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HUNDING'S SAGA - 29: A CROWN TO SELL - Hunding Meets Olaf Haraldsson At Kaupang
...On the choppy waters of the Vik...
The after-year mist cleared on the choppy waters of the Vik.
Braendings Slange slid silently to rest on Kaupang's shingle strand, the high mountains of the Telemark loomed, still broadly mist-enshrouded away to the west. Hunding's crew drew in the long oars whilst Hunding himself made fast the steerboard oar and strode forward to join the others near the prow.
'It is early yet', Tofig sniffed and turned to look at Hunding. 'There will be no-one about with the kind of silver we could ask for Basil's crown'.
'Do you know who would our likely buyers would be?' Hunding asked as he took in the stall-keepers setting up for the day.
'Who knows, there may be a jarl or two about, or even a king. Even rich Arab merchants come here to see what is on offer. As I said, who knows...' Tofig's words were lost in a gust of wind as he watched a well-built, tall, lone fellow saunter towards them. When the man was near enough, Tofig called out, 'Can I do something for you, my Lord?'
'I take it you might have something worthwhile to sell', came the answer.
'Have you anything in mind, my -' Hunding began and was cut off before he could finish by the fellow's retort.
'You can call me Olaf, my good man', he put a finger to his mouth to tell them to keep quiet and he reached out a hand. Ealdwin and one of Tofig's Danes helped Olaf aboard. 'I thank you both'.
Ealdwin nodded and took a step back. The Dane meanwhile showed the visitor to Hunding and Tofig, as if Olaf needed to be shown. Nevertheless he smiled and greeted first Tofig and then Hunding.
'Hunding is the ship's master, my - er, Olaf', Tofig grinned as he nodded to his friend beside him.
'You are Hunding?' Olaf's eyes widened as if he had thought him different to what he saw.
'I am Hunding', Hunding answered awkwardly, suddenly at a loss for words, wondering why he had been sought out. He gathered himself together and asked their visitor, 'Can I ask how it is you know of me?'
'A friend of mine - ah, there you are, Rognvald', Olaf waved toward Hunding's passenger. 'Do you have your woman with you? Rognvald sent me word he would be coming on your fine ship, Hunding'.
How did Rognvald get word to Olaf? He had not long asked to sail with Hunding before they were at sea again... Yet, there was a time when he lost sight of Rognvald before they left Koebenhavn, and they did not leave the haven before the early morning tide. Someone must have come ahead of them in a karve or some such fast-sailing boat. She had to have been a jarl's or king's karve at that speed, used for taking no less than lesser nobles or hersir along the fjords. They had to be sure no westerlies would stir the sea and overpower them with their low boat sides between Skagen and Kaupang. A spirited westerly gale could swamp a karve across the divide and no-one would be any the wiser about their passing. Then why did Rognvald and his woman not sail in the karve with them, unless she was afraid in a small vessel across such a broad mass of water?
Rognvald had looked sicker during the crossing than Thyra, Hunding noted. Had she sailed before, perhaps in a fishing boat?... Hunding had been thinking about her, watching from where he stood aft by the steerboard oar, still unsure about her and thinking he ought to know her.
'Rognvald, bring Thyra with you', Olaf beckoned, and showed him to the prow side where he struggled over the side. Thyra was helped over the side and one of the men leapt down to help her to the wave-lapped shingle. She looked back up at Hunding one last time before Rognvald grasped her left hand to pull her up onto the foreshore. Then she was gone, vanished between the warehouses and craftsmen's lodges.
'You have something I ought to buy from you', Olaf smiled meaningfully at Hunding, 'should I have silver worthy of such a prize'..
'Who told you we might anything you could wish for in our cargo?' Tofig spoke up, but Olaf's eyes were on Hunding.
The smile faded, and a hint of threat came with Olaf's next words,
'You know I could have you all bound and sent back to Basil?' There was no-one within two ships' lengths who looked as though they might be armed and ready to pounce on them. Merchants stood talking, others unfolded packs of wares for buyers to look over. Some Arabs and other men with swarthy skins went about their business, but none looked toward them.
'Why do you threaten, when only a short time ago you came aboard wreathed ín smiles. Who told you of any such cargo that would be worthy of such threats to our freedom?' Hunding's chin jutted out, a hand ready to grasp at Olaf's blue tunic.
'Keep you hand to yourself, heathen Dane! I have men around here, believe me. With a wave from me your ship will be alive with my men, unless you show me the crown!' Olaf hissed through clenched teeth, 'Show it to me - now!'.
'What crown do you speak of?' Hunding needed to know how it was Olaf had learned of the crown when he had said nothing about it.
'Thorkell Havi was told of it, by his friend Palnatoki, and Palnatoki learned of it from the Imperator himself. You cannot hide it from me because, as I have told you, I can have you all bound and sent back to Basil with the crown!'
'I think we should show him it', Tofig cleared his throat as armed men neared the ship, some with drawn swords.
One of the Arab merchants looked their way and strode toward their ship between the armed men, his men scurrying to keep up with him.
'You have goods to sell, effendi?' the Arab spoke loudly, elbowing Olaf's men aside. He had men with him, armed with long, curved swords. Olaf cursed under his breath as the Arab stared him down and demanded, 'I too wish to see what this merchant has to offer'.
