Hunding's Saga - 2: Leaving Ribe, Hunding Sets out for Jorvik and a New Beginning
Jorvik would bring new challenges to Hunding's hitherto 'sheltered' life
On Across the Sea
That night Ulf, Gudrun and the youth Hunding lay deep in thought, about how everything might have turned out but for the meddling of Urd, the old crone who wove men's fates by the roots of Yggdrasil. There she sat with her sisters, Skuld and Verdandi at the well of knowledge, weaving men's fates and with no-one to answer to. Now Urd had torn apart their fates from that of Hunding. She had bound his fate to those of other men, and to the goodwill of Njord, the lord of the deep fastnesses where the narwhal lurked.
Morning came. Gudrun made Hunding his first meal of the day, the last one she would ever make for him, and tried to stem the flow of tears as she had done when her son Thjorvard left. Now, as then she could not bring a smile to her lips, even when Hunding comforted her and kissed her on her wrinkled forehead like a son. He gave Ulf a strong hug and, for the last time left the homestead. He set off to the west.
All day Hunding walked, and for some time into the darkness before he came across a wayside inn. The innkeeper was wary of the young fellow, who even at a young age had to bend to walk through the open door.
'Where are you going?' the innkeeper had asked.
'To Ribe', Hunding did not want to say much, The innkeeper thought better of asking more and showed him to a small room at the back of the inn, hardly long enough for the lad to stretch out. What did he want for the night's rest?
'Ask me in the morning', the innkeeper answered tersely. Two could play at that game!
Came the morning, after Hunding had eaten, he did ask again.
'How much silver do you have, young man?' the innkeeper pried.
'More than I shall give you!' Hunding fumbled in his money bag for coins and thumped a few down in front of him.
'That would not cover -' the innkeeper would have gone on but Hunding was already out of the door, almost knocking his head off in his haste on the low door lintel. The innkeeper finished, talking to himself, 'The maid's time in the kitchen'.
Hunding made good time.The sun shone still, brightly, far out on the sea when he stopped to take in the western Jylland trading haven of Ribe. Ships were rowed in over the crashing waves and, after some upriver rowing beached on the riverbank where the crews set out their wares. Hunding walked between them and emptied the crumbs from his food bag into the ripples of water made by the oars of passing boats. One of the seamen beckoned to Hunding and asked, half in earnest,
'Hey you - aye you with the bumfluff on your chin - what are you doing idling away there? Would you like to earn your keep and help unload these wares with us? You will be paid handsomely, this I swear on my grandmother's grave!'
Another yelled out, laughing,
'Your grandmother is still alive, Skuli! I saw her box you on your ears the last time you said that within her hearing! What are you going to pay him with anyway, earrings?
The banter went on and Hunding wandered on between the ships. Someone tapped him on one shoulder and he spun on his heels, hefting the axe given him by Ulf as a parting gift ready in his right hand to ward off an attacker, ready for a fight if need be.
'Whoa! Why do you need that over-sized wood-chopper - have you revenge in mind for one of these ship-owners? Have you been cheated of your wages?' The fellow grinned and held out his palms to stop Hunding from taking a swipe at him.
'I am looking for a ship', Hunding answered, lowering the axe.
'There are many here. Is this any ship, or one you know to be here?' he was asked by the friendly outlander.
'It could be any ship', Hunding answered tersely. His eyes narrowed in the glare of the sunlight glancing off the water, and shielded his eyes with his left hand.
'Well, any ship that floats, I think you mean', he heard the fellow laugh again and wondered whether he was being taken for a fool. 'You would not want to have to swim for your life, would you?'
Hunding answered gruffly. He was ready to shoulder the outlander out of his way and would not take this fellow's foolishness any longer,
'I mean any ship that will take me westward across the sea -'
He was stopped from such rash behaviour with an offer of friendship and a bench on a ship,
'I am Aelfgar and shall steer a ship back to the Hymbra and on to Eoferwic in the morning. After we have sold our wares we shall have goods to be loaded and taken back. We were going to sail round to Hedeby, but I was told the Jomsviking raiders are about again, so we put in here. My master, Osferth will not be happy with the return on his outlay because the Arabs and Rus traders would give me more for his leather, iron and woollen goods than I could get here. Still, beggars can not be choosers, eh?'
'Where is, er, Eoferwic?' Hunding was at a loss to know what Aelfgar was taking about.
'Eoferwic? I am sorry, I should have said Jorvik. I forgot you Danes have your own name for our burh', Aelfgar answered, and then had a thought. 'You do not know what a burh is, do you? I often forget myself over here. Sorry, again. Our by, or burh is Eoferwic to us, and Jorvik to you'.
