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´╗┐Title: King Olaf's Kinsman - A Story of the Last Saxon Struggle against the Danes in the Days of Ironside and Cnut
Author: Whistler, Charles W. (Charles Watts), 1856-1913
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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KING OLAF'S KINSMAN

A Story of the Last Saxon Struggle Against the Danes
in the Days of Ironside and Cnut

by Charles W. Whistler

            Preface.
 Chapter 1: The Coming Of The Vikings.
 Chapter 2: Olaf The King.
 Chapter 3: The Breaking Of London Bridge.
 Chapter 4: Earl Wulfnoth Of Sussex.
 Chapter 5: How Redwald Fared At Penhurst.
 Chapter 6: Sexberga The Thane's Daughter.
 Chapter 7: The Fight At Leavenheath.
 Chapter 8: The White Lady Of Wormingford Mere.
 Chapter 9: The Treachery Of Edric Streone.
Chapter 10: The Flight From London.
Chapter 11: The Taking Of The Queen.
Chapter 12: Among Friends.
Chapter 13: Jealousy.
Chapter 14: The Last Great Battle.
Chapter 15: The Shadow Of Edric Streone.
Chapter 16: By Wormingford Mere.
            Notes.



Preface.


No English chronicler mentions the presence of King Olaf the Saint
in England; but the two churches dedicated to him at either end of
London Bridge, where his greatest deed was wrought, testify to the
gratitude of the London citizens towards the viking chief who
rescued their city from the Danes, and brought back the king of
their own race towards whom their loyalty was so unswerving.

The deeds of King Olaf recorded in this story of his kinsman are
therefore from the Norse "Saga of King Olaf the Holy," and the
various incidents are assigned as nearly as may be to their place
in the sequence of events given from the death of Swein to the
accession of Cnut, in the contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which
is our most reliable authority for the period.

The place where King Olaf fought his seventh battle, "Ringmereheath
in Ulfkyl's land," is doubtful. To have localized it, therefore, on
a traditional battlefield in Suffolk, where a mound and field names
point to a severe forgotten fight in the line which a southern
invader would take between Colchester and Sudbury, may be
pardonable for the purposes of Redwald's story.

With regard to other historic incidents in the tale, some are from
the Danish "Knytlinga" and "Jomsvikinga" Sagas, which alone give us
the age of Cnut on his accession to the throne, and recount the
interception of Queen Emma by Thorkel's men on her projected
flight. In the ordinary course of history the age of the wise king
is disregarded, and the doings of the three great jarls are
naturally enough credited to him, for after the first few years of
confusion have been passed over, he takes his place as the greatest
of our rulers since Alfred, and his age is forgotten in his
wonderful policy.

The doings of Edric Streone are partly from the hints give by the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and partly from the accounts of later
English writers. But there is no chronicle of either English,
Danish, or Norse origin which does not hold him and his treachery
in the utmost scorn.

The account of the battle of Ashingdon follows the definite local
traditions of the place. The line of the river banks have changed
but little, and Cnut's earthworks still remain at Canewdon. The
first battlefield is yet known, and they still tell how Eadmund was
forced to fight on Ashingdon hill because his way across the ford
was barred by the Danish ships, and how the pursuit of the routed
English ended at Hockley.

Wulfnoth and his famous son Godwine are of course historic. The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us how the earl was driven into sullen
enmity with Ethelred by Streone's brother, and the Danish Sagas
record Godwine's first introduction by Jarl Ulf to Cnut after the
battle of Sherston.

As for the places mentioned in Redwald's story, the well on Caldbec
hill still has its terrors for the village folk, and the
destruction of the ancient mining village at Penhurst by the Danes
is remembered yet with strange tales of treasure found among its
stone buildings. The Bures folk still speak of the White Lady of
the Mere, and their belief that Boadicea lies under the great mound
is by no means unlikely to be a tradition of her true resting
place.

C. W. WHISTLER

STOCKLAND, Nov. 1896.



Chapter 1: The Coming Of The Vikings.


All along our East Anglian shores men had watched for long, and now
word had come from Ulfkytel, our earl, that the great fleet of
Swein, the Danish king, had been sighted off the Dunwich cliffs,
and once again the fear of the Danes was on our land.

And so it came to pass that I, Redwald, son of Siric, the Thane of
Bures, stood at the gate of our courtyard and watched my father and
our sturdy housecarles and freemen ride away down the hill and
across the winding Stour river to join the great levy at
Colchester. And when I had seen the last flash of arms sparkle from
among the copses beyond the bridge, I had looked on Siric, my
father, for the last time in this world, but no thought rose up in
my mind that this might be so.

Yet if I stand now where I stood on that day, and see by chance the
glimmer of bright arms through green boughs across the river, there
comes to me a rush of sadness that dulls the bright May sunshine
and the sparkle of the rippling water, and fills the soft May-time
wind with sounds of mourning. Now to me it seems that I was thus
sad at the time that is brought back to me. But I was not so. It is
only the weight of long years of remembrance of what should have
been had I known. At that parting I turned back into the hall
downcast, only because my father had thought me not yet strong
enough to ride beside him, and a little angry and hurt moreover,
for I was broad and strong for my sixteen years.

Little thought I that in years to come I should remember all of
that leave taking, even to the least thing that happened; but so it
is. No man may rightly be said to forget aught. All that he has
known and learnt is there, hidden up in his mind to come forth if
there is anything that shall call it again to light.

Now my father lies resting among nameless heroes who died for
England on Nacton Heath--I know not even which of the great mounds
it may be that holds his bones--but he fell before the flight began
when Thurketyl Mirehead played the craven. Neither victor nor
vanquished was he when his end came, but maybe that is the best end
for a warrior after all. Some must fall, and some may live to
boast, and some remain to mourn, but to give life for fatherland in
hottest strife is good. That is what my father would have wished
for himself, and I at least sorrow but for myself and not for him.

Now I have spoken of remembrance, and I will add this word--that
some things in a man's life can never be set aside from his memory.
Waking or sleeping they come back to him. Eight days after that
going of my father came such a time to me, so that every least
thing is clear to me today as then.

I sat plaiting a leash for my hounds on the settle before the fire
in our great hall at Bures, and I remember how the strands of
leather thong fell in my hand; I remember how my mother's spinning
wheel stopped short with a snapping of broken threads; how the
thrall who was feeding the fire stayed with the log in his hands;
how the sleepy men at the lower end of the hall sprang up with
heavy words checked on their lips before the lady's presence; how
the maidens screamed--aye, and how the draught swayed the wall
hangings, and sent a long train of sparks flying from a half-dead
torch, as the great door was thrown open and a man flung himself
into our midst, mud splashed and white faced, with hands that
quivered towards us as he cried hoarsely:

"In haste, mistress--you must fly--the Danes--" and fell like a log
at my mother's feet where she sat on the dais, neither moving nor
speaking more.

It was Grinkel, the leader of our housecarles {1}. His armour
was rent and gashed, and no sword was in the scabbard at his side,
and his helm was gone, and now as he fell a bandage slipped from
his arm, and slowly the red stream from a great wound ran among the
sweet sedges wherewith the floor was strewn.

There came a mist before my eyes, and my heart beat thick and fast
as I saw him; but my mother rose up neither screaming nor growing
faint, though through her mind, as through mine, must have glanced
the knowledge of all that this homecoming of brave Grinkel meant.
She stepped from the high place to the warrior's side and hastily
rebound the wound, telling the maidens meanwhile to bring wine that
she might revive him if he were not already sped.

Then she rose up while the old steward took the wine and tried to
force it between the close-set teeth, and she called the farm
servants to her.

"Make ready all the horses and yoke the oxen to the wains," she
said in a clear voice that would not tremble. "Send the lads to
warn the village folk to fly beyond the river. For Grinkel comes
not in this wise for nought. The Danes are on us."

Now I remember the grim faces of the men as they went, and I
remember the look on the faces of the women as they heard, and in
the midst of us seemed to lie terror itself glaring from the set
eyes of the dead warrior. And of those memories I will say
nought--I would not have them live in the minds of any by day and
night as they lived in mine for many a long year thereafter. Many
were the tales I had heard of the coming of Ingvar's host in the
days of Eadmund our martyred king, who was crowned here at Bures in
our own church, and those tales were terrible. Now the like was on
us, and I saw that what I had heard was not the half.

The old steward rose up now, shaking his head in sorrow. I think he
was too old for fear.

"Grinkel is dead, lady," he said gently, closing the wild eyes as
he spoke, and then throwing a cloak from the wall over him. But my
mother only said, "May he rest in peace. What of the Thane?"

Thereat the steward looked forthright into his lady's face, and
spoke bravely for all around to hear:

"Doubtless the levy is broken for this once, and he bides with Earl
Ulfkytel to gather a new and stronger force. The Thane has sent
Grinkel on, and he has ridden in over-much haste for a wounded man.
He was ever eager."

My mother gave back her old servant's look in silence, and seemed
to assent. Yet I, though I was but a lad of sixteen, could see what
passed in that look of theirs. I knew that surely my father had
fallen, and that need was great for haste.

Then was hurry and hustle in the house as all that was most
valuable was gathered, and I myself could but take my arms from the
wall, and don mail-shirt and helm and sword and seax {2} and
then look on, useless enough, with my thoughts in a whirl all the
time.

Presently out of their tangle came one thing clearly to me, and
that was that there were others whom I loved to be warned, besides
the villagers.

My mother came into the hall again, and stood for a moment like a
carven statue looking at the maidens who wrought at packing what
they might. She had not wept, but in her face was written sorrow
beyond weeping. Yet almost did she weep, when I stood beside her
and spoke, putting my hand on her arm.

"Mother," I said, "I must go to Wormingford and warn them also. My
horse will be ready, and I will return to you."

Then she looked at me, for as I go over these things I know that
this was the first time that I had ever said to her "I must,"
without asking her leave, in aught that I would do. And she
answered me calmly.

"Aye, that is a good thought. They will need help. Bide with them
if need is, and so join us presently on the road. We will fly to
London."

"So far, mother?" I said. "Surely Colchester will be safe."

"I will go to Ethelred the king," she answered. "He has ever been
your father's friend, and will be yours. And I was the queen's
maiden in the old days, and she will welcome me. Now go and bring
Hertha to me."

She turned to her work, and I went out across the courtyard.
Already the wains stood there, the teams of sleepy oxen tossing
their long horns in the glare of torches. The church bell was
clanging the alarm of fire to bring home the men from field or
forest if any were abroad so late, for it was an hour after sunset,
and there was no moon yet.

The gray horse that my father gave me a year agone stood ready
saddled in the stall when I came to the stables. I went and loosed
him, while a groom saw me and ran to help, and as I swung into the
saddle I saw his face marked with new lines across his forehead.

"Do you fly first, master?" he said, with strange meaning in his
voice.

"I go to Wormingford," I answered. "Likely enough, therefore, that
I fly last," and I laughed.

"Aye, let me go, master, let me go," he said. "It is like that the
Danes are on the road."

"Not yet," I said, touched by question and offer alike. "There is
many a mile between here and Ipswich, and I think that to go to
Wormingford is my work, surely."

So I rode away fast, seeing in the valley below me the lights of
the house that I sought. As I had said, the errand was indeed mine.

For at the great house just across the river below the hills lived
the one who should be my wife in the days to come--Hertha, daughter
of Osgod, the Thane of Wormingford. It was now three years since we
had been betrothed with all solemnity in our church, and that had
seemed but fit and right, for we were two children who had played
together since we could run hand in hand. And my mother had been as
a mother also to little Hertha since she was left with only her
father to tend her.

Our house and Osgod's were akin, though not near, for we both
traced our line from Redwald the first Christian king of East
Anglia, whose name I bore. Hertha was two years younger than I.

Now Osgod the Thane had ridden away to the war with my father, and
unless he had returned with Grinkel, Hertha was alone in the house
with her old nurse and the farm servants. Most surely she would
have been at Bures with us but for some spring-time sickness which
was among the village children, and from which my mother sought to
keep her free. It might be that the thane had returned, but it was
in my mind that the manner of Grinkel's coming boded ill to all of
us.

So I rode on quickly down the hill towards the river. I knew not
how near the Danes might be, but I thought little of them, until
suddenly through the dusk I saw a red point of fire flicker and
broaden out into flame on a hilltop eastward, where I knew a beacon
fire was piled against need. And then from every point along the
Stour valley beacon after beacon flashed out in answer, until all
the countryside was full of them; and I hurried on more swiftly
than before.

Our hall stood on the hill crest above church and village, beyond
the reach of creeping river mist and sudden floods, and I rode down
the track that crosses the lower road and so comes to the ford
below Osgod's place on the Essex side of the river. And when I came
to the crossing my horse pricked his ears and snorted, so that I
knew there were horsemen about, and I reined up and waited in the
lane.

I could hear the quick hoofbeats of two steeds, and all the air was
full of the sound of alarm bells, for the evening was very still.

Then up the road from eastward rode two men at an easy gallop, and
my horse's manner told me that a stable mate of his was coming, so
I feared no longer but went into the main road to meet them.

"What news?" I cried, and they halted.

"It is the young master," said one, and I knew the voice of Edred,
our housecarle. And when he was close to me I could see that he was
in almost as evil plight as had been Grinkel his comrade. The other
man I knew not, but he bore a headless spear shaft in his hand, and
Edred's shield had a great gash across it.

"Master, has Grinkel come?" Edred asked me.

"Aye, and is dead. He bade us fly, and could say no more. What of
my father?"

The men looked at one another for a moment, and then Edred said
very sadly:

"Woe is me that I must be the bearer of heavy tidings to you and
the lady your mother. But what is true is true and must be told.
Never has such a battle been fought in East Anglia, and the fortune
of war has gone against us."

The fear that I had read in my mother's eyes fell cold on me at
those words-and I asked again, longing and fearing to know the
worst:

"What of the thane, my father?"

"Master, he fell with the first," Edred answered with a breaking of
his voice. "Nor might we bring him from the place where he fell.
For the Danes swept us from the field at the last like dead leaves
in the wind, and there was nought left us but to fly. Two long
hours we fought first, and then came flight. They say one man began
it. I know not; but it was no man of ours. Now the Danes are
marching hitherwards to Colchester."

"What of Osgod of Wormingford?" I asked.

"He lies beside our lord. There is a ring of slain round them. I
would I were there also," the warrior answered.

"Then were there one less to care for our helpless ones," I said.
"All are preparing for flight at Bures. Come with me to
Wormingford, and we will warn them. There is work to do for us who
are left."

"Aye, master, that is right," he said; "we may fight again and wipe
out this business."

Then the other man, who belonged to Sudbury, five miles beyond us,
bade us farewell, and so rode on with his tale of terror, and Edred
followed me across the ford to Osgod's house, which was but a mile
from where we met. He told me that Grinkel had found a fresh horse
in Stoke village, and so had outstripped him.

Many thralls stood at the gate of Osgod's courtyard as we came
there, and they were staring at the beacon fires around us, and
listening to the wild bells that rang so strangely. There was a
fire blazing now on the green before our own house, and one on the
hill above the Wormingford mere, which men say is haunted.

"I would see your mistress," I said as they came and held my horse.
I had not been to the house for two days, as it chanced.

Then one ran and brought the house steward, and told him.

"I know not if that may be, master," he said; "but I will ask Dame
Gunnhild."

"Has the lady gone to rest?" I said, being surprised at this delay.

"She is not well" the man said; "and the dame has not suffered her
to rise today."

"Then let me have speech with the dame without delay," I said, for
this made me uneasy, seeing what need there was for speedy flight.

The steward went in, and I bade the thralls do all that Edred
ordered them, telling him to see to what was needed for flight and
so I went into the house, and stood by the hall fire waiting for
Gunnhild the nurse.

There is nothing in all that wide hall that I cannot remember
clearly, even to a place where the rushes were ill strewn on the
floor. And the short waiting seemed very long to me.

Then came Gunnhild. She was old, and I feared her, for men said
that she was a witch. But she had been in the house of Osgod the
Thane since he himself was a child, and Hertha loved her, and that
was enough for me. Nor had I any reason to think that the dame had
any but friendly feelings towards myself, though her bright eyes
and tall figure, and most of all what was said of her, feared me,
as I say. Now she came towards me swiftly, and did not wait for me
to speak first.

"What will you at this hour, Redwald?" she said.

"Nought but pressing need bade me come thus," I answered. "The levy
is broken, and the Danes are on the way to Colchester. My mother
flies to London, and you and Hertha must do likewise."

"So your father and hers are slain," she said, looking fixedly at
me, and standing very still.

"How know you that?" I asked sharply, for I had told the steward
nothing.

"By your face, Redwald," she said; "you were but a boy two days
agone, now you have a man's work on your hands, and you will do it.
Who bade you ride here?"

"No one," I said, wondering, "needs must that I should come."

"That is as I thought," she said; "but we cannot fly."

"Why not?"

"Because the sickness that your mother feared is on Hertha, and she
cannot go."

Now I was ready to weep, but that would be of no use.

"Is there danger to her?" I said, and I could not keep my voice
from shaking, for Hertha was all the sister I had, and she in time
would be nearer than that to me.

"None," answered the dame, "save she runs risk of chill. For she
has been fevered for a while."

"Which is most to be feared," said I, "chill, or risk of Danish
cruelty?"

She made no answer, but asked me what were my mother's plans. And
when I said that she would fly to Ethelred the king, the old nurse
laughed strangely to herself.

"Then you go to the very cause of all this trouble," she said.
"Truly the king's name should be 'the Unredy', for rede he has
none. It is his ill counsel that has brought Swein the Dane on us.
We have to pay for the Hock-tide slayings {3}."

"We had no share in that" I said.

"No, because half our folk are Danes, more or less, some of the men
of Ingvar and Guthrum. But Swein will not care for that--they are
all English to him."

"What will you do, then?" I asked, growing half wild that she
should stand there quietly and plan nought.

"These folk will side with Swein presently, when they find that he
is the stronger, and then the old kinship will wake in them, and
the Wessex king will be nought to their minds. Then will be peace
here, for the Danes will sweep on to Mercia and London. Do you go
to Ethelred the Unredy--and I abiding here shall be the safer in
the end, and Hertha with me."

"But peace has not come yet" I said.

"I can hide until it does come," she said. And then, for my face
must have shown all the doubt that I felt, she spoke very kindly to
me. "Trust the old witch who wishes you well, Redwald, my son; she
who has nursed Hertha for so long will care for her till the last;
safe she will be until you return to find her when the foolishness
of Ethelred is paid for."

"Where can you hide?" I asked, and urged her to tell me more, but
she would not do so.

"No man would dream of the hiding place that I shall seek," she
said, "and I will tell it to none. Then will it be the surer."

"I know all this country," I answered. "There is no place."

She smiled faintly, and paused a little, thinking.

"I will tell you this," she said at last. "You go to the king;
well--I go to the queen. That is all you may know. But maybe it
will be enough to guide you someday."

I could not understand what she meant; nor would she tell me more.
Only she said that all would be safe, and that I need fear nothing
either for Hertha or for herself.

"My forbears were safe in that place to which I go," she said; "and
I alone know where it is. When the time comes, Hertha shall tell
you of it but that must wait for the days to be."

"I fear they will be long. Let me see Hertha before I go," I said,
"for I must needs be content."

"How looked she when last you saw her?"

"Well, and bright, and happy," I answered.

"Keep that memory of her therefore," Gunnhild said. "I would not
have you see her in sickness, nor may she be waked without danger.
Tell your mother that surely if she could take Hertha with her it
should be so, but it may not be. She would be harmed by a long
journey."

The old nurse turned and left me as swiftly as she had come. And
now it is in my mind that she went thus lest she should weep. So I
was alone in the hall, and there was no more left for me to do. I
must even let things be as she would. It came into my thought that
she was right about our half-Danish folk, for though they had
fought to keep the newcomers from the land that their fathers had
won, Swein was no foreigner, and they would as soon own him as
Ethelred of Wessex, if he got the upper hand and would give them
peace. Even we Angles never forgot that the race of Ecgberht was
Saxon and not of our own kin altogether. The Dane was as near to us
as the Wessex king, save by old comradeship, and the ties that had
come with years.

So all that Edred and I could do was to bid the steward take his
orders from Gunnhild, and so ride back to Bures along the riverside
track. And when we came there the long train of flying people were
crossing the bridge, and we rode past them one by one, and the
sight of those wain loads of helpless women and children was the
most piteous I had ever seen. Many such another train was I to look
on in the years to come, but none ever wrung my heart as this, for
I knew every face so well. Yet I thought they would be safe, for
the Danes were far off yet, and there was full time to gain the
depths of the forest land on the East Saxon side.

Now, our people had gone on more quickly than the villagers by
reason of better cattle and more hands to the work, and when we had
passed the foremost of these, the road went up the hill and no man
was upon it. So we went quickly, and then came one on foot towards
the village, and just beyond him were our folk, whom he had passed
or left.

It was good Father Ailwin, our old priest, and I thought that he
sought me, or took back some word to others and I would ride back
for him.

"What is it, Father?" I cried, "I will do your errand."

"Nay, my son, you cannot," he said; "your mother drew me to fly
with her, and my weakness bade me do it for a while. But I may not
leave my place. The Danes are not all heathen as they were in
Eadmund's days, and I think that I am wrong to go. When our folk
come back they must find their priest waiting for them."

Then I strove to turn him again to flight with us, but I could not,
and at last he commanded me to desist and leave him. And so he gave
me his blessing, and I went, being sure that he would be slain, and
weeping therefore, for I loved him well. But I told him of Dame
Gunnhild's words, and begged him to seek her and speak with her,
for she might hide him also for a while if he would not leave the
place altogether.

So we left our home, and that was the last time I set eyes on our
hall at Bures. Then I caught up my mother hard by the dark wood
that is round the great solemn mound that we say is the tomb of
Boadicea, the Icenian queen of the men who fought against Rome. We
call it haunted, and none of us dare set foot in those woods, by
day even.

The beacon fires burnt all round us, and in every farmstead was
terror and hustle as the poor folk trembled to think what they
could mean, and some came now and then and asked my mother what
they should do.

"Bide in your homes till you must needs take to the woods," she
said; and that was wise counsel, and many were glad thereafter that
they took it, for the Danes passed them by.

Now I remember all that happened on our journey to London along the
great Roman road that runs from Colchester thither, but there is
little to tell thereof, for it was safe and we hardly hurried after
the first day. We rested at the house of a thane who was well known
to us on the first evening, and there my mother heard from Edred
all that had befallen. And she bore the heavy tidings well, for she
had already given up any hope that my father still lived. Yet as I
look back I know that she was never the same after that day.

So we came in safety to London, and to the court of Ethelred our
king, and there we were most kindly received, for my father was
well known to the king, and the queen loved my mother for the sake
of old days. They gave us lodging near the great house where the
court was held, and on the third day after we came, we were bidden
to the king's presence.

Then it was that I looked on Ethelred for the first time, and I had
thought that a king should have been more kingly than he. For there
was no command in his face, and he moved quickly and with little
meaning in what he did, being restless in his way. But he put his
hand on my shoulder very kindly, and looked in my face and said:

"One may know that this is the son of Siric, my friend. He is like
what the good thane was in the old days. What shall I do for him,
lady?"

Now, my mother would have answered, but I was not afraid of this
handsome, careless-looking man, and I had my own wishes in the
matter. So I spoke for myself.

"Make me a warrior, lord king. I would fain fight the Danes, and
already I can use sword and spear, and can ride."

Then my mother spoke hastily and almost weeping, being broken down
with all her trouble and the long journey.

"I would have him serve Holy Church rather, in some monastery.
Already he can read and write, my king, for I have had him taught
in hopes that this might be."

Thereat the king shook his head, and walked away to the window for
a minute. Then he came back quickly and said, not looking at my
mother:

"Holy Church will be best served by warriors who will use carnal
arms against Swein's heathen just now. The boy is right--I would
that there were more who had his spirit. We need and shall need
those who love fighting."

Then he said to me:

"Siric your father had a wondrous sword that I used to envy him;
you shall learn to use it."

"Lord king," I answered, "I must learn to win it back from the
Danes, who have it now."

I thought the king changed countenance a little at that, and he bit
his lip.

"We have been well beaten in East Anglia," he said as if to
himself. "Here is truth from this boy at least."

Now, if Ethelred did not know that our men had been so scattered by
the Danes that they could not even ask for truce to recover their
slain, it seemed plain even to me that the king was ill-served in
some way. But I could say nought; and after that he bade us
farewell for the time.

So it came to pass that he gave me a place among the thanes' sons
of his own court and there I was well trained in all that would
make me a good warrior. Soon I had many friends, and best of all I
loved the athelings, Eadmund and Eadward, who soon took notice of
me, the one because I was never weary of weapon play, and the
other, Eadward, who was somewhat younger than I, because of the
learning that our good priest of Bures had taken such pains to
teach me against my will. For above all things Eadmund loved the
craft of the warrior, and Eadward all that belonged to peace.



Chapter 2: Olaf The King.


My mother lived but a few months after that flight of ours; but at
least she knew before she died that Bertha was safe. What the old
nurse had foreseen had come to pass. The half-Danish and Danish
folk of the East Angles owned Swein as king, though not willingly,
and a housecarle from Wormingford made his way to us with word from
Gunnhild that set our minds at rest. Truly our hall and Osgod's had
been burnt by parties from the Danish host, and for a time the
danger was great, for Swein's vengeance for his sister's death was
terrible.

Now the land was poorer, but in peace. Yet Hertha would keep in
hiding till we might see how things went, for the Danes might be
forced back, and when a Danish host retreats it hinders pursuit by
leaving a desert in its wake. Many a long year will it be before
those Danish pathways are lost to sight again. They seem to be
across every shire of our land.

So I lived on in Ethelred's court now in one town and now in
another, as the long struggle bade us shift either to follow or fly
the Danes; and presently the memory both of my mother and Hertha
grew dim, for wartime and new scenes age and harden a youth very
quickly. Soon I might ride at the side of Eadmund the Atheling to
try to stay the march of Swein through England; and many were the
fights I saw with him, until I was the only one left of all the
youths who had been my comrades at first, and Eadmund had won his
name of "Ironside" in bravest hopeless struggle.

I grew to be a close and trusted friend of his, and so at last
amidst the trouble that was all round us in those heavy times the
remembrance of Hertha became but as part of a childhood that was
long gone, and I thought of her but as of the little one with whom
I had played in the old days beside the quiet Stour. There were
none left to remind me of her, for one by one my few Bures men had
fallen, and Edred, who had been my servant at the court, gave his
life for mine in my first battle. Into Swein's East Anglia our
levies never made their way.

What need for me to say aught of those three years of warfare?
Their tale is written in fire over all the fair face of England.
For nothing checked Swein Forkbeard until step by step the Danish
hosts closed on London, and at last even the brave citizens were
forced to yield to him. Then Ethelred our king must needs fly from
his throne, and leave the land to its Danish master.

Yet it was true, as Eadmund the Atheling said, that the Dane was
but master of the land, and not of the English people. Even today
my mind is full of wondering honour for those sullen Saxon levies
of ours who for three years bore defeat after defeat at the hands
of the trained and hardened veterans of the north, uncomplaining
and unbent. What wonder if at last we were wearied out and must
hold our hands for a while?

So now when I was nineteen, and looking and feeling many years
older by reason of the long stress of warfare and trouble, I was at
Rouen, in Normandy, at the court of our queen's brother, Richard
the Duke. To him Ethelred had fled at the last and there, too, were
the queen and the athelings, good Abbot Elfric of Peterborough, and
a few more of the court, besides myself. Ethelred had hoped to gain
some help from the duke; but he could only give us shelter in our
need, for he had even yet to hold the land that Rolf, his
forefather, had won against his neighbours, and could spare us not
one of his warriors.

So in Rouen we waited and watched for some new turn of things that
might give us fresh hopes of regaining our own land. Yet it was a
weary waiting for one knew not what; and Ethelred the king grew
moody and despairing as the days went on, and there seemed to be no
help.

But Eadmund was ever planning for return, and was restless, riding
down to each ship that came into the river to hear what news might
be, until the winter set in, and we must needs wait until
springtime brought the traders again from the English shores.

Only Elfgiva the queen, whom her own people call Emma, was well
content to be in her own land again for a while, though one might
easily see that she sorely grieved for the loss of her state as the
queen of England. And Eadward the Atheling loved to be among the
wondrous buildings of the Norman land, spending long hours with the
learned men, and planning many good things to be wrought in England
when times of peace should come once more. And in these plannings
Elfric the abbot was ever ready to help him, and the more, as I
think, that to hear of their thoughts of return to England, and of
happier times, would cheer our king. For Elfric would never allow
but that we were here for a short while only, saying that England
would yet rise up refreshed, and sweep the Danes into the sea, from
whence they came.

"Else why should I have given all that I have--even five hundred
pounds--for St. Florentine his body (wanting the head, in truth,
but I might not have that), if I were not sure that I should take
it home for the greater glory of St. Peter's church at Medehamstede
{4} presently? Answer me that, lord king, and be not so
downhearted."

This he said one day, being full of his purchase, and I think that
the cheerfulness of the good man helped our king.

"Verily, Redwald, my son," the abbot said to me, "if I get not St.
Florentine home, I think my money is not lost. The king waxes more
hopeful when he sees the shrine waiting to be taken overseas."

Nor could I say for myself that I was not pleased with the stay in
Rouen. For I had never known the fierce joy of victory, and the
rest from the long tale of defeat was good to me. Yet I set myself
to learn all that I could of the splendid weapon craft of the
Norman warriors, for I thought that I should yet need in England
all I could learn. And the new life and scenes pleased me well, for
I was young enough to let the cares of our poor land slip from my
mind for a while.

So the long winter wore away, and at last the season came when we
might look for the first ships of the year, and with them news from
England. Then Eadmund would go to the haven at the mouth of the
great river Seine that runs to Rouen, so that he should be at hand
to hear the first tidings that came. Glad enough was I to go with
him, and we took up our quarters in a great house that belonged to
the duke at the town they call "The Haven," and there waited, ever
watching the long gray sea line for a coming sail.

But none came until the first week in March, when the wind blew
steadily from the northeast, and the sky was clear and bright with
promise of open weather. Then at last we saw eight ships together
heading for the haven, and that sight was more welcome than I can
say.

When they came near we knew that they were no traders, but long
dragon ships, and at first we thought they were Danish vikings; and
the townsmen armed in haste and mustered along the wharves to
prevent their landing, if they came on their wonted errand of
plunder. And eagerly enough did Eadmund and I join them, only
hoping for another blow at our foes, and having no thought in our
minds that the ships we watched were bringing us more hope than we
dared long for.

Next I knew that these ships were like no Danish vessels that I had
ever seen, but were far more handsome, both in build and fittings.
Nor did they fly the terrible raven banner as most Danes were wont.
Then it was not long before the lines of armed townsmen broke up
their ranks and crowded down to the wharves to greet the ships in
all friendliness, for they were Norse, as it would seem, and the
Norse viking is ever welcome in the land that Rolf Ganger, the
viking, won for himself.

So the ships came into the harbour, brave with gilded dragon heads
and sails striped with bright colours, all fresh from their winter
quarters, and Eadmund turned away, for he thought that they would
be Swein's men, of the host of Thorkel the Norseman, his great
captain, and foster father of Cnut his son. For Swein held Norway
as well as Denmark, and many Norsemen followed him. Thorkel's host
was that which slew Elfheah, the good archbishop of Canterbury,
whom his monks called Elphege, but last year.

That, too, was the thought of the seamen to whom I spoke when the
ships were yet distant, and so we went back to the hall heavy and
disappointed. We would not speak to these men, knowing that from
Thorkel's folk we should but hear boasting of Swein's victories.

But presently the steward came into the hall, where we sat silently
listening to the shouts of the men as they berthed the ships, and
he said that the leader of the vikings would see and speak with
Eadmund himself.

"Is he Thorkel, or Thorkel's man?" answered the atheling, "for if
he be, I will not see him."

"No, lord," said the steward, "he is one who has no dealings with
the Danes. He will not tell me his name, but I think that he is a
great man of some kind."

"Not a great man, but thick," said a kindly voice of one who stood
without. "If hatred of Danes will pass me into Eadmund's presence,
I may surely enter."

And then there came into the doorway a man who was worth more than
a second look. Never had I seen one to whom the name of king seemed
to belong so well by right as to this man, whatever his rank might
be. He stood and looked round for a moment, as if the dim light
from the high windows was not enough to show him where we were at
first, and I could not take my eyes from him.

He was not tall, but very square of shoulder and deep of chest,
with mighty arms that were bare, save for their heavy gold
bracelets, below the sleeves of his ring mail, and his hair and
beard were golden red and very long. He wore a silvered helm,
whereon was inlaid a golden cross above a narrow gold circlet that
was round its rim, and his hand rested on the hilt of such a
priceless sword as is told of in the old tales of the heroes. But I
forgot all these things as I looked into his pleasant weatherbeaten
face, and saw the kindly look in the gray eyes that I knew would
flash most terribly in fight. He was twenty-five years old, as I
thought; but therein I was wrong, for he was just my own age,
though looking so much older.

"I am Olaf Haraldsson--Olaf Digri, the Thick, as men call me," he
said. "Some call me king, though I rule but over a few ships, as a
sea king. Which of you thanes is Eadmund the Atheling?"

Then Eadmund rose up from his place, and went towards the king. His
seat had been in shadow, else there had been no need to ask which
was he.

"I have heard of you, King Olaf," he said, "for your deeds are sung
in our land already. And you are most welcome. Have you news from
England?"

So those two grasped each other's hands, and I think there were no
two other such men living at that time. It was good to see them
together.

"Aye," said the king, "I have been in England, and therefore I have
come to find you. Swein is dead, and your chance has come. Let me
help you to win your land again."

That was plain speaking, and for the moment Eadmund held his
breath, and could not speak for sheer surprise and gladness. But I
could not forbear leaping up and shouting, tossing my helm in the
air as I did so, so wondrous was all this to me, and so full of
hope.

At that Olaf laughed, and leaving Eadmund to his thoughts, turned
to me.

"Which of the athelings are you?" he asked. "I have heard of
Eadmund's brothers," and he held out his strong hand to take mine.

"I am but the atheling's comrade--his servant, rather," I said,
growing red as I did so, for I had surely forgotten myself in my
gladness.

"Redwald is no servant, King Olaf," said Eadmund quickly. "He is my
closest comrade here, and has fought well at my side. Thane of
Bures in East Anglia he is--but now the Danes hold his place."

"Why then," said Olaf, "Thoralf's grandson surely?"

"Aye, king," I answered, wondering; "my grandfather was named
Thoralf. He was one of Olaf Tryggvesson's chiefs."

"Then have I found a cousin," laughed the king. "Give me your hand,
kinsman," and he looked me over from head to foot, but very kindly.

I took the king's hand gladly, but somewhat dazed in my mind at
being thus owned. And Olaf saw that I was so, and told me more.

"Asta, my good mother, was this Thoralf's cousin, and we Norsemen
do not lose count of our kin. So I knew well that Thoralf found an
English home and wife when Olaf Tryggvesson was first in England,
and that he was Thane of Bures by some right of his lady. So I
knew, when I heard your name and place, that I had found a kinsman.
And I have so few that I am glad."

Now I knew that this was true, but we had never thought much of
Thoralf, rather priding ourselves on his wife's long descent from
King Redwald. I wished for the first time now that I knew more of
this Norse grandfather of mine.

"Presently we will find Rani, my foster father, who is with the
ships," said Olaf; "he knew Thoralf well. You and I must see much
of one another, cousin."

Then he turned to Eadmund, who was, as it seemed, well pleased that
I had found so good a friend. And he said:

"Forgive me if I have forgotten greater matters for a moment. But I
cannot greet a kinsman coldly, and it is in my mind that Redwald is
a cousin worth finding, if I may judge by the way in which he
hailed my news."

"Truly," said Eadmund, "I am minded to do as he did, now that I
have taken all the wonder of it in. But it seems over good to be
true--Swein dead--and your offered help!"

Then they both laughed, well content, and so Eadmund called the
steward, and wine and meat were set for the king, and they sat down
and talked, as he ate with a sailor's hunger. But I listened not to
their talk, my mind being over full of this good fortune of my own.
I had none left of my own kin, and till today I had been as it were
alone.

Presently, however, I heard an East Anglian name that was dear to
me. Eadmund asked how it was that Swein Forkbeard had died, for
none thought that his end was yet to be thought of as near. Now it
would seem that he had gone suddenly.

"He was at Gainsborough," said Olaf, "and he was about to make his
way south to Eadmund's burg. Whereon men say that to save his town
and shrine the holy martyr, King Eadmund, whom Ingvar slew, thrust
Swein through with an iron lance. Some say that he slew him
otherwise, but all agree as to his slayer. And now I think that
England will rise."

"What of Cnut, Swein's son?" asked Eadmund.

"He is but a boy. What he may be in a few years' time I know not.
With him it will be as with myself. I was given a ship when I was
twelve years old, and thereafter all that my men did goes to my
credit in the mouths of the scalds. Yet my men and I know well that
Rani, my foster father, whom you will soon know, was the real
captain and leader for the first three or four years."

Then said Eadmund:

"Cnut is of no account."

Olaf laughed a little, and answered:

"Cnut's own arm may be of little strength, but his name is on the
lips of every Dane. There are three chiefs who will hold the
kingdom in his name, and they are the men whom you must meet:
Thorkel the High, his foster father; Ulf Sprakalegsson the jarl,
his brother-in-law; and Eirik the jarl, whose brother Homing holds
London even now. Good men and loyal they are, and what they do Cnut
does."

"I have three chiefs in my mind who can match these," said our
atheling. "Olaf the king, and Ulfkytel of East Anglia, and Edric
Streone, my foster father."

Then Olaf looked in the face of Eadmund, as it seemed to me in
surprise, and made no answer.

"Are we not equal then?" asked the atheling.

"I have heard that Edric Streone is on the Danish side," said Olaf.
"Cannot Utred of Northumbria be trusted?"

"Edric has but sought rest, from need," answered Eadmund. "I know
not what else he could do at last. He will join us again as soon as
we land. So also will Utred."

"Then we are equal," said the king, while a cloud seemed to pass
from his face, for Streone led all Mercia, and were he in truth on
our side things would go well. It was no very secret talk among
some of us that Edric the earl had made peace sooner than might
have been, but that angered Eadmund and the king sorely if so much
were even hinted.

"Then you will indeed help us?" said Eadmund, for Olaf had accepted
the place he had named for him as it were.

"I have a debt to England that I can never repay," answered the
king gravely. "She gave us our first teachers in the Christian
faith. And Swein has held Norway, my own land, with the help of the
heathen jarls who are yet there. I fight the fight of the Cross,
therefore, and when I go back to my own land, it will be to sweep
away the last worship of Odin and Thor. But the time has not come
yet," and his eyes shone strangely.

"When it comes I will help you," said Eadmund, "if it may be that I
can do so."

"I know it, and I thank you; but it is my thought that I shall need
no help," said the king, while the look on his face was very
wondrous, so that I had never seen the like. It minded me of the
pictures of St. Stephen that I saw in a great church here with
Abbot Elfric and Eadward. Then he spoke of the spread of the Faith
in Norway, and how that he would be the one who should finish what
Olaf Tryggvesson, his cousin, had begun; and one might see that he
longed for power and kingship only for that work.

Long did those two warriors talk before they turned to lighter
matters, and in the end they planned to ride to Rouen to see the
king himself on the next day. But before night fell there came more
news with another ship that came alone into the haven. And she was
English, bearing messengers from the great witan itself.

These thanes told Eadmund their news, and it was this:

That Cnut had been hailed as king by the Danish host at
Gainsborough, but that the English people begged Ethelred to return
to them, promising that a good force should be ready to meet him on
his landing. Already the London folk had planned a rising there and
in the great towns against the Thingmen, as the Danish paid
garrisons were called, and it was likely that this had by this time
come about.

So at once Eadmund went with these thanes to Rouen, and Olaf would
have me bide with him till word came from the king as to the next
doings.

That was a pleasant time to me, for I grew to love Olaf, and he was
never willing that I should be far from him. Then, too, I heard
many tales of my grandfather Thoralf from Rani, the old viking who
had fought beside him, and had been with Tryggvesson when he was
christened in England. And of all Olaf's men I liked best Ottar the
Black, the scald, who was but five years older than myself, but who
had yet seen much fighting with the king both by land and sea. We
sang much together, for I was willing to learn from him, and he to
teach me.

Now of this singing there is one thing that I will set down, for
the matter comes into my story again.

One day Ottar sang the saga of the sword of Hiorvard; how the
maiden warrior won it from the grave mound of her father, Angantyr,
in spite of terror of the dead hero, and of the unearthly fires.
That was a good saga, and when it was ended old Rani said:

"Thoralf had a sword that was won by his father from a chief's
grave mound in Vendland, It was the most wondrous sword, save only
Olaf's 'Hneitir' yonder, that I have ever seen. Silver and gold was
its hilt, and the blade was wrought in patterns on the steel, and
there were runes in gold close to the hilt. He would call it 'Foe's
Bane', and that in truth was what the sword was."

I knew only too well that that sword became my father's in his
turn, and now it was lost to me.

"My father fell with sword 'Foe's Bane' in his hand," I said sadly.
"Yet I know that the name was not belied ere he did so."

"Then the Danes have it," said Rani, "and it will come back to
you."

I remembered that Ethelred himself had spoken of the sword, and how
I had made his face fall when he heard that it was lost. Nor had I
been long at court before I heard words from one thane or another
that seemed to say that Edric Streone had made light of our defeat,
for some reasons of his own.

"I must win it back," I said.

"If there is aught in old sayings," answered Ottar, "the sword will
draw its holder to face you, unless he won it in fair fight hand to
hand."

Thereat Olaf laughed, and no more was said. But in years to come
there were told strange tales of the longing, as it were, of his
own sword 'Hneitir' to be back at its master's side.

So the time went quickly for me, but to Olaf the waiting seemed
long before Eadmund rode back from Rouen. And with him came those
thanes and his half-brother Eadward, but Ethelred himself was not
with them. He would not go to England, fearing treachery as it
seemed; but Eadward was to go over and meet the witan and speak
with them. Yet the thanes said that without the king no force would
move.

"Why does he not go?" said Olaf impatiently. "Here is time lost
when a sudden blow would win all."

"Because he is Ethelred the Unredy," answered Eadmund shortly, for
he was very angry at the delay.

Then was another waiting, but Eadward was very wise though he was
so young, being but twelve years old at this time, and he had
Elfric the abbot with him, and at last word came from him that all
was going well. Then Ethelred made up his mind and listened to
Olaf's counsel.

"Strike at London," he said. "We know that the citizens are ever
loyal."

They had risen, as it seemed, and had slain many of the thingmen,
and Heming, Thorkel's brother, himself. That had but brought on
them hardships and a stronger garrison, while Ethelred wavered and
would not come.

At last Ethelred gathered what few men would follow him from
Normandy and sailed to go to Southampton, and so to Winchester.
Richard the Duke gave him a few ships and men enough to man them.
Then Olaf, as it was planned, would sail up the Thames in such time
as to meet the king's land force at London on a certain day, and
thus take the city by a double attack. And Olaf asked that I might
sail with him.

That Eadmund gladly agreed to, saying that we should meet on London
Bridge shortly, and so I saw him set out full of hope, and then
waited with Olaf for the short time that he would yet stay before
sailing. He would not reach the Thames too early lest London should
be held in too great force for us, and it was his plan that we
should sail up the great river too suddenly for any new Danish
force to be gathered.

Now on the evening before we sailed Olaf the king was restless, and
silent beyond his wont at the feasting before departure, and he
seemed to take little pleasure even in the songs of Ottar the
scald, though the men praised them loudly. I thought it likely that
some foreboding was on him, and that is no good sign before a
fight.

So presently I spoke to Rani, asking him if aught ailed the king.
Whereat he answered, smiling:

"Nought ails him but longing to be sword to sword with these old
foes of ours. This is his way, ever. If he were gay as Biorn the
marshal yonder I might wonder at him maybe."

But presently Olaf rose up and bade Rani take his place, saying
that he would go down to the ships to see that all was well. And
then he beckoned me to follow him, and we went down the long hall
together. It would seem that this was no new thing that he should
leave the feast there, for the little hush that fell as we passed
the long tables lasted no long time, and the men seemed not
surprised. Indeed King Olaf had little love for sitting over the
ale cup, and no man was more careful to see to all things about his
ships and men than he.

The great doors closed after us, and we stood in the white
moonlight for a moment. The air was cold and sharp after the warmth
of the crowded hall. Down in the harbour the water was quiet
enough, but outside a fair breeze was blowing from the southwest.

"The wind will hold, and will serve us well," said Olaf. "Who of
all the Danish hosts will deem that such a wind is bringing fire
and sword on them from across the sea?"

Then he folded his cloak round him and we went down to the harbour,
where the long line of ships lay side by side along the wharf with
their bows shoreward. The great dragon stem heads towered over us,
shining strangely in the moonlight, and the gentle send of the
waves into the harbour made them sway and creak as though they were
coming to life.

"The dragons are restless as I," he said looking up at them.

"Tomorrow, hungry ones--tomorrow--then shall you and I be set free
to meet wind and wave and foe again."

Then one of the men on watch began to sing, and his song was an old
sea stave that had a swing and roll in its rough tune that was like
the broken surge of sea water, even while it was timed to the fall
of oar blades into the surf. One may not say how old those songs
are that the seamen sing.

"That is the dragon's answer," said the king to me. "Sing, Redwald,
and take your part."

So when the man came to the part where all should join, I took up
the song with him, and then many others of the men joined in--some
five or six in each ship.

"That is good," said Olaf, laughing softly. "Here are men whose
hearts are light."

The man who sang first came now and looked over the high bows of
the ship, and his figure was black against the moonlight.

"Ho, master scald!" he cried in his great voice, "now shall you
sing the rest. You have put me out of conceit with my own singing.
Why are you not at the feast, where I would be if I were not tied
here!"

"He is keeping the dragons awake," laughed the king. "Nor do I
think that even a feast would take you from the ship just as the
tide is on the turn."

"Maybe not, lord king," answered the man, lifting his hand in
salute. "But the dragons will be wakeful enough--never fear for
them."

So the king answered back cheerily, and other men came and
listened, and so at last he turned away, leaving the men who loved
him pleased and the happier for his coming thus.

Now I thought that we should have gone back to the hall; but Olaf
walked away from the town, going along the shore. The tide was just
out, and the flow would soon begin. Soon we lost sight of the last
lights from the houses, and still he went on, and I followed him,
not speaking, for I knew not what plans he was making.

At last we came to a place to which I had not been before, and it
was lonely enough. The forest came down to the beach, and the land
was low and sheltered between the hills. There the king stayed,
sitting down on a fallen tree and resting his chin on his hand, as
he looked out over the water with grave eyes that seemed to see far
beyond the tossing waves.

I rested beside him, and there we bided silent for an hour or more.
There was only the sound of the wind in the storm-twisted trees
behind us, and of the waves as they broke along the edge of the
bare sands, where a few waking sea birds ran and piped unseen by
us. Almost had I slept with those well-known sounds in my ears.

Then suddenly the king lifted his head, and spoke one word to me:

"Listen," he said.

I roused, but all that I could hear at first were the sounds that I
had forgotten--the song of the wind in the trees, the rush of the
breakers, and the cry of the sea birds across the sands.

Then my heart began to beat wildly, for out of these sounds, or
among them, began to come clearly, and yet more clearly the sound
of the tread of many armed feet--the passing of a mighty host--and
with that the thunder of the war song, and the cry of those who
bade farewell. And these sounds passed over us and around us, going
seawards; then they died away out towards the north, and were gone.

Yet still the king listened, and again came the tramp of the armed
thousands, and the war song, and the voices of parting, and they
passed, and came, and passed yet once more.

Then after the third time there was nought but the sound of wind
and wave and sea fowl, and I drew closer to Olaf and asked him:

"What is this that we hear?"

"Wait," he said, and pointed seaward.

Then I looked, and I saw all the northern sky glow red as glows the
light of a burning town on the low clouds when the host that has
fired it looks back on its work. And plain and clear in the silver
moonlight against the crimson sky sat the wraith of a king, throned
on the sand at the very water's edge, and round him stood shadowy
nobles, looking seaward.

And even as I saw it the first wave of the rising tide sent its
edge of foam shorewards, and it surged around the kingly feet and
sapped the base of the throne, and the stately wraith turned and
looked upon the nobles, and was gone.

Then faded the red light from the sky, and the waves washed over
the place where the throne and court had been, and Olaf rose up and
looked in my face. Nor was there fear of what he had seen and heard
written in his quiet look.

"What is this, my king?" I said, trembling with the fear that comes
of things beyond our ken.

"It is the fate of England that is falling on her," he said
quietly.

"Read it me, for I fear what I have heard and seen," I said.

"We have heard the going of mighty hosts to England, and we have
heard the sound of farewell. But we have heard no shout of victory,
or wailing for defeat. Little therefore will be gained or lost by
this sailing of ours. Yet all is surely lost if we sail not."

Then he ceased, but he had not yet spoken of what we saw, and I
waited for his words. Yet still he stood silent, and looked out
over the sea, until I was fain to ask him what the vision meant.

"Surely it was the wraith of a son of Swein that we saw," he said;
"but it will be long years ere Cnut bears that likeness, for that
was of a man full grown and mighty."

Now the reading of this was beyond me, for I have no skill in these
matters, as had Olaf. And he said nought for a little while, but
seemed to ponder over it.

"Now I know," said he at last. "What we have seen is the outcome of
the going of the hosts to England. There shall be a Danish kingdom
built upon sand. Cnut shall reign, but his throne shall fall. The
wave of English love for England's kings of her own race cannot be
stayed."

Then I was downcast, for hope that the Danes would be driven from
the land had filled all my mind, and I said:

"Surely the vision may mean that we shall sweep away the Danish
rule as the waves sapped the throne and swept over its place."

"Aye, may it be so," answered Olaf. "Often one may read these
visions best even as their bodings come to pass. Let us go back.
This is a lonesome place, and strange fancies weigh down a man's
mind when all he may hear is the wind singing to the surges. Maybe
these are but dreams. What matters it if Cnut reigns over the old
Danelagh as Guthrum reigned, if Ethelred is overlord? It will be
again as in Alfred's days, and once more an English king over the
English folk, when Cnut is gone."

So he turned, and led the way back towards the town, and when we
saw the lights close at hand, he bade me say nought of this to any
man.

"We have seen strange things, cousin," he said, taking my arm, "and
they will be better untold. You and I may see their meaning
hereafter, and maybe shall have a share in their working out. Now
let us sleep, and dream only of seeing England again tomorrow."



Chapter 3: The Breaking Of London Bridge.


There was a fair wind for us into the Thames mouth, and all seemed
to be going well. But when we came off the Medway it seemed that
there was to be fighting, for our way was blocked by a fleet and
that stronger than ours.

