HUNDING'S SAGA - 45: HUNDING BEFRIENDS IVAR*, Knut Fears For His Nephew's Safety

Ships at rest, Roskilde haven
Ships at rest, Roskilde haven | Source
Coin of Knut issued by one of his English mints
Coin of Knut issued by one of his English mints
A Danish lord or king's hall, with outside porch walkway by the doors.
A Danish lord or king's hall, with outside porch walkway by the doors.

'They want me to call myself Ivar Astridsson. I am Jarl Ulf's son!'

Ivar stamped his right foot in the dirt by the trackside. Nearby his small horse cropped the grass, seemingly unaware of the lad's outburst.

'What is so bad about being Astrid's son?' Hunding asked.

'Because I am not her son - Gunnlaug was my mother! You know that, I know that... My uncle, the king knows that'.

'Do you not think he means well?' Hunding delved. 'After all, many see Jarl Ulf as a traitor - I am not saying I think so, Ivar, but -'

'You do think so!'

'I hardly knew the man, your father. Much of my time was spent in Jorvik and elsewhere, you must know. What I know of him - aside from him being your father - is that he fought against the king, allied with the West Norse and Svear. Many Aenglishmen in Knut's fleet died in the battle at Helgeaa, that is as much as I know', Hunding told Ivar truthfully.

'Who told you that?' Ivar became testy. 'Was it Knut, Eirik of Hladir or Thorkell Havi?'

'It was Eirik -' Hunding began, and bit his lip.

'Eirk of Hladir and Knut are old friends. Eirik hated my father, he was jealous of him! How can you stand there saying you know little when you have been lied to?' Ivar was close to tears now, and Hunding hoped for a hole to open up beneath him.

'Eirik did not hate your father', Hunding felt he had to put Ivar right. 'He fought his king's foes and - unluckily or not, for Jarl Ulf - that brought him to where he would have to fight Eirik. What do you think Thorkell 'Havi' was doing at the time?'

'I do not know, Hunding. I know you are going to tell me', Ivar's lip curled.

'Thorkell 'Havi' was also at war with your uncle, Knut. He had been made earl in eastern Aengla Land but crossed Knut, as did Eirik once', Hunding fought his need to tell the lad what he knew. He knew more of what went on beyond Danish shores than what happened in Roskilde or elsewhere in the isles around the Kattegat or Jylland.

Ivar was young yet, he would learn what those around him thought Knut wanted him to know. It was more than their lives' worth to say any otherwise, but Knut was fair. He could have had Ivar sent away, as had happened to the sons of Eadmund 'Ironside'. Young Eadmund and his brother Eadward were sent east to the kingdom of the Svear. No-one knew their whereabouts after that. They might have been sent on, east, or they might have ended their days in a shallow grave, deep in the woods around Uppsala. Hunding could not tell Ivar that, however. No-one crossed Knut and lived to tell the tale; moreover Knut and he were friends. True he was a little afraid of the king, many were. Yet he was trusted.

Knut had asked Hunding to befriend Ivar. He wanted his shipmaster to show his nephew things most others in Roskilde were unlikely to know. He also wanted to send his nephew to stay with his good friend, Godwin, the Earl of West Seaxe. Godwin had wedded Ulf's sister Gytha after his first wife Thyra Sveinsdatter died in childbirth. Now he had three sons around Ivar's age who could perhaps help him forget his loss, his woes. It was the least he could do for him after his father was slain in the church of Roskilde.

'...Sorry, what was that?' Hunding knew Ivar had said something.

'You were deep in thought again, Hunding. Have you so many thoughts you find yourself mired in them?' Ivar smiled and reached out. Hunding took his hand and squeezed gently, and Ivar took his hand away. 'I am not a hall-maid, Hunding. Take my hand as a man would!'

'I would crush it, son', Hunding bit his tongue again, but Ivar had not heard - or did not let on that he had heard. Perhaps he thought nothing of it. Many a man said 'son' to a child, it was not new. 'When you are bigger we can shake hands like men. Something to look forward to, eh?'

'Aye, Hunding. something to look forward to', Ivar seemed then to want nothing to do with Hunding. 'When are we sailing for Bosanham?'

'Bosanham...?' Hunding was lost in thought again.

'Where my aunt Gytha lives with Jarl Godwin. That is an odd name, is it not - Godwin?'

'No more odd than Godred, Ivar. Godred was your uncle's forefather, at the time when the Franks threatened the kingdom', Hunding was used to the Aengle and Seaxan names. There was nothing odd to him about Godwin's name.

'Well, his sons are Svein, Harold and Tostig. They are the names of Danes, but Godwin - what does that mean?'

'Mean? Why should a name mean anything, Ivar? Does your name have a meaning?'

'My name means 'bow warrior'', Ivar said, throwing out his boyish chest proudly.

Hunding had to laugh. He had never thought of names meaning anything. He asked Ivar,

'So what does my name mean?'

'Your name is something to do with the old gods, uncle told me', Ivar answered brightly. Hunding smiled and ruffled Ivar's hair.

'Do you not think, then, that I might put a curse on you, Ivar?'

'You would never curse me, Hunding - would you?' Ivar was wide eyed.

'I might put a little curse on you', Hunding laughed, 'like making you trip on a molehill, perhaps'.

Ivar laughed, and made as if to stumble,

'Hunding, look what your old gods have made me do!'

Hunding laughed out loud and reached out a hand to pull Ivar to his feet.

'I am all right, thanking you', Ivar said a little stiffly.