Aelfgar threw up his hands, ready to give up because Hunding was glaring at him, unable to understand the prattling. He thought he would try one last time,
'I only ever come here when Beorhtwulf is ill. He knows this part of the world inside out. Anyway, the offer is there for you. We have a Dane who sails with us, the one who said something about 'bumfluff' to you. His name is Skuli, and he is a good friend to those who can take his off-handedness'.
'I will take your offer of a seat on the rowing bench', Hunding reached out a hand. He had a seat on a bench, at least, on a ship that belonged to a Northanhymbran called Osferth, with a steersman called Aelfgar. It was a start.
'If you do well on the crossing, I will ask Osferth to to keep you on as a ship-hand', Aelfgar offered, taking Hunding's outstretched hand. 'It is the best I can do'
'Your Danish is good', Hunding shook Aelfgar's hand and strode back along the row of ships behind the Aenglishman to their ship, the oddly-named 'Sea Angel'.
'Why do you name your ship 'Sea Angel'?' Hunding asked thoughtfully when they were nearer.
'Osferth is a Christian, as am I, Leofric and Ordwulf as well the the rest of the crew... All five of them Oddly enough, so is Skuli', Aelfgar answered, smiling. 'You are not, I think?'
'I am not what?' Hunding was bemused. He had heard that the king, Harald Gormsson had taken this new belief because the monk who turned him away from the old gods could cure his toothache. Harald, known as 'Blue-Tooth' suffered because he had a weakness for blueberries, and this monk from Hammaburg was the only man who knew a cure... at a price.
King Harald's son Svein, of the 'Forkbeard' was not sold on Christianity although he had agreed to being baptised. He had his hall on Jylland, far from his father's near Roskilde, with its many monks trying to bring the Sjaellanders the new faith.
'No, I am not a Christian', kept his eyes on Aelfgar as he fished around in his jerkin and pulled out his silver hammer, 'Mjollnir', on its chain, then stuffed it back.
To each his own', Aelfgar shrugged and smiled. 'What keeps you going is your faith, does it not? We once shared your gods, and then one of our kings took Christianity to get his Kentish bride. It was a small price to pay, even for a king'.
'We do not set as much store in our gods as you seem to in yours. The gods help those who help themselves', hunding grinned back at Aelfgar.
'And the devil take the hindmost', Aelfgar laughed.
'Who is the devil?' Hunding's eyes narrowed, thinking Aelfgar to be making fun of him.
'He is our evil one, like Loki', Aelfgar answered, breathing out. The look Hunding gave him was threatening. The Northanhymbran was not a warrior by any means; he left that to Leofric and Ordwulf. Skuli, Hunding would learn sooner or later, could and would turn his hands to anything.
As Urd decreed, Hunding's faith in Njord's goodwill was well-founded. The crossing passed uneventfully. Even the Friesian freebooters were elsewhere when they scored the wave-crests westward.
On the second morning the Danelaw coast was close enough to see lookouts searching the watery greyness for fleets of ships that might carry death and torment in the shape of raiders. When the small trading ship, or knarr entered the mouth of the Hymbra Aelfgar put in to shore to buy food and ale for a morning meal. The five of them sat astride the rowing benches eating and drinking whilst the fishermen of Grim's by went about their daily business of landing and selling their catches brought in from the sea.
Hunding asked how long he had to relieve himself before they set sail for the last leg of the crossing and was told he had time enough to look around before the ship put out again,
'We shall not be using the sail after we pass Richale, so I shall be looking for some flour for you all to dip your hands in', Aelfgar told him.
'Dip our hands in flour?' Hunding's jaw dropped in amazement. 'Why?'
'We will be rowing upriver on the Ose, and you will need to get a good grip on the oars because otherwise your hands would blister with sweat'.
Hunding swallowed hard and asked,
'How far are we rowing?' He had no inkling of the length of this river.
'Only from Richale to Eofer - , er Jorvik', Aeflgar smiled as he told his new crewman. 'It is not far, but we will be rowing against the current, as the tide has already turned'.
Hunding's usual way of dealing with long spells of rowing was spitting on his hands. Dipping them in flour was new to him. What did they do with the flour afterward?
'They use the flour then to bake dolls for the children, because it cannot be used for food', Aelfgar laughed loudly as he left to buy the flour.
Hunding then left for where Aelfgar said he might be safe relieving himself, away from prying eyes. On his way back he stopped to watch the men futting fish. One of them hada knife he knew, with runes carved into the walrus ivory handle. He asked the fisherman
'Can I see your knife?'