Now as the longships were cleared for the weapon play, Olaf
wondered how the Danes should have had word of our coming, for it
was plain that this fleet of ten ships was waiting for us. Yet we
had kept well away from the forelands, lest we should make it too
plain where we were going.

Then one ship left the rest and came swiftly towards us, under
oars. And when the ship drew near, we saw that she bore the banner
of Ethelred himself.

So the fair plans that had been made had come to naught, and when
Olaf understood this his face grew dark with anger, and he said:

"Almost would I leave this foolish king to go his own way without
help of mine. But I have promised Eadmund, and I must keep my word.
Henceforward I shall know what I must look for."

Little, therefore, had Olaf to say to Ethelred when they met, nor
would he go on board the English ship, but Ethelred must come to
him. Eadmund was at his father's side, and his face was very
wrathful, for he felt even as did Olaf.

"London is ours already," Ethelred said. "Wherefore I would join
you."

"London by this time may be in other hands," answered Olaf; "but we
shall see when we get there. Now must there be no more time lost
but we must make all speed up the river, tarrying nowhere."

So we sailed on. When we came to Greenwich there were no Danes
there, nor any Danish ships. I went ashore in a boat, and asked the
men I saw what was become of them. And they told me that Thorkel's
fleet had sailed northward on Swein's death, and that the thingmen
whom he had left in the place had gone to London.

"That is as I thought," said Olaf. "Now there will be more trouble
in driving them out than there has been in letting them in."

When we came at last in sight of London Bridge I knew that Olaf was
right, for since the Danes had gained the city they had not been
idle. They had built a great fort on the Southwark side of the
river, girt with a wide moat, and all the stronger that the walls
thus surrounded were partly of timber and stone. The road from
across London Bridge runs through this fort, so that one might by
no means pass over it until the place was won. And at the other end
of the bridge the old Roman walls of London itself were far too
strong for our force to take by storm.

But the strangest thing to me was to see what they had done to the
great timber bridge itself, for they had made that also into a
fortress. The old railing along the roadway was gone, and in its
place were breast-high bulwarks of strong timber, and on each span
of the bridge was a high wooden tower whose upper works overhung
the water, looking downstream, as if they feared assault from the
river itself.

We came up to the Pool on a good flood-tide, and as we dropped
anchor there we saw all this, and, moreover, that the place was
held by the Danes in force. The red cloaks of Cnut's thingmen were
on bridge and walls and fort alike, and no few of them in either
stronghold. There was work before us if we would win the place for
our king.

Before any word had come to Olaf of what should be done, Eadmund
had gone ashore with all his warriors, and had fallen on the
Southwark earthwork. It was Olaf's first thought to follow him, but
he held back.

"Let him go," he said. "Maybe he will like best to win his own city
without my help at the first onset. Yet unless that fort is weaker
than it looks, his attack will be of no use. For, see--all the
Danes from the bridge are going to help."

So it was, and from the deck of Olaf's ship I looked on at the
fight for half an hour. At one time I thought that we had won the
place, for our men charged valiantly through the moat and up the
steep sides of the earthworks.

There waited for them the Danish axes, and an axeman behind a wall
is equal to two men below him.

I longed to be beside Eadmund, whom I could see now and then, and
ever where the fighting was fiercest; but Olaf bade me be patient.
There would be fighting enough for me presently, he said.

"You will see that we shall have to take the bridge, and so cut the
Danish force in two. Then from the bridge we have but to fight our
way either into the fort or into the town."

Presently our men gave back. The earthworks were too strong for
them. Then I asked again that I might go.

"If you must fall, it shall be at my side, cousin," said Olaf,
laying his hand on my arm. "Eadmund does not need you."

For now he and his men were coming back to the ships, having won
nought but knowledge of the strength of the fort. The Danes would
not leave their walls to follow the retreating English, though
Eadmund halted just beyond bow shot, and waited as if to challenge
them to fight in the open.

Now by this time the tide was almost full, and the stream of the
flood was slackening. And it seemed as if one might easily scale
the bulwarks of the great low-timbered bridge from the foredeck of
a ship. Ethelred saw that, and as soon as his men were on board
again the word was passed that attack on the bridge should be made
by every vessel that could reach it.

As it fell out, we of Olaf's eight ships lay below the rest, and
must have passed them to reach the bridge. All we might do,
therefore, was to close up to the sterns of the vessels that were
leading, and wait to send our men across their decks when the time
came. That pleased not Olaf at first, for he thought that his turn
had come; but in the end it was well for us.

Now the ships slipped their cables, and drifted up to the bridge
steadily, with a few oars going aft to guide them, and as they came
the Danes crowded above them, manning their towers and lining the
whole long length with savage faces and gleaming weapons. They
howled at us as we drew near, and as the bows of the leading ships
almost touched the piles, they hove grappling irons into them from
above, holding them fast. Whereat Eadmund thanked them for saving
trouble, while the arrows fell round him like hail.

But in a moment that word of his was changed, for now fell from
towers and bulwarks a fearsome rain of heavy darts and javelins,
and the men fell back from the crowded fore decks to seek safety
aft until the store of weapons was spent. Truly, there must have
been sheaves of throwing weapons piled ready on the roadway of the
bridge.

Then Eadmund's voice cried:

"Steady, men--this cannot last!"

And even as they heard him the warriors swarmed back across the
corpse-cumbered decks, and began to climb up the piles, for the
tide held the ships strongly against the bridge. Yet when the ships
were there the height of the bridge above them was far greater than
it had seemed from a distance. Now their fore decks were under the
towers, for the upper works of these overhung the water.

Then the Danish war horns blew, and the men raised a great shout,
and down from those towers and from openings in the bridge rained
and thundered great ragged blocks of stone--masses rent from the
old Roman city walls--and into the ships they crashed, and there
rose a terrible cry from our men, for no ship that was ever built
could stand so fierce a storm as this.

Two good ships swayed and sank, and their men climbed on bridge and
piling, or leapt into the stream to reach the ships that yet were
afloat. Then the storm stayed for lack of rocks within reach, as it
would seem, for I saw men hoisting more into the towers as fast as
crane and windlass would serve them.

Now fell the javelins again, and still the grappling irons held the
ships, though the oars were manned. Then dared a man in each ship
to do the bravest deed of that day. Through rain of falling
javelins each ran forward, axe in hand, and cut the grappling lines
as our Norsemen cheered them in wild praise. Yet I know that not
one of those men lived to see that his deed had saved the ships,
for our oars were out and swiftly we towed them away to safety.

Aye, but I saw one tall Dane on the bridge strive to hold the hands
of his fellows that he might save at least the brave man in the
ship below him. And that should be told of him, for such a deed is
that of a true warrior.

All this I watched in dismay, for it seemed to me that we could in
no way take the town. As for Olaf, he said nought; and when we had
come to anchor again he sat on the steersman's bench, looking at
the bridge and saying no word to any of us. The Danes were crowding
the bridge and jeering at us, as one might well see.

Then Rani came aft and sat on the rail by me.

"Well," he said, "how like you this business?"

"Ill enough," I answered. "What can be done?"

He nodded towards Olaf, smiling grimly.

"I know of nothing; but if your king lets him go his own way he
will find out some plan. Know you what he did when the Swedes
blocked us into a lake some years ago?"

"I have not heard," I said.

"Why, seeing that we might not go out by the way in which we came,
Olaf made us dig a new channel, and we went out by that, laughing.
We all had to dig for our lives, grumbling, but we got away."

Now Olaf looked up and saw us, and his face was bright again.

"I am going to see Ethelred," he said, "for I think that I can take
the bridge."

A boat shot alongside even as he spoke, and a thane came to bid
Olaf to a council of the leaders on Ethelred's ship. So Olaf went
with him, and was long away. The tide was almost low, and darkness
had fallen before he came back in high spirits.

"Ethelred was sorely downcast, even to weeping," he told us, "and
so had almost given up hope of taking London. He thought of sailing
away and landing elsewhere. Then I said that I would take the
bridge tomorrow if I had help in what I needed tonight."

Then he looked round on us, and what he saw in our faces made him
laugh a little.

"It seems to me that you are over fearful of stone throwing after
the Danish sort," he said. "Had I not a plan that will save our
heads and the ship's timbers alike, I would not go. I am not the
man to risk both for nought. We will build roofs over the fore
decks and try again."

Then Rani growled:

"How are we to climb out from under your roofs so as to get upon
the bridge? We have already seen that ladders are needed for that
also."

"Nay," said Olaf, "we will bring the bridge down to us," and so he
went forward laughing to find his shipwrights.

So all that night long we wrought as he bade us, and Ethelred's men
came with spars and timber from houses they pulled down ashore, and
when morning broke we had on each ship the framework of a strong,
high-pitched roof that covered the vessels from stem to midships or
more, and stretched out beyond the gunwales on either board.

Then the men who wrought ashore brought us boatloads of strong
hurdles and the sides and roofs of the wattled huts of the
Southwark thralls, and with them all our wooden shelters were
covered so strongly that, if they might not altogether stand the
weight of the greatest stones, these roofs would break their fall
and save the ships.

When all this was finished, King Olaf told us what his plan was. We
were not to try to storm the bridge, but were to break it.

"See," he said, "all night long the wagons that brought more stones
have been rumbling and rattling into the middle of the bridge, and
every Dane thereon will crowd into the centre to see the breaking
of King Olaf's ships, and their weight will help us. We will go so
far under the bridge that we may make fast our cables to the piles,
and then will row hard down the falling tide at its swiftest.
Whereupon the laugh will be on our side instead of with the Danes,
as yesterday."

After that he bade us all sleep, for we had some long hours to wait
for the falling tide when all was done. And we did so, after a good
meal, as well as we could, while the wains yet brought stones, and
arrows and darts in sheaves to the bridge. But forward in our ships
the men were coiling the great cables that should, we hoped, bring
the bridge and stones alike down harmlessly to us.

It was plain that the Danes knew what the roofs over the ships were
for, since all the while that we wrought we could see them pointing
and laughing one to another in scorn, from where we lay, not much
beyond arrow shot below them. But not one of all the men on the
bridge could have guessed what our real plan might be. Only we who
looked at the ancient bridge from the water, and marked how frail
and decaying some of the piles that upheld its narrow spans were,
knew how likely it was that Olaf's plan would succeed. The wide
roadway seemed to them to be strong enough for the wooden towers
and the many tons of stones they had burdened it with; but now that
Olaf had showed us, we saw that it was none so safe, so we waited
in good spirits.

The tide reached its height and as the ships swung idly to their
cables on the slack, the Danes thronged the bridge, thinking,
doubtless, that we should attack when they were within reach, as
yesterday.

The hum of their voices came down to us, and as the time went by,
and the ebb tide set in, the hum strengthened into a long roar of
voices, that broke out into a yelling laugh now and then, as some
word of scorn went round. For they thought our Norsemen were
afraid.

But they could not see beneath the penthouse roofs, where the men,
three at each oar, were armed and ready. Nor could they see the
gangs of twelve men told off to the cables on each foredeck. Six of
these were to pass the cables round the piles and make fast while
the other six were to stand by with shields ready, in case the
roofs were broken. But even then it should not take long to do all
we needed, and some of the roof would be left surely at the worst.

Four only of the ships were to touch the bridge, one at each of the
four midmost pilings. The other four were made fast, stern to stern
of the leading ships, so that their weight of oar play might be
used to the full in the long pull to come, and two ships would haul
at each set of piles where the weight was heaviest upon the bridge.

So we waited until the tide was at its fiercest ebb. The water
rushed through the narrow waterways of the bridge in a broken
torrent streaked with foam that swirled far down the stream towards
us; so the time having come, Olaf gave the word. His own ship was
one of the two in the middle, and Rani was in command of the other.

Then in a moment the oars flashed out, and the moorings were
slipped; a shout went up from the bridge, and then the Danes were
silent, wondering. The foam flew from our bows, and as we dashed up
the stream the Danish war cry broke out again, while from end to
end of the bridge the weapons flashed and sparkled.

Now the arrows rattled on the penthouse roofs, and one or two
glanced from Olaf's armour and mine, and from the shields which
Ottar and I held before him. For we were alone with him at the
helm. He was steering his ship himself, as was Rani, and hardly
would he suffer us to be beside him to shield him. But we would
have it thus in the end.

At last we were almost on the bridge, and Olaf smiled and watched
the ships to right and left of us--the oar blades were bending as
the men struggled with clenched teeth against the fierce current
that flew past us foaming.

Then the Danish grapnels were cast, as yesterday. The shadow of the
bridge fell black upon us--the line of Danish faces were above our
bows--and then down crashed the great stones from above, and I saw
Olaf's lips tighten and set as he saw their work. Yet though the
good ship quivered and reeled under the shock, the penthouse roofs
were strong and steep, and but one great stone tore a hole for
itself, crushing two men beneath it; but the rest bounded into the
water, splintering an oar blade or two as they went. And all the
while the arrows rained round us, and the javelins strove to pierce
the roofs.

Then was a shout from forward of the ship, and Olaf's eyes
brightened as he raised his hand. Instantly the rowers stayed, and
the ships drifted away from the bridge more swiftly than they had
come, while the Danish grappling irons ripped and tore along the
roofs uselessly. There was no firm hold for them.

That made the Danes think that we were driven off, and their yells
began afresh.

Then came a quick word from Olaf, and the oars took the water to
ease the sharp check as the length of the cables was reached, while
the ship astern of us swung to her tow line. The king glanced to
right and left of him, and saw that the other three ships had fared
as well as we, and that they too were dropping down from the
bridge.

How the Danes roared and howled with joy, thinking that we were all
in full retreat! Yet, as the last ship tightened her cable, I saw
the jerk shake one of them from his perch on the bridge bulwarks
and send him headlong into the water.

Olaf saw it, and raised his hand and shouted. And with one accord
the oars of the eight great ships smote the water, and bent, and
tore the waves into foam--and London Bridge was broken!

The memory of that sight will never pass from my mind or from the
mind of any man of us who saw all that the lifted hand and shout of
Olaf the king brought about.

There was a slow groaning of timbers and a cracking, and then a
dead silence. Then the silence was broken by a wild yell of terror
from the swarming Danes, and ere they could fly from the crowded
towers and roadway where the bridge was steepest, the whole length
of three spans bent and swayed towards us, and a wide gap sprang
open across the roadway. Into that gap crumbled a great stone-laden
tower, and men like bees from a shaken swarm. And then those three
spans seemed to melt away with a great rush and roar, and howl of
men in mortal terror--and down the freed tide swept our ships,
dragging after them the timbers that the cables yet held.

Then into the Southwark fortress went Eadmund and his men like
fire, while from the London side of the river came the roar of a
fight, as the citizens fell on the Danes who were fleeing terror
smitten from the weakened spans that were left of London Bridge.

Then Olaf swung our ships to either bank, and past us went in
confusion, on the rush of pent-up water, the great timbers and
piles of the bridge, as it broke up piece by piece in the current.
The men on Ethelred's ships had all they could do to save their
vessels from being stove in by the heavier woodwork when it was
swept down among them.

That danger passed; and now was our turn come to join in the
fighting, for there were none to prevent us from getting the ships
up to the bridge. And so we scaled from our decks the bulwarks that
had been so terrible, and fell on the Danes in the rear as Eadmund
in Southwark and the citizens in London took them in the front. It
must have been that few Danes were left on either bank, for the
fighting lasted no long time, and when we had done with these men
from off the bridge there was no other attack.

So, before the evening came we knew that London was once more in
the hands of Ethelred, and the bells were ringing to welcome back
an English king to English land. For Olaf had brought him home.

There was high feasting in London town that night, and Ethelred
deemed that England was already won. Nor was there any honour too
great for him to show to the man who had wrought this for him.

But what Olaf said was this:

"To win London is much--though, indeed, it should never have been
thus lost--but London is not England. There will be more fighting
yet, if Cnut is a worthy son of Swein Forkbeard."

Now, in after years men made light of this breaking of London
Bridge, and the reason is not far to seek. For, first of all,
Cnut's folk, when they had the upper hand, liked not to hear
thereof. And then the citizens would speak little among themselves
of their thraldom to the Danes, and much of their welcome to
Ethelred and their own share in the business when the bridge had
been broken. And lastly, it was wrought by an outlander. Truly no
Englishman, whether of Saxon or Danish kin, grudges praise to a
stranger when he has won it well, but Olaf had few to speak for him
after he had gone hence. But I have told what I saw, and think that
it should not be forgotten, for it was a great deed. Men sing the
song that Ottar the scald wrote thereon in Olaf's Norway, and I
think that they will sing it for many an age to come.

We have forgotten that song; but the first time he sang it was at
the great feast in the wide hall of the London merchants' guild
that night, and sorely did the few Danish lords, who sat as
captives among us unwillingly enough, scowl as they listened. But
our folk held their breath lest they should lose aught of either
voice or words of the singer, for they had never heard his like
before, and this is part of what he sang {5}:

"Bold in the battle
Bravest in sword play!
Thou wert the breaker
Of London's broad bridge.
Wild waxed the warfare
When thou gold wonnest
Where the shields splintered
'Neath the stones' crashing--
When the war byrnies broke
Beaten beneath them.

"Thine was the strong arm
That Ethelred sought for;
Back to his lost land
Thou the king leddest.
Then was the war storm
Waged when thou earnest
Safe to his high seat
Leading that king's son,
Throned by thy help
On the throne of his fathers."

He ended, and our warriors rose and cheered both hero and singer,
and when the noise ceased Ethelred gave Ottar his own bracelet; but
to Olaf he gave his hand, and there in the presence of all the
company thanked him for what he had wrought, giving more praise to
him than Ottar had sung.

Then sang the English gleemen of the deeds of Eadmund the Atheling,
and all were well pleased. Now those songs have bided in our minds
while Ottar's song is forgotten, and maybe that is but natural. But
Olaf was my kinsman and very dear to me, and I am jealous for his
fame.



Chapter 4: Earl Wulfnoth Of Sussex.


Cnut the new Danish king was at Gainsborough with all the force
that had followed Swein his father, and he had made a pact with the
Lindsey folk, who were Danes of the old settlement, and of landings
long before the time of Ingvar, that they should fight for him and
find provision and horses for his host.

So it seemed most likely that the next thing would be that he would
march on us, and Ethelred gathered all the forces to him here in
London that he could, against his coming. At once the English
thanes came in, and even Sigeferth and Morcar, the powerful lords
of the old Danish seven boroughs in Mercia, brought their men to
his help, and that was almost more than could have been hoped. Then
too came Edric Streone, the great Earl of Mercia, Eadmund's uncle
by marriage and his foster father, praying for and gaining full
forgiveness for having seemed to side with Swein, as he said. With
these was Ulfkytel, our East Anglian earl, and many more, while
word came from Utred of Northumbria that he would not hold back.

So it was not long before Ethelred and Eadmund rode away north
towards Gainsborough at the head of as good a force as they had
ever led, in order to be beforehand with the Danes, who as yet had
made no move. It seemed as though they feared this new rising of
all England against them, although all Swein's men who had been
victors before were there with their new king.

But Olaf, who knew more of Denmark and what might happen there than
we, said that Cnut waited for news from thence. It might be that
some trouble would arise at home, for seldom did a king come to his
throne there without fighting against upstarts who would take it.

"So he holds his force in readiness in the Humber to fall on either
Denmark or England. If things go ill at home, he will go over sea
first, and return here. But if all is well, we shall have fighting
enough presently."

Now when the court of Ethelred had gathered again, it was not long
before he grew more cold in his way with Olaf, and one might easily
see that this grew more so with the coming of Edric Streone. So
that when the march to Lindsey was spoken of, Olaf thought well to
stay in the Thames with the ships, and when Eadmund asked him to
come north with the levies he said:

"It seems to me that there are jealousies already among your thanes
concerning me, and I will not be the cause of any divisions among
your folk. Yet I would help you, and here is what I can do. I will
see that no landing is made on these southern shores while you are
northward, for if you beat Cnut he will take ship and come to Essex
or Kent; or maybe even into the Thames again. Give me authority to
command here until you return, and I think I can be of more use
than if I went with you."

So that was what was done in the end, and Olaf was named as captain
of the ships and of any southern host that he might be able to
raise, and Olaf asked that I might stay with him.

That our atheling granted gladly, telling me that it was for no
lack of wish on his part to have me at his side, as ever of late,
but that I should take a better place with the king my kinsman than
among the crowd of thanes who were round Ethelred. Then he took his
own sword from his side and gave it me.

"Farewell therefore for a while, Redwald, my comrade," he said when
he went away. "You have helped me to tide over many heavy hours
that would have pressed sorely on me but for your cheerfulness.
When peace comes you shall have your Anglian home again, with more
added to its manors for the sake of past days and good service."

That was much for the atheling to say, and heartily did I thank
him. Yet I had grown to love Olaf my kinsman better than any other
man, and I was glad to be with him, away from the court jealousies
and strivings for place. There was little of that in Olaf's fleet,
where all were old comrades, and had each long ago found the place
that he could best fill.

So the levies marched on Gainsborough, and Olaf bided in the Thames
and gathered ships and men till we had a fair fleet and a good
force. Then came the news that Cnut and all his host had taken ship
and fled from England without waiting to strike a blow at Ethelred,
and our folk thought that this was victory for us. But Olaf rode
down to the ships in haste, and took them down to Erith, while his
land levies followed on the Kentish shore. For he thought it likely
that Cnut did but leave Ethelred and his armies in Lindsey while he
would land here unopposed.

Then came a fisher's boat with word that Cnut's great fleet was
putting into Sandwich, but before we had planned to throw our force
between him and London came the strange news that again he had left
Kent and had sailed northwards.

We sailed then to Sandwich to learn what we might, sending two
swift ships to watch if Cnut put into the Essex creeks. But at
Sandwich we found the thanes whom Swein had held as hostages left,
cruelly maimed in hand and face, with the message from Cnut that he
would return.

"He may return," said Olaf, "but if all goes well he will find
England ready for him. There is some trouble in Denmark or he would
not leave us thus."

So now all that seemed to be on hand was to bring back the towns
that were yet held by the Danish garrisons, the thingmen, to their
rightful king, and to gather a fleet that would watch the coast
against the return of Cnut. These things seemed not so hard, and
our land would surely soon be secure.

Then began to creep into my mind a longing to be back in my own
place again at Bures, to see the river and woods that I loved, and
to take up the old quiet life that was half forgotten, but none the
less sweet to remember after all this war and wearing trouble. But
of all England, after Lindsey, East Anglia was the greatest Danish
stronghold for those old reasons that I have spoken of, and it was
likely that there would be more fighting there before Ethelred was
owned than anywhere else. So I could not go back yet, but must wait
for Earl Ulfkytel and his levies, who would surely make short work
of the Danes there when their turn came. After that my lands would
be my own again, and then--What wonder, after three years and more
of warfare and the hard life of a warrior who had no home but in a
court which was a camp--after exile in a strange land--with my
new-found kinship with Olaf the viking--that what should be then
had gone from my mind? Will any blame the warrior who did but
remember his playfellow as part of a long-ago dream of lost peace,
if he had forgotten what tie bound him to her? When I and little
Hertha were betrothed it had been nought to us but a pleasant show
wherein we had taken foremost parts--and across the gap of years of
trouble so it seemed to me still whenever I recalled it. I
remembered my confirmation at the good bishop's hands more plainly
than that, for well I knew what I took on me at that time.

But the knowledge of what our betrothal meant would have grown up
in our hearts had peace lasted. There had been none to mind me of
it, or of her, and warfare fills up the whole mind of a man. I was
brought up amid the scenes of camp and march and battle just at
that time when a boy's mind is ready to be filled with aught, and,
as he learns, the past slips away, for his real life has begun.

And these were strange days through which I had been. We grew old
quickly amid all the cruel trouble of the hopeless fighting. As
David, the holy king, grew from boy to man suddenly in his days,
which seem so like ours when one hears them read of in Holy Writ,
so it had been with Olaf--with Eadmund and Eadward his brother--so
it would be with Cnut, and so it was with myself. I have often
spoken with men who were rightly held as veteran warriors, and who
yet had seen less warfare in ten years than we saw in those three.
It was endless--unceasing--I would have none go through the like. I
know not now how we bore it.

So I had forgotten Hertha, whether there is blame to me or not. But
now, as I say, with the sudden slackening of warfare came to me the
longing for rest. I would fain find my home again and my playmate,
and all else that belonged to the past. But before I could do so
there was work to be done, and I was content to look forward and
wait.

Now I might make a long story of the doings of Olaf the king during
this summer. Ottar the scald has much to sing of what we wrought.
For we went through the fair land of Kent with our Norsemen and the
new levies, and brought back all the folk to Ethelred. It was no
hard task, for the poor people thought that Cnut had deceived them
by his flight; and they were ground down by the heavy payments the
Danes had levied on them. Only at Canterbury, inside whose walls
the Danish thingmen gathered in desperation, had we any trouble,
and we must needs lay siege to the place. But in the end Olaf and I
knelt in the ancient church of St. Martin and gave thanks for
victory. We had avenged the death of the martyred archbishop,
Elfheah.

Ethelred ravaged all Lindsey after Cnut was gone. It was a foolish
and cruel deed, and he left men there who hated his name more than
even the name of Swein, to whom they had bowed since they must.
Then he sat down at Oxford as if all were done, while to have
marched peacefully, but with a high hand, through the old Danelagh
would have made the land sure to him. Olaf did so in Kent, and when
we left it, we left a loyal people who would rise against Cnut for
Ethelred if the Danes should indeed return. And Lindsey would as
surely rise for Cnut against us.

But Olaf, though he blamed our king for this, in all singleness of
purpose went on with the task that he had undertaken. And now the
next thing was to gather a fleet.

"If we could win Wulfnoth of Sussex to help his king, we have a
fleet ready made," he said. "Let us sail to his place and speak
with him."

That was true, and the ships that Wulfnoth had were the king's by
right. They were the last of the fleet that England had had but
five years ago--and her mightiest.

Now it happened that I was to see much of this Earl Wulfnoth before
we had done with him, so I will say at once how he came to have the
king's ships, and how it was that we must ask his help for
Ethelred--or rather why he had not given it freely.

It was the fault of Brihtric, Edric Streone's brother, who had some
private grudge against him, and would ruin him if possible. So he
accused Wulfnoth of treachery to Ethelred, and that being the thing
that the king always dreaded from day to day--seeing maybe that he
was not free from blame in that matter himself--so prevailed that
the earl was outlawed. Whereon he fled to the fleet, and sailed
away with all the ships that would follow him.

Then Brihtric chased him with the rest, and met with storm and
shipwreck on the rugged southern coasts. And through the storm fell
on him Wulfnoth, and beat him and scattered or took the ships the
storm had spared. Brihtric left the rest to their own devices, and
the shipmen brought them back into the Thames. There the Danes took
them presently, and that was the end of England's fleet.

But Wulfnoth turned viking; and would have nought to do with
Ethelred after that. His Sussex earldom was beyond reach of attack
through the great Andred's-weald forests that keep its northern
borders, and he could keep the sea line. So Ethelred left him
alone, and Swein would not disturb him. But his help was worth
winning, and Olaf thought that he might do it.

So we sailed to Lymne, and then to Winchelsea, and there we heard
that the earl and some of his ships were at his great stronghold of
Pevensea, which lay not far westward along the coast. And we came
there in the second week of September, when the time was near that
the ships should be laid up in their winter quarters.

As we came off the mouth of the shallow tidal haven that runs
behind the great castle, whose old Roman walls seem strong as ever,
a boat from the shore came off very boldly to speak with us. But we
could see the sparkle of arms as some ships were manned in all
haste lest we were no friendly comers.

The leader of the boat's crew was a handsome boy of about fifteen,
well armed and fearless, and he stepped on board Olaf's ship
without mistrust when the king hailed him.

"Who are you, and what would you on these shores?" he asked before
we had spoken.

Olaf laughed pleasantly in his quiet way, and answered:

"I must know who asks me before I say aught."

"Maybe that is fair," said the boy. "I am Godwine, son of Wulfnoth
the earl."

"Then you have right to ask," answered our king. "I am Olaf
Haraldsson. I am a viking, and come in peace to see and speak with
your father."

The boy stared at the king in wonder for a moment.

"Are you truly Olaf the Thick, who broke London Bridge?" he asked.

"Well, I had some hand in it," answered Olaf laughing, "for I told
the men when to pull, and when they pulled, the bridge came down.
They did it and I looked on."

Then young Godwine laughed also, and bade the king welcome most
heartily, adding:

"You must tell me all about the bridge breaking presently."

"Nay; but Redwald my cousin, or Ottar my scald here will tell you
more than I may."

"Redwald is an Anglian name," said Godwine, taking my hand. "Are
you English therefore?"

"Aye, young sir, from East Anglian Bures, in Suffolk," I answered.

"Are you Edric Streone's man then?" he said, dropping my hand
suddenly and half stepping back.

"I am not," I said pretty stoutly, for I was angry with Streone's
way with Olaf--and with other ways of his. "Ulfkytel is our earl."

"Aye, I have heard of him as an honest man," Godwine said.

"Come ashore, King Olaf, and you other thanes, and there will be
good cheer for you."

"Can you steer us into the haven, young sir?" asked Rani, who stood
by smiling to himself. "We must have the ships inside the island
while the tide serves."

"Aye, that I can," said the boy eagerly; "I take my own ship in and
out without troubling any other to help."

And with that he took hold of Rani's arm and showed him mark after
mark, giving him depth of water and the like, while we listened and
watched his face.

Presently Olaf said:

"Take command of my ship, Godwine, and lead the rest."

"You will take the risk, lord king," he answered laughing.

"Aye, and will hold you blameless if she takes the ground before
she is beached."

Now there was no doubt that Godwine was used to command, and was
confident in himself, for he made no more ado, but took charge, and
bade Rani signal the rest to follow, while he went to the helm
himself.

Then said Olaf to me while the boy was intent on his work: "Here is
one who will be a great man in England some day, and I think before
long."

And I had thought the same; for Earl Wulfnoth's son would rank high
for the sake of his birth, and it seemed that he was fitted to take
the great place that might be his.

So Godwine beached the ships well, in the lee of the island on
which the great castle stands when the tide is high, and we went
ashore. The castle gates were well guarded in our honour, for
Godwine had sent the boat back with word who we were.

There greeted us Earl Wulfnoth himself in the courtyard of his
great house. One went inside the castle walls to find almost a
village of buildings, all of timber, that had grown up round the
hall that stood in the midst, and that had its courtyard and
stockading, as had our own house on the open hill at Bures. I think
there was no stronger place than this castle of Pevensea in all
Sussex, if anywhere on the southern coasts.

Now it were long to say how Wulfnoth the earl welcomed King Olaf,
but it was after a kingly sort, for he was king in all but name in
his earldom, shut off as it is from the rest of England by the deep
forests. But he feasted us for two days before he would speak a
word with Olaf as to what he had come to ask him, saying that it
was enough for him to see the bridge breaker and the taker of
Canterbury town, and to do him honour. For Olaf's fame had gone
widely through all England.

Now Godwine would ever talk with me, for I could tell him of Olaf,
and also of the long war, and of the Norman court, so that we
became great friends. But he had no liking for Ethelred, which was
not wonderful, seeing that Wulfnoth his father had not a good word
to say for him.

At last, when Olaf told him plainly of the needs of England and of
her king, and of what he feared of the return of Cnut, Earl
Wulfnoth answered:

"Had you come to ask me to go a-viking with yourself, gladly would
I have joined with or followed you. Godwine my son has yet some
things to learn which a Norseman could teach him, and it would have
been well. But Ethelred holds me as a traitor; and while Edric
Streone is at his side I will not have aught to do with him. I will
drive any Dane out of my land, and that is all. Neither Ethelred
nor Cnut is aught to me. I and my son are earls of Sussex."

Then he rose up from his high seat and strode out of the hall,
bidding us follow him. He led us to the eastern gate, and climbed
to the broad top of the ramparts.

"See yonder," he said, and pointed eastward across the river and
marsh. "There is the hill where our standard has been raised time
after time since OElla and Cissa drove in flight the Welsh who had
raised theirs in the same place before us. There will I raise it
again against Cnut or Streone or any other of his men."

"Edric Streone is with King Ethelred," said Olaf; "he is not Cnut's
man."

"He has been Swein's man; and if it suits him will be Cnut's. I
will not alter my saying of him."

"Ethelred believes in him," answered Olaf, "and Eadmund the
Atheling believes in him as in himself."

"So much the worse for them," said the earl; "you will see if I am
not right. I know Edric Streone over well, and he knows it, and
hates me."

"Come, therefore, and take Ethelred out of his hands," Olaf said.

"Not I. Let him inlaw me again first. I will not go and ask pardon
for what I have not done."

And after that the earl would say no more on the matter, waxing
wroth if Olaf would try to persuade him. So it seemed that our
journey was lost; and Olaf began to be anxious to return to the
Thames, where our ships should go into winter quarters. But the
wind held in the east, and kept us for a while.

Wulfnoth was not sorry for this, for it was full harvest time, and
he sent his housecarles out to his other manors to gather it, so
that he had few folk about him. Godwine went with them to a place
on the downs called Chancton, where was a great house of the earl.
We parted unwillingly; but we might sail at any time if the wind
shifted, and the earl would have him go.

"When you have done with fighting for Ethelred the Unredy," said
the boy to me, "bring Olaf back here, and you and I, friend
Redwald, will go a-viking with him. He says he wants to go to
Jerusalem Land some day--and that would be a good cruise."

Now the day after the housecarles left Pevensea, there befell a
matter which would have brought them back hastily had we not been
in the haven. There was always a beacon fire ready to recall them,
and they watched for it even as they wrought in the upland fields,
or if they were among the woods. Turn by turn one would climb to a
place whence it could be seen, for one may never know what need
shall be on our English shores, and I was to learn that need for
arms might be in a forest-girt land also, from foes at home.

Olaf and I were in the ships. The wind was unsteady, and it seemed
that a shift was coming with that night's new moon, and we were
preparing for sailing. And from our decks we saw a little train of
people crossing the difficult path from the mainland to the island
that folk can only use when the tide is low, and then only if they
know it well or have a guide to lead them. They say that once the
path was always under water, but that the land grows slowly, and
that at some time the island will be joined to the low hills that
are nearest to it on the northwest.

We went back almost as these folk came into the castle garth by the
western gate, and met them in the courtyard. Then it was plain that
there was trouble on hand, for the leader of the party was a thane
whom I knew by sight, as he had been called to our feasting when
first we came, and he had brought with him two ladies, who came in
no sort of state; and, moreover, there were one or two wounded men
among the twenty rough housecarles who followed them, and bore such
burdens of household stuff as had been taken by us when we fled
from Bures.

I had seen the like too often to mistake these signs, and I said to
Olaf:

"Here is fighting on hand, my king."

And then before he answered, came Wulfnoth out of the great door
and hurried up to the party, doffing his velvet cap as he saw the
ladies.

"Ho, friend Relf," he said, "what is amiss?"

"Outlaws, earl," said the thane, "and in strong force."

"This is the pest of my life," answered the earl angrily, "for no
sooner are our men gone harvesting than these forest knaves begin
to give trouble.

"When were you last burnt out, Relf of Penhurst?" and he laughed in
an angry way that had no mirth in it.

"Four years agone--after our trouble with Brihtric," answered the
thane. "They have not been so bold since then; and the small fights
I have had with them have not been so fierce that I must fetch you
from Bosham to my help."

"Evil times make them bold," said the earl. "How many are there in
this band?"

"Enough to sack the Penhurst miners' village," the thane said. "Men
say that there are Danes among them; and I know that there are men
who are well armed beyond the wont of outlaws and forest dwellers."

Then Wulfnoth called to us:

"See here, King Olaf, this is your fault; you have driven the Danes
out of Kent into our forests, and now we have trouble enough on our
hands."

"Then, Earl Wulfnoth," answered Olaf, "my men and I will fight them
here again."

But when we drew near I was fain to look on one of the two ladies
who still sat on their horses waiting for the earl's pleasure. One
was Relf the thane's wife, and the other his daughter; and it was
in my mind that I had never seen so beautiful a maiden as this was.
It seemed to me that I could willingly give my life in battle
against those who had harmed her home, if she might know that I did
so.

But the thane was telling Olaf that there must be some three
hundred of the outlaws and others.

"I had forty-two men yesterday, and I have but twenty with me now,"
said he.

"Then you fought?" asked Wulfnoth.

"Aye," answered the thane shortly, for it was plain enough that he
had done so.

"Have they burnt your house?"

"Not when I left. They are mostly strangers to the land, and they
bide where there is ale and plunder, in the old Penhurst village at
the valley's head."

"Then," said Olaf, "let us march at once and save the thane's
hall."

"That is well said," answered the earl, rubbing his hands with
glee. "We will make a full end; there will be no more trouble for
many a year to come."

Then he bethought him of the two ladies, and he called his steward
and bade him take them in. At which, when they would dismount, I
went to help the maiden, and was pleased that she thanked me for
the little trouble, looking at me shyly. I think that I had not
heard a more pleasant voice than hers, or so it seemed to me at the
time. She went into the house with her mother, and I was left with
a remembrance of her words that bided with me; and I called myself
foolish for thinking twice of the meeting.

Then the earl and Olaf and Relf began to speak of the best way in
which to deal with these plunderers; and as I looked at the stout
fair-haired thane it seemed to me that things must have been bad if
he had had to fly.

It would seem that his place was some ten miles from Pevensea,
lying at the head of a forest valley, down which was a string of
the old hammer ponds that the Romans made when they worked the
iron. And the village, or town as he called it, was in the next
valley, at the head of the little river Ashbourne, whose waters
joined the river which makes the haven of Pevensea. The town was
very old, and had a few earthworks round it, though the place
whereon it stood was strong by nature. The iron workers in the old
Roman days had first built there, and they knew how to choose their
ground. Thence, too, the Romans would float their boatloads of iron
down to the port of Anderida, as they called Pevensea; and there
were yet old stone buildings that had been raised by them.

So if these outlaws chose to hold the place, it was likely that we
should have some fighting, though this would not be quite after the
manner of forest dwellers, unless it were true that Danes were
among them.

"Whether there is any fight in them or not," said Wulfnoth, "I will
have the place surrounded, and let not one get away."

"That is early morning work," Olaf answered. "How many of my men
will you have?"

"It depends on what manner of men they are," said the earl. "All I
know of them yet is that they are good trenchermen."

That pleased not Olaf altogether, for there seemed to be a little
slight in the words--as though he had come to the earl to be fed
only. And he made a sign to me that I knew well; and I thought to
myself that Wulfnoth of Sussex was likely to wish that he had seen
our warriors in their war gear before.

Olaf paid no heed to me as I went quickly down to the ships. The
men were lying about and watching the sky, for it was changing. But
at one word from me there was no more listlessness; and Rani called
them to quarters. I would that in the English levies there was the
order and quickness that was in Olaf's ships. Yet these men had
been with him for years, and were not like our hastily-gathered
villagers.

So in ten minutes or less they were armed and ready for aught; and
Rani and I led them up to the castle, leaving the ship guard set,
as if we were making a landing in earnest on an enemy's shore.
Eight hundred strong we were, and foremost marched the men of
Olaf's ship, each one of whom wore ring mail of the best and a good
helm, and carried both sword and axe and round shield.

Wulfnoth stood with his back to the gate as we entered with the
leading files. But when he heard the tramp and ring of warriors in
their mail, he started and turned round sharply. I saw his face
flush red, and I saw Olaf's smile, and Relf's face of wonder. And
then the earl broke out--angrily enough--for his castle was, as it
were, taken by Olaf.

"What is the meaning of this?"

"You wished to see my men, lord earl," said Olaf. "I sent for them
therefore. King Ethelred, for whom they fight just now, was pleased
with them."

Then the earl saw that Olaf tried one last plan by which to make
him side with the king. Maybe he thought that this chance had been
waited for, but it was not so. Therefore he choked down his anger
that we should come unbidden into his fortress, and laughed
harshly.

"Well for me, King Olaf, that you come in peace, as it seems. One
may see that these men are no untried war smiths."

"There is no man in my own crew who has not seen four battles with
me," answered Olaf. "Some have seen more. The rest of the men have
each seen two fights of mine."

"I would that I had somewhat on hand that was worthy to be counted
as another battle of yours, instead of a hunting of these forest
wolves," answered Wulfnoth, seeming to grow less angry. "Supposing
that you and I were to fight for the crown of England for
ourselves--either of us has as much right thereto as Cnut."

"The Danes hold that England has paid scatt {6} to their king
as overlord, and that is proof of right for Cnut, as they say,"
answered Olaf.

"They say!" growled Wulfnoth fiercely. "King and witan and people
have been fools enough to buy peace with gold and not with edged
steel. But that has been ransom, not tribute. When a warrior is
made prisoner and held to ransom, is the man who takes the gold to
set him free his master, therefore, ever after? Scatt, forsooth! I
have a mind to go and teach the pack of fools whom Streone leads by
the nose and calls a witan, that there is one man left in England
who is strong enough to make them pay scatt to himself!"

Then Olaf said, very quietly:

"Why not put an end to Danegeld once for all by helping me drive
out the last Dane from England? We should be strong enough as
things are now.

"For Streone and his tools to reap the benefit? Not I," said the
earl. "Come, we have forgotten our own business."

Now it seemed to me that Wulfnoth was eager to get our men back to
the ships outside of the walls again, for there is no doubt that
had Olaf chosen to take the place for Ethelred it was already done.
But such thought of treachery to his host could never be in Olaf's
mind, and it was the last time that he tried to win the earl over.

So Wulfnoth went quickly down the ranks and noted all things as a
chief such as he will. But now and then he waxed moody, and growled
in his thick beard, "Scatt, forsooth!"

So presently he asked Olaf to bring two ship's crews--about
eight-score men in all--against the outlaws. Fifty of his own
housecarles would go, and Relf's twenty. And they were to be ready
two hours before dawn, as he meant to surprise the outlaws in the
village at the first light.

Then he praised the men, and had ale brought out for them, and so
recovered his good temper, and at last he said to Olaf with a great
laugh:

"Verily you may go away and boast that you are the first man who
has brought his armed followers inside Pevensea walls without
leave, since the days when OElla and Cissa forced the Welsh to let
them in. Now I wot that Ethelred has a friend who must be reckoned
with."

"Nay, but you would see the men," said Olaf.

"Aye, and I have seen them," answered the earl grimly.

When we sat down in the hall that night I was next to the maiden
Sexberga, Relf's daughter, at the high table. She was very
different from the great ladies of the court, who were all that I
knew. I tried to assure her that her home would be safe, and I
promised her many things in order to see her smile, and to please
her.

Yet when I went down to the ships presently, for none of us slept
within Wulfnoth's walls, I was glad that there was no light of
burning houses over Penhurst woods, as yet.



Chapter 5: How Redwald Fared At Penhurst.


It was very dark when we marched from Pevensea. We followed the
earl's men, and save for remembering the muddy torchlit causeway to
firm ground from the castle, and after that dim hill and dale
passed in turn, and a long causeway and bridge that spanned the
mouth of a narrow valley that opened into the great Pevensea level,
I knew not much of what country we went through. After passing that
causeway we came into forest land, going along a track for awhile,
and then turning inland across rolling hills till we began to go
down again. And as the first streaks of dawn began to show above
the woods, the word was passed for silence, and then that we should
lie down and rest in the fern on the edge of a steep slope below
which shone the faint gleam of water.

Then came Wulfnoth and spoke to Olaf, and said that he and his men
would go beyond the village so as to take the outlaws from the
rear. He would send a man to us who would show us all that was
needed.

After that we lay and waited, and as the sun rose and the light
grew stronger, I thought that I had never seen a more beautiful
place.

We were above a little cliff of red rock that went down to the
valley of the Ashbourne brook. And all the valley from side to side
was full of the morning mists so that it seemed one lake, while the
woods were bright with the change of the leaf, from green to red
and gold--oak and beech and chestnut and hazel each with its own
colour, and all beautiful. The blue downs rose far away to our left
across the ridges of the forest land, and inland the Andred's-weald
stretched, rising hill above hill as far as one might see, timber
covered. There were trees between us and the village that we
sought; but above its place rose a dun cloud of smoke from some
houses fired that night by those who held it, and that was the one
thing that spoiled the beauty of all that I saw.

Now Olaf and I spoke of all this, whispering together, for we were
close to the village, and already we had heard voices from thence
as men woke. For Olaf was ever touched by the sight of a fair land
lying before him. And while he spoke, a man seemed to rise out of a
cleft of the rocks below us, and climbed up to us, and bowed before
us, saying that he was to guide us.

He was a great man, clad in leather from head to foot, and carrying
a sledgehammer over his shoulder. That and a billhook stuck in his
belt were his only weapons.

"I am Spray the smith," he said, in a low voice. "The earl is
ready, and the thane also. The knaves are all drunken with our ale,
and we may fall on them at once."

"Have they no watch kept?" asked Olaf wondering.

"None, master."

"Are there Danes with them?"

"Aye; half are Danes. But I met one of them last night and spoke to
him peacefully, being stronger than he, and I said that vikings had
come to Pevensea, and that the earl was minding them. So they fear
no one."

Then came a herdsman's call from the woods beyond the village, and
the smith said:

"That is the thane. Fall on, master, and fear nought."

Whereat I laughed, and the men sprang up. The smith led us for a
hundred paces through the beech trees and then across the brook,
and the steep slope up to the village was before us. There was a
little, ancient earthwork of no account round the place, but if
there had been a stockade on it, it was gone.

Then came a roar of yells and shouts from the far side, and we knew
that the work had begun, and ran up the hillside. Then fled a man
in chain mail out of the place, leaping over the earthworks
straight at us, unknowing.

Spray the smith swung his hammer, not heeding at all the sword in
the man's hands. Sword and helm alike shivered under the blow, and
the man rolled over and over down the hillside.

"That is the first Dane I ever slew," said Spray to me as we topped
the ridge.

Then we were in the village and among a crowd of wild-looking,
half-armed forest men, who fled and yelled, and smote and cried for
quarter in a strange and ghastly medley. There was no order, and
seemingly no leader among them, and an end was soon made. Before I
had struck down two men they scattered and fled for hiding, and we
followed them. Wulfnoth would have no mercy shown to these wretches
who would harry the peaceful villagers--their own kin. They would
but band together again.

Now I did a foolish thing which might have cost me my life. For two
outlaws ran into one of the old stone buildings of which I had
heard, and I followed them. As I crossed the threshold I stayed for
a moment, for the place seemed very dark inside, and I could not
see them. But I was plain enough to them, of course, and before I
could see that a blow was coming one smote me heavily on the helm
and I fell forward, while they leapt out over my body into the open
again. Then I seemed to slip, and fell into nothingness as my
senses left me.

Presently I came round, nor could I tell how long I had been alone,
I heard far off shouts that were dull and muffled as if coming
through walls, and then as my brain cleared, I saw that I was in
what seemed to be a dungeon like those that Earl Wulfnoth had under
Pevensea. All round me were walls, and the light came in from a
round hole above me.

When I saw that I knew that I had indeed fallen into this place,
and my sword, too, lay on the floor where it had flown from my hand
as I did so. It was lucky that I had not fallen on it.

Now the shouts died away, and I thought that our men were chasing
the last of the outlaws into the woods. When the silence fell, I
waxed lonely, and began to wonder if I had been forgotten. But Olaf
would miss me presently, and would surely return to the village
before long. So I would be patient, and at least try to find a way
out of this trap into which I had come so strangely.

But there was no way out unless a ladder or rope were lowered to
me. The roof of the place was rounded and arched above me, and the
hole was in its centre so that I could not reach it. Maybe the
place was ten feet across and ten feet high under the hole, and it
minded me of the snake pit into which Gunnar the hero was thrown,
as Ottar the scald sang. Only here were no snakes, and the air was
thick and musty, but dry enough. I could see the beams of the house
roof above the hole.

Then I thought that if I could prise some stones from the old walls
I might pile them up until I reached the edge of the hole with my
hands, when it would be easy to draw myself up, though maybe not
without taking off my armour. But when I tried the joints of the
masonry with the point of my seax, I did but blunt the weapon, for
the mortar was harder than the stone, which was the red sandstone
of the cliff where we had rested.

So I forbore and sat down, leaning my aching head against the cool
wall, to wait for Olaf's return. There would be time to shout when
I heard voices again, and it was not good to make much noise in
that place after the blow of a club that had set my ears ringing
already.

Then I fell to thinking of Sexberga, and those thoughts were
pleasant enough. And idly I began to sharpen my seax again on a
great square stone that was handy in the wall as I sat, but it was
very soft, and crumbled away under the steel without doing it much
good.

Now, when one is waiting and thinking, one will play with an idle
pastime for the sake of keeping one's hands amused as it were, and
so I went on working the long slit in the stone, which the blade
was making, deeper and deeper. The sand trickled from it in a
stream, and then all of a sudden I became aware that I had pierced
through the stone into a hole behind, and I bent over to see how
this could be.

The stone was not more than an inch or two thick, and there was
certainly a hollow which it closed, and when I saw that I broke and
worked away more of it until I could get my hand in. Then I found
that I could feel nothing, for the place was deep. So I made the
hole bigger yet, and put my arm in. Then I found the back and one
side of a stone-cased chest in the wall, as it were, of which the
stone I had bored was the door, though this was to all appearance
like several other of the larger blocks that the place was built
of.

When I reached downwards my hand could just touch what felt like
rotten canvas, and at that I began to work again at the hole. The
stone was too strong to break, though it seemed thin, and I was so
intent on this, that the voices I had longed to hear made me start.

"He was hereabouts, master, when I last saw him," said one whom I
thought was Spray the smith.

"I will hang you up if he is lost," said Wulfnoth's voice.

Then I sprang up and shouted, and the vault rang painfully in my
ears. It was Olaf who called back to me.

"Ho, Redwald where are you?"

"Under the house, in a pit," I answered, standing under the
opening.

Then someone came tramping above me, and the next moment Spray's
leather-hosed leg came through the hole, and he nearly joined me.
Thereat others laughed, and he climbed up quickly enough, for it
was an ill feeling to be hanging over an unknown depth.

"Lower me down a rope," I said, as I saw his face peering into the
place with some others.

There seemed to be a ladder handy, for the next minute its end came
down, and at once I picked up my sword and climbed out. Olaf stood
in the doorway now with Relf.

"It is easy to see how my cousin got into that place," he said to
Relf, pointing to my helm, which was sorely dinted.

The big thane looked and laughed.

"That is what felled him. But I knew not of this pit," he said,
looking past me into the house where Spray and the men stood round
the hole.

Then the smith said:

"Nor did I, master. But this has been found by the forest men--here
are their tools."

And when we looked, all the floor of the house was broken up, and
the stone paving was piled in corners, and a pick or two lay on
them with a spade and crowbar.

"They have been digging for treasure," said Relf, "and that has
kept them from my house. There are always tales of gold hidden in
these old places. I have seen that they have done the like
elsewhere in the village."

