HUNDING'S SAGA - 30: Tofig's Homecoming

Tofig in war gear - another side of his character, the warrior who will follow Hunding to Aengla Land to fight for Knut Sveinsson
Tofig in war gear - another side of his character, the warrior who will follow Hunding to Aengla Land to fight for Knut Sveinsson | Source

Early in the morning 'Braendings Slange' passed between Laesoe and Halland again on her way south.

Hunding and his crew had spent the night camped on a small treeless island near the broader isle of Marstrand, off the coast of Gotaborg. There were twigs and brushwood they could use for a fire, even flotsam from wrecked ships, all washed ashore by the Kattegat current, dried on the foreshore by the sun and wind. Around them were bare rocks so there were no worries about being taken unaware from either Marstrand itself, or from the seaward side.

Early in the morning they left the island, slipping between barren rocks. Recalling the way he steered through the half-light the evening before, Hunding took his ship around skerries that now stood higher above the waves. He was glad there had been enough daylight left the evening before even though the sun was well down by then, almost hidden by a reddy-brown fog to the west behind Laesoe. The men on the oars had to be careful about when they dipped the oars, fearing they might be splintered by rocks still half-hidden by idly slopping waves. Finally, gaining the open sea the sail was hoisted, the oars drawn and the beitass run out to catch what little wind blew at a very shallow angle into their sail through the Kattegat past Anholt. His course would lead them to the west coast of Sjaelland and on through the Great Belt.

First they would pass Gniben, the point on the north-west of Sjaelland. To the south from here was Sejeroe, and Braendings Slange would sail well to the west of this long, low island for no better reason than getting too near would be hazardous.

'We are now in the Samsoe Belt', Tofig called back to Hunding. 'We have to steer well to the middle between Rosnaes on Sjaelland and the belly of Samsoe. I will guide you through'.

Hunding raised his left arm to acknowledge Tofig, keeping one eye on the prow beyond which was the clear, wide open sea. Soon he could see Tofig jab a finger to his left and pulled a little on the steerboard arm. A point could soon be made out on that side.

'We are passing Fyns Hoved, the headland north of the Odense fjord. We need to pass further out so we miss Romsoe, off Hindsholm, or else kiss goodbye to the ship!' Tofig called back to Hunding, who pulled again to steer out into the Store Baelt, the Great Belt. He had almost forgotten how hazardous seafaring could be around his homeland. The time spent away on Northanhymbra's rivers and in the east had lulled him.

Suddenly he thought about Wulfwila, and wondered why she had come uppermost in his thoughts. With thinking about her Osferth came next... He was almost lost in thought when Tofig yelled out,

'Where are you heading for, Hunding - if you are sick of steering your ship I can take over! Steer away from Romsoe before we all come to grief!'

Hunding thrust away his thoughts and pulled hard on the steering arm, almost hard enough to wrench the arm off its mooring. They only missed the small island by yards and rounded the 'rump' of Hindsholm towards the Kerteminde Bugt, the bight where the fjord waters emptied into the sea

'Now - push hard, Hunding!' Tofig called out grinning, wiping his brow with his forearm in mock relief. The 'rump' swung round to steerboard around the prow and soon he could see the inlet. 'We shall be there soon. See, there are folk running along the strand along the south shore to Kerteminde'.

There were enough onlookers when Braendes Slange finally ground onto the strand. Tofig called out to someone behind him on deck,

'On your way home, Thorvald, can you call on my father? Tell him I am here and will be with him shortly'.

Thorvald nodded and answered,

'As soon as I am done packing my gear'.

'Whenever', Tofig shrugged and began stowing his own gear into his sealskin bags.

'You are not in a hurry to be home?' Ealdwin asked the Dane.

Tofig laughed, and those still on board who knew him laughed even louder. He answered, still chortling,

'We shall be here for days, my Aenglish friend. By the time we leave my father will be glad to see the back of me, make no mistake! And for my part I shall be only too glad to be on my way again!'

'Tofig is no different from other Danes, Ealdwin', Hunding assured him. 'Had my father been around and I older, we would have been the same. This long seafaring does that to a man. You are new to it all, and I think you may stay in Eoferwic when you finally reach home. I shall be glad to see everyone myself, but the sea is my home now'.

The hall they entered was dark within. Tofig led, behind him trooped Hunding, the Aenglishmen and Herjolf. Hunding had asked Herjolf if he would not sooner be let ashore after leaving Gotland, but he would not think of it. 'This ship is my home now, Hunding', the young Svear giant told him. 'You are better for me than my own kindred'.

'Father', Tofig called out. 'I am here!'

'So I am told. How long are you back for?' someone answered from the darkness.

'There you are, only here for a short time and he wants rid of me already!' Tofig grinned and vanished into the darkness.

'Hey, give me back my pipe!' the old man yelled, laughing. 'Oh, well. I shall have to get another one out of the box! Who have you with you? I hope you are keeping better company these days. That slimy Lifing was something to pass by, like a turd on the grass!'

