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HUNDING'S SAGA - 41: GUNNLAUG'S CHARM - The Seduction Begins
'What is afoot in Roskilde, that Knut wants to speak of?'
Hunding had everything he needed safely stowed away aboard 'Braendings Slange' and sought out Skuli at one of the alehouses near the river.
"What gives, Hunding?" Skuli raised his beaker on seeing his old friend enter the alehouse near Osferth's warehouse. 'Do you want some ale?"
"I thank you, Skuli. Aye I will down some ale with you".
Skuli waved at the nearest of the alewives and called out to her,
"Bring my friend a beaker of your best ale".
"Since when did we sell any ale that you would not guzzle without second thought?" the woman answered testily, smirking when Skuli could not come back straight away with an answer. "Cat got your tongue - or has the ale got the better of you?"
Skuli laughed heartily, shook his head, thumped the board, took a draught of ale and called out as she walked away,
"If I bedded you, would you be as testy?"
"If you bedded me you would never be able to test any more of our ale - my husband has his eye on you, see?" she nodded over her shoulder at the thickset, bull-like fellow by a corner table.
Skuli looked over at her husband, raised his beaker in salute and winked, earning himself a dark scowl.
"You come here often?" Hunding noted drily.
"Not often enough, Hunding. I shall take her one day", Skuli laughed.
"Hopefully I shall not be here to scrape your flesh off the floor", Hunding scoffed at his friend's boast and thanked the woman when she set his ale down in front of him. "Drink up".
Hunding downed his ale in one gulp, leaving Skuli gaping.
"What?" Hunding wiped his beard and stood. "Come on, Skuli, we can talk over this as we walk to the ship".
"The ship? What have you in mind, Hunding?" Skuli drained his beaker and followed his friend out onto the street.
"We are sailing for Roskilde", Hunding laughed, strode ahead and looked over one shoulder to see Skuli stand stock still.
"You are sailing for Roskilde, Hunding", Skuli chortled. "Can you see Osferth letting me go on your whim?"
"He knows. When I spoke to him he told me, 'By all means take Skuli, if you want'. Of course I asked him if he mean that in earnest", Hunding lied.
"I am sure", Skuli began to walk slowly, still unable to believe Hunding. He was grinning wryly, to show he was not going to take Hunding at his word. He had nagging doubts, however, "Really?"
"Really", Hunding lied again. Skuli was a good crewman, a first-rate steersman. He would have Skuli on 'Braendings Slange' come what may. If he had to lie to get the fellow on board, so be it. Osferth might rant and wail and ball his fists, but short of sending word to his son-in-law Thegn Ingjald to rein in Hunding, there was no worry from that quarter.
Skuli shrugged and grinned broadly. Why should it bother him? He would be in his homeland again, with a new king to vouchsafe his going. Was Knut going to punish a Dane for going home, when he had a good steersman in his fleet? They hastened to the quayside to find Osferth there. Neither Skuli nor Hunding said anything about Skuli going oversea. Skuli took it that the agreement was a done thing and Hunding was not going to tempt fate, was he? Osferth stood talking to a grand-looking fellow, a shining new sword showing from the pommel upward in a well-bejewelled sheath. He had to be -
"Hunding, I have here Thegn Ingjald. Much as it pains me, he tells me Skuli will be needed in Denmark, and the earl of the West Seaxans, Godwin, is to sail from Bosanham to Roskilde. He will dock here for two days for stores and sail with you. The king wishes it so, I am sorry to say, Skuli", Osferth told them, crestfallen.
Hunding could see that inwardly Skuli leapt with joy. His eyes danced, flashed in high spirits. Outwardly he showed nothing, but rested a hand on Osferth's back to comfort him. Thegn Ingjald was of Norse stock, albeit West Norse, but now he had a Danish king. Tall, red-haired with narrow-hips and strong arms, Thegn Ingjald was a warrior. Earl Siward had chosen him from many others in Jorvik, some perhaps better-known with Aengle blood coursing through their veins. He would be a hard taskmaster, for ever trying to prove his worth. To Earl Siward that would be a good sign, for the king's sake he would be a climber.
"Thegn Ingjald's grandfather was a court skald in the days of King Eirik Haraldsson', Osferth proudly told Hunding.
