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Hunding's Saga - 42: An Heir for Ulf... or for Hunding?

Updated on May 24, 2019
A war helm fit for a king - did Knut wear this style when he led his men in the field against Eadmund of Aethelred?
A war helm fit for a king - did Knut wear this style when he led his men in the field against Eadmund of Aethelred?

The sun sparkled on the waters of the Roskilde Fjord as Hunding strolled to his ship.

The night before, he recalled, Gunnlaug pressed him down on the bed she would have shared with Jarl Ulf. The jarl was far away and his young wife needed a man. Hunding was known to her. He was also her brother's friend, who had shown Knut the way around the kingdom that was soon his after its king, Eadmund 'Ironside', had died of wounds suffered in battle against the Danes. Hunding was therefore closer to her than Ulf, and she readily showed him her thanks.

Knut was not worried that a low-born Dane had taken his little sister. He liked Hunding, and he liked his crewmen. Tofig was a man of the world, had often sailed east and knew much that Hunding did not, but Hunding knew much that Tofig did not. He knew the rivers around Northanhymbra, the others that emptied into the Hymbra and he was widely known in Jorvik. Whilst he could not make Hunding an earl in Aengla-land or jarl in any part of the Danish isles, Knut knew how to make Hunding feel welcome at Roskilde. He also knew that Gunnlaug was tiring of Ulf.

Hunding and his friends strode down the shingle strand, Tofig and Herjolf close by. Skuli was already aboard Braendings Slange, overseeing the crew and making ready to sail with the tide. The sun was still low in the east, far over Skaane, on this crisp late-year morning.

'Are you boarding at last, Hunding?' Skuli called across to his friend. 'There's someone coming from the king's garth'.

Hunding turned to see Gunnlaug nearing, eyes dancing, a wide smile for him.

'Hunding, I am carrying your child!' Whether anyone was listening did not worry her. She was the king's sister, and Jarl Ulf was far away. He could do nothing even if he knew, and anyway her child when born would carry his name to stop the tongues wagging. 'The wise woman says it will be a son - your son!'

'Hush, woman! Do you want everyone to know?' Tofig was more afraid of the wagging tongues than Hunding.

'What if they did know?' Gunnlaug challenged him sternly, and then with a warm kiss on his right cheek she smiled up into his eyes, 'Would you sooner it was yours?'

Tofig reddened and Gunnlaug laughed. Hunding and Herjolf grinned and shook their heads. Gunnlaug stepped up to Hunding and stretched her arms around his neck.

'My love, when I see you next you will see the fruit of your loins in my arms!' She kissed him on his mouth. It was a long kiss, her warmth surging into him.

Tofig did not know what to do, and strode to the ship. Herjolf stood, welded to the ground beneath him, until Tofig growled,

'Herjolf, come here and stop staring as if you had never seen lovers before!'

'She is a jarl's wife, surely?' Herjolf, the simple guardian of Basil's treasure-house did not understand these Danes and their ways. He wondered, were they all that different from the Ynglinga kings and their women in Uppsala?

'Leave it be and dip your hands in the white flour', Skuli told him. 'You have hours of rowing ahead until we reach the widening out of the fjord'.

Herjolf clambered aboard and went to his bench. Tofig looked back at Hunding with his arms around Gunnlaug's waist, shook his head and turned to board. From the corner of his right eye he saw men coming and turned back to see who they were. One was Eirik of Hladir, the other he had never seen before.

Eirik beamed broadly at Hunding and cleared his throat,

'Hrrumph! Hunding, when the young lady has finished eating you we need to speak'.

Hunding rubbed his hands down along Gunnlaug's waist and took his lips from hers to answer,

'Lord Eirik, what can I do for you?' He looked back down at Gunnlaug, kissed her forehead and took his hands from her. She clutched his left hand briefly, then let go and strode back up the strand to the grass. Hunding looked fondly back at her but she did not turn back again before vanishing into the nearest gateway. Hunding looked at the newcomer, and at Eirik, and asked again, 'What can I do for you?'

