HUNDING'S SAGA - 6: BRAENDINGS SLANGE, Sleek Sea Serpent On The Stocks

Braendings Slange would look like this under construction at Haesten's yard near the mouth of the Hymbra (Grim's by) (Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde)
Braendings Slange would look like this under construction at Haesten's yard near the mouth of the Hymbra (Grim's by) (Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde) | Source
Braendings Slange on launching. Hunding's ship would be a trading vessel, but also need to row like a Viking ship with shallow draught for manoeuvring overland between riverheads
Braendings Slange on launching. Hunding's ship would be a trading vessel, but also need to row like a Viking ship with shallow draught for manoeuvring overland between riverheads | Source
Shipbuilder's tools
Shipbuilder's tools | Source

Making ready for the undertaking

Days, a week passed and still Osferth said nothing. Then on the Lord's day, ten days later, Osferth beckoned Hunding close,

'As I cannot spare you a ship, Hunding, I will give you silver towards having one built. You have silver of your own, I know, much of it won from me at dice over the last Yuletide. You have also told me you saved much by not having had to pay for lodgings elsewhere. Do you know a good shipwright?'

'What about your own shipwright - ' Hunding began.

'Eadmund at Richale cannot spare any of his men. He has orders for three ships from Ealdorman Oswulf, paid for by King Eadred as a reward for ridding the kingdom of Eirik Haraldsson', Osferth spoke proudly about the new ealdorman's part in the killing of Eirik 'Blood-Axe', the self-appointed Norse king of Jorvik some years earlier, in an ambush on Stanamoor. He was a kinsman, after all, of Oswulf through his wife, Wulfgifu.

'Who else can I go to, to have my ship built?' Hunding threw up his hands in despair.

'You could try a man called Lifing, who has a shipyard on the south shore of the River Hymbra, at Grim's by. He has his own fishing fleet too', Osferth counselled.

Had his master met Lifing through Wulfstan - and why did Lifing not say anything about his shipwrights? How come he wanted Hunding to find a ship to sail to the eastern sea when he had ships of his own? Hunding stroked his beard, wondering, but said nothing. Osferth went on,

'Did you speak to Wulfstan about selling his swords, Hunding? He cannot remember saying anything to you about it. Perhaps someone else told you?'

Osferth was digging, like a wife. Was this what Wulfwila was going to be like when she grew older? Hunding shuddered at the thought and cast it aside in the hope he might be wrong about that at least..

'Someone else did tell me about Wulfstan's swords - and wool - that he wanted to sell in the east. He said others in the east might use them to fight off the heathen tribesmen', Hunding answered the first part truthfully. He then lied about who he heard it from, 'I do not remember his name'.

'Well speak to this fellow Lifing. I cannot think why you would enter into a venture like this without learning about those you wished to do business with. He has a shipwright by the name of Haesten Asgeirsson, a Dane. You might have a lot to talk over, as I have been told he comes from eastern Jute-land... as you do', Osferth clapped Hunding on the back and bade him follow to his counting house where Wulfwila sat scraping marks onto a black tablet as Aelfgar called out what was yet to be sold in the warehouse from the end of the past week.

'Hunding, how are you?' she did not wish her father to know she and Hunding were lovers, and kept her greeting to a bare few words.

Aelfgar nodded to them both and went on taking stock,

'...A score of wool bales from Wulfstan, to be sold by Lifing of Grim's by within the next three months -'

'He has brought them early! My God, we shall be out of floor room here if these bales are going to be in stock for that long. Can you see to taking them in the knarr, Hunding? You will be able to ask how much he means to ask for the building of a ship to take you east?' Osferth sqawked.

Wulfwila's eyes shot a look of alarm at her father, and then at her lover. He had unwittingly let his daughter know that much. The rest she would worm out of Hunding without her father's knowledge. It was Aelfgar who asked first, however,

'Master Osferth, you are having a ship built by that toady? He would have sold out your kinsman Oswulf to King Eirik had that Icelandic skald Egil Skallagrimsson not begun shouting out his new lay in honour of of the blood-thirsty heathen! Ealdorman Oswulf's luck was in that night', laughed Aelfgar.

'Needs must, Aelfgar. It is called trade. My business as a merchant is to ensure the movement of goods within this part of the kingdom, and around these islands. You have my trade to thank for our friend Hunding joining us, and I have Hunding to thank for my life when with my dice I won Thegn Osgod's fine horse at Threske. The weaponsmith Wulfstan at Miklagata told me about some swords he wanted to sell in the east. As I had no ships to spare for Hunding to take the wares I offered him part-funding. By the way, have we been given the swords yet, Wulfwila?'

Wulfwila tried to look Hunding in the eye, but he was having none of her wiles. He wanted to go east, to see new lands, meet and make new friends and - most importantly - seek his fortune. Wulfwila would wait. After all, it was for her he was doing this. Even if she would not wait for his homecoming there were other fish in the sea!

'Wulfwila, have we had the swords?' Osferth asked again, annoyed. 'What has got into you, child?'

