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Hunding's Saga - 28: Rognvald's Crossing - Did Hunding Know His Woman?

Updated on June 4, 2019

Rognvald brought with him his wife, bought in a far-away market. Hunding knew her... Or did he?

Rognvald - is the smile one of friendship, or has he something up his sleeve?
Rognvald - is the smile one of friendship, or has he something up his sleeve? | Source

'Braendings Slange' slid through the surf in the light evening mist, onto the strand. The crew set up camp for the night...

Aesc and Odd shared the last watch when horsemen came crashing through the trees toward their camp.

'Who is your leader?' the first rider demanded, holding Odd by his collar. There were three other riders behind him, one holding a bow with an arrow ready and aimed at Aesc's neck. He rubbed there, uneasy at the sight of an arrow that might fell him before he saw out another day.

'Last I saw, he was close by the ship', Aesc had answered truthfully. He was rewarded with a kick from the rider's boot.

'What ship?' came the question and he was spun round to see that their ship was no longer there. He was as nonplussed as the horseman above him, who brought down his fist on Aesc's shoulder.'I said what ship?'

'Well, as I said last I saw of Hunding -' Aesc began, and nursed his right shoulder blade. He flinched, sure another thump would come but the rider stared at him instead.

'Hunding Hrothulfsson? Is that the name of your leader?'

'It is. Do you know him?' Aesc folded his arms over his chest.

'I know of him. He failed to make a duty payment on the goods your ship was carrying', the man answered, now dismounted. He motioned the other three to dismount and tethered his horse to a tree. 'It looks as if he has turned tail again and forgotten the two of you. You will have to make your own way to Roenne, to see if you can find a ship to take you home. Where is home for you, by the way?'

'I and Odd here are from Eoferwic', Aesc told him.

'From where, Eofer-', the fellow started laughing. 'You mean Jorvik, surely?'

'I mean Eoferwic. We two are Aenglish, not Danes or West Norse'.

'You know about that, about the West Norse and us? I will give you your due, you know something of this kingdom at least. Kick over the fire and follow us, come on', Aesc was told, and dutifully strode down to the campsite where his crewmates had been lying around. He did as he was bidden.

As he turned to look at the Dane he saw something stir in the trees behind. To take the man's eyes away from what he knew must happen, Aesc looked the Dane in the eye and asked,

'Is it far from here to Roenne?'

'How fast can you run?' the fellow chortled by way of an answer. The other three laughed madly, then fell silent as they sensed they were ringed in by the rest of the crew. Only their leader did not yet know.

He was still looking down at Aesc when Hunding broke in,

'When you are finished, we can bind you and leave you for your comrades to find... Given time'.

'Who are you?' the fellow grinned, still unaware of his plight.

'I am the man who know the name of, from what I hear', Hunding smiled brightly, dangling rope. 'Turn around'.

'Hrolf, Tostig, Arnvid... Are you doing nothing about this?' the fellow snapped.

'Tell us what you want doing, Thorbrand, and we will see what we can do', one of his men answered and raised his hands into the air, rope already tied around his wrists.

'Aye, Thorbrand, tell them what you want to do', Tofig laughed and held out a length of rope, beckoning to Thorbrand. 'Come, friend, we do not have all day!'

'You did not think we had abandoned you?' Hunding grinned at Aesc and ruffled his tousled locks. Odd stepped forward, wanting to say something but thought better of it and made his way to where the ship had been. 'Wait until we go back, Odd. I do not think you know where she is'.

Odd shrugged and waited as the four riders were bound and trailed behind Ealdwin towards the trees.

'Tie them around the fattest tree trunk', Tofig pointed to an oak at the head of the strand and one of the Danish crewmen helped. He pointed to the crewmen, 'Skalpig and Thorold will help your friend'.

Once the four were safely tethered to a twisted old oak at the head of the strand the crew followed Hunding and Tofig back to 'Braendings Slange' nearby, out of sight of the inlet she had first been drawn up onto. Laughing and joking they waited until Hunding, Tofig and two others climbed aboard. They shoved - hard, shallow keel cutting through the surf once more, throwing up spray into the air. The rest of the crew were hauled aboard and the rest ran out the oars.

