Hunding's Saga - 9: All the King's Men, Escape From Jumne and the King's Tax Men
Landfall on Bornholm
Hunding watched the sea astern for signs of the Jomsvikings' sails during the brief daylight crossing north-eastward from Jumne on the Wendish shore. Thankfully, when darkness came it brought a moonless night and low rainclouds. Ever a good omen, a sea mist had then swallowed Braendings Slange. Bornholm beckoned, the isle that lay off the low southern Skaane cliffs.
'It looks as though we have shaken them off, Jumne's hounds', Odd murmured as much to himself as to Hunding, standing at the ship's steerboard.
'We might have fared better, had we had hounds', Hunding answered bleakly, sniffing in the sea air, 'then we might not have been taken unaware by the Jomsvikings all those years ago'.
'We had best get something to eat', Odd broke in. 'Where do we put in?'
'Thinking of our bellies again, friend?' Aesc laughed. 'well, why not? We must then set watches for the night and catch up on some well-earned sleep'.
'What do we have to eat?' Odd asked one of the Danes, who shrugged and drew out an oil-cloth bag from behind the mast partner,
'See for yourself', he shrugged again, handed him the bag and sat down on a rowing bench.
Odd reached into the bag and pulled forth a large sealskin bag, then a smaller one. He looked about at the hopeful crewmen before loosening the bindings on the smaller bag. What fell out onto the deck was little more than a snack for three men. They saw a chunk of hardened bread, some dry cheese and apples.
'Who wants an apple?' Aesc called out. At least there were enough apples to go around, with one to spare. Looking down at the seated man who drew out the bag he asked, 'You, Dane, what is your name?'
'I am Tofig to my friends', came the offhand answer.
'Do you want an apple, Tofig?' Aesc held one out. It was taken with a curt nod from Tofig.
Odd held out a hand for an apple and Aesc laughed, tossing him the small, ruddy fruit. Turning to Hunding Aesc told him,
'We will have to buy more apples in the morning'.
'Do we have silver to pay for them with?' Hunding answered.
'Luckily I freed Brond's purse from his belt before I fed him to the Narwhals', one of the other Danes held out a small deerskin bag to Hunding.
'What of Lifing, did he carry silver?' Hunding opened the bag and raised his eyebrows at the handful of silver he poured out into his hand.
'Lifing had the rest'.
'I thought he kept a casket behind the mast partner, together with the food bag. He plainly did not think he would have far to go before feasting with his friends at Jumne', Sverri came through the gathering with a small, painted wooden casket inlaid with silver. He dropped the casket onto the deck between Hunding's boots, where it broke open to show a few silver coins and fragments of gold ornament chopped from Church books.
'I would say he was looking forward to his ill-gotten gains, too', Sverri sniffed and kicked at the casket, scattering the few coins across the deck boards.
'These will still come in handy', Odd crouched to claw some of the small silver coins from between the planking but gave in and stood up with only three of the coins in his outstretched hand. 'Put them with the others, Aesc'.
'At least there is plenty of fresh water in the kegs', Tofig smiled for the first time and stretched. 'I think we should set the watches now'.
'Aye, let us do that', Ealdwin agreed and looked at Hunding who, as steersman would usually settle such matters.
Some hours later the first grey fingers of light reached out to them from the east. Sverri shook Hunding awake and gave him the last apple, chuckling,
'Here, chew on this and ponder the day ahead. What are we doing?'
'I thank you', Hunding crunched on the sweet, juicy flesh of the apple. 'All the way from Jorvik, eh? First, however, I need a cold water swill to wake myself up'.
He pulled off his tunic, climbed overboard and bent to splash himself with the cold, salty sea water.
Roenne came to life by and by. Fishermen and traders alike ambled down over the strip of shingle beach to look at Braendings Slange. She drew admiring looks with her handsome lines and one or two of the townsfolk strode across the shingle to Hunding, who by now sat astride the ship's side, one leg dangling close to the rippling wavelets. He was watching the goings-on elsewhere when one of the men closed on him.
'Is she your ship?' one of them summoned the nerve to ask.
'She is -', Hunding answered tersely, making the fellow more edgy. He would have to begin anew after the next man asked,
'You are a Dane, are you not? Whereabouts are you from?'
'I am from near Vejle on the east coast of Jylland, but this ship was built in the Danelaw, and my crew are both Danes and Aenglishmen'.
'Where are you headed?' the same fellow pressed.
'We are headed for Holmgard, to seek out Prince Vladimir. Why do you ask?' Hunding asked in turn.
'I am a trade overseer', Hunding was told. 'Everything and everyone who comes by Bornholm has to be noted for tithing'.
'You mean we must pay taxes for bringing goods through here? Hunding stood suddenly, taking the trade overseer aback by his size.
'We do not want too much from you', the fellow told him warily. 'Five pieces of silver should be paid, for every hundred's worth in goods'.
'That is just too much! We have enough silver to buy food and drink, and that is all!' Hunding snapped, and thumped the ship wall. The the king's man gave a start, took a step backward and flinched when Hunding growled at him, 'Do we starve to fill your fat bellies, or do you agree a lower sum?'
