HUNDING'S SAGA - 39: Jorvik again, at last!
'I have done well by your counsel, Hunding. You have earned time away from the fighting', Knut told him.
He held a hand against Hunding's right shoulder. They stood at ease at the stern of 'Braendings Slange', sailing downstream past the haven of Brycgstoth. The Seoferna's current took them downriver and Hunding only needed to keep an eye on the steerboard arm whilst Knut chatted freely close by with Eirik of Hladir and Tofig. Thorkell 'Havi' had left with his men to go east, overland to Oxnaford and downriver from there. From time to time Knut turned to Hunding to ask about his time on the rivers in the east.
'You passed through Holmgard, you said?'
'I did, my Lord. Had you ever meant to sail that way?'
'Were I only to have the time, Hunding', Knut sighed aloud. 'I have other matters to see to now. One day, maybe...'.
Knut had agreed to share the kingdom with Eadmund. He was without care - for now at least. Carefree? Well, elated would be a better word, although there were many matters to be taken into hand, not least of which was that Ealdorman Eadric swore an oath to stay true to both kings. He needed to speak to Eadmund about that when they met again. In the meantime course would be set for Sveinsey when they reached the mouth of the Seoferna. This was where his father's ship had sprung a leak two years earlier and had to put ashore. Knut's father had a stronghold built on the river eyot he named Sveinsey, at the mouth of the River Tawi. Now Knut could make a stop-over on his way around his new kingdom - albeit shared. For now, then, he felt free of many of his worries. This would not happen again for a long time, he knew.
Hunding could not take too much time for thinking, meanwhile. His ship still needed to be steered, at least as far as Sveinsey off the south coast of Morganwy. He hoped there would be time there to sleep before taking the stormy seas around West Wealas. This was not the time of year to be caught in these waters if there was no need to sail that way. Nevertheless Knut wished to see his kingdom from the seaward side.
The stronghold on Sveinsey was open to the weather. Gates swung on their hinges and banged against the walls as the ships behind Braendings Slange drew up on the foreshore. No-one was about as Knut strode towards the yawning gap. Two of his men held back the gates as he passed into the garth and stood, crestfallen at the sight of weeds growing in the hall and outbuildings.
'Do you need this stronghold, Lord Knut?' Eirik asked.
'No, maybe not', the young lord answered. As king he would have to see things differently. Silver could not be spent on a stronghold no-one would use. There was no way anyone could hold this eyot against an attack from the mainland for long. He looked around and shrugged, 'It would be useful if this stronghold could be made to look like home for at least two nights'.
'My Lord King', a young man entered the hall behind Hunding and Tofig. 'My Lord King, there are men here who would speak with you'.
'Bring them to me', Knut shivered. The evening was drawing in and a fire needed to be lit in the hearth.
Eirik called for his men to bring wood to start a fire and ushered in a small company of men from the mainland. He beckoned Hunding to him and asked,
'Do you know their tongue, Hunding?'
'Not their own tongue, no. I know a few words they speak in Gwynedd, but I should think they know Aenglish', Hunding answered. 'I can tell the king what they want if they speak to me'.
'Very well. My Lord King, Hunding will tell you what they are here for if they speak Aenglish'.
'What is your name, friend?' Hunding asked the first man, who shrugged and tapped the shoulder of the man behind him who was talking with another of his men. They spoke briefly and the second fellow answered for them both,
'His name is Ifor ap Bleddyn and I am Rhys ap Llewellyn. We have word from Gwent for the Danish king here', Rhys nodded to Knut. The Wealsh would not acknowledge the right of Aenglish kings to be on their soil, let alone any from further afield.
Hunding told Knut what had been said so far, and the king asked what Rhys was there for.
'We are here to tell you that should you wish to restore your stronghold, you should pay a rent to me', Rhys told Knut through Hunding.
Hunding stared hard at Rhys for a short time, and Knut waited for him to pass on the Wealshman's words. When Hunding did not put in words Knut could understand what Rhys demanded, the young king gripped his right arm and demanded,
'Hunding, what did he tell you?'
Hunding thought it over at length, and by then Eirik was beside himself.
'This fellow wants you to pay him rent for this stronghold of your father's, my Lord King', Hunding told him straight.
Knut burst out laughing and his men laughed with him. Eirik was doubled up.
'I wish Thorkell had been here!' Knut roared, and Rhys took a step back, nonplussed. Ifor strode in front of his lord and made to unsheath his sword.
'Hold fast!' Hunding warned Rhys, pointing to Ifor's part drawn sword. 'Tell your man Ifor to keep his sword sheathed, unless you wish a bloodbath! My friends here would cut you down without so much as a second thought for this foolishness. This man is King of Aengla-land with Eadmund 'Ironside'.
'And I am the lord of Morganwy!' Rhys spat back. 'This is my land! Your king's land is a hundred miles east of here -'
'Do you wish to walk away from here, my Lord Rhys of Morganwy? My king has fifty-five crews here, how many have you?' Hunding did not threaten as much as warn of the likely outcome of a standing battle. Rhys understood and put his hand on Ifor's sword hilt. The sword slid back. The two Wealshmen stood their ground nevertheless.
