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HUNDING'S SAGA - 33: AS GAUTI FORESAW, Gunnlaug Draws Ivar To Her Bed
Roskilde on the southernmost shore of its fjord
Drinking went on all night when Hunding and his crew were asked to the king's garth.to share in the feasting.
From when 'Braendings Slange' ran up onto the strand and the crew leapt out into the shallows to heave her out of the water, Tofig had felt on top of the world. He had seen and spoken to Jarl Eirik of Hladir when he set foot on the sandy foreshore at the head of the Roskilde Fjord. None of the others knew who he was, but they would soon learn of his open-handedness.
The whole kingdom knew of Eirik's openhandedness! King Svein and his elder son Harald were more tight-fisted, thinking only of taxes due. When Svein set himself the task of sailing to take King Aethelred to task, he first asked if all his dues had been collected. Even though he knew he would have much more in gold and silver than any Danish king had seen before, he still would not set the ship-builders their task before he had squeezed everyone dry. That was perhaps why the king's men on Bornholm had been so keen to collar Hunding on his way east!
Now Eirik had told Hunding of the feasting, he also told the younder Dane of the greatest prize,
'Of course there is King Svein's daughter Gunnlaug...' Eirik looked sideways at Hunding, eyes glinting. 'She is spoken for, but the man is elsewhere who will wed her. In Halland or Skaane, I believe'.
'She is a good-looking young woman', Tofig agreed.
'One of the best, if not the best!' Eirik was still looking at Hunding. What was he up to, did he dislike Jarl Ulf or what? He would not give up, and hinted very heavily that Hunding should seek her out after the feast, 'Because finding her willing will pay better than silver!'
'What makes you think she will look twice at Hunding?' Tofig asked, with Aesc and Ealdwin staring at him, disbelieving.
'Surely, if this Gunnlaug is spoken for, Hunding would be best counselled to leave be!' Aesc could not help himself. Tofig looked his way, back at Eirik and the pair laughed until Eirik held his sides, a look of pain knitting his brow.
'What did you say that was so funny?' Odd came to Aesc's side. Aesc shrugged, turning away nonplussed.
'Some Danish joke, I think, Aesc scowled. 'I seem to have put my foot in it1'
Eirik laughed again and put a hand on Aesc's right shoulder, steering him toward the king's hall,
'My friend - what is your name - Aesc? Well, we Danes are a law to ourselves. Our neighbours do not understand us, aside from the Svear, who have as much a lop-sided view of marriage as we have! One day you may understand, but you would need to have a Danish wife first. Are you given? No? Then there is hope for you yet!' Eirik of Hladir laughed again, then frowned. He cleared his throat, 'There is such a thing as too much laughter, and I think I have reached that point already! Gone is the day when I could laugh and drink and feast until the early hours. Ah, well... such is life. Now, Hunding, I would be willing to believe you are as thirsty as I am!'
'That would be no fair bet, Lord Eirik!' Hunding half-smiled. He could taste the ale already! When he had emptied a few beakers he would be ready to laugh. The salt-spray had taken its toll of his throat, and he wished to slake a growing thirst now Eirik had raised the matter. Oddly, until then he had paid no thought to drinking. There were other things that held his thoughts... But they could wait now.
'I am Eirik to my young friend Tofig. Speak to me as Eirik and court mores be damned! The stuffy young fellow who calls himself king needs to loosen up, or he will be as earnest as his brother without gaining his fighting skills. We have to almost hold him down and pour ale down his throat before he gets into the spirit of feasting! Believe me, Hunding, nerves are at breaking point here since Knut came back for more men to take on Aethelred. When King Svein died earlier in the year Knut thought he would take the kingship from Aethelred, but his Danelaw chieftains felt they ought to hold with their king. They had, after all, given him their oath! There is an oily one, an ealdorman named Eadric of Mierca - you may know him, Hunding? - who gave word to young Knut that he could count on his sword. Next we knew he was crawling back to his king!'
'I may have heard of him', Hunding answered. 'I think he is also known as 'Streona', does that sound like him?'