'Now we make for the Sound!' Hunding pulled hard on the steering arm to bring the ship around the point, watching out for the skerries. Once they gained the open sea between Bornholm and Skaane, the sail was lowered, rigging drawn tight and the beitass set to catch the wind that still blew at a shallow angle into the sail. They drew the beitass in again when the ship was turned into the southern end of the Sound past Trelleborg on the steerboard side and Sjaelland to the west. The sea narrowed as they neared Koebenhavn, a trading and fishing haven now growing yearly with the rising numbers of ships putting in.

Pulling in to Koebenhavn Hunding could see ships that did not belong. Three broad-hulled war ships sat in the shallows offshore from the bustling haven. He counted fifteen or sixteen oar-holes on his side of the first ship. Not as big as some of the warships he had seen in the past, in fleets led by Svein 'Tveskegg'. What they were doing here he could not begin to think. On passing the third he saw a dark standard at the stern. He wondered if Tofig knew whose standard it was,

'That is Thorkell Havi's ship', Tofig answered Hunding's thoughts before he could ask.

'Thorkell who?' Aesc asked loudly enough for Thorold to scoff. He challenged, 'Well? As you are so knowledgeable, you might enlighten me'.

'To you Thorkell Havi might be better known as Thorkell the Tall', Tofig said on Thorold's behalf. 'My friend does not know your tongue well enough to know what 'Havi' means to you. Thorkell Havi sails with Palnatoki, the leader of the Jomsvikings'.

'He is a Jomsviking?' Hunding asked. 'I might yet know where my mother and my friend were taken!'.

'I think you might find that was Lifing's business, and he is now in Holmgard', Tofig enlightened Hunding. 'The Jomsvikings do not trade in thralls, but hire their swords out to kings and princes who might need more men to push their bounds'.

'You did not tell me this before. I could have thrashed him on that eyot in the River Volkhov, split his fool skull!'

'And Prince Vladimir might have put you back in chains', Tofig said levelly. 'He was his friend. They were two of a kind. It may have been Lifing who gave Vladimir the idea of us stealing Basil's crown'.

'Run out the oars!' Hunding barked out the order, annoyed with Tofig - even with himself. Yet they still had the Imperator's crown, they could sell it - could they not?'

'Not here', Tofig shook his head, walking forward to take one of the oars. 'We might find someone to buy it further on, perhaps at Kaupang'.

'We would have to go out of our way', Hunding was annoyed again. But Tofig was out of hearing. He was pulling with the others, hard at first and then slower as they neared the strand between the Jomsvikings' ships and the haven.

Two of the Danes were left watching the ship and everyone else went into the town to look around. No-one knew they had the crown, did they? Aesc, Ealdwin and Odd followed Hunding and Tofig, taking in the sights and the smells. This was altogether different from Eoferwic! This was new.

'If you think this is wonderful, wait until you see Kaupang!' Aesc heard Hunding tell him. The Dane was grinning now; he had suddenly lost his anger.

Odd was in awe of a tall warrior ahead of them and, not looking where he was going almost fell over a basket of fish. The old fellow selling from the basket and its neighbours yelled at him to watch his step. He yelped that he was sorry, drawing stares from everyone around.

'You are Aenglish?' One of the bystanders was trying to steer Odd away when Aesc growled at him. The bystander turned to Aesc and asked almost foolishly, 'Is he with you?'

'He is with me, and we are with him', Aesc growled again, pointing to Hunding. He pulled Odd back and asked, 'Who might you be?'

'I might be Rognvald', the fellow answered cheekily. 'Who are you?'

'I am Aesc, and he', Aesc pulled Odd back out of harm's way as a horseman passed, 'he is Odd'.

'By name or nature?' Rognvald laughed. His laughter froze when Hunding turned back to stare at him.

