HUNDING'S SAGA - 5: THE BAIT, Lifing's Lure
Viking kingdom of Jorvik and the Danelaw
LIfing offers Hunding a share in an undertaking to the east
Remember Hunding was found starving and cold by the old fisherman Ulf after the the lad's hamlet was raided for slaves to be sold in the east. Think back also that Hunding made his way west to Ribe to find a ship that would take him anywhere, to forget the misery and loneliness of losing his kin. Ulf and his wife had offered a home until he was old enough to make his own way in life. A new life, friends and love beckoned elsewhere - possibly across the sea.
He was now in Jorvik, had his friends, a taskmaster - and he had a woman, Wulfwila. Yet there was something missing. Hunding craved a life on the open sea, to find a corner for himself and to seek fame and, where offered, a real turn of luck in his dealings with new customers far away in the east. What was to come might offer reward worthy of a young man aiming high - or it might prove ruinous, but then Urd had a way with man's wyrd, or fate. You cannot escape your wyrd.
'Has anyone told you about the riches of the east?' a newcomer asked Hunding one night in the alehouse when he was alone, Osferth being at home.
'I have heard of these things, aye', Hunding finished his ale and thumped the beaker down onto the board. He screwed up his eyes and stared through the smoke at the fellow. 'Why do you ask?'
Tall, heavily-built but strong - to go by the thickness of his wrists - and greying at the temples, the newcomer looked well-off. but if he was moneyed, why did he need another's help shipping goods east?
'I was given word of a shipment of fine Aenglish swords and un-dyed bales of good, thick Dales wool that a merchant nearby wishes to trade beyond the Danish isles, but he has no spare ships. The owner, a well-known weaponsmith and wool dealer from Treske has a trading partner whose ships are out at sea coming from Dyflin and Hlimrekr with goods from the Erse Danes. If you could find a ship, there is a good market in the east for first-rate weaponry and woollen goods - even raw, untreated wool - from this kingdom', the newcomer told him earnestly.
'Who told you about these swords and the wool?' Hunding searched the man's eyes for the lie he somehow felt was there.
'You know how word gets about', the guarded answer came. This, then, was no lie but all the same, knowledge of the man's background would be needed before Hunding was happy with this little nugget of news.
'How would you gain from my helping you take these goods overseas?' Hunding held out his beaker to be filled by the maid who wandered from bench to bench, half-asleep from the smoke and sweet smell of ale and mead - there were those who could afford it, the ale-house keeper knew - and slapped her backside as she tottered on to the next bench.
She laughed wearily and called out,
'You want me to tell your lover, Wulfwila, that you smacked my arse?'
'By all means', Hunding laughed back, 'if it makes you happy. She would never believe you anyway!'
'You are sure of that?' came her parting shot.
Hunding laughed again, smacked the board with the flat of his palm and sent the newcomer's ale slopping onto the board.
'Sorry', Hunding's smile went and he offered to buy another.
'No, Hunding, I will buy you another. What do you think?' the newcomer was still smiling. He knew Hunding had already taken more than his fill and was ready to press his good luck.
'Think... about buying me another ale?' Hunding snorted into his beaker.
'I mean about getting a ship to take the goods I spoke of', the newcomer smiled craftily. The line was baited.
'I will see Master Osferth', Hunding offered. Before lifting the beaker to his lips he asked, smiling, 'Who shall I say told me of the wares you say are assured of a merket in the east?'
'Say Lifing told you. I am staying nearby, with Wulfstan the weaponsmith. Everyone knows him, Wulfstan 'the White'', Lifing told Hunding.
'Wulfstan's swords are already being traded to the east by the Svear merchant Adhils through Ribe', Hunding set his beaker down on the board and stared hard at Lifing. 'Do you not know this, or have you another market for them you are not telling me of? There are many freebooters who would welcome a supply of well-made Aenglish steel swords! The Frieslanders, amongst others, who once traded in Frankish weaponry found the market had dried up on them when the Franks forbade merchants around the northern and eastern seas from selling their wares on beyond Northmandige and Aengla Land. I should walk away from you, Lifing. What can you say now that will make me think otherwise?'
'I can tell you that the Rus cannot get enough fine Aenglish swords to fight off the Avars, the Bulgars and Turks amongst others. Would you deny them the means to fight off their attackers, who could threaten the western kingdoms - even Christianity?' Lifing answered, weighing Hunding's knowledge, adding, 'They will pay - handsomely!'
He knew he had said his words well, and had silenced Hunding. Not being altogether worried about any threat to Christianity, Hunding nevertheless felt by this time that he would need to know more now... There was nothing more for Hunding to do but ask the 'where' and 'when'. This was the way to being his own master, with a ship of his own. Not that Osferth had ever denied him anything, but until he could look the man in the eye and say,
'Your daughter's hand is what I wish', on his own terms. So far he was still no more than a tool for Osferth to use as he saw fit.
They were alone in Osferth's riverside warehouse after Aelfgar had left with Ordwulf and Skuli for the night. Not being married men, the others had already gone to spend their hard-earned gains on ale and whores. Hunding felt it was the right time to sound out Master Osferth. The Aenglishman was not happy,
'I have no ships for you to take to the east, even were I so willing to let you go on my behalf', Osferth told Hunding when he heard of the venture. 'Besides, how long would you be away, for God's sake?! I need you here, where I can see you. forget about taking swords and wool to Holmgard, wherever that is!
'Your name would be spread far and wide, as the worldly-wise merchant from Jorvik who sent his men to the east -' Hunding was trying to sweet talk his master into buying into this bold venture. But Osferth just did not want to know.
'Anyway, the men - how many of my crewmen were you thinking of taking?' Osferth could not believe his ears.
'There would be Skuli' - Hunding began again, hoping to take at least his fellow Dane.
'Skuli is to sail with Aelfgar for Ribe on the morning tide. I was going to ask you to go along with them, to be another sword hand and keep the Friesland freebooters off my ship. You know those waters are crawling with them!'
'Osferth, you will gain in un-foretold ways!' Hunding tried again, to no good end. He could not talk Osferth into backing Wulfstan's and Lifing's business. 'Will you not even speak to Wulfstan, and hear from him what there is on offer in the east?'
'I will find out from Wulfstan what he is up to. He usually sends his wares through Adhils the Svear trader if he wants them to go beyond Ribe. I cannot offer anything, and that is all I will say - I will see what he has to say', Osferth was weakening, perhaps.
Once his master was out of the room, Hunding clenched his right fist and thumped the air. It was only a matter of time now. Once Osferth has the smell of profit in his nostrils, he could be talked into anything easily. Now there was only Wulfwila to speak to, but that could wait until the morning... or whenever he saw her next. There was no sense in looking for a squabble before anything was settled, agreed on. First her father had to hear for himself from Wulfstan what was on offer. Lifing would talk him into joining in.
Next:- 6: Braendings Slange
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