HUNDING'S SAGA - 46: Ivar Leaves Roskilde with Hunding

Setting sail for Bosanham in Godwin's earldom

Heading for Britain again, Braendings Slange passes the Frisian shore, to be chased by a small fleet of Frisian raiders
Heading for Britain again, Braendings Slange passes the Frisian shore, to be chased by a small fleet of Frisian raiders

'Ivar I am sending you with your uncle Hunding to stay with your aunt Gytha', Knut told his nephew one fore-year morning.

'But why, Uncle Knut?' young Ivar suddenly became fretful.

'Do you not want to see where your aunt Gytha lives, Ivar? Her husband, Earl Godwin has two sons of your own age who can teach you things and play games with you', Knut bent forward and held the boy by the shoulders. 'Astrid's sons Beorn, Svein and Osbeorn are young yet and no match for you now. You need boys your own age who will -'

The king was not allowed to finish. Ivar threw himself to the floor and sobbed hard. He could hear words, but they were muffled. Bending down to lift his nephew to his feet, Knut felt suddenly helpless. Young Ivar learned fast, he knew. He also knew Ivar told everyone he was Jarl Ulf's son. Unrest amongst Knut's followers, and resentment, simmered behind a front of seeming indifference.

His nobles wanted Ivar far away before another rebellion broke the Danish kingdom. In Aengla Land he would be harmless, the Seaxans of Earl Godwin's lands ignorant of Danish matters. He could say what he wanted there. It was either that or being smothered in his sleep, and Knut was too close to the boy to want that. His dead sister's memory would burn in his soul if he allowed her son to be slain.

'Believe me, Ivar', Knut lifted his nephew to his feet and pulled his tunic down, dabbed his tears and tried to soothe him, 'it is for your own good. You will be amongst friends. Who knows, you may get to like Bosanham and Suth Seaxe more than Roskilde'.

'I do not want -' Ivar began as Hunding entered Knut's rooms.

'Hunding, I was telling Ivar just now that he would like Bosanham. Have you been there?' Knut asked.

'If I have, my Lord King, I cannot say I spent much time there', Hunding answered, looking at a very distraught-looking young Ivar, wondering what Knut had already told his nephew. 'The ship is ready'.

'The crew are aboard?' Knut asked. 'And you have Ivar's things?'

Ivar's jaw dropped, Hunding noted. So he had been told little. Would the crossing come as a shock?

'I will not go!' Ivar yelled.

'I shall be with you', Hunding assured the boy, barely ten summers old. He had never been away from Roskilde, aside from sailing down the fjord and back on 'Braendings Slange'.

'I will not go!' Ivar screamed stamped his feet and rushes flew. He sped forward and pummelled Knut's chest with his small fists. Hunding could see the lad make his king wince. Did he wince with pain, or was it the awkwardness of having to calm down a child now he knew he was to leave his motherland, come what may.

'Ivar, Ivar! You will thank me one day', Knut blew out as Ivar pummelled him again. The lad finally quietened, sulking with his arms folded. Knut almost pleaded, 'Say your farewells to Astrid and your half-brothers, come on!'

The lad stamped his right foot on the rush-strewn floor again and walked slowly toward Hunding,

'Tell my uncle, the king, I do not want to go', Ivar whined, begging for help.

'We will be sailing beyond the Roskilde Fjord, Ivar, through the open sea and across past Skagen to the great, open, western sea', Hunding gripped the lad by his shoulders. 'You will be amongst men. Just think, you can hold onto the steering oar with me, as we leave Jylland behind. Think, son, you will be listening to the gulls screaming overhead!'

'Why did you call me 'son', Hunding?' Ivar was sharp, to pick up on Hunding's slip.

'It is a way of speaking, Ivar', Hunding sought to bypass Ivar's line of thinking. 'Men often call lads 'son', it is a way of strengthening a bond between us older men and young lads like you'.

Ivar looked askance at Hunding, then nodded. He seemed to understand what Hunding was telling him for his own good.

'Say your farewells to Astrid, Beorn, Svein and Osbeorn', Knut was happier now Ivar's anger was spent, 'then come back and we will go down to the foreshore together and meet Uncle Hunding's crew. I shall wait for you here'.