'What does he want?' Hunding was still staring at Rognvald when Thorkell came closer, almost bumping into his back.

'I am sorry, friend', Thorkell almost bowed.

'No more sorry than you should be!' Hunding snapped, paying no heed to Tofig who was trying to pull him away.

'You have the better of me', Thorkell peered down at Hunding, half a head shorter. 'Do I know you?'

'I would hardly think so. Your men took my mother and friend when they raided our fishing hamlet and killed my father! If I had not been in hiding I would have shared their wyrd'.

'Hunding, I told you Lifing was to blame!' Tofig hissed.

'You know Lifing?' Thorkell looked from Hunding to Tofig. 'The little snake was thrown out of Jomsborg last year, and told never to come back! Palnatoki said we were well rid of him, but he tried to worm his way back into our stronghold with the promise of a new ship and thralls. He was told we do not keep thralls, but the ship might be welcome. Was she yours?'

'She still is!' Hunding snapped. 'Where are my mother and friend?'

'If you listened, I gave you my answer', Thorkell told him with a half-smile. He turned to Tofig and asked, 'He has a bee in his bonnet, your friend, has he not?'

Tofig tried to laugh, but it would not come. The laughter sounded more as if he was being strangled. Thorkell said nothing but looked up at the wheeling gulls and then back at Hunding.

'If it makes you happy I shall ask my men if they know where Lifing sold your kinfolk, but I can promise nothing. For the time being I must be away to my ships. We are to join King Svein in his new venture. We are sailing to the Wessex coast soon. Would you not join us?'

'I have things to do, but I wish you well. Give the king my best wishes, too', Hunding looked up at Thorkell. 'I am sorry for my outburst'.

'So you ought to be. I undertand your hatred, but it is aimed at the wrong man. We are to sail to Roskilde Fjord now. If you finish your business quickly, perhaps you can join us after all? I hear men will be coming from all over, from Fyrkat and from Trelleborg. You passed Trelleborg, I think, on your way back from the east?' Thorkell Havi earnestly wished for Hunding to join him. He could sense the warrior in the still fairly young Dane. He would make a good leader, Thorkell thought to himself. He waved farewell on his way back to his ships and was soon lost in the throng. Soon only his head could be seen bobbing.

'You were lucky!' Tofig hissed. 'Few men ever come away in one piece from crossing him! I could see he was straining to hold himself in check'.

'He sounded to me as if he were almost sorry he could not help', Hunding saw it otherwise. He lost sight of Thorkell and turned back to Rognvald. 'Are you still here?'

'You bore yourself well', Rognvald noted. 'Your friend here was shaking in his boots!'

'You watch your tongue!' Tofig snapped. 'What is it you want?!'

He glared at Rognvald, perhaps two-score and ten years of age yet greying, hair pulled back tightly over his ears and a 'tail' flapping around his shoulders in the stiff breeze.

'As you ask, I and my wife wish to be dropped off at Kaupang. You are going there, I believe?' Rognvald wheedled.

'We might just drop you overboard halfway there!' Odd jeered, to laughter from Hunding and Tofig.

'You tell him, Odd!' Tofig slapped the Aenglishman on his back, enough to make him cough. He turned back to Rognvald, 'Where is your wife, anyway?'

'She awaits us in a tavern nearby', Rognvald turned to lead them, and was pulled back by his elbow.

'We are not going into any taverns', Hunding laughed. 'Not right now. We wish to catch the tide, understand?'

'Bring her to us', Tofig.nodded and stared at Rognvald. 'We will let you know if we will take you. How did you get here?'

'We have been working here, but we are from near Kaupang', Rognvald shiftily answered, not looking at Tofig as he gave his answer. He pushed through the crowds, landward, out of sight.

Not long afterward Rognvald showed again, with a woman in tow,

'This is Thyra'.

'Good morning, Thyra', Hunding greeted her first. Tofig nodded at her and the Aenglishmen greeted her in their own tongue, earning themselves a look of bemusement. 'Thyra, I understand you and Rognvald here want to come with us to Kaupang. Is that right?'

