HUNDING'S SAGA - 3: A FRESH PAIR OF HANDS, Master Osferth's New Helper Hunding
Across Njord's anvil from Ribe to Jorvik, Hunding masters new skills
Hunding, Deckhand and Bodyguard
They had no time to speak again until the ship docked on the wharf in Jorvik.
'This fisherman knew you as a lad?' Ordwulf asked.
'He did. It is a small world', Hunding laughed and set to helping with the unloading.
'Master Osferth', Aelfgar greeted a paunchy, balding fellow who boarded the ship when they were halfway through the work.
'Do not let me stop you working', Osferth answered tersely, then asked of his steersman, 'who is he, another one of your strays from across the water like Skuli was?'
'He is a Dane, aye, and answers to the name of Hunding', Aelfgar told Osferth when the last boxes were safe in Osferth's waggon.
'What, another Dane?' Osferth closed his eyes tightly, opened them and looked heavenward, as if in prayer. He turned to Hunding to speak to him in his best Danish Norse, ''Aelfgar says you are a good worker. Do you want to work for me?'
'I thought I already was working for you', Hunding looked levelly at the merchant.
'Oh, we have a wit!' Osferth was not laughing, but behind him Aelfgar and his crew could not stop themselves. They were in pain trying to hide their mirth. The merchant asked further, 'Can you handle a sword?'
'I can handle one. If you hand me yours I can handle it', Hunding answered, trying very hard not to laugh.
'What I mean is, do you know how to use one?' Osferth winced at Hunding's cutting rudeness.
'I know how to use one, too', Hunding found it harder not to double up with laughter. These Aengle seemed to find it hard to speak straight.
'Can you fight?' Osferth finally asked.
'Oh, I can do that, too!' Hunding answered, grinning broadly, still holding his laughter but only with difficulty.
'Well then, you will be paid more, to come with me when I go to my gaming. You can make sure I am not robbed by those who envy my winning!'
So now Hunding was Osferth's bodyguard as well as deckhand. 'This had better pay well', he thought to himself. 'if I have to look after his purse as well as put silver into it!'
Osferth paid the crew for their work, but chided Aelfgar good-naturedly for his lack of spirit in not sailing to Hedeby and gaining better prices for his wares.
'Perhaps I should go with you, to seek out the traders who pay better?' he said sourly. 'Who are the Jomsvikings anyway?'
'The Jomsvikings are cut-throat freebooters, who make the Friesians look like monks or innocent children', Skuli cut in. 'They trade in thralls, too. You might just as easily find yourself being worked to death by a Rus chieftain as being used as a harem eunuch in Baghdad'.
Osferth thought over this for a short while and answered,
'That could not be so bad, surely? It would make up for being a thrall'.
'Oh, they feed you well, and you are given fine new clothes - and a big sword to stand guard over the Caliph's women', Skuli told him, stifling a laugh.
'Would a man want to be paid at all with work like that?'
'They also cut off your manhood', Skuli, Aelfgar and the otherts burst into guffawing, leaving Osferth looking sourly at them. Hunding stood grinning at the unworldly Northanhymbran trader.
Of course, the merchant was well-off in his own little world, in Jorvik. Let those who know better take to the sea and its perils. He would pay well for Hunding's sword-arm, at least. They rode to horse-racing around the broad dale north of Jorvik and further east to Beoferleag or Maltun. His own household was in Jorvik - or Eoferwic, as Aelfgar and Osferth kept saying - but his wife, Wulfgifu had a household at Skakkelthorp near Maltun. He had a daughter, too. Wulfwila drew men from everywhere with her good looks, so Hunding was asked to keep them at bay as well. Still, that came to more silver, and soon he was well-off enough to have a sword and axe made for him by a well-known weaponsmith, Harding, who had his workshop nearby to Osferth's house by Bootham. Some of Harding's other customers were young nobles, such as Eadmund the ealdorman of Deira, the southern hald of Northanhymbra. This meant naturally that Hunding needed to dig deeper into his purse just to have the axe made.