Ivar said nothing as he went with Knut's steward Atli to Astrid's rooms and the king talked with Hunding,

'The strain has been great, my friend. My nobles have threatened rebellion if Ivar stayed. Prattling about Ulf to his young friends has not endeared him, and even Beorn began despairing every time they came together. Astrid's sons have been told little about their father, and seem at ease thinking of themselves as Astrid's sons. They know little of him because no-one speaks of him for fear of angering me, although it is not I who they should fear but one another'.

Hunding nodded mutely, understanding. He knew of King Eadmund's sons, sent far away for their own safety - more from Knut himself than anyone else - to the Yngling king Anund Jakob. He in turn sent the children east to Holmgard, out of reach of Knut. There was no love for the Danes' king in the east, where they were finally sent on to Koenungagard. If crossed, Knut had a long reach. But his grasping fingers would not touch that far, his enemies knew. If he was not above having a jarl slain in church, in Roskilde, who was safe within the kingdom?

A pale, thin youth came into the room.

'Father, is it true Ivar is to sail away today?'

'It is true, Harthaknut', Knut told his young son.

The son who would one day be king did not look much the king's son. His mother, Ymme had been queen to the king Aethelred, Eadmund's father by his first wife Aelfgifu. She had two other sons, Eadweard and Aelfred, Hunding had heard. They dwelt in Rouen in the household of Ymme's brother Duke Hrothbert. Hunding wondered if Aethelred looked like his father, as Harthaknut did. Their kindred was odd, to say the least, seen through the eyes of many Danes. Some would say weak, aside from Harold Knutsson, who ruled his father's Aenglish holdings eagerly - some would say hard. He wished for more than to rule Aengla Land for his father, but he would have to bide his time as Knut's heir was to be Harthaknut, not him.

'I do not like Ivar', Harthaknut scratched one side his nose as he told his father what everyone knew. 'He lies'.

'Oh? What has he said that you know to be untrue?' Knut's brow arched.

'He said Jarl Ulf was his father', Harthaknut wheedled.

'And who is his father?' Knut asked, making sure not to look sideways at Hunding.

'I do not know', Harthaknut looked at Hunding, 'but it was not him'.

'Where did you hear that?' Knut asked sternly.

'The kitchen maids were talking amongst themselves', Harthaknut grinned, and then backed away as his father walked toward him.

'My son you will be no king, if you listen to kitchen maids!' Knut gripped a shoulder before Harthaknut could get out of reach. He laughed, bellowed with laughter and held his sides. He playfully clipped his son across one ear and asked Hunding, 'Did you ever hear such a thing?'

Hunding shook his head, smiled and looked down at the rushes,

'I would never believe anything kitchen maids said, even if they told me I was handsome'. He laughed, and Knut laughed with him.

'Go, Harthaknut. Remember you are my son, and listen to those who will guide you with good counsel. I shall be with you soon', Knut pushed Harthaknut lightly toward the door and watched him leave the room before thumping one hand into the other. The slap echoed around the room and Hunding wondered what was to come. 'Hunding, you heard that?'

'I heard, my king, aye', Hunding nodded sagely. He had a feeling he knew what was to come.

'It is high time Ivar was away', Knut hissed through clenched teeth as the door opened slowly and Ivar warily entered.

'Astrid wished me good luck', Ivar told Knut and Hunding.

'And your little brothers -?' Knut looked at his nephew sideways from under his beetling brow. 'Did they not wish you farewell?'

'They looked happy that I was going and danced around, clapping', Ivar half sobbed.

'Foolish behaviour!' Knut reached out. 'Come, Hunding, let us show my nephew to your ship!'

Ivar took Knut's hand, then let go again and half-ran to the door. He seemed suddenly happier, and called back,

'I told them I would see them again when i was a great landholder in West Seaxe!'

'And so you shall be!' Knut winked at Hunding and followed Ivar out of the room and down the wooden stairs to the yard. He added under his breath to Hunding close behind, 'This makes things so much easier'.