A mass of men now stood around the prow of Braendings Slange, some with swords drawn. They stared at one another, bristling.
'Effendi?' The Arab broke the threat-laden silence. Two of Hunding's crew helped him aboard.
'What is it you wish, friend?' Hunding asked him.
'I wish to see what it is my friend Olaf Haraldsson here wishes to see', the Arab reached out a hand in greeting. Hunding took the hand and nodded toward Tofig. 'If he wants it, it must be worth a king's ransom!'
'This is your friend, effendi?' The Arab stretched his hand a little further to take Tofig's and then reached his hand to Olaf. 'I take it we are still friends, my Lord Olaf?'
'We may be', Olaf answered stiffly. 'You may as well show us both your wares, Hunding, before you bring about a riot. This is an old friend of mine, Ibn Arslan'.
Olaf did not sound altogether friendly toward the Arab, but who were Hunding and Tofig to argue the toss with all these swords flashing in the strengthening sunlight? Hunding strode back toward the mast, bent down and drew a head-sized bundle wrapped in sealskin from beneath one of the decking planks. On reaching Tofig, Ibn Arslan and Olaf again Hunding unwrapped the bundle and held the crown for them to look at.
'I think the Imperator would be happy to see this again', Olaf looked up from the crown to Hunding. 'What is your life worth against this trinket?'
'The trinket, as you call it, would look well in the treasure house of the Sultan as much as in Basil's', Ibn Arslan smirked, 'but threatening the fellow will gain you no friends in this life. You have a need of friends in these northern lands since your beliefs changed and you began preaching. Beware, Olaf, of seeing too much of the divine light, or one day you will yearn for the darkness you came from!'
'Are you threatening me, Arab?' Olaf sneered.
'Warning is the right word, friend Olaf. I am warning you. You were once a friendly soul, even though you were little more than a freebooter with noble blood. Now you have become a Christian you are becoming insufferable. Remember what happened to your kinsman and namesake nearly a decade and a half ago at Svold! Now let us look at this treasure and think for ourselves what we wish to bid'.
'I would more likely send them back to Basil in chains -' Olaf began.
'Bid for the crown or leave', Ibn Arslan told him. 'Is this not a merchant's ship? He has wares. If I outbid you I shall sell it on to the Sultan for a higher sum of silver than I bought it for. If you outbid me it is yours to sell on. Either way, Hunding wins his freedom. King Svein of Denmark might turn his eyes on the land you wish for your kingdom, Olaf. Basil will pay handsomely, all the silver you could wish for to pay for men and ships. Learn well from Hunding, he could teach you much, I think!'
A bidding war began, with both Ibn Arslan and Olaf raising their offers. Finally Ibn Arslan yielded and shook hands with Olaf,
'Farewell, friend Olaf. Sell this crown, and be careful not to sell your own crown too cheaply. Now leave, and let Hunding sail wherever he must. I shall make my way after him'.
Olaf signalled to his own men to leave and, followed closely by the Arab and his friends, Olaf left without a murmur... Not even looking back to bid farewell to Hunding or Tofig. The two Danes took their cue from the saluting Ibn Arslan on the foreshore. Led by Herjolf and Ealdwin several crew members heaved the ship back towards the deeper water and were hauled back once Braendings Slange bobbed on the lesser waves. The crew lay into hauling the oars and the ship rose and fell as the waves grew around them, back to the Vik and the open sea.
Once the the rigging was drawn taut and the beitass set beside the sail for the wind to fill it, Tofig called for the crew to listen,
'Hunding has sold Basil's crown for a king's ransome. There will be silver for all, ale and women to raise our spirits and warm beds back in Denmark. You will all be guests of my father on Fyn for a few days and then in a week we can sail back to Jorvik - all right, Aesc, Eoferwic!' Tofig laughed as Ealdwin and Herjolf took a keg of ale each for the men to drink to Hunding's health. 'So for now we drink to our master's health. Drink to Hunding!'
'To Hunding!' the crew chorused.
They were rich to a man, and the silver would also reward Wulfstan the sword-maker for his wares. Jorvik would come alive when Braendings Slange berthed on the Ose again.
Next - 30: Tofig's Home
There were no takers in Roskilde, would Kaupang prove different?
Olaf Haraldsson's reign would not last long...
Olaf Haraldsson came to the throne of Norway in 1016, the same year Knut became king of England. He did reign for twelve years, a record in some parts for the time. He was ousted, having tried to convert Norway to Christianity by the sword - as Olaf Tryggvason did - and made a bid for the throne again in 1030, raising an army in Sweden. Support for an army largely made up of commoners, those opposing his return to power, came from Knut, and Olaf was slain at Stiklestad on 29th July, 1030, fighting beside his younger half-brother Harald Sigurdsson. Harald was injured and spirited away to Sweden.
You will meet Harald in Episode 52 of this saga on Lake Ilmen south-west of Novgorod. You'd also meet him in the early pages of RAVENFEAST, where Hunding's son Ivar crosses paths with him again around thirty years after their first meeting when Ivar was a lad.
John Hayward's encyclopaedia takes you from Adam of Bremen to York by way of Cnut (Knut) 'the Great' and Olaf Tryggvason - a detailed index of the world of the Vikings or Danes, Norsemen, and Svear (Swedes) that at its height spanned L'Anse aux Meadows to Baghdad. Dip your oars into this sea of knowledge...