"Aye," said Spray, "they have heard some of our tales, and they
have dug where we would not, for it spoils a house, and the wife's
temper also, to meddle with the good stone floor."

Now it seemed to me that here was a likelihood that there was truth
in the old tales, and that I had lit on the lost hiding place of
which some memory yet remained even from the days when OElla's men
took the town from the iron workers five hundred years and more
ago, when the might of Rome had passed.

"There is somewhat that I have found in this place," I said. "Come
and see what it is."

Wondering, Olaf and Wulfnoth climbed down the ladder after me, and
Relf did but stay to find a torch before he followed us. Then I
showed them the stone and the hollow behind it, and the earl called
for the crowbar that was left by the outlaws, and with a stroke or
two easily broke out the rest of the stone, and the glare of the
torch shone into the place that it had so long sealed.

It was a chamber in the wall, and maybe a yard square each way. The
stone had not filled all its width or depth of mouth, but was, as
it were, a sealed door to be broken and replaced by another. Then
we could see that the canvas I had thought that I had felt was
indeed the loose folds of the tied mouths of bags that were neatly
arranged at the bottom of this stone-built chest. And the canvas
that I had reached and pulled at had easily parted, and through the
rent showed the dull gleam of gold coin as the torchlight flared
upon it.

The light shone too on letters scratched on the soft stone of the
back of the chamber. I could read them, but Wulfnoth pointed to
them, saying:

"Here may be a curse written on him who touches. I will have our
priest read that which is there if he can."

Then I laughed, and said that it was no curse, but the name of some
Roman who made the place, for all that was there was:

CLAVD. MARTINVS. ARTIF. FEC.

"Which means that a workman named Martin was proud of his work, and
left his name there," I said when I had read it.

"And was slain, doubtless, lest he should betray the secret," said
Wulfnoth.

And he put his hand out to take one of the bags from the place,
feeling round the rotten canvas to get a fair grip of the mass of
coin.

Then he drew back his hand with a cry that came strangely from his
stern lips, for it sounded like alarm, and he stepped back.

"As I live," he said, "somewhat cold moved beneath my fingers in
there."

Even as he spoke something crawled slowly on to the bag that was
broken and sat on the red gold that was hidden no longer. There it
stayed, staring at the torchlight--a great wizened toad, whose eyes
were like the gold which it seemed to guard. And we stared at it,
for not one of us dared touch it, nor could we say aught.

It is ill to waste breath in wondering how the creature got into
this long-closed place or how it lived. But when I have told of
this, many a time have I heard stories of toads that have been
found in stranger places--even in solid-seeming rock. But however
it came there--and one may think of many ways--it scared us. It
seemed a thing not natural.

"It is the evil spirit that guards the treasure," whispered Relf to
Olaf, edging toward the ladder.

"Fetch Anselm the priest, and let him exorcise this," said the
earl. "It is some witchcraft of the heathen Romans."

"Were I in Finmark I would say that this was a 'sending' {7},"
Olaf said, "but we are in Christian England, and this is but a
toad."

Now I said nothing, but I wished the beast away, for I would see
the treasure I had found. Then the earl bethought himself.

"Maybe it is but a toad," he said. "I will cast it out."

And with that he went to do so, but liked it not, and drew back
again.

"Toad or worse," I said then, "I mind not their cold skin, and will
see what it is."

So I took hold of the beast, and it swelled itself out as I did so,
and croaked a little. That was the worst it did; but I will say
this, that the sound almost made me drop it. But I cast it behind
me into the shadow, and then put both hands into the chamber and
took out one of the bags.

It was full of gold coin, as was that which had been torn open, and
as were all the rest--ten of them--when we looked. And the coins
were older than we could tell, being stamped with strange figures
that bore some likeness to horses whose limbs fell apart, and a
strange face on the other side. Many had letters on them, and these
were mostly--CVNO.

"They are coins of the Welsh folk whom we conquered," said
Wulfnoth. "I have seen the like before. They made them at Selsea,
and we find many there on the shore after storms."

Now I think that we had found the hiding place of the tribute money
that should be sent to Rome when some ship came thence or from
beyond the Channel to fetch it, or maybe it was some iron master's
hoarded payment for the good Sussex iron that they smelted in these
valleys in the Roman days. More likely it was the first, for men
would know that it had never been sent away. None can tell how the
places of these hoards are lost, but times of war have strange
chances. Then folk do but hand down the knowledge that, somewhere,
the treasure is yet hidden {8}.

"Good booty had OElla and Cissa our forbears, but they have left
some for us," said Earl Wulfnoth.

"Here is gold enough to buy a good fleet for Ethelred," said Olaf
thoughtfully.

"Gold enough for you and me to win England for ourselves withal,"
said the earl in a low voice. "You take the Danelagh, and I the
rest, and we will keep Ethelred for a puppet overlord."

"If Cnut wins there will be time enough to think of that," answered
Olaf coldly. "Eadmund is my friend."

"Not Ethelred?" said Wulfnoth eagerly.

"I fight for him," answered Olaf.

"Well, well. I did but speak my own wish," said the earl. "You and
I will not be agreed on this matter."

Then he turned to Relf, and began to give him some directions about
a horse whereon to load the treasure. And Olaf and I went back up
the ladder, leaving them, for the vault grew close and hot, and
this was their business. The earl would take it back to Pevensea,
where it would be safe. Word would go round quickly enough
concerning the find, and of what value it was. Nor would that grow
less in the telling, though none of us had ever seen so much gold
together before.

I suppose that I had been in the place for two hours or more, and
the morning sky had changed strangely since the fight began. The
sun was hidden with a great mass of heavy clouds that were driving
up fast from the southwest, although the woods around us were still
and motionless in the hot, heavy air. The smoke that still rose
from the burnt houses went up straight as a pine tree.

Olaf looked up at the sky, and seemed anxious.

"There is a gale brewing," he said. "I am glad Rani is with the
ships."

Then he walked away to a spur of the hill that looked down the
valley towards the sea. We could see all the tidal water, and
almost to Pevensea, and there came a long murmur of the sea on the
pebble beach, even to where we stood, so hushed were all things.
Surely there was a heavy sea setting in to make so loud a noise as
that. And all the hills and marshes seemed close at hand, so clear
was the air.

Then came to us Olaf's ship master, and he was uneasy also.

"Tide is at its highest tonight," he said, "and if the wind gets up
from the southwest, as seems likely, it will be higher yet than
usual. See how the clouds whirl over us."

Then the king went back to the building and called to Wulfnoth, who
came up the ladder asking what was amiss, for he heard that Olaf's
voice was urgent.

"Here is a gale coming," the king said, "and we must be back with
the ships."

Wulfnoth came out into the open and looked round.

"Aye; and tide will be high at the causeway. These spring tides run
wildly at this time of year," he said. "We must be going."

Then was no more delay, but the horns blew the recall, and the men
came in. We had lost none, but I do not think that many outlaws
were left.

They brought a farm horse, with baskets slung across its back in
the Sussex manner, and into them the gold was put. I looked down
into the vault as the men left it, and saw that Relf was there, and
that they had tried every great stone in the walls in search of
another chamber, but that there had not been one. And when he came
up I was about to draw up the ladder after him, and looked down for
the last time.

There at the ladder's foot sat the elvish toad, and it seemed to me
that it looked pitifully up at the light. How many years might it
have been without sunlight or touch of dew or cool green leaves
that it had loved? And I was fain to climb down and take it up in
my hand and set it free on the grass outside the house, where a
dock spread its broad leaves. It crawled under them in haste, and I
saw it no more. Then I found that Spray the smith was watching me,
and he said a strange thing.

"That is a good deed, master," he said. "I think that you shall
never be in prison."

"May I never be so," I answered, wondering.

"I am a forest-bred man," he said, "and I love all beasts," and
then he turned away, and went to the men who were waiting for the
earl's word.

And when all was ready Relf came to me and said that he would go to
his own place with his men, and that he would ask me to take word
to his wife and daughter that all was safe at home. The outlaws had
been too busy in the town to seek further for plunder, or had not
cared to do so at once. So he went, as we started, and I was
pleased with the chance of having speech with Sexberga.

Now there was a moaning overhead as we went through the woods along
the ridge above the valley, and hot breaths of air began to play in
our faces. The clouds raced above us more swiftly, and black masses
of scud drifted yet faster below them from across the hard black
backs of the downs to the westward. There was something strange in
the feeling of the weather that seemed to betoken more than a storm
of wind and rain, and we were silent and oppressed as we marched.

Now we came to the crest of the hill where the track goes down to
the level of the river and marshes and to the causeway, which we
crossed in the early morning. I could see now how narrow the outlet
of the river was between the hills where it joined the main tidal
waters, and the causeway was low, and both it and the bridge were
very ancient. They call it Boreham Bridge, and it is a place that I
shall not forget.

When we were halfway down the steep hill suddenly the first blast
of the gale smote us in the face, and that with a roar and howl and
rush that drowned all other sounds. The branches flew from the
trees along the hillside, and more than one great trunk gave way at
last to that onset. Then all along the coastline grew and widened a
white line of flying spindrift that hid the distant gray walls of
Pevensea on its low island, and shone like snow against the black
dun-edged cloud that came up from out of the sea.

"Hurry, men," shouted Wulfnoth, "or the bridge will be down! Look
at the tide!"

And that was racing up inland, already foaming through the wooden
arches that spanned its course. I had heard that the tide reached
this place a full hour after it began to flow at Pevensea, and even
now it was thus, two hours before it should have been at its
highest there.

Wulfnoth's men led, and then came the earl, riding beside Spray and
the horse which bore the treasure. Olaf was riding just behind
them, and I marched with our crew not ten paces after him. So we
went down the hill, and so we stepped on the causeway, and came to
the first timbers of the bridge. And hardly had I stepped on them
than there came a great shout from the men behind us, while one
seized my arm and pointed seaward across the marshes.

There came rushing across the level--blending channel and land into
one sea as it passed--a vast white roller, great as any wave which
breaks upon the shore, and its length was lost behind the hill
before us, and far away to our left. So swiftly did it come that it
seemed that none of us might gain the hill before it whelmed us and
causeway and bridge alike.

Earl Wulfnoth grasped the bridle of the pack horse, and the man
Spray lashed it, shouting aloud to us to hasten. And Olaf turned in
his saddle and saw me, and reined up until I grasped his stirrup
leather, and ran on beside him. And our men broke and ran, some
following us, and some going back to the hill whence we came. And
all the while the great white billow was thundering nearer, and my
head reeled with its noise and terror till I knew not what I was
doing, and let go my hold of Olaf's stirrup.

Then it broke over bridge and causeway, and through its roar I
heard yells, and the crash of broken timber, before I lost all
knowledge of aught but that I was lost in that mighty wave, and was
being whirled like a straw before it, where it would take me.

I struck out wildly as if to swim--but of what avail was that
against the weight of rushing water? I seemed to be rolled over and
against broken timber and reeds and stones--and once my hand
touched a man, for I felt it grate over the scales of armour--and
my ears were full of roarings and strange sounds, and I thought
that I was surely lost.

Then a strong grip was on me, and the water flew past me, and
hurled things at me, for I no longer went with it. My feet touched
ground, and other hands held me, and then I was ashore, and spent
almost nigh to death. Well for me it was that in the old days by
the Stour river I had loved to swim and dive in the deep pool
behind the island, for I had learned to save my breath. Had I not
done so, the choking of the great wave had surely ended my days.

It was Olaf who had saved me. Almost had we won to the high ground
when I had let go his stirrup leather, and then the shoreward edge
of the wave had caught me. But he had faced its fury as he saw me
borne away, and had snatched me from it as it tossed me near the
bank again. Now he bent over me, trying to catch the sound of my
voice through the roar of the storm and the rush of the flood below
us. But I could not speak to him though I would, and it was not all
drowning that ailed me, for the blow which had felled me in the
fight was even now beginning to do its work. Else had I clung to
him all along, and had been safe as he was. For he won to shore ten
yards beyond its reach as the wave came.

Now I know that Olaf and our men carried me into a place under the
lee of a hill, and bided there till the gale blew over. There was a
sharp pain as of a piercing weapon in my side as they did so, and
after that I knew not much of being carried on to the house of
Relf, the Thane of Penhurst, along a forest road where travelling
was no easier for the fallen trees that lay across it. And after I
was there I knew nothing. The blow I had had took its effect on me,
and I had several ribs broken by some timber that smote me amid the
tossing of the great wave of the flood.

Many are the tales that men all round the coasts will tell of the
great sea flood that came on Michaelmas even. For it ran far into
the land where no tide had run before, and many towns were
destroyed by it, and many people were drowned. It will be long
before the scathe it wrought will be forgotten. Many of the earl's
ships were broken, even where they lay behind the island, and two
of ours were lost--carried across the level where no ship had ever
swum before. And eight of our men had been swept from the causeway
and drowned. Two lie yet under the wreck of bridge and causeway, or
in the Ashbourne valley amid wrack and ruin of field and forest
that the flood left behind it.

But these things I learnt afterwards. Now I was like to die, and
Olaf bided at my side and minded nought else, as men said.



Chapter 6: Sexberga The Thane's Daughter.


Days came and went by while I lay helpless. Olaf the king at last
must needs leave me, and take the ships back to the Thames, there
to watch against Cnut's return, in which he, almost alone in
England, believed. But he would not sail before he knew that I
would recover, and he left me in the kind hands of Anselm, the old
Norman priest, who was well skilled in leech craft, and of Relf the
Thane and his wife. So I need say nought of the long days of
weakness after danger was gone, for there are few men who have not
known what they are like, and well for them if they have had such
tending as these good folk gave to me.

Yet it was not till November had half gone that I was able to ride
hunting again at last, and to go out with Relf in the crisp frosts
of early winter through the great woods of the Andred's-weald in
search of wolf and boar, or when the mists hung round the gray
copses, and the turf in the glades was soft, and scent was high, to
follow the deer that harboured in the deep shaws. We were seldom
without their spoils as we came homeward, and how good it was to
feel my strength coming back to me as I rode--to find the grip on a
spear shaft hardening, and the bow hand growing steadier against a
longer pull on the tough string. And Relf rejoiced with me to see
this, for he deemed that he owed me the more care because my hurt
had been gained in fighting for him and his home. Honest and rough,
with a warm heart was this forest thane, and we grew to be fast
friends.

Now when I was helpless, Wulfnoth the earl and Godwine would often
ride from Pevensea to learn how I fared. For Wulfnoth and Godwine
alike loved Olaf the king, and Godwine thought of me as his own
friend among the vikings of our fleet. But presently Godwine went
away to Bosham, where the earl's ships were mostly laid up, to see
to the housing of his vessels for the winter, and when I grew
strong it was rather my place to go to Pevensea and wait on
Wulfnoth, if I would see him. I think the earl came to Penhurst
more often also, because he would dig for more treasure in all the
old ruins in the town. But he found no more, as one might well
suppose, for it was but a chance that our find had escaped the
searching of the first Saxon comers. Yet I saw him now and then,
and ever would he rail at Ethelred the king, who sat still and left
the Danish thingmen in possession of the eastern strongholds even
yet.

Now one day the thane and I rode together with hawk and hound
eastward from Penhurst along the spur of a hill that runs thence
for many a long mile, falling southward on one side towards the sea
and lower hills between, and northward looking inland over
forest-covered hill and valley. And we went onward until we came to
the village that men call Senlac, where the long hill ridge ends
and sinks sharply into the valley of the little river Asten, and
there we thought that a heron or mallard would lie in the reedy
meadows below the place.

But up the course of the stream came another party, and when we
neared it, we saw that it was the earl himself with but a few
followers, and he too was riding with hawk on wrist, and hounds in
leash behind him, though it did not seem as if he had loosed
either.

"Ho, Relf, good morrow. What sport?" he said.

"Little enough, lord earl, as yet," the thane said.

"Do you and friend Redwald come with me, and I will show you
somewhat before you go home," the earl answered.

So we must go with him, willingly enough, for he was a great
hunter, and very skilful in woodcraft.

Now we went back through the village and up the hill again on the
same track by which we had just come, and when we were almost at
the top of the rise, the earl bade the men wait while we three rode
on. So they stayed, and we followed him, not at all knowing what he
would do.

Then we came to a track leading to the right as we rode, and he
took that way. It led to a place of which I had heard, for it had
no good name among the people, but I thought that he would not go
thither. Nevertheless he held straight on, and came to the place in
the hillside that was feared. And it was very beautiful, for thence
one looks out over the valley to the hills beyond, with the long
line of the sea away to the right, and to the left the valleys that
slope down to the inlet where Winchelsea stands, far off to the
eastward. There is a well which they say is haunted, though by what
I know not, save that men speak of ghostly hands that seize them as
they pass, if pass they must, at night. Hardly was there a track to
the place, though the water that comes from the rocky spring is so
wondrously pure and cold that they call the place Caldbec {9}
Hill. And there by the side of the spring was a little turf-built
hut, hardly to be known from the shelving bank against which it
leant, and to that the earl led us.

"Now," he said, "tie the horses somewhere, and we will go and speak
with the Wise Woman."

At that Relf was not pleased, as it seemed, for he did not
dismount.

"Come not if you fear her," said Wulfnoth; "bide with the horses if
you will, while I and Olaf's cousin go in. Maybe there will be a
message that he must take to his kinsman."

"I have nought to seek from the old dame," said Relf, "nor is there
aught that I fear from her. I give her venison betimes, as is
fitting. I will bide with the horses."

Wulfnoth said no more to him, and turned sharply to me. "You give
her no venison--maybe you fear her therefore!" he said in a
scornful way enough.

"I fear her no more than Relf," I answered, "but, like him, I will
not seek her without reason."

"Maybe there is reason for you to hear what she tells me," the earl
said. "I will have you come."

He seemed in no wise angry, but rather wishful that I should be
with him, and so I got off my horse and went. But it crossed my
mind that Wulfnoth the earl liked not to be alone, and suddenly I
remembered the way in which two of our Bures franklins had spoken
to each other when they would see Dame Gunnhild, Hertha's nurse. It
was just in this same wise.

There was a blue reek of oak-wood smoke across the doorway of the
hut, and at first the tears came into my eyes with its biting, and
I could see nothing as the earl drew me inside. We had to stoop low
as we crossed the threshold, and then the air was clearer at the
back of the hut, which was far larger than one would think, seeing
that its front did but cover the mouth of a cave that was in the
sandstone rock. I heard the water of the cold spring rattling and
bubbling somewhere close at hand.

There was a long seat hewn from the rock at the very back of the
place and to one side, and Wulfnoth drew me down beside him upon
it, and there we sat silent, waiting for I knew not what. A great
yellow cat came and rubbed itself, tail in air, against my legs,
and I stroked it, and it purred pleasantly.

Then I became aware that over against us across the fire sat the
most terrible-looking old witch that I had ever seen or dreamed of,
elbows on knees and chin on hand, staring at us. And when I saw her
I forgot the cat, and could not take my eyes off her.

So for long enough we sat, and she turned her bright eyes from one
of us to the other, letting them rest steadily on each in turn. And
at last she spoke.

"What do Earl Wulfnoth and Redwald the thane seek?"

"Read me what is in the time to come. What shall be the outcome of
this strife for England?" the earl said plainly, but in a low
voice.

"Time to come is longer than I can read," said the old woman, never
stirring or taking her eyes from the earl. "I can only see into a
few years, and I cannot always say what I know of them."

Then she turned her gaze on me, and stretched out her hand and
pointed at me. But her eyes looked past me, as it seemed.

"River and mere and mound," she said in a strangely soft
voice--"those, and the ways of the old time of Guthrum, in the town
that saw Eadmund the king. That is what is written for the weird of
Redwald the thane."

Now at that I was fairly terrified, for it was plain that this old
woman, who had never set eves on me before, had knowledge more than
mortal. But if she had gone so far, I would have her go yet
further. Black terror had been before the days of Guthrum grew
peaceful, and I swallowed my fear of her and asked:

"What of Guthrum's days?"

"Danish laws in the Danish Anglia," she said, "and the peace that
comes after the sword and the torch."

"Fire and sword we have had," I said. "Danish laws have ever been
ours. But Ethelred shall be king."

"Ethelred is king," she answered; "but I speak of time to come."

Then Wulfnoth broke in:

"What is this that you speak of, dame? Tell me if I shall bear fire
and sword into Ethelred's land, and give it the peace that shall be
thereafter."

Then she turned her look away from us, and stared across the fire
and out of the doorway.

"Not with you, nor with your son, but with your son's son shall
fire and sword come into this land of ours," she said.

"Godwine's son!"

"Aye--Harold Godwinesson, who is unborn. Look through the smoke,
lords, across the valley, and see if you can learn aught."

Then I stared out through the blue reek, and the earl looked.

"You do but play with me--I see nought!" he cried, half starting up
in anger.

But I minded him not.

Many a fight have I seen--but that which I saw from Caldbec Hill
through the smoke of the fire is more than I may say. No fight that
I have seen was as that--it was most terrible. Surely, if ever such
a fight shall in truth rage across the quiet Senlac stream and up
the green hillside, the fate of more than a king shall hang
thereon. Surely I saw such a strife as makes or ends a nation.

The old woman laughed.

"What has Redwald seen?" she asked mockingly.

The earl glanced at me, and so plainly was it written in my face
that I had seen somewhat awesome, that he gazed at me in amaze.

And I rose up and said:

"Let me go hence--I will see no more."

And I was staggering to the doorway; but Wulfnoth grasped my arm
and stayed me, saying:

"Bide here and say what you have seen--if it is aught."

"Ask me not, earl," I answered.

Then the dame spoke in her slow, soft voice.

"What banner saw you? Say that much, Redwald."

"The banner that flies from Pevensea walls--the banner that bears a
fighting warrior for its sign."

"Ha!" said Wulfnoth; "was it well or ill with that banner?"

"I know not how it went; I saw but a battle--yonder," and I pointed
to where, across the haze of smoke, valley and stream and hill
stretched before me, and thought that surely the fight still raged
as I had seen it--wave after wave of mail-clad horsemen charging
uphill to where, ringed in by English warriors, Saxon and Anglian
and Danish shoulder to shoulder, the banner of the Sussex earls
stood--while from the air above it rained the long arrows thick as
driving hail.

One thing I knew well, and that was that the warriors who charged
wore the war gear of the dukes of Rouen--the Normans. How should
they come here? and who should weld our English races into one thus
to withstand so new a foe from across the sea?

"So--a battle?" said Wulfnoth. "That is the first fancy that a
boy's brain will weave. Battles enough shall my banner see. No need
of you, witch as you are, to tell me that!"

"Maybe not," answered the old woman. "Why, then, Earl Wulfnoth,
come here to ask me to tell you things you know?" and she turned
away towards the fire again as if uncaring.

Then the earl changed his tone, saying:

"Nay, good dame, but I would know if I shall take up arms at all at
this time, and what shall befall if I must do so."

"I tell you, earl, that you have not any share in the wars that
shall be seen. And let Godwine your son bide with his sheep--so
shall he find his place."

Then the earl flushed red with anger and waited to hear no more,
but flung out of the house, muttering hard words on the dame and on
his own foolishness in seeking her.

Then the great cat sprang on my knee, and clung to me with its
strong claws as I would set it down to follow him. And as it stayed
me, the old dame spoke to me, and there was nought to fear in
either her face or voice.

"Ask me somewhat, Redwald."

I wondered, but I dared not refuse. So I said:

"How shall fare King Olaf?"

"For him a kingdom, and more than a kingdom. For him fame, and
better than fame. For him a name that shall never die."

"That is a wondrous weird," I said. "Tell me now of Eadmund
Atheling;" for some strange power that the old woman had seemed to
draw me to ask of her what I would most know.

"For Eadmund of Wessex? For him the shadow of Edric Streone over
all his brave life."

"What then of Cnut, the Dane King?"

"Honour and peace, and the goodwill of all men."

"Not mine," I said.

"Yours also, Redwald--for England's sake and his own."

But I could not believe her at that time.

Now the angry voice of Wulfnoth called me from outside the place,
and the dame said "Go," smiling at me and holding out her hand.

"No more can I tell you, Redwald. But I have this to say of you,
that you have pleased me in asking nought concerning yourself."

"I would know nought beforehand," I said, speaking old thoughts of
my own plainly. "It is enough to hope ever for good that may not
come, and to live with one's life unclouded by fear of the evil
that must needs be."

The dame smiled again, very sadly, as it seemed to me. "It is well
said. Now I will tell you this, that over your life is the shadow
of no greater evil than what every man must meet. Farewell."

So she spoke her last words to me, and sat down by the fire again.
And it is in my thoughts that she wept, but I know not.

Outside stood the earl, staring over the Senlac valley eastward.

"This were a good place for a battle, after all," he said, as to
himself. Then he heard me and turned.

"Well, what more has the old witch told you?" he said, trying to
speak carelessly, though one might see that he longed to hear more.

As we went towards the horses, I told him, therefore, of what had
been said of Eadmund and Cnut. And as he heard he grew thoughtful.

"Now," he said, slowly and half to himself, "if the shadow of that
villain Streone is on Eadmund as on me, I will not strike for
myself--as yet; and Cnut shall win other men's praise before I give
him mine or go to him unsought."

"Eadmund needs a friend, lord earl," I said, mindful of Olaf's
errand, yet hardly daring to say more seeing that he had failed.

"If there were no Ethelred--" said the earl, and stopped.

He said no more then until we were nearly within hearing of Relf.
Then he turned and faced me, taking my hand and staying me.

"I would that Olaf and you were my friends," he said, "for you both
speak out for those whom you love or serve. See here, Redwald, when
you are tired of the ways of Ethelred's crew, come to me again, and
we will plan together. And tell Olaf the same. I shall bide quiet,
keeping my Sussex against all comers, until I think a time has
come. And then, maybe, the old banner will go forward. I would have
you with me then."

So it seemed that I had found a friend, though a strange one, and I
thanked the earl, and promised him as he wished, for it bound me
only to what I thought would surely never come to pass.

After that we went on to Relf, and rode to where we had left the
men. Then the earl left us, making his way to his ships that lay at
Bulverhythe, where some were in winter quarters. The great sea
flood had changed the Pevensea haven strangely, and he mistrusted
it.

I told Relf all these things, but he cared not much for aught but
his free life in the Penhurst woodlands, where he had no foes or
fear of foes left, now that the outlaws were done with.

"Well, if there must be fighting under the earl at some time," he
said, "I am glad that you may be with us."

And he cared to ask no more about it from that day, nor do I think
that he ever gave these matters, which were so heavy to me, a
thought, being always light hearted. And now as we rode on
silently, and I deemed that his mind was full of bodings, as was
mine, he roused me from the memory of what I had seen and heard by
saying, with a laugh:

"Saw you the old dame's cat?"

"Aye," I answered carelessly; "a great one, and a friendly beast
enough."

"Was it so? Then I will warrant that the old witch was in a sorely
bad temper," he said, laughing again.

"What makes you think that?" I asked, not caring if he answered.

"Why, our folk say that the temper of cat and witch are ever
opposite. So when they go to ask aught of the old lady, they wait
outside till they see how the cat--which is, no doubt, her familiar
spirit--behaves. Then if the beast is wild and savage, they know
that its mistress will be in good temper and they may go in. But if
the cat is friendly, they may as well go home, else will they be
like to get harder words than they would care to hear."

Then I laughed also, and said that there seemed nought strange in
the ways of the great cat, but that it behaved as if used to being
noticed kindly.

"That is certain," said Relf. "It is not well to offend either
mistress or beast. But surely she was ill tempered?"

"There was nothing ill natured in her doing or sayings at all," I
said. "The earl angered her a little, but that passed."

"Maybe that was enough to put her familiar into a good temper,"
said Relf, and was satisfied that the common saying was true.

Then I minded a small black cat that belonged to our leech at Bures
in the old days. It would let none come near it but its master. Yet
I have many times seen it perched on the shoulder of the town
witch, and she hated the leech sorely.

So I fell to thinking of the old home and ways, soon, as I thought,
to be taken up again. But at the same time there stole into my mind
the feeling that I had grown to love this place.

Then with flap of heavy wings and croak of alarm flew up a great
heron from a marshy pool, and in a moment all was forgotten as I
unhooded my hawk--one that Olaf had given me from the Danish spoils
at Canterbury. Then the rush of the long-winged falcon, and the cry
of the heron, and the giddy climbing of both into the gray November
sky as they strove for the highest flight, was all that I cared
for, and we shook our reins and cantered after the birds as they
drifted down the wind, soaring too high to breast it.

And when the heron was taken the dark thoughts were gone, and we
rode back to Penhurst gaily, speaking no word of war or coming
trouble, but of flight of hawk and wile of quarry, and the like
pleasant things.

After this I saw no more of Earl Wulfnoth, and the winter set in
with heavy snow and frosts, so that before long one might hardly
stir into the woods, where the drifts were over heavy in the deep
shaws to be very safe to a stranger. But we had some good days when
word came that the foresters had harboured an old boar in a
sheltered place. And to attack the fearless beast when he is thus
penned and at bay amid snow walls, is warriors' sport indeed.

But while the snow fell whirling in the cold blasts from the sea
round the great low-roofed hall I must needs bide within, and so I
saw more of the maiden Sexberga than before, as she sat at her
wheel with the lady, her mother, and the maidens of the house at
the upper end of the hall, while the men wrought at their indoor
work of mending and making horse gear and tool handles and the
like, below the fire that burnt in the centre.

And so it had been like enough that soon I should have bound my
heart to this pleasant place with ties that would have been hard to
break, but for some words that came about by chance. For there had
begun to spring up in my mind a great liking for the words and ways
of Sexberga, who had been pleasant in my eyes from the very first
time that I had seen her and her mother in Earl Wulfnoth's
courtyard.

And I think that there is no wonder in this, for these ladies were
ever most kind to me, and long were the days since I had spoken
with any in such a home as this. Nor, as I have said, should I be
blamed for forgetting old days at Bures in this wise.

Now, soon after Christmas, when there came one of those days when
men must needs keep under cover, I sat by the fire trimming arrows,
and presently it chanced that the lady and I were alone in the
hall, for the maidens were preparing the supper elsewhere, and the
housecarles had not yet come in from cattle yard and sheep pens.
And we talked quietly of this and that, as her wheel hummed and
clicked cheerfully the while, and at last some word of mine led her
to say:

"I have heard little of your own folk, Redwald. I do not know even
their names."

"After my father was slain, I had none left but my mother," I said.
"We are distant kinsfolk of Ulfkytel, our earl, but we have no near
kin."

"Was your mother's name Hertha?" she said, naturally enough, for I
had never named her, always speaking, as one will, of her as my
mother only.

I looked up wondering, for I could not think how she knew that
name, or indeed any other than that of Siric, my father, and maybe
Thorgeir, my grandfather, for Olaf had told them at first, when
they took charge of me, to what family I had belonged, and how I
was akin to him.

"That was not my mother's name," I answered. "It was that of a
playfellow of mine. How could you know it?"

"One will go back in thought and word to old times when one is
sick," the lady said, smiling. "This was a name often on your lips
as I sat by you in your sickness. It was ever 'Mother' and
'Hertha'. Olaf said that you had no sisters, or I should have
thought you called to one of them, maybe."

Then I remembered at last; and for a little while I sat silent, and
my heart was sorely troubled. And the trouble was because my
growing thought of Sexberga taught me, all in a flash as it were,
when the remembrance of Hertha was brought thus clearly back to me,
what tie bound me to Bures and to this more than playmate of mine.
In truth, I think that had it not been for this, until I had been
back in Bures again I should not have recalled it.

Now I was glad that I had said nought that might have made my
liking for the maiden plain to her, and so things would be the
easier. Yet for a few moments the thought of saying nought of the
old betrothal came to me--of letting it remain forgotten. And then
that seemed to me to be unworthy of a true man. It was done, and
might not be undone by my will alone. I would even speak plainly of
the matter; and at least I had not gone so far in any way that the
lady could blame me for silence. So I hardened my heart--for indeed
the trouble seemed great--and spoke quickly.

"Hertha was nearer to me than sister, for we were betrothed when I
was but thirteen and she eleven."

I think the trouble in my voice was plain, for the lady deemed that
there was some to be told.

"Where is she now?" she asked. "I hope that no harm came to her
when the evil Danes overran your land."

"I know not where she may be, dear lady," I said. "We know that she
was in safety after the first peril passed. Now our land is in
Danish hands, and I have no news from thence for four years."

"There are many places here where one might hide well enough," she
said thoughtfully. "I suppose her people could find the like in
your country. But it would be a dull life enough."

Then I told her of Gunnhild the nurse and her wisdom, and said that
none knew the land around Bures better than she, while she had
friends everywhere.

"Then you may find your Hertha yet," the lady said at last; and as
she spoke Sexberga, of whom my mind was full, came into the hall.

"You speak sadly together," she said, looking from one to the
other, and noting that her mother's wheel was idle.

"It is no happy tale that our friend has told me," the lady said,
and so told her all that she had learned from me.

Then Sexberga clasped her hands together, and said:

"Shall I ever forget the time when we fled to Pevensea before the
outlaws? And to think of that terror--if it had lasted for days and
weeks--and months maybe, as it would for your Hertha. Could you in
no way seek her, Redwald?"

She knew nothing of the ways of wartime and of the troubles which
must come to men who are weapon bearers, and I tried to tell her
how I could by no means have sought Hertha, and how, had that been
possible, and had I found her, I could hardly have brought her even
to London in safety. I told her of good Bishop Elfheah and his
death, and many more things, and yet she said:

"I think you have been over long in seeking her. And she has been
in hiding for four years past!"

Now that was hardly fair, but what could she think else? Yet in my
mind was the certainty now that I might have had no easy task to
win this kindly maiden, who so little cared that I was bound
elsewhere. Now I will not say that that altogether pleased me, for
no man likes to learn that a fair maiden who is pleasant to his
eyes has no like feeling for himself; which is nought but vanity
after all. So when I turned this over in my mind I knew that I
ought to be glad that she cared nothing, for so was the less
trouble in the end, and I found also that what a man ought to be is
not the same always as what a man is.

So I made no answer, and Sexberga went on:

"Now must you seek her as soon as you can, for that is your part as
a good warrior--a good knight, as Father Anselm will say when he
hears thereof."

"Surely I shall go back this spring with our earl," I said. "Then
shall I find her, for she and her nurse will come back from their
hiding when peace is sure."

"Aye; and you will not know her!" said Sexberga, clapping her hands
and laughing. "She is a woman grown, as I am, by this time!"

Then was gone my little playfellow, and in her place, in my
thoughts, must stand a maiden with eyes of sad reproach that must
be ever on me. And maybe in her heart would be fear of me, and of
what I had become, as she was bound to me.

And now Sexberga began to weave fancies of how I should meet this
long-lost bride of mine, and I could make no answer to her playful
railing, for I saw more clearly than she. And her mother knew that
this must be so, and sent her away on some household errand, and I
was glad.

Then she laid her hand on mine, and spoke very kindly to me.

"I fear, Redwald, that there is a strange trial coming for you; but
I think that you will face it rightly. It is likely that you will
hardly know Hertha when you see her; yet you are betrothed to her,
and that is a thing that cannot be forgotten."

"She will not know me at all," I said.

"Women are keen sighted," the lady answered; "but it is more than
likely that she will not."

Then said I:

"What if she has no love for me?"

"Or you of her? But I think that in her hiding she has thought of
you ever, and well will it be for you if you come not short of her
dream of you. But you have thought of her not at all."

"Blame me not, lady," I said humbly enough, though I thought I
deserved blame more than she knew.

"I cannot," she answered, and then a half smile crossed her fair
face; "nor should I have thought it wonderful if some other maiden
had taken her place in your heart. But that would have been ill for
three people in the end."

I sat silent, and maybe I was glad that the glow of the fire was
ruddy on my face, for it seemed that she had seen somewhat of my
thoughts of late.

"Now you must find Hertha," she went on, "and then if either of you
will be released, I think that Holy Church will not be hard on you,
nor keep you bound to each other, for things have turned out ill
for such a betrothal."

"This is a hard case," I said, "for supposing that one longs for
release and the other does not?"

"Why, you cannot be so much as lovers yet!" she said, laughing
suddenly. "Here we speak as if a child's thoughts were aught. Now
comes into my mind such a plan as is in the old stories. You shall
seek Hertha as Olaf's kinsman only--as a kinsman who seeks for you,
maybe, not letting her know who you are. Then may you try to win
her love, if you will--or if you cannot love her, you may so work
on her mind that she will not love you, and then all is easy. For
if she will not love you when you would win her, you will not hold
her bound."

"Surely not," I said. "This seems a good plan, if only it may be
carried out. But it depends on whether Hertha knows me again."

"Or the old nurse, Gunnhild," she answered. "If she lives yet, you
must take her into the plan."

So this seemed to me to be a matter easily managed, as I thought
thereof, and I was content. And after we had talked a while longer,
planning thus, I said:

"Now I must go back to Olaf as soon as I can. The winter is wearing
away."

"Aye; the good king will be missing you," she said.

I was not ready to say more, for I meant a great deal by my words,
as might be supposed. And the lady knew it, as I think, for
presently she said:

"I wonder that you spoke not of Hertha before."

"There need be no wonder, lady," I answered. "I have lived but in
the constant thought of war, until I must needs be quiet here. But
for this, I should still have forgotten her."

"That is true; but you must remember her now," she said, looking
quaintly at me.

"I will remember, lady," I answered, kissing her hand; and she
smiled on me and was content.

Truly that one who teaches a man that he is worthy of trust is his
best teacher of honour, and the name of the lady of Penhurst is
ever dear to me.

So it came to pass that I had nought wherewith to blame myself in
the days to come, and I taught myself to look on Sexberga as a
pleasant friend only, though it was hard at first, to say the
truth. And I think that her talk of Hertha, and her jesting at my
unknown bride, as she would call her, helped me, for it kept me
mindful.

Then at last came a messenger from Wulfnoth to bid me ride to see
him at Pevensea, and I went, wondering what new turn of things was
on hand. But when I reached the castle, I saw a ship that I knew
lying in the haven--one of Olaf's own. For Ottar the scald had come
to seek me with the first sign of open weather, bringing also many
gifts of Danish spoil for Relf and his household, and many words of
thanks also.

So in two days' time I parted from Relf and his people, not without
sorrow. Nor could I say all that I would to them of my thoughts of
what I owed them for their care.

Then Wulfnoth and Godwine gave me twenty pieces of the gold from
the treasure, and bade me return ere long.

"And I think that you will come back presently with an itching to
get home a sword stroke at one whom I care not to name lest I break
out," said the earl grimly.

"At Streone?" said I, being light of heart.

"Aye; curses on him!" answered Wulfnoth, and turned away with a
scowl of wrath.

Now Ottar had been to Penhurst with me, and we had come thence
together to the ships. And when the old walls of the great castle
were lost to sight as the vessel plunged eastward, he said:

"Relf's daughter is a fair maiden, friend Redwald. It is in my mind
that she will long to see you back again."

"Not so," I answered; "she is but friendly."

"But she had much ado not to weep when you parted just now, and I
saw her run home from the gate over quickly. These be signs," he
said sagely, being a scald, and therefore wise in his own conceit
about such matters.

Maybe I was glad to think that the maiden did care that I went,
were it ever so little, though I would not believe that it was so.

So I came back into the Thames to Olaf, and glad was he to see me
once more, and that I was in no wise the worse now for my hurts.
And in his company it soon came to pass that I longed not at all
for Penhurst, though at first it seemed to me that I should have
little pleasure in life away from Sexberga. By and by I could laugh
at myself for that thought, but I have never seen cause to be sorry
therefor. There is no shame to a man that his mind has turned
towards a maiden whom he knows that he could trust and reverence.



Chapter 7: The Fight At Leavenheath.


March and April went by, and Olaf had gathered good fleet enough in
the Thames. But there was no word of Cnut's return, though the
dread thereof hung heavy over all the land, in such wise that no
man could plan what he would do without the thought rising up,
"Unless the Dane comes," seeing that each day might bring news of
him.

No man knows now what that terror and uncertainty was like--to have
ever in one's heart the fear of that awful host that seemed to
sweep from end to end of the land before a levy could be gathered
to meet it.

There had been time to gather a levy now against the coming of
Cnut, but naught had been done. Sick at heart and impatient was
Olaf, for England's rulers would not take care for her safety.

Then came word of a great council to be held at Oxford, and we
hoped much from that; but two days after it had been held there
came to us, angry and desponding, Ulfkytel, our East Anglian earl,
and told us how things had gone as ill as they might. Few words
enough are needed to tell it, but none can know what harm was
wrought thereby. Whereof Olaf says that a good leader will act
first, and call his council afterwards.

All the best of England were there, not only Saxon thanes of
Wessex, but also loyal Danes of the old settlement, and had the
king spoken his will plainly, all would have been well. For of the
Danish nobles, Utred of Northumbria and the two earls of the old
seven boroughs, Sigeferth and Morcar, were at one with our earl and
Eadmund for gathering a great levy, and keeping it together by
marching through the Danelagh, and calling on the Danish thingmen,
in the towns they yet held, to surrender.

That plan was good, and would have been carried out; but Edric
Streone rose up and reminded Ethelred of how the march through
Lindsey had done more harm than good.

"Cnut will not return," he said, "and messages to these Danish
garrisons with promise of peace if they surrender will be enough.
But if we fall on them, they will grow desperate, and will send for
Cnut to help them. If we win them to peace, Cnut cannot come back."

Thereat Sigeferth of Stamford spoke hotly, minding Streone that the
harm was done in Lindsey by pillage and burning wrought among
peaceful folk, who were thus made enemies to the king. The thingmen
would submit quietly if they knew they must; but if they were left,
they would send word to Cnut that there was no force to oppose him.

But the words of Streone prevailed as ever, and the council broke
up, and the nobles fell to feasting, while this foolish message was
sent to Swein's veterans in their towns.

Then Sigeferth and Morcar made no secret of their belief that
Streone was playing into Cnut's hands for reasons of his own.
Wherefore Streone sent for them in friendly wise, as if to recall
his words, and they went, and came from his house alive no more.
Then their men went to avenge their lords' deaths, and were driven
into St. Frideswide's church, and that was burnt over their heads.

"Now the seven boroughs will welcome Cnut," said Ulfkytel, "and
Lindsey looks for him; so he has a clear road into the heart of
England."

Then I saw that Streone surely wrought for Cnut, else was he a more
foolish man than was thought, for all held him as the most skilful
at statecraft in England.

Then said Ulfkytel:

"Utred has gone to mind his own land, and I have come to ask you to
help me in East Anglia."

And in the end it came to pass that Olaf gave his new fleet into
the hands of the London thanes, for Ethelred seemed to care nought
for it, and took his own ships only, and we sailed first of all to
Maldon. Little trouble was there, for the Danes who held the place
submitted, being too few to fight us, and we gave their arms to the
citizens, and mounted all of our men whom we could, and so left the
ships and marched towards Colchester, along the great road that I
had last passed as a fugitive in the years that seemed to me so
long ago.

It was strange to me as we went, and the mist of time seemed to
pass away, so that all began to be as plain to my mind as if that
flight had been but yesterday. There was nothing of the wayside
happening that I could not remember well.

But all the roadside was changed, for the cottages were gone, and
the farmsteads stood no longer in the clearings. I know not what
tales of terror I might have heard concerning the burnings of these
homes. Where the thralls' huts had been were but patches of nettles
and docks hiding heaps of ashes, and the farmhouses were charred
ruins. And we saw now and then a man, skin clad and wretched,
seeking shelter in the woods in all haste as we sighted him. But I
had no need to ask aught--I knew only too well what manner of tales
might be told here, as everywhere in Swein's track.

As we drew nearer Colchester, and the village folk began to learn
who we were, and so would gather with gifts for the good-natured
Norsemen who came to release them from the tyranny of the thingmen,
now and then a face that I knew would start, as it were, upon me
from among a little crowd. But none knew me, nor were they likely
to do so. Hardly could I think myself the same as the careless boy
who had watched his father ride away to the war. Indeed, I know
that I changed less in the ten years that came after this than in
the four that had gone by since that day. For in those four years I
had become the hardened warrior of many defeats and but this one
victory.

Now when we reached Coggeshall village, word came to us that the
Danes were gathering in force in Colchester, and that they expected
Olaf to besiege them there.

"I will waste no time under Colchester walls," he said, "but will
strike inland a little; then they will come out and give us battle
in the open to stay our march."

By this time the loyal freemen of Essex had gathered to Ulfkytel in
good force, and Olaf thought it would be well that he should march
along the road that leads from Coggeshall to Dunmow and take that
town, which is strong, so that the Danish forces should not join
against us.

Therefore he left us, and would go northwards from Dunmow, taking
the towns from thence to Thetford and Norwich, and he should go to
Ipswich and maybe to Dunwich after this. So would all East Anglia
submit. And all went well with Ulfkytel until the time came when he
must turn back in haste, as I must tell presently.

Now, after he was gone, Olaf thought that it would be well to cross
the Colne and Stour rivers, and so cut off the Sudbury Danes from
Colchester if it might be done.

"Then there is no better place than my own," said I, "for the road
on either side of the Stour can be guarded at Bures, and I know all
the country well."

That pleased Olaf, and he said that we would take up some strong
position there, and so wait to draw the Danes into the open, where
he thought that one battle would do all for us.

Thus I came hack to the home that I loved and longed to see again.
And when we came in the early morning to the place where the great
mound of the Icenian queen towers above its woods I know not how my
heart was stirred. I cannot say the things that I felt, and Olaf
said:

"Let us ride on alone and see your place."

Then we came swiftly to the crest of the hill, and I could see all
that was mine by right. But it was a piteous sight for me, and my
rage and sorrow made me silent as I looked.

The stockading that had been so good was broken and useless, and
the church was in blackened ruins, standing among the houses where
black gaps among them also showed that the Danes had been at work
and that none had had heart to rebuild. Black were the ruins of my
home on the hill above the village, and across the mere woods one
burnt gable of Hertha's home stood alone above the hill shoulder to
show where Osgod had dwelt in the hollow of the hills beside the
ford.

Then we rode across the bridge and into the street unchallenged,
for all the poor folk had fled from before us thinking that we were
some fresh foes. Very strange the deserted place looked to me as I
sat on my horse on the familiar green, and saw the river gleam
across the gap where the church had been, and missed the houses
that I had known so well.

"Call aloud, Redwald," said Olaf. "It may be that your name will
bring some from their hiding."

So I called, and the empty street echoed back the words:

"Ho, friends! I am Redwald, your thane. Will none come to greet
me?"

There was no answer, and Olaf lifted up his clear voice:

"Ho, Ethelred's men! here is help against the Danes."

Then from under the staging by the riverside where the boats land
their cargo, crept two men and came towards us slowly. And one was
that thrall of mine who would have gone to Wormingford for me on
the night when we fled. His silver collar of thraldom was gone, for
the Danes had taken it, and his face bore marks of long hardship,
but I knew him instantly. So I called him by name, and he stared at
me fixedly for a moment, and then cried aloud and ran to me and
fell to kissing my hand and weeping with joy at my return. Nor
could I get a word from him at first.

Then more of the people came from one place or another, timidly at
first, but growing bold as they saw these two men without fear of
us, and by the time that Olaf's warriors came over the bridge there
were not a few folk standing round us and looking on. One by one I
knew their faces, though years of pain had marked them sorely. But
none knew me at first, though doubtless they would do so if I
called to them as I had called to Brand the thrall.

Now was busy setting of watches and ordering of outposts, and Olaf
went with me to the top of our hill and there set a strong post of
our men, for there could be no better place for a camp either for
rest or defence, and the people told him that every Dane in the
countryside had gone to Colchester, where they thought to be
attacked.

Now Brand the thrall had followed us to the hilltop, and while I
sat and looked at the ruins of my home he left me and spoke to a
group of countrymen who looked on at the warriors. There was one
among this group whose face drew me, for I seemed to think that I
ought to know him, though I could not say who he was. He looked
like a poor franklin in his rough brown jerkin and leather-gartered
hose, and broad hat, and he bore no weapon but a short seax in his
belt, and a quarterstaff, and there was nought about him to claim
notice. But I was watching for old friends of mine with a full
heart, and scanned the face of each one that came near.

Then it seemed that the others spoke to this man with a sort of
reverence, and presently one bared his head before him. Thereat I
knew who he was, and my heart leapt with joy, for it was good
Father Ailwin, our priest, who had gone back to his death as we had
thought.

Then I made haste and went to him, dismounting before him.

"Father," I said, "have you forgotten Redwald, your pupil?"

He took my hand in silence, being too much moved to speak, and
signed the sign of the cross towards me in token of blessing. I
bowed my head, and rejoiced that he was yet living.

Then Olaf called me, and I said:

"When the warriors have dispersed, come to the house on the green
that was Gurth's. The king and I shall be there. We have much to
say to one another, father."

So I had to leave him at that time, for now Olaf would take eight
score of our men in haste to Sudbury, which is but five miles away,
and call on the townsfolk to rise for Ethelred and drive out any
Danes who were left there.

We went away quickly, and took all our mounted men, for we could
hear of no Danish force afield yet. It is likely that word of our
force had gone from Maldon, losing nothing on the way.

We rode to Sudbury gates and called on the townspeople to open
their gates. Then was some tumult and fighting inside the town, but
they opened to us, and we rode in. There were some slain men in the
street, for what Danes had been there had resisted the surrender to
so small a force.

But the Sudbury folk rejoiced to see us, and hailed Ethelred as
king very gladly. Then Olaf bade them raise what men they could and
join him at Bures on the morrow with the first light. Thereat the
old sheriff of Sudbury, whom I knew well, promised that we should
have all the men whom he could raise.

"Nor will they be your worst fighters, King Olaf," he said, "for we
have many wrongs to avenge."

It was late evening when we went back. And in the road where it
winds between the river and the hill before one comes into Bures
street waited Rani and some men with news. The Danes had come from
Colchester, and already their watch fires were burning along the
heath some four miles to eastward of us. It had fallen out, as Olaf
wished, that they would try to bar our way into Suffolk, and we
should have work to hand on the morrow.

Now men had gone with some thralls who could take them safely near
the host, to spy what they could of the number and the plans of the
Danes.

So it came to pass that I went no more into the village that night,
but slept by a fire that burnt where our own hearthstone had been,
amid the ruins of my home. And that was a sad homecoming enough.
Moreover, in the first hours of the night a wonderful thing
happened which seemed to be of ill omen, and was so strange that
maybe few will believe it.

There was a bit of broken wall near the fire, and I laid me down in
my cloak under its shelter, setting the sword that Eadmund had
given me against it close to my head, so that I could reach it
instantly if need were. After a while I slept, for the day had been
very long and I was weary, else would sad thoughts have kept me
waking. And presently there was a rumble and snapping that woke me
up in a dream of falling ruin, and the man who lay next to me cried
out and dragged me roughly aside.

The broken wall had fallen, crumbling with the heat of the fire, I
suppose, and had almost slain me. But I was not touched, though the
sword was broken. And when Ottar the scald heard of it he was
troubled, not knowing what this might betoken. But Olaf thought
little of it.