'Fear not, Hunding. You will see her again before you sail. This is Einar Eiriksson - no kindred of mine - nd he wishes to sail with you as far as Skagen where his ship awaits him'.

'Einar', Hunding reached out a hand to greet the fellow, but was rebuffed. The sooner the fellow left the ship, Hunding said to himself, the better it will be for all.

'Einar cannot tell you anything, as he is sworn to keep to himself everything he knows. It is better he does not become friendly with you', Eirik smiled weakly. 'He has a task to fulfil - something for the king'.

Hunding nodded at Einar, who nodded curtly back and turned to the ship. Hunding made to follow him when Eirik stopped him,

'You understand, Hunding?'

'I understand', Hunding looked over one shoulder and boarded amidships. It was bad enough the way Gunnlaug parted from him, without having to take an unfriendly passenger northward through the Kattegat.

Einar went aft to stand beside Skuli, whilst Hunding looked up and down Braendings Slange to see she was ready to sail. He raised an arm and a dozen of the crew leapt into the shallows to run the ship through the shallows. On floating slowly out into the fjord the men hauled themselves aboard again and ran out their oars. With the rest of the oarsmen they began the rhythmic haul on the long oars. Skuli turned the steerboard oar until the ship turned northward, and then held it steady whilst the crew hauled steadily on their oars. Hunding looked back over Skuli's right shoulder and saw Gunnlaug on the shingle strand, waving slowly. He waved back as he made his way aft to stand beside Skuli and Einar.

Eirik had said he would see her again before sailing. He must have stirred her, or else she had hung back from leaving the gateway for her rooms, and waited until Hunding could no longer leave the ship before running down to wave him off. She was soon just a forlorn figure, almost lost against the strand line and Hunding looked sadly down at the water rippling past the stern of his ship. Northward the crew rowed, ever further. The sun rose behind them, casting shadows onto the water to their west.

Skagen, Eirik had told Hunding. Where the fjord widened the mast was raised, sail hoisted, oars drawn. The open sea beckoned, waves tossed them and clouds scudded eastward overhead. The beitass was added to catch the wind and the ship leaned away from the buffeting squalls. Thus they passed Anholt, lying low in mid-sea like a great whale. Soon they would be at Skagen, and rid of Einar, Hunding stared dully across the grey-green sea towards the Skagerrak, brooding over Gunnlaug.

'Einar, you must ready yourself for landing', Hunding told the stony-silent Einar and was answered with a mute nod. The fellow plainly did not wish to speak with anyone but those he was told to. Not long afterward they came in close to land.

Einar shook his head and hissed,

'Not here, fool! Northward - row further northward!'

He talks, Hunding smiled to himself, even if he cannot mind his manners! Skuli turned the steering oar outward so as not to run aground in the shallows. They all but missed grounding as Braendings Slange swerved outward, back into the offshore choppy waves, the men hauled hard on the oars and the stiff wind from the western sea heaved at the ship. There was little left of the long spit of land to land on here, but Hunding could see another ship in the shallows.

'Is that the ship you are to meet?' Tofig pointed for Einar, to be met by a dark scowl.

'I cannot land here! Take me to Ribe!'

Men ashore scurried to their ship, some waved furiously, fists balled. Einar turned away from them and grabbed Hunding's sword-arm.

'Have a care!' Hunding pulled away, leaving Einar looking pale, afraid. 'We will take you to Ribe, but you must land there. I am not taking you any further!'

'Where are you bound for?' Einar was shaken. He tried to hide from the sight of those ashore and was stared at by those aboard.

'What is it to you?' Hunding asked by return. 'As it is we are heading back to Jorvik'.

'Jorvik? But I thought you were Danes!' Einar was confused.