'It is not our bellies you fill with the silver we ask of you. The king -' the man was not allowed to finish. Sverri joined Hunding in decrying the toll demand,
'Very well then, it is the king's fat belly we are filling', Tofig growled at the man's other side. 'Tell Svein he should pull in his belt and let honest men ply their trade. What we have is not meant to be sold here. You heard my friend, tell the king our cargo is for an eastern prince! Tell him also that his trade overseers are getting fat on unlawful demands, and that they should be traded in for honest men!'
Behind the one who spoke to Hunding the other king's men reddened deeply. By now a crowd gathered around them, laughing, fingers pointing.
'We will be back - soon!' the reedy king's tithe gatherer told Hunding without looking at him.
'By all means, do that' Hunding answered, watching as a handsome young woman passed with a child tugging on one arm. He called out to her, 'You look harrassed. Stop awhile and then let your child try to pull you along'.
'He is not even mine', she answered, grinning, eyes blinking against the sharp sunlight bouncing off the wavetops. 'He is my nephew, and he wanted to see your ship'.
'He can come aboard, as can you if you wish', Hunding hunched to speak to the lad. 'Would you like to look over our ship, young man?'
Ask a foolish question, he thought to himself. This lad is full of mischief, as I was at his age. Hunding shook the memory off, like a hound shaking off water after a swim.
'Come, then', he beckoned to aunt and nephew, thinking to himself, 'I wish my aunt had looked like her'. He saw Wulfwila and blinked. The young woman smiled at him, offering her hand for him to help her clamber aboard at the stern.
Whilst he showed them about he stole sidelong glances at her. Tall for a woman, strong-boned, high-cheeked and with wavy fiery toned hair, she looked less like a Dane each time he looked at her. He thought she seemed more Erse. She reminded him of the women he saw in Vedrafjordur, in southern Leinster.
'What is your name', Hunding asked her, suddenly stricken with her good looks. Even her smell was different to the wan, willowy Danes of Bornholm, although most of the women here did not seem to pay any mind to her.
'Caitlin - my name', she answered, looking into his eyes. 'My name is Caitlin, given to me by my grandmother who was brought here as a thrall many years ago when Sigtrygg Silkeskegg was king of Danish Dyflin'.
Try as he might, Hunding could not find an answer. He was stumped for the first time in many years. She smiled again, and called the child to her, yelling when he failed to answer,
Sverri bundled the lad up in his thick arms and lifted little Kjartan over the ship's side to drop him lightly into the shallows.
'Caitlin I will tell mother you let me out of your sight if you do not come now!' the lad laughed mischievously and ran up the strand ahead of her. Dragging her behind him, they were hardly out of sight amongst the throng before a troop of men showed with the king's trade overseer.
Aesc, Odd, Sverri and Tofig leapt into the shallows and heaved the ship back into the deeper water of the small bay. The rest of the crew, still aboard Braendings Slange ran the oars out, ready for shoving off as soon as enough water ran under the ship to float her.
Next - 10: Meeting Gauti
The Scandinavian nation states grew from tribal beginnings, as everywhere in Europe. At the northern edge of 'the civilised' world they made their mark, and grew... It was the development of the ship that enabled these smaller northern kingdoms to spread their influence far beyond their own boundaries - to Ireland, the Western Isles (around the north and west of Scotland... Iceland was the destination for those willing to risk life and limb in the colonisation of the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and the St Lawrence Rivermouth (L'Anse Aux Meadows). Eastward were the destinations for the Svear (Swedes) or Vaerangr or oath-givers who sold their services to the Slav princes in Holmgard (Novgorod), Koenungagard (Kiev) and further afield to Miklagard (Constantinople) where riches beyond belief could be had in the service of the emperor from the late 10th Century.
A history bigger than the island...
Bornholm is deceptive. A small Danish island set off the coast of modern Sweden, it hides a history of greater proportions. The name 'Bornholm' is a shortened 'Borgundarholm'. This is where the Burgundians began, spreading southward with their neighbours the Teutons, Suevi and Vandals. The Teutons swung south-eastward from the base of the Jutland peninsula, whilst the Vandals and Burgundians pressed on southward. Some of the Suevi stayed in the Black Forest area, the rest went on, turned west past the Pyrenees and the Vandals pushed further across the Pyrenees, south through the Iberian peninsula and - against the wishes of Rome - into North Africa, settling where Carthage had been.
Meanwhile the Burgundians began to set down roots to the south-west of the Franks around AD375-450, ranging along the coast of the Mediterranean around AD500, before metamorphosing into the Kingdom of Burgundy by about AD 900. Much later Burgundy was absorbed into the kingdom of France as the Duchy of Burgundy - which included part of what later became Switzerland - by AD1360. The Duke of Burgundy was one of the staunchest supporters of Jean d'Arc (Joan of Arc) in her war against English occupation of much of what is now north-western France (Normandy, Picardy, Anjou and Maine)..