'I am not a child, father. I am old enough to be wed, and bear children myself!' With this she reminded Hunding as well as her father. If Hunding was going off to seek pastures new, then she would look elsewhere for a man. There was Karl, the young thegn at Richale. Newly widowed, he would not go traipsing off to trade swords with unspeakable outlanders in the farthest reaches of the known world!

Hunding knew what was behind what she said, but as neither of them had yet told Osferth about their meaning to be wed one day - to each other - they would have to bear any outcome of his being in the dark about them being lovers.

Wulfwila pouted at her counting board, with Aelfgar going through Osferth's unsold stock, Hunding staring long and hard at her. He would miss that soft, wild rosebud mouth, the wide-open look of a young woman still in the dlower of youth, the warmth of her bosom. He wanted to keep her for himself, as she had said she wanted to keep herself for him, but in his drunken state he had given Lifing his word that he would take Wulfstan's wares to Holmgard, or to Koenungagard, or both. Perhaps in time - waiting for the new ship to be built - Hunding could talk her into thinking of his new-found wealth and the years ahead being together. For the sake of a few months away from one another she could wait, could she not? Would she wait? No, that was a foolish thing to ask. She would wait for him.

Seeing Lifing again at Grim's by put everything in the frame. Hunding's ship would be built - albeit half the cost being met by Osferth - and in meeting Haesten again they could talk about what Hunding was looking for in a ship.

'You are now a shipwright?' Hunding asked his fellow countryman.

'Well, how long is it since we last met after you landed from Master Osferth's ship on your way to Jorvik?' Haesten asked in turn, and answered both himself. I have been a shipwright and fisherman here from a short time after you first landed in Lindisse. You have been in the kingdom for - what is it? - five years now. I see your ships scudding past, oars up and down like horses' legs and somehow you never think to putting in and sharing a yearn, a drink or two about the old days. I am not only a shipbuilder, but a master shipbuilder! My ships have sailed through the eastern, the middle and the western seas with other merchants' wares on them'.

Hunding was taken aback by Haesten's answer, but he was right. Having come across the sea so long ago, knowing where he was, he ought to have put himself out a little to be friendly.

'On the other hand, you could just as easily have come to Jorvik with Lifing', Hunding said, folded his arms and looked straight at Haesten.

Looking abashed briefly Hunding thought he had him, but Haesten came back with a counter-claim, laughing,

'My time has been taken up with building all these ships and, when Lifing allowed, putting out my nets in the Hymbra for sand eels'.

That stopped Hunding in his tracks. They both laughed and gripped hands, knowing full well that neither was altogether blameworthy. Time passes, and before you know it, too many years have gone by. Haesten beckoned, crooking a finger and led Hunding to the back of the yard,

'Come, we will share a drink now. Someone brought some kegs from Northmandige, of an apple spirit they call Calvados'. Haesten stopped, turned in his tracks and warned, 'Go easy on it, Hunding. It lights you up inside like a white-hot weaponsmith's forge. I know Lifing told me you drink like a fish so be warned. This is not Aenglish ale!'

'We shall see', Hunding waved him on and they walked past men scraping wood, shaping planks with adzes and nailing down the deck boards of a new knarr.

'Yours will not be the usual trader's ship, a knarr, by the way', Haesten told his friend, licking his lips at the thought of seeing Hunding sprawled out, drunk because he would not heed the warning. 'Yours will be more like a small warship, with sepent heads fore and aft to ward off freebooters. How many crew were you thinking of hiring?'

'Not too many, I hope', Hunding followed into a cabin at the very back of the yard, below a low clay cliff and overlooking ships being crafted. Beyond them, across the river lay the north bank of the great wide Hymbra. 'We have our profits to think of, after all'.

'I feared you would say that', Haesten answered.

'Why? You are not bulding a full warship - are you? We would have too many crewmen to profit from the sale of Wulfstan's swords and bales of wool, surely?' Hunding drew his palms down over his cheeks, hoping he would not have to meet the cost of a full drakkar and the thirty man crew he would need to man her.

'There is no need to be down about it! Lifing is putting his silver toward the venture, as am I', Haesten pointed out. 'Between the five of us - you, Osferth, Wulfstan, Lifing and me - there should be enough to pay for a score of men to sail her.There are threats to deal with on such a long crossing. It is not as if you merely had to take cargo upriver, and your ship needs to be easy to handle between riverheads. You, Hunding will be the master. Lifing will leave the running of the ship to you and he will just be along for the ride, so to speak'.

'Lifing is going?' Hunding asked, open-mouthed, casting a look of dismay at Haesten. From what Haesten told him there would be more than enough to think about without Lifing. He took a sip from the walrus-ivory cup his friend offered, and almost spat it out again. 'By Thor's red beard, this is sharp stuff!'

'You can take a keg of this with you and get any foolish Frisian freebooters drunk who might board your ship. You can then throw them overboard for the narwhals and man the oars again!' Haesten grinned at the look Hunding gave him.

'This is far too good to give the likes of them!' Hunding held out the cup and asked, 'I should like some more, thanks'.