'It may be, I hardly know him. Thorkell met him in eastern Mierca, when Svein still led. I think ill will come of it if Knut puts his trust in him! Ah, we are here!' Eirik steered Hunding and Tofig into the hall with its roaring fire and wall-mounted torches spreading light out onto the garth. Aesc, Ealdwin and Odd closed in behind them as guests, and Tofig's Danes followed. Heads turned when the Aenglishmen passed between the rows of benches. Laughter broke out at the back of the hall, followed by banter. But it had nothing to do with the crew. There was a game being played beyond the hearth. A tall fellow stood, upsetting the board and the pieces flew here and there. He was pulled back by his friends and all was silent again from the gaming party.
'Some of the younger ones cannot take their drink. They have to be calmed with more drink until they slip under the benches, dead drunk. When morning comes one of my men will empty a pail of ice cold water over them and all will be forgotten again!'
'I am glad things are so easily taken care of', Hunding's eyebrows lifted. 'There are some Danes I remember in Deira who had long memories and held grudges against my master for his winning ways'.
'He cheated?' Eirik slapped Hunding's back and laughed out loud - bellowed until his eyes watered. 'I thought these Aenglishmen were sooo honest, believe me!'
Eirik laughed again and stopped one of the ale-wives as she drew near, took one each of the horn beakers and gave them to his Aenglish guests, giving Odd the third as he handed another to one of Tofig's Danes,
'Sit here', Eirik bade them and called for another platter of beakers to be brought for the rest of Tofig's friends, pointing some way ahead. 'You will be close enough to the top board there that you will know where Hunding and Tofig are seated near Thorkell and King Harald. The king has the wit of the grandfather he was named after, but not the gut for ale. Keep that to yourselves, mind you, or I shall be crab-feed before the early tide comes in!'
With that Eirik steered Hunding toward the top board,
'My Lord king, I have a young man who can tell you of far-away river-heads, of fighting the Turks and of cheating Basil 'the Bulgar-slayer' of the crown he sold to Olaf at Kaupang!'
'Welcome, be seated and have some ale before you begin the telling', a young lord stood and made way for Hunding and Eirik, he sat again and bade Tofig sit with him. 'I know your father, do I not?'
'You do, my Lord?' Tofig asked Knut.
'Aye, I do, We were asked by one of Gyrth's neighbours to a feast at Kerteminde, if I recall rightly. Your father said you were away, trading. You may have been in Gotland?'
'I was there, my Lord. There and at many other isles and garths'.
'I am sure you were. Your friend Hunding was with you?' Knut smiled at Hunding, sat beyond Eirik of Hladir.
'No my Lord. We met later, at Grim's by when he sought a crew for his new ship, 'Braendings Slange', and as we had been on another Dane's ship outward we took up his offer to come back. We have done well, my Lord'.
'Can you ease off on the 'my Lord'? My head is beginning to thump. As you are on first names with my friend Eirik there, I am Knut. When I am king in Aenglaland, then you can call me 'My Lord Knut'', Knut smiled at his own wit as the board rocked with the thumping of many fists.
Roars of 'Knut, Knut, Knut!' echoed through the long hall. Harald glowered at his younger brother, but took the wind from his sail by telling everyone loudly,
'Then you, brother will have your kingdom across the sea, and I shall still be king here!'
'Harald, your kingdom is assured!' Knut calmed his older brother. 'I must yet win mine, and as you have heard I have a nest of vipers to tame over there'.
[One of the vipers was Eadric 'Streona', but his day would come and that is another story. Stay seated, pour yourselves another drink and take in the smoky air of King Harald's hall, the smell of spilt ale and the pounding of tables],
'Knut, Knut, Knut! Long live Knut!' the men chorused until the smell of food filled the air and young maidens scuttled around the benches with platters of meat and field-roots in deep dishes swimming with meat juices. There was chicken, boar meat, game, swines' belly slices. Laughter filled the air and the hum of champing jaws, broken by laughter, slurping and more jaw-champing.
Seated a little away from the top board were Aesc, Ealdwin and Odd with Tofig's Danes. Ealdwin caught sight of Tofig, who raised his beaker in salute and did likewise back.
One of Ealdwin's bench-neighbours caught a glimpse of him raise his beaker to Tofig and asked,
'You know one another well?'
