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HUNDING'S SAGA - 40: SUMMONED BY KNUT, A Would-be King Seeks Counsel
Is Knut in need of Hunding's insight?
Hunding learned not long after landing at Jorvik that Wulfwila had been hastily wedded to a young thegn named Ingjald.
'My daughter - Wulfwila, is nearby on the other side of the river', Osferth answered Hunding guardedly, still unaware of what had gone on between his dear daughter and this rangy, muscular Dane. Hunding had left Jorvik in the fore-year, a young man on the search for riches and renown, and come back a hero.
The new king - also a Dane - had sailed on Hunding's ship 'Braendings Slange' around his new kingdom. So now Hunding had become wealthy. Osferth barely knew Hunding any more! Wulfnoth was given his share of the sales, glad that both swords and fleeces had been bought by Prince Jaroslav for a good price, and well should he have been! Jaroslav's heir would maybe one day ask for more to reward his men.
Hunding's erstwhile crew-mates listened rapt whilst their friend answered again and again their wondering about the time he took the crown from the eastern ruler Basil's treasury with the help of the young Svear guard Herjolf. Herjolf grinned more foolishly with each re-telling, getting drunker on Jorvik's best ale, paid for by a new army of admirers. Tofig barely knew what to do with himself when Hunding told of how he fought against the Turks and saved him from a dreadful fate at the hands of vengeful Turks for the deaths of their fellows. He told of how Sverri - once thought of as a friend - had betrayed him. Leofgar spat on the rushes on the boarded floor of the riverside alehouse, watched closely by the owner, Ingulf. His daughter would not be easily talked into clearing the rushes if too many spat on them.
'Leofgar', Ingulf growled, 'if you do that again I shall have you thrown out of here!'
Leofgar looked unseasily at Ingulf and reddened. Hunding went on to talk about how he drank with the nobles at Roskilde, and of how he and his crew joined Knut in the field against Eadmund.
Talk in the alehouse stopped and men stared at Hunding. One spoke out,
'You Danes might think you rule this kingdom, but the day will come when we, the Northanhymbran Aengle throw you out on your a-'
'Do not speak out too loud in that manner!' Ingulf snapped back. 'We did not want the Seaxans as kings over us! Drink your ale and leave, back to wherever you came here from. Spread your foolishness there and see how far you get!'
'We will, Ingulf. Believe me, you are the fool here', thus saying the fellow threw his ale cup onto the floor, spraying several of those seated nearest with Ingulf's ale. Growls warned of dire punishment if they outstayed their welcome, and the the man left hurriedly with his friends onto Micklagata.
'He was lucky to keep his skin!' one laughed. 'Go on, Hunding. We are all ears!'
'Aye, pay no heed to the fools who wish for another Seaxan king to rule over us!' Another rapped his empty cup on the bench, 'Ale here! Any dimwit who throws Ingulf's fine ale onto the floor is unworthy to step in and drink here!'
Laughing and clapping followed. Men banged their cups and Ingulf's daughter was hard-pressed to keep up with her father in pouring, grinning broadly at the good name his brewing skills had brought him. Hunding stood and rested his cup whilst he went on,
'Make no mistake, friends. Eadmund 'Ironside' earned his nickname! We were tested well by his West Seaxans, believe me! He was no Aethelred. Mark my words, his name will echo in ale-houses in the Danish isles this winter! Just as his forefather Aelfred was given the nickname 'Great' by the Danes, Eadmund pressed us hard on Sceapig and at Assandun. He would have been a wise king and had many of the Danelaw nobles on his side. Save one of Eadmund's ealdormen, Knut has kept them to help his rule'.
'Who would that be?' Ingulf stared through the blue haze of fire smoke and weed-filled pipes at Hunding.
'Eadric Streona was beheaded for betraying his own king - more than once!', Hunding answered. 'Knut felt he could not trust him if he wavered so easily between them'.
'Ealdorman Eadric was beheaded?' Ingulf's jaw dropped then, his eyebrows knitting, added, 'Just as well then. These Miercans can be slippery-'
'Go on like that and you will lose more customers!' one tall fellow snapped and pointed at his friends. 'These fellows with me are Miercans!'
Laughter filled the alehouse and this time it was Ingulf's turn to redden.
'You are fair-minded, Hunding', one of the Miercans laughed still at Ingulf. 'This brewer should pay heed to his other skills - such as tact!'
During the morning after Osferth and Wulfgifu passed by Hunding's lodgings to pay their respects. Wulfgifu could not keep her 'good news' to herself and blurted out,
'Wulfwila is a married woman now, you know? She holds the keys to Thegn Ingjald's house!'
'So I hear', Hunding answered, not giving away that he had ever held any feelings for her daughter. 'Let her be glad', he thought, adding no more on the matter but going on to talk over trade matters with Osferth.