He plainly thought well of him. Well he would, being his son-in-law. But Ingjald was untried. Grandson of a skald? Which skald could he be, not Egil Skallagrimsson? No, he went back to Iceland. No doubt one day Hunding would learn, but for now he had his strong-armed steersman, Skuli. One thing at a time, he told himself inwardly. Did Ingjald know Hunding had been Wulfwila's lover? Osferth had never known, unless Wulfwila told him in weakness. But Wulfwila was strong-willed, like her mother Wulfgifu. There would have been no tears for Hunding when he left, would there? Did she tell her mother? Had Ingjald's father known she was no longer a maiden the bride-price would have been cut. No, plainly no-one knew, least of all Ingjald. If he had known, Hunding would have been called out. They would have fought it out over Wulfwila's maidenhood. As it was, here he stood telling Osferth to let Skuli go with him. With others, no doubt.
Herjolf and Tofig stood together nearby, watching. They had not been told of Hunding's bid to hire Skuli on his ship, so this would come as a bolt out of the blue.
"You said nothing to me of Skuli coming with us", Tofig said later, when everyone had gone to rest before leaving on the morning tide.
"It is the first I knew of it", Hunding lied. He seemed to have found a knack of lying to his friends, not that it made him feel proud of this 'skill'. It had to seem as if he, too, had not been fore-warned. Whether Tofig swallowed the lie he did not show. No-one would lose. Osferth had many others, including Aelfgar, who could well steer Osferth's ships to Ribe or elsewhere around Knut's kingdom. Trade would be brisk now the two kingdoms were one, so everyone was happy.
Earl Siward came to the riverside from the Earlsburh to greet Earl Godwin. Anyone who was anyone was here that day. Thegn Ingjald was made known to the Seaxan earl, as was Hunding and Tofig. Hunding and Tofig were also made known to Siward - known to one and all here as 'the Dane', a proud man raised to the earldom by Knut. In the heady days of Knut's crowning Earl Thorkell had been made earl of the East Aengle and Eirik of Hladir had been made earl of Northanhymbra, but now he had a shadow cast over him. Like Thorkell he had fallen out with the king and the younger Siward had profited from his downfall.
They made ready to sail on the third morning after Earl Godwin's coming. Again, Siward was at the riverside when three ships were rowed downriver from the Earlsburh's jetty. The crews kept up a steady rowing time as the steersmen closest to the riverbank jockeyed to keep their ships away from the riverside sandbanks. Braendings Slange kept aft of the earl's steerboard side, and one of Earl Siward's, 'Sjae-orm; (Sea-serpent') followed the eastern bank. Earl Godwin's ship, 'Suth-seaxes Heort' ('Heart of Suth-seaxe') was well manned. His crew rowed hard, making a high bow-wave and rippling wake astern in the widening river. On coming level with the mouth of the Deruwent by Richale their masts and sails were raised, the oars shipped. Now the wind would take them along between far banks into the Hymbra and across the broad iron grey-green fastness beyond the Hymbra's southward-pointing 'nose', the Spurn Head.
A mid-sea thick mist cloaked the waves. Men were set on watch, seated on the mast spar with horns they would blow every so often. Earl Godwin's crew had to be Danes, Hunding thought, when they rounded the northernmost point of Jylland, the Gren near Skagen, that looked out across the Skagerrak. Finally, after putting out from Skagen itself in the early morning of their third day out, they saw the low outline of Anholt in the Kattegat.
On a nod from Skuli Herjolf waved to the steersman of Siward's ship to steer towards Braendings Slange when they entered the broader fjord that led into the Roskilde fjord. The earl's ship headed the small fleet in between sandbars and skerries. Sails were furled, masts taken down again and the oars run out through the 'cow-eyes', and soon, with the dusk fast closing on them, Roskllde's twinkling torch lights could be made out. They were nearly 'home'. Only when the ships juddered over the foreshore were they home and dry. Earl Godwin leapt into the shallows ahead of his crew, showing he was as good a sailor as the others. Amongst others Hunding felt proud to be chosen for the earl's company. He knew by and by the Seaxan would show his mettle, and that their king had chosen well.
