Tofig gripped Hunding' right elbow, trying to pull him away. 'We are unwelcome here -'
'I beg to differ there', old one-eye broke in and glanced toward Hunding. 'All I ask is for you to show manners. As Rik told you, the Jomsvikings raided not so long ago. Everything will cost a little more, but you are welcome to bide a while until your ship's food lockers are full. Be my guests, share a little ale and some of my food. Give me news of the western sea. Tell me, do folk there still believe in the old gods?'
'What is your name, old man? We cannot call you 'old man', can we?' Aesc is the first to reach out a hand in greeting.
'I am Gauti. You are -?' Gauti asked Aesc. 'You are not from these parts, are you?'
'I am Aesc, and no I am not from around here. I am from Northanhymbra. In answer to what you asked about our beliefs, the western isles beyond Frankia are Christian - well, mostly. Some of the isles are still settled by heathens, where the Norsemen live, such as Hlimrekr, Vedrafjordur and Dyflin, and in the far north of the kingdom of the Scots'.
'Still so many - tell me Aesc, are you of the Christian faith?' Gauti asked of the Aenglishman.
Aesc looked at Gauti before answering, sizing him up,
'Aye, I am a Christian. One day I foresee the whole of the northern world will likewise be Christian', Aesc answered without flinching, bringing a broad smile from Gauti.
'Are you hoping to spread the words of your Christian masters to the east?' Gauti stood square to Aesc, arms folded across his chest. His good eye glinted mischievously.
'Who, me? I have no calling', Aesc held up his hands as if weighing the air. 'I am a simple man, from time to time a fighter when needs be. I am a follower of Christ insofar as I believe in the good book's magic. But I lack the skill to take his words to the wide world'.
'You say. You are not as simple as you make out, Aesc. You have an inner fire. Be that as it may, this talk is holding back trade. Hunding, tell me what you want and I will help Gythi sort things out for you. Aesc, we will will talk again if Hunding will allow you all to stay the night. Is that a deal?' Gauti looked from Aesc to Hunding and shook hands with them both and grinned toothily. He stroked his beard and winked his one good eye 'Now, Tofig, you will help by keeping tally. I trust you'.
Gauti, Gythi and Tofig sat together talking whilst the others sampled the old man's fare. Tofig knew what the crew needed, and Gythi added a few things to put a smile on the crew's mouths when they ate.
The night passed quickly and quietly after the stores were stowed aboard Braendings Slange. Gauti and Aesc were joined by Odd in their talks about the spread of the new faith from the east. Ealdwin sat munching and slurping from his beaker, listening, not wanting to add his own thoughts. Like Aesc and Odd he also believed, but only because everyone around him did so from childhood. Before sailing with Hunding he had known none of the heathens, as Father Wilfrid in Grim's by called them. There was somehow no thought of the uncanny in listening to Aesc talk about his beliefs to Gauti. None of the Aenglishmen knew enough to fear what the old man could do, or what ends his powers might be used for.
However, they had no need for fear, even though the hairs on the back of Hunding's and Tofig's necks stood out. They knew who Gauti really was.
Next - 11: Estland
Odin The Allfather
Odin moves in mysterious ways... If you've read Hrolf Kraki's Saga you will be familiar with the role the Allfather played as Hrani the woodsman. Odin took many identities to move about in the world of giants and men to find out what men - and women - thought... See what he got up to
Monday to Sunday...
The days of the week are named for the most part after the old Norse/northern gods. Monday is the moon, Tuesday is Tyr's day, Wednesday is Odin/Woden/Wotan's day*, Thursday is Thor/Thunor's day, Friday is either Frigg's day, Freyja's day or Freyr's day - choose which, my money is on Freyr - Saturday is the exception, a hangover of Roman days, Saturn. Sunday is the sun, the girl chased by the wolf followed by the moon, followed in turn...
See my Hub-page in the VIKING series, 'Ye Gods and Big Fish...'
Sandstone rocks on the coast of Gotland
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