HUNDING'S SAGA - 26: Gauti Foresees Hunding With Knut's Sister Gunnlaug
Crossing from the mouth of the Dvina through the straits into the open sea was rough.
The wind caught the sail at an angle and the beitass was threaded into the sail loop on the steerboard side to catch the gusting north-easterly. Hunding had his work cut out just holding the steering arm steady. The sail filled well, however, almost blowing Braendings Slange over with its uncanny strength.
This wind was a great deal more than fresh. The spray blew across the crewmen's brows as they longingly stared westward into the weather for signs of Gotland's low cliffs.
'Steer more to the left', Aesc pointed when he thought he saw land. Tofig smiled wryly, and winked at Hunding. The pair shared a joke astern and Hunding stretched his free hand into the air to show he had heard. Aesc asked aloud against the wind, more of a squeak in the wind, 'What did I say that was so funny?'
'Not so much what as how', Tofig answered for them both, still smiling wryly. 'I thought you said you had sailed before'.
The Aenglishman stared back,
'Why do you say that?' Aesc's brow beetled.
'Seamen say 'larboard quarter', or 'steerboard quarter', that is all. There is no need to take on, friend', Hunding broke in. Now they were on their way home, he wanted no hatred to sour the air between men who had lived through hard times together without so much as a whisper of anger.
Aesc stood, buffeted by the wind, dark hair blown across his mouth. It was hard to say whether he held a grudge or merely nursed his hurt pride. Tofig strode along the deck toward Aesc, braced himself on the pitching deck and took the Aenglishman's right hand in both his.
'Aesc, friend, do not think we are laughing at you. Far be it from me, I would sooner cut off my right hand than offend you. Believe me, Aesc!' Tofig tried to reassure him. Aesc smiled falteringly, then widely and Tofig slapped him on his back, 'There you are. Friends?'
A grin spread across Aesc's cheeks and he shook his head shamefacedly, laughing at himself,
'Port quarter it is then!' he laughed and spluttered when his hair was blown into his mouth.
'That will teach you to laugh into the wind', Hunding heard one of the other Aenglishmen tell Aesc. Some belief they had about laughing into the wind? Or was it more like being foolish enough to open your mouth to the wind in heavy weather? Seamen had many beliefs, he knew. There were things you did not do on the open waters, others you had to do when coming into land.
'Push the beitass out a short way', Hunding called out to the crew, 'anyone. We need to change course to come about around Faaroy and follow the coast along the west of Gotland into Burgsvik', this last he said to the nodding Tofig, who now stood to Hunding's left side.
As Braendings Slange rounded the headland to the north-east of Gotland, the beitass was hauled in and threaded into the other side. By now the spar was angled almost lengthways across the deck with the wind channelled into the front quarter of the sail. Slowly they crawled along past the widening main island, past the rocks that stood up from the waves to the north-west of Hemse.
'Sail down, oars out!' Tofig yelled out when the rocks were left behind to port. The huge canvas was furled around the spar, roped and tightened to ensure it stayed put in the still-fresh wind. Oars were run out and dipped, in and out of the choppy sea, shining against the late morning light. Spray splashed across the rowers as their oars dipped, the wind steadily driving the waves across the bows of the ship as she came about into Burgsvik.
Fishermen stood watching, nets at hand, needles between finger and thumb. Some stared, not knowing why the ship was in their haven. They may have been out at sea when Rik saw off Hunding and Tofig months earlier, or they may have been abed - sleeping off a hard night's work. Tofig leapt into the shallows from beside the prow and strode ashore. He vanished from sight between fishermen who now busied themselves with their work. There was no more interest in the outsiders, even the rangy one who passed between them on his way to Rik's home close by.
He showed again, by and by, and vanished again on his way elsewhere with Rik in his wake. 'He must be seeking out Gythi', Hunding thought to himself and went back to watching the fishermen mending their nets or unloading their crab catches nearby. Tofig showed finally with Rik and another fellow in tow.
'This is Gythi', Tofig beckoned Hunding ashore, 'he has somewhere for us all to stay a day or so whilst we store up on food and drink for the crossing beyond Bornholm'.
'We are not putting in at Roenne?' Hunding sloshed through the shallows onto the strand and shook hands with both Rik and Gythi. He did not ask why Rik was not putting them up again, but then what business was it of his, if another islander was foing to play host to his crew.
'They have new men on Bornholm since the king heard we slipped through the other ones' hands', Tofig grinned and rested a hand on Hunding's right shoulder. 'We are known, but only by the way the last ones spoke of our ship. They may well still be there and remember us, telling Svein's new masters when we put in... er, if we put in. As we will be bypassing the island, they may strain their eyes trying to make us out across the sea. This, Gythi, is Hunding Hrothulfsson'.
'Glad to meet you, Hunding', Gythi smiled. They had already shaken hands, but Gythi took Hunding's hand again and pumped it. 'I have heard a lot about you'.
'How so?' Hunding stared, not knowing what it was Gythi had learned of him.
'Rik told me you talked long into the night with a guest of his', Gythi began.
'I said you spoke with Gauti', Rik broke in, 'as fellows'.
Gythi eyed up Hunding, hero-worship widening his eyes almost to the size of a shield. Hunding laughed and slapped Gythi's back,
'We understood one another', he laughed again. 'I think Gauti was with us in spirit, which is why we are here now. We ought not to be, as we found ourselves chained like bullocks in Holmgard after Lifing made Prince Vladimir think we had stolen treasure from him. I fought Lifing in a holmgang, and won - no prizes there, he is a craven sort of fellow as we learned - which gave us a way out to Miklagard and back. We now have -'
Tofig pressed a hand on Hunding's mouth, laughing.