"It means that axe is better than sword for this fight," he said,
for he had armed me like himself after the Norse manner, than which
is none better or more handsome. He had given me a byrnie {10}
of the best ring mail, and a helm gold-inlaid as became a king's
kinsman, and axe and shield like his own. He and his men alone of
all Norsemen in those days bore the cross on both helm and shield.
Nor would Olaf have any unchristened man in all his host. Many a
stout warrior did he turn away because he was not and would not be
a Christian, for many Danes were yet heathen, and most Norway men.

Some of the men who had gone out to see the Danish force came back
soon after midnight, and they said that there would seem to be
close on a thousand of them in all.

After that we knew that a hard fight was before us, and the king
bade us sleep and take what rest we might. Then, very early, came
men to say that the Sudbury folk had come, and Olaf and I went down
to the village to meet them. Close on two hundred men had come with
Prat, the son of the sheriff of Sudbury, at their head, and they
were not to be despised, for they were sturdy spearmen, and many
had mail, though the most wore the stout leathern jerkin that will
turn a sword cut well enough.

And Prat asked that they should have the first place in the fight,
seeing that they fought for their own land.

"That is the place of my own ship's crew," said Olaf, "nor will
they be denied it. Now shall you fight under Redwald, your own
thane, and he will have the next place to me."

That pleased both them and me well, and after that Olaf sent me on
as advance guard, for we knew the country.

We were nine hundred strong in all, and when I took my men to the
hilltop I met a man who said that the Danes mustered some fifteen
hundred strong. There were Anglian Danes there besides thingmen.
But Olaf had said that we would fight two to one if necessary, and
so I held on; he would send after me if he would make any change in
his plans when he heard this. It was well that we had settled with
the Sudbury force already or we should have had them to deal with
besides.

We left Bures hill and went down the steep valley beyond it, and I
thought that the Danes might wait for us in the wood that is on the
opposite slope. But there were none, and we came out on the open
ground that stretches away in a fairly level upland for many a mile
northward and eastward before us. There I waited, for we needed no
advance guard beyond these last woodlands. One could see to the dip
that is by Leavenheath, and there the Danes would be. And indeed
across the open rode a few men in that direction, and I knew that
they were scouts who would take the news of our coming; but they
were too far away to be stopped even had I wished to do so. Olaf
would not be led far from Bures and the river, but would have the
foe come to him.

So we stayed just beyond the cover, and the bustards ran across the
heath as we roused them, and the larks sprung up and sang overhead,
and the blackbirds called their alarm notes in the copse behind us,
and the men talked of these things and pointed at the rabbits that
sat up to look at us before they fled, as if there were no fighting
at hand; for indeed I think that one notes all these well-known
things more plainly when one's mind is strung up and over watchful,
as it will be before somewhat great that is looked for.

Then came Olaf at the head of his men, and as he came I saw the
first sparkle of armour across the heath under the sun, for the
Danes were in array, and were coming up to the level ground over
which we looked.

And when Olaf saw that his face grew bright with the joy of battle
in a good cause, and his hand went to his sword while he looked
quickly round for the place that he would choose. Nor was he long
in choosing, for he led us but a furlong from the cover's edge, and
there drew us up in a half circle, with the hollow towards the
cover and our horsemen on the flanks, so that the greater force
could not outflank us, while we had the wood in our rear. So if one
half of the curved line was forced back it would but drive us
closer together, back to back, and at the worst we could not be
followed into the cover except by scattered men who would be of no
account.

Now the strongest part of our curved line was in the centre, and
there stood Olaf's mailed shipmen, and behind them my English
spearmen. That place they liked not at first, till the king told
them carefully what he would have them do at the first charge of
horsemen for which he looked, for now it was plain that many of the
Danes were mounted.

Olaf and I stood between his men and mine, leaving our horses in
the cover, for a viking leader will ever fight on foot. Rani was on
the right wing, and Biorn the marshal on the left; and Ottar the
scald bore Olaf's banner beside the king. There were six of the
best warriors of the crew before Olaf as his shield wall, and six
of the best English warriors had been named by Prat to act in the
same way for me. Olaf had given me a good plain sword in place of
that which I broke, but I took a spear now, ashen shafted and
strong, in the English way, that I might be armed as were my men,
and I think that pleased them.

The Danes came on fast, and they had not been miscounted. They were
full half as many again as we, and they were drawn up in line with
their horsemen on the wings as we were, so that at first I thought
we should fight man to man, both horse and foot, along the whole
front.

Now they came almost within bow shot, and there they halted and
closed up, leaning on their weapons, while a great man, tall and
black bearded, and clad in black chain mail, rode out before them
and came towards us with his right hand held up in token of parley.

Olaf went out from the line to meet him, and when they were close
together a great hush fell on the two hosts to hear what was said.

"Are you the leader of this host?" the Dane said.

"Aye. Who are you?" answered Olaf.

"I am Egil Thorarinsson, of Colchester," he answered. "And whoever
you may be, I call on you to yield to Cnut, King of Denmark and
England, and Norway also."

"Maybe he is king of neither," Olaf answered quietly. "I am Olaf
Haraldsson, and I am here to see if he shall be King of England. So
I call on you to submit peaceably to Ethelred, leaving Cnut to take
his own land if he can."

"We are Cnut's men and Danes," answered Egil, "and from your speech
and name it would seem that you are no Englishman. Now if you are
Olaf the Thick, own your own king Cnut, and leave this Ethelred the
Unredy to his own foolishness."

"I am one of those Norsemen who hold that Cnut is no king of ours,
and therefore I fight him wherever I can. But if you will own
Ethelred there shall be peace from him, and you will but do what
the Danes of Guthrum's host did in the old days--hold the land you
have won from an English overlord."

"A fine overlord, forsooth," said the Dane; "maybe one would think
of it had he been a second Alfred--but Ethelred the Unredy! Not so,
King Olaf. Will you own Cnut, or must we make you?"

"It seems that we shall not agree until we have fought out this
question," said Olaf, laughing a little.

The Dane laughed back.

"Aye, I suppose not. I would that you had a few more men. But that
is a hard lot in the centre."

And so he looked down our line with an unmoved face, and turned his
horse and rode slowly back to his own men. Olaf came back to us
with a confident look enough.

"There is a man worth fighting," he said to me; "he is foster
brother of Thorkel the High, who leads young Cnut, and he seems an
honest warrior enough."

Then all at once his face hardened, and he spoke in the sharp tone
of command:

"Get your spearmen forward--the horsemen are coming first."

And I saw even before he spoke that this was so, for they were
closing in across their line from the wings, and forming up for an
attack that they maybe thought would break the grim ranks of Olaf's
crew who were the strength of our centre.

So I gave the word, and my spearmen came quickly forward through
the viking line, and there stood two deep, setting the butt ends of
their spears firmly in the ground at their feet, and lowering the
points to meet the horses breast high. Olaf bade the front rank
kneel on one knee and take both hands to the spear shaft, and then
the thick hedge of glittering points was double. I had never seen
this plan before, but it was what Olaf had bidden us do if there
was a charge of horsemen. And I stood in the second rank with Prat
beside me, and behind me were the men of Olaf's shield wall. I took
my axe in my right hand instead of the sword, for the heavier
weapon seemed best against what was coming.

Now were the foes ready, even as the spearmen knelt, and a chief
rode out before them and gave the word to charge, and with a great
roar they answered him, spurring their horses and flying down on
us. The arrow shafts rattled on the bow staves as Olaf's vikings
made ready, and I cried to my spearmen to stand steady, for it
seemed as if that thundering charge must sweep the crouching lines
like chaff before it. And as it came we were silent, and no spear
wavered in all the long hedge to right and left of me.

They were but fifty paces from us; and then with hiss and rattle as
of the first gust of a storm in dry branches the arrows flew among
them, smiting man and horse alike, and down went full half of the
foremost line, while over the fallen leapt and plunged those behind
them unchecked, and were upon us sword in air; and the tough spear
shafts bent and cracked, and a great shout went up, and over the
shoulders of my men flashed the viking axes, falling on horses and
dismounted men, and the Danish riders recoiled from the steadfast
spearmen whose line they could not break though they had gapped it
here and there, while the arrows and javelins flew among them
unceasingly.

They drew back disordered, and then from the wings charged our
horsemen and broke them, chasing them back towards their own men in
disorder, while my stolid spearmen closed up again shoulder to
shoulder, and the level hedge of spear points was ready again. But
now they shone no longer, for they were dulled with the crimson
token of their work.

Then the Danish ranks opened, and their horsemen passed through to
the rear, and at once our men wheeled back to their posts on the
wings, shouting in the faces of the Danes as they galloped past
their lines. Then was the ground open between the forces again, but
now it was cumbered with fallen men and horses, and below our spear
points was a ghastly barrier of those who had dared to rush on
them, for spear had begun and axe had finished the work.

"Well done, spearmen!" Olaf cried to us, "now is our turn."

And at his word his vikings took our place, and we were content.
For we had borne the first shock of the battle after all, and had
earned praise. Moreover the whole line cheered us as we fell back
into the second line.

"Now comes the real fighting," said Olaf to me; "stay by my side,
cousin, and you and I will see some sword play together."

So I stood on the left hand, and Ottar was on his right with the
standard, and Prat of Sudbury was next to me. The viking line was
two deep before us, and Olaf's shieldmen and mine were between us
and the rear rank, and my spearmen leant on their weapons behind us
again. But it took us less time to fall into place thus than it has
taken to say how we stood.

And hardly were we steady again before the whole Danish line broke
out into their war song and advanced. Then the song became a hoarse
roar, and their line lapped round to compass our bowed front, and
man to man they flung themselves on us as the storm of darts and
arrows crossed from side to side between us. Then rang the war
chime, the clang of steel on steel loud over Leavenheath, and there
came into my heart again the longing to wipe out the memory of old
defeats, and I gripped my axe and shield and waited for my turn to
come.

There was a little time while I might see all that happened, and at
the first rush I saw Biorn's men give back a pace--no more--and win
their place again. I saw our horsemen watching for a chance to
charge in on the Danish flank, and I saw the Danish riders wheeling
to meet them. Then I must keep my eyes for what was before me, for
men were falling. Then Ottar began to sing, and his voice rose over
the cries of battle, and rang in tune with the sword strokes as it
seemed to me, and with his singing came to me, as to many, the
longing to do great deeds and to fall if I might but be sung thus.

Then I saw a Dane fell one of the vikings, and leap at the men of
Olaf's shield wall, and an axe flashed and he went down. The
fighting was coming nearer to me, and I watched and waited, and I
knew that I had never seen so stern a fight as this, for before me
Olaf's veterans fought against Swein's--the trained thingmen who
held the towns. And neither side had ever known defeat, and it
seemed to me that surely we must fight till all were slain, for
these were men who would not yield.

Then was a gap in the ranks before me for a moment, and through it
glanced like light a long spear with a hook that caught the edge of
Prat's red shield and tore it aside; and I smote it and cut the
shaft in twain, so that it was but wood that darted against Prat's
mail, and he said, "Thanks, master," and smiled at me, for the
ranks had closed up again.

Then before me I saw Egil's black armour, and the mighty form of
the chief who had led the mounted Danes; and they rushed on us and
their men followed them, and in a moment one was shield to shield
with me, and I took his blow on mine, and my stroke went home on
his helm, and he fell at my feet, swaying backwards, while over him
tripped Egil, and lost his footing, and came with a heavy fall
against me, so close and suddenly that I could not strike him or he
me, and I grappled with him and we went down together.

Then my spearmen roared "Out, out!" and charged on the Danes who
had broken our line thus, and I heard Olaf's voice shouting, and
then I was inside our line behind the heels of the men who fought,
and struggling with the Danish chief for mastery.

That was a tough wrestle, but I had been in training with Olaf, and
the Dane had been shut up in the town at ease; and at last he gave
way, and I knelt on his broad chest, drew my seax, and bade him
yield.

"Not I," he said, panting for breath.

But I would not slay a brave warrior who had fallen as I knew by
chance, and so I said--for fighting was too hot for any man to pay
heed to us, as his Danes were trying to reach him through my
spearmen:

"You had better. For you have fought well, and this is but chance."

"Tie me up, then," he growled. "Who are you?"

"Olaf's cousin," said I.

"I can yield to you, then," he said; "take my sword and tie me up,
for I will escape if I can."

Then two spearmen turned and shouted, and went to drive their
weapons into the body of my foe, and I put my shield in the way.

"Strike not a fallen man," I said, and they forebore, ashamed.

Then I loosed the baldric that his sword hung in--his axe was gone
as he fell or wrestled--and took the weapon. And lo! it was sword
Foe's Bane, my father's sword; and I cast away my axe and gripped
the well-known hilt, and bade the spearmen guard my captive, and
turned back into the fight. And all this had gone by in a whirl, as
it were, and the Danes were still striving to regain their lord,
while Olaf and Ottar were smiting unceasingly. Only Prat was gone,
while now our whole line was of spearmen and vikings mingled, and
the Danish line was in no sort of order, but I thought they
prepared for another rush on us.

Then it came, and we were driven back fighting; it slackened, and
we took our ground again. And then I know not what sign Olaf saw in
the faces of the Danes before him, but suddenly he spoke, and our
war horns brayed. Then Ottar raised the standard and pointed it
forward, and there rose a thundering cheer from our whole line as
we charged and swept the Danes before us, spear and axe and sword
cleaving their way unchecked. And surely sword Foe's Bane wiped out
the dishonour of biding in a foeman's power that day.

Then rode our horsemen among the disordered crowd, and that was the
end. The Danes broke and fled, and Olaf had won his seventh battle,
and I had seen victory at last; moreover the sword of Thorgeir was
in my hand.

The light-armed men and the riders followed the flying Danes, and
Olaf sheathed his red sword with the light of victory shining on
his face, and while the men cheered around us he put his hand on my
shoulder and asked if I were hurt.

"I saw you fall, cousin," he said, "but I could not win to you. The
Danes pressed on to reach the man you had down."

"It was Egil," I said. "I am not hurt--are you touched?"

And he was not, but it was our good mail that had saved us both.
There would be work for the armourer by and by before we could wear
it again, for after Egil had fallen I had been beside the king, and
there was no lack of blows before the time had come when our charge
ended the matter. Only three of his six shield men and two of mine
were left.

But Prat was slain, and many another good warrior lay dead where
our line had been.

Now when I looked for Egil he was gone. The two spearmen lay where
I thought he had been, and I looked to find him slain also. So I
asked the men round me, and at last found one who had seen him
dragged up by the rush that bore us back. And so he had escaped.

"That is the chance of war," said Olaf, "but you could not have
slain him with honour."

"Nevertheless," said Ottar, "Redwald has a sure token there that he
overcame him," and he pointed to my sword.

"It is my father's sword," I said. "It has come back to me, even as
you said it would."

"They have not said too much of sword Foe's Bane," Ottar answered.
"For I have seen you use it--and I think that Hneitir is hardly
more handsome."

Now came that which is the most terrible part of a battle, even for
the victors, and that is the calling of the roll. And sad enough
were we when that was done, for the loss was heavy. Yet what the
loss was to the Danes I cannot say, for our men chased them till
there were no two left together to make a stand among those who had
not found safety in the woods that fringe the heath.

Then we bore back our wounded--and they were many--to Bures, and it
was noonday when we reached there. But there was no rest for Olaf
yet, for Colchester must be barred against the Danes.

He and I therefore took a hundred of our men, mounting them on the
freshest of the horses, and covered the nine miles between us and
the town as quickly as we might. Very fair the old place looked to
me as we crossed the Colne and saw the walls among the trees on the
steep hillside, and the houses nestling against it. The gates were
shut, and there was a strong guard along the ramparts on either
side, and we halted and summoned the townsfolk to surrender to
Ethelred in peace.

Doubtless some flying Danes had brought news of how the battle had
gone, for at once the gates were opened to us, and the chief men
came out and prayed for favour at Olaf's hands, and he told them
that Ethelred their king would take no revenge on them for having
bowed to Swein and his mighty force. So there was rejoicing in
Colchester, for it seemed to the townsfolk that peace had surely
come at last, and with it relief from the oppression of the
thingmen. For these warriors had carried matters with a high hand,
so that no Anglian dared to call them aught but lord--it must be
"lord Dane" if they spoke even to the meanest of the hosts and the
gravest burgher must give way to some footman of Swein's if they
met in street or on bridge. So they were not loved.

Olaf bade the townspeople prove their loyalty by taking all the
Danish warriors who were in the place, and bringing them to him on
the market hill where the great roads cross. Then was fighting in
Colchester for a while, but in the end, towards sunset, there was a
sullen gathering of them enough, and many were wounded.

Then the king went and spoke to them.

"What think you that I will do to you?" he asked.

"Even as we would do to you," one said.

"Hang me, maybe?" said Olaf.

"Aye, what else?" the man answered in a careless way, but looking
more anxious than he would wish one to see.

"I do not hang good warriors," the king said. "What would you do if
I gave you life?"

"What bargain do you want to make?" said the Dane.

"If I put you into a ship and let you go, will you promise to take
a message for me to Cnut, and not to come back to England as foes?"

"If that is all, we will do it," the man answered, while his look
grew less careful, and the other men assented readily enough with
the fierce townsmen and their broad spears waiting around them.

"Go and tell Cnut, then, that Ethelred is king, and how you have
fared. That is all I bid you. Are there any Norsemen among you?"

There were eight or ten among the six-score prisoners, and Olaf
spoke aside with them.

"Go back to our own land and say what you have seen of the dealings
of Olaf Haraldsson with those who fight bravely though against him.
And if when you hear that I have returned to Norway you come and
mind me of today, I will give you a place among my own men."

Then they said that they would fain serve him now; but he would not
have that, and then they said that they would surely come to him if
they heard that he was anywhere in their land.

There were two trading busses in the river, and into these vessels
we put the Danes, giving them all they needed to take them back to
Denmark, but leaving them no arms. The townsfolk would have it that
they would return and take revenge in spite of their promise, but
Olaf told them that they must not fear so few men, but rather take
care to be ready against the coming of more.

So the Danes sailed away down the river and to sea, and whether
they kept their promise or not I cannot say. But I think that Olaf
had done somewhat towards preparing a welcome for himself when he
should return to his own land by acting thus. I would that Ethelred
and Eadmund had been wise as he, for by forgiveness they would have
won men to them. But evil counsel was ever waiting on them, and
maybe they are not to blame so much as is he who gave it.

There were no men of note among these Danes whom we took, and we
thought that Ulfkytel would maybe hear of Egil before long, if he
could by any means get his scattered forces together. Yet the rout
was very complete, else he would have been back in Colchester
before us.

The townsfolk made a great feast in Colchester for us that night,
and next day Olaf called the headmen and set all in order for
Ethelred the king. And we thought that the town was safe for him,
for a levy would be made to hold the place at once. We rode back to
Bures in the evening, therefore, taking a few of our men as a guard
lest there should be parties of Danes on the road--a likely thing
enough, as a beaten and disbanded force in a hostile land must live
by plunder, for a time at least. But we met none.



Chapter 8: The White Lady Of Wormingford Mere.


As we rode over the uplands we saw that the Sudbury men would do
all honour to those who had fallen fighting beside them, for they
made a great mound over Olaf's men, and Ailwin our priest was there
with us to see that they had Christian burial with such solemnity
as might be in those troubled days. There might be no chanting of
choir or swinging of censer at that burying; but when the holy
rites were ended Ottar the scald sang the deeds of those who were
gone, while the mound was closed. And that would be what those
valiant warriors loved to hear.

So passed the day, and then were our wounded to be seen; but at
last I might sit quietly in the house on the green and speak all
that I would with Ailwin, and we had much to say. I know not if I
longed or feared now to speak of Hertha, but I would do so. Yet
first I asked Ailwin how he himself had fared when the Danes came;
for I had thought that he would have been slain.

"Aye, my son, that I should have surely been," he said, "but I
found a hiding place until their fury was past, and the host swept
on, leaving but a few among us. Some of these were wounded men, and
you mind that I am skilled in leechcraft. So I dressed myself in a
freeman's garb and tended them, winning their respect at least, if
not gratitude. So I have been the leech ever since, for the church
was burnt, and many a priest was slain, and these Danes are but
half Christian if they are not open pagans; and I might not don my
frock, else would there have been no one left to christen and say
mass and marry for our poor folk in quiet places."

Then I said:

"Where did you find a hiding place, father?"

"It was shown me by one who made me promise--aye and take oath,
moreover, as if my word were not enough--that I would tell no man
where it is. For such a place once known to any but those who use
it is safe no longer."

"Was it Gunnhild who helped you thus?" I said, for I remembered now
my last words to him, that he should seek her.

"I may say that it was Gunnhild. There she and Hertha and I were
safe till the worst was over," he answered, and looked in my face.

Then I must say what was in my mind all the while, and I asked him
plainly:

"Where is Hertha now, father? Is she yet well and safe?"

"Both well and safe with Gunnhild," he said.

"Where is she--can I seek her?"

The old man looked at me meaningly for a minute, and I grew hot
under his kindly gaze.

"What remember you of Hertha, my son?" he said gently.

"All, father," I answered; "but does she remember aught?"

"She remembers--she has never forgotten," he said.

And I had forgotten for so long. I think the old priest, who was so
used to deal with men, saw what was written in my face, for he
smiled a little and said:

"Women have time to think, but a warrior of today has had none.
What think you of your meeting with Hertha?"

Then I said, being sure that Ailwin understood the puzzle that was
in my mind:

"Father, I know not what to think. We are bound--but now it is
likely that we should not know one another if we met; in truth, I
think I fear to meet her."

"Is there any other maiden?" he asked, still smiling.

"Once I thought there was--and not so long ago either," I said
honestly, "but I remembered in time. Now I will say truly that
there is not."

I had no longing for Penhurst now.

Then there came across me a strange feeling that one might hardly
call jealousy--though it was near it--and I said:

"Has she seen any other who would make her wish to forget?"

"Truly she has not," Ailwin laughed; "how should she?"

"I know not where she has been, father," I said with a lighter
heart, although but an hour ago I thought that I should have been
glad to hear that it was so.

"Ah--I forgot," Ailwin said in some little confusion as I thought,
and he was silent. But now I would say more.

"Well, then, father, both of us are heart whole, as it seems. But I
know not if she would be pleased with me as I am now."

Ailwin looked up quickly at me, and then said:

"One cannot tell. Maybe she thinks the same concerning you and your
thought of her."

Then I told the good man of that plan which the lady of Penhurst
had made when we spoke of the same doubt, and he laughed thereat,
which did not please me. So I said:

"Well, then, let me see her."

"Not yet," he said after a little thought. "This is not the first
time that I have gone over this matter. Gunnhild has spoken with me
more than once, and yesterday she gave me a message for you, and I
was but to give it if I found that you longed to see Hertha again."

"What is it, then?"

"She says that the troubles are not over yet. Cnut will be back
shortly, and then you have warriors' work to do. When that is done
there will be peace, for England or Denmark, or both, will be worn
out. It will not be long ere that is so, she says, and she is very
wise. Then come and find Hertha if you will. But now there will be
less trouble for both if you meet not."

Then I grew impatient, for I hate concealments of any kind.

"Better break the betrothal at once, then," I said, "for if I must
wait I cannot say that I may not meet with a maiden whom I shall
love."

"Then shall you let me know," said Ailwin coolly, "and it shall be
broken. Thus will be no sorrow to Hertha."

"So be it," said I. "But I think you are hard on me."

"No so, my son," said the good man, "not so. Redwald and Hertha of
today are strangers. I do not altogether hold with these early
betrothals; but what is, must be. Wait a little, and then when
peace comes, and you can dwell, one at Bures and one at Wormingford
in the old way--seeing one another and learning what shall be best
for both--all will be well. Be content. Your place and hers lie in
ruins. Why, Redwald, what home have you to give her?"

Now that word of common sense was the best that he could have
spoken, for I was waxing angry at being thus played with, as I
thought. But at that moment Olaf and Ottar came in with clang and
ring of mail and sword, and so no more was said, and soon Ailwin
rose to depart. But I followed him out, and asked him for the last
time:

"Will you not tell me where Hertha bides?"

"No, my son--not yet. Believe me it is best."

"Well, then," I answered, "I shall try to find her; but if I
cannot, you mind what I said."

"I will not forget. But I will add this--that there are many fair
maidens, and but one Hertha."

Then he turned away into the dark, and was gone with an uplifting
of his hand in parting blessing. I knew the good man loved me, and
now I was sorry that I had spoken harshly to him, yet I had a
feeling that I had been treated ill. Maybe that was foolish, but
one acts on foolish thoughts often enough.

There was a man sitting on the settle in the porch of the house as
I turned back. I had not noticed him as we came out. Now the
firelight from the half-open door fell on his face, and I saw that
it was one of those two thralls of mine.

"Ho, Brand," I said, "answer me truly. Know you where bides Dame
Gunnhild the witch?"

"No, lord. We know not where she bides but it is not far hence, for
we see her at times in the village, though not often."

"How did she escape when the Danes came?"

"She and the lady Hertha took boat--it was but three days after you
had gone. All the men had fled as she bade them, but her brother
came and helped her with the boat. They went into the mere, and
that was the last we saw of them."

Now I remembered to have heard of Gunnhild's brother, but I had
never seen him.

"Where does her brother live?" I asked.

"I know not. I have not seen him again," answered the man.

"Whence comes Dame Gunnhild into the village?" I went on, thinking
that I might learn somewhat in that way.

"Master," said Brand, "she comes at twilight, nor will she have
anyone follow her. Ill would it fare with the man who did so. I do
not know whence she comes."

Now it seemed to me that the man had more in his mind than that,
and at least that there must be some talk about the place, which is
small enough to make the doings of everyone the talk of each one
else.

"Where do men say she lives?" I asked therefore.

The man looked doubtfully at me, but he could see that I was not
angry. So he smiled foolishly, and answered:

"We say nought, lord. Danes hear everything in some way."

"Well, you can tell me safely enough."

"We think it is witchcraft of the old dame's, and that she and the
lady Hertha live with the White Lady in the mere of Wormingford."

Then I was fain to laugh, for it was witchcraft more than even
Gunnhild could compass, by which she might find refuge in the
depths of that bottomless mere where the White Lady dwells. The
place has an ill name enough among our folk, and even on a bright
summer day, when all the margin of the wide circle of water is
starred with the white lilies, I have known silence fall on those
laughing ones who plucked the flowers, so still and dark are the
waters, and so silent the thick woods that hem the mere round under
the shadow of the westward hill that hides the sunset. No man cares
to go near the mere when darkness has fallen, so much do our people
fear to see the White Lady of whom Brand spoke.

I feared her not, for she was a lady of our own race, who was
drowned there by the wild Welsh folk in some raid of theirs when we
Angles first came from the land beyond the seas and drove them out.
Ours was the clan of the Wormings--I bore the badge of the twining
snake myself today, marked on my left arm, as had all my fathers
before me--so ford and mere were named after us, and we were proud
of the long descent, as I have said. Once had my mother seen the
Lady, and that was on the day that my father was slain. Therefore
had she seen unmoved the coming of Grinkel, for she knew already
what had befallen. I had not seen the Lady, but I know that many
others of my race had done so, and ever before the coming to them
of somewhat great that was not always ill. But she never spoke to
them, but floated, white robed, over the mere, singing at times, or
silent.

Now it came into my mind that the thrall was not so far wrong, and
that there was a chance that Gunnhild might have some hiding place
among those woods about the mere, for no man willingly searches
them, and Danes fear these places more than we, being heathenish
altogether. So I asked Brand if the Danes knew about the White
Lady.

"Ay, master, they soon learned that. They call her 'Uldra', though
why I know not."

That was the name of the water spirit they believed in. So I became
all the more sure that Gunnhild was there. It would be easy for her
to feign to be the White Lady and so terrify any man who sought
her. A man is apt to shape aught he sees into what he fears he may
see.

"Has the White Lady been seen of late?" I asked therefore.

"I have heard that the Danes say that they have seen her," he
answered. "They have seen also bale fires burning on the mound
where the great queen lies."

That last was an old tale among us also, but I had never seen any
light above the great mound. Ottar had many sagas that told of the
fires that burnt, unearthly, above buried heroes, and the Danes
would watch for them, and so, as I have said, would certainly see
them, or deem that they did so. Yet I suppose that these strange
fires may have burnt on the tombs of heathen men, else would not
the tales have been told thereof so certainly. But Christian
warriors rest in peace, and about their last bed is no unquiet. Nor
may Christian folk be frighted by the bale fires of the long-ago
heathen's mounds. For their sakes they have been quenched, as I
think.

So I stood and mused for a while, turning over in my mind how best
to find Gunnhild at the mere without leading others to her hiding
place. And at last I laughed to myself, the thing was so simple. I
had but to go into the mere woods at twilight or in the dusk, and
wander about until she heard and feared my coming. Then she would
play the White Lady's part on me to fray me away, and all was done.
She could not tell who I was, nor would she think it likely that I
would seek her there, and would easily forgive me for doing so,
when we met.

I bade Brand the thrall goodnight, and went back into the great
room of the house, where Olaf sat with Ottar resting and talking
together. There was no one else in the place, for we had no fear of
aught, and Olaf cared not to have many men about him. Some of his
men would come presently and sleep across the doorway, but the
evening was young yet.

"You seem as if you had heard somewhat pleasant," Olaf said when I
came in.

I suppose that my certainty of finding Gunnhild and Hertha pleased
me well enough to make my face bright.

Now both Olaf and Ottar knew of my wish to search for Hertha, and
who she was, for I had told them as we sailed to Maldon on the way
to my own country again, and they were eager to help me to take her
from hiding into what we thought would be greater safety. So when
the king said this, at first I thought of saying only that I had
surely found out where she was hidden. But then I would not keep
back what Ailwin had said, for Olaf might have advice for me.

Therefore I sat down and told them all the story of my talks with
the priest and the thrall, adding that I was the more sure that
Gunnhild was hard by, because Ailwin had said that it was but
yesterday she had given him the message for me.

Then Olaf said:

"Cousin, I think these two old folk are right. Better wait for
peace, as they say."

"It is not so sure that Cnut will come back," I said.

"Is it not?" said Olaf. "Why--seeing that he has left his host of
thingmen in the towns, and we had Thorkel's foster brother to fight
but the other day, and that these Danes do not yield at once and so
gain peace and hold what they have, but will rather fight than own
Ethelred--I think that none can well doubt that word has gone round
the Danes in the kingdom that he will return, and that they need
not fear to hold out till he comes."

Then the last doubt of trouble to come passed from me, for it was
plain that these thingmen looked for help presently. But Olaf was
thinking of my affairs again.

"Four years is overlong for anyone to play ghost on a whole
countryside," he said laughing. "I cannot think that Gunnhild, even
if she be a witch, can have bided in sight of the village all this
time without being found."

"No man dares go near the place," I said.

"Well, whence has she her food unless from the village? I think she
cannot be so near," he replied, and there was reason in his
question.

I was cast down at this, for I had made so sure that I had found
out the secret that was so carefully kept from me. When there is
mystery made, which is, or seems, needless, there is pleasure and a
feeling of mastery in finding it out unaided, and I was losing
that.

I will say this, however, that I was more vexed in this way than
with the thought that I should not find Hertha, for in my own mind
I began already to own that Ailwin and Gunnhild were in the right
about our not meeting yet.

Olaf saw that I was vexed now, and put forward a plan which he
thought would be pleasant to me, for he was certain that I should
not be satisfied until I had seen if I was right.

"There is no reason why we should not go to the mere and see if
Gunnhild is there," he said. "If she is, maybe it will be well for
you to speak with her. And if not--why, then we know at least that
she has a good hiding place elsewhere."

That was a plan that pleased me well, for though I had no fear of
going to that lonely place so long as I had made myself certain
that I should meet Gunnhild, now that it seemed not quite so sure
but that I should find myself alone there, the thought of the quest
was not quite so pleasant to me.

"Then we may as well go at once," Olaf said. "How like you the
thought, Ottar?"

"I like not such places, my king," the scald answered honestly.
"There are chills that come over one, and rising of the hair."

"Aye, there are," answered Olaf. "I have a fear of this White Lady
myself. Therefore am I going with Redwald, because I want to see if
there is aught to be feared of."

"I will come with you," the scald said, hardening his heart, for
his mind was full of the wild tales of the old heathen days which
he sang, and he feared more than we.

"It is but a lady after all," said Olaf, laughing at Ottar's face.

"I have a sort of fear of living ladies," the scald said, "how much
more, therefore, of their ghosts! I had rather meet Danes. For when
one sees them there comes a stiffening of back and knees and
fists--whereas--"

"Aye, Redwald and I know somewhat of what you mean," laughed Olaf,
and then Ottar laughed, and we took our cloaks and were going, but
first must seek Rani, and tell him that we were now about to leave
the village for an hour or so.

Now no man questioned Olaf as to his lonely walks, as I saw in
Normandy, and Rani said nought but:

"Take your arms, for there may be wandering Danes about."

But we were armed already, though without mail, and as we went not
far it seemed unlikely that we should need any. It was but a
half-hour's walk from the house.

Now the mere lies on the south side of the river, which runs into
it only by a narrow inlet, and this inlet is so overshadowed by the
trees of the thick woodland that when one has passed through the
opening it is lost to sight very quickly. So heavy is the growth of
timber round the mere that one can see the water from no place,
save for a glimpse as this inlet is passed in going down the river,
and many a stranger has passed by all unknowing that such a mere
could be near him. Hardly can the wind reach the wide waters to
ruffle them even when a gale blows, and so the place is more
silent, and its terror falls more heavily on a man's mind.

It was two hours after sunset when we started, but the fringe of
the woodland is but a mile and a half from the village, and we were
soon there. The night was bright enough, with a clear sky and stars
overhead, though there was no moon as yet.

As we went Olaf was very cheerful, and railed pleasantly at Ottar
for his fears, while I said little, not knowing if I wanted to find
Gunnhild or not.

But Ottar would not pretend to be braver than he felt, having no
shame in fear of things other than earthly, a matter wherein I
think that he was right.

"Why," said the king, "if Dame Gunnhild tries to fray us, do you
but turn that cloak of yours inside out, and you will frighten
her"--for it chanced that the scald's red cloak had a white woollen
lining, whereof he was somewhat proud, being a lover of bright
dress.

"It is ill to mock a spirit," the scald said; "wherefore do I
believe the less that a Wise Woman will bide in the place that it
haunts."

So they talked until we came to the woodland; and when we came
among the trees a silence fell on us.

"It is of no use," I said, "let us go back. You are right, and she
cannot bide here."

"Why, now that I have got over my fear so far," Olaf said, "I will
go on, even to the water's edge. Then will we go back."

I could not gainsay him, as may be known, and so we went on. It was
easy at first to thread our way through the trees, but presently
they were thicker, and it was dark. There was no wind moving in the
boughs overhead, and there is no denying that the silence of that
deserted place weighed heavily on us all.

And when we drew close to the water's edge, and saw the still
water, starlit, stretching before us, a water hen sprang from the
reeds almost at our feet with her shrill warning cry, and flapped
out into the middle of the dark mere, leaving a long trail of
broken water behind her that gleamed for a moment with dancing star
sparks from the sky, as if it might have been the path of the White
Lady herself. And from all round the lake came the answering cries
of her mates, sounding weird and strange through the silent gloom.
I heard Ottar draw a deep breath, and we all three started, and
stood still, as if turned to stone.

"We have taken fright easily," said Olaf, as if angry with himself
for being thus startled. "My heart beats like a hammer, and I will
bide here till I can do better than that."

Yet he spoke in a whisper; and I saw no reason to try to answer him
if I could. Then he walked on, keeping to the right, where the
ground is high, at the hill foot, but still skirting the water's
edge. Then I saw something beside the reeds, and went aside to see
what it was; and, as I thought, it was a canoe that some fisher had
left. There was a paddle still in it, and a bow net set on hoops,
such as we were wont to use for eels and tench.

"Here is how Gunnhild might find food," I thought, but it was not
likely.

Ottar stood and looked into it with me, but the king had walked on.

Now it grew darker as we followed him, and Ottar tripped and fell,
and I lost him, though I could hear him close behind me as he broke
a branch now and then in passing.

The king stayed in a clear place that I remembered well. Great
trees stood round, and it was pleasant to sit there and look out
over the water on a summers noonday.

"Where is Ottar?" he said, when I stood by him.

"Close behind me. I heard him even now," I answered. "Let us go
back, my king. There is nought here."

"Aye, we will go back now," he said. "But Ottar is before me."

"Listen," I said, "the scald is behind us. I lost him in the dark."

"Nay, but I heard him in front of me even as you came," the king
said.

And when we stood still we could hear the scald where I thought;
but also we heard footsteps and breaking branches before us.

We could see anything that was not in shadow pretty plainly; and
now Olaf whispered to me:

"Someone is forward, and coming nearer. Get your sword loose."

At that there came a cry like the moor hen's from the thicket
before us, and in a moment, with a great shout and crashing, there
broke out on us many men, and I was down and held fast before I
could draw on them. I saw Olaf draw the long dagger that hung ready
to his right hand, and smite backwards over his shoulder in the
face of a man who was pinioning him from behind, and the man
shrieked and reeled backward into the bushes, hands to face. And
then Olaf cried, "We are beset," and was borne down.

Then the men tied us roughly with belts, and stood round us.

I looked every moment to see the rush of Ottar into the midst,
sword in hand; and saw that it would go hard with him, for all the
men were armed, and some wore mail that rattled as they moved. But
he came not; and I wondered if he too were taken, or if he had
turned craven and had fled, a thought that I put from me as sorely
wronging the brave scald; and then wondered how long it would take
him to reach the nearest outpost of our men and come to rescue us.

But now one was hammering flint on steel and making a fire in haste
that he might see who they had caught. And when it blazed up I saw
that the men were Danes. No doubt they were strangers to the place,
men who had wandered here from the Leavenheath woods after the
battle; for no Dane who came from close at hand would have dared to
shelter in this place. There were fourteen of them in all.

"Ho," said one who seemed to take the lead, "we have trapped some
gay birds. Now, who might you be?"

He spoke to Olaf, who answered nothing. So the man turned to me
with the same question. But I followed the king's plan and made no
answer. Whereat the man kicked me, saying:

"Answer, you Norway rat!"

I ground my teeth with rage, and said nothing.

"Fetch the English churl, and ask him if he knows who these are,"
said the Dane. "Then shall we see if this is a question of drowning
or ransom."

Two of tho men went back into the woods, and presently returned,
dragging with them my thrall Brand, whose teeth chattered with
terror, more of the place than of the Danes as it seemed, for he
kept his eyes on the mere.

When he saw me I shook my head ever so little in token that he
should not own us. If Olaf thought best we could do that for
ourselves.

Then they cuffed the poor thrall, and asked him if he knew us; and
for answer he did but point out over the mere, whose waters looked
black as ink beyond the fire lit circle of trees and shore.

"Let us go hence, lord Danes," he said trembling, "then will I say
what I can. The Lady is wroth with men who come here at night."

"We care for no ladies," said the leading Dane. "What are you
feared of?"

"The White Lady who dwells in the mere. To look on her in her wrath
is death," Brand said--and one might well see that his terror was
real.

The Danes looked on one another, and there were white faces among
them. Then, as luck would have it, one said:

"This must be the mere of which I have heard strange tales. Let us
go," and he began to edge away towards the fire.

Then the leader said:

"Let us find out if these men are worth taking with us," and he
came and questioned us again, and again we answered not.

"I will make you speak," he said savagely. "Take them up and make
ready to cast them into the water."

Now I wondered where Ottar was. Surely he must be back with more
men soon.

"Aye, throw them in, and let us be going," said one or two, for
they had been asking Brand many questions, and now were eager to
leave the place and its terrors.

So one brawny Dane took my feet and another my shoulders and began
to lift me; while I could not so much as struggle, so tightly was I
bound.

"Hold!" said the leader. "Will you throw away a sword like that?"

It was certain now that they were in haste, for they had forgotten
to strip me in their wish to have done.

They set me down again, and that was the saving of us. For even as
they loosed their grip on me, one who stood near the water cried
out in a sharp voice:

"Listen--what is that!"

And they all stayed motionless as had we when the bird scared us.

There was a sound of wondrously sweet singing from away across the
mere. Such a voice it was as I had never heard before, neither like
the singing of man or woman, nor had the song words that I could
catch.

The Danes forgot us as they heard that, and huddled together in
twos and threes, looking out to whence the sound came. As for Brand
the thrall, he fell on his knees and hid his face against a tree
trunk, crying faintly:

"It is the White Lady."

So too thought I; and now I will not say that I feared her, for she
was of my own race, and maybe she came to my help.

Then I saw some of the Danes gasp and start, and point across the
water, speechless, and I looked also.

Plain enough in the firelight stood a tall white figure on the
water of the mere, coming slowly towards us, and singing the while
that wondrous song. And ever as it drew nearer the song grew
wilder; and the long white-robed arm pointed towards us.

Then the thrall leapt up and yelled, and fled into the dark wood.
And that was enough for the Danes. They gave not another thought to
us, but cried out in mortal terror and fled also, tripping and
crashing through the underwood as they went; while the song of the
White Lady grew louder, and she still neared us.

Then, still singing, her pace quickened, and suddenly I saw that
she came in no magic wise, but in the fisher's canoe which I had
seen. And then the bows touched the shore, while with a wholesome
clank of sword, and throwing back his long white cloak, Ottar the
scald leapt ashore and came to us, dagger in hand, and cut our
bonds.

"Into the boat, lord king--quick!" he said. "We shall be safe
there."

Dazed and stiff I was, but I rose and followed Olaf; then Ottar
pushed off, and we shot out towards the midst of the mere into
safety.

Then the king stared at me and at Ottar for a moment in amazement,
and then laughed until the woods rang again, and I and the scald
were fain to join him. Never had I heard such sounds before in that
haunted place.

"Now, Ottar," he said, when he could speak again, "never say more
that you fear troll, or nix, or ghost--for you have done what you
told me but half an hour ago was most unwise."

"I needs must do somewhat, lord king," said Ottar gravely, "and it
came into my mind that these Danes would be as badly scared as
should I have been had I met Gunnhild; and methought that Redwald's
lady would forgive me for his sake."

"Aye, surely," I said.

Then--was it fancy, or a vision wrought on me by long looking at
Ottar as he came across the red track of the firelight on the
water, still dimpled by the boat, glided the white form of no
earthly maiden, and was gone.

I saw it and said nought. Ottar sat in the stern facing us, and his
eyes were away from the fire, and Olaf was beside me, and I thought
that he started.

Then Ottar said:

"Can we go back by water, Redwald? It would be safer."

I showed him the channel which leads to the river, and he took the
paddle with which he had so deftly sculled the boat across the
mere, and as we left the overhanging trees and saw the faint glow
of the rising moon across the open river we breathed more freely,
and were safe.

Surely had it not been for the scald's ready wit both Olaf and I
had been lying even now in the dark mere. For it would have been
death to us all three had Ottar tried to rescue us sword in hand.
It is his saying that he was so frozen with fear at first--until he
knew we had met with mortals only--that he stood still and
helpless, listening. Then came to him the thought of what to do,
when he heard the talk of either ransom or drowning and knew that
we were not slain. So even as Olaf had bidden him in jest, he had
turned his cloak and had saved us.

But Ottar the scald's courage and craft are well known, and I have
other thoughts concerning his fear. But I know this, that never
again could he find that strange and sweet voice that had come to
him in the need of his master.

Brand the thrall cowered in the house porch when we returned, and
he was pale as a sheet, while his knees trembled even yet. We took
him in and gave him wine and meat, and then asked him how the Danes
got hold of him.

"Master," he said, "they caught me but a little while after I had
left you--as I set snares for rabbits on the hill. I let them come
to me, thinking them some of the king's men who are kindly. Then
they said they needed a guide through the country to the sea, and
kept me with them."

Then Olaf said to him:

"No ill will come of this seeing of the White Lady, for she came to
save Redwald your lord; you may sleep in peace therefore, but it
would be unlucky to say that you saw her."

Then the man said that he would not speak of the matter, and it was
plain that he dared not do so. But he went away cheerfully enough,
with his mind at rest from its fears.

"It would be ill luck for me if Rani heard of this," said Olaf,
looking ruefully at us; "for we cannot deny that he warned us. My
foster father loves rating a king now and then, though it be only a
small one like myself."

So we said nought that night, and none asked where we had been. Now
I slept next to Olaf, and in the night I woke with a new terror on
me, and I put my hand on his and woke him.

"My king," I whispered, "what if Gunnhild and Hertha are indeed in
the woods yonder? These Danes will have found them."

The king was silent for a moment, for the fear that my guess as to
their hiding place might be right came to him also before he gave
the matter thought.

"It is not likely. The thought of danger makes it seem possible
again," he said. "But I like not these prowling Danes--they are
looking for hiding places for themselves."

"She was safe before," I said, but a great fear came to me with his
words.

There had been nought to drive the Danes to seek sheltered spots
before, now they were sure to do so.

"This matter is not in our hands," said the king, when I said as
much. "We can do nought. Pray, therefore, and sleep again. I think
that you need fear little."

Then after a while he spoke once more.

"Redwald, saw you aught upon the mere while we sat in the canoe in
its midst?"

"Aye, my king," I answered, knowing what he meant.

"I saw her also," he said.

So it had been no fancy of mine, but the White Lady of our house
had indeed passed before my eyes. I began to wonder if this
portended aught to me, but soon I thought that it did not, for the
like peril in which I had been, and even then had hardly escaped
from, had not befallen any of my kin, as I was in peril at her own
place, which was a new thing. So I judged that she showed her
thought of us only.

In the morning matters fell out so that we had never need to say
what danger we had run. For the men had seen Brand's plight, which
was pitiful, after Danes and thickets had done their work on him,
and told Olaf that the man had met with and escaped Danes from the
mere woods.

So with twenty men we searched those covers in broad daylight, and
found no token of any dwellers in the place. Nor were any Danes
left, save one, and that was the man whom Olaf had smitten, for he
had died. The embers of the fire were near him, and on the bank lay
the severed belts that had bound us.

"These Danes have fought among themselves," said our men, and hove
the body into the water. So the Dane lies there instead of Olaf the
king and me, with the Welshmen whom my heathen forefathers cast
into the black depths, in revenge for the death of the White Lady.

Now when we came back to Bures there was a tired horse standing by
the house door, and in the hall waited a messenger from Colchester,
and he brought the news that we looked for and yet feared, so that
we had hoped against hope that it would not come.

A Frisian trader had put into the Colchester river, and he brought
word that even now Cnut might be taking the sea for England, for in
all the western havens of Denmark was gathered such a mighty host
and fleet that no man had ever known the like, and he had heard
that the day for sailing would soon come.

Then Olaf made no delay but rode to Colchester to see this
shipmaster and speak with him, for he thought that he might find
out from him what point on our coasts would be that at which Cnut
aimed first.

So Gunnhild and Olaf were right, and the little peace we had had
was to end. Now would come the last struggle of English and Dane
for mastery in our land, and in my heart I wished that we had such
a king as Olaf Haraldsson. For it seemed to me that we were not
ready, though we had had a year and more in which to prepare.



Chapter 9: The Treachery Of Edric Streone.


When Olaf had gone I sought out Father Ailwin, for the danger that
I had seen for Hertha lay heavily on my mind, and now also I would
tell him of the certainty of coming warfare, asking him what he and
Gunnhild would do. So I went to the place where one might be sure
to find him during the last two days, and that was in the
churchyard, where our people and Olaf's men were working together
to raise for him a little wattled chapel among the ruins, that
should serve at least until I could return and build the church
anew.

It was a sore grief to me that the old one was gone, for in it had
been crowned Eadmund the Holy, and it was rich with his gifts. And
our hall had been the first house in which he had feasted as
crowned king, so that we call the lane from church to hilltop St.
Eadmund's Lane since he rode along it in all the pomp of that high
festival after he left the altar. Only the ruins of God's house and
man's abode were there now, but the lane was bright with the
flowers that the good king loved, and the nightingale sang in the
wooded banks even as when he listened to it in the old days. We had
always these things to mind us of the martyr.

But Ailwin was not with the men, though he had been foremost in
working and planning with them. Nor had any of them seen him that
day.

So I waited for a little while and watched the work, wondering if I
should live now to do all that I would in making new the place. And
then as I walked to look across the bridge I passed a heap of earth
that the men had thrown out for the place of a post, and I saw
somewhat glittering in it, and stooped and took it up.

It was a silver penny, and when I rubbed the earth from it, I knew
that it was one of Eadmund's, mint new and fresh as on the day when
he stood in his robes and crown, even where I stood in the place of
the old porch, while the people shouted and scrambled and fought in
glee for the largess he threw among them. Doubtless this had been
so thrown and had been trodden under foot and lost.

Now it came into my hands even when my thoughts were most troubled,
and to me it seemed as a sign that I should surely return to the
place that the saint had loved. I was greatly cheered thereat, for
as I waited for Olaf to return I saw as it were the long hope of
home and peace dashed from me, and the pain of the coming war grew
plainer than I had known it in Ethelred's court. The old love of
home had waked in me as I wandered in the places of my boyhood, and
for the first time I learned the aching of the hearts of those who
had known more of home than I, and would lose it.

But I was young, and it needed but a little thing to turn my
thoughts, so this token as I say helped me to banish them. What
might not Eadmund the Saint, who slew Swein to save his shrine from
heathen hands, be able to do for me?

I would tell Ailwin presently, and ask him what vow I should make
in return for this remembrance.

But Ailwin came not, and I grew impatient, and went to the cottage
where he dwelt as the leech, at the head of the little street
towards our hall. Maybe he would be there.

The door was open, and the little black cat that had been the
leech's in the old days, and would not leave its house, sat in the
sun on the step. I went inside and called, but there was no man.
And then a footstep came from the road and in at the wicket, and a
strange priest, younger than Ailwin, and frocked and cowled came
in.

He saluted me gravely, and I bowed to him, and then he asked me
where Redwald the thane might be found.

"I am he, father," I said.

"Then I have a message to you from Ailwin, your priest, whose place
I am sent to take for a time."

"This is his house, father," I answered. "Let us come in and hear
what he would tell me."

So we sat down inside the one room on the bench across the wall,
and I wondered what I should hear.

"I will give my message first," the priest said, "and afterwards
you shall tell me Ailwin's ways with your people, and I will try to
be as himself with them."

I laughed a little, though I was pleased, and answered:

"You cannot do that, father--for he has christened everyone in the
parish that is thirty years younger than he.

"Aye, I forgot that," the priest said gravely. "They will miss him
sorely. Therefore I will say that he will return ere long, but that
my ways must be borne with until he comes."

"Now I think that if you steer between those two sayings of yours
you will do well," I answered.