'Go and boil your -' the fellow began, then looked up at the young Dane. 'Sorry, here, look for yourself'.
Hunding looked at the knife handle whilst the fisherman sat staring up at him as if he knew him.
'My father had a knife like this, with these self-same runes carved into the handle. It was stolen from him one day by a neighbour. nothing was seen of this neighbour thereafter. He left our hamlet', Hunding recalled, 'and took his kindred with him. He had a small son whose name was Haesten -'
'Are you Hrothulf's son, Hunding?' the fisherman asked, staring.
'You must be Haesten Asgeirsson', Hunding might have cause to be overjoyed if this were an old friend. True, they had once played together on the shingle-strand, but that was long, long ago.
They looked at one another for what seemed an age until Hunding heard Aelfgar call out to him that the ship was ready to leave.
'You will want the knife back?' Haesten asked. 'Your father might like to see it again after all these years'.
'My father was killed by the Jomsvikings five summers ago, when they took my mother and Herdis -' Hunding was not allowed to finish.
'Your father was killed by the Jomsvikings? My father might have been one of them. He left us, my mother, my sister and me with an uncle here and vanished into the sea mists. Mother thinks he joined them because he rambled on about doing so whenever he drank himself into a rage. He hated this life, not that I blame him...' Haesten looked open-mouthed up at Hunding. 'You think it was Asgeir who killed your father? Well it may well have been, because he left us five summers ago'.
'Hunding, are you coming?' Aelfgar sounded sore-tried by the young Dane's tardiness.
'Keep the knife', Hunding told Haesten, and answered Aelfgar's call. 'I am done here, coming'.
Ordwulf turned to Hunding as they shoved the small ship back into the river. ,
'Who was that? You looked as if you knew one another'.
'We lived in the same fishing hamlet a long time ago', Hunding answered warily, wondering why the young Northanhymbran wanted to know.
'It is a small world!' Ordwulf whistled through his teeth, his eyes wide open.
Viking Age Jorvik street life
Hunding took in the broad river. As he turned to look left he had to shield his eyes against the bright sun in the east. He would know one day the name of the land on either side of the Hymbra, the rivers that fed the mighty waterway and the settlements that flanked them.
For the time being he set his thoughts on the task of rowing with the others, against the outgoing flow of the Ose as they rowed north.
'Osferth will like you', Aesc told him. 'We all seem fairly reedy to him, and some of his gaming friends would not think much of dealing with us if Osferth ever asked one of us to keep him from harm. I swear he used loaded dice, the dirty looks they give him in the street as they pass!'
'Aye', Skuli added, looking sideways at Aesc, then laughing, 'he's not one for scrawny little fellows'.
Hunding looked at Aesc, who merely patted Skuli on one shoulder and told him to steer well,
'We do not want to run aground again at Richale, as we did that time you were drunk - remember?' It was Aesc's time to laugh when Hunding smirked and strode away after Aesc to take his seat on a rowing bench.
'Whatever you say', Skuli answered drily and strode aft to the steering oar.
Someone pushed away from the riverbank at Grim's by and Aesc called out,
'Ready -? ' He looked fore and aft, and after nods from the crew yelled, 'Then row!'
Next - 3: Master Osferth
What was Jorvik like when Hunding came here? Take a walk back through time, when Dane and Englishman lived side by side in the capital of the North, traded, crafted, wined, dined and supped ale. A little background to visiting the Jorvik Centre on Coppergate. To the Anglian Deirans (Northumbria was at different times two kingdoms, Bernicia was north of the Tees as far as Edinburgh in early days under King Ine in the 6th Century) and Deira between the Tees and the Humber on the east side, north of the Mersey to the Lake District and Carlisle on the west side - this had previously been part of the Kingdom of the Strathclyde Britons before Halvdan Ragnarsson established himself in the Kingdom of Jorvik from AD 866). Several Norse kings including Eirik Haraldsson or 'Blood Axe' as he was known, ruled Jorvik until Alfred's grandson Aethelstan ousted Sigtrygg (pron. 'Sihtric') 'Caech' late in the 10th Century. Sigtrygg had been ousted from the Danish kingdom of Dublin a few years earlier. 'Caech' was Gaelic for 'Squinty'. During Hunding's early days in Jorvik the territory reverted to being known as Eoferwic under Wessex rule until Knut took the kingship after the death of Aethelred 'Unraed's son Eadmund 'Ironside' late in AD 1016.
© 2011 Alan R Lancaster