HUNDING'S SAGA - 7: WEIGHING ANCHOR, Seaward to the East

Sailing close to the wind

Battling the North Sea out of the Humber on the way east to the Baltic
Battling the North Sea out of the Humber on the way east to the Baltic | Source

Out of the Hymbra, into the foaming sea

Weeks later Lifing sent word to Osferth and Hunding by way of Wulfstan that the ship was ready to be launched. He let it be known also that he had bought a barrel of cider from a Danish trader who had sailed out from Northmandige during the week. If they would come downriver with their silver - Osferth, Wulfstan and Hunding - they could drink to riches gained from their venture in the east.

Hunding saw nothing of Wulfwila the day he set out for Grim's by with his partners. She was with her mother at Maeltun and had allowed him a peck on her right cheek before she set off with Aelfgar and Leofsige for Richale and the Deorewent on Osferth's river knarr 'Hwita Hors', white horse.

'I shall show that huffy maiden!' Hunding told himself as he boarded Osferth's karve 'Cuthberhtes Miht', Cuthberht's Might. In its scabbard at his waist was his trusted longsword 'Slanges Kys', serpent's kiss. Stowed with his gear were his war axe 'Hvas Lyn', keen lightning and his shortsword 'Andvaris Tunge', Andvari's tongue. Andvari was the dwarf robbed by Loki of his gold. Each of his weapons had been made for him by the ealdorman's weaponsmith at Bootham before he had come to know Wulfstan, and cost an ealdorman's ransom. The old man did not hold that against him, he was wealthy enough already. Hunding's own weapons made men green with envy, and now he was to sell Wulfstan's weapons to the Rus princes in the east - maybe even further if needs be, to Miklagard. .

He knew that he would have to strap on one of Wulfstan's swords when he called on the princes in the east. With 'Slanges Kys' at his waist he would be hard-pressed to sell the swords when they saw his own. That would defeat the aim of the venture.

Lifing played the host at the launch of Haesten's newly-crafted ship, and only let his guests see her when they were tipsy. Not that there was anything wrong with her, but she carried a red sail - the colour of the Jomsvikings' sails. Haesten was nowhere to be seen, Hunding noted, and asked after his whereabouts.

'He was told about some tall ash trees near Lindcylne that would be useful for mast-building', Lifing lied. Haesten had really been sent to Gaegnesburh - a lot further away to the west - on a fool's errand for Lifing before the sail was taken on board, and would not be back before they sailed.

Skuli was aboard Osferth's karve when Hunding sailed away with Lifing's crew aboard 'Braendings Slange', the surf serpent. Although it was Hunding who told Osferth about the boats sailed by kings and jarls at home, the merchant wanted to give her a Christian name. He wanted no God-forsaken heathen names that Hunding might have thought up.

Skuli knew about the Jomsvikings. He had onceover sailed with them, but he was not going to tell Osferth about his dark past - not that the merchant knew one Dane from another. When he saw the colour of the sail aboard Hunding's ship his eyes narrowed, but he could do nothing. The little karve could never catch up with his friend's ship for him to pass on a warning. He hoped Hunding would not fare too badly at the hands of Lifing's friends. At worst he might be sold as a harem guard to a wealthy Emir. That, he knew, would spell the end of Hunding's ways with women. It would also bring about a change in his way of talking.

It was early afternoon when Braendings Slange left the north Lindisse lee-shore, with the low skyline of Holdernaes vanishing behind the waves aftward to port. Lifing's chosen steersman was Brond, a Dane Hunding had never seen before. He was a squat, heavy-jowled fellow with dirty brown hair that stuck out like cropped straw from below the rim of a bedraggled Rus fur cap. Brond was not the kind of man Hunding would want as a crewman, but if he knew his way across the sea to the Skagerrak and the Kattegat, and then on past Bornholm, then why should he worry? It saved Hunding having to keep a hand on the steerboard handle to steady the ship's path through the waves.