'We are Danes, at least most of us are. Herjolf here is Svear. It is nevertheless nothing to do with you, whoever you are', Hunding was annoyed with the fellow, foisted on him out of the blue by a man he thought a friend. 'You will be landed at - or near - Ribe, as soon as we reach land there. You can go where you wish from there'.

'I must find someone who can take me back to Eirik of Hladir!' Einar spat out, but Hunding was no longer listening.

Tofig had pointed to the ship trailing them, its crew busy by the prow. One man had a bow in his hands. Hunding did not know what was happening, nor what he had let himself into in doing Eirik's bidding.

'Who are they, that they are readying to attack us?' Hunding pulled Einar to the side of the ship to see the other ship. He jabbed the air aft, 'Tell me!'

'I cannot!' Einar yelped. 'Believe me, I cannot, on pain of death!'

Hunding would have to hope on hope that they would outstrip the other ship. His crew were not all armed, and he did not know how many of the other crew were. He hoped the wind would take them faster than the ship behind, and he was set on learning what it was Einar was about. Skuli was a good steersman, and if he could he would take Braendings Slange to safety without the crew learning the hard way why Einar was being hunted.

He thought back to Gunnlaug ashore at Roskilde. Did she know what was in store for him, or did Eirik not know that Einar was a wanted man? Meanwhile, he watched the ship's crew astern struggle with the wind, just as his was. He was not fearful of being caught up, after all. They only wanted Einar, did they not?

Finally, come evening, with the light fading to the west he looked astern again and could no longer see the other ship. Had they given up on catching Einar and let him sail onward, or did they think they might catch him on his way back?

'Strike the sail', Hunding told Tofig. The crew rowed in toward one of the many inlets on the Jylland coast and they made camp. Einar was still fearful, even though Hunding assured him the other ship had been left behind, 'We will be in Ribe in the morning when we sail on. Then you can tell me what you are doing'.

Einar looked away, unhappy at his lot.

Morning came, and whilst Hunding spooned porridge into his mouth Tofig strode up to him.

'Einar has gone', he said.

'Gone - where?' Hunding stopped spooning, looked up at his friend and then around. 'There are marshes all around. Where could he have gone without coming to grief?'

Tofig shrugged and bent to pick up a wooden bowl. He ladled porridge into the bowl and stood again, blowing on, then spooning the oatmeal into his mouth. He shrugged again and smiled. Hunding laughed out aloud. Herjolf called over to them,

'There are footprints here, that lead onto what could be quicksand. Shall I look?'.

'Leave it be', Hunding answered and winked at Tofig. Skuli came to tell them the ship was ready and the bowls were packed away after being rinsed in the salty shallows. What little porridge there was left was swilled out of the pot and the crew boarded. Tofig stowed the pot and the packed bowls whilst Hunding and eleven others pushed the ship into deeper water where the sea could float them. They clambered aboard and rowed out beyond a headland where a new wind from the south-east took them straight across the sea for the Hymbra.

Next - 43: Bad Tidings

Braendings Slange leaves Roskilde for Jorvik
Braendings Slange leaves Roskilde for Jorvik
See description below
See description below | Source

In the St Brice's Day Massacre on November 13th, AD1002, one of the Danes slain on Aethelred's orders, counselled by the Witan, was Svein Haraldsson's sister Gunnhild. Svein brought a large fleet to demand a huge Danegeld payment as her 'head-price'. Aethelred paid up. Svein came again and Aethelred paid once more from the public coffers.

A third time Svein brought younger son Knut. They landed at Gainsborough and Svein laid claim to Aethelred's crown. Fighting followed, Aethelred fled to Normandy after his queen Ymme (Emma) his offspring by her, Godgifu, Eadward and Aelfred. Svein died suddenly at Gainsborough, and Aethelred came back in 1015 with a larger army than Knut had left after a year's warfaring. Knut left to gather men and ships at Roskilde, to come back later in 1016. This is one of a number of struggles in the wake of Norse and Danish occupation in England. Julian Richards guides you through turbulent times between the 9th and 11th Centuries

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

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