'We have been crew on Hunding's ship these past months', Ealdwin nodded, biting into a boar steak that ran with the ladled juice one of the women had dished up.
'You went far?'
'To Holmgard and south to Miklagard', Ealdwin paid more heed to his meat than his answers and let slip that they had taken the Imperator's crown.
'You did what?' The fellow stared, open-mouthed. His neighbours fell silent.
'Ask him', Ealdwin looked up, pointed at Tofig - as he could not see Hunding next to King Harald - and went back to chewing the meat.
The buzz or argument and disbelief spread around the benches until King Harald overheard some of it. He half-turned to Hunding and asked outright,
'You have the crown of Basil 'the Bulgar-slayer'?'
'We had it', Hunding began but was elbowed by Eirik.
'My Lord King Harald, Hunding did have the crown, but Olaf Haraldsson made him sell it to him on pain of being shackled and sent back to Miklagard', Eirik spoke for Hunding. 'Knowing Basil, torture and death would have been their lot. He was thinking of his crew in selling the crown to Olaf. Had they been taken back the Norseman would have gained weapons, men and ships to attack us. As it is, he has to wait until his kingdom is safe enough before he can sail south to gain from buying the crown, and he has to gain Basil's trust before the imperator will believe him that he did not send Hunding to steal the crown for him'.
'Still, you could have stopped by here before going on', Harald pursed his lips. 'I should have liked to have seen this crown for myself'.
'Brother, it is all done and dusted', Knut butted in, leaning forward to look his brother in the eye. 'A trinket like that will come our way yet - even that one itself, perhaps. if I know Olaf, he will sell to the first bidder if he is stretched enough. The Svear king Anund Jakob might buy it from him and try to pass it off as his to you... Or me'.
'Why to you, little brother?' Harald sneered.
Irked, Knut held back from breaking up the feast, but told Harald instead that all sorts of things happened that even a king had no say in,
'My younger sister would like to speak to you herself', Harald stood to let his guest pass.
'My Lord King', Hunding excused himself, a few words passed between him and Gunnlaug and he was back on his seat again. Gunnlaug left with her maids, back through the side door she had come in by.
'What did she have to say?' Eirik asked as Hunding settled down again, reached for his beaker and held it out to one of the hall maids, winking at her.
'The Lady Gunnlaug asked a few things, about how we came to Miklagard, what we did there and which way we came back', Hunding lied, grinning'. He was not going to tell Eirik of Gunnlaug asking him to pass by her way in the king's garth.
'Nothing more?' Eirik grinned back, giving Hunding a knowing look. He shrugged and went back to talking to Tofig whilst Knut took him to task,
'I think you should have come to Roskilde first with that crown. Whose idea was it to sail to Kaupang?'
'We met a fellow named Rognvald in the trading haven to the east from here, er, Koebenhavn, who told me that he knew we had something to sell that had been hard-won. He said he needed to cross with our ship to Kaupang and he had a buyer for our wares. It was only then - at Kaupang - we learned it was Olaf who wished to buy the crown. Olaf put it differently, threatened to take us back to Basil unless we sold the crown to him', Hunding told Knut of Thyra, the woman Rognvald had with him, that she sat like his thrall by the ship wall, not his woman as he said she was.
'Would you know this Rognvald again?' Knut asked, to which Hunding answered he would know him again by the way he walked, like an old man even though he looked young in some ways.
'I know him! Rognvald was one of Harald's household', Knut nodded sidewards at his brother. 'Thrown out for stealing and the bones of his right leg broken. He took one of Harald's serving women with him; her name was Thyra. Not that my brother cared that much, but he dislikes losing things. He has several 'irons in the fire'. Knut laughed and shook his head. 'I shall be glad to be back in Gagnesburh!'
As the drinking went on Hunding recalled that Gunnlaug had asked him to look in on her. When the king stood to leave, he passed the guests beyond Harald's seat behind the king and asked his leave to see his ship was safe.
'You think someone would steal your ship from under the noses of my guards?' Harald looked him up and down, as though he knew what Hunding was up to. 'You have something else to do, perhaps?'