"Ailwin's ways wrought in my manner, therefore. I thank you,
thane," the priest said. "I am cloister bred, and know nought much
of secular work. Now, that is enough about myself. This morning,
very early, came Ailwin and asked for one to take his place, and I
am a Dane of the old settlement, and so I came, as running less
risk if Cnut returns, as they say he will. Then Ailwin bade me seek
you and say this. That because of the wandering Danes he would take
his charges into some more quiet place for a time at least. Truly,
he bade me tell you, they have a last refuge where none would find
them, but it is ill fitted for a long stay, and it is likely that
once there it might now be months before they could leave it. So he
and Gunnhild think best to go far off. They will return with peace,
and then he bids me tell you that, if the Lord will, all shall be
well."

"Where will he go?" I asked.

"I know not. He gave me the message, and I know no more. Not even
of whom he speaks."

Now for a moment I grew angry with Ailwin again, for it seemed to
me that I should have been told more than this. Then I thought that
perhaps Ailwin himself knew not yet where he would go.

"Does Ailwin know that there is news from Denmark?" I asked.

"Our abbot told him, but he knew already, having had word from
Colchester in some way. He had heard before we as it seems."

That was doubtless Gunnhild's work, for I came to know afterwards
that in the long years of trouble she had made a chain of friends
who would pass word to her from every point whence trouble would
come. It seems to me that much of the dame's knowledge of coming
events was gained in ways like this rather than by witchcraft.

Then I was glad that the danger that I had learned had been
foreseen by her and Ailwin; and as I sat without speaking for a few
minutes I felt that now I was free to follow Olaf where he would
lead his men to meet the Danes, for Hertha was not here, and her I
could follow no longer.

There was no more to be learned from the priest, and so we rose up
and went down to the churchyard, and saw the work, and I told him
what I could of Ailwin and his ways, and thought that he had found
one who was like him in thought and gentleness.

So presently I took Eadmund's penny from my pouch and gave it to
him, telling him about it, even as I would have told Ailwin.

"Give me this back when I return, father," I said, "and it shall
remind me of some vow which I will make at your advice."

"Make no vows, my son, save this one," he said. "What will befall
you we know not, and therefore there is but one vow which we know
certainly that you may be able to keep. I will have you put the
penny where you may see it often, and so you shall remember, and
vow if you will, that when your eyes fall on it you shall say a
prayer to Him who gave power to Eadmund to conquer in dying, for
this home of yours and this church, that out of ruin may come
beauty, and after war, peace."

"I will make that vow, father," I said gladly.

"Forget not me at times in the prayer," he said very humbly; and I
promised that I would not, taking the penny back.

Then he went and began to work on the church, being plainly skilful
in the matter, and I went up to our hall's ruins and looked out
over the land, and planned again what I would do in the days to
come.

It was long dark when Olaf rode back, and he had learnt but little.
But he had sent messengers to Ulfkytel at Thetford to warn him to
watch his coasts, for he must go back to London with the ships to
guard the Thames.

"And you, Redwald, my cousin, must go to Ethelred or Eadmund and
warn them, and make them rouse, and raise and have ready the
mightiest levy that they have ever led, for I think that all
Denmark and Norway have sent their best to follow Cnut. We will
ride together to Maldon, for the men shall follow me and find the
ships with their cables up-and-down waiting for them, and you must
hasten, for no time must be lost."

So it came to pass that my dream of finding Hertha passed from me,
and the thought of war filled my mind again, for next morning we
rode away southward along the Roman road, and the cheers of the
villagers died away behind me and were forgotten.

Then I left Olaf where the road turns off to Maldon, to meet him
again in London before many days, and I and my fifty men rode on.
For Olaf would have me go as befitted his kinsman, and a word to
the Colchester elders had found me the well-armed and mounted
Anglian warriors who joined us after we reached the great road.

But when I came to London my journey was not at an end. Ethelred
the king was at Corsham, in Wiltshire, and sorely sick as was said,
and Eadmund was at Stamford. Now when I heard that I wondered, and
asked the Sheriff, at whose house I was made most welcome, how this
was.

Eadmund had been with his father, and had gone to Malmsbury, and
there had seen the Lady Algitha, the widow of Earl Sigeferth whom
Edric Streone slew, and had married her, and now had gone to take
over the Five Boroughs for himself. That was good hearing, maybe,
for Olaf had feared that Streone would have taken them.

But next I found that this marriage was sorely against the king's
will, and that he and Eadmund had parted in anger therefore. I
seemed then to see the hand of Streone in this quarrel, for all men
knew that he slew the earls to gain the Five Boroughs for his own.

Then I thought that to go so far into Wessex to seek the sick king
would be but lost time. I had better go to Stamford and seek the
Atheling, and maybe it would be as well that he was free to act by
himself, seeing that need was urgent. So I lay but one night in
London, and then rode away to Stamford along the great Ermin
Street, and there I found Eadmund and told him all that Olaf had
bidden me.

And when he had heard all, he said:

"Let me send for Edric Streone, my foster father, and we will take
counsel with him."

"Send round the war arrow first, my prince," I urged, "then when
the earl comes no time will be lost. He cannot but counsel you to
raise men instantly."

"Why," he said, "Cnut can but fall on the east coast. Utred is in
Northumbria to guard the Humber, and Ulfkytel guards the Wash, and
Olaf is in the Thames. They will drive away the Danes before they
set foot on the beach."

"They are still fighting the thingmen in the towns," I said.
"Northumbria and Anglia are Danish at heart yet."

Aye, and I might have added "Mercia also," but I knew not that yet.
Eadmund should have known it, though. It was but a few weeks before
it was plain that Wessex alone and London stood fast for Ethelred.

I chafed, but Eadmund would not be hurried. I cannot tell what
strange blindness, save it was his trust in Streone, had fallen on
him at this time.

Then the earl came from Nottingham, and at the very first he sent
for me. Eadmund had told him my news when he sent for him.

I found him alone in a chamber of Eadmund's house--that which had
been Sigeferth's, and it seemed that no memory of the murdered earl
haunted him. His great form was as square and strong as ever, and
his grizzled brown beard was as bushy and well cared for as when I
used to see him and speak with him before the flight into Normandy.
And he still had the same pleasant voice and ways, even to the
little chuckle--as to himself--when he spoke, and the way he had of
gazing on the rafters rather than at the man to whom he was
talking.

"So, Redwald, my friend," he laughed, "you have turned viking as it
seems! How have you fared in East Anglia with Olaf the Thick?"

"Well enough, lord earl," I said, "but there is work to be done
there yet."

"Aha! those thingmen are no babes," he said. "Where is your earl
now?"

"At Thetford, as they say."

"Well, what is this tale that you bring about Cnut?"

I told him, and he laughed in his way.

"Cnut is but a boy. No such great following would gather to him,"
he said. "It is not possible."

"Eirik and Ulf and Thorkel the jarls may gather them for Cnut," I
answered. "And he is Swein's son."

"Those men are Cnut as yet, as one may say," answered Edric
chuckling. "One has to deal with them therefore. What says Olaf?"

"He says the same, lord earl."

Then he turned sharply towards me, though he did not look at me,
and said:

"The king does not trust Olaf, I fear. He thinks that he might be
won over to Cnut's side."

"Ethelred our king should have no mistrust of the man who brought
him home," I said coldly, having no doubt who made the first
jealousy of Olaf.

"He should not, in truth," Edric answered. "But what if Cnut
offered Olaf the under-kingship of Norway, or Northumbria say, if
he would go over to his side?"

"He would not take it," I said.

"Have you ever heard him say as much?" asked Edric in a careless
way.

I was growing angry now, for this seemed beside the point.

"Such a thing has never been spoken of between us," I said.

"So. Then ask him the question one day, and see what his answer
is."

"I can answer it now," I said hotly; "he would refuse. Nor will the
offer ever be made."

"I am not so sure of that," said Edric. "Cnut needs help, and will
bid high for it. Nay, I know that it will be made. We have our
spies in Cnut's court, Redwald, and know more than you may think.
Tell him, therefore, only what I have said to you, and let me know
his answer by someone whom you can trust."

Then I rose up in my anger, and said:

"You ask me to spy on the king, lord earl, and I will not do it."

"Nay, nay," he said. "I do but want to set our king's mind at rest.
I know what the honest viking's answer would be; he would be as
wroth as you. Only I would have sure word to send to Ethelred."

Then I said, while Edric watched me sidelong:

"Olaf's force is small, and our levies, lord earl, should be enough
without his help, if they are raised in time. Our king may be sure
that Olaf has not sent me to raise England thus against himself."

"Aye, I will tell Ethelred so. Our king is very sick, and a sick
man's fancies are many. So Olaf thinks that we should raise a great
levy at once."

Then he spoke of nought but that, and so earnestly that I believed
that the summons to the sheriffs would surely go out that night.
And he spoke of the help of the ships that Olaf had gathered,
praising him honestly, and not over much or too little, so that I
forgot his doubtful speeches, and thought that all was well, and
that his own levies were now gathering.

And so after an hour or more's talk he rose up and held out his
hand.

"Many thanks, Redwald, for your pains," he said taking mine. "I
think that Cnut and his jarls will have lost their journey through
your coming hither. The king shall not forget you when all is safe
again."

Who would not have been pleased with this? I went from Streone's
presence with a light heart, until I came to the great hall, and
there sat in the high place the Lady Algitha herself and her
maidens. Very beautiful she was, but very sad looking. And when I
crossed the floor before her I bowed, and she beckoned to me.

So I came near, and knelt on one knee before her.

"You are Redwald, Olaf's kinsman and messenger?" she asked.

"Yes, lady," I answered.

"I have heard of your coming. Have you spoken with the
earl--Streone?" she said, while a wrinkle crossed her fair forehead
as she named him.

"I have but just left him, lady."

She sunk her voice very low, and bent a little towards me.

"Were his words pleasant and fair spoken?" she said.

"They could not have been more so--at the last," I replied, the
memory of my anger coming back to me of a sudden.

"You crossed him once, then?"

"But a little; he crossed me rather," I said plainly.

"Wear your mail, Redwald," she said whisperingly. "Farewell."

Then she was once more herself again, the lady whose hand I might
kiss reverently and look at afar. But in those few moments she had
been as a friend who warned me of a danger unforeseen. Even thus
had Edric Streone spoken with Sigeferth, fairly and pleasantly.

I left the house, feeling uneasy therefore; but I could not think
that Edric would deem me worth crushing, and it seemed that the
lady would let her hatred of Edric go far.

They had given me lodging in the town across the river, where there
was a large guest house that had been made in the days of
OEthelfloed {11}, the brave lady of the Mercians who won back
the Five Boroughs from the Danes. One could see the great fort she
made rising from the river banks over the whole town. No other
thane was in guest quarters there with me, and I and my men had the
place to ourselves. Nor was there anyone in Stamford at the time
whom I knew, apart from the people of Eadmund's household.

So I went along the street slowly enough, and presently I passed a
house where through the open window I saw a goldsmith working, and
I thought that he could do somewhat for me. I would have the penny
of St. Eadmund set in a gold band on the scabbard of sword Foe's
Bane, where I should see it continually. There was much gilt silver
work over all the scabbard from end to end--wrought by what skilful
artists in the Norseland, or how long ago, I cannot tell--and there
was a place among the other work where such a fitting would go
well.

But I had placed the coin in safety in the house, and I must go and
fetch it, and I passed on for the time. Then I loitered on the
bridge, for the old town and its grim earthworks looks very fair
thence, and so a thane sent from Eadmund caught me up and took me
back to the great house, for he had some word for me. It was near
sunset by this time.

"Redwald, my friend," the Atheling said, when I stood before him,
"I would have you go back to Olaf. You have done your errand well,
and your kinsman will want to have you with him. You will fight for
us no less well with him than here."

Now I could speak plainly with the Atheling ever, and I said, being
anxious to know more of Streone's meanings:

"I am glad that you tell me so, my prince, for Edric the earl would
have it that our king fears that Olaf's good faith may be little."

"That is new to me," Eadmund said, frowning; "but, as you know, my
father and I have had little to say to each other of late."

"Then you doubt him not?" I asked.

"I would as soon doubt Edric himself," he said, "and him I trust as
I would trust myself."

"That is well," answered I. "For I feared that you also might have
been doubtful of Olaf."

"Why, what should the king think of Olaf but that he has been his
best friend?"

"The earl tells me that he has heard that Cnut will offer Olaf some
under-kingship if he will take his part," I said.

"I cannot tell how he has heard that," Eadmund said, and he looked
puzzled.

"By your spies in Cnut's court," said I.

"We have no spies there. I hate spying," the Atheling said. "What
means he?"

Then I saw that for some reason which was beyond me Streone had let
me know more than was safe. It was plain that if he spoke truth, he
had more dealings with Cnut than were known to the Atheling. Yet
the earl might, for Ethelred's sake, watch thus on Cnut, rightly
enough, and think it safer to say nought to Eadmund, whose wisdom
was not so great as his valour. It was a poor watch enough though,
I thought, if he knew the talk about Olaf and not the plans for
sailing, which should surely have been told him first of all.

"Maybe he minded him of some old plan of Cnut's that he heard when
you were in Lindsey," I said, that being all that I could imagine.
"That were enough to return to the mind of our king in his
sickness, and trouble him."

"Aye, I think my father fears treachery from all men," the Atheling
answered. "But Olaf has done well for us both at the first and now
in sending word by you."

Then the sword I was wearing caught Eadmund's eyes, for he was ever
fond of goodly war gear.

"So--you have a new sword instead of that I gave you," he said.
"And I think you have made a good exchange. Let me see this."

"I broke the other blade strangely enough," I told him. "But this
was my father's sword, and it has come back to me."

Now I must tell him all about our great fight, and at the end he
said:

"I would that I had been there. It was a good fight." Then he
laughed, and added: "Now, I will say this, that Streone noted this
fine sword of yours, and wondered who had given it you, and why."

"Did he think that Cnut had bribed me also?" I said. "Such a sword
as this is to a simple thane as much as a petty kingdom to Olaf."

Then Eadmund spoke in the old tone of comradeship that we had been
wont to use in Normandy.

"On my word, I believe he did! But you have often spoken to me of
this sword, and you described it well. I think had I found it on a
Dane I should have claimed it for you. But I never thought you
would see it again."

"Would you have believed that I was bribed, my prince, had it not
chanced that you had heard of the sword from me beforetime?" I
asked, being bitterly hurt that the earl should have put this into
Eadmund's mind.

Did he want to make him doubt all his former friends?

"Not I, Redwald," the Atheling said. "Streone is over careful for
our safety, I think, and lets his love for us make him suspect all
men. I told him as much, and he said that perhaps it was so. Then I
said that Olaf had doubtless given you the weapon, and he would
have me ask you. He thought that you should not have lightly set
aside my gift."

Now I was sure that the earl strove to break Eadmund's friendship
with Olaf, for to anger me would help to do so. The next thing
would be to have me made away with, for that would turn Olaf into a
foe, and he would leave England maybe. I thought that the earl
would stand alone in Eadmund's counsels, and did not dream yet that
he was indeed working for Cnut in order to take the first place in
England as Thorkel did in Denmark. But that was plain enough ere
long, and all men know it now. At this time, however, these matters
puzzled me, and had it not been for the slaying of Sigeferth and
Morcar and one or two others, maybe I should have thought little of
danger to myself. It was only as Olaf's kinsman that I was worth a
thought of the man whose deep statecraft I could not pretend to
understand.

So I said:

"The earl's life must be uneasy with all these doubts. But so long
as you yourself have none of King Olaf and myself, it is little
matter what he thinks. His doubts will be proved false in time, and
he will have fretted for nought."

"That is true," Eadmund answered. "I would that he troubled me not
with his suspicions."

So the matter passed, and we spoke for a little while of the fleet
and of Olaf's plans, and then I left him, saying that I would ride
back to London with the first light of morning.

"We shall have one good fight, and then peace," said Eadmund.
"Farewell, and trouble nought about my foster father and his ways
of doubting. He will doubt me next, maybe."

He laughed lightly, and I went away down the street with a troubled
mind, and was willing to get back to my lodgings through the dusk
as quickly as I might.

And when I came there I put on my mail, as the lady had bidden
me--rather blaming myself for doing so for all that, for it seemed
to show fear of somewhat that I could not name.

Then I thought of the goldsmith again, and sent a man for him,
thinking that he could do the work here in hall, so that I could be
sure of having the scabbard, which was very valuable, when I rode
away.

When he came I showed him what I would have done, and he said that
it was no long business, and took his tools into a corner and
lighted a wax taper and began to work by its light. The sword stood
by my chair as I ate my supper at the head of the long tables where
my men sat.

The goldsmith ended his work soon after the men had gone out to the
stables to tend their horses for the night, and only he and I and
my headman Thrand were left in the hall. He had put a flat band of
chased gold round the scabbard, and the silver penny showed through
a round setting that was in it.

I gave him one of the gold pieces that Earl Wulfnoth had taken from
the treasure for me, and the man weighed it, wondering at its
weight and fineness. Then he said that he was overpaid, and must
give me money for the overweight, and asked that one should go back
to his house with him and return with it.

"There were men lurking in the porches and on the bridge," he said,
"when I came down here. I suppose there will be a fray when they
meet the men they wait for, so I fear to go back alone. A goldsmith
is ever fair prey."

Then came a knocking on the door, and my man went to see what was
wanted. Then one said to him:

"Edric the earl bids Redwald the thane to speak with him at his
house before he sleeps."

Now the goldsmith stood where he could see the long streak of light
that shone from the door across the street, and he said to me in a
low voice:

"There are a dozen armed men outside, lord."

Thrand turned round to tell me this message, and as he did so
Streone's messenger pushed by him into the hail, rudely enough.

"To the stables and call my men," I whispered to the goldsmith,
pointing to the door which led thither, and he went out slowly, not
knowing why I sent him.

"Where is Redwald, Olaf's man?" the newcomer said, and his tone was
so rough that at the uncivil words I glanced at him sharply and
made no answer. He was fully armed, I saw.

But my follower would not bear this.

"Yonder is Redwald the thane," he said; "mind how you speak, man."

"Thane or not, I have come to take him to Edric the earl," was the
answer.

"Ho, thane! hear you the earl's message?"

Now when this began, I had taken up the scabbard with my right hand
and was looking at the work, and the sword was in my left, hidden
by my cloak as it fell to my side. I suppose the earl's housecarle
thought I was unarmed.

"I am Redwald," I said, putting the scabbard on the table, and so
leaving my right hand free. "I hear an uncivilly-given message
enough. And I think the earl has not sent for me in such terms as
those."

The man raised his hand a little and made a sign, and I heard the
quick steps of men crossing the street with clatter of steel. Then
I knew that Edric had sent for me, dead or alive.

"Come you must," the man said.

"What if I will not?" I answered.

"I will make you," he said, and with that he smote Thrand fairly in
the face and felled him, hitting squarely from his left shoulder,
and then his sword was out and he made one step towards me.

Quick as thought I grasped the hilt of my sword, and smote upwards
with it as I drew it from under the fold of my cloak. There is no
stopping that stroke, and the man leapt back from it as it seemed,
but the blade smote him beneath the chin, and so far as he was
concerned Edric's message had come to naught. He would never draw
sword on any man again. Nor do I think he would have been thus bold
had he not thought me unarmed.

Then at the same moment my man was up, cursing, and the doorway to
the street was full of Edric's men, and some of mine were coming
leisurely through the other.

The crash of the falling man woke my people into life, and they ran
to their spears, which were piled along the walls, and the earl's
men faltered on the threshold, for they liked not the look of sword
Foe's Bane, maybe. Then my man Thrand ran at the great door, which
opened inward, and swung it to in the faces of Edric's men, and
barred it. I heard them give a howl of rage as he did so, for one
or two of them were flung backward into the street, so suddenly and
strongly did he fling it against them in his rage.

Then we looked at one another, and at the dead man on the floor, in
silence. I was the only one of all who knew what this message
brought by armed men from Streone might mean. And all had happened
so suddenly, from the time that the man had told me that I must
come, and had drawn sword on me, to when the door slammed, that
there had been no time for thought or wonder even.

I took up the scabbard and buckled it on, and sheathed the sword,
and said:

"We shall hear more of this, men. Stamford town is no place for us
now."

"What is all this, lord?" asked the leader, who stood with his back
against the door still.

"Edric the earl has another business on hand like that of Earls
Sigeferth and Morcar," I said. Whereat the men growled fiercely.

The goldsmith came in with the last of my men, and heard me say
this, and now looked in the face of him whom I had slain.

"This is the man who brought the like message to our earls," he
said. "I was at Oxford, and saw him come. And the street then was
full of armed men, as is ours tonight. Better go hence, lord, else
you will be burnt out, as our men were when they went to avenge our
lords' deaths, and were driven into St. Frideswide's Church."

Now it seemed to me also that we had better hasten, or we should
have a strong force down on us. Then if we fought, Edric would have
occasion against me, and if not, I was lost.

"To horse, men!" I said. "We will go to Peterborough for this
night. Abbot Elfric is my friend, and will give us shelter."

"Let us take the road for London rather, and get back to Olaf the
king," said the headman. "The horses are fresh, and we can ride
far, and the nights are warm if we must lie out."

"We will speak of that outside the town," I answered. "To horse at
once, and silently, or they will take warning and bring more men."

They ran out, leaving a dozen with me. Edric's men were yet in the
street, and now they drew near the door, listening as I thought.

"How shall you escape?" I said to the goldsmith.

"Out of the back way, lord, and up the meadows to the ford if the
ferryman is asleep. But I must go before the house is beset."

"Keep the gold for your service," I said, "for I think that the
silver penny has saved me."

So he thanked me, and crept away easily enough. I suppose that
Edric's men had no orders that had made provision for trouble with
me of this sort, and that they hardly knew what had happened. But
it was likely that they would send word to Edric directly, when
they began to be sure that something had gone amiss. They tried the
door again, but without much heart. My men wanted to throw it open
and charge out on them, but I would not suffer it. So long as they
loitered outside we had time to get away. Then some of them tried
the gate of the courtyard behind the house, but the men had barred
that after the goldsmith had gone out. And all the while the horses
were being saddled silently, and they would be ready in a few
minutes.

The earl's men spoke now outside the door, and I could hear what
they said.

"Let us break in and see what has befallen Godric."

"Nay, the hall is full of men now. Let us go back."

"It was Godric's own fault. He had no reason to smite the porter,
who stayed him not."

Then I thought that the men knew not what their errand was, and
were to take orders from the slain man. Thus there would be no
fighting in the street when we came out.

So it was, for when the horses were ready, the stablemen of the
house threw open the great gates of the courtyard, which was beside
the house, as it happened, and we rode out quietly, but with
weapons ready, and they did but shrink together and stare when they
saw us. There were about thirty of them in all.

Now I would not give Edric any reason to blame me to Eadmund, and
so I wheeled my men to the right, away from the bridge and along
the great road towards London, and letting them go on slowly, I
called to a man who stood foremost.

"This is a sorry business," I said; "but your leader had no right
to smite my man, and one waxes hasty when a man behaves thus. He
was an unmannerly messenger."

"Aye, lord, he was," the men said.

"Well, then, tell your earl that I have even now left the town, and
that being ready to do so I came not with you; and say how it was
that this man was slain, and that I am sorry therefor."

"We will tell him," they said.

So I spurred my horse and rode after my company, knowing that it
would be hard for Edric to know the rights of the matter. The men
would certainly not wonder at the slaying of Godric, seeing how he
had behaved. I thought that Eadmund would never hear of this.

I believe that I escaped very narrowly, and also that the silver
penny was the cause thereof. For, first of all, it had been likely
that Eadmund's messenger would not have found me so easily had I
gone elsewhere than back to get it, and so I should have been
belated and attacked in the street by these men. And next, the
goldsmith warned me that the armed men waited outside. And then it
was certain that Godric, the earl's man, would have cut me down
before I could have drawn sword, had I not already held the weapon
unsheathed. And that was because I looked on the penny and its
setting before belting on the scabbard.

Now I thought, when we were fairly on the road, that we would go to
Peterborough, to my good friend the Abbot Elfric, for I would fain
tell him all this, thinking that he might warn Eadmund of Streone
to more effect than could I. And inside the abbey walls would be a
safe place for the night. It was not so certain that we should not
be pursued, and so we went quickly, the horses rejoicing in the
road after their idleness, for we had been three weeks in Stamford,
waiting for the earl.

So we rode till we came to Castor, the old Roman town, and stayed
not there, but went to the ford over the Nene at Water Newton, the
road beyond the river being better than that on this side. It is
not an easy ford, for a horseman has to turn downstream when nearly
over, else he is over head and ears before he knows. One of my men
had known somewhat of the place, and was going through first, but
as his horse shied a little at the sparkling water and he was
urging it in, a man rode fast down the opposite bank, and into the
river, coming over to us. I heard his horse snorting, as if out of
breath.

"Watch how he comes," I said to my man.

But there was little use in that, for he went to ride straight
through, and next moment his horse was swimming, and he was crying
for help, being bewildered, for the river was full and current
strong.

Now, I was used to swimming my horse in our Stour fords, which are
often very deep in autumn and winter, and so I rode in and grasped
his horse's bridle, and told him to take heart, and so fetched him
to our side.

"Give me a fresh mount, in the king's name," he said, for his horse
was spent.

"Little thanks is that," said I. "What is the hurry?"

"I am sent with all speed to Redwald the thane, at Stamford, with
word for Eadmund the Atheling."

"I am Redwald," I said. "Who sent you?"

"Olaf the king. Show me your sword, master."

I held out the hilt of my sword, for that was a token which a
messenger should give and receive that Olaf and I had agreed on.

"Cnut the Dane has landed at Sandwich," the man said. "Eight
hundred ships he has, and men more than I can count. The Kentish
men have risen, and Olaf is with them; but he has not, and cannot
have enough men to stay the Dane. There must be a levy of all
England."

Then I was almost beside myself with rage, and could have wept, for
the levy that should have been waiting for this had not even had a
summons. And from the bottom of my heart I blamed Edric Streone for
all the woe that I saw must come on England.

There was but one thing for me to do, and that was to go back to
Stamford and see the Atheling. He would see me at midnight when no
one else dared wake him, maybe, for he would know that I had heavy
matters to speak of if I thus summoned him. The messenger would
have to wait till morning, and could but give his message. I could
reason with the Atheling, while this messenger would fall into
Streone's hands. And that I knew now was the worst that could
befall.

"Give the man a fresh horse," I said. "I must go back with him."

"Not so, lord," the men said. "You will be waylaid."

"I think my luck will serve me," I answered. "Do you find some barn
at Chesterton over the water, and leave two or three men to watch
for my coming. Thrand and Guthorm may come with me."

Then they grumbled at my running into danger, but I would be
obeyed, though I must let them bide on this side of the ford.

We were but seven miles from Stamford town, and we went back at a
hard gallop on the good turf alongside the paving of the Roman way.
It was in my mind to see Eadmund and leave him at once, before
Streone knew that any man had come into the town, if I could.

The bridge was barred, and the gates were too high to be leapt; but
the guards were sleepy, and would not let me through, until I bade
them open in the king's name. Then they did so, and we rode
clattering up the street to the great hall.

There was bustle enough when I beat on the courtyard gates, for the
place was stockaded, and there was a strong guard inside. Presently
they opened the wicket, and the captain looked out angrily enough.

He began to rate us, but I cut him short.

"I am Redwald," I said, "and I must see the Atheling without
delay."

The officer knew me well enough then, and let us in.

"You cannot see the Atheling, thane," he said. "It is as much as my
life is worth to disturb him."

"I will do it myself, then," I said. "Take me into the house."

"What is amiss?" he asked, hesitating. "Is the king dead?"

"Nay, worse than that," I answered shortly, and the officer stared
at me in horror.

"Oh, fool!" I said; "Cnut is landed, and it is Eadmund only who can
save our land. Let me to him."

The warrior clutched his sword hilt with a sort of groan, and
turned and took me into the house without a word. We went across
the great hall, where the housecarles slept around the walls, sword
under pillow, and spear at side. They raised their heads when their
captain spoke the watchword, and looked at me curiously, but did
not stir more than enough for that. They were not bidden.

We crossed a room where a few young thanes' sons slept, as I had
slept before the king's door when I was first at court, and these
leapt up, sword in hand.

"What will you?" one said in a low voice, setting his back against
the door.

"I must see Eadmund, our atheling, on king's business," I said
gently, remembering how I should have felt when on the same duty,
if one had come thus.

"He may not be waked," the boy said.

Then I spoke loudly, so as to end the business without troubling
these faithful guards.

"I am Redwald of Bures. I think that Eadmund will see me."

"Hush! hush! thane," the boy said.

But there was no need to say more, for the long camp life had
sharpened Eadmund's ears to aught unusual. Now I heard the bar of
the door thrown down, and Eadmund came out with a cloak round him
and his sheathed sword in his left hand.

"Redwald--friend--what is it?" he said.

"Even what we have feared, my prince," I answered, looking at him.

"Where has the blow fallen?"

"At Sandwich. Olaf is there, and the Kentishmen have risen. His
word is that he has not enough men."

"Surely Kent and London and Olaf--" he said.

"Eight hundred ships lie in Ebbsfleet. A ship may hold a hundred or
but twenty men--not less."

Then Eadmund made a sign to his people, and they went out and left
us together, and we looked on one another.

"Let me send for the earl," he said; but I put my hand on his arm.

"You are enough, my prince. But for sending for him your levies
would be here, and we should march together even now to London."

He groaned.

"You are right, and I am a fool," he said.

"Wait for the earl no longer," I urged; "raise your own levy, and
bid him follow you or the king as he will. There must be a raising
of all England. Send to the king tonight."

"What will Cnut do?" he asked me.

"Olaf thought that if he landed in Kent he would make for London
and besiege it. If so, you have time yet."

"There shall be no delay. Bide here and help me."

"I cannot," I said, and told him plainly of Edric's message to me,
and the way in which it was sent; and I ended: "Let me go to Olaf,
therefore, and take word from you that you come in haste. The earl
doubts me yet."

"I do not understand it," Eadmund said, "but it must be so. Go back
and tell Olaf to hold Cnut under London walls, and I will be there
in a day before he expects, gathering forces as I come."

I kissed his hand and went, and as I did so I heard him bid his
followers arm him. So I knew that he was roused, and that if he
were himself all might yet be well.

Then I got to horse, and I and my two men rode down the street as
fast as we had come. No man was about, and the bridge gates swung
open for us.

"They are in a hurry to get rid of us," said Thrand, as we went
through and passed the last houses of the town beyond the river.

Then the road lay white in the moonbeams before us until it ran
among the trees of the first woodland, and there in the black
shadow was a sparkle as of armour in the shafts of light that came
through the leaves into the over-arched hollow of the track.

If any man was there he could see us clearly, though we could not
well see him, for we were in full brightness.

Then Guthorm spoke, peering under his hand.

"Four men across the road, lord--horsemen standing still."

Then said I:

"If they are friends they will stand aside for us. If not, they
will expect us to halt and argue matters with them. Any way, they
have no right to the whole road, even if they mean us no harm. Ride
on steadily, one on either side of me, and when we are twenty paces
from them, if they yet bar our way, spur your horses and we will
clear the road."

"Swords out, master?" said Thrand.

"No, spear butts ready; maybe they are friends. But I am in a
hurry."

So we rode over those four men, and I fear they were hurt, for we
left two rolling horse and two men in the road. Nor did I ever know
if they were Edric's men or not. Howbeit, their swords were drawn,
and so I think we were not wrong in what we did, though the
Colchester men smote hard, and my spear shaft was badly sprung over
a helm.

After that we did not draw rein till we came to our comrades, and
they were halfway back to Stamford looking for me. Then we took the
road to London, for we would not tarry now at Peterborough.

Maybe my story would have had a different end had I gone there--but
it was not to be. Yet, though I knew it not, I was close to Hertha
at that time.



Chapter 10: The Flight From London.


I came back to Olaf while he gathered his ships in the Pool below
London Bridge, and I found him ill at ease and angry with Ethelred
and Eadmund, and when I told him all, most angry with Streone.

"Now you must stay with me, cousin, for that man will have you
slain if he can. There is no doubt that he works for Cnut. And this
word of his about a bribe for me is not his own invention; he has
been told to make it."

Then he told me of the vast host that had poured into Kent. It was
the greatest host that had ever landed on English shores--greater
even than had been ours when we Angles left our old home a desert,
and came over to this new land and took it. Olaf and the Kentish
levies had fought and had been driven back, and now day by day we
looked to see Cnut's armies before London, and also for the coming
of Eadmund with his men. But neither came, for the Mercian levies
would not fight unless the king himself headed them, and Cnut
passed through Surrey into Wessex and none could withstand him.

Aye, they fought him. Wessex is covered with nameless battlefields;
but ere long half of Cnut's fleet was sent round to the Severn, and
Ethelred, sick and despairing, came back to London with but a few
men.

It angers me even to think of what befell after that. Eadmund and
Streone gathered each a good force, and came together within touch
of Cnut. And then on the eve of battle, Edric made known his plan
to his Mercian thanes, and that was nothing more nor less than that
they should go over bodily to Cnut when the fight began. Which
treachery so wrought on the honest Mercians that they would fight
not at all, and so disbanded in sight of the enemy, leaving Eadmund
with but enough men to make good his retreat. And Cnut was master
of all the land from Kent to Severn shores, Ethelred's own country.
So Edric Streone went over to Cnut, and with him many thanes who
despaired of help from Ethelred, and chose rather peace under a
king who was strong enough to give it them. And one night forty of
the English ships slipped away from us down the tide and joined the
Danes at Sandwich. The men had been bribed by Streone, as we found.

Almost then did Olaf make up his mind to leave England, but he
pitied Ethelred, who turned to him again in this new trouble, and
he did not go.

"But my men will not bide patiently much longer," he told me; "here
is neither honour nor gold to be won, and I need them for my going
to Norway when the time comes."

For every day Olaf looked for some sign that should bid him go back
and take his own land from Cnut's hand.

Now Ethelred would not stir from London, fearing treachery
everywhere. And again Eadmund's levies melted away for want of
their king's presence, and at last we persuaded him to meet Eadmund
at Coventry, and I went with him. There was a good levy that would
have followed him, but some breath of suspicion came over him, and
suddenly he left them and fled back to London and the citizens,
whom he trusted alone of all England. And he would not suffer me to
bide with Eadmund, but I must go back with him. So the levies
melted, and Eadmund went north to Earl Utred of Northumbria for
help.

Then when the winter wore away, and April came in calm and bright,
the most awesome thing befell England that had been yet. For in the
north Eadmund and Utred marched across the country, laying waste
all as they went, lest the north should rise for Cnut; and going
east as they went west, Cnut ravaged and burnt all the southern
midlands. Then rose the wail of all England, for friend and foe
alike had turned on her, and her case was at its hardest. And from
that time forwards I know that none who chose Cnut for king should
be blamed.

Then Cnut fell on York, and Utred of Northumbria, whose wife was
Danish, submitted to him, and was slain by Streone's advice, as men
say, though some say that he was slain by Thorkel the Jarl when he
took the ships that tried to escape from the Humber. It may be
thus. The shipmen fought well, and were all slain--sixty ships'
crews.

Now all England was open to Cnut, and Eirik the jarl fell on
Norwich and drove Ulfkytel back on us, and from him we heard of
this trouble.

On the eve of St. George's day, Ethelred sent for me to his
chamber, for he would speak with me. I found him sitting in a great
chair before the fire, wrapped in furs, though the day was warm and
sunny, and he was very feeble, so that his thin hands had little
strength in them. The queen, Emma, was with him, looking young and
handsome as ever, and in the light of a narrow window sat Eadward
the Atheling, the sunshine falling on his strange white hair and on
the pages of a great book over which he pored. He just lifted his
pale eyes from his reading as I went in and saw who it was, and
smiled pleasantly at me, and then turned to his book again. I
thought that the troubles of the time passed lightly on the proud
lady and the boy, whose learning was all that she cared for.

"Come near, Redwald, my son," the king said, in his voice that had
grown so faint of late. "I have a charge to lay on you."

I went and knelt by him, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and
the tears came to my eyes at the kindly touch, for it was the same
as, and yet so unlike, that which had been a promise of friendship
to me at the first time that I saw him.

"All things are slipping from me, Redwald," the king said; "nor is
there aught that I grieve to lay down when the day comes on which I
must pass through the gate of death. Crown and sceptre have been
heavy burdens to me, for with them has been the weight of the sword
also. I have borne those ill, and used that cruelly. I am the
Unredy; but I have listened to ill counsels, having none of my own,
nor wit to see what was best."

He ceased for faintness, and my heart ached to hear him speak thus
to me, his servant. But Emma the queen turned half away from him,
her face growing hard and scornful as she heard. Then Eadward set
his book down gently, and, looking sadly at his mother, came and
stood over against me at the other side of the king, and took his
wan hand and said:

"There are laws which you have made, my father, which will live in
the hearts of men alongside those that Eadgar made--our best. There
will not be all blame to you in the days to come, when men see
clearly how things have gone with you."

Thereat Ethelred smiled faintly, and he answered:

"I pray that it may be so. But the good outweighs not the evil. I
may not count the one--I must confess the other."

He passed into thought, looking into the fire, and we were still
beside him. The queen moved away to the seat where Eadward had been
sitting and took his place, staring out of the window with unseeing
eyes. And I was glad that she was no longer beside us.

Presently the king raised his head and turned it a little towards
me.

"Redwald," he said, "you were our companion in Normandy, and you
are a trusted friend of ours. It will not be long before the queen
must fly to her brother--the good duke--again, and it is in my mind
that her flight will be perilous. When that time comes, let it be
your place to see her safely thither, with the athelings, her sons.
It may be that Olaf will help you, but that you must see to as best
you can. And I have sent for Abbot Elfric to help you."

"Lord king," I said, "what I can I will do, but I think there are
men better fitted than I to guard our queen."

"None whom we trust more fully," the king said.

"See, my queen, this is he to whom you must look for furtherance of
your journey."

Then Emma turned from the window, and her face was still unmoved.

"I can trust Redwald," she said. "It will be well."

But Eadward wept openly, for he knew that the king spoke of the day
when he should die.

"That is well," the king said, and leaned back on his pillows. "Now
have I no care left. Yet it is hard to put so heavy a burden on
your young shoulders, my thane."

"It is an honour rather," I answered. "May I be worthy thereof."

Then a brightness came over the king's face, and he answered me
slowly and plainly, and with great joy, as it were.

"Presently I shall meet with Eadmund, your martyred king, and to
him I will say that his thane of Bures is worthy."

"Forget me not also, my father, when you come to that place,"
Eadward said.

"I will not forget. Now is given me to see plainly what shall be in
the time to come--to what all tends even now. For now in the time
of my death comes to me rede unearthly, as I think. There must be a
strong hand who shall weld England into one--who shall bid our land
forget that difference has ever been betwixt Angle and Saxon, Jute
and Northumbrian, Mercian and Wessexman, Saxon and English and
Dane. And when that wonder is wrought, then shall come peace and a
new life to the land, under one who will give them the laws that
they need to bind them into one English race, strong and honest,
and patient in all things."

Then said Eadward, as the king ceased:

"That is what those who love England would most hope for."

But his voice was hushed, as in the presence of one who sees beyond
this earth.

Thereat the king looked on him, and said:

"Have patience, my son, and you shall see it; aye, and you shall
have part and share therein."

After that he spoke no more, and for a time we waited beside him.
Soon he seemed to sleep, and I rose at a sign from the queen and
left his chamber. Nor did I ever see Ethelred our king alive again.
For when the morning came he had laid his heavy burdens down and
had passed to the rest that he longed for. And the bells that rang
merrily for St. George's mass ceased, and the toll for the dead
went mournfully over the city.

"Eadmund is king, God help him," men said.

So it came to pass that even as they buried the king in the great
Church of St. Paul the Danish armies were closing round the city,
and when I went to Olaf to beg him to advise me concerning the
flight of the queen, he answered:

"You and I must part, my cousin. For you had better take ship from
some quiet port, and that on the southern coast, and so make for
Normandy. But I must see the citizens through this siege, and then
I will come to you at Rouen, and we will take counsel together
again."

He would bide no longer in England after this, for the doubt of him
that Eadmund would not listen to was strong in the minds of others,
and his presence was of little use. Only the London folk and
Ulfkytel loved him, knowing him well, and holding that they owed
him much. But none knew better than Earl Ulfkytel that Olaf must
not bide here longer.

Now our scouts kept coming in with news of Cnut, and at last I
could see by which road to fly with most chance of safety. I would
go by Winchester and so to Southampton and there take ship with the
queen. Cnut's fleet would be in the Thames ere long, if it barred
not the mouth already.

But Abbot Elfric had not come. We feared that he had fallen into
Danish hands, for it was hard to say where they were not. It seemed
that we must perforce leave London without him. Yet I would stay
till the last for his coming.

Now I must leave England, and I have said little about myself. But
when this duty was laid on me by the king, I thought more of my
lost quest of Hertha than I had done of late. For now I must leave
her in our poor land, where she must be hunted maybe from hiding to
biding, place to place, and in my heart grew up an unreasoning
anger against Ailwin and Gunnhild, who by their secrecy had kept me
from bringing her here with Olaf.

Then as I looked over this I became sure that they had seen
somewhat in me which their charge could not love, so that they
would keep me from her altogether. And I made up my mind to that at
last, not wondering that it was so, for I was but a warrior and a
landless thane with nought to be proud of but skilful weapon play,
and some scars to show that I had been in a fight or two where
blows were falling. And I minded how I had told Ailwin that I held
myself free, and thought that he and Gunnhild, and maybe Hertha
also, would have it so.

Yet I cared little for that, having heavier things to fill my mind
than thought for a maiden whose very looks I knew not now. At least
these two had taken Hertha into their charge, denying me any part
therein, and I could not blame them rightly. I had done my best and
could no more.

Then at the last moment Elfric came.

"Glad am I that you have not gone, my son," he said, as I greeted
him. "I have wandered many a long mile over crossroads to escape
the Danes. Very nearly did they have me once, but I escaped them.
That will be a pleasant tale beside Duke Richard's fire, however.
When must we go?"

"With nightfall, father," I said. "The horses are standing almost
ready even now. How many shall you need?"

"Myself, and my chaplain, and three sisters--five," he said, "if
you can take so many. These would fly with me and the queen."

I thought for a moment. The queen had Eadward and his brother
Alfred and five maidens with her, and there were the pack horses
and the servants. But two of the maidens were unwilling to go,
being daughters of London thanes. Our court was very small in these
days. So, as every woman added to our company was a source of
weakness, in that our pace must be that of the least able to bear
fatigue, I doubted until I thought that the queen might let the
sisters take the places of the maidens who cared not to fly with
her.

I went and asked her this, and she flushed with wounded pride,
though I gave her my reasons and urged her peril.

"How shall it be told that Emma of Normandy was beholden to a
nunnery for her handmaidens?" she said.

"It shall not be told, my queen," I said stoutly. "Men shall say
that you gave protection to the holy women."

Truly my wits were sharpened by sore need, for at once the queen
agreed to this. She loved power, and even this little use thereof
pleased her.

"When can we go?" she asked. "I long to see my own land again."

"At nightfall, in two hours' time," I told her.

"It is well. Be ready then," she said.

She had persuaded herself, as I believe, that she arranged all
things, and I was glad to have it so, for I had feared that I
should have had trouble more than enough with her unreasoning
pride.

So I told Elfric that his nuns could go, and he thanked me,
laughing a little, with some thought of their journey here as I
thought, and he added:

"Aye, their dress protects them a little. It is not as in the old
days of heathen against Christian. There is this to be said for
Cnut, that he will have no monastery or nunnery harried if his
orders are carried out."

Then a thought came to me, and I wished that I could persuade our
queen to take on herself and her maidens the convent dress. She
would not be the first royal lady of England who had worn it. And I
asked Elfric to persuade her to do so, for Emma's great failing was
love of queenship.

"If I know aught of our queen," he said, "she wants to ride in
state."

"She does," I answered. "I think, father, that we have a troublous
journey before us. She will not believe but that she may ride as
ever through the land."

"You plan and I will argue," the good man said, being ever light
hearted.

So he went to the queen and spoke long with her, but she would in
no wise ride out of London but as a queen, even as she had told me
more than once. There was nothing against that but that word might
go to the Danish leaders that she was leaving the city. Still, if
we could get her to disguise herself thus when our guards left us
it might be as well. The Danes, did they seek her, would look for a
larger party than ours, and would pay no heed to us, perhaps.

Now Olaf and my Colchester spearmen would be our guards even to the
Surrey hills, for beyond them was not much fear of the Danes, who
were advancing from Mercia, northward of the Thames. Only in the
towns were garrisons whom we must fear, for they sent out parties
to raid the land for provender and plunder and to keep the poor
folk from rising on them.

So it was my plan, and it seemed good to Elfric, to travel as a
little party only. So could we more easily escape notice, and take
the byways, while an armed force, however small, would draw on us
the notice of the Danes whose duty it was to watch against any
gathering of English warriors.

We started that night as soon as dark came on, and the queen was
pleased with the guard around her, and that Olaf the king himself
rode at her side. Men cheered him as we passed along the streets,
and the queen deemed that the cries were for her, and drew herself
up proud and disdainful as she sat on her white horse with spearmen
before and behind her, and her maidens on either side. But I doubt
if any man knew who she was in the dusk. And I had sent the pack
horses and servants on before us to wait our coming at a certain
place, so that none should be able to say that we were a party of
fugitives.

Presently the queen waxed silent, and Olaf and I could talk to one
another of what we would do in the time to come if this and that
happened. I told him that I should certainly return to fight at
Eadmund's side, for the queen would not keep me in Rouen. When he
left London it was his wish to seek me there, and so we looked to
see one another again before very long.

"Then it is farewell, my cousin," he said, when at last we came to
Banstead, for he would not leave us sooner. "We have had a good
fight or two together, and may have more, and to more profit, as I
hope, in the days to come."

We halted at the monastery and prayed for shelter there for the
night, or at least what was left of it, and while Elfric spoke with
the superior of the nuns who were there, I took leave thus of Olaf
and of my spearmen. And these prayed me to return soon and lead
them again. That I promised them, and so the darkness closed
between us as they rode away, and I was left sad at heart enough,
for Olaf was as a brother to me, and I knew not when I should meet
with him again.

There was no talk of Danes at this quiet place over which the wave
of war had gone already, leaving it poorer, but in peace; and it
was not until the next afternoon that we rode out again, our party
being that which must see the long road over together.

Twelve of us there were. The queen and her two maidens and the
three nuns, Elfric the abbot and his chaplain, Eadward and Alfred
the athelings, and Alfred's tutor--who was a churchman of Elfric's
own monastery--and myself.

Then there were the servants, ten in all, who rode each leading a
lightly-laden pack horse. It was such a party as an abbot might
well travel with, and that is all that would be said of us if the
Danish riders asked aught of the roadside folk. I and Eadward alone
were armed as the abbot's housecarles. The men bore but spear and
seax, as would any wayfarer for fear of robbers and the like.

Now, when all was ready in the courtyard, and we waited for the
queen, she stood on the threshold before I knew her, for the nuns
of the place, taught by Elfric, had prayed her to take their dress
for the journey, and she had done so, as also had her two maidens.
They were as abbess and sisters therefore, and I thought that one
trouble was over--that is if our queen would but take the part of a
nun as well as the dress, and be guided by Elfric the abbot.

Thus our journey to the sea was begun. And of that journey I might
tell much, for it was a strange one. I think that the hardest task
that a man could have, must be to take a proud and headstrong woman
through a country full of danger, when she dislikes the manner of
journey. And when that woman is a queen, surely it is harder yet.
Had it not been for Elfric and Eadward I know not how we should
have fared, for at times Emma the queen would not speak with me, if
some plan that I must needs make was not to her liking. And seeing
that she knew nought of the meaning of either time or distance,
that was often enough. And when I heard of danger that must be
skirted she would tell me that none would dare molest the
queen--that she would declare herself and all would be well.

And seeing that of all hostages to Cnut the queen would be the most
valuable, that plan would be fatal. I will say this now, that more
than once I was obliged for very safety's sake to give wayside
folk, among whom we were, to understand that the abbess was crazed
through the long troubles, believing herself a queen.

And, alas for our land! it was but too easy for them to believe it.
Few there were who knew not some wretched ones crazed at that time
by all that had befallen them.

Well it was for us that the nights were clear and warm, and that
the good Surrey and Hampshire franklins' wives were compassionate
and hospitable. I could not now retrace our footsteps, for we could
go by no road at times, but must take to the woods and downs.

And ever when we did so the queen rode sullenly, and angry with all
around her, while Eadward and I and the two priests, who were
valiant men enough, were ahead, scenting danger everywhere, for we
had many a narrow escape of meeting raiding Danes. The stragglers
of that mighty host were everywhere. I think that had we fallen
into such hands I should have tried to send a man in all haste to
the nearest post of the thingmen, that we might be taken again by
warriors at least.

But the ladies bore the long journey well, and Elfric's nuns the
best. I had little to do with them, having so many cares about me,
and was glad enough to leave them in the closer charge of the abbot
and his priests. But soon I found that there was one of the three
nuns who was untiring and ever able to hearten the rest, and that
even the queen listened to her. The dress made all five of the
maidens seem alike at first, but in a few days the pleasant,
cheerful face of this one seemed familiar to me, and it was fair
enough for all the novice's garb she wore. I thought she minded me
of someone whom I knew, and at last, finding out a likeness as I
looked for one, I called her in my own mind Sister Sexberga, for
surely she was like that fair friend of mine. It never happened
that I heard her name, for I was ever forward and away from the
queen's complainings, and the nuns spoke little even to one
another.

Little rest and much care had I all the way thus. I will not write
it, but will go on to the time when we came safely in sight of
Winchester town. I could not enter it with my charges, but must
needs go by myself, for here I should learn more sure news than
anywhere. And what I might learn would decide whether I could take
ship in Southampton Water or turn eastwards a little and go to
Portsmouth or Bosham havens.

Now I knew that the Danes held the place in force, and so I told
the queen. But to pass by her royal city seemed more than she could
bear, and she wished and commanded us to ride in and call on her
citizens to rise and protect her.

"Queen of England I am and will be," she said. "I have borne
indignity long enough."

"My queen," I said, "if you see Winchester you will not see
Normandy."

Then Elfric spoke with her, and at last she wept, saying that she
was deserted, and the like, and so turned sullen, bidding us give
her up to the Danes, who would respect a queen in distress.

Having seen this manner of submission to counsel not once or twice
before, I put on a franklin's dress, and gave sword Foe's Bane into
Eadward's keeping, and took a hunting spear instead, and went down
into the town, leaving my party ten miles away in a nook of the
wooded hills.

The scarlet-cloaked Danish thingmen at the gates paid no heed to
me, for it was market day, and many countryside people were going
in and out. So I went to the marketplace, and sat down on a bench
outside an inn with others and listened to all that I could, while
I drank my ale and ate as did the rest.

Some I talked with. There was little hatred of Cnut here, as I
found. There was some change, too, in the ways of the thingmen, for
it was not their plan here to make themselves hated and feared as
in East Anglia.