'Worried I might crush your hand?' Hunding raised an eyebrow and smiled as Ivar poked his tongue out at him. 'I might put a curse on your tongue, Ivar. Put it away!'

'So what does the name Godwin mean?' Ivar went back to what they were talking about before.

'I think it means 'friend of gods, or God', Hunding did not think too long about his answer, but Ivar seemed happy with the answer.

'I shall ask which gods he is friend to', Ivar smiled mischievously.

'Whatever. He might just box your ears instead of answering', Hunding looked down at Ivar, walking along beside him. 'Think on it, Ivar. He is also an uncle, that is what uncles do'.

'My uncle Knut has never boxed my ears!' Ivar yelped, hands over his ears.

'Why have you got your hands over your ears?' Hunding asked suddenly, looking back down at him. They were closing on Knut's garth.

'You are also my uncle!' Ivar shrieked.

'So I am', Hunding stared open-eyed down at Ivar and laughed.

'How are you two coming along?' Knut came onto the track behind them. In answer to Hunding's unasked question he added, 'I have been hawking with Eirik. He has taken my bird back to the stables with him. Well, Ivar, how is Hunding shaping up as an uncle?'.

'He wants to box my ears!' Ivar yelped again and danced away from them both.

'What is this - you want to box his ears, Hunding? Why?' Knut laughed, turning to look back at Ivar. 'Why would Hunding box your ears, Ivar? What have you been getting up to behind my back?'

'Something I said about Godwin boxing his ears, being what uncles do', Hunding grinned back.

'I hope he boxes Ivar's ears red', Knut sniffed, 'he would probably have earned it!'

Ivar came up behind Knut and pushed him as hard as he could.

'Oh! Oh! Did you see that, Hunding? Ivar is bullying me?'

'That would be worth boxing his ears for', Hunding reached around and caught the lad by one arm as he tried to run away.

Ivar laughed almost until he cried when Hunding rubbed his ears and Knut stood, holding his sides, sore from laughter.

'I see I need not fear the pair of you getting on!' Knut laughed again. 'Oh, my! I have not laughed like this for a long time, such are the hard matters of ruling the kingdom!'

'He will sleep well', Hunding smiled, ruffling Ivar's white-blond hair again, and let him walk ahead whilst he and Knut followed, talking of the long sea crossing ahead. There was much to plan for. Hunding would need to send word to Skuli and Tofig, as they had sailed for Fyn. Herjolf, thankfully, was still around in Roskilde. There would be a full crew to find for 'Braendings Slange', too, as Hunding's Aenglish friends from Jorvik had long since left for home and those Danes who had sailed east with him had gone to their own isles, whichever they were...

The day came for Hunding to see that everything was well stowed aboard the ship. He took Ivar with him to look over 'Braendings Slange'. Young Beorn Astridsson and his brothers, Svein and Osbeorn, were unable to join them, their maids being busy in the hall. Knut, too, was fully taken with matters of law.

'Tell Godwin I shall be back in the summer. Also, Aelfgifu will need to know when I am back in Northanhamtun. Her sons Svein and Harold will be young men, worthy of being given tasks to help me rule this great kingdom of mine', Knut had told Hunding. 'I shall see young Ivar to your ship, if you will tell him, but tell him also that nonsense of being called Ulf's son must stop! He is not being taken to his aunt Gytha to keep him safe from me, rather I am giving him longer rein. One day he will have lands of his own here, near Roskilde, but he must be worthy of them'.

Next - 46: Leaving Roskilde

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Glossary of place names (with pronunciation guide: 'Sj' = Sy, Sjaelland; 'Sv' = 'Sw', Svear; 'Jy' = Jue [as 'umlaut' in German], Jylland)

Bosanham - Bosham, West Sussex, part of Earl Godwin's personal holdings; Jylland - Jutland, the long, broad north-south peninsula that projects from modern-day Schleswig Holstein [formerly Slesvig until 1864 when Prussia annexed it in a succession row]; Sjaelland - Zealand, Denmark's main island; Northanhamtun - Northampton; Svear - Swedes; West Seaxe - Wessex

[*There is mention in the RAVENFEAST series book four, "BETRAYED - The Net Tightens" of Hunding Hrothulfsson as Ivar's 'uncle when he arrives in Bosanham [Bosham, West Sussex] with the badly wounded Magnus Haroldson). See the RAVENFEAST page on this site for details, with a link to the Amazon.com/Alan Lancaster Author Page.

Enjoy the read.

The Viking Age - not all of it was about raiders who swooped on outlying coastal settlements, took away its women and youngsters for slavery and slew the men who fought back. Many Norsemen traded or followed crafts, toiled or had men to toil for them on the land. Kings and jarls did raid, although mostly they fought their rivals.

Knut at an earlier age. By the time Ivar left Roskilde for Bosanham the king was in early middle age. He died at the height of his powers in England in 1035 and was entombed in the old cathedral of Winchester
Knut at an earlier age. By the time Ivar left Roskilde for Bosanham the king was in early middle age. He died at the height of his powers in England in 1035 and was entombed in the old cathedral of Winchester

Ivar has rubbed everyone up the wrong way in Roskilde, believing as everyone does - and reminding them - that he is Ulf's son. There are those who would see ridding Knut of him as a road to promotion. So Hunding has to take him out of their reach to the safety of Earl Godwin's household at Bosanham (Bosham in modern-day West Sussex). As Godwin's wife Gytha was Ulf's sister, Ivar will see her as his aunt.

Hunding is sworn to silence as to his real relationship to the boy.

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