Hunding's Saga - 51: The Prince, Hunding's Crew Welcomed Anew in Holmgard
Closing again on the lands of the Rus
Eirik Lifingsson made Hunding, his crew and the youngsters Ivar and Osbeorn welcome. Food and drink were brought for them and Eirik begged their forgiveness for having to leave them whilst he saw to something for his lord and master. Valdemar's heir Svyatopolk was entertaining Arab merchants, he told Hunding, and had been offered wine. They had turned the wine away and now Eirik had to find sherbet from somewhere.
'Where does anyone find sherbet?' Eirik groaned.
'Do you have beet?' Ivar asked.
'Beet - ' Eirik mulled, and prodded the air with a long, bony finger. 'Why - we do but how do you get sherbet from beet?'
'It is ground like wheat - no, crushed, squeezed and dried. Then it can be mixed with water. Add whatever spices or fruit juices you have', Ivar told him.
'How do you know that?' Hunding asked, taken aback that a young lad should know these things. .
'Am I wrong?' Ivar seemed suddenly out of his depth.
'I would not know', Hunding shrugged. 'All I asked was how you know'.
'Uncle Knut had guests from the east, and they would not drink his ale or his southern wines. One of them asked if we had beet and showed how to make sherbet'. Eirik stood beside Hunding, arms folded across his chest, one bony finger holding his chin, scratching his wispy beard. He stood, gazing, listening.
'That is all', Ivar finishes and Eirik seems to wake, as if from a long sleep.
'Very well then, I shall see to it', Eirik started back to Svyatopolk's state rooms. He would take the credit for Ivar's knowledge if all went well. Would he pass on any thanks to the youth? They were left to be waited on by the prince's thralls.
When they saw Eirik next he was wreathed in smiles.
'It went well for you then?' Hunding asked Eirik.
'What? Oh, it did - it did! They were much happier for their sherbet. They had so much of it they had to be carried to their beds by their own thralls!'
Unasked, Skuli put in,
'They might as well have had your lord's wine!',
Eirik stared and Hunding offered,
'My steersman is given to this sort of thing', Hunding put a finger to his forehead and twisted it, to show Skuli was a little weak-witted.
Skuli scowled and Eirik beamed.
'You will find somewhere to rest across the river', Eirik told them. 'Be ready at around midday for someone summoning you to my lord's side.
'All of us?' Hunding asked.
This time Eirik waved his bony finger from side to side and set his jaw before telling Hunding,
'No, only you and the youths'.
They followed Eirik from where they had waited in the fore-house of the prince's garth. Hunding thought back to when he came here many years before with his crewmen. Lifing seethed with thoughts of getting his own back for Hunding and Tofig 'robbing' him of Braendings Slange and its cargo of Aenglish weapons and fleeces. They at last came to where Svyatopolk awaited them with his eastern guests.
'Which one of you is Ivar?' the prince demanded.
'I am, Lord', Ivar stepped forward.
The prince beckoned him closer, leaned forward and peered at him from beneath thick, curling eyebrows. He asked,
'Your uncle was Knut?'
'Aye my Lord', Ivar wondered what was to come. He would not have to wait long.
'You told Eirik here', Svyatopolk turned to Lifing's son, 'about beet being used to make the sherbet my guests like to drink. Is it still made there?'
'I have been in Aengla Land these last few years, Lord. My uncle is no longer with us, although his son - my kinsman Harthaknut - is now king there when not beset by Magnus'.
'Does Hunding know?' Eirik asked.
'Hunding is in Jorvik much of the time -' Ivar shrugged.
'All the same, Ivar, you should be rewarded', the prince turned to the men from the east and beckoned them to his side.
'I am Ibn Saud', one of them held out a hand. 'My brothers and I liked the sherbet made your way so much, we thought you should have these dirhams in the casket'.
Ibn Saud handed Ivar the casket.
'My Lord', Ivar gasped. 'This is much more than the sherbet is worth!'
'It is yours, Ivar', the prince told him. 'Do not argue. Look after it, one day it may save your life!'