Out in the light of a still weak sun they made their way to the shore and picked their way through the shingle strand to 'Braendings Slange'. Hunding called out to Skuli,

'Friend, we have a new crewman!'

'He looks strong enough to man the oars!' Skuli called back, grinning mischievously. 'However well he does, it will be more than you!'

'Cheek! Count yourself lucky we do not use you to feed the crabs!' Hunding laughed and was welcomed aboard by Herjolf first, and when Tofig saw them a shouting match broke out.

'If the king were not here I would dunk you in the surf for making us wait so long! We will have some hard rowing before we're out of the fjord!' Tofig eyed Ivar and winked.

'His gear is aboard', Herjolf told Hunding, pointing to a roll of bedding and a shallow, long chest.

Ivar stared at the chest and looked back, up at Knut,

'What is that, Uncle?'

'That is yours, Ivar. Gifts given you as a small child by Jarl Ulf and Eirik of Hladir', Knut ruffled the lad's hair.

'Do you want to see?' Hunding asked Ivar, kneeling to undo the hasp.

Ivar crouched, mouth agape, eager. He looked long and moist-eyed at what was within. There was a long sword, wonderfully crafted, a shorter one that looked as though it made have been made at the same time by the same weaponsmith, and a long-handled axe. A Dane-axe, its handle was well-crafted with a grip low down on the handle, another higher along the shaft. Beneath them was a cloak.

'Are these all mine?' he looked up at Hunding and Tofig. Knut was nowhere to be seen. Ivar suddenly looked as if he might burst into tears, but he fought down the childish urge and grinned. He was amongst men now, no longer a child.

'We shall put ashore in the evening before turning around Skagen', Tofig told the lad. 'I will show you how to use your new toys'.

'Toys?' Ivar looked aslant at Tofig, and knew he was amongst men when he saw Tofig grin broadly down at him. The hall maids did not talk like this to him, nor Astrid or his young brothers.

'Aye, toys!' Skuli laughed out from where he stood by the steering oar, his big, plate-like hands wrapped around the handle and the crown of the oar. 'To the oars!'

Men seated themselves at their benches as others heaved, sweating, at the ship's stern and walls, before clambering aboard to join their crewmates at the oars. Skuli set the chant for the oarsmen and the crew took the weight of the oars with rhythmic grunting. 'Braendings Slange' was on her way, out along the fjord towards its mouth that pointed out into the sea like the mouth of a narwhal.

'This is the life, eh?' Hunding elbowed the lad across his shoulder and ruffled his hair before passing along between the rowers to the prow. He turned to look back at Ivar and beckoned, 'Coming?'

Next - 47: Bosanham

Look into the family history of Godwin Wulfnothson, Earl of Wessex. Wife Gytha was sister-in-law to Knut through brother Ulf's marriage to Knut's sister Astrid or Aestrith. Eldest son Svein was a brave warrior, the apple of his father's eye - yet flawed, spoilt, and nearly proved Godwin's undoing in 1051. Daughter Eadgytha was wedded to King Eadward, although no-one is sure whether their marriage remained un-consummated. Was he was firing blanks or was she was barren? Harold the solid one, warrior tactician, politician in the making. Tostig would be given the earldom of Northumbria in 1055 after the death of Siward, one of Knut's favourites. Read on...

The Godwins

As Ivar's father...

Hunding would have shouted from the rooftops that Ivar was of his making. Yet he was sworn to silence. Had she been alive to claim him as her son by Hunding, Gunnlaug might have affirmed it. As it was all believed what they were told, even Jarl Ulf believed Ivar was his, it was for the best. With his 'aunt' Ivar would be well looked after, with other young lads of roughly the same age. It was for the best that Gytha also believed they were of the same blood, that way she and Godwin were more likely look after him as if he were their own. Their own sons would come first, true, but Ivar would not go short.


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Comments 2 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Another great installment alan, and I love the photos that go with it!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Nice of you to say so, Nell. Of course you realise that where this saga leaves off, the RAVENFEAST series starts. The link is in the stories, and young Ivar will labour under the illusion he is Jarl Ulf's son long into the series (cf RAVENFEAST page)!

Watch this space...

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