HUNDING'S SAGA - 14: BETRAYED - Lifing's Hatred Has Hunding Chained
Holmgard, Novgorod (Newburgh) to the Slavs
Lifing exacts revenge for being thrown overboard in Hunding's escape from Jumne
Without wishing to give anything away and offend his Aenglish crewmen, Hunding gave out that King Aethelred had many good fighting men in his kingdom.
After all, Osferth was doing well in this time of open trade, and Hunding himself gained from his master's overseas links. Another king might demand higher tolls on gains from trade with likely foes such as the Danes, West Norse or Svear.
However, bored with talking about King Aethelred began talking about his own realm. He was keen to show Hunding, Lifing and Tofig his golden wreath or crown.
'The emperor Vasili - you may have heard of him as Basil, we here amongst the eastern Slavs cal him Vasili - let me know through his legates that the rulers of old in Roma wore these in their day', Valdemar boasted proudly, showing off the fine workmanship. He even let Hunding handle it before passing it to Lifing and Tofig.
'It is well crafted, my Lord', Hunding and Tofig agreed.
'A thing of great beauty', Lifing added, his eyes narrowing.
Hunding gazed long and hard at the trinket, and, never having even seen the ealdorman of Northanhymbra, wondered to himself what the Danish or Aenglish kings wore when seated on their thrones.
'You are lost for words, I know', Prince Valdemar smiled warmly, or at least that was how it seemed..
'You are right, my Lord. I am lost for words', Hunding knew that what he really thought would offend the prince. He was thinking that whatever the great prince had paid for it, he had been robbed.
Lifing was thinking of a way to use Hunding's seeming lack of words to his own ends. It could be seen by someone of a suspicious nature as thinking of a way to lighten Valdemar's hoard. He was looking for a way to disgrace Hunding in the prince's eyes, putting together a plan to rob Hunding of the swords and have him taken into captivity - even worse, sold off as a thrall. Lifing also wanted Braendings Slange. He could put together a crew to take the ship to Jumne. Hunding's crew would not need a ship for some time - until freed to find their way home to wherever they came from.
Sverri, seated aft on Braendings Slange saw shadows on the river strand. The ship was beached on the other side of the river from the prince's own inner fortified Holmgard. All around were trading ships like theirs from other parts of the east and Varangia, lighted candles flickering in roughly made casings swinging by the masts in the light wind. Rus merchants' warehouses and homes loomed over the river bank in the darkness, pinpricks of light shining from lamps mounted on outer walls overhanging the river. Taverns rang with the noise of men toasting deals struck between Svear and Arabs, between Wends and Rus traders.
'Aesc, you and Odd go up to the prow', Sverri hissed behind his left hand. 'Ealdwin fo midships. Ravnsord and Skalpi stand here by me'.
'What is afoot?' Ealdwin asked, confused about this sudden rash of activity on the ship at this late hour.
'Hush! I do not know - yet. Just go forward. I shall let you know what to do before long, fear not', Sverri gripped Ealdwin by one elbow and gave the Aenglishman a light shove, then looked around again.
The shadows had stopped moving, Sverri noted. He stared into the darkness, trying to make out whether he could see shapes. A man stumbled behind him and Sverri rose to take on the man who would otherwise have struck him with a long-bladed knife. The fellow now knelt, unable to move on for fear of the tall, burly Dane. Sverri unsheathed his own dagger and shot forward. He could feel the man's lifeblood ebb away, but before he could shove the corpse away, another was on him... and another two. Others were on the deck now, Sverri saw from the corner of one eye, more than their own number. One held a blade to Ravnsord's throat.
'Lay down your weapons!' Lifing snarled at Hunding's crew. Sverri growled at the sight of the hated Lifing. How had he sprung back to life, when they thought that he and the fat steersman Brond had been dealt with? Lifing sneered at Sverri. He knew what his fellow was thinking.
'You are right to be worried, friend. Your shipmaster Hunding is being held for the theft of the prince's gold crown', Lifing looked to midships. for what Sverri did not know. The swords and fleeces had been taken to Valdemar's hall early in the evening.