Hunding laughed, the king winked and made his farewells to his underlings and left the hall,
'I hope she is worth it', Harald smiled and took the walkway around the muddied yard. Hunding strode towards the gates, and asked one of the guards where Gunnlaug's maids lived.
'Hah, are you not the cheeky one, going to see the king's sister herself?' The fellow gave a knowing wink and told Hunding the way. He was a little hung over, and suddenly felt drowsy. Nevertheless he fought off the drowsiness and kept on along the walkway Harald had passed over. Harald's footfalls were no longer to be heard and Hunding strode slowly, not wishing to be heard. Suddenly the words he heard on Gotland came back to him, about lying with a princess. He shuddered and opened a richly-carved door, turned within the walls of another hall and came to a door he believed to be Gunnlaug's, from the way she 'drew' it in words. He rapped, stood back and waited. The door creaked open, Gunnlaug looked to left and right, reached out to him and drew him in hurriedly.
'I thought you had forgotten', she led him into a room lit by candles and closed the door behind him. 'Get undressed'.
That was it? 'Get undressed'? At least with Wulfwila there had been a 'chase', a feeling he had won her. Gunnlaug just asked him to get undressed, to make love to her and go hiw own way again. She was young yet, the king's sister. Even younger than Knut, Gunnlaug was lovely to look at but her manner was rough for a king's sister. Yet she was spoken for, after all. Perhaps she wished to be even with Ulf, who had a name as a woman's man.
'Well, are you going to turn me down?' Gunnlaug asked him tersely. She was already naked, half hidden by a bear pelt bed cover.
'No, my Lady Gunnlaug', Hunding began.
'I am not your Lady! I am promised to a jarl, and I just want to know what happens when a man and a woman enjoy one another. Is there something wrong with you? Would you sooner have a hall boy?' Gunnlaug pursed her lips, and let slip the bear pelt, showing smooth young skin in the soft light of candles that burned on a stand near the door.
Hunding calmed her, stroked her hair and told her he wanted nothing more than to be with her,
'But there is more to a man and a woman enjoying one another than just jumping into bed. A woman should want to be talked into bed, not drag the man into it as though they had a bet', Hunding leaned forward and took the sobbing Gunnlaug into his arms.
'Will you at least share my bed?' she begged, half-sobbing. 'My maids are in the next room, they will tell the king that you did not fulfil my wishes and you will feed the crabs at the next high tide!'
'These kingly folk are well-taken with feeding the crabs', Hunding laughed, Gunnlaug laughed through her sobs. 'Are the crabs here so hungry they have to be fed through the night?'
Hunding undressed, climbed into the bed with her and drew the skins over them both. He held her to him and kissed her brow.
'You will have to take me, Hunding', Gunnlaug pressed, her eyes still moist. 'They will look at me when I am bathing, and they will know. You need not fear, it is the wrong time of the month for...'
Hunding understood. He felt almost fatherly toward her, but he warmed to her all the same. 'The night is long', he told himself. 'Take your time'.
Next - 34: Knut's Fleet '
When Svein died at Gainsborough Knut took the reins in England - succeeding his brother Harald soon after in Denmark, to become known as 'Knut the Great', a true blue European statesman with his finger on the pulse of North-western Europe, Scandinavia and even the Holy Roman Empire when he attended the coronation of Conrad.
See the rest...
This is where Ivar Ulfsson originated...
Knut had a brother, Harald. We know of him, he succeeded his father Svein 'Forkbeard' in 1014 as king of Denmark and predeceased Knut in around AD 1018, when Knut became king of both England and Denmark. Knut had six sisters, Gytha and Gunnhild being older, Thyra, Santslave (?) and Astrid/Estrith known by name were younger. There is one unknown, who may have died young. She might have died in childbirth or even before she was old enough to bear children. Let us assume the former, and that her name was Gunnlaug. We have a name for her now, and we have offspring fathered on her by Hunding by her insistence. Knut may not have been in favour of his youngest sister being wed to Jarl Ulf and egged on his new friend. However court etiqette would have demanded the boy be given his official father's name to save face and avert violence toward Hunding. As it was Estrith wedded Ulf and had three sons by him, Svein, Beorn and Osbeorn, and Ivar would have been whet-nursed. See how this develops in subsequent episodes...