'There is no need to tell these folk we have a new crewman, Hunding', Tofig took his hand down and smoothed down Hunding's tunic, smiling. He pointed to Herjolf. 'Herjolf, my friend, come. Join us here and meet our Gotland friends!'
'Where are you from, Herjolf?' Gythi asked first, welcoming the tall, heavy-jawed young Svear warrior.
'My kinfolk are from Oeland, across the water to the west, but my father went north to find work at Birka and then at the Svear king's court', Herjolf beamed.
'King Erik, the one they call the War Winner, or the one who became king after him, Olaf Skotkonung ?' Rik asked, mouth open.
'I think it had to be Olaf', Gythi answered for Herjolf. who plainly did not know. 'Erik has been dead for over twenty years. Let him speak for himself'.
'If I only knew', Herjolf allowed that he knew little. 'I was taken as a youth with my father to Miklagard. He was killed by Turks, and the imperator Basil put me on guard over his treasure'.
'You guarded his treasure?' Gythi's jaw dropped.
'Aye, Herjolf was big in Miklagard', Hunding joked, 'and now he is bigger on Gotland!'
'Very much so', Tofig wanted to steer Herjolf away from talking about treasure. With so many men around unknown to the crewmen, they had to be careful about wagging tongues. Who knew who was listening? 'We need to get our stores and loaded on board, and mount a guard'.
'What have you to guard?' Rik was open-mouthed this time.
'Oh, you know. Weapons, belongings and such', Hunding took his turn in fending off questions, realising that folk might be around whose ears were flapping, taking in loose talk.
'Well, come with me, Hunding', Gythi crooked a finger at the Dane to follow him. 'Bring enough of your gear with you for a couple of nights, and I shall show you to your quarters. Then you can show your other crewmen where they are to rest whilst I and my wife Gerdrud busy ourselves with chopping wood and cooking for you'.
Later that evening, with Odd and Ealdwin on guard aboard ship, Hunding and Tofig sat warming themselves by the hearth. Rik entered the smoke-filled room with someone behind him and nudged Hunding from half-sleep.
'Hunding, I have someone here who wishes to see you', Rik shook the Dane fully awake and pointed behind him.
'Gauti, how good it is to see you again', Hunding shook hands with the blue-robed and hatted fellow guest.
Gauti doffed his wide-brimmed hat and sat beside Hunding. He nodded to Tofig and put a gnarled hand on Hunding's. He spoke slowly, taking in the seafarer with his one good eye,
'Rik's wife Asta had a dream last night... About you, Hunding'.
'Oh? What happened in this dream, nothing too bad I hope?' Hunding's smile faded when he saw Gauti's glittering eye fixed on him.
'Hear me out, Dane. I will tell you only once', Gauti sniffed. 'If you do not wish to hear, tell me and I will keep my words to myself'.
'Very well, then. Speak on, Gauti. I am listening', Hunding knew the old man did not have to tell him anything. He was not a know-all, out to tell everyone what they may already have known. What Gauti had to say would have a bearing on the days, weeks or even years ahead.
'You will make landfall on Sjaelland, I know. You must take on food and drink again, that much you know already. What you do not know is that you will cross paths with a young woman on Sjaelland', Gauti broke off here to take a cup of ale from Gerdrud. Hunding was listening now, riveted to the bench he sat astride, eyes on the old man. 'The young woman has something to do with the king, that is as much as Asta knows. The name of the young woman does not matter, but what I know does. She is of noble birth, a maiden fair and comely, and she will have the same dream as Asta before you reach Sjaelland. This much I have gleaned from the Norns, that from your seed will come a line of warrior nobles in the east. This may not happen in your lifetime, and your name will be unknown to the young woman when you reach Roskilde. She will give birth to a healthy son on Sjaelland. This son will not know his true father, thinking himself to be the son of a jarl slain on the orders of Svein's younger son'.
Hunding buried his head in his hands, not wishing to hear more. Was his wyrd merely to furnish noblewomen with his seed without them knowing who he was? He looked up to see Gauti leave the hearthside, blue cloak beneath the broad-brimmed hat. The old man looked back before vanishing through the door. Tofig paid no heed to what was happening with Hunding, he was chatting to a handsome young serving woman. On finishing his ale, Hunding stood and told Tofig he was going out to see all was well with the ship.
'If you must', Tofig did not even look up at him, 'although she is in good hands'.
He might have been talking about the young woman, being safe in his good hands. Hunding left Gythi's house for the ship, but his thoughts were not on the ship. They were not even on Wulfwila...Nor on the Erse beauty he remembered from Bornolm. His thoughts were on unravelling the name of the noblewoman he would bed on Sjaelland. Was Gauti spinning a yarn? No, the old man spoke in earnest. Always. He did not waste his words on the unworthy. If a line of nobles was to spring from his, Hunding's loins, then that was what Urd had foretold. Gauti - the Allfather in his worldly guise - had honoured him after all, Hunding Hrothulfsson, son of a fisherman from Sonderstrand.
Or was there more to the tale?
Next - 27: Red Sails in the Sunset
Who is Gauti? In Norse mythology Odin wandered the lands of Midgard - Middle Earth - in disguise as an old wayfarer. If you were aware, you would recognise the Allfather by the eye patch (or missing eye, lost searching for knowledge at the Well of Urd) and he usually wore a blue cloak and wide brimmed felt hat. Odin had many names when he was amongst the folk of Midgard, 'the Wise One', 'Old One-eye' amongst others.
Does this sound familiar to you? Try reading Tolkien, or watching 'Lord of the Rings'. The character of Gandalf is similar to the image portrayed here of 'Gauti' (or Hrani in The Saga of King Hrolf').
Odin, the Allfather
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