'Tell Lord Rhys he is welcome to share our feast this evening', Knut grinned winningly. 'He is a brave, if foolhardy fellow'.
'I like his cheek!' Eirik chortled and offered a hand to Rhys, who took it, and shook hands next with Knut. He offered his hand to Hunding.
'Take it in the name of friendship!' Eirik blustered with Knut looking on, brow beetling.
Hunding shook hands with Rhys and smiled bleakly. It did not bear well with him that this fellow should demand rent from Knut for a run-down stronghold his father built. Still, if Knut did not take it ill, why should he?
Ale was brought from the ships, a hunting party was sent out by Rhys ap Llewellyn to find deer and Knut feasted with his men until the early hours. The men slept on the benches, as did Knut and Eirik, covered by their ship waterproofs. This was why his men would follow him to the ends of the earth, this and his heroism in the field. King Eadmund had witnessed Knut's leadership skills, and acknowledged his right to the kingship with him. Knut would be a strong king, but Eadmund had little time left. A boat but in on the following morning after Knut had risen, word came with the master of the boat that Eadmund 'Ironside' was sickening, fading by the hour. Wounds he had suffered at Assandun had worsened during the last fight and he was now at death's door.
'Hunding, you can sail for wherever you wish', Knut told him. 'Take Eirik with you to the east coast. I must hasten to Eadmund's side before he dies, and see to it he is buried with due honour'.
'My Lord King, I can take you back upriver, to Brycgstoth if you wish. My understanding is that King Eadmund would be taken to Oxnaford or Wintunceaster'.
'I thank you for your offer, Hunding. Tofig, see to it Hunding takes his ship as quickly as he can to wherever. Take Eirik to Gagnesburh, where he is to take ship back to Sjaelland, and go on - will you head for Jorvik or elsewhere?' Knut took Hunding's hand in both his and looked him straight in the eye, 'You are a good friend, Hunding. I should like to see you at Roskilde again one day, soon. I think Gunnlaug would like to see you, too'.
Storms tossed 'Braendings Slange' around the western isles beyond West Wealas, and the sea to the south of Defna shire was little better. They had to put in at Suthanhamtun whilst the sea raged, and days passed before the sea calmed enough to put out again. Rounding the point to the north-east of Dofnan another gale pushed them into land on Sceapig.
At last the mouth of the Hymbra welcomed them. There were times he did not believe he would ever come this way again, such were the threats to his life. Winds from the north-east meant that the beitass would be of no use in entering the great river. They would have to make their way upriver under oar, but that could not be undertaken before the tide turned. They put in at Grims by and Hunding sought out Haesten.
'Where are we going?' Eirik asked. He strode beside Hunding, with Tofig on his other side. Not knowing where they were, Eirik thought he would see for himself who had built the fine ship Hunding steered.
'If you wish to come along, we are going to see my friend Haesten. He is the man who built 'Braendings Slange'. I should like to see him again. He lived at Sonderstrand, near me. We were neighbours in childhood...' Hunding told of how, when he first came from Jylland, he met Haesten again after many years.
They stopped at the yard and Hunding sought out Haesten by sight. But there was nothing of him to be seen. Hunding asked one of the craftsmen,
'Where is Haesten these days?'
'Haesten, your master. Where is he?' Hunding was annoyed at the man.
'My name is Steinthor. I am the master here', the fellow answered, as much taken aback by Hunding as Hunding was at the news. Burly, with strong arms to guide his ship-building tools, Steinthor was not as tall as Haesten, but he was likely to be stronger from his daily tasks.
'Where is Haesten?' Hunding was at a loss suddenly. He had come out of his way and was looking forward to seeing an old friend, not that those he had known these past months meant less to him. 'He was the man who built my ship, 'Braendings Slange', and was a neighbour of mine from Jylland'.
'What was that name again?' Steinthor screwed up his eyes and stared long and hard at Hunding.
'Haesten', Hunding answered through his teeth.
'No, the other one', Steinthor's eyes opened and he looked heavenward.
'Braendings Slange', Hunding breathed out, thinking himself to be nearer his goal.
'Does anybody know about a ship called 'Braendings Slange'?' Steinthor called out loudly to his workers.
'I worked on that ship. Where is she?' one man answered, stretching an arm high to let Hunding know where he was.
'There you are'. It was Steinthor's turn to breathe out now. 'Gisli remembers. Do not keep him too long, we have a ship to finish within the week before the weather takes a turn for the worst. After-year rains and all that, you know'.
Hunding had forgotten how miserable the winter weather could be on this coast, how the wind gnawed at a man's very soul. How many months was it since setting sail for the east with Wulfstan's wares? He spoke with Gisli for a short time, learning that Haesten had vanished shortly before the ship left the Humber. They spoke a little longer before Gisli told Hunding,
'I had best get back to my work, Hunding. Steinthor is standing staring rivet-holes into me! I am sorry I know no more. Did you at least have a lucky trip? You have been away most of the year now'.