'Fool - what would Hunding want with a crown?' Sverri snapped, then grinned to himself at the thought of seeing his old friend with a crown on his head. 'Where could he sell it, after all? Never having seen it myself, I would not know what to look for'.
'You might well ask, Sverri - where could he sell it? I think you know what it looks like, who would buy such a well-crafted trinket, or who might know those who would want to buy such a treasure', Lifing smiled crookedly and waved to the men with him. 'Seize him, bind him and bring him to the prince's garth. Bring the others with him, and two of you stand guard on this ship'.
Lifing had the crew marched toward a bridge that spanned the River Volkhov. A shout up to the guard had the gates to the prince's garth swung open. Sverri, Aesc, Ealdwin, Ravnsord, Skalpi and the others were pushed through the gateway, shamed by bindings on their hands like common offenders. They gasped, however, when they saw Hunding and Tofig in front of them in the dimly-lit yard, chained like bears.
'What have you done?' Ealdwin yelled at Hunding, fearful for his own life. Hunding gelt a blade against his shoulder blades and stayed silent, biding his time.
'Your master stands accused of the theft of Prince Valdemar's gold wreath crown', a Rus nobleman called out from behind Hunding. A giant of a man, his blond hair twisted into plaits over his ears, this fellow looked as though he would brook no argument. Ealdwin and the others were stunned. All eyes turned to Hunding, but his tongue was tied. He added smugly, pointing to Hunding's and Tofig's heavy iron chains, 'You, as his crew, might have wished him freed. We have ensured that such a threat will be no threat at all'.
'I for one do not believe Gunding would have done that!' Ravnsord shouted back.
'Such trust is misplaced in him', Lifing sneered, ready to push Sverri onward. But Sverri stood firm, feet planted wide apart on the hard-packed earth of the yard. One of the prince's Rus guards strode up behind him and sought to trip Sverri over his long spear. The guard himself lost his footing and fell forward onto a muddy patch. Ravnsord and Skalpi laughed, only to be dealt back-handed slaps across their mouths by Lifing.
'You will laugh differently when you are all locked away!' Lifing snapped and Sverri grinned as Lifing fell backward over his outstretched foot.
'Take him to the water gate and see how he laughs in the morning - in the drowning pool!' Lifing ordered, livid. Two guards shoved Sverri away, the three of them vanishing into the darkness. The rest of the crew watched after them in stony silence. Lifing cackled, 'Sverri will be bound to a stake in the still freezing river tonight. Then we shall see how he laughs!'
The nobleman stepped forward to stand beside Hunding, whose costly new spun silk shirt had been torn when Valdemar's guards manhandled him to kneel before their prince.
Next: 15 - CHAINED
Norse influence on the young Rus state would manifest itself in the outward appearance of its warriors, although court dress looked east to Slav influence
Tracing Novgorod's history through the Mediaeval Chronicles, how the east was won - Rurik and a band of chosen warriors left Sweden east across the Baltic in response to a plea from the Slavs. By the 11th Century a new era would begin with Valdemar (Vladimir) 'the Great' and reach a peak with Jaroslav 'the Wise'.
Holmgard - Novgorod
Novgorod is the eastern Slav for 'Newtown' or possibly 'Newbury/Newborough', Holmgard is the Norse for 'Island stronghold', as 'Koenungagard' was Norse for 'the king's stronghold' at Kiev/Kiyiv, and 'Miklagard' was the 'great stronghold' of Constantinople (see also Micklegate in York = the great or broad street).
The ruler of Novgorod was a prince, later also to be prince of Koenunagard.. Two of the most famed princes of Novgorod were Vladimir or Valdemar to the Norsemen, and Jaroslav allied to the Byzantine head of state Emperor Basil I, 'the Bulgar Slayer' who sent Greek Orthodox missionaries on Jaroslav's request. Jaroslav would be known in perpetuity as 'the Wise' for the Christianisation of the Rus states (Russia).
In these stories I have portrayed Valdemar as being envious of Basil's crown. This is pure fiction for the purpose of bringing adventure into Hunding's time in the east, not to blacken the prince's reputation.
*See also 'VIKING - 40: Rurik And The Rus...' about the establishment of the Rus state.