This ealdorman also played Hnefatafl with Osferth, the Norse game they both enjoyed, even though they were wary of the Danes around them, and the West Norse who set themselves up in small burhs such as Hviteby and Skarthiburh along the coast. The Norsemen's love of dice almost cost Osferth his horse when they were in the part of Treske known as Suthreby.
A local thegn admired Osferth's mount and thought he would like to have it - one way or the other.
'I will play you at dice for that mare', the thegn, Osulf told Osferth.
'I do not wish to play for her. She is mine already', Osferth was upset at the likelihood of losing the mare, and Osulf had a name for cheating at dice.
'Osferth, if I did not know you, I would say that you were afraid of a fair gamble. How would that look to everyone if I told them you did not dare play dice on your horse?' Osulf taunted him.
'Very well then', Osferth finally agreed, much against his own better judgement.
'Are you sure? Hunding asked his master. There was an awkward hush, during which the thegn and his cronies went indoors to play dice whilst Osferth plucked up the nerve to join them.
'I-I am sure', Osferth did not convince Hunding. He had been to other dice games with Osferth, nearer to jorvik, and had picked up a few hints on throwing dice so they were more likely to bring him good luck. He was also iven weighted dice once, as 'thanks' for keeping Karl from his enemies.
Karl was another thegn who lived near Richale on a bend of the Ose who lived with his young wife Sigrid. Once, as a younger man he courted the daughter of a Seaxan thegn, Cuthwulf, who had been given land near Jorvik by Aethelstan. He once gave her a piece of amber that he bartered for a Frankish sword inlaid with garnets. The amber held a whole fledgling bird and was worth much more than the sword, he was sure, but Cuthfleda threw it back at him, sobbing with grief for the tiny bird. He had better luck with Sigrid, who gave him two handsome sons and a lovely daughter, a pleasure to look at. Hunding gave Osferth Karl's dice.
'What are you giving me?' Osferth stared at the young Dane when he held them, feeling the uneven weight of the dice, weighing them.
'I am giving you your mare', Hunding pushed Osferth toward the door into Osulf's hall.
Osulf rolled his dice first, then Osferth rolled Karl's dice. The thegn's eyes popped at the six and five the merchant rolled.
'Best of three, then', Osulf stared in disbelief at the double sixes on Osferth's dice. A more worried Osulf kept still after Osferth's next roll. Not wishing to be seen a loser, Osulf blurted, 'Best of five'.
Osulf and his friends grumbled when Osferth and Hunding left with Osulf's own mount trotting along the road behind Hunding's horse on their way back to Jorvik. Osulf's horse was a stallion, a pure-bred Dyflin-Erse raised animal, sired by the offspring of one brought from Dyflin by Sigtrygg 'Squinty' before Aethelstan browbeat him into becoming a brother-in-law and at Brunanbuh defeating the only likely allies he could have called on to help him. Osferth rode ahead of Hunding with their prize, splashing through the beck, hard-pressed over the two-score miles back to Bootham as if their lives depended on it. Well, their manhood might have become forfeit if Osulf caught up with them. He was a bad loser, and his men lost sight of Osferth and Hunding some way south of Tholthorp.
Next- 4: Wulfwila, the cool one
Read how a dig at Coppergate developed into more than mere archaeological interest. Near the Castle and the Ouse, Coppergate (Kopargata, the street of coopers or barrel makers) was at the heart of Viking Jorvik, virtually destroyed when the Normans burnt down the buildings in 1068 close to their new timber castle to clear the view. The fire spread and engulfed the cathedral that stood as a ruin for years. The Jorvik Centre became a magnet within the new shopping precinct, queues often winding around the small square. The museum shop sells interesting artefacts, books and Viking-oriented memorabilia.
Osferth is a Northumbrian merchant
...of Aengle - Anglian - descent and would know his city as 'Eoferwic', the city or burh his Danish counterparts know as Jorvik. We now know it as York. Osferth is a pragmatist. He needs men who are able-bodied and who can learn quickly. In Hunding he sees more than an able deck-hand, and will come to rely on the young Dane also as a bodyguard when he goes gambling. A man with loaded dice makes enemies, and the man who can look after him is well worth his salt!