'We fared well, thank you', Hunding shook hands and left with Eirik and Tofig in tow.
'What do you think happened to him?' Tofig asked when they had gone a little way back to the ship.
'If you ask me, Lifing had a hand in that!' Hunding was angry. He was angry with himself that he had spared Lifing. He knew he should have cut down the serpent-hearted Lifing in the fight near Holmgard. Now Lifing lived the life of a prince in Holmgard, guarded against attack by the likes of Hunding. Haesten would have to be avenged one day!
Tofig could see his friend was deep in thought. He and Eirik said nothing all the way back to the ship, and Hunding stayed in his 'cloud' until well on the way to Gagnesburh. The tide did half the work for the oarsmen, as strong as it was, and Eirik was soon ashore again. He thanked Hunding and Eirik warmly, took his farewells and strode to the Danes' camp near the River Treonta. 'Braendings Slange' was soon on her way upriver again, to Jorvik.
It seemed to Hunding almost as if he were going home.
'It is Hunding!' someone called out from one of the nearby ships at the riverside wharf.
Odd stood up straight as 'Braendings Slange' slid by, and Osferth turned to see the ship as she neared. A new ship bobbed on the river by the wharf. Where was 'Sea Angel', he wondered, the ship that brought him from Ribe. There would be a lot of catching-up to do when he stepped ashore again.
'Hunding! How are you?' Aelfgar was the first to greet him with a bear hug. Osferth stood behind, happy to wait whilst his eldest ship-master quizzed Hunding about the many months he had been away.
Osferth's greeting was a little wooden, as if they had never known one another, but Skuli, Ordwulf and Leofgar were friendlier by far. The little get-together on the wharf was beginning to get out of hand, and men cursed trying to pass them. Osferth offered to take them all for a drink and the whole troop filed along the western bank of the river to a nearby alehouse where he was known and could pay later. Tofig and Herjolf were treated as old friends and soon the ale flowed freely.
'Where are Aesc. Ealdwin and Odd?' Hunding was suddenly aware that they were not there.
'Taking a load of cloth upriver to Aet Hripum', Aelfgar assured Hunding. 'They will be back in two days or so'.
Tofig was happy to know his Aenglish crewmates were well, and then Aelfgar asked about 'Braendings Slange',
'She is a good ship?'
'Indeed she is! She had taken us down the rivers in the east to Miklagard and back, We have been with Knut for the past two months or so...' Hunding knew he had said something wrong, but did not know what. 'She will need caulking, of course'.
'Word has it that King Eadmund died of his wounds at Oxnaford. He will be buried in the west', Aelfgar sobered suddenly. 'We are to have this Danish king of yours'.
Herjolf spluttered, ale dribbling down his cheeks and Tofig spoke up,
'I can tell you Knut will be a good king - better than the fool Aethelred!'
'That I can believe', Aelfgar nodded, but said no more. Osferth became aloof and swilled his ale, then left without a by-your-leave for his warehouse.
'What a homecoming he has given you!' Tofig grinned and patted Hunding's right shoulder. 'Drink up, friend. We will find somewhere to sleep for tonight and see what tomorrow brings.
'What a homecoming', the words echoed in Hunding's thoughts. No-one had said anything about Wulfwila. Where was she? Tomorrow would bring better, he hoped.
Next - 40: Knut asks Hunding to Roskilde
Locations, place names:
Pronunciation: 'cg' = g, 'Brycgstoth'; 'g' in mid- or word-end as 'y', 'Gagnesburh'; 'ce' = ch, as in 'Wintunceaster'; 'f' as v, 'Dofnan', 'Seoferna'; 'sc' as sh, 'Sceapig'
Brycgstoth - Bristol, Avon; Defna shire - Devon (shire); Dofnan - Dover, East Kent; Gagnesburh - Gainsborough, North Lincolnshire; Grim's by - Grimsby, North Lincs; Oxnaford - Oxford; Sceapig - Sheppey, North Kent; Seoferna - (River) Severn; Suthanhamtun - Southampton; Sveinsey - Swansea, West Glamorgan; Wealas - Wales; West Wealas - Cornwall; Wintunceaster - Winchester
Spending time in York? Why not visit the Jorvik Viking Centre on Coppergate, not far north of York Castle. Travel back through time, and visit the gift centre on the corner of the building for modern-day versions of crafted jewellery or books. Invest in this fine tome for your introduction to another world in another age.
Jorvik - Viking York
Although he has spent little time there in the past few years, Hunding sees Jorvik as 'home'. Many times he has sailed upriver from here, up the Swale, the Ure, the Derwent and the Wharfe as well as the Aire and Trent with goods for Osferth's customers. He knows the land well and looks forward to spending time there, despite Wulfwila having wedded a local thegn. He also looks forward to being with his friends, crewmates, even though they would not fight against their own king Aethelred and then Eadmund 'Ironside'.
However, he will not be able to settle before Knut calls on him again... What is the reason this time? Somehow Hunding has dark forebodings about this visit to Roskilde
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