Haesten laughed, coughed and answered,

'I thought you might get the taste for it! I had best warn you, though, I have heard of men going blind drinking this the same way they drank ale!'

'You may not be wholly wrong about that', Hunding croaked, his throat on fire. He reached out for the keg to pour himself another cupful.

'This stays with me now', Haesten smiled, skilfully swept the keg out of reach and set it under the table. 'Yours will be on the ship. We will wet the baby's head with it, as they say here, on the day of the launch'.

Hunding stood by Osferth's steersman Leofric, licking his lips to taste the smear of Calvados that lingered well after he had left Haesten's side on the strand.

'You had lots to talk about? You may have caught up with things', Lifing had told him before shaking hands, wishing one another farewell, 'such as about the renewed raids around the shores of the eastern sea by Frieslander and Jomsviking freebooters. They have left a trail of burning hamlets from Jylland to Bornholm, I hear'.

'No - he said nothing about that. What he did show me was a spirit from Northmandige -' Hunding began.

'Ah, Calvados - did he tell you about the vat of cider?' Lifing tested, hoping to hook Hunding.

'Cider... what is that?' Hunding was hooked.

'Cider is also from Northmandige. It is a kind of ale made from fermented apples, very sweet, very drinkable, and very drunk-making!'

'I shall have to ask when I come back to look over our ship', Hunding made a mark in his thoughts, to say something about it to Haesten next time.

'You do that, Hunding my friend', the left corner of Lifing's mouth twisted downward as he set himself the task of getting Hunding drunk once they were out at sea. Between the Calvados and the Cider he would have Hunding on his knees, begging for more...Unable to think straight. He had other gains in store.

Next - 7: Weighing Anchor

Model of the Gokstad ship
Model of the Gokstad ship | Source

Like weaponsmiths, shipbuilders were sought after...

There was a form of hero worship accorded to shipwrights. Smiths were closer to Thor in their craft, passed from father to son on through generations. Shipwrights also used tools in a specific way, the results of their work took shape for all to see by the day. Time of year restricted them, however. Ships did not sail far in winter, maybe down the fjord to another town or settlement. Seafaring was hazardous in winter and few, if any ships built - repaired perhaps, although there was the fore- and after-year* for that before the raiding season began and after it ended. Emergency repairs might be made at any time.

Ships tended to be 'bespoke', built to order. A king, a jarl or a war-band leader would set a shipwright the task of building him a longship. A lord or king might even ask him to build a karve or launch of around ten oars, to take him on short trips down the fjord. You might have seen pictures of a royal barge from the late Plantagenet to the Georgian era. A karve was not unlike one of these. And then there were intermediate sized boats for fishermen, ferrymen or for inland - upriver - use between towns to take goods or passengers.

It was the longship, the warship that drew attention from friend and foe alike, such as the 'Long Serpent' ('Ormen Lange' built for Olaf Tryggvason that took people's breath. There was also the Gokstad ship in Norway that was never meant to take to the sea. It was a burial ship for a well-to-do woman (perhaps a queen or noblewoman). Then there were the Skuldelev ships, sunk in Roskilde Fjord to hinder Harald Sigurdsson's ships during the war with the Danes' king Svein Ulfsson/Estrithsson. One of these was tested scientifically and found to be built from Irish timber, very likely in Dublin. A reconstruction of this ship was sailed by a crew recently from Roskilde to Dublin via Norway, Orkney and Inner Hebrides. Find out about this ship in the paperback produced by the Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde, 'Welcome on board! The Sea Stallion from Glendalough', ISBN 978-87-85180-41-4 (or use the Amazon link below).

A trader might ask a shipwright to build a knarr, a vessel broader in the beam with deeper draught for carrying cargo between havens (one of these was also found sunk in Roskilde Fjord).

From selecting the timbers to hoisting the sail for the first time, a book that shows how a ship of the Viking Age would be built, the terminology and the parts of the whole. The ship this was modelled on was found on the bed of the Roskilde Fjord, sunk to hinder the raiding ships of Harald Sigurdsson in the first half of the 11th Century. She was found to have been built from Irish timbers around the Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains (to the south of Dublin), and the new ship was therefore named The Sea Stallion of Glendalough, built at Roskilde.

Sea Stallion leaves north along Roskilde Fjord for  the open sea beyond the Isefjord on course for Dublin by way of Norway
Sea Stallion leaves north along Roskilde Fjord for the open sea beyond the Isefjord on course for Dublin by way of Norway

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Comments 2 comments

jgshorebird profile image

jgshorebird 15 months ago from Earth

Calvados...Apple Brandy? I fear for Hunding's liver now...


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 15 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Introduced in trade after negotiating the River Seine, jgs. Cider was introduced here after the Norman invasion, mentioned in the RAVENFEAST books as 'apple ale', hitherto unknown in England. Apple brandy would have been known to merchants and their nobler customers (the ones with the 'readies').

Hunding's preference is for ale (or wine when he goes to Miklagard later on).

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