HUNDING'S SAGA - 38: EADMUND's OFFER, A Share of the Kingship for Knut
'How far upriver do you think we need to search for King Eadmund?'
Eirik stood beside Hunding at the steerboard oar whilst the crew dipped their oars in time, the light of the lowering after-year sun catching their wet blades. The oars dipped again and again as the prow of Braendings Slange bit through the oncoming river before the tide turned.
Hunding scanned the shore to the south-east where Brycgstoth's haven lay hidden, wrapped in a shroud of thick mist behind the mouth of the River Afon. His eyes followed the riverbank northward, past the mast and around to the north-west, where the land rose steeply, blanketed in thick woodland. His brows beetled at the sight of the trees that came almost down to the Seoferna itself. He answered Eirik,
'It would not be wise to row far from here now. The daylight will soon be too little to be of any use to us. We should make landfall on the eastern bank'.
'What if Eadmund were in that mist there?' Eirik pointed south-eastward. 'What is in there?'
'The haven of Brycgstoth lies inland from the rivermouth. If their king were to be hiding there, we could cut him off from the heavily wooded land there', Hunding showed Eirik the lie of the land with a broad sweep of his hand.
'And were he to be there?' Eirik asked further. The men he had in the two-score and ten ships in the wake of Hunding's ship would not be enough to take on Eadmund on his own ground.
'Were he to be there it would take us too long to find him. The men we, Lord Knut and Thorkell have together would not be enough to prise him out before winter, and by the time the fore-year came round again he would have another army to put in the field against us', Hunding warned. 'These are the northernmost reaches of the old West Seaxan kingdom. Beyond is Mierca'.
'Ealdorman Eadric rules the land there for Eadmund, does he not?' Eirik turned to Hunding.
'With Eadmund in West Seaxe, Eadric would not need to be so helpful to us'.
'Is that what he is - helpful?' Eirik laughed. 'Well, he did not attack us at Assandun. I suppose that has to be a blessing'.
Tofig could not stifle a laugh, and added,
'We would have been mauled, like lambs by wolves!'
'We shall stay here, and if Eadmund is near the mouth of the Afon he will not try to pass us to go downriver. If he is in there', Eirik waved a hand towards the north-west, 'then we can bottle him up'.
On making landfall on the eastern bank of the Seoferna, Tofig and Eirik came upon a shepherd. Frightened, and worried his sheep would stray out of sight, the shepherd fretted when the Danes stood between him and his flock. Eirik beckoned Hunding and asked him to tell the shepherd not to fear,
'Tell the fellow we only need to know a few things'.
Hunding reached into his belt-purse and felt for a silver penny, showed it to the shepherd and asked,
'Tell me, have you seen a body of armed men?'
A blank stare met his question. He used different words a second time and the shepherd nodded with a jerk,
'Many hundreds! They came along the river, heading for the ford near Aerlingaham'.
Hunding passed on the shepherd's words to Eirik, handing over the silver penny as he did so. He asked about the name of the settlement he could see close by.
'That is Liteltun, my Lord', the shepherd told Hunding, but could not leave with Tofig and other Danes standing between him and his flock.
'We need mounts', Hunding told Eirik, 'to look along the riverbank here for signs of Eadmund's men. There is a thegn's hall to the east there, they must have enough'.
'Very well. Take some or your crew and ask', Eirik winked. He meant 'take them', but Knut did not wish to have more foes around him than he needed. They should buy what they needed, as long as Knut wished to reign as a 'friend' to the Aenglish, that is as long as he had Eadmund where he wanted him.
'Who are you?' One of the men called down from the palisade around the thegn's hall.
'We are friends', Hunding answered. The fellow wrinkled up his nose in disbelief and pointed at the ships.
'Are they yours? They look like Danish ships'.
'They are indeed Danish. One is mine', Hunding smiled. 'As long as we stay friends, you and I, we will get on. We only need horses for ten men for a couple of days, for which your thegn will be paid handsomely'.
'What if I tell you to find your horses elsewhere?' the fellow answered grimly.
'We will find our horses, but you and I will not be friends', Hunding smiled up at him against the darkening sky.
'I have no need of more friends', he smirked and made to stride away when someone else called up to him from behind the palisade. He turned back to Hunding and demanded to know what the horses were worth to him.
'Name your price', Hunding winced at the answer but reached for his purse.
A gate opened and other men showed. One beckoned and sniggered,
'Show me your silver'.
Hunding strode up to him with Tofig close behind. There were silver coins in Hunding's hand and the fellow reached out to grab them. The butt of Tofig's axe came down on his wrist and he cried out in pain.
'Give us your horses, unless you can bear to tell your thegn that you dared us to burn down his hall!' Hunding barked, Herjolf loomed over the fellow, frightening him further and the gate was opened wide for them to enter the thegn's garth. 'You do not deserve to live, but my Lord wishes you not to be harmed. I shall leave silver for the horses, and we will bring them back in a few days'.
The men within the garth shivered in fear as Hunding's crew-mates entered the stables and led out ten handsome, saddled mounts. Hunding dropped silver onto a table in the hall and left with Tofig, Herjolf and the others, riding the borrowed horses westward back to the river. Eirik of Hladir sent ten of his men as scouts, northward along the riverbank to search for the ford and look for signs of passing men and horses. By the time they returned Knut and Thorkell had showed at Eirik's camp, swelling the numbers twofold. They were now ready to take on Eadmund, wherever he might be.