Then came a man whose face and walk were those of a seaman, and he
sat down close to me, and I pushed the ale mug towards him, and we
began to talk of his calling. He had come to Winchester to find some
merchant who needed a ship, as it seemed, and he began, as a good
sailor will, to praise his own vessel with little encouragement.

I found out from him that Southampton Water was full of Danish
vessels, and so I asked where his own lay.

"In Bosham haven," he said. "Earl Wulfnoth will have no Danes in
his land. I must get some safe conduct from the Danish folk here if
I come into the Water. So being tired of doing nought I even rode
up to this place to see if aught could be managed for a voyage."

Now I thought that I was in luck's way, for from this man, who
seemed honest enough, I could perhaps gain all I wanted. His ship
was a great buss, fitted with a cabin fore and aft under the raised
decks, and I could wish for no better chance than this might be.

"Would you take passengers for Normandy instead of goods?" I asked
him carelessly.

"Aye, truly, and gladly if they could pay well."

"Now I will tell you that I am Earl Wulfnoth's friend," I said,
"and you may know that pay is safe, therefore. I was at Pevensea
when Olaf the Thick, the viking, came there."

He took my word for my friendship with the earl, and then I
arranged for all things to be ready for us in a week's time. We had
some rough country to cross before we came to Bosham, and I would
not hurry over it. We wrangled over the price a little, as was
fitting, for I would not seem too eager; but at last he said that
he would depart on the morrow, and we shook hands and were
satisfied.

"Speak not of this matter, friend Bertric," I said, "or we may be
waylaid by Danes off the haven's mouth."

"Little fear of that, master," he laughed. "Our young Earl Godwine
has beaten one or two ships already."

Then I went back light hearted to my people, and when the queen
heard what I had done her mood changed, and she was most gracious,
and thanked me, saying that she feared that I had run into danger
for her in going into the town. So I felt myself repaid in full for
the little trouble, that had been without risk as it fell out.

Very fair was the great Andred's-weald in the late April weather,
but the forest tracts were rough and the way seemed long. Once we
beat off, easily enough, some cowardly outlaws, but there were no
Danes in Andred's-weald, and we came to Bosham in safety.

There Bertric's good ship was ready for us, and it happened that no
other vessels, save fishing craft, were in the haven. I had looked
to meet Godwine, my friend, but he and his ships were in Dorchester
water, and there were few to mark our coming into the quiet town,
or our going on board, which we did without delay.

We had no need of the stout housecarles, who had led the horses and
served us so well, so the queen, as I asked her, gave them the
horses as gifts in recompense for their journey, and so when they
had gone we were few indeed. But there was room for few passengers
in the buss. The queen and her ladies had the larger after cabin,
and Elfric and the athelings and the two priests had that under the
fore deck. I would remain on deck with Bertric and his crew of
twenty men, but there was no hardship in that.

That night on Bertric's ship was the first for three long weeks
that had sound sleep for me, for they hauled out into the middle of
the haven, and none could come near us unseen, and I was at last
free from care and watching.

But one thing troubled honest Bertric, and that was that he had
found a black kitten on board. None knew whence it came, and he
said it was an ill sign. And he dared do nought but treat it well,
since it had come.



Chapter 11: The Taking Of The Queen.


When the early sunlight woke me, we were almost at the haven mouth,
and slipping past Selsea, with its gray pile of buildings, on the
first of the ebb tide. The wind was in the northeast, with a
springtime coldness in it, but it was fair for Normandy, and there
was no sea running under the land. We were well out at sea,
therefore, ere Elfric, almost as worn out as I, came from his close
quarters forward and stood by me, looking over the blue water of
the Channel to where the Isle of Wight loomed to the westward.

"Now I think that all is well, Redwald," the abbot said, "and every
mile from the English shore takes us further from danger."

And so we stood and talked in the waist of the ship, and Eadward
came and joined us. The men ate their breakfast forward, and
brought us some, and the two churchmen came out with the little
atheling, and then Sister Sexberga, as I called her, came and
shivered in the cold breeze and spoke to Bertric, who was alone on
the after deck steering, and so went back to the cabin, where the
queen had all things needful for breaking her fast.

Then Bertric whistled sharply, and I looked up at him. He pointed
away to the eastward, and out to sea. There I saw far off on the
skyline the sails of two ships that grew larger as I watched them.

I went to the break of the after deck and climbed up beside him.

"Men say that two ships passed westwards tonight, master," he said.
"Here be two more heading over from the south."

"Can you tell what they are?" I asked him.

"Longships, as I think," he answered. "We shall know betimes."

The vessels hove up quickly, for our great brown sail bore us more
or less across their course.

"It is safer to hold on, master," he said, "for to up helm and fly
would be to bring them after us if they are vikings. They will see
that we are not laden with cargo, and will not pay heed to us
therefore."

It was but half an hour after that when we knew that the two ships
were Danish war vessels, and that they were laying a fresh course
to overhaul us. Nor was there any chance of our escaping them. They
were thrice as fast as we.

Then I feared greatly, for I knew not what would happen. It might
be that they would let our party go on, finding them to all seeming
nought but church folk; but one could not tell, and I feared. So
also did Elfric when I went to him and told him what these ships
were, and that they were bearing down on us.

"We cannot fight," he said. "We must let things be as the Lord
will."

"If any roughness is shown to the womenfolk," I said, "there will
be one man who will fight."

"And will lose his life for naught," he answered. "If the worst
comes to the worst we must even do as the queen has bidden us
before now. We must proclaim her, and then we shall be safe from
harm, if captives to Cnut. Tell me, have you heard that he is cruel
to those he takes?"

"Rather I have heard that he is not," I said. "Moreover, if Emma of
Normandy suffers aught at his hands he will have the duke to deal
with very shortly."

"Now are we in the Lord's hands," said Elfric, for a hoarse hail
came from the leading ship, which was to windward of us. She was a
splendid dragonship, bright with gold and colour.

"What will you have me do, master?" Bertric cried to me.

"They can do what they will with us whatever we try. We may fare
better by obeying," I said, for in truth there was nought else to
do.

Now the great ship ranged up alongside of us, and the tall warrior
at the helmsman's side hailed us again to heave to. And I saw a man
bend his bow, and an arrow flew down the wind and stuck in the deck
not far from me. Whereon Bertric raised his arm in answer and
called to his men, and luffed while they lowered the sail. The Dane
at the same time struck sail, and got out some oars in order to
come alongside of us. There was no sea running that would make this
dangerous.

Then I went to the low door of the after cabin, and spoke to the
queen.

"Here is a ship that will come alongside ours," I said. "Fear
nought, but wait for my word."

And then a glint of bright colour caught my eyes, and I looked more
closely into the dark place; and there sat the queen no longer as a
humble abbess, but in her own dress, for she had cast off the garb
she hated, and she answered me:

"Who dares to stay the Queen of England on her passage?"

"Oh, madam," I said, "for pity's sake don the convent robe again. I
fear that the Danes are on us."

Then she cowered back into the shadow and said nought, for the very
word terrified her when she knew her foes were so near. But Sister
Sexberga came to the door, and she was pale enough, though her face
lacked no courage.

"What shall we do, Redwald--thane?" she said quickly.

"Keep a brave heart, sister," I answered, "and let me manage all. I
will bide before the door, and you will hear all I say. Then, if I
say that we have the Queen of England, let our mistress come
forward and disclose herself. But I hope they will let us go free.
Pray that it may be so."

Then the two ships jarred together, and I saw that the Dane was
well manned with armed warriors, and I also saw that their leader
was Egil Thorarinsson, whom I had captured and again lost at
Leavenheath fight. I will say that I was glad to see him, for I
knew him as a free-spoken warrior who loved fair play, and I
thought that he owed me a life, for I did not slay him when I
might.

They leapt on board--a dozen armed Danes with Egil at their
head--and there before them stood Elfric the abbot with his cross
in his hand, facing them alone. His priests were forward under
cover, praying doubtless, with the athelings. The great ship
sheered off again, and bided within half arrow shot of us, all her
rail crowded with men looking on.

"Neither gold nor goods have we," Elfric cried. "We are peaceful
folk who cross the seas. It is the part of a good warrior and
viking to let such go unharmed."

"Aye, so it is," answered Egil; "but, as it happens, we are looking
for certain peaceful folk."

"You will not harm us," said Elfric, who knew nought of our queen's
foolishness. "It is but a party of church people who go to
Normandy."

"Put the holy man aside," said Egil to his men. "We are not
heathens, and we will not hurt you, father."

So the warriors laughed, and went to draw Elfric away; but when he
saw that I stood before the cabin door, he stepped aside by himself
and watched what should befall. I had no mail on, and at first they
did not notice me. It was the first day that I had not worn mail
since we left London; but Foe's Bane was loose in the scabbard, and
ready in case of need.

"Ho, skipper!" Egil cried, "whom have you on board?"

"Yon priest and some more of his sort," Bertric said.

"We have lit on a crow's nest," a man said, laughing. "Where are
they, then?"

"In the fore peak, and aft here, deadly sick," said Bertric.

Then Egil's eyes lit on me, and he stared for a minute.

"Ho!" he cried, "here is no crow, but a stout warrior enough. What
do you here, Olaf's right-hand man?"

"Helping the crows over seas," I said, trying to meet his words
lightly, though my heart was heavy enough.

"Why then, friend," he said, "I must see these charges of yours.
Stand aside, and let me go into that cabin."

"Nay, Egil; they are but nuns here."

The honest warrior looked puzzled, but some of his men began to
crowd aft, being tired of the parley, and one tried to push me
aside, saying:

"Let us fetch them out, and waste no more words."

Whereon I sent him reeling against the gunwale, hands to face, for
I dealt with him even as Godric served my warrior at Stamford.

Then I had my sword out, for it was time--and two men who drew
sword on me went down on the deck before me. Sword Foe's Bane smote
not amiss. Then was a ring of shouting Danes forming, and I felt
someone at my shoulder, and Egil cried out:

"Hold, men! the warrior is my man. Let me deal with him."

And there was Sister Sexberga beside me, with Bertric's sword, that
had hung over his berth, in her hand; and her eyes were flashing,
and it seemed to me that she had used a sword before this, or had
learnt its use. It was reddened now.

The men gave back, and Egil came before me and he was laughing.

"That is enough, Redwald of Bures," he said. "I owe you a life, and
you have it. If all your charges are like that maiden we had better
begone. Little nunnery training is there about her sword play."

Then the sister shrank back into the cabin, and the men stared
after her with a kind of awe, as at a Valkyrie of the old faith who
had come to my help. There was a man whom she had smitten who was
binding up a wound in his bare forearm. I believe that she stayed a
shrewd blow from me.

"Let us go, Egil," I said.

"Presently, maybe. But I seek someone, and must needs see your
people. No harm shall come to them."

Then I thought that all was well, and I turned to the door and
spoke:

"Lady abbess, you must needs come forward. I know this chief, and
you need fear nought."

I heard Sister Sexberga's voice speaking low and pleadingly for a
moment--and then all was lost.

"I am the Queen of England," said Emma in her proud, shrill voice.
"Begone, churls, and let me not."

And bright in crimson and ermine she came from the cabin and stood
swaying on the deck before Egil and his men, while round her train
played heedlessly the ill-omened black kitten; and that seemed
strange.

Egil bared his head and bowed before her.

"Are you truly the queen?" he said.

"Aye, knave. Who else should I be?" she answered. "Fetch me the old
priest."

"Nay, Redwald will tell me now," Egil said. "Does this lady speak
truth?"

"It is true," I answered. "Why should you hinder her going to the
duke, her brother, who will seek her at your hands?"

Now Emma had been still during these words, looking with hard and
scornful eyes at all before her, but now she spoke:

"Let the sail be set again that I may go on my way. You shall
surely answer for this hindrance."

But no one stirred, though even the Danes were silent, for there is
that in the tones of one who is wont to be obeyed which makes men
listen whether they will or not.

"Do you hear me?" she said, stamping her foot.

"Redwald, see that I am obeyed. Drive these knaves into the sea,
and let me be rid of them."

Then Egil answered her, saving me trouble thereby, for I had nought
to say:

"Queen, we will do your bidding and hoist the sail. But my men and
I must bide here."

"I care not, so that you do not hinder my folk," she said.

And with that she turned away, saying to the brave sister who yet
stood beside her:

"Let us seek shelter again--the wind is cold, and I am offended
with the sight of these men."

They went into the cabin and closed the door after them, and Egil
and I looked at one another. Egil grinned, but I could not. Outside
the door the kitten mewed restlessly in the cold wind to be taken
in.

"So," he said, "cheer up. This is not your fault; you almost won
through. Had the queen come forth as an abbess, I think that I had
left you for very shame. Priests and black cats are aye unlucky
passengers, however."

I think that I was never so angry as then. To lose all our pains
for the safety of the queen, and that by reason of her own
foolishness, was hard.

Egil left me and went to Bertric; and once more the sail was set,
and the ship headed backward for the English coast. We had almost
lost sight of it. The two longships ranged up on either side of us,
shortening sail to keep us company.

They took the two men whom I had slain and set them forward under
some covering. Neither Egil nor his warriors bore me any grudge for
their fall, which was in fair fight of their own making. After that
Egil's men made the crew bring them what food and ale they had, and
sat down below the fore deck quietly enough. They were courtmen of
Jarl Thorkel's, as I thought, being better than the wild warriors
who made the bulk of Cnut's great host.

Elfric came to me when all was quiet thus, and leant on the rail
beside me for some time without speaking. We were making a long
slant over to the English coast, and my heart was full of heavy
thoughts, for I could not help wondering if this mischance had come
about by my fault; and I was angry and sore that all the plans that
I had made so confidently had come to naught. Presently the abbot
said:

"The queen takes this matter very easily."

"The trouble is to come," I answered; "she thinks that she is yet
on her journey."

"It is no fault of ours that she is not," said he. "Maybe it is
best thus. I suppose that she will understand how things are when
we reach the shore. What will be done with us?"

"Let us ask Egil," I said. "I think we might have fallen into worse
hands than his. It is in my mind that he likes not his errand."

So we went aft to the chief, who stood beside Bertric. And when I
came to him he said, pointing westward:

"Here comes Earl Wulfnoth, as I think."

Then I saw three large ships beating up to us, and the sail of one
bore, painted on it, the device of a fighting warrior, Earl
Wulfnoth's own ensign.

Now, on this I had a hope that we might be rescued by him, and my
face must have shown as much, while Elfric glanced at me with the
same thought written plainly in his eyes.

"I will not risk meeting the earl, though I do not think that he
will interfere with us," Egil said; "but we are to windward of him,
and can do as we like.

"Now, I have been wondering what I shall do with you, Redwald."

"Let me be taken with the queen and the athelings," I said. "What
will you do with them?"

"They must go to Cnut," he answered; "but I am thinking that that
will be bad for you."

"Why?"

"Maybe it is not my business, but I think that I owe you a good
turn for letting me off at Leavenheath. If I take you to Cnut,
Streone will have somewhat to say about you--and he is a great man
with our king just now."

"Well, what if he has. He knows me well enough, and cares nought
about me," I answered.

"Cares enough about you to have told Cnut to hang you as soon as he
gets you," Egil said. "I suppose you have offended him in some
way."

Then Elfric said:

"That is so. Redwald escaped from his hands at Stamford. We heard
many tales about it at Peterborough. They say that Eadmund the
Martyr came bodily and saved him out of a house beset by the earl's
men."

"If there is one dead man that we Danes have to fear, it is that
king," Egil said. "Is this tale true?"

And he stared at me as at one who had dealings with the other
world.

I knew that my story must have come into this shape through some
tales that the goldsmith had set about.

"Hardly," said I; "but it is a long story. Maybe Eadmund the Saint
had more to do with it than I know; but I saw him not."

"Well then, Redwald, it seems unsafe for you to go near Streone--"

"It will be unsafe for him," I said savagely, for my temper was
sorely tried by my failure, as I have said.

Egil laughed.

"Why, then, all the more must I keep you out of his way."

"Hang me and have done," I said; "I am of no more use."

"That," quoth Egil, "is what I thought concerning myself when you
had me down in the fight. Now I am here to let you go, and bid you
take heart. This is but chance of war, and one must take it as it
comes."

Now it was so plain that the honest chief wished me well, that I
could not but thank him for his words, though, indeed, just at this
time I seemed to care little for what became of me.

"You are a generous foe, Egil Thorarinsson," I said.

"You and I shall be good friends some day, as I hope," he said;
"meanwhile we will be fair foes. You slew me not, because I had
fallen more or less by chance. Therefore I will let you go because
you have fallen into my hands by chance. I will only lay this on
you, that you shall bide with Earl Wulfnoth for two months before
you fight against us again."

I was full of wonder at this, for he might well have made me
promise to take up arms against Cnut no more, and I could have done
no less than promise it, seeing that I was in his hands.

"Why, I must tie you down for a while," he said laughing at my face
of doubt.

"Nay, Egil, I do but wonder that you set me free at all," I said.

"Is that so? I have wondered that you slew me not in the heat of
battle. Well, I will add this, that if we fall on Earl Wulfnoth you
may fight for him."

I held out my hand, and Egil took it.

"You have my word, Egil; you are most generous," I said.

Then he glanced at sword Foe's Bane.

"Some day you and I, maybe, will have a good fight for your sword
in all friendliness," he said.

"Surely I thought you would take it back," I cried. "I feared so,
for it was my father's sword."

"Aha! I knew there was somewhat strange about that blade," he said.
"Tell me what story it has."

I told him in a few words about the winning of the sword from the
grave mound by Thorgeir, my grandfather, and asked Egil how he came
by it.

"I bought it from a man after Nacton fight, and I have never had
any luck with it. I was sure it was a magic sword of some sort; for
it let go three men whom I should surely have slain with any other
blade. It seemed to turn in my hand. Such swords as these will not
be used by any other than he who can win them from the owner."

"Ottar, Olaf's scald, said that it would draw the holder to me," I
said; "but I would not believe it."

"You English have forgotten the old sayings," Egil said. "Now you
know that he is right; keep the sword therefore."

Then I said:

"If I must die a bed death, Egil, the sword shall be sent to you,
for I think that you have the most claim to it."

He grew red with pleasure at my saying, and Elfric broke in on our
talk.

"I would that I might see many more meetings of brave foes like
this. Then would peace come very shortly."

"Why, father," said Egil, "Redwald and I have not any hate for each
other, though we must fight on opposite sides."

"That is well. I would that it were ever so."

Then Egil changed his tone, for we were nearing shore. The ships he
had seen were still far away, beating southward now.

"Are these maidens nuns, or but in disguise, father?" he said.

Elfric answered not at once, and I said:

"Three are nuns, two only are disguised. You will not take the
queen's maidens from her?"

"Not I," he answered. "I think that even with the abbot's help and
theirs I shall have trouble enough with the queen when she finds
that the shore we reach is not Normandy."

"Shall you take me?" asked Elfric.

"I must take all but my own friend here, and the three holy women;
I will not hinder them. They can find shelter in Selsea or
Chichester--a nun has always friends and a house--if Redwald will
see them safely to the door," Egil said very kindly.

Then he bade the men get out the boat, which was a good one, and
fitted for carrying cargo from ship to shore. Two of Bertric's men
were to go ashore with me and the nuns, taking messages also to the
Bosham folk of what had befallen the ship.

"You will scare the wife if you say you have fallen into the hands
of the Danes," Egil said laughing at the shipmaster.

"It is the truth," Bertric said stoutly. "'Tis the doing of yon
cat."

"You shall come to no harm with us, and your ship shall come back
to Bosham shortly. We have no war with your earl, and all will be
well. Tell them, therefore, that it is thus. King Cnut is generous
to all who fight not against him."

When I heard that I began to see why our people went over to his
side so readily, and it seemed to me that he was fighting not only
with sword, but also with policy.

"Now call your nuns, father," Egil said.

"May I have one word with Redwald first?" the abbot asked.

"Tell him what you will," Egil answered, and went forward.

He called one of the priests and told him to bid the three nuns
come forth.

Then Elfric said to me:

"Two of these women are nuns, the third, she who stood by you so
well even now--saving your life, moreover--is not. She is the
orphan daughter of a thane, whom her guardians begged me to take to
Normandy, finding her a place in the queen's household or in some
convent, if that might not be. She is friendless. But I think she
may as well go with the nuns to Selsea. Bid her wait there till she
hears from me--unless some lady will take pity on her and give her
shelter."

"She will be more likely to take the vows, as have so many maidens
of today who are in her case," I said. "I will do all for the nuns
and her that I can."

The three sisters came out now. Two were weeping, and they were the
nuns. The third was flushed and looked troubled, and she cast a
glance back into the dark cabin. I heard the queen's voice speaking
fast to her, as it would seem, and she shrank away as if dreading
it.

Elfric went to meet them, and then the queen herself came through
the cabin door stooping, for it was not high.

"This is your doing," she said to the abbot. "Am I to be left
without any attendants?"

"My queen," the good man said, "we can take the sisters no further
with us. They must go ashore."

The queen looked at the coast, which was plain enough now. It was
certain that she had no knowledge that we were returning to
England. That the ship was on another tack meant nothing to her.

"Why cannot they bide here and go on land with me? We cannot be
more than an hour in reaching the harbour," and she pointed to
Selsea.

"Tell her, father, I pray you," said the maiden in a low voice.
"She believes that we are even now nearing her home."

Then I thought that this might come more easily from myself, seeing
that Elfric had to stay with her, and I stood before her, and
spoke.

"My Queen, that is not the Norman shore which you see. The Danes,
into whose hands we have fallen, are taking us back to England."

As I said this, the queen's face grew white with rage, and she
looked from Elfric to me, speechless. On the deck above stood Egil,
and he caught my eye, and looked ruefully at us.

"What!" she said, "has Cnut bought you also? Is there no man whom I
can trust?"

That was the most cruel thing that she could have said, but I knew
what despair might lie behind her anger, and I answered
nothing--nor did Elfric. We waited for the storm to pass.

"Ill it was that Ethelred trusted me to your hands--" she began
again.

But there was one who would not bear this. The friendless maiden
spoke plainly for us.

"Queen," she said, "I have borne your reproaches to myself in
silence, but I cannot bear that these brave servants of yours
should be blamed. Look at the abbot's torn and dusty robes, look at
the thane's care-worn face--are they in the plight of men who are
bribed?"

But the queen made no answer, and her face was like stone as she
looked on none of us, gazing straight before her.

"What lies on yonder deck?" the girl went on, pointing to where the
two bodies lay under their covering. "It is the thane's sword and
risk of life that stayed them from laying hands on you. Does a
bought man slay his buyers?"

Still the queen was silent, and then I said:

"I think that you misjudge us, my queen. Had we wished to betray
you it would have been long ere this that the Danes would have been
summoned to take you."

I do not think that she heard me, and I am glad, for I spoke in
anger. I saw her lean against the bulkhead, and her hand sought her
heart, and she reeled a little. The maiden sprang forward to
support her, for it seemed as if she would fall. But she recovered
in a moment, and shook herself free of the girl's clasp.

"I am wrong, good friends," she said. "Now I know from what you
have shielded me all this long journey through. What will they do
with me?"

And she began to weep silently, yet she would not let the maiden
touch her.

Elfric spoke then in his gentle voice.

"We cannot blame you, my queen, for the blow is heavy; yet the
chief who has taken us is a true warrior and kindly, you need fear
nought."

Then came Egil from the fore deck, and bowed to the queen, and
said:

"I must take you to Cnut the king, lady; and his commands are that
you are to be treated as becomes the sister of Duke Richard. I am
here to see that it is so."

Then the queen's mood changed, and she was once more herself.

"You shall answer to my brother for all you do," she said in her
proud way.

"I have to answer to Jarl Thorkel and to King Cnut," Egil said
simply. "The duke is no lord of mine."

Thereat the queen paid no sort of heed to him, but spoke to me.

"I will tell my brother hereafter of your great care for me, my
thane. Why must you leave me now?"

Surely I should have asked Egil to let me stay, but he knew best
what was safe for me.

"I will not take either thane or nuns, lady," he said. "They must
leave you even now; time is short."

She glanced coldly at the chief, and answered him by speaking to
me. She had brought herself now to see that she was powerless.

"Then I must say farewell, Redwald. In better days I will not
forget your service," and then she smiled a little, and gave me her
hand to kiss as I knelt before her, adding: "I think that I have
been an ill-natured travelling companion at times."

Then she turned away quickly and sought the cabin. But she said no
word to the maiden who had made the journey lighter to her, and I
saw that this grieved her sorely.

Now I took hasty leave of Elfric and the athelings, and sad was I
at parting with them. But I told Eadward that Egil was worthy of
his charge, and a generous foe.

"You will not blame me that this matter has failed even at the
last, my prince," I said.

"Not I, Redwald, good friend; you and I will laugh over it at some
time hereafter," the atheling said.

I shook my head.

"It has been waste trouble and pains," I said sorrowfully.

"That it has not been," quoth Elfric. "No duty well and truly done
is lost in the end, though it may seem to be so at the time. I
shall remember my guardian in this journey all my life long, and
the queen shall remember presently. You have been most patient.
Lose not patience now. Be of good cheer rather that things are none
so ill as they might be."

So the good man strove to hearten me, for I thought meanly enough
of myself at that time, because I had been so certain that all was
well, and now my pride was humbled. Maybe it was good for me that
this should be so, but good things are passing bitter if all are
like this. Lastly, he gave me his blessing, and I joined the
sisters in the boat, and she was cast off, while at that moment the
black kitten came to the rail and leapt in after us, which I liked
not at all.

Then the great ship slipped away, her helm went down, and she
headed away out to sea to escape a meeting with Godwine's vessels
that had now gone about for the shore again, beating to windward
for Bosham. As she passed us I saw the abbot and Eadward wave to us
from the fore deck, and Egil lifted his hand in salute from beside
Bertric at the helm.

Then they were gone beyond our reach, and we could no longer make
them out. Our rowers were bending to their oars, and the boat was
making good way enough, shoreward.

I do not know how I can say enough of Egil's friendliness to me,
for I found my armour on the floor of the boat alongside the few
things the poor women had. Helm and shield and axe too were there.
He was as one of the heroes, of whom Ottar sang, in his way to me.
Then I grew light hearted in that strange way that comes after long
strain of fearing the worst, when the worst is known and it is not
so terrible after all. I had no fear for the queen, and I was free,
and going to Godwine and his father who were my friends. Also I
should see Penhurst and Relf again, most likely.

Now when that memory came to me, suddenly I thought that I must see
Sexberga. And it was strange to me that I had no pleasure in that
thought. Most of all I hoped that Olaf would put in at Pevensea on
his way to Normandy. It was likely enough.

So I sat and pondered, not sadly, but looking forward ever, and, as
I say, feeling that a load was lifted from me. Then at last my
thoughts came back from myself, and I turned to the sisters and
told them that the queen was safe, if a prisoner. They need not
grieve for her. The two nuns wept, but the thane's daughter smiled
a little, and said, fondling the cat meanwhile on her lap:

"In truth, I think that the queen will be happier in making Egil
and his Danes obey her in little services than she has been in
having to be guided by yourself and the abbot."

"It has been hard for her," I answered; "but she owes you much, as
I think."

"She hates me," the girl said, half tearfully, "because I was the
only one who dared speak plainly to her."

"Elfric and I owe you much, Sister Sexberga," said I, naming her as
I had thought of her through all the journey, because I recalled so
many times when we had looked to her for help in persuading the
queen to common sense,

She looked astonished at this, and smiled oddly, and then I saw
what I had done.

"Forgive me," I said hastily; "I know not your name. That is what I
ever called you to myself when I had to think of you in ordering
matters."

"Why 'Sexberga'?" she said, looking out seawards.

"Truly I thought you like a lady of that name whom I knew. But now
the likeness is gone," I said.

"Maybe I ought to be proud thereof," she said coldly enough.

"I will not say that," I answered. "Let me know your name that I
may remember it."

"My name is Uldra," she said, without looking at me, and flushing a
little, and then busying herself with the kitten's ears.

"That is a Norse name, lady," said I.

"Aye--and a heathen one. But it is the best I have."

Then I said, feeling that I could not say aright what I would:

"Lady Uldra, I have to thank you for saving my life today. Yours
was a brave deed."

She shivered a little, at the thought of what she had done, as I
think, for the heat of anger had gone.

"I am glad I was of use," she answered. "What are we to do when we
come to land?"

"I will take you and the sisters to the great nunnery that good St.
Wilfrith founded. There you will be welcomed."

So I said, but as I looked at her I thought what a prison the
nunnery would be to such a maiden as this. Yet it was all that
could be done.

"That will be peaceful," she said, but the tears seemed close at
hand.

Now one of the men spoke to the other, looking back over his
shoulder at him, and then when he was answered he turned to me.

"Master," he said, "tide serves ill for Selsea, and it will be easy
for us to go straight up the haven to Bosham. The flood tide is
strong in with us. May we do so?"

"Is there any nunnery there?" I asked.

"Why, yes, master--a little one."

There too was Wulfnoth's great house, where I should be welcome, as
I knew. So I asked the sisters if this would suit them.

"One place is as another to us," they replied.

So we went on up the haven, and it was a long pull, so that it was
late in the afternoon when we came in sight of the town.

Now I had said no more to Uldra about ourselves--save for a few
words concerning sea and tides and the like--but had tried to cheer
her, and myself also, by speaking of how Cnut would treat the
queen--namely, that it was most likely to be in high honour, lest
the duke should fall on him.

But as we sighted our journey's end, I bethought myself.

"Lady," I said, "is there aught that I can do for you in sending
messages to your folk? There will be chapmen and the like going
Londonwards shortly, when the siege is over."

"I have no friends there," she said.

"You shall bid me do what you will for you when I am free to go to
our king again," said I. "There will be some who would know where
you are and how you fare."

She thanked me, saying nothing but that when the time came, if I
yet remembered her and would ask her, she might give me messages
for those at Peterborough whom she had left, and I promised to do
all I could in bearing them.

"I cannot forget the maiden who saved my life," I said.

She made no answer, and the boat shot alongside the little wharf,
where a crowd was gathering quickly to see us come. Many questions
there were when Bertric's men were known.

There was a kindly-looking monk among his people, and I went to
him, and brought him to the nuns where they and Uldra stood apart
by themselves, while the two men were busy with their folk.

"Pax vobiscum," he said; "you shall be welcome, my sisters, at our
little nunnery for tonight. Then will we ask the bishop on the
morrow what you had better do."

Then they were eager to go with him, and I bade them farewell,
bowing, and they turned away. They might say nothing, according to
their rule, Elfric told me, save in need.

Neither did Uldra speak, though no vow of silence was on her, but
she went with them for a little way. I was rather hurt at this, and
began to go back to the boat, wondering that she had no word of
farewell.

"Redwald--thane," came a gentle call in her voice, and I turned
sharply.

She was close to me, and the sisters were waiting for her twenty
paces or so away.

"Farewell," she said. "I could but thank you for all your care for
us."

"It has been freely given, lady," I said. "I only grieve that the
journey has ended thus. May it be well with you."

"I will pray for you, thane, day and night in the nunnery that it
may be so with you," she answered, with a little sort of choking.
"The gratitude of us helpless women to you for your long patience
is more than we can say."

Then she went swiftly back to the nuns, and they went their way. I
thought that I had not deserved so much. And of this I was sure,
that had not the sisters' dress kept me far from Uldra, I had
forgotten Hertha in her company. Then thought I that there was no
reason why I should remember Hertha any longer. And next, that it
were better that I should think of no maiden at all, at this time.

Which last seemed wisest, and so I grew discontented, and went down
to the boat and bade the men take my arms and few belongings to
Earl Wulfnoth's house.

When I came there the steward knew me, and made me very welcome.
The earl was at Pevensea or Shoreham, but Godwine was in and out of
the haven, and would be here ere long. So they told me, and set a
good meal before me. And when I had eaten I lay down on a settle
and slept the long sleep that comes to one wearied in mind and body
alike. If the house had burnt over my head I should not have waked,
for others watched now, and I had no need to wake for aught.

A man knows those things in his sleep, I verily believe. One ill
dream I had, and that was of Bertric's unlucky kitten, which seemed
to be the queen in some uncanny way. Sometimes I wonder what became
of it. I never learned, but it brought me no more ill luck.



Chapter 12: Among Friends.


When I woke it was daylight again. A fire burnt on the hearth in
the middle of the hall, and someone had spread a wolf-skin rug over
me. I had not moved from sunset to sunrise, and I was refreshed and
broad awake at once, wondering at first where I was, and who had
laughed and woke me.

There was a youth sitting on a table's edge by the wall over
against where I lay, and a big broad-shouldered man leant on it
with folded arms beside him, and at first I stared at them till my
thoughts came back, and they laughed at me again, and then I knew
Godwine and Relf the thane, who had but just come up from their
ship to find me.

"On my word," said Godwine, "here is a man who could teach one how
to sleep! We have sat here and talked about you for ten minutes or
more."

"Redwald sleeps as though he had lost time to make up," said Relf.
"Welcome back to us, anyway."

"Aye--welcome you are," said Godwine warmly, "but how did you come
here?"

I got up and took their hands, rejoicing to see them. It was good
to be among friends again after the long watching and many dangers.
Then came the steward followed by his men with a mighty breakfast,
and as he set the tables on the high place, Godwine's men trooped
in. They had had to wait for the morning tide into the haven, and
the ship was just berthed.

"Food first," Relf advised. "Then shall Redwald tell us all he
knows."

So by and by we sat in the morning sunlight in the courtyard, and I
told them all that had happened from beginning to end. They knew no
more than that Ethelred was dead, and that Cnut was besieging
London.

"We tried to chase those Danes because they had got our man's
ship," said Godwine. "When we got near enough, for they came down
wind and passed us before long, we found that Bertric was contented
enough, running up his own flag, and the Danes did not stay to
fight. So we came home, only losing our tide by the delay."

"What would you have done had you known that the queen was on
board, and a prisoner?" I asked.

"Why, nothing more than we have done," Godwine said. "My father
hates Emma the cat as bitterly as he does Streone the fox, which is
saying a good deal. The cat's claws are clipped now, maybe."

Well, I knew this, and said nothing. One could expect no more from
Earl Wulfnoth's son. Nor do I think that any loved Emma the queen
much. One may know how a person is thought of by the way in which
folk name them often enough, and though our king would have had his
young wife called by her English name, Elfgiva, none ever did so.
Her Norman, foreign name was all we used. If she had been loved, we
should have rejoiced to name her in our own way.

Then Godwine said:

"You have had an ill time with Emma, as I think, if she is all that
my father says."

"Nay, Godwine," said Relf, "Redwald will not bear much of this. He
is the queen's faithful servant, and will have nought against her,
and he is right."

"So he is, and I am wrong," said the lad at once. "Forgive me,
friend; I did not think."

Then I laughed, and turned it off. Godwine was only too right, but
I could not say so. Now, however, I may say that the memory of Emma
the queen's ways is to me as a nightmare.

"I would that I could meet with this Egil," Godwine said as I gave
him sword Foe's Bane to handle; and then he forgot all else in the
beauty of the weapon.

"What have you done with the brave maiden?" Relf asked me now.

"She is in the nunnery here," I said. "She is friendless, having no
folk of her own nearer than Peterborough."

"That is far off," said Relf, and began to think, twisting his
beard as was his wont when pondering somewhat weighty.

Now, before he had made up his mind to say any more, Godwine was
ready to hear about the winning back of the sword, and of the
fights in Ulfkytel's land, and then a man came from the ships with
some business, and he went away with him. And by that time Relf had
somewhat to say.

"Penhurst is a lonesome place, and it will be worse for my wife
when Sexberga is gone," he said musingly.

"Why, where is your daughter going?" I asked him.

He looked at me sidewise for a moment, and I thought that his face
fell a little. Then he said:

"Going to be wedded shortly."

"That is well," I said. "To whom?"

Then the thane turned fairly round on me with wide eyes, and a
blank fear fell on me that he meant that I was to wed her. Yet
surely the lady had told him that I was betrothed.

"Ho!" he said; "did you not know that? Methought everyone did."

That was worse, and I knew not what he looked for from me.

"I have been away; I have heard nought," I answered lamely enough.

"Oh, aye; so you have," he said. "Truly, I forgot that. We quiet
people fancy that all the world knows our affairs. And it was in my
mind that you had a tenderness that way yourself. I knew not how
you would take it."

Then we both laughed, but it was not a hearty laughter, for each
feared the other a little, as it seemed.

"I am glad for Sexberga, if she is happy," said I.

"Why, now, that is well," said Relf. "I had thought that I must
break this matter gently to you."

"Maybe you would have had to do so had I bided at Penhurst much
longer," said I truly enough.

"All the same, Redwald, I wish it were you, on my faith," said the
thane, growing red in his earnestness.

"Thanks therefor," said I. "It is good to hear you say so; but I am
a landless warrior in bad luck, and so it is better as it is. Who
is the man of Sexberga's choice?"

"Eldred of Dallington," said he. "A good youth enough, and with
lands enough. He has never seen a fight, though," and then he
turned on me suddenly, putting his hand on mine. "I could have
sworn, lad, that you were fond of the girl. Tell me if it is so,
and Eldred shall go down the wind like a strayed hawk, for all I
care."

I shook my head, but it came over me for a moment that I wished I
might recall the wandering fancies of the winter days in
Penhurst--but that passed, and I was lonely in heart.

"Nay, thane, that is not so. My sword here is all that I love next
to my king and Olaf my cousin--and Relf the thane. I have no love
for any maiden, nor could Sexberga think twice of me."

"If you had bided a little longer. Well, then, no hearts are
broken, or so much as awry, and that is well. So, as I was saying,
Penhurst will be lonely directly, and already I love this maiden
with the outland name for saving you. How would she take it if we
gave her shelter with us? I am going back home in a day or two, and
you must come with me."

The good thane spoke fast, being easier in his mind, as it seemed,
on one point, and not willing to make any show of generosity on the
other.

"That is a kind thought of yours," I said, being very glad, and not
less so that I could not help rejoicing that I should see more of
Uldra.

"I wonder what my wife would say?" he said thoughtfully.

"If I know aught of her kindness, and I think that I have proved it
well," answered I, "she will be glad to help this orphan maiden."

"Let us go and see her, and ask her to come, therefore," said Relf,
rising up. "I want to thank her, moreover, for saving you."

I was nowise loath, and so we went along under the trees towards
the nunnery. And as we went Relf talked of Eldred, the Thane of
Dallington, and the wedding that was to come. And all the while I
believe that he was troubling about two things that were mixed in
his mind--fear that I was set aside by Sexberga, and a wish that I
had been the bridegroom.

Then we knocked on the great door, and he was silent until a sister
looked through the little barred square wicket in the midst of it.

"We would speak with the Lady Uldra," I said. "I am the thane who
brought her ashore."

The sister said nought, but shut the wicket door, and left us. We
heard her steps retreating across the little courtyard, and she
shut a door after her somewhere else. Then all was quiet.

"What does that mean?" Relf said.

"That we have to wait," said I "that is all. It is the way in which
they treat folk at these places. They would do the same if the
queen came. She has gone to her Superior."

"What would Emma say?" chuckled Relf, looking slyly at me.

"One cannot say much to an iron-barred oak door."

"But there are thanes and such-like left outside," he said,
laughing more yet. "Now Godwine is not here, I dare say that you
have felt, more than once, the queen's tongue for nought."

"I will deny it," said I, "to anyone but Elfric the abbot," whereat
he laughed till the tears came into his eyes. He had known our
queen in the old days before Streone's treachery.

I was glad that the wicket flew open again. Relf stayed his
laughter in a moment, and became very grave.

"What would she say now?" he whispered.

"Enough," I said, for the sister, having seen that we waited,
unbarred the gate and let us in. Then she pointed to a door on our
right, and went away.

I took Relf's arm and led him to this door--for he was going to
follow the sister--and we opened it. It led into a small
high-roofed chamber, that had a great crucifix painted in bright
colours on the east wall, and pictured legends on the rest, between
high narrow windows.

But there stood Uldra, no longer in convent dress, but in some robe
of dark blue and crimson that became her well, so that at first I
hardly knew her, for now for the first time I saw her bright brown
hair that the novice's hood had hidden from me. I could not say
that Uldra was fair as Sexberga to look on, but, as ever, I thought
that her face was the sweetest that I had seen in all my life.

I was a little abashed before this grave and stately maiden, who
was the same, and yet not the same, as she who had been through so
much danger and trial with me, and I could not find a word to say
at first. Nor could she, as it seemed, and so we looked at one
another until she smiled. It was only for a moment, however, for
when her face lighted up thus, Relf found his voice and spoke.

"I have come to thank you, lady, for saving my comrade's life
yesterday," he said, taking her hand and kissing it. "I had lost a
good friend but for you, he tells me."

"But for the thane, your friend, I know not what would have become
of us," she answered. "The thanks are from me to him, rather."

"Yet I think that I owe you somewhat," Relf said, "and now I am
minded to try to show that I would thank you in deed, and not in
word only."

He paused, and Uldra looked at me as if asking if I could throw any
light on this stranger's meaning.

"Relf, the Thane of Penhurst, is he who gave me shelter and care
when I was hurt in a fight and a flood last winter," I said. "He
has indeed been a good friend to me."

"Not I," said Relf; "you fought for me. It was my wife and
Sexberga, my daughter, who tended you."

Now at that name, which she already knew, the maiden looked quickly
away from me, and a little flush began to creep up into her face,
with pleasure as it would seem.

"I have heard of your daughter Sexberga already," she said to Relf
with a little smile.

"Why, that is well," he said. "Now, after her wedding my wife will
be sorely lost for want of a companion, and I would ask you to come
home to Penhurst with us, and bide there until you may seek your
friends again--or as long as you wish. And glad shall we be of your
help at the wedding feast."

So he spoke cheerfully, trying to make all the honour come from
her, as kindness to himself and his wife. But though the tears came
into Uldra's eyes at the good thane's plain meaning, she was silent
yet, save that she said:

"I know not how to thank you for your goodwill to me."

"Nay," he said; "but my wife will blame me if you come not. 'Here,'
she will say, 'is the companion whom I needed, and a friend of our
Redwald's, moreover, and you have not brought her.' I pray you,
come with us. Do you ask her, Redwald; I am rough, and you are
courtly."

Then I said:

"Lady, this is all that Elfric would wish for you. I cannot tell
you of the great kindness that is waiting for you in the thane's
home."

And for answer she turned away and began to weep, and Relf could
bear that not at all, and he went to her and put his arm round her,
as he would have done to Sexberga, and tried to reassure her.

"Why," he said, "here is nought to weep about, maiden. Maybe we are
homely people, but I think that you may learn to be happier in
freedom with us than here. Nay, but weep not so bitterly, you shall
be as our daughter to us if you will, for Redwald's life's sake.
Aye, you shall have Sexberga's own chamber and all that--"

But still Uldra wept, and I was unhappy to see her do so. This
could not be all for sudden relief from doubt as I had thought at
first.

Then she took herself gently from the thane's arm, and dried her
eyes, and clasped her hands tightly before her, and said:

"I cannot say how I thank you; but I must bide here."

"This is a cold place," said the thane. "It is no home for you."

"I think it will be so in the end," she said very sadly.

And I tried hard to think of somewhat to say that might persuade
her, but there was that meaning in her voice that seemed to stay
whatever came to me. I thought that she had made up her mind to
take the veil, and there are few things that will turn a maiden
from that when once she has chosen it.

Then said Relf:

"Maybe I ask you too suddenly, lady. Let us leave it till tomorrow,
and I pray you think with all kindness of the matter, for I shall
be sorely grieved if you will not come."

And I said the same as well as I could, but though she promised to
give her answer in the morning, it was plain to me that it would be
even as she said now.

Then we took our leave of her, and found our way out of the place,
somewhat down-hearted. The door was bolted after us, though I do
not know who did it, or whence the portress watched our going. And
it was dismal to hear the great bars jarring in their sockets.

"Poor maid," said Relf. "Why does she choose such a prison?"

"Those dismal nuns have talked her into it," said I angrily.

"Maybe. It is a way they have," the thane said. "'Come in here!'
said the rat in the trap to the rat outside, 'one is safe from the
cat behind these bars.'"

So we walked on for a little, and then he said:

"How did she hear of Sexberga? I thought you had had no speech with
her on the journey."

"Nor had I," I answered. "I thought she was another silent nun. But
I thought she was like Sexberga, and so I called her Sister
Sexberga to myself, giving her a name in my thoughts. Then in the
boat it slipped out unawares when I had to speak to her, and she
asked to be told why I called her so."

"As much like Sexberga as you are like Godwine, which is not at
all," said Relf laughing. "Was she pleased?"

"Why, I think not," I answered.

"How much more about Sexberga did you tell her?" he asked.

"Nothing, there was no need."

Then Relf began to chuckle to himself, and I could not tell why.
But presently he said:

"Did you give the sisters names likewise?"

"Yes, I did. I do not think I should have cared to say what they
were," I answered, laughing also.

He said no more about this, and we came to the hall, and then went
to find Godwine at the ships. But I could not but feel disappointed
that Uldra would not come with us. And that was not all for her own
sake, as I found when I came to turn over my thoughts a little. I
would fain see more of the maiden who had borne peril so well, and
had stood so bravely at my side.

Now when Godwine heard how our errand had failed, he laughed at
Relf's downcast looks and said, scanning my weatherbeaten and
forest-worn garments:

"Maidens love to see warriors go in bright array. She is tired of
those old weeds of Redwald's. We must fit him out afresh in the
morning, and then she will listen maybe."

He was so pleased with this boyish wisdom of his own, being fully
persuaded that he was right, that he and I must ride together to
Chichester with morning light, and find new gear for me.

"We roll in riches since you fell into the pit," he said, when I
would pay for what I had with my last piece of gold. "And you must
keep that one; there are more due to you yet as I think."

Nor would he be denied in this, and it is not a warrior's part to
take an earl's gifts grudgingly. And when I fairly shone in bright
array from head to foot, he must needs add a wonderful round
brooch, silver and gold wrought, with crimson garnets at the ends
and in the spaces of the arms of a cross of inlaid pearl and
enamel, such as one seldom sees.

"It is a Kentish brooch," he said, "so shall men know that you are
a friend of the earls of Kent and Sussex."

That was an earl's giving indeed, but Godwine is ever open handed,
and I am not alone in learning how he will give.

"Now we must go back, and you shall seek this damsel again since
old Relf is so set thereon. As for you, it is likely that you have
had trouble enough with her already, and will care little if she
will not come," he said, and looked me over from head to foot as we
stood outside the chapman's house in the wide place where the four
roads cross in Chichester town.

"My faith!" he added, "I believe that even Emma the Cat would mind
what you told her now!"

"Lord earl," said I, "you will make me vain."

"Earl, forsooth!" he cried, "the clothes have made you mighty
courtly all at once. Godwine and Redwald are going back to Bosham,
and the earl bides at Chichester Cross--mind you that!"

And he swung himself on his horse laughing, and we rode away, while
the people shouted, for they had gathered in twos and threes to
look on him.

Now when we came back to the great house, there was Relf sitting on
the bench where we had sat yesterday, and he looked as if he had
had good news.

"Now, thane," said Godwine, "here is a new messenger to your
sorrowful damsel."

Relf stared at me and laughed, and when I got off my horse Godwine
would have us go at once. So Relf took my arm and we went, while
the young earl joked us till we were out of hearing.

"Now," said the thane, "we will not spoil the earl's jest, but must
even let him think that all has been his doing thus."

"Why, he will see us start for Penhurst, and if Uldra is not
there--"

"Aye, but she will be. She is coming gladly," Relf said.

"How is this?" I asked.

"Just that I have been to see the maiden while you were gone, and I
spoke to her as to a daughter, and so she is coming."

"You would not wait for me, then?" I said, being glad that he had
managed without me, as things had turned out.

"Methought I could do better alone. The girl would say more to me
than if you were there, perhaps. Moreover, I had a notion why she
would not come, and I wanted to ask her if I was right. And I was."

"I thought of that," said I; "she was in the same plight as myself
until Godwine decked me out thus. Women think more of their attire
than we."

The thane chuckled in his quiet way.

"Why, perhaps that had somewhat to do with it, but I did not ask
her, I forgot. But I did tell the old Lady Superior to do so, and
gave her withal to care for the maiden."

Then I said:

"It is well that you persuaded her; maybe I should have been in the
way. I should have lost my tongue again, I think."

"Well, yes," said Relf, still laughing to himself, "it was you who
were in the way; however, as you say, all is well, and she rides
with us tomorrow. We will go and find a mule or a good forest pony
for her, and so tell Godwine that the clothes have done it."

Now I never thought that there was anything more behind the thane's
words, for of all things that had made my soul weary in these last
weeks the complaints of Emma the queen about her dress had been the
worst. So this seemed to me to be quite enough to explain Uldra's
first refusal, and though I believe that Relf had been on the point
of telling me more, he forbore, and let this suffice.

Relf knew where to look for a beast, and we soon had a good bay
pony, that was quiet enough and strong, sent to Godwine's stables.
And then Relf told the earl what he had done.

"Then I was right," said Godwine gleefully. "I will warrant that
you two wise heads would never have thought thereof."

"Are you coming with us?" I asked him, for I did not care to have
to find answers to many questions about our speech with Uldra, as
things were.

"I am coming by sea presently with two ships," he said. "I shall
wait till Bertric comes back, and so maybe shall have news of your
queen to tell you. He should not be long. Relf goes back for the
early hay time, he says, but I believe that he is tired of the
sea."

"I am no sailor, lord," the thane said.

"As any of my crew will tell you," Godwine said merrily.

"Never, Redwald, was any man so undone as Relf when there is a
little sea on. A common forest deer thief could tie him up."

"I should have thanked one for slaying me at times," said Relf
grimly. "I prefer solid ground to shifty deck planks."

So whether it was love of home or loathing of sea that took him
back to Penhurst, Relf and I left Godwine on the next morning; and
at the nunnery door waited Uldra, looking bright and cheerful and
greeting us gladly as we came. And it seemed to me that her
troubles had passed from her, and that she was indeed glad to be
leaving the walls of the place that was so prison-like.

Now that was a fair and pleasant ride over the Downs and among the
forest paths through Sussex, and I look back on it as the brightest
time that I had had in all the long years of trouble. The joy of
going back to my old home at Bures had been clouded with the
knowledge of loss, and with the sight of the trail of war. But here
were none of these things.

We rode with twenty housecarles of Relf's behind us, and it was a
new thing to me that I should see the wayside folk run out into the
trackway to see us pass; that the farm thralls in the fields should
but rise up, straightening stiffened backs and laughing, and stay
their work for a moment to watch us; that no man who met us should
ask with anxious face, "What news of the Danes?"