Brond kept the Hunter to his port quarter of the fore-year's night, the North Star a little further beyond to midships as they closed on the northern cape of Jylland. The land showed from time to time when the waves dipped. As the seaward-most lights of Hirtshals flickered in the half-grey of the fore-dawn, Lifing nodded to Brond to alter course. The steersman shifted hius grip on the handle of the steerboard so that the prow edged almost due east, with the low grey cliffs of Gotaland half-hidden to Hunding behind the prow strakes.

Lifing figured to stop off for supplies somewhere near Skagen, eastward from the tip of Jylland before turning south again for The Sound. Laesoe was kept to starboard, followed - at about the time a weak sun raised its crown above the Gotaland coastline - by little Anholt. To port Helsingborg's ramparts looked dark and forboding with the sun's light poking through between towers. Sharp eyes took in every passing ship from the walls. No-one sailed past here without the king's officers noting down course and ship size. Soon Koebenhavn - the cheaping or trading haven - showed to the starboard quarter between the deck wall and the sail.

A town now, the fishing haven had grown rapidly through trading links with the pasture and grain-growing land behind to the west around Roskilde, and to the east, across The Sound, behind Lund in Skaane. Arab merchants wandered the market square, eyeing up other men's wares. These traders from far away beyond the Volga might call next at Hedeby, unless Viking freebooters scoured the mouth of the Sleifjord and southern end of the Lille Baelt for someone to rob or take to sell into thralldom.

Salted herring, ale, fruit and other everyday supplies were taken on and stowed forward near the mast, ahead of their heavily tarpaulined cargo. A few fishermen looked up and gazed idly at Braendings Slange as they mended their nets. One asked Hunding what was hidden by the covers.

'A little something from Jorvik for Vladimir, the Grand Prince of Kiev', Hunding answered, grinning coyly. 'It is his birthday soon. King Eadred of the Aengle and his lords wish to show friendship'.

'Must be worth something', another fisherman mumbled, beavering away at his nets. Brond stared balefully at him from under heavy brows, dark eyes glinting in the weak morning sunshine.

One or two of the Arabs strayed from their friends, and neared Hunding as he stood on the strand with his back to the ship. One spoke in his own tongue to his friend, the other asked their guide - a Rus merchant - to speak to Hunding.

'You have merchandise for the east, my friend wishes to know?'

'We have goods we are taking eastward from here', Hunding nodded as he answered warily.

Lifing called from where he was seated on one of the rowing benches, smoking a pipe, pale grue-grey smoke drifting lazily around his head,

'Hunding, what does he wish to know?'

'He wishes -' Hunding began, but the Rus merchant cut in,

'I would like to see what you have covered behind the mast. If it is worthy of sale, it must be worthy of being seen. Do you not agree?'

'It is worthy of being seen by Prince Vladimir himself', Lifing lied. He had heard Hunding say something to the fishermen about the Grand Prince of Kiev and took his cue from that. He kept his own counsel about where he really wanted to see them go, and he meant them as a gift to his friend Palnatoki at Jumne!

The Rus merchant, his interest whetted, was about to add something but he shrugged and turned to his Arab friends, telling them what Lifing had said. They too shrugged and together they walked away again. One of the Arabs stopped to look over one shoulder at Hunding before turning on his heels to catch up with his friends.

'We will be sailing when the tide gets up again', Lifing hissed across at Hunding. 'Come back aboard again and perhaps no-one else will be tempted to ask. This cargo must be kept under cover or else the salt air will get at it and before you know, rust sets in!'

'Braendings Slange' slipped through the Oeresund under oar power past Malmoe, her sail still furled. Not until they cleared Saltholm did they head for the open sea and drop sail. The late afternoon sun bathed the sail in a golden light, turning the deep red of the canvas into a bright rust.