The Danes followed the Seoferna northward to Aerlingaham and forded behind Knut Sveinsson, Thorkell 'Havi' and Eirik of Hladir, their ships moored midriver by Pentun. Several hundred stayed at the ford under Hunding to ensure Eadmund did not double back and outflank Knut's men. There was no need for them, however. After a half-day's fighting Eadmund saw reason.
Knut did not want Eadmund slain. With the great-grandson of Aelfred sharing the throne, Knut could be assured the kingdom would be ruled wisely. Should Eadmund be slain, life in the kingdom might be uncomfortable for all. Knut was ready to share if needs be.
'I shall be thankful for your friendship', Knut shook hands with Eadmund under the eyes of both armies. Another day was closing by the time they reached Eirik's camp near Liteltun. The Seaxan king was made welcome with his ealdormen and thegns, one of whom - Aelfheah - asked Eadmund, Knut and their following into his hall to share his ale and mead.
As he cast his eyes over their mounts, Aelfheah thought he knew them,
'By God, my Lord King!' he laughed, pointing at the Danish leaders' horses, 'I swear these are my horses!'
'What was that?' Knut dismounted on reaching the thegn's hall.
'These are my horses!' Thegn Aelfheah nearly choked, reaching for the bridle of the nearest one. 'And my saddles! How did you come by them?'
Eirik turned to Hunding and beckoned him over,
'How did you come by these mounts, Hunding, did you say?'
'I paid well for the loan of them, my Lord', Hunding answered, hurt at being accused - he felt - of stealing them.
'Who did you pay?' Thegn Aelfheah demanded to know, his brow knitting in anger still.
'I left the silver on your table above the hearth', Hunding pointed into the darkness within Aelfheah's hall.
'Sigeferth, do you know about this?' the thegn turned to look at the fellow behind him.
Sigeferth shrugged and whitened, backed away toward the nearest doorway ready to bolt.
'Eanfred, look within Sigeferth's lodgings and see if you can find - what, Dane, do you say you paid for the loan of my mounts?'
'I left ten silver shillings on the table', Hunding bridled.
'I believe him', Knut stared at Aelfheah. Sigegerth behind him looked worried. 'Are you trying to tell me my steersman is a thief?'
Eanfred came back and handed Aelfheah ten silver shillings he found beside a tall candlestick . Aelfheah wheeled around and looked askance at Sigeferth, who blenched again and went down onto one knee,
'My Lord, I do not know how the silver came to be in my lodgings', Sigeferth pleaded. 'Someone must have put them there to - '
'It was most likely you put them there. Stand on your feet like a man!' Eadmund hissed, grasping Sigeferth by one elbow. 'I am sure there are grounds for the silver being in your home, you being a thief being one'.
'My Lord', one of the thegn's maids pushed through between the men around Sigeferth.
'Let her through', Eirik beckoned to her.
'My Lord, I found the silver on the thegn's high table and, thinking it was my husband's wages took it and left it on his chest', the woman returned Eadmund's and Knut's gaze.
'Sigeferth, you do not deserve this woman! She would brave hell and high water on your behalf' Aelfheah laughed hollowly and told her to keep two coins. 'Keep that, dear Aethelthryth, or give it to your offspring. I should have your right hand chopped off, Sigeferth, you know that. Count yourself lucky I am only going to banish you from here. My Lord King, the matter is dealt with! Dane, I ask your forgiveness'.
Hunding nodded. It was not as if he had never stolen anything. Basil the Bulgar-slayer would have given his eye-teeth to seize Hunding and his crew. But then Jaroslav had threatened their lives to make them do his bidding. His reach was as long as Basil's.
'Truth, so it is dealt with!' Eadmund held the pain of his wounds well through his laughter.
Yet he would not be king for much longer in his father's realm, leaving Knut as sole crown-wearer for the next nineteen years.
Next - 39: Jorvik Again At Last!
A progression of kings from Aelfred to Eadgar, AD 871-1074, their lives in brief, their queens and mistresses, those who ruled under them - period background and timeline included, with fathers and offspring (in Eadward's case no offspring, succeeded by Harold, true heir Eadgar the aetheling was considered 'too young', although that wasn't the real reason. He was considered a 'foreigner', being born in Hungary where his father Eadward - younger son of Eadmund 'Ironside' held a castle in the south-west as a reward for helping Andrew to the throne)
A Guide to Late Anglo-Saxon England
Background to this episode, 38:
Having struggled, fighting the Danes under Knut Sveinsson before and after the time of Aethelred's death early in 1014, Eadmund 'Ironside' faces him again in battle at Assandun (Ashingdon in Essex) Knowing Eadric 'Streona' to be unreliable and a coward to boot, Knut finds it easy to deter him from fighting beside Eadmund and wins the day. Eadmund withdraws to the west and they fight again near the River Severn in Gloucestershire. Reaching no certain victory he and Knut arrive at the decision to share the kingship. However Eadmund dies of wounds sustained at Assandun before the throne sharing can take effect. Knut has Eadric executed, considering him unreliable in office, knowing he is apt to change sides when circumstances suit him..
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