'Well, Ivar', Skuli joked when Hunding, Ivar and Osbeorn were back with the crew on Braendings Slange, 'you will be good for a loan now'.
'I think this will mean drinks and women for the next week or so!' Herjolf whooped and the rest of the crew collapsed laughing. He looked at Ivar and folded his arms before looking heavenward, 'Or maybe not'.
Ivar and Osbeorn sat on the aft-most rowing bench and looked into the casket again for the first time since the Arab prince gave him it. Hunding sat on the next bench to them and tried to look over the lid,
'For what will you use your dirhams? Have you had any thoughts since we left Svyatopolk -'
'Who or what is this Svyato - whatever?' Herjolf butted in and Hunding sat back, eyes tightly closed, trying to stop himself from doing something he would be sorry for later.
'Svyatopolk, Herjolf, is the name of our host', Skuli said for Hunding. Hunding himself tried to put on a dark scowl but could not pull it off. He grinned and shook his head instead, still unable to say anything. It was was if Herjolf had thumped him in the pit of his stomach. Skuli looked at him and asked if all was well.
'Thanks, Skuli', Hunding said at last, avoiding Herjolf's worried look. 'It is hard enough for me to get my tongue around'..
Eyes darting from Hunding to Herjolf, to Skuli and back again to Hunding, Ivar waited for Hunding to let him speak. At last Hunding looked back at Ivar and cocked an ear, ready to listen.
'I have not thought about it, uncle', Ivar answered warily. He knew Herjolf to be a close friend of Hunding's, but that the outburst had tried Hunding's usual calmness hard. Worried, he waited until it might seem to others that he had given it some thought, but shrugged instead. Hunding also shrugged and ruffled his hair playfully.
'You have time to think about it until we dock again in Bosanham', Hunding stood and called for the sail to be spread over the sail spar where it rested on the fore and aft posts. This would make a good tent for everyone not on watch to sleep under.
'Are we not staying here longer?' Aesc asked. He wanted to look around, as the last time they had come here there had been no time before they set off south again for Miklagard.
'We must go on to Koenungagard', Hunding told him. 'It is why we came. I have to speak to Prince Jaroslav. We can stay longer on the way back'.
'What is that about... ?' Ealdwin trailed off when Hunding shook his head. He knew better than to try shipmaster further.
'I cannot tell you or anyone here', Hunding smiled. 'This is between Harthaknut, me and Jaroslav. I should not even tell you that much. The less you know the better for us both, understand?'
Ealdwin understood. He was the only one who had asked, he and Aesc were the only ones now who knew beside Hunding - or even wanted to know. Hopefully they would forget, although they might wonder at some time in years to come..
'We have an early start. Watch will change when the salt has emptied four times - you know your watches, sleep well', Hunding wished them a good night and took the first watch with Skuli and Gudbrand. No-one saw the karve that pulled out from the foreshore along the river to the south. It rounded the bend upriver and vanished from sight in the darkness.
Mist-shrouded, 'Braendings Slange' pulled away upriver from Holmgard's foreshore. There would be some help from the wind when the river widened into Lake Ilmen, but until they were well into the lake there would be some hard rowing ahead. Not long after leaving Holmgard the river widened to what looked almost like an inland sea amid broad marsh. Little could be seen in the mist, although even without the thin mist there was nothing to see for miles whichever way anyone might look.
'How do you know which way to steer?' Ivar asked Skuli. Hunding nodded to Skuli and the balding, thick-set Jyllander waved wide with his left arm,
'Which way should we go, do you think?'
'South?' Ivar asked, looking over one shoulder at Hunding, who nodded again.
'Indeed, Ivar. South we are headed. Your uncle will tell you where we are going, I can only say which way we are going'.
'There is a sail ahead', Gudbrand told Hunding. He showed him. True enough, a red sail billowed to the south-east. The ship was on a north-westerly.heading - toward them.
'Steer south by south west', Hunding told Skuli and put his hands to his mouth to shout against a freshening wind, 'Put out the beitass to catch the wind better!'
Next - 52: Cornered On Lake Ilmen
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