'We do', Thyra cast her eyes downward, not wishing to seem forward. She was fair, light-hair done up in tight braids at the front of her head, the rest hidden under a cowl that made her look older. Pleasing to look at, possibly of an age with Hunding and Tofig, older in years only than the shifty Rognvald.

'Rognvald, you have talked us into taking you both. Stay with us and come back to the ship', Hunding told him, taking another look at Thyra. She looked back at him almost as if she should know him, but looked down again when he gazed into her pale blue eyes. There was something there he thought he knew.

They went back to the ship. A fire had been lit on the strand on the side of Braendings Slange where Thorkell's ships had been. Thyra seated herself on one of the benches near the stern, whilst the crew ate by the fire. One of the two crew who had stayed on watch made his way over to Tofig, to whisper in his ear.

'You can tell us all', Tofig set him right.

So the fellow told Hunding and the others,

'We saw Thorkell Havi -'

'So did we, what else?' Hunding broke in.

'He stood giving our ship the once-over before his men pushed their ships away. Before they turned Thorkell said our ship was fit for a king!' the fellow croaked.

'Flatterer!' Tofig laughed. Hunding was flattered, but he had other thoughts. Why was it he thought he had seen Thyra before?'

They used the changing tide, northward through the Sound, past Helsingoer and out to the little island of Anholt. There would be another day's sailing past Laesoe and Skagen with Gotaland and Halland to the steerboard side. All the time Thyra sat on her own, forward of Hunding at the steerboard arm.

Next - 29: (Selling) a Crown at Kaupang


Glossary and geography: 'g' in mid- or word end not pronounced or as 'y' - 'Trelleborg' (ends as throaty 'h'); 'v' in mid-word as 'w' - Koebenhavn is Koebenhown; 'ae' as short 'e' in Aenglish; 'aa' as 'aw', in Skaane; 'd' after 'n' not pronounced, as also after 'l' - Sjaelland (Sjellan') and Roskilde (Roskil'e); 'j' as 'y' - Jorvik

Aenglish - English; Anholt - isle in Kattegat midway between Sweden and Jutland; Eoferwic/Jorvik - York; Kaupang - trading haven on west side of Oslo fjord; Koebenhavn - on east coast of Sjaelland overlooking the Sound, means 'Cheaping' or trading haven; Roenne - main town on Bornholm off southern coast of Sweden; Roskilde - seat of Danish royal house, on southern end of Roskilde Fjord; Sjaelland - main Danish isle; Skaane - now southernmost part of Sweden, east from Sjaelland; Trelleborg - there were two, one on Sjaelland, the other in Skaane, the one mentioned here is the latter;

See description below
See description below | Source

With their sleek lines, shallow draught, large sailed clinker-built drakkar warships could carry the Norsemen anywhere between the British Isles and the Black Sea, Mediterranean to Murmansk; deeper-hulled knarrar, trading ships could carry anything from cargo to cattle; a karve or karfi was a shorter ship or launch for short trips along or between fjords... Take a bench and row along beside author Gareth Williams... This was one of a number of books on sale during the exhibition of Norse artefacts at the British Museum during much of 2014, and can be seen on theirs and the Amazon UK site

Hunding thought he knew Thyra...

She seemed familiar, he did not know for sure. Was she his childhood sweetheart Herdis, taken from him by the raiders all those years earlier? She seemed ill at ease with the man supposed to be her husband, Rognvald. He might have 'bought' her in the east from a trader.

This was common in those days, as you will see in the Hub-page about the trade in thralls (or slaves). Children could be an asset if kept well and fed. Olaf Tryggvason who was made king in Norway in AD 995 was kept as a slave in the eastern Baltic during his childhood. They could be sold on for more silver, especially if they were virgin girls. Older women were kept as maids, or to work on the threshing floor depending on their looks. They might even be used to breed more thralls for sale or to strengthen their owner's workforce.

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster


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