Wulfgifu was soon bored listening to the menfolk talking about ships and cargoes, and she bade them farewell to go on to Osegata, to buy things for Wulfwila's new home. Hunding went back to talking to Osferth, unaware someone else had entered the house. It was only when he heard the fellow clear his throat that Hunding turned to see him. He asked,
'You want me?'
'Aye, if you are Hunding Hrothulfsson', the fellow felt in his belt pouch.
'I am he', Hunding straightened, hand outstretched to take the vellum his visitor brought forth. He thanked the fellow and asked Osferth, 'You read?'
'I-I thought you did', Osferth stammered.
'Not well', Hunding reached out.
Osferth took the vellum, stared at the red seal,opened it carefully and scanned the script.
'I cannot read all of this, Hunding. It is Danish. Does Tofig read?' Osferth tried to give back the vellum.
'Tell me what you can', Hunding asked, thrusting it back at his erstwhile master.
'Well, from what I can make of it, the king will see you at the soonest', Osferth told Hunding.
'In Wintunceaster?' Hunding looked down at the now seated Osferth.
The older man stared at the words but did not know what his eyes told him. He shook his head and began again,
'The name begins with an 'R', Hunding. Is it 'Ros-'?'
'Ah, Knut wishes to see me in Roskilde', Hunding smiled wistfully, thinking back on the time he bedded Knut's sister Gunnlaug.
'I think the word is a little stronger than 'w-wish', Hunding', Osferth stammered again. 'It looks more like he is telling you to go... When winds allow, I think it says'.
Hunding wondered what it could be that the king - his friend - had aforethought, that he was now 'telling' Hunding to go to Roskilde. Had Gunnlaug told Jarl Ulf at a time of weakness that Hunding had bedded her? Had she put it in such words as to make Hunding look the guilty one? He mulled over the meaning of the words. Not so much 'I wish' as 'come - or else'? What was meant by 'when winds allow'? Did he mean soonest, or in the fore-year?
Osferth left Hunding feeling troubled, under a cloud. Tofig saw the change in his friend, but felt it better not to ask, not yet. He would await the end of Hunding's darkening mood. When asked he would answer, not earlier. The question came soon enough,
'If the king asks me to come soonest, when winds allow, does he mean I must go when the first westerlies will take me?'
Tofig chewed over the question, and asked to see how it was written. He knew there had to be a summons, that Hunding was so worried. This was saddening, that his friend could change so soon. What did it mean?
'I think it means just that', Tofig cast a sharp eye over the vellum from top to bottom, handed the letter back to Hunding and rested a hand on his right shoulder. 'We should have a following wind within days. What the winds are like down through the Kattegat to Sjaelland we will soon see'.
Skuli passed by a day later to bring word from Tofig that the wind was coming about.
'Will you take me, Hunding?' Skuli asked, looking thoughtfully into Hunding's eyes. 'I should like to see my kindred again after so many years. They will think -'
'Very well!' Hunding snapped. 'Tell Tofig I have said so when you see him'.
Skuli left again, telling Aelfgar in Osferth's riverside warehouse on his way how dark Hunding's mood was when he saw him. Ordwulf was with Aelfgar when they met, and agreed it was unlike Hunding to be so short with everyone,
'He was never like that before', Ordwulf chewed his upper lip.
'He must have been given some bad tidings', Odd put in, having come into the warehouse whilst his friends talked.
'The king has sent word that he wants to see Hunding', Osferth joined them. Now that Wulfwila was a wife to a thegn he had to do his own stock-taking. He went back to counting bales of wool for Aelfgar to take to Ribe.
The crewmen went glumly back to their tasks and Skuli went on to Tofig on 'Braendings Slange',
'He said I could sail with you', Skuli passed on Hunding's answer. 'His mood is dark - very dark'.
'Very well', Tofig stared down at the deck, and then looked up at the clouds scudding overhead. They passed roughly from where Tadceaster lay on the River Hvarfe, west-south-westerly. He strode aft to steerboard, looked forward and asked, 'You know the course to set for Ribe?'
'I should do, having sailed many times before', Skuli jerked his head up and down eagerly, glad to be of help to a fellow Dane. He was homesick, in need of seeing the homeland again, friends, kindred... True, the Danelaw and the East Thirding were much like his own island, Fyn, or like Jylland, but he needed to be there now. He saw Hunding's ship and its crew as 'home'. 'Braendings Slange' would be home-from-home until he set foot on Fyn.
Next - 41: Gunnlaug's Lure
At the peak of his reign in the 1030's Knut reigned in England, Denmark, Norway and parts of what is now Sweden. He also attended the coronation of one of the Holy Roman emperors, and was seen as one of the foremost and forward-looking monarchs - an early Europhile. However, as a definitely practical king he would not have let some un-elected officio beyond his reach (like the EU in Brussels or Strasbourg) run his financial or legal affairs.