'Lifing is in Holmgard, father. I have here with me Hunding Hrothulfsson and some friends of his', Tofig smiled at Hunding when he showed from the darkness again, 'come and meet them, father!'

Tofig's father was not old by any means, but he was blind. Son led father into the light and shielded his whitened eyes from the bright light.

'I am Gyrth. My wife Aethel died some years ago when she have birth to Tofig's younger sister Gytha. I have a woman, Torfa, who looks after me. Show yourself to our guests, Torfa, instead of hiding in my larder! Torfa was saved from freebooters some years ago, not long before I was blinded, and took over from Aethel looking after me'.

A tall, reddish-haired woman showed from the darkness and bowed to Tofig.

'You do not need to bow to me, Torfa. I have told you before, you are like a mother to me!' Tofig tried to put her right, but she bowed again and looked forlornly at her guests before asking Gyrth if we wanted drinks.

'Ask them, Torfa. I cannot speak for others, but I would guess they need to slake their thirsts', Gyrth slapped her rump as she left for the darkness again. 'She means well, but she is painfully shy -'

'Not like mother, eh?' Tofig gurgled like a child. 'You could never get a word in edgewise with her about!'

'Watch your tongue, son! She was a wonderful woman, but not for carrying children. She married beneath herself, so my father-in-law reminded me', Gyrth went quiet.

'You are as good as any man I know of, father - you were better with your sight! You keep putting yourself down, almost as if you were trying to prove Ulf right!' Tofig scowled. 'If he had not been killed at Svold I might have killed him myself when i was older'.

'Talk foolishly if you will, son, but Ulf was the master of his sword! Here you are, hardly home before I have to scold you again. A few beakers of ale will make you friendlier, I will warrant. Who are your friends, Hunding Hrothulfsson? Which Hrothulf was your father?'

'My father was a fisherman once... before the Jomsvikings killed him!' Hunding bethought himself for snapping at Gyrth, 'Sorry, Gyrth. I did not mean to snap at you'.

'I know, and it would not have been the Jomsvikings. That Lifing my son spoke of was indeed a turd. It would have been him who raided your hamlet. Did he kill anyone else?'

'My grandfather died on the strand, and a few other of our menfolk were killed. My father tried to stop them taking the womenfolk and older children. I hid behind some trees, on my way back from tending to our few sheep', Hunding recalled painfully.

'Your father Hrothulf tried to stop them? He was a brave man! I think he must have been more than a fisherman... Let me think. I remember a Hrothulf was served King Harald alongside me, and he left because he fell for a woman in Jylland, where he came from I believe', Gyrth smiled. 'Was your grandfather's name Arnhelm, and your mother Sige?'

Hrothulf was stunned. This man, father of his friend and crewman, knew his father Hrothulf! There would be memories shared in the evenings to come, and things to learn about his father... Perhaps even his grandfather!

'We have a lot to talk about, your friend, you and I', Gyrth told his son. 'Who are these others?'

'They are Aesc, Ealdwin and Odd, father. Aenglishmen from Jorvik'.

Aesc kept his lips tightly shut. He was a guest here, and speaking out of turn would be taken badly.

'I think they speak about their home as being Eoferwic, Tofig. Is that not true, Aesc?' Gyrth laughed. Aesc and his friends were dumbstruck, as was Hunding about the man's broad knowledge. 'I was not long with your father, Hunding, before he left. But he had a name with a sword! It is shameful how he met his end - shameful! We shall drink to his name, eh, Hunding? I was fond of him for the short time we fought side by side against the Svear and the Wends... Very fond, like a brother. Ah, those were the days. Bring me a chair, Tofig. I am weary!'

Hunding thought back on the day, long ago, when he saw everything that happened on the strand. One name Gyrth would not have known was Herdis', as her father was Sonderstrand born and bred. A fisherman, as Hrothulf became, but no warrior by any means.


Next - 31: Gyrth's Tale

Mediaeval map of Scandinavia makes Norway and Sweden look detached from Finnmark (Finland)
Mediaeval map of Scandinavia makes Norway and Sweden look detached from Finnmark (Finland)

Follow the progress of a modern-day longship, built at Roskilde in Denmark. Terminology and technology are described, images show what goes where, cross-sections show the clinker construction and keel. The ship was crewed by volunteers recruited on the Internet and sailed between Roskilde Fjord and Dublin via Norway and the Northern Isles

Tofig, a familiar character to followers of this saga...

... appeared in WAYFARER, book five of the RAVENFEAST series when the main character Ivar Ulffson crossed the sea to seek men and ships from his half-brothers King Svein and Jarl Osbeorn.

He appears again in book six, LANDWASTER as a background figure to son Gyrth (named after his grandfather). Hunding's friend Tofig tried to tell Ivar about his father's origins but Ivar would have none of it. He still thought of himself as the son of the murdered Jarl Ulf, and in any case he was on a 'mission' for his friend, the aetheling (prince) Eadgar. He agreed to go with Tofig and his son Gyrth to southern Jylland (Jutland) but saw it only as an interesting diversion and a waste of his precious time!

Ship motif belt buckle
Ship motif belt buckle | Source

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