New it was, and most pleasant to Uldra also, for she had come
through all the harried land, where the click of steel or the glint
of armour had bidden the poor folk fly in terror, so that one rode
through silent and deserted villages, and past farms where nought
but the dogs told of life about the place. And that was what I had
seen over all England since Swein of Denmark landed, so long ago.
Men will hardly believe it now. Relf could hardly believe us as we
told him. Yet today, were I to ride into an East Saxon village
shouting "The Danes!" there are men who would cast down tools and
all else that they were busied with, and clutch at the weapons that
rust on the wall before thought could come to them. For the terror
of these years cannot pass from England yet while any man is alive
who knew it.

Now there was another pleasure for me, and that was to watch Uldra
growing brighter and happier day by day. It was wonderful to me to
see this, and with me she was ever frank and open, never wearying
of speaking of our former journey and its troubles, for we could
smile at them now. And Relf grew very fond of her in those few
days, as one might see. Nor do I know how anyone could help doing
so. Even the rough housecarles would watch for a chance of doing
some little service for her.

And yet, as I have said, Uldra was not the fairest maiden that I
had seen. Men are apt to think that the fairest must ever be the
best, and a man learns that it is not so only by degrees, maybe.
And when I looked on Uldra's face it began to seem to me the best
that could be, and ever to me it would seem that I knew it well.
For some look of hers that should be new to me was not new--I had
expected it in some way, and should have wondered not to see it
cross her face. And so in gesture and in word also. So that she
seemed already well known to me, and why this was I could not say,
and at times it troubled me as puzzling things will. But, all the
same, I loved to find myself so puzzled.

Thus, by the time we came over the great spur of the Downs that
ends in Beachy Head, and looked over all Pevensea level to the
Penhurst woods and hills beyond, I and Uldra were very good
friends, and Relf was pleased that it should be so, and rode
between us in high content.

It was midday when we passed the last hill of the Downs where the
mighty giant lies like a shadow on the grass by Wilmington; then we
saw the gray castle where Wulfnoth bided, away to our right; and
then along the steep ridge inland and down to Boreham, where I must
tell the maiden of the great sea wave, and how Olaf saved me. And
so we came to Penhurst in its valley among the trees, and the ride
was over.

Now there is no need to say what welcome was at that house, whether
for its lord, or for the warrior who had been nursed back to life
there, or for the new-come homeless maiden. Relf was not wrong when
he told her that she should be as a daughter in the house.

Some of the men had ridden on, so that the homecoming feast should
be spread for us, and there was the lady at the courtyard gates,
and with her Sexberga, and a tall, handsome young thane, whom I
knew for Eldred of Dallington; and there was Father Anselm, and
Spray the smith, and many more whose faces I was glad to see again.

And among all those faces were nought but welcoming looks--save
from one only. I did not note this, being taken up with watching
how they greeted Uldra, for that seemed to me to be the only thing
that I cared about. If I had any thought of Sexberga now, it was as
if she had been my sister, and I hoped that she would be pleased
with the maiden who was thus brought to her unlooked for. I need
have troubled nought about that, however, for she and her mother
were alike in many things, and if I was sure of the one, so might I
have been of the other in all that had to do with kindness.

But if I had looked beyond Sexberga to where her young thane stood
I should have met with a black scowl enough, though I could not
have told why this should be his greeting for me. I had but seen
him once before, and that was at Earl Wulfnoth's feast to Olaf when
we first came.

That was an evening to be remembered as most pleasant when, after
the feast, we sat and spoke of all that had happened since I left
Penhurst. I told them all the tale of warfare, and of Olaf's deeds,
and of the winning back of my sword, and how that helped our
meeting with Egil.

And when Spray the smith, who sat listening, with the other men in
the hall below the high place, heard of that escape from the Danes,
he said, without ceremony:

"Master, well I knew that you would never be cast into prison."

"That was a saying of yours, Spray," said I. "May the luck last."

Then Uldra would tell the story of our journey in her way, and my
name came pretty often into her tale. So, looking about the hall
while she spoke, my eyes lit on Eldred, and it seemed that he was
ill at ease, and displeased with somewhat. I thought that he would
rather be sitting nearer Sexberga, maybe, and troubled nought about
him, though I did think that he showed his ill temper over plainly
in his face.

Now, in all this story telling there was one thing about which I
said nothing, and that was my search for Hertha. It seemed to me
that there was no need for doing so, and moreover, I would tell the
lady thereof in private at some time. And I was glad that Sexberga
asked me nought about it. I do not think that she had forgotten it,
but she had her own reasons for saying nought of the matter, which
were foolish enough when I found them out. The lady, her mother,
waited for me to say what I would in my own way when I thought
right.



Chapter 13: Jealousy.


That generous foe of mine, Egil--if indeed I should not call him my
friend, as he named me once--had set two months as the time in
which I must bide in peace, and I will not say that this space
seemed likely to go over-heavily for me. We could hear little news
except from such ships as put in from along the coast, and the
first news that came was when Godwine returned from Bosham.

The Danes had taken the queen to Winchester in high honour, and
there she was living in some sort of state, which pleased her well
enough, until word came from Cnut concerning her. It was thought
that he would let her go back to Normandy, keeping the athelings as
hostages. So concerning her and them my mind was at rest.

Now Cnut was besieging London. But before he had left Wessex, there
had been a great council of bishops and clergy at Salisbury, and at
that gathering he had been chosen as king in succession to
Ethelred, whose house was not loved. There, too, he was present,
and swore to be their faithful king and to protect Holy Church in
all things.

Then into Wessex went Eadmund, ravaging and laying waste there. One
might know what hatred of him would come from that, and my heart
sank at hearing this folly.

Two days after Godwine came, we saw the sails of a great fleet
going westward, and we thought that Cnut had been beaten off from
London. But a ship that had sprung a leak in some way put into
Wulfnoth's haven at Shoreham from this fleet, and from thence we
learnt that the Danes had halved their forces, and that Cnut and
Ulf the jarl were going again into the Severn to withstand Eadmund
in Wessex, and if possible to hem him in between two forces in the
old way of the days of Alfred. London was beset straitly, but not
taken yet.

I was more content then, for I could not have reached our king, had
I returned from Normandy, as it seemed. And now it was possible
that he might make headway against the divided forces of the Danes.
I might join him yet in time to share in some final victory.

So the early summer days at Penhurst became very pleasant to me,
for I had little care that need sit heavily on my mind. Indeed, I
think that I should almost have forgotten that I had any, but for
the foolishness of Sexberga, which bid fair to turn all things to
sadness at one time.

I had spoken with her mother about my search for Hertha, telling
her plainly all that had passed between me and Ailwin, and I asked
her to tell me what she thought I must do now.

"Wait yet longer," she answered; "peace will come, and he will
bring Hertha back to Bures."

That ought to have been my own plan, but I had rather hoped to hear
her say that I was right in holding myself free to choose afresh as
I would. The thought of being bound seemed irksome to me; though
why I, landless and luckless, should have found it so, I could not
say. It mattered not at all at present. So I said:

"That is all one can do, lady; it matters not."

"What thinks Sexberga?" I asked presently.

"You have not spoken to her of your search, then?" the lady said.
"I had thought that she would ask you of it first of all."

She had asked nothing, and I had said nothing.

Then the lady said:

"She and I spoke thereof with Uldra but yesterday, and they were
both full of your praises for wishing to seek for your Hertha. They
will be glad to hear that you have done so, and sad that you have
failed to find her."

Then there came over me a wish that Uldra knew nought about it. And
that angered me with myself, because it was plain that I cared
overmuch for the company and pleasant voice and looks of this
maiden who was friendless as I.

So that was all that was said at the time, and I met Uldra in my
foolishness as if this were going to make some difference in her
way with me. Which of course it did not. Whereupon I was angrier
yet with myself for deeming that it would.

Now, there was another person who should have known of this
betrothal of mine, and that was Edred, but Sexberga never told him,
and her mother did not, for she thought that Sexberga would do so.

Of all the foolish things that a maiden can do, the most foolish is
to try to make the man who is to wed her jealous. For it is playing
with edged tools in two ways--if the man, being an honest man and
trustful, is not jealous, the maiden thinks that he cares not, and
so is herself wretched. But if he is jealous, why, then every
thought of his towards the maiden is changed and spoilt, and it
will be long, if ever, before full trust is won again between those
two.

But this seems to be good sport to some damsels, and so it was with
Sexberga. The blacker grew the young thane's looks the more she
would praise me, and the more she would choose to speak with me
rather than to him; wherefore his life was made wretched for him,
and I think he hated the sight of me. Maybe I was blind not to see
this, but I liked him well enough, save for what I thought was his
sullen temper, and I would try to joke him into better humour at
times in all good fellowship. But I think that the trouble began
before I came back, with talk of the time when I had been at
Penhurst before.

He was ever at Penhurst--I should have thought ill of him if he had
not been--for Dallington was close at hand, and he was ever
welcome.

After that talk with the lady I must needs ask Sexberga what she
thought concerning my strange betrothal, she having had so much to
say thereon before. And so one day, as I had been with Spray to see
some traps set by the bank of the Ashbourne river for otter, and was
coming back with him, bearing a great one between us on a pole, we
met Sexberga in the woodland track to the house, and Spray went on,
while I walked back with her on her way to the old village--where
we had had the fight--and talked about my baffled search.

Now her saying was that I had no need to pay any more heed to this
betrothal after what I had said to Ailwin, and that he himself
would seem to try to break it by thus taking Hertha out of my ken.
And we talked freely of the matter, and the last thing that I said
was this, coming round to what I had made up my better mind for:

"It is not much matter either way. I can think of no maiden as
things are."

Whereon we met Eldred, and his face was not pleasant to look on,
though he said nothing at that moment, and turned and walked
silently with us on the other side of the maiden.

When we came to the village I said that we would wait outside until
she came back, and thought that Eldred would go along with her. But
he stayed with me, and I looked round for a sunny seat where one
could see all the long chain of bright hammer ponds that went in
steps, as it were, down the valley before us.

"Nay," he said in a strange voice, "come over to the other side of
the valley--there is a pleasant place there."

"The lady will miss us," said I.

"We need not be long," he said. "The place I would show you is not
far. One of us can be back before she has done with these churls."

So, as I supposed that we might have to wait for half an hour,
because every woman in the place would want to tell her ailments to
the kindly young mistress most likely, we went together, passing
over the brook, and going up the steep valley side beyond it, until
we came to the rocks of the old quarry where we had rested before
the fight with the outlaws.

A pleasant place enough it was, truly, for the rocks stood round in
a little cliff, hemming in a lawn of short grass on every side but
one, and the trees that hung on the bank of the stream closed that
in. So when we were fairly within this circle of red cliff and
green trees Eldred said:

"This will do. We will see which of us is to go back to Sexberga."

"Why, you will," said I, thinking that he had some device by which
he might be free from my presence. "I spoil company for you both,
and will go back to the hall by the lower track presently."

"You have spoilt company long enough," he said, his face growing
very savage of a sudden. "Now I will end it, one way or the other."

"What is this foolishness?" I said, seeing now what he meant.

"You know well enough," he answered with a great oath. "Pluck out
that fine sword of yours and show that you can do more than talk of
using it."

"Come, Eldred," said I, "I have not deserved this."

"You deserve all that I shall give you," he answered, drawing his
sword. "Stand up like a man."

Now it seemed very hard to me that all these friendships should be
broken and spoilt by this foolish business, as they would be if
either of us was hurt; and so I tried to quiet him yet once more.

"Eldred, listen to reason," I said. "I have done you no wrong. Tell
me of what you complain."

Thereat he only cursed, bidding me draw and cease prating.

"I will not fight you thus," I said, for he was growing over wild
to fight well for himself. "Let us find some to attend us and watch
the business, that neither of us may be blamed. It is ill to slay a
man in a hidden place like this with none to say that the fight was
fair."

"You are afraid," he said sneeringly.

"You must ask Relf if that is likely," said I, for I would not be
angered by his angry words. "But I do not care to risk blame to you
or me. Nought is gained by fighting thus."

"Ask Relf, forsooth!" he snarled. "I care not to hear again how you
lay hid in the pit yonder while others fought."

"Have a care, Eldred," I said then. "You grow heedless in your
anger, and go too far. I do not think that you mean this."

"Do you need to be called nidring {12}?" he snarled at me.

Now none heard that word pass between us, and though it made me
bitterly angry I kept my wrath back. Truly I began to think that I
was foolish to argue with him; but there would be grief, lifelong,
at Penhurst if deadly harm befell either of us where none could say
that all was fairly fought out.

"Are you not going?" he said in a choking sort of way.

"No," I said, "not until I know what all this is about."

"What good in going over that again?" he answered. "You know well
enough. Let me be--you have won."

"I know," said I; "but you have not told me aught. I can only guess
that you think that I have taken your place with Sexberga."

"Aye--and now you have won it."

"I want it not," I answered. "Had you not been so angry you would
have known that, when I bid you go back and meet her without me."

Now he looked at me with a sort of doubt, and said, in a somewhat
halting way:

"I heard you just now tell her that it could not be that you could
think of her--as things are."

Then I remembered what my last words had been, and I saw that they
might easily have misled him after all the trouble he seemed to
have had.

"You heard too much or too little," said I, being minded to laugh,
though the matter was over serious to him to let me do so. "I spoke
of my own troubles, which were the less because my fortunes prevent
my thinking of any maiden, seeing that I have no home to give a
wife when I find her. You were wrong in thinking that I spoke of
Sexberga--I spoke, as you might have known, of the one whom I have
lost."

"How should I know that? I know nought of your affairs."

Then thought I to myself that I would punish Sexberga, for she had
tortured this honest lover of hers over much.

"I will not tell you that tale. Ask Sexberga, who has known it from
the first."

Then I was sorry for what I had said, for he flushed darkly.

"I have been made a fool of," he said.

"Nay; but you should have been more trustful," said I. "Now, were I
in your place, I would go home to Dallington and bide there for a
week, and the maiden will be pleased enough to see you when you
return. And if she tries to make you jealous again, seem to mind it
not. There is little sport in it for her then."

"I suppose there would not be," said he, and he began to look more
cheerful.

"Now," said I, "I was betrothed long ago--the war time has come
between me and her who should have been my wife. I have hunted for
her and cannot find her--and that is all. Now you understand. It
was Sexberga who cheered me in my search, and so I spoke to her
thereof."

"I should not have doubted you," he said frankly; "forgive me."

I held out my hand and he took it. There was nought but
friendliness in his grasp, and I could not blame him. I blamed
Sexberga wholly.

Then he laughed a little ruefully.

"I am a fool with a sword," he said. "Will you teach me somewhat? I
think I was mad when I used those evil words to you."

"I have forgotten them," I answered; and so I had. One does not
think much of what a man says in utmost rage as his. "Come, let us
go back to the village."

So we went back together, but Sexberga had gone on her way homeward
without us. Whereat Eldred was not sorry, and said that he was
going back to his own place.

"You will see me no more for a few days," he said. "I think your
plan is good."

"Mind this," I answered, "I never tried it."

"Lookers-on see best," he answered, laughing bitterly. "But think
no more of my anger with yourself, I pray you."

I told him that I would not, and so we parted good friends enough,
though I feared that he might take this matter to heart in such
wise that he would have some ill moments presently. There was
little spring in his walk as he took the path towards Dallington.

I said nought of this affair, as one might suppose, and made little
excuse to Sexberga for leaving her. We had walked too far, and had
returned too late to find her, I said. She pouted and said nothing,
but I thought that her punishment had already begun.

Next day there were ships heading in for Pevensea, and I rode away
to find out what I could, and forgot Eldred and his troubles. For
Olaf had come, and that was luck beyond what I could have looked
for.

The ten great ships slid into the haven, and I was first on the
strand to meet the king. Wulfnoth and Godwine were riding inland,
and doubtless were returning posthaste if they knew that ships had
come. But for a little while I had my kinsman to myself, and great
was his wonder to find me in this place.

"I have thought that I should have to ransom you from Cnut's hand,"
he said, "for we have heard that Thorkel's men took the queen's
ship. Were you not taken likewise?"

So when he heard of all that had brought me here, he praised Egil
highly.

"He is a Norseman, and no Dane, by birth," he said. "One may be
proud that he is so. I would that he were my man."

Then was my turn, and I wondered how Olaf had left London, for the
Thames was full of Danish ships, as I had heard.

"Aye, so it is yet," he told me. "The Danes cannot take the city,
try what they will, though they dug a great ditch round the
Southwark fort, and took ships through it above the bridge, and so
kept us shut up close enough. But walls and forts and citizens are
too much for them. Now the siege is but a blind, while the real
warfare is to be in Wessex. So I came away with the Danes, my men
being tired of unprofitable warfare where we were not wanted, and
gaining, moreover, neither gold nor honour."

"You came away with the Danes?" I cried. "Surely you made no pact
with them?"

"Not I," said he. "But they sailed with an evening tide, which was
my chance. Ten ships among four hundred or so make no odds. We took
off the dragon heads, and when it was quite dark rowed down after
them, and so caught them up at Greenwich. Then we slipped through
the fleet easily, for it was mostly of cargo ships full of men, and
no one paid any heed to us, as might be supposed. So by daylight we
led the fleet, or nearly, and when the next night came we stood
away from it, going across Channel. Then I came here to see if
Wulfnoth or Godwine would cruise with me on some other shore, as I
promised."

Then I asked him what I had better do, for with the sight of his
face came the longing to be free again.

"Come with me," he said. "I am going to win ransom from a town or
two against the time when I shall need gold wherewith to win men to
me in Norway."

I think that I should have done this in the end, though I did not
like to leave England without striking one more blow for Eadmund,
and I cannot deny that I thought that Uldra would blame me if I did
leave our land when she needed every sword that would strike for
her. I had come to think very much of what the steadfast eyes of
the brave maiden would tell me as I watched her face.

But that evening came Wulfnoth and Godwine, and they had made a
plan for themselves which might help me to reach Eadmund when my
freedom came. They had manors on the Severn, at Berkeley, and the
earl would go there to save them if possible from plunder. At
least, that is what he told me and Olaf. Whether he had any other
deeper plan I cannot say. It seemed afterwards as if that might be
so.

They brought back some strange news, too, at which both Olaf and I
wondered. There was a rumour spreading through the country from
Winchester that Cnut would wed Emma the queen.

"It is not likely," said Olaf. "She is twenty years older than he."

"If any man wants revenge on Cnut, I would counsel him to go and do
all he can to see that this marriage comes to pass," sneered the
earl, in his hatred of the Norman lady.

"What says Redwald?" asked Godwine.

"First, that the queen has little choice in the matter," said I;
"and next, that, between ourselves, I think that she would do much
to remain a queen in truth, if it must be over Denmark instead of
England; and lastly, that if Cnut weds her, he keeps the duke, her
brother, quiet, and maybe brings over more of our people to his
side."

It was only too plain now that Cnut had a party for him in England,
and I thought that he tried to strengthen it thus, if the report
were true. But it seemed hardly possible; so much so, that when I
turned the question over in speaking with Olaf presently, we
thought that no man could have invented the story, and that it must
be true.

Now Olaf and I went to Penhurst on the next day, for though he
would not stop long in England, he would see and thank these good
friends of mine for their care of me. And great was the rejoicing
when he came.

I had told him of Uldra, and presently he bade Ottar, who was with
us, sing of Leavenheath fight, and so spoke quietly with her,
sitting a little apart in the shadow of the hall, for he wished to
tell her also that he owed her thanks.

When the end of the long summer day came, and he must go back to
the ships--for he would not sleep away from them--I went with him
in order to see all that I might of him before he left, for I had
made up my mind to go westward with Godwine, seeing that my promise
to Egil was to bide in peace with Wulfnoth till the time came when
I was free.

So as we rode with no other near us, he said:

"What of Hertha, my cousin?"

"I know not," I answered. "I have heard nought, nor shall I now
till I go back to Bures."

"Shall you hold to your betrothal?"

"Aye; the ladies think that it is my part to do so."

"So you asked them? Is that why fair Sexberga is so dull and
restless?"

I laughed, for he had heard Ottar jesting about the fair maid at
Penhurst more than once.

"No," I answered. "She has been crossing her lover, and he is in
dudgeon for a while--that is all."

"I am glad," he said. "Asked you aught of Uldra?"

"I have not spoken of it to her."

"Is that so?" said Olaf, smiling. "Now she is likely to have more
than common interest in you, for one reason or another."

Then I said frankly, knowing what he meant:

"And I in her. That is partly the reason why I must go with
Wulfnoth and Godwine westward. And the rest of the reason is this,
that I would be near Eadmund. And maybe if I looked to find more
reason yet it would be to leave Sexberga to work out matters
without having me to fall back on when Eldred is to be made
jealous."

Thereat Olaf laughed long.

"You have had an ill time with the womenfolk of late," he said, and
it was true enough.

"I have," said I, "and I am tired thereof. I shall be glad to be
where byrnies and swords are more common than kirtles and
distaffs."

Yet in my mind I knew that I should not leave Uldra with much
cheerfulness. Such companionship as ours had been, strange and full
of peril, was a closer bond than even the care of me that had made
me think twice or more about Sexberga. Thoughts of her came lightly
in idleness, but when I thought of Uldra, there was comradeship
that had borne the strain of peril.

Now I knew well what that comradeship might easily ripen into, and
maybe, because I knew it, what I would not allow had begun. But
Uldra had never given me any reason to think that this was so with
her.

Olaf said that maybe I was right, and after that we talked of his
doings, wondering now when we should meet again, for we were going
different ways. Our parting was not as it had been before, when we
knew that sooner or later we should forgather in one place or the
other.

"I think, my cousin," he said, "that the time will soon come when I
shall head north again for Norway, and I long for the sign that I
must go. I am going to sail now towards Jerusalem Land, that I may
at least try to see the Holy Places before I die. It may be that I
shall reach that land, and it may be not, but when the sign comes I
must turn back and go to fight the last fight that shall be between
Christian and heathen in our country."

So he said to me before his ship sailed with the morning tide. And
I had no words in which to answer him, for his going seemed to
leave me friendless again, so much had we been at one together.
Almost had I taken up that journey to the Holy Land with him, but I
thought that if it was a good and pious thing to go on that
pilgrimage for myself, it was even more so to bide for the sake of
king and country here in the land that should be holy for all of us
who are English. And when I said that to Olaf, he smiled brightly
and answered:

"If old Norway called for me, I would say the same. You are right."

Thus we parted, and I watched his sails fade and sink into the rim
of the southern sea, and then rode back to Relf feeling as if the
time to come had little brightness for me.

I went slowly, and by the longer way, for I had much to think of,
and I cared not just yet for the light talk of the happy people in
the Penhurst hall. And so I came into the way that leads across the
woodland through Ashburnham and so by the upper hammer ponds to
Penhurst, and when I was about a mile from the hall I met Uldra
coming from a side track.

"Why, thane," she said in her bright way, "is aught amiss?"

"I have lost my kinsman, lady," I said, "and I have none other left
me. Therefore I am sad enough. But these things must be, and the
shadow of parting will pass presently."

I got off my horse and walked beside her, and I was glad that I had
met her first of all. She had been to some sick thrall, and was now
returning.

"Partings are hard," she said, "but one may always hope to meet
again."

Then I said, speaking my thoughts:

"I must go west into Wessex with the earl's ships, and I have more
partings to come therefore."

She made no answer at once, and I thought that none was needed; but
when she spoke again her voice was graver than before.

"You would be near our king if possible by doing so?"

"That is my thought," I answered. "If I wait in this pleasant place
I may be far from him when the day comes that I should stand at his
side again."

"You have six weeks--not so much by two days--yet," she said
thoughtfully. "It is not long. Then you will be fighting once
more."

"I hope so--and not in vain at last," I answered. "All our land
longs for peace."

"Aye, and they tell me that you have a search to make," she said,
looking away across the woodlands that lay down the valley to our
right. "I fear there will be sorrow if--if you fall."

"Aye, I have a search that has been made hard for me," I said
somewhat bitterly. "Truly I had not thought of falling; but it is
in my mind that little grief will be in that quarter if I do so.
Those who might have ended the search in an hour or two have kept
their charge more deeply hidden than ever from me."

"Is that the maiden's doing, think you?" she said, hesitating a
little, for the question was not an easy one for her to put, maybe.
But it was like her to make excuse for others.

"I cannot tell," said I, "but I think it likely. We were but
children, and she fears me now."

"That is to be seen," she said; "but I hope that you will find her.
What shall you do if--if she loves you not now?"

"I would let her go free, surely."

"Even if you found you loved her yet?"

"Aye. I would not hold her bound were she unwilling."

"But if it were the other way--if she would wed you willingly, and
you--well, were unwilling?"

"I would keep troth," said I; "she should not know it."

She laughed softly and answered:

"You could not hide that from her."

Then I fell silent, for I liked not this subject at any time--still
less from Uldra. And I think that she saw that I was displeased at
her questioning, for after a little while she said shyly:

"I think that I have asked you too closely about your affairs.
Forgive me--women are anxious about such matters."

"It is a trouble to me, lady," I said, hardening my heart lest I
should say too much; "but I can see no further than the coming
warfare. When that is ended there will be time for me to think more
thereof. But, as I have said, I believe that Hertha wishes that she
were not bound."

Now I had almost said "even as I wish," but I stopped in time.

"Now, whether that is so or not, she should think well of you for
your faith kept to her," Uldra said, and there was a little shake
in her voice as of tears close at hand.

Then I knew that if she kept faith with me as I with her--though
this was in a poor way enough--I must think well of her also.
Wherefore, being obliged thus to think of one another, it would be
likely enough that there would be pretence of love on both
sides--and so things would be bad. Whereupon the puzzle in my mind
grew more tangled yet, and I waxed savage, being so helpless.

And all the while those two words that came to me as I talked to
Relf grew plainer, and seemed to ring in my ears unspoken,
"Landless and luckless--landless and luckless," for that was what
it all came to.

Then Uldra looked at me and saw the trouble in my face, and took
what seemed to her to be the only way to help me.

"You cannot think of these matters now, Redwald," she said softly.
"It is well for a warrior that he has none who is bound to him so
closely that he must ever think of her. It is well for Hertha that
she knows not what peril you are in--that she cannot picture you to
herself--"

She stopped with a sob that she could not check, and stayed her
walk as if she had tripped. I turned to her, and put out my hand,
and she leant on my arm with both hers for a moment, hanging her
head down, and I thought she was faint, for my pace had quickened.
So I waited till she raised her head again, longing to help her
more and yet not daring to do so, lest I should give way altogether
and say all I would. And then I said:

"Let me set you on the horse--you are weary with keeping step with
me."

She shook her head, but she said nothing, and so I lifted her and
set her in the saddle, and the colour came back to her face.

"Thanks, thane," she said, "I am very foolish. I have been setting
myself in your Hertha's place--as if she knew aught of you now.
Aye, it is better as it is for both of you, as things must be for a
while."

And I thought to myself:

"Would that you were in Hertha's place;" and then this other
thought, "She says right--landless and luckless am I, and there is
none to trouble about me--nor shall there be."

"But I was going to tell you this, if I may," she said, "I will
pray night and day that things may be well for you and yours in the
end."

"Aye, pray therefor, Uldra," I answered, and thereafter we said no
more, for the hall gates were before us, and the dogs came out to
bid us welcome, and the thralls followed them to see who came. I
helped her from the horse, and she smiled and went in.

Now, I saw Uldra no more that night, and Sexberga was unfriendly
with me because Eldred still kept away. So I had my thoughts to
myself while Relf slept as was his wont after supper, and the lady
of the house turned her wheel as ever. I think that I would not
wish any man to have such strange and sad thoughts as mine were at
that time. There was nought of which I could be sure--save of
Uldra's friendship, and of that it were better not to think, maybe.



Chapter 14: The Last Great Battle.


Ten days after I spoke thus with Uldra I was at Berkeley with
Wulfnoth and Godwine. That was in the third week in June, while I
was on my honour not to fight for a month yet. I had parted from
Uldra as from a dear friend and no more, though well I knew now
that she was more than that to me. And there had been a look in her
face, moreover, that bided with me, making me wretched and yet
glad, for it told me that her thoughts were as mine. And more than
that neither of us would show. The tide of war had hold of me, and
whither it would drift me none could say. Nor did I lose much. I
had nought to lose as it seemed to me.

As for the rest of those who were such good friends of mine at
Penhurst, they had wished me hearty God-speeds, bidding me return
again, and that soon. Eldred of Dallington and Sexberga stood hand
in hand as I went, vowing that they would not be content till I
returned for their wedding, for there was no trouble between them
since the young thane had come in from his place one day as if
nought had happened, calling me to walk with him when Sexberga had
feigned to wish for none of his company. After which he had talked
lightly of going to Wessex with the earl and me; and he had no
further trouble. I know not what he said presently in private to
Sexberga, but he was the one who led thereafter, and I think that
the maiden was the happier that it was so. There are some maids who
will seem to wish to rule, though they are longing all the while to
be ruled.

So we came up the Severn river to Berkeley, passing the endless
lines of Danish ships that lay along the strand below Anst cliffs
and Oldbury. Cnut's ship guard held the ancient fort in force, men
said. His men boarded us, but Wulfnoth's name was well known, and
it was not Cnut's plan to make an enemy of him. So we went on our
way unhindered, and I bided, chafing sorely, in the great house
where Wulfnoth lived in no state at all, as if he were but a rich
franklin--gray clad and rough in ways and talk.

Now it is hard to me to think of what passed so close to me while I
was helpless. But I saw nought of the battle that was at
Pen-Selwood, and even as I heard thereof from men who had left the
levy, the greatest battle of all was being fought within a
morning's ride of us, at Sherston.

Two days that battle raged, and all men say that Eadmund would
surely have chased the Danes in the end to their ships, but for a
trick of Edric Streone's. It was another count in the long score
against him, and I seemed to see that the words of the witch of
Senlac were coming true--his shadow was over our king, for ill in
all things.

The battle was going against Cnut--once Eadmund himself had cut his
way through the press of Danes before their king, and had almost
come to hand strokes with him, but had been borne back. And then
Streone's eyes lit on one Osmer, a warrior of the Danish host,
standing near him, and he saw that he was like our king. Therefore
he slew him, and set his head on a spear, and rode forward to where
the English line pressed most hardly on the Danish ranks. There he
raised the head aloft, shouting in his great voice:

"Fly, English, fly! Eadmund is dead. Know his head!"

Then for a moment panic seized our folk, and they held their hands,
and in that pause Ulf the jarl charged among them, and the line was
broken and flight began.

But Eadmund unhelmed when he heard the cry that he was slain, and
rode through the ranks, and our men knew him, and cheered, and fell
on the Danes afresh, and the broken line closed up, and they fought
till night fell, and in the night the Danes drew off. And in the
night by twos and threes, and then in companies, Eadmund's levies
melted away from him, for his men were worn out and sick of
slaughter, and knew not enough to bid them stay to follow their
foes and turn retreat into rout, and doubt into victory. The Danes
were going, they saw and heard; what need to stay longer?

So it came to pass that nothing was wrought by that awful fighting,
and both sides claimed victory, for our men deemed that they had
won, and the Danes claimed it because they were not followed, and
because Ulf the jarl had cut through our line.

It was through this last that I lost Godwine as a companion. For
Ulf lost himself in the forest that was in the rear of our forces,
because he followed the flying too far, and the dusk of the evening
was close at hand. He thought that the victory was surely won, for
it had ever been that the first sign of flight was followed by rout
of our men. At least the Danes learnt this at Sherston, that
Eadmund could hold his own against them.

So Ulf the jarl wandered all night in the wood, and came out of it
on the hillside where Godwine was speaking to one of his father's
shepherds. And Godwine brought him, unknowing who he was, back to
Berkeley.

Then maybe came into Wulfnoth's mind that rede of the witch of
Senlac, that bade Godwine mind his sheep, and so find his place, or
else this was part of the plan which had brought him into Wessex.
For he asked Ulf to take Godwine to Cnut, and find him a place in
his court, and the jarl did so. It was not until Godwine came to
the ships that he knew who it was that he had guided, and they won
him over, and he stayed.

Nor did I know. I spoke with Ulf, asking him of the battle, and of
Egil, and the like, for he was the earl's guest. And I thought
nothing of Godwine's guidance of a Dane to the ships, for the earl
was no foe of Cnut. But when I rose in the morning after Ulf had
come, and found that he and Godwine had gone in the night, and was
told by Wulfnoth who the warrior was, and what he had asked for his
son, I was very angry, though I knew that the earl had little cause
to love the house of Ethelred.

But the earl said, very quietly:

"There are two kings in England, and no king of England. Choice is
free to me, and I choose that king who will honour my son, and who
has done me no wrong. Were you to go to Cnut I would hold you
blameworthy, seeing how things have been between you and Eadmund.
Godwine goes to Cnut even as he flies to his ships. No man may say
that he did but join him when he was victor."

Now, it was not Wulfnoth's way to give reasons thus for aught that
he did, and I was surprised that he would do so to me. But I could
look at things in his way if I put my own love for Eadmund aside,
and I said:

"I may not blame you, lord earl, maybe; but it is hard for me to
see my friend take what I think the wrong side."

"Think no ill of him. It is my doing," Wulfnoth said. "All his life
has Godwine been bidden to hate the house of Ethelred of Wessex.
Now before long this warfare must end. And if your king has the
victory I pray you speak for Godwine if need is. And if Cnut is
victor you will need Godwine, maybe, to speak for you. Let this
matter bide there between us. I would now that I had not let him
go, for I am lonely."

Then I knew why the fierce old earl unbent to speak thus to me, and
I spoke only of honour to be gained in the service of so great a
king as Cnut.

Thereafter the time went very heavily for me. The great Danish
fleet left the Severn on the day when Godwine would have come to
them, and then Eadmund must gather another levy, and prepare for
some fresh landing. And before that was done I was free again, and
I could join him with a light heart. The earl gave me a good horse
when I rode away, and parted with me very kindly for Godwine's
sake, he said, and his own liking for me also.

"I shall look for you at Pevensea yet. Come to me when things go
ill with you, and you shall be welcome."

I knew not if ever I should see Sussex again. But of this I was
sure now, that if fortune went with me presently, I would surely
seek Ailwin and tell him that I must be free, and so would seek
Uldra, and ask her to share what I might have to give her, if a
home should be mine again. I had thought much of this brave, quiet
maiden while I was chafing at doing nought in Wulfnoth's farmstead,
though I would not have stayed at Penhurst.

Now came a time when the victory was ours, and it seemed that at
last the strong hand had come. For men would follow Eadmund, and he
had the power of making them fight as he would. Yet there was
nothing that would keep our levies together. Had they done so we
had surely conquered, but it was ever the same. They fought and
dispersed, and all the work and loss was for nought. I think it
would have been the same with the Danish host had they been in
their own country; but here they must needs hold together, and Cnut
and his jarls wielded that mighty force as a man wields his sword.
Eadmund smote as a man who fells his enemy with a staff that breaks
in the smiting, so that he must needs seek another while his fallen
foe rises again, sword in hand.

But our men were called from home and fireside to fight, and when
they won and their own fields and houses were safe, they thought
they had done all, and went home again, at ease, and maybe boasting
overmuch.

We marched on London and relieved the city, driving the Danes in
flight to their ships. And Eadmund slept that night among a great
host; and in the morning the Wessex men were going home, and only
his own housecarles and the men who followed him from ruined Mercia
and East Anglia and Kent would bide around him. London could take
care of herself now. But Eadmund strove to gather them for one more
blow, and we had a great fight at Brentford, for the Danes had gone
up river, and we won. Yet the Danes turned on us when the ships
were reached, and we lost many men in the river, for they scattered
in their eagerness to plunder the ships that they thought were
already won, and so, without order or leaders, were driven to their
death in the swift water.

Then Wessex disbanded, and all the work of gathering our forces
must be done over again; and at once the Danes closed in round
London when Eadmund had gone back to Salisbury.

Surely it would have broken the heart of any man but Eadmund the
Ironside that thus it must be, but he would say:

"England is waking; we shall win yet."

Then Cnut recalled the ships and host from London, and they raised
the siege, and went into the Orwell, and once again began to march
across the heart of our land.

This fourth levy that Eadmund the king had made was the best that
he had had. And word must have come thereof to the Danes, for they
went back to their fleet; and so waited for a little while,
thinking doubtless that this levy would melt away in idleness as
ever. For they came back into the Medway with the booty they had,
and there we fell on them and drove them headlong to their ships,
and I surely thought that we had done with Cnut for good and all.

Then fell the shadow of ill on us. Edric Streone and his men met us
at Aylesford, and he came in to the king and made most humble
submission to him.

And that was what Olaf had told Eadmund would happen when once
again he had the victory. Therefore when I saw the earl come into
the camp to speak with Eadmund I said:

"Mind you what Olaf said. How that you should hang Streone."

"Aye, I mind it. But the man is deserted by his new friends. They
have gone."

Almost had Eadmund quarrelled with Olaf on that saying.

"Put him in ward, my king, at least," I urged, and Ulfkytel, who
had come with us from London, prayed him also to do so.

But Eadmund's fate was on him, and he received his foster father
kindly, and forgave him, and thought that all would be well.

Now with Ulfkytel came my Colchester men, or rather the thirty who
were left, And those two brothers, Thrand and Guthorm, who had
ridden to Stamford with me were there also. These two came to me
that evening when I was alone, and said that they had a plan they
would carry out if I gave the word. And it was nothing more or less
than that they would fall on Edric Streone and slay him when and
where they met him.

I would that they had not asked me, but had wrought the deed on
their own account. But I said that I could not have this done, for
it was too much after Streone's own manner of settling things. I
could not think of letting my men lie in wait for any foe of mine,
however good cause I had for hating him. And I did hate Streone
with a hate that I am not ashamed of, not for my own sake, but
because he was a traitor to both king and country. There were
Englishmen who fought for Cnut thinking that thus they wrought best
for England and her peace--as Wulfnoth chose for Godwine--and I had
no hatred for them. They were honest if they were wrong; but they
were no traitors. But Edric Streone was as Judas to me.

So Thrand and Guthorm grumbled, and forbore, though they would have
spent their own lives willingly in this way had I lifted a finger.
It was, however, in revenge for the Stamford business that they
would slay the earl, and that was only my quarrel, nothing higher.
Nevertheless I owed them thanks for their love thus shown to me,
and so I told them. Little had I done to deserve it; but who shall
know what wins the love of rough souls like these?

Strange news came with Streone, though I had heard rumours thereof
before, as I have said. It was true that Cnut was to wed Emma the
queen; and they had, as it seemed, already been betrothed, at the
advice of the three great jarls. Now she and the athelings her sons
were back in Normandy, and one might see what the reason of this
policy was, Not only was Duke Richard kept quiet, but also Cnut was
stepfather to Eadward Atheling and his brothers. That meant that if
Cnut won, they must needs suffer him to take the crown unopposed.
And more than this, if Cnut must leave England alone presently,
when Eadmund died he would claim the throne at once, either for
himself or for one of these athelings as his under-king. For no man
ever thought twice of Eadmund's brother Edwy, who was weak bodily,
nor of his half brother, the other Edwy, whom we called "king of
the churls," by reason of the low birth of his mother, for no
thanes would follow him had he had the gift of leading.

Cnut's fleet went from the Medway northward, and it was in the
thoughts of all men that the end had come, and that he sought his
own land at last. And that seemed the more certain to most because
Streone had submitted, as if he knew that he had no further hope of
honour from the Danish king. Presently, however, it was plain that
his coming over was but part of the deepest plot that he had yet
made.

Suddenly, even as our levies dispersed in spite of all the king's
entreaties, came the news that the Danish fleet had turned and was
in the Crouch river in Essex, whence already the host had begun
their march inland across Mercia in the old way. And so for the
fifth time Eadmund strove to gather all England to him, and his
summons was well obeyed. The thanes and their men gathered in
haste, savage with hope deferred, and Cnut shrank back again to
Ashingdon on the Crouch, and there built himself an earthwork on
the south side of the river, while his ships lay on the further
shore at Burnham, and in the anchorage, and along the mud below the
earthworks, seeming countless. And there he waited for us, and
there we knew that he meant to end the warfare in one great fight
for mastery, with his ships behind him that he might go if he were
at last obliged.

And there, too, though we knew it not, he waited for Streone to
give England into his hands.

We were close on him when his main force fell back upon his
earthworks, where they stand on the little hill above the river
banks that men will call "Cnut's dune" {13} henceforward, in
memory of what he won there. And Ulfkytel and I and the few East
Anglians that we had were with the advance guard, and drove in the
pickets that were between us and the hill. And then we knew that
Cnut meant to stand and fight in the open, and we were glad, for
out of his intrenchments poured his men, and we sent horsemen back
to Eadmund to hurry on the main body of our forces.

They were a mile or two behind us, and we waited impatiently,
watching the Danish host as it neared us, forming into the terrible
half circle as it came. And I remember all of that waiting, for the
day began with such hope, and ended so fearfully for us.

One could not have had a better day on which to fight, for there
was neither sun to dazzle, nor rain to beat in the faces of men who
needed eyes to guard their lives. But it was a gray day with a
pleasant wind that blew in from the sea, and the light was
wonderfully clear and shadowless as before rain, so that one could
see all things over-plainly, as it were. The rounded top of
Ashingdon hill seemed to tower higher than its wont, and close at
hand, beyond the swampy meadows to our left, and I wondered that
Cnut had not chosen that for his camping ground, though maybe it
would have been less well placed for reaching the ships, owing to
some shoaling of water that did not suit them. The tide was nearly
high now, and all the wide stretch of the Crouch river was alive
with the ships that brought over men from the Burnham shore, and
one could see the very wake and the ripple at the bows as they
came.

And when one looked at the Danes, the chiefs who ordered the host
were plain to be seen, and the gay colours of banners and cloaks
and shields were wonderful in the brightness, though at first we
were nearly half a mile from them as we waited. I thought that we
were about equal to them in numbers, and I knew that did we but
fight as at Sherston the day would surely be ours. For when a force
that is hard pressed knows that safety is close behind them there
is an ever-present reason for giving way.

"We can drive this host to the ships, lord earl," I said to
Ulfkytel.

"Aye, surely," he answered. "They know that the ships wait for
them, and so will give back."

Now came Eadmund, and behind him our men marched steadily, and at
his side was Edric Streone. He looked at the Danes, and his face
was bright and confident.

"How shall we fight, lord earl?" he said to Ulfkytel.

"Redwald and I have spoken thereof," the earl answered. "And it
seems to us that Olaf's viking plan is best. Let us fight in a
wedge, and drive the point through that circle and break it in
twain. We of East Anglia will willingly make the point, as we are
on our own ground."

"It is a good plan, but I have not tried it," said Eadmund; and
then Streone spoke.

"The old Saxon line is surely good enough," he said. "What need to
take up with outland plans?"

"It will be good enough if our men fight as at Sherston," Eadmund
answered.

And all the thanes who were gathering round him cried out that they
would surely not fail him, and one could not but listen to the
voice of all the noblest in England who were gathered there, for
Eadmund had all his best with him. It was indeed a levy of all
England.

So we were to fight in line, as Eadmund had given us our places on
the day before, when we neared the battlefield. He himself was in
the centre with his Wessex men, and Edric Streone and his Mercians
were with him. There were some of us who had cried out at that, but
the earl had said proudly that he would make amends for former ill,
and the council had listened to and believed his words.

Ulfkytel was on the left, and there our line was flanked by the
marshes that lie between the long slope where we were to fight and
Ashingdon hill. At least he would have no horsemen upon him from
the side, and that flank was safe from turning. The right wing was
given to the Lindsey men under their own ealdorman, and with them
were the men of the Five Boroughs {14}.

So our line was drawn up, and Eadmund rode out before them and they
cheered, and then he unhelmed, and Bishop Ednoth of Dorchester,
clad in his robes over chain mail, and with a heavy mace at his
saddle bow, rode up beside him, and a monk who was with him brought
forward and raised aloft a golden cross, and at that sign the host
knelt, and the bishop shrived them and blessed them before the
fight, and the sound of the "Amen" they spoke was like a thunder
roll from end to end of the line. And it reached the ears of the
Danes who waited for us, and they broke out into their war
song--the Heysaa--and thereat our men sprang up and shouted thrice,
and then the sullen silence of the Saxon kin settled down on them,
for we are not wont to speak much when work is meant.

Silently we crossed the heath between us and the yelling Danes, and
I rode beside Eadmund in my old place, and my heart was light, and
sword Foe's Bane rattled in the scabbard as if longing to be let
loose. And all the while I kept my eyes on Streone, who was riding
among his Mercians twenty yards away to our right, and presently
behind him I saw Thrand and Guthorm.

I thought that was ill for Streone, but I could not help it now--we
were but a hundred yards from the foe. The first arrow flight
crossed as I saw them, and then Eadmund cried:

"Forward--remember Sherston!"

At that word the front ranks sprang like wolves to meet one
another--and then came the shock of the meeting lines and the howl
and cheer of Dane and Englishman--and under the arrow storm the
spear and axe and sword were at work.

I kept my shield up and covering Eadmund's right side, and watched.
The time for us to take our part had not come yet. And Eadmund
looked on his foes to see what chance might be for a charge that
would break them when arms grew weary.

Many were the brave deeds that I saw done in that little time, as
the first lines fought man to man. And presently I knew that over
against us was Cnut the king, for I saw one who was little more
than a boy, whose helm bore a golden crown. There were several
chiefs round him also, and one was Ulf. But I saw not Godwine, for
he would not fight on that day against his own kin.

There, too, was another chief--he was Eirik the jarl, though I knew
it not then; and he looked ever to our right, as if waiting for
somewhat. And when I saw that I looked also, but there was nought
that I could see. Our whole line was fighting well, and this first
attack had brought no faltering on either side.

Then said Eadmund to me:

"Let us make a dash for my stepfather yonder," pointing to
Cnut--and even as he said it the brave bishop on his left threw up
his arms and fell from his horse, smitten in the face with a
javelin, and Eadmund leapt down to help him.

As he did so I heard a shout raised that he was slain.

Then was a roar from our right like nothing that I had ever
heard--I pray that none may ever hear the like again--and I turned
and looked to see what was on hand, and I saw the Mercians going
backward, and Streone's horse was heading away from the Danes; and
then the men of the Five Boroughs howled and fell on Dane and
Mercian alike, cursing and smiting like madmen.

And I saw my two men leap up among the press and smite over the
heads of those around them at Streone, and they were smitten
down--they had not touched him.

That was all in a moment, and I called to the king, and he rose up
and leapt on his horse and looked. And as he did so the Mercians,
Streone's men, wheeled round and fell on our flank, fighting for
the Danes, and the Danish line swept the Stamford men from before
them and joined the Mercians; and I heard a great sob rise in
Eadmund's throat, and he called to me, and charged among the
traitor's men to reach him if he might. And the Mercians broke and
fled before us, and the Danish line unbroken rolled forward and
swept us into flight, for our men knew not what they could do.

Then I pointed to Ashingdon hill and cried:

"We can rally yonder!"

And Eadmund gainsaid me not, but groaned, and called to his men,
and we got together and faced round, so that the Danes drew back a
little, as men will when a boar turns to bay. And we fought to
reach the Lindsey and Borough men through the Danes, who had filled
the gap that the flight of the Mercians had made--and won to them.
There was the greatest slaughter of the Danish host at that time.
But we could not win to Ulfkytel, for the centre and left wing of
the Danes lapped us round, and their right drove him back on the
marshes, away from us.

Then we were pressed back along the higher ground, and we were
forced into a great ring that the Danes could not break, and ever
where sign of weakening was Eadmund rode and shouted and smote, and
the Danes gave back before him. Once or twice I could hold my hand
as he sat in the midst of our circle watching all that went on, and
I saw many things in those few moments while sword Foe's Bane
rested.

The Mercians had not followed us for very shame, but they sat on
the open hillside in the place where the Danish line had been. I
think it was not Streone's fault that they were not fighting hand
to hand with us. I saw him ride to Ulf the jarl, and I saw Ulf turn
his shoulder on him, and then he sought Rink, and that chief spoke
but a word to him, so that he tried not to reach Cnut, who never
looked at him.

Then I saw Ulfkytel's men breaking and taking to the marshes, where
the Danes cared not to follow them. More than one I could see
sinking under the weight of arms in the fen slime among the green
tussocks of grass that he had slipped from, and I saw that the
flying men made for Ashingdon hill.

Now as we drew back some word went round among the Danish host and
their onset slackened, and presently they drew off and left us to
retreat as we would. They could not break our ring, and we were
coming to broken land where we might have some advantage.

Then Eadmund said:

"We will go to yonder hill and hold it. Then will East Anglia come
to us, and we can begin again tomorrow, maybe; and if not, we can
watch the Danes away. All is not lost yet."

So we went to Ashingdon hill, and there formed up. Only the Danish
horsemen followed us to find out what we did. And we saw the main
force drawing back towards their earthworks on one wing, while the
other held the place of battle, and it was not plain at once why
they thus divided.

We rested for a short half hour on Ashingdon hill, and the men of
Ulfkytel gathered to us. But the brave earl was slain, and with him
Abbot Wulsy, and the Mercians had slain the Ealdorman of Lindsey
when they turned on us, and many more lay in the place where the
flight began, good men and noble sold to their deaths by the
traitor.

It was about midday when we won back to the hill, and the battle,
from the time when we had first met, had lasted but a short time.
Yet what with slaughter when we broke, and the desertion of the
Mercians, we were short of a full third of our men now.

Eadmund waxed restless. There was the best half of a long summer
day before us, and our men were angry and full of longing to fight
and take revenge. I think there was not one that did not know all
that might hang on this battle.

"Redwald," the king said, "is there no way by which we might cross
the river? Then might we fall on the ships at Burnham, and Cnut
must send his men over ship by ship, and so we might well gain the
victory."

I looked at the tide, and called for some Essex men who knew the
place, and one came and told me that in two hours' time we might
cross at a ford higher up, which they name Hull bridge, though
there is no bridge there. And when he heard that, at once our king
set his men in order and cheered them with fresh hopes, and we
started to march thither.

And at the same time Cnut's ships began to move, and from Burnham
and from this shore his men were coming up on the tide towards the
very place where we would cross, and before the ford could be
passed by us we knew that they would be there in force.

"So," said Eadmund quietly, "they are before us. We will even go
back to the hill."

We went back, and then I think that we knew the worst. We were
hemmed in upon it, for the half of the Danish force that had
remained were barring our way inland, while from the river every
other man of the Danish host was coming up to attack us from that
side.

"Now it would seem that some of us will stay on this hill for
good," said Eadmund; "but if we must lie here till the last day it
is a place whence one can look out over the English land and sea
and river for which we have died."

And so he drew us up in the ring again there on the hilltop, which
was wide enough, and we sat down and waited for the coming of the
Danes.

"Lord king," I said, "let us make a wedge and cut through the Danes
inland. So shall we win back to the open country, and we can gather
men afresh."

He smiled wearily at me, and it seemed to me that at last he had
given up hope. And but for Streone's treachery that thing would
never have been. It had broken our king's spirit.

"Friend," he said, "I will die here if I can."