'We shall see Bornholm soon, eh?' Hunding grinned at Lifing. The older man smiled coldly, still thinking of his reward, Hunding would be enslaved and could never go back to Jorvik lest he be blamed for the loss of Wulfstan's wares. He and Lifing would never meet again anyway and Master Osferth would lose standing amongst the traders in Deira for hiring a freebooter such as Hunding for one day Lifing would make sure everyone in the burh knew the young Dane had taken up with Palnatoki. He would show up again in Jorvik, put about a tale of Hunding trying to kill him for Wulfstan's merchandise, and show the marks of a flogging earned long ago trying to double-cross a Rus noble. The good folk would shake their heads at Osferth's foolishness and go about their ways. In time Osferth's life would be back to what it was before he met Hunding, but he would know better! Hunding's name would be dirt in Northanhymbra, his sweetheart Wulfwila wedded to some thegn who might take her away from the shame of Hunding's memory.

Lifing merely told Hunding to put his head down ahead of his early watch.

'Rest', he told Hunding, putting a hand on Hunding's right shoulder in an outward show of friendship, 'we have a long day ahead'.

Hunding watched the ship's wake for what seemed to Lifing to be a lifetime, and then walked forward to where he would rest the few hours. He lay awake, watching the sky darken above the red sail. He watched for a long time before finally drifting off into deep, happy sleep. He dreamed of the riches that would be forthcoming on swords made from Aenglish steel, and the fleeces would fetch a sizeable mound of silver in the east, too. Osferth had assured Lifing of that, and he in turn had let Hunding know Osferth's words. Was Lifing not a man of the world, a trader like himself?

Lifing turned to Brond and signalled to steer south-east for the Wendish coast. Brond drew the rudder arm to himself and the prow shifted around through the cold, black night waters of the eastern sea for Cape Arkona.

Next - 8: Taking Flight

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Glossary, place names between Jorvik (York) and the Eastern Sea (Baltic).

Pronunciation guide: 'g' in mid- or word-end as 'y' (Northmandige = Northmandiye); 'y' in the same way as German 'umlaut' 'u' (Jylland = Juelland); 'ae' as 'e' in 'belt' (Lille Baelt = Lille Belt); 'j' as 'y' (jarl = yarl); 'oe' as German 'umlaut' 'o'; holm - island or river eyot/ait

Aenglish - English; Bootham - York's north-westerly quarter; Arkona - Baltic peninsula, now North Germany near Sassnitz; Bornholm - Danish island south of Sweden; Deorewent - Derwent, rises near Scarborough, flows via Malton to Riccall; Holdernaes - Holderness, East Yorkshire; Jumne (Jomsborg) - Wolin; Jarl - highest ranking nobleman below king - Earl, introduced to England by Knut in 1016; Jorvik - York; Jylland - Jutland; Kattegat - sea between Denmark and Sweden; Lille Baelt - Little Belt, narrows between Jutland and Funen (Dk); Lindcylne - Lincoln; Lindisse - Lindsey, North Lincolnshire, includes Lincoln; Maeltun - Malton, North Yorkshire; Miklagard - Constantinople; Northmandige - Normandy; Richale - Riccall, on the confluence of the Derwent and Ouse; Rus - Swedish Norse military in Russia; Skagen, Skagen Point - northernmost mainland Jutland; Skagerrak - sea between Norway and Denmark; Sleifjord - inlet, west side of northern Jutland; Wendish - Polish;/West Slav;


 Braendings Slange eases around Skagen at the north of Jylland,, the first leg of the way east to Holmgard
Braendings Slange eases around Skagen at the north of Jylland,, the first leg of the way east to Holmgard | Source

Led by Palnatoki, the Jomsvikings were based on the Wendish coast, what we now call Poland. Their lifestyle and rules were strict. It is enough to say at this point that Hunding would not have wanted his ship - paid for with his hard-earned silver - to fall into their hands with Wulfstan's swords and wool bales .

See also VIKING - 8: 'Clashes in the Fjords' etc

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Comments 2 comments

jgshorebird profile image

jgshorebird 16 months ago from Earth

Trouble for Hunding...


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 16 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Lots more trouble in store for Hunding, jgs. Some otherworldly goings-on ahead as well.

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