Earl Godwin was welcomed with open arms by Knut, who eyed Hunding slyly.
"Who is this you have brought with you, friend Godwin?' Knut jerked his head at Hunding.
"You do not know one another?" Godwin was taken aback. "My Lord King, I have with me one Hunding Hrothulfsson -"
"You say?" Knut was still playing with his earl. "Well, Hunding, what are you doing here?"
"My Lord King", Hunding echoed the earl's words, and went down on one knee, unsure of what was to come.
"What do we do with you?".Knut joked. "You had best see what my sister Gunnlaug wants of you, after you have eaten with us".
"My Lord Ki -" Hunding began again.
"Be seated", Knut would listen to no more, and waved his guests toward the benches. The earl he led to the dais, to be seated on a throne-like seat. "Hunding, I wish you to tell me later what you know of the coast either side of the Lille Baelt, the narrow belt of sea between southern Jylland and Fyn".
"Whatever your wish, my -" Hunding began, only to be warned by Knut about calling him 'My Lord King'.
"For the time being, Hunding, eat your fill and take your share of my fine ale. See what Gunnlaug wishes from you after letting me know what you know of the Lille Baelt".
The king plainly knew of his sister's night with Hunding after all Hunding had done to hide it from everyone. He thought only Eirik of Hladir knew - but the tale must have become widely known. He could feel household retainers talking about him behind their hands, pointing. How much did anyone know?
He knew the way now, recalled the paths that twisted around the buildings to Gunnlaug's rooms.
"Enter..." Gunnlaug called out loudly, haughtily, thinking Hunding to be one of the household retainers. She caught her breath on seeing him, "Hunding you have come! Sit by me on the bed and tell me what you have been doing of late".
She shifted along the side of the bed towards him, leaned on his sword arm and looked into his eyes. She behaved like a maiden soon to be deflowered. He sensed the warmth of her bare shoulders through his tunic and smiled. A wide, warm smile spread over her lips by return and she rested her head on his right shoulder. He knew where this would lead - did Knut know of their night together, five years ago when she was little more than a child? She was now the jarl's woman. Jarl Ulf was elsewhere, he knew, on the far shore of Skaane or Halland with the Svear king. They would spend another long night together, Hunding and Gunnlaug, and he would have to leave before dawn. But there was time before then, the night long.
Gunnlaug stood and pulled down the light shift she wore, and stood naked before him. She grinned, resting her hands on his shoulders, and asked,
'Shall I help you off with your clothes?' Without waiting for an answer she busied herself. Small fingers loosened the ties on his boots and pulled them off. He heard her tell him, 'Lean back'.
Deftly she drew down his breeks as he pulled off the tunic. It would be a long, warm night under the soft bearskin together. Gunnlaug knew well how to make a man welcome... time after time.
Next - 42: Hunding's Son Ivar - Or Ulf's?
Only one Scandinavian king had his finger on the pulse of more than one kingdom. He was Cnut the Great, variously known as Knut or Knud. As a sixteen year-old he came with his father Svein Haraldsson, 'Forkbeard' in 1014. When Svein died suddenly at Gainsborough and Aethelred came back from Normandy with fresh forces Cnut withdrew to Denmark to amass men and ships. He came back again in 1016 to take on a weakened Aethelred, his brother Harald now king in his homeland. Cnut would battle it out with Aethelred for a short time until the Saxon king died, to be succeeded by eldest surviving son Eadmund 'Ironside'. After a number of battles around southern England Eadmund agreed to share the throne with Cnut, but died of wounds sustained at Ashingdon in Essex. so Cnut had the throne of England at least. Harald died not long after - no reasons given - and now Cnut had two kingdoms. Read on...
Cnut the Great
See the Hub-page in the DANELAW series on Knut (Dan. Knud) and see the man for yourself. He's entombed in the old Winchester cathedral with his queen Emma/Ymme and Harthaknut (also known as Horthaknud), his son by her. Harthaknut was Eadward's half-brother, who with his brother the unlucky Aelfred - murdered on the orders of Harold I, 'Harefoot' - were fathered on Emma, his second wife, by the equally unlucky Aethelred 'Unraed'.
What was that phrase Shakespeare wrote about 'tangled webs'?