"That shall not be while there is one to give his life for you," I
answered, and the thanes around us murmured "Aye!" in that stern
voice that means more than aught of clamour.

Then I saw some Wessex thanes speaking earnestly to one another,
and presently they beckoned to me, and while Eadmund sat silent on
his horse I went to them to hear what they would.

"We will get the king off this field if we can," they said. "We
cannot lose him. If chance is, we will take him against his will.
Hinder us not."

"That is well," said I. "I will help you, for he is the hope of
England."

Maybe Ashingdon hilltop is full fifty acres in the more level
summit, and we could not guard it all; so we waited on that edge
nearest the Danes, the half circle that faces inland from the
marshes towards the battle ground we had lost, and to Hockley from
the river. And presently the Danes began to come up the hill in
even line, and we watched them drawing nearer in silence.

Then Eadmund bade our bowmen get to work; but the arrows were as
nought against the long line that did but quicken its advance as
they felt their sting here and there.

The Danes spread out along the hillside to surround us, and then
when they had gained the summit they charged on us, and again we
were hand to hand with them.

I suppose we fought so, without stirring from the place where we
were, for half an hour. Our circle thinned, but never broke, and
Dane after Dane fell or drew back to let fresh men come forward,
and as we might we also sent fresh men from our inner ranks to
relieve those who had grown weary. It was stern hand-to-hand
fighting, and one knows how that will ever be--one of two men must
go down or give way, and our men fell, but give way they would not.

I have said we were on the edge of the hilltop circle, and
therefore the attack from the steep hill slope was weakest. And so
it came to pass that presently the line against us there was
thinned out, because men pressed upwards to the level, and then
those Wessex thanes saw that we might break through and cut our way
down the hill and make good our retreat.

Where Eadmund was I followed, and I know that I saved him once or
twice from spear thrusts that would have slain him when he charged
among the Danes, where they pressed us most hardly. Wearied was my
arm, but sword Foe's Bane bit through helm and harness, and once I
was facing Ulf the jarl, and he cried out to me:

"Well smitten, Wulfnoth's man!"

For he knew me. And I looked for Egil, that I might call him to
come and win the sword from me, but I could not see him; and a
foolish fear that some other than he might get the good blade got
hold of me, for I had no doubt that I must fall, and no fear
thereof, save that. And why I longed for Egil thus was, I think,
because of utter weariness and loss of hope.

Then they pushed us as it were over the hill edge, and we began to
go down, and I knew at once what would come next.

The line of Danes on the hill slope gave way before us and left the
way clear; and at first we went slowly and in good order, and then
they charged on us down the hill with crushing weight of numbers.

And so we fled. I saw the Wessex thanes catch Eadmund's bridle, and
they turned his horse and spoke to him. And he threatened them with
his sword for a moment; but they were urgent, and at last he fled.
And I, knowing that if we could keep back the Danes but for a few
minutes longer he might escape, cried to what chiefs were left to
us, and we rallied on the hillside for a last stand.

Then my horse reared and fell back on me, and I heard a great
shout, and the rush of many feet passed over me, and Ashingdon
fight and aught else was lost in blackness.



Chapter 15: The Shadow Of Edric Streone.


"The man is dead," said a rough voice. "Let him bide."

"He is not," one answered. "He had nought to slay him. Here be
three flesh wounds only."

Then I began to come to myself, for water was being poured on my
face, and I opened my eyes and saw Thrand of Colchester looking at
me. My head was on his knee, and he had a helm full of water in his
hand. His own head and arm were bandaged, and the man who spoke to
him was passing on, seeking elsewhere. All that had happened came
back to me in a moment then, and my ears woke to the sounds round
me. I knew them only too well, for they were the awesome sounds of
the time after battle.

"Where is the king?" I said.

"Safe enough, they say," Thrand answered. "Is it well with you,
master?"

I sat up, and the maze passed from me. I had but been stunned by
the fall from my horse, and now seemed little the worse, save for
sickness and dull weight of weariness. I had been an hour or two
thus, as it would seem, for now the Danish host was gone, and only
a few men sought for friends on that hillside, as Thrand had sought
for me. My horse was dead, slain by the spear thrust that made him
rear. It was that one which Earl Wulfnoth gave me when I left him.

"I shall be myself again directly," I said. "How has it all ended?
I thought I saw you slain."

"The Danes are chasing our men towards yon village," he said grimly
pointing towards Hockley. "They will not catch the king, however.
They smote me badly enough when I tried to be revenged on Streone,
and they slew Guthorm; but they only stunned me."

"Go hence before Streone catches you," said I.

"Not I," said Thrand. "He knows me not, and I shall wait for
another chance. The Danes think me a Mercian, and so I bide with
you. Can you fly now, master?"

I tried to rise, but I was weak and shaken, and sank down again. I
was not fit for walking even yet.

"I must wait," I said.

"There are stray horses enough down yonder," Thrand said, looking
over the meadows below us. "I will go and catch one. We must go
soon, or the Danes will be back."

"No use," said I. "They are between us and safety. I must wait and
take my chance."

With that I missed the sword that I loved, for I had thought of
selling my life dearly if the Danes would slay me.

"Where is sword Foe's Bane?" I cried.

Thrand looked round about me, but could see it not. Then he turned
over one or two of the slain men who lay thickly in the place where
our last stand was made. But he could not find it, until a wounded
man of ours asked what he sought. Thrand told him. Then I noted how
few wounded there were. The sun, nigh to setting now, broke out and
shone athwart the hillside; and it sparkled like the ice heaps on
the long banks that a winter's tide has left by the river, for
everywhere were the mail-clad slain. But the sparkles were steady,
as on the ice, not as on a host that is marching. Ice cold were
those who would need mail no more on Ashingdon hill.

"The sword is under the horse," the man said groaning. And it was
so, and unhurt.

"Get me a sword from off the field," I said, "and hide Foe's Bane
somewhere. Then, if they slay me, take it to Egil, Jarl Thorkel's
foster brother; and if not, I can find it again. I will not have it
taken from me thus."

So Thrand took it and its scabbard and hid both under his cloak,
and went to where there was a patch of woodland at the foot of the
hill--ash and alder growing by the marsh side--some two hundred
yards off.

I closed my eyes and waited till he came back--and he was gone for
some while. Presently he came, and told me that he had hidden it
under a fallen tree trunk, and that the place was dry and safe. He
found me another sword easily enough--and it was notched from point
to hilt. Its edge was not like that of Foe's Bane, but the man
whose it had been had done his duty with it. It was an English
sword.

Now I thought that I could walk again, and stood up and made a step
or two, painfully enough, in truth, but in such wise that I should
soon do better. And then over the brow of the hill the Danes began
to come. They had circled round and I had not noted them, and came
on us from the other side. They were searching among the slain for
their comrades.

Half a dozen of them came towards Thrand and me, and I suppose that
they would have slain me. But my man was ready for them, and took
the sword from me quickly.

"Will the king suffer us to keep captives?" he said.

"Aye," one answered, in some Jutland speech that was new to me,
though one could understand it well enough, "there is word that we
are to take any chiefs alive--but that is a new word to us. Who
minds it?"

"I do," said Thrand. "Here is one who will pay for freedom, and he
has yielded to me."

"That is luck for you," they said, and passed on.

There was plunder enough all around, and they were in haste lest
others should come. Thrand's Anglian speech was Danish enough for
them.

"Now you are safe, master," Thrand said; "no need for the sword."

"I am a captive," said I bitterly.

Then my eyes sought the ground as Thrand cast the useless blade
away, and there, crawling on the reddened turf, was a toad that
feared not the still dead, and must seek its food whether men lived
or died, unheeding aught but that. And when I saw it, into my mind
flashed the time when I had stood, weakened and hurt, and looked at
the like in Penhurst village--and the words that Spray the smith
spoke came to me, and they cheered me, as a little thing will
sometimes. And then I thought of her who prayed for me among
Penhurst woods, and I was glad that life was left me yet.

More Danes kept coming now, and presently one who was in some
command came to where I sat with Thrand standing over me.

"Is this a captive?" he asked.

"Aye," said Thrand.

"Who is he?"

"Some thane or other. What shall I do with him?"

"Cnut wants to see all captives. Take him to the fort whence we
came."

He passed on, and Thrand said:

"Master, if you can find Egil all may be well, Let us go."

That was all that I could do. Egil or Godwine might befriend me.
Godwine surely would, but I knew not if his word would go for
anything.

Aye, but that was an awesome walk across the upland, where the
flower of England lay dead. I knew not what had befallen us fully
until I went slowly over Ashingdon hill. All the best blood of
England was spilt there; and I knew, as we passed the wide ring of
heaped corpses where our stand had been longest, that the hopes of
Eadmund had come to nought, and that the shadow of Streone lay
black across his life.

We came to the further slope of the hill, and were going down, and
through the tears of rage and grief that filled my eyes I saw a few
horsemen breasting the slope towards us, and one of them was Edric
Streone the traitor himself; and when I saw him I felt as a man who
lights suddenly on a viper, and I shuddered, for the sight of him
was loathsome to me, and Thrand ground his teeth.

Streone's eyes fell on us, and he turned his horse to meet us. And
when he knew who I was he glowered at me without speaking, and I
looked him full in the face once, and then turned my back on him.
He did not know my man.

"Bind your prisoner," he said sharply to Thrand.

"No need to do that," said Thrand coolly, "he is sorely hurt, and
has no arms."

Then the other horsemen rode up leisurely.

"Who is this?" said one--and he was Jarl Eirik.

"No one worth having," said Streone, and reined round his horse to
go on as if caring nought.

They went on up the hill. I suppose that they were going there that
Edric Streone might say who the slain were. As for us we went our
way, and Thrand cursed the earl with every step.

We had hardly got away from the hill when men came after us in
haste, and before I knew that it was myself whom they sought, they
had pushed Thrand aside and bound my hands.

"What is this?" Thrand asked angrily.

And I said:

"Bind me not. I go to yield myself."

"Earl Edric's orders," said the men. "We are to keep you here till
he comes."

At that I knew that I had fallen into his hands, and that my life
was not worth much. I could see that Thrand knew this also.

"That is all very well," I said; "but I am Egil Thorarinsson's
captive."

Whereat one of the men laughed.

"You may not choose your captor, man. Egil has not been ashore all
day. He is with the ships yonder."

Then Thrand said, seeming very wroth:

"I will not lose a good captive and ransom for any Mercian
turncoat. I will go and find the king and make complaint."

"Tell him that you are Egil at the same time," a Dane sneered. "You
will not hoodwink him as you have this Saxon."

"Is not this man Egil?" I asked, looking at Thrand with a hope that
he would guess whom I needed.

"He Egil!" they answered, laughing loudly. And at that Thrand
turned and went away quickly, and I sat down and said:

"What will Earl Edric do with me?"

One said one thing and one another, and I did not listen much. But
they all thought in the end that Edric's lust for gold would make
him hold me to heavy ransom. I thought that he loved revenge even
better than wealth, and this cheered me not at all.

About sunset Edric Streone came. Thrand had, I thought, made his
escape, most likely, and I was glad. He had helped me all he could.

The earl left the party he was with, and came to me and my guards.
He looked at me sidewise for a while, and then spoke to me in broad
Wessex, which the Danes could hardly understand, if at all.

"So, Master Redwald, what will you give for freedom?"

I answered him back in my own Anglian speech, which any Dane knows,
for it is but the Danish tongue with a difference of turn of voice,
and words here and there:

"I will give a traitor nothing."

"But I am going to hang you," and he chuckled in his evil way.
There were many meanings in that laugh of Streone's.

"You can do as you like with me, as it happens," I answered, "but I
had rather swing at a rope's end as an honest man than sit at
Cnut's table as Streone the traitor."

He tried to laugh, but it stuck in his throat, and so he turned to
rage instead.

"Smite him," he said to the Danes.

"Not we," said the spokesman of the half dozen. "Settle your own
affairs between you."

"Take him to yon tree and hang him, and have done," said Edric.

"Spear me rather," said I in a low voice to the men.

They laughed uneasily, but did not move, and Edric again bade them
take me to the tree, which was about a hundred paces away.

They took me there and set me under a great bough, and then stood
looking at me and the earl. They had no rope, and the belts that
bound me were of no use for a halter. Edric saw what was needed,
and swore. Then he sent one of the men to the ships to get a line
of some sort; and I think that his utter hatred of anyone who had
seen through his plans made him spare me from spear or sword, for
there is no disgrace in death by steel. But at this time there
seemed no disgrace in the death he meant me to die, for it was
shame to him, not to me.

The ships were not so far off. It was not long before three or four
men came through the gathering dusk, and one had a coil of rope
over his shoulder. And after them came across the hillside a
horseman, beside whom ran a man on foot. There were many men about,
and these were too far for me to heed them. I only noticed that
which should end my life.

"Set to work quickly," said Streone.

So they flung the end of the line over the bough, sailorwise, and
made a running bowline in the part that came down. There is torture
in that way, and some of the men grumbled thereat, being less hard
hearted. So they began to argue about the matter, and Streone
watched my face, for this was pleasure to him, as it seemed, though
he did not look straight at me. I wished they would hasten, that
was all.

Now the horseman and his follower came up, and lo! Egil was the
rider, and with him was Thrand.

"Ho!" cried Egil, "hold hard. That is my man."

Streone turned on him with a snarl.

"Your man!" he said. "I took him. Hold your peace."

"There you lie," quoth Thrand. "I took him myself for Egil, my
master--as your own men know. I told them."

"He did so," the Danes said, for they loved Egil, and Streone was a
stranger of no great reputation, though high in rank.

"Set him loose," said Egil. "I will have no man interfere with my
captives."

Then Streone hid his anger, and took Egil aside while the Danes and
Thrand set me free. Presently Egil broke out into a great laugh.

"Want you to hang him for slaying men of yours!" he cried. "Why, he
might hang you for the same. How many of his men did you slay this
morning?"

"That was in fight--he killed the others in time of peace."

"Better not say much of that fight," said Egil. "There was a peace
breaking there."

Streone turned pale at that, for he saw that the Danes did not hold
his ways in honour though they had profited by them.

"Well, then, take him. Little gain will he be to you, for he is
landless and ruined," he sneered, chuckling.

"Well," said Egil, "he is a close friend of Earl Wulfnoth's, and
maybe it is just as well that you hung him not. Cnut would hardly
have thanked you for setting that man against him, and maybe
bringing Olaf the Norseman down on him also."

Streone had thought not of those things. He turned ashy pale at the
picture Egil had drawn of loss of Cnut's favour. He looked once or
twice towards me as if he were trying to frame some excuse, but
none would come.

"I knew it not," he said, falsely enough. "I am glad you came."

Egil only laughed, and with that Streone rode away quickly, and
never looked back as he went.

Thereafter Egil took me down to the ships, and he sent Thrand for
sword Foe's Bane when the night had fallen. Most kindly did the
Dane treat me, but I cared for little. I could not move for
stiffness and bruising after I had slept for twelve hours on end,
but that was nought compared with the sorrow for what had befallen
us.

Two days after this the Danish host followed in the track of
Eadmund and his flying levies: but Egil stayed in command of the
ships, and I with him. I had not seen Cnut, but Egil had spoken of
me to him.

"I have heard of Redwald of Bures before," the king had said. "What
know I of him? I think it is somewhat good."

"He nearly got Emma the queen out of England," Egil had answered.
"I know not if you call that a good deed, lord king."

"That is it. She spoke to me for him, asking me to treat him well
if he fell into my hands, because of his faithful service and
long-suffering patience on the journey."

Then he asked what he could do, but Egil answered that I would bide
with him at this time, and hereafter he would mind the king of me
again.

"Do so," said Cnut. "He must be a friend of mine."

I could not but think well of the young king for this, but it
seemed unlikely that friendly towards him I should ever be.
Nevertheless, the words of the witch of Senlac were coming true.

Then we, safe in the shelter of the river, waited for news: the two
kings being in Wessex. But I could not think it likely that Cnut
would give time for a fresh gathering of Wessex men to Eadmund.

Nor did he. All men know how the two kings met at Olney in the
Severn, and how peace was made, after Eadmund had said that he
would rather fight out the matter hand to hand to the death. Few of
us knew then how little able Cnut was to fight the mighty Ironside,
but we thought him strong in body as in name. Else had that plan
never been thought of.

They say that Edric Streone advised Cnut to take the old Danelagh
and Northumbria and leave Eadmund the rest of the kingdom, the
survivor to succeed to all the land. Maybe he did. If so, it was
that he might earn more from Cnut by giving him all the land. But
it is certain that thus Cnut wrought best for himself, for the
Danelagh received him gladly, while Wessex loved Eadmund. And when
Eadmund should die, Wessex would take Cnut for king at Eadmund's
word, as it were, by reason of the treaty made and oaths given and
received. Not for nothing do men call the King Cnut the Wise, for
it is certain that he had Eadmund in his power, and forbore to use
his advantage to the full.

So the long struggle ended, and at last there was rest to the land.
But I, who had hoped for victory, felt as though life had little
pleasure left when first this news came to me. But in a few days
came one of Godwine's men bearing messages to me from him, and also
from Eadmund my king.

The first were most kindly, speaking of hope of seeing me ere long,
and the like; but it seemed that the young earl had promised
Eadmund to send me the letter which the messenger brought, and that
that was the most important business. I took the letter ashore and
went to Ashingdon hill and sat there among the graves of the slain
and read it, while the summer sun and wind and sky were over me,
while the land and sea seemed at rest, and all was in a great peace
after the strife that I had seen in that place.

To my Thane, greeting.--What has befallen us, and how we have
divided the kingdom with our brother Cnut in the old way of the
days of Alfred the greatest of our line, you will have heard. We
have fought, and all men say that we have fought well; but this is
how things have been ordered by the Lord of Hosts. Therefore, my
thane, for your sake, and seeing specially that already our brother
Cnut is well disposed toward you, as Godwine son of Wulfnoth tells
us, by reason of your service to Emma the queen--I would bid you
accept him as ruler of East Anglia, where your place is. And you
shall hold this letter in proof that thus our word to you is, if in
days to come the line of Wessex kings shell hold the kingdom once
more. Few have been those who have been faithful to us as have you.

Now, I will set down no more, for Eadmund my king wrote to me as he
was wont to speak in the days that were gone, and I wept as I read
his words--wept bitterly there on Ashingdon hill, and I am not
ashamed thereof.

And when I had spelt out to the end of his letter there were words
also that were pleasant to me. For they were written by Elfric the
abbot, my friend, thus:

Written by the hand of Elfric, Abbot of St. Peter's Minster at
Medehamstede.

I, Elfric, bid you, my son Redwald, be of cheer, for in the end all
shall be for the best. Bide in your home of Bures if Cnut wills, as
I think shall be, and see to the good of your own people as would
your father who has gone. There is an end of war for England. It
remains for us to make for the things of peace.

Then I sat and thought for long, and at last it seemed to me that I
could do nought but as both king and friend would bid me, and the
words that Elfric had written weighed more with me than those of
the king. Now that I could fight no more I began to long to get
back to that home life in the old place that had seemed so near to
me and had been taken away.

And then came the thought of Uldra, and of what she would say of
this. But as things were, and with this letter before me, I could
not doubt what her word would be. She would speak as Elfric wrote.
Then I longed for Olaf and his counsel. But he was far beyond my
reach, nor could I tell where he might be. He had gone across the
gray rim of the sea, and no track was there for me to follow.

The evening fell, and still I sat there, and Thrand of Colchester
came to seek me--I know not what he feared for me if I grew lonely
on Ashingdon hill now that all seemed lost.

"Master, come back to the ships," he said. "It is ill biding here
after sunset. The slain are unquiet by reason of Streone's deeds."

"They will not harm me, Thrand," I answered. "I would I lay here
with them even now . . . but that is past."

I rose up and went down the hill with him, and the sun set behind
it, and it was gray and black against the red evening sky. There
was a mist from the river, and one might think that one saw many
things moving therein.

And I know not that I saw anything more than mortal--though maybe I
did--until as we went to Cnut's dune, under which Egil's ship lay,
and we passed that place where the left wing of our line had been
driven back on the marsh. Then I saw an armed man coming towards
us, and Thrand, who walked at my shoulder, closed up to me, for the
warrior had a drawn sword in his hand.

And when we came face to face I knew that I looked once more on
Ulfkytel our earl, and a great fear fell on me, for he lay with his
men in the mound where he fell, and Egil and I had raised it over
him. Then I must speak.

"Greeting to the earl," I said, and my voice sounded strange.

But he made no answer, save that he looked me in the face and
smiled at me gravely and sweetly, and sheathed the sword he held,
folding his arms thereafter as one whose work is done. And while
one might count a score, I saw him, plainly as in life, and then he
was gone.

Wherefore I thought that our own earl was not wroth with me for
what I would do; and after that my mind was at rest, and ready to
take what peace might come to me at the hands of Cnut the king.

"We have seen the earl," Thrand said, when he was gone.

"Aye. He tells us that the war is at an end, and that, in truth,
Cnut is king in East Anglia."

"It is well," Thrand answered simply. "Dane were my fathers, and
Danish is my name and that of Guthorm my brother. If Cnut lets us
keep our old customs and governs with justice, it is all we need."

There was spoken the word of all Anglia, whether of the north or
south folk, and I knew it. No man would but hail him there
willingly. Our people had never forgotten that the Wessex kings
were far from them, and that little help came from thence.

Now, when I came to Egil, I told him that the letter I had gotten
bore messages to me from Eadmund, and I read it to him so far as I
have written here.

"This is good," he answered, when I said that it should be as the
king said. "Now are you Cnut's man and my friend indeed. Thorkel,
my foster brother, is to be Earl of East Anglia, and you shall be
Thane of Bures as ever. And I shall have to mind Colchester and
this shore, and we shall see much of each other."

So he rejoiced, and I grew more cheerful as the days went on. Then
Thorkel came, and together we went to Colchester, and thence he
bade me go to Bures in peace and take my old place, for he said
that Cnut and Emma the queen would have me honoured in all that I
would, even did he himself not wish to keep me as his own friend.

Then said I:

"What of Geirmund, your own man, who had Bures?"

Egil laughed.

"Geirmund is the man over whom I fell at your feet at Leavenheath
fight. You yourself have made an end of him. I wonder that you knew
it not."

So I went back to Bures, and there is no need to say how my poor
folk rejoiced. But Ailwin was not there, nor had Gunnhild been
seen. The young priest was there yet, and well loved.

Then I said to myself:

"Let things bide for a while. When peace comes altogether and
certainly, then will Ailwin bring back Hertha, and there will be
trouble enough then, maybe. As it is, my house must be rebuilt, and
the land has to settle down after war."

With that I set to work to gather the timber together from my own
woods, that we might begin to build in the coming springtime, and I
grew happy enough at that work, though I would that I worked for
Uldra.

Then came the news that Eadmund our king was dead, slain by
Streone's men--some say by the Earl's son, others by the king's own
men, whom he bribed. One will, I suppose, never know what hands did
the deed, but Streone's doing it was when all is told.

There is more in my mind about this than I will say. But Thrand,
who had been with me, begged that he might go to Colchester for a
while; and I let him go, for he waxed restless, though I knew not
what he would leave me for.

Then the kingdom was Cnut's, and he spoke to the Wessex nobles at a
great council in London in such wise that they hailed him for king.
There was naught else for them to do. And he promised to keep the
laws of Eadgar {15}, and to defend Holy Church, and to make no
difference between Dane and Saxon, and by that time men knew that
what Cnut the king promised that he would perform.

So came the strong hand that Ethelred our dying king had foretold,
and sure and lasting peace lay fair before England. Above all
things that made for our content Cnut promised to send home his
host. Nor was it long before Jarl Eirik sailed away with all but
those to whom lands had fallen. There were many manors whose
English lords had died, and they must own Danish masters.

And I will say this other word, that now at the time that I write
of these things, men speak of English only, for Cnut has welded the
races of England into one in such wise as has never been before.

So I mourned for Eadmund, and wrought at home-making until the
springtime came, and all the while the thought of Uldra grew dearer
to me, and I longed to seek her again. And the thought of Hertha
and my betrothal seemed as bondage to me. Yet I would do nought
till Ailwin came or till I could find him. But none knew where he
was.

I knew now that it was well that Hertha and I should not meet till
all was broken off, for her I could not love, and she knew nought
of me. Yet for her sake I set the Wormingford thralls at work in
the like manner as my own people were busied, that she might find
withal to build her own house place afresh, when, if ever, she
should return.

Now, one day as I stood watching the shaping of the timber for the
first framing of my hall, Thrand came back. He ran to me when he
saw me, and cried:

"Master all is avenged! Streone the traitor is no more."

I took him away to a quiet place, for this news was strange, and
the thralls were listening wonderingly, and I asked him how this
came about.

"Master, I slew him myself," he said grimly.

Then said I:

"By subtlety--after his own manner?"

"Not so, master. But even in Cnut's own presence."

So I was amazed, and bade him tell all.

"When I left you, master," he said, "I took service with Jarl
Thorkel. Then he went to court in London, even as I hoped, for that
was all I needed, and presently came Streone with a great train to
see Cnut. Now the king is not a great and strong man, as men think
who have not seen him, but is tall and overgrown for his years,
looking eighteen or twenty, though he is younger. He will be a
powerful man some day, but his mail hangs loosely on him now. He is
like an eagle in face, for his nose is high and bent, and his eyes
are clear and piercing. Quiet and very pleasant is he in his way,
and being so young also, some think they can do as they will with
him. But that they try not twice.

"This is what Streone thought, for he deemed that he should be the
king's master if he set him on the throne. So he must needs try to
gain more wealth from the king, and after he had been at court for
a while, one might see that Cnut grew weary of his words. But at
last there was a great feast, and I stood behind Thorkel at the
high place, and Streone was next to Thorkel, and Thorkel to the
king on his right hand. When the ale was going round, Streone began
to find fault with some ordering of Cnut's, and at last said:

"Maybe one might judge how things would go when the man who gave
you this kingdom is treated thus.'

"Then Cnut looked at him very quietly and said:

"'You have the same honours from me as from Ethelred.'

"'Not so, not so,' he said. 'I was wont to sit at the king's right
hand, with none between me and him.'

"Thereat Thorkel would have spoken, but Cnut held up his hand. I
saw his bright eyes shining, and Streone should have taken warning,
but his fate was on him.

"'You think, then, that you have not all you deserve?' the king
said.

"'I have not. You have all--owing to me.'

"Then Cnut rose up and faced him, and a great hush fell on all the
assembly.

"'This earl, as it seems, will be content with nothing short of the
king's seat. Two kings has he pulled down, and one has he slain of
those two. We have profited by this, as all men know. But here do I
proclaim myself clear from all part in the slaying of Eadmund my
brother, who, but for this man, might hereafter have taken all the
kingdom when I died, according to our oaths. I suppose that no man
will believe that I had nought to do with this murder, but I am
clear thereof, both in thought or wish or deed.

"'Now in gaining the kingdom which has been the right of the Danish
kings--if tribute paid for conquest in old time means aught--at
least since the days of Guthrum, if not before, I have used the
help of this earl, for Mercia was ours by right, as in the
Danelagh. I will not say that his way of helping me has been what
one would wish, but in war one uses what weapons one can find. For
his help to me the Earl of Mercia has been well paid. Now, what
shall be given to the man who betrayed to death the foster son who
believed in him as in himself?'

"Then I, Thrand the freeman of Colchester, nowise caring what
befell me, answered in a loud voice:

"'Let him die. He is not fit to live.'

"'Slay him, therefore,' said Cnut.

"Thereat Streone cried for mercy once, grovelling. And he having
done so, I lifted the axe I bore and slew him, even on the high
place at the king's feet.

"Then one in the hall said in a great voice:

"'Justice is from the hands of Cnut the king.'

"There went round a murmur of assent to that, and I called to me
another of Thorkel's men, a Colchester man of your guard also, and
while all held their peace and Cnut stood still looking at what was
done, stirring neither hand nor foot, but with his eyes burning
bright with rage and his head a little forward, as an eagle that
will strike, we two bore the traitor's body to the window that
overhangs the Thames, and cast it thereout into the swift tide.

"After that I went my way down the hall, and the king cried:

"'Let the man go forth.'

"So that none spoke to me or withstood me.

"When I got to the street it was dark, and it seemed to me that the
best thing that I could do was to fly. So I went by day and night,
and I am here."

So that was the traitor's end. And I was glad, for I knew that
England was free from her greatest foe. Justly was Edric Streone
slain, and all men held that it was well done. Nor did any man ever
seek Thrand to avenge the earl's death on his slayer. I think none
held him worth avenging.

I bade Thrand hold his peace concerning his part in this matter,
for a while at least, lest I should lose him.

After Streone's death it was plain that Cnut was king indeed, for
his Danish jarls knew him too well to despise him. They went each
to his place, and the land began to smile again with the peace that
had come, and Cnut sent Eirik the jarl home to Denmark with the
host, as I have said.



Chapter 16: By Wormingford Mere.


Now it was not long after Streone's death that I had a message from
Emma the queen to bid me to her wedding with Cnut, that should be
completed with all magnificence. And I went with Thorkel the jarl
and Egil, and I could not complain of the welcome I had both from
the queen and from Cnut. I might say much of that wedding, for it
was wonderful, but I cared not much for it, except that there I met
Elfric the abbot again, and he would have me stay in his house, so
that it was most pleasant to be with him, and away from the bustle
and mirth of the strangers who were with the king.

But for this wedding Eadward Atheling would not come from Normandy.
Men said that he was likely to gather forces against his new
stepfather, but that it would be of no use. So thought I, for it
was a true word that I had heard at Senlac in the hut on Caldbec
hill--that Cnut should have the goodwill of all men, even of
myself. For so it was, as one might see written in the faces of the
London burghers, who alone of all England had baffled him again and
again, and now could not do enough honour to him. He had won even
their love.

When I would go back to Bures, Emma the queen sent for me, hearing
that I would speak with her ere I went, and she received me most
kindly, coming down from her high place to greet me.

"Redwald," she said, laughing a little, "I was a sore burden to you
when we fled hence."

"My queen," I answered, "the danger was the burden. It weighed on
all of us."

"That is a court speech," she said; "but we taught you court ways,
and I will not blame it. Nevertheless, though you will not tell me
so plainly, I know that I made things worse for you by my
foolishness. Forgive the abbess, if the queen may expect nought but
smooth words."

"I do not know how I can answer you, Queen Emma," said I at that,
"but it is true that for you I would go through the same again."

"Then I am forgiven," she said. "Now tell me what became of the
brave maiden who withstood the Danes with you, and also my sharp
tongue--trouble sharpened it, Redwald, and I have repented my hard
words to her."

"She is with friends at Penhurst, near to Earl Wulfnoth's castle of
Pevensea. And she feared that you would hate her."

"I would that I could reward her rather," the queen said. "Have you
seen her of late?"

"Not since just before last midsummer," I answered; and I suppose
my face showed some feeling that the queen noted.

"Redwald," she said, "if you would wed this maiden it is I who
would give her a portion that should be worthy of her and of you.
Can it be so?"

"My queen," I said with a great hope in my heart, "if that is your
will, I think that it must be so. But in honesty I will tell you
that an old betrothal that was when I was a child seems to stand in
the way. But neither I nor the child to whom I was betrothed have
seen one another since the coming of Swein's host. And I know not
where she is."

"Ah! you would have it broken, and I wonder not. That can surely
be."

Then all at once came over me one thought of how Hertha had
perhaps, after all, longed and waited and prayed for my coming. I
remembered words that Ailwin had spoken that seemed to say that
this might be so; and thus on the very threshold of freedom I
shrank back lest I should wrong the child I had loved by breaking
my troth so solemnly plighted; and I knew not what to say, while
the queen looked at me wondering.

Then she smiled and said:

"Maybe you cannot love the maiden. Wait awhile, and let me hear of
you again. One may not, in kindness, force these matters. But I
will trust you to tell me if she is to wed any other than you--for
her portion shall be ready for her. The riches of England and
Denmark and Norway are mine."

There spoke Emma of Normandy again, and her proud look came back.
The maidens on the dais were smiling at one another, for the queen
was turned away from them.

"Let it be thus, my queen," I said, after I had thanked her.

And she said that it should be so, deeming that I had thought of
Uldra not at all, maybe.

Then she spoke of my own doings, and Cnut came as we did so. I
bowed to him, and he took my hand, calling me "thane" in all good
faith.

"Now I have to come ere long into your country," he said, "for I
have vowed to build a church in each place where I have fought and
conquered. Have you a house where I may stay?"

"My place is far from Ashingdon, lord king," I answered, "and I am
rebuilding my father's house as best I can."

"I suppose my men burnt it?" he said plainly.

"Your father's men did so in the first coming."

"Therefore shall his son rebuild for your father's son," said the
king. "Will you accept aught from me?"

"Lord king," said I, "I have fought against you, and have owned you
unwillingly at first."

"That is certain," he said laughing, "else had you not tried to
take away my queen. Go to, Redwald, you are a troublesome subject."

"I think I shall be so no longer," I answered.

So those two most royal ones bade me farewell, and I went away to
Elfric, and found Godwine there. The young earl was high in favour
with Cnut, and rightly.

Presently came one from the king with somewhat for me, and that was
a goodly gift of money, which I hardly cared to take at first.

Then Godwine laughed at me.

"We have a great chest half full of gold at Pevensea out of which
you may take a double handful whenever you need it. Cnut has the
gold of three kingdoms and says you may do the same out of his
hoards. Head breaking brought you the first, and hardship the
second. Take one as you would the other, man. It is your due."

And Elfric added that the king's gift was surely out of goodness of
heart. There could be no thought of bribes now. So I took it, and
was glad thereof, for I could not ask my people for rents and dues
yet.

Elfric asked me of Uldra, as one might suppose, and was glad when
he heard of her welfare.

"I suppose that when I get back to Medehamstede her folk will want
to know how she fares in Normandy, or the like. Maybe they have
troubled the good abbess already more than enough, for she brought
her to me."

"Whose daughter was she?" I asked.

"Maybe I heard, but I have forgotten," he said. "The abbess knows.
I saw not her folk, for the sisters brought her with them with my
consent."

So I went back to Bures well content with all but one thing, and
that was what troubled me more than enough. But I knew not that to
my dying day I shall rejoice that I kept my troth to Hertha.

It was on one of those wondrous days that come in October, with
glory of sunshine and clear sky over gold and crimson of forest and
copse, that I learnt this.

I would go to Wormingford now and then to see that all was going
well with the rebuilding of Hertha's home, for Cnut's gift was
enough for that also, seeing that all one needed was at hand and
did but require setting up by skilled workers. Our priest, Father
Oswin, found me such craftsmen as I needed.

"Let me rebuild the church first, father," I had said to him when I
returned thus rich.

"Not so, my son. That is a matter which must be taken in hand
presently, and not hurriedly. Shelter first the man who shall do
it, and provide for the fatherless at Wormingford, and it will be
better done after all."

Therefore I was very busy. And on this day of which I speak I
walked in the late afternoon, and must needs turn aside into the
woods by the mere, for I had often done that of late, loving the
place for old memories the more now that Olaf came into them. It
seemed to me that I had never seen the still mere look more
wondrously beautiful than on this day, for we had had neither wind
nor rain to mar the autumn beauty of the trees, and that was
doubled by the mirror of the water.

So I lingered in that place where Olaf and I had been so nearly
slain, thinking of that night and of many other days, and then I
heard a footstep coming through the wood, and turned to see who it
might be, for I had never met any other in the haunted place.

And there came towards me slowly a white-robed maiden who looked
steadfastly at me, saying nought. And I thought that surely she was
the White Lady of the Mere. The shadows flickered across her face
and dress, and in her hand she bore a basket with crimson leaves
and the like.

And then I saw that surely this was Hertha coming to meet me as in
the old days when I had waited for her here--Hertha grown older,
and changed; but yet as I saw her here in the old place one could
not but know her, and half I cried out her name, and then stayed
with my heart beating fast.

For as she came into the clearing and was close to me she held out
her hands, and the basket fell at her feet, and lo! it was Uldra,
whom I loved--and Uldra was Hertha--and I had in my arms all that I
longed for, and my trouble was gone for evermore.

"How was it that you knew me not before this?" she asked presently,
while we walked together to Wormingford to find Ailwin. They had
but come back that morning.

"Always have I seemed to know you well," I said, "but first the
sisters' dress, and then that I looked not for Hertha in London,
prevented me. And so I grew to know your looks and ways as Uldra,
whom I grew to love. Then all thought of the old likeness that
puzzled me at first was forgotten. There is no wonder in it, for
you have grown from childhood to womanhood since we fled from
Bures, and I have gone through much that blotted your face from my
mind. Rather do I wonder where you have been all this time."

"One secret I may not tell you today," she said; "and that is where
our safest hiding place has been in sorest peril. Some day I will
show it you, for it is not far. But for long did Gunnhild and I
dwell with her brother in the forest and marsh fastnesses beyond
the Colne. There one might take to the woods when prowling Danes
were near, though it was but twice, and but for a few hours then,
that we had to do so. There was little or no danger there when the
host passed on. Some day shall you and I ride to that quiet
farmstead, for I love the kindly folk who cared for me so well."

Then I said, and my words came to pass afterwards:

"If they will, they shall have my best farm here for their own,
that they may be near you. Now tell me how you came to be with
Elfric."

She blushed a little, and laughed.

"When we were at Penhurst," she said, "you told me how you were
seeking me--well, maybe I was seeking you. It fell out thus. When
you and Olaf, whom I long to see, scattered the Danes here,
Gunnhild said that we must fly, for they were seeking hiding
places. So she would go to her sister, who is abbess at Ramsey, by
the great mere of Whittlesea. So we fled there, and the journey was
overmuch for her, and there she died after two days. That was a
sore grief to me, but I will not speak of grief now. Then Ailwin
told the abbess to keep me with her until all things were safe,
when he would return for me. But Gunnhild had asked her to find me
a place with the Lady Algitha, Eadmund Atheling's wife, because I
should meet you in his house often enough. That she could do, and
would have done.

"Then the Danes came, and one day Elfric sent word that he was
going to Normandy. Those two sisters would go home, and so the
abbess sent me with them, thinking that thus her sister's plan for
me would be best carried out. For she was told by Elfric that you
were in charge of the party, saying the sisters would be safe in
your care. Elfric might get me a place in the queen's new
household; and if not--if you knew me not nor cared for me--there
was always the convent."

"So all that plan came out thus--and it is well," I said. "But why
would you not come to Penhurst at first?"

She laughed lightly, answering:

"Can you not guess? Relf saw, and set things right. Did he never
tell you what was wrong?"

"He said that it was want of travelling gear," said I.

"Why, that was not it, though being thoughtful and fatherly he
asked of that first."

"Tell me what was the trouble, then."

"I thought--there were things said, and you called me by her
name--that the wedding Relf spoke of was yours and Sexberga's. That
was all."

"Surely Relf knew not who you were?"

"No. He did not till Ailwin came to Penhurst."

"Then," said I, "it passes me to know how he found out what the
trouble was."

"Because he has a daughter of his own," she laughed.

And so she began to speak of Sexberga's wedding, which had been not
long since.

Then we came to Wormingford, and there was Ailwin, bent and aged
indeed by the troubles, but well, and rejoiced to see me once more,
and that I and Hertha were so happily together. But I had to ask
his pardon for my roughness to him before I could feel content.

"My son, had you not felt this matter very deeply, I know you would
not have troubled yourself even to wrath about it. Truly I was glad
to hear you speak so. There is nought to forgive."

So he said, and maybe he was right.

I rode back presently to Bures with my heart full of joy, and a
wondrous content. And when I came to the house on the green I was
to learn that joys come not always singly any more than sorrows,
which are ever doubled.

The door stood open as I rode up, and in the red light from within
the house stood two tall figures on the threshold, and the light
flashed from helms and mail as they moved, and for a moment a fear
came over me that some new call to arms waited me, so that the
peace that I thought I had at last found was to be snatched from
me. For it was as in the days when Olaf's men stood on guard over
us at the doorway.

More like those days it was yet to be, for as I reined up a voice
cried:

"Ho, cousin what of the White Lady?"

And Olaf himself came and greeted me as I leapt from the saddle,
holding my shoulders and looking at me as he took me into the light
to scan my face. The other warrior was Ottar the scald, my friend,
and now I had all that I could wish.

We sat together in the old places, and he said presently:

"You seem contented enough with Cnut, to judge by your face, my
cousin."

"I had forgotten him. I am content with all things," I answered.

"How came you here?"

"Nay, but you shall tell me of yourself first," he said. "Then I
may have somewhat to say of my doings."

So I told him all.

"Why then, you must be wedded betimes," he said; "for I must see
that wedding, though I would not have Cnut catch me. The ships are
in Colchester river, and but for Egil I had never got there even."

Then I heard how he had been southward, and what deeds he had done;
and it was Ottar who told me that, for Olaf had nought to say of
himself. But presently when it came to the time when he turned his
ships homeward, Olaf took up the story.

"When I was minded to go on from this place, in Carl's water as
they call it, even to Jerusalem and the holy places, I had the sign
that I looked for--the sign that I should go back to Norway. I
slept, and in my sleep there came to me a man, very noble looking
and handsome, and yet terrible, and he stood by me and spoke to me
saying, 'Fare back to the land that is thy birthright, for King of
Norway thou shalt be for evermore.' And I knew this man for Olaf
Tryggvesson my kinsman, and I think that he means that I shall gain
all Norway for Christ's faith, and that my sons shall reign after
me in the days to come."

"It is certain that you shall win Norway," I said, "for so also ran
the words of the Senlac witch, 'For Olaf a kingdom and more than a
kingdom--a name that shall never die'."

"I think men will remember me if I beat Cnut in my own land," he
said lightly. "So I came back as far as the Seine river, and there
was Eadward Atheling trying to raise men against Cnut his
stepfather. I knew not that that peaceful youth could rage so
terribly when occasion was, It was ill to speak of Cnut to him--or
of the queen either. Now I spoke with his few thanes, and they held
that it was of no use to try to attack England. None would rise to
help him. But he begged me to go with him for the sake of old days
and common hatred of the Dane. Wherefore I thought that it was as
well for England that he learnt his foolishness, and we went
together, and were well beaten off from the first place we put
into. So he went back contented to try no more, and I put in here
on my way homeward."

Then I said:

"Do you blame me for submitting to Cnut?"

"You could do nought else," he answered. "And from all I hear he is
likely to be a good king. Mind you that vision we saw on the shore
in Normandy?"

"It has come to pass as you read it," I answered.

Then he said:

"Yet more is to come to pass of that vision. Cnut will reign and
will pass when his time comes, and with him will pass his kingdoms.
There will be none of his line who shall keep them {16}."

"After him Eadward, therefore, or Alfred, should they live," I
said, musing. For the words of dying Ethelred came back to me--his
foretelling of the strong hand followed by the wise.

"That will be seen," answered Olaf. "Now I came to know if you were
yet landless and desperate so that you would sail to Norway with
me. But now I cannot ask you that. Nevertheless I shall be more
glad to see you wedded and at rest here, for I think that you have
seen your share of war."

"And I have been unlucky therein," said I.

"Now has your luck changed," said Olaf. "And all is well."

So it came to pass that our wedding was made the happier by the
presence of Olaf the king and by the songs of Ottar the scald. And
Egil came from Colchester, and with him many of those of my men who
were left, and Olaf's ship captains, so that with Sudbury folk and
our own people there was a merry gathering enough, and the little
church was over full when Ailwin and Oswin were ready at the altar.

After that was over, Olaf came forward and gave to the priests a
great chain of gold links, bidding them lay it on the altar for a
gift towards rebuilding the house of God.

"Only one thing do I ask you," he said, speaking in a hushed voice as
he stood there. "And that is that no week shall pass without remembrance
of those of my men who died for England on Leavenheath."

And Oswin said:

"It shall be so, King Olaf, for it has already become our custom
here. Now will we remember your name also."

    *    *    *    *    *    *

Ten years agone it is since Olaf sailed away from us and won Norway
from the hand of Cnut. Now and then come Norsemen to me from him
when they put into Colchester or Maldon, and ever do they bring
gifts for Hertha and Olaf and Eadmund and Uldra, the children that
are ours. For all things have gone well with us, and with all
England under the strong and wise rule of Cnut the king.

I stood beside him on Ashingdon hill when he came to see to the
building of the churches on the battlefield at the place of the
first fight, and at Ashingdon, and at Hockley where the flight
ended. And he dedicated that at Ashingdon to St. Andrew, in memory
of Eadmund his noble foe and brother king, for on the day of that
saint Streone slew him.

There Cnut the king stood and spoke to me:

"I build these churches, and their walls will decay in time, and
maybe men will forget who built them, but the deeds of Eadmund will
not be forgotten, for there are few men who have fought a losing
fight so sternly and steadfastly as did he. Nor shall men forget
you, Redwald, and those who fought and died here, and on the other
fields that are rich with their blood spilt for love of England.
None may say that their lives are wasted, for I see before us a new
brotherhood that will rise out of our long strife, because Dane and
Saxon and Anglian know each other for men."

So he said, and so it is, and our England is rising from the strife
into a mighty oneness that has never been hers before.

We went to London before long to see the great wedding that was
made for Godwine, my friend, and Gyda, the fair daughter of Ulf the
jarl, and niece of Cnut himself. There also were Relf and the lady
of Penhurst, and Eldred and Sexberga, and many more of Wulfnoth's
thanes. But the old viking had gone to his place beyond the grave,
and I saw him no more after I left him at Berkeley.

Godwine is the greatest man in England now, and well loved. All men
speak of his deeds in Denmark, whither he took the king's English
host when troubles were there, and he is one of those who hold the
kingdoms together since Ulf and Thorkel and Eirik are dead. They
were slain in petty quarrels, and it is ever in my mind that it was
in judgment on them for treating with Streone the traitor in the
days when Cnut had not yet taken the kingship and rule into his own
hands. I hold him blameless of that, for what could a boy of
thirteen, however wise, do against their word and plans?

But Thrand of Colchester lives yet, being port reeve of his own
town under Egil, my good friend.

None have ever seen the White Lady of the Mere again, nor has aught
ill befallen my thrall, who thought he saw her. I gave him his
freedom when we were wedded, and he is over the herds for us. But
ever do I choose rather to call my dear one "Uldra," the name which
she borrowed from the White Lady when I met her at Bosham, and
asked what I should call her, for by that name I learnt to love
her.

Now one day she bade me take her to the great mound of Boadicea the
queen beyond the river, for she had somewhat to show me, and half
fearing I went. But she had no fear of the place, and one might see
that she knew her way through the pathless woods around it well, so
that I wondered. She led me across the water which stands around it
in the old trench, stepping on fallen trees which made a sort of
bridge, and then went to a place where the bushes grew thickly and
tangled.

"Can you see aught strange here?" she said to me.

I could see nothing but thicket of briar and sloe climbing the
steep side of the mound. And therefore she parted them, not easily
at first, for none had touched them for long; and there before me
was the opening of a low stone-sided-and-roofed passage, leading to
the heart of the mound.

"Enter," she said. "This is our hiding place in sorest need."

"Hardly dare I do so. It is ill to disturb the mighty dead," I
answered.

"The dead queen has sheltered us helpless women well," she
answered. "She is not disturbed, for this is not her resting
place."

So I went in, stooping double, for the stone passage was very low.
I cannot tell whence the stone came, nor why the place was made
unless it were to receive some chiefs of the Iceni, whose bones
were gone had they ever been there, for there was a stone chamber
in the mound's heart, fitted with stone seats and stone beds, as it
were, and four people might well live in that place, for it was
cool in summer and warm in winter, but very silent.

I spoke not a word till we were in the sunshine again, and then I
shivered.

"I could not have entered that place alone," I said.

"Gunnhild had no fear thereof, nor had I as a little child. Three
times we bided there for days, while the Danes pillaged and burnt
all around us, and were safe."

It was some old secret handed down to Gunnhild that had taught her
how to find the passage entrance. But she knew not where the great
queen lay. Maybe her resting place is below the mound itself, or
maybe she lies elsewhere, as some say.

Then said I:

"Let us close the place. I pray that none may need it again."

So I loosened the earth above with my spear butt and it fell and
covered the doorway. And none, save Hertha and myself, know where
its place is.

Yet men say that they see the bale fires burning even now, on the
mound top on the nights when men look for such things. I have never
seen them.

There are two men of whom I must say a word, for I love them well.
One is Father Ailwin, our priest, and my old master--who bides here
with Oswin, whom I prayed to stay with us also--growing old
peacefully; and the other is Elfric the abbot, my friend ever, and
now Cnut's best adviser. Each in his own way fills well the place
that is his, one as the counsellor and friend of plain folk like
ourselves, winning the love and reverence of thane, and franklin,
and thrall alike; and the other as the wisest in the land maybe,
high in honour with all the highest in church and state. Well have
those two wrought, and we cannot do without their like, whether in
village or court.

It is likely that Elfric will be archbishop ere long, and that will
be well for us all. So great is the name of Cnut the king that
hereafter it will be that all that was wrought of wisdom in his
time will be laid to his account; but he would not have it so, for
he knows what he owes to Elfric. But also I think that the cruel
deeds wrought by the jarls while he was yet but a child will be
thought his work also, for men will forget how young he was when
the crown came to him, seeing that in utmost loyalty the jarls
spoke of him ever as commanding, as the old viking ways bade them.

But I who knew him almost from the first have seen how he hated
these deeds, staying the hands of his chiefs as soon as he knew
what his power was. Therein wrought Emma the queen, whose pride
taught him what his place was, sooner than might else have been.

Now I will say one last word of myself, who am happy--in wife, and
children, and home. Cnut made me ealdorman, that so I might serve
East Anglia, and I am glad, for I must needs go to the great witan
at times and meet Godwine and Relf and many others who are my
friends. But, rather than Redwald the ealdorman, I would that I
might be called ever by the name which comes into the songs of
Ottar the scald now and then--the name in which I have most pride,
King Olaf's kinsman.

THE END.



Notes.


1 the armed followers of a Saxon noble.

2 The national weapon. A short, strong, curved blade used as a dirk.

3 The massacre of the Danes on St. Brice's day, 1002 A.D., in
  which Swein's sister was killed.

4 Now Peterborough.

5 From the Heimskringla, Saga of Olaf the Saint.

6 Tribute.

7 An embodied familiar spirit.

8 According to Bede, in A.D. 418 the Romans collected and hid
  all the treasure in England, except some part which they
  took to Gaul. OElla took Anderida in 491 A.D.

9 The cold spring.

10 Mail shirt.

11 Daughter of Alfred the Great, and wife of Ethelred, Earl of
   Mercia.

12 The utmost term of Saxon contempt.

13 Now Canewdon.

14 The "Five Boroughs" of the old Danelagh were Leicester,
   Lincoln, Nottingham, Stamford, and Derby.

15 The work of the great Dunstan, and the first code that
   recognized the rights of Danish settlers.

16 This prophecy of Olaf's is recorded in the "Saga of Olaf the
   Saint".





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