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´╗┐Title: The Dragon and the Raven; Or, The Days of King Alfred
Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902
Language: English
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THE DRAGON AND THE RAVEN:

Or The Days of King Alfred


By

G. A. Henty



C O N T E N T S

        PREFACE
 I.     THE FUGITIVES
 II.    THE BATTLE OF KESTEVEN
 III.   THE MASSACRE AT CROYLAND
 IV.    THE INVASION OF WESSEX
 V.     A DISCIPLINED BAND
 VI.    THE SAXON FORT
 VII.   THE DRAGON
 VIII.  THE CRUISE OF THE DRAGON
 IX.    A PRISONER
 X.     THE COMBAT
 XI.    THE ISLE OF ATHELNEY
 XII.   FOUR YEARS OF PEACE
 XIII.  THE SIEGE OF PARIS
 XIV.   THE REPULSE OF THE NORSEMEN
 XV.    FRIENDS IN TROUBLE
 XVI.   FREDA
 XVII.  A LONG CHASE
 XVIII. FREDA DISCOVERED
 XIX.   UNITED



PREFACE


MY DEAR LADS,

Living in the present days of peace and tranquillity it is difficult to
picture the life of our ancestors in the days of King Alfred, when the
whole country was for years overrun by hordes of pagan barbarians, who
slaughtered, plundered, and destroyed at will. You may gain, perhaps, a
fair conception of the state of things if you imagine that at the time
of the great mutiny the English population of India approached that of
the natives, and that the mutiny was everywhere triumphant. The
wholesale massacres and outrages which would in such a case have been
inflicted upon the conquered whites could be no worse than those
suffered by the Saxons at the hands of the Danes. From this terrible
state of subjection and suffering the Saxons were rescued by the
prudence, the patience, the valour and wisdom of King Alfred. In all
subsequent ages England has produced no single man who united in
himself so many great qualities as did this first of great Englishmen.
He was learned, wise, brave, prudent, and pious; devoted to his people,
clement to his conquered enemies. He was as great in peace as in war;
and yet few English boys know more than a faint outline of the events
of Alfred's reign--events which have exercised an influence upon the
whole future of the English people. School histories pass briefly over
them; and the incident of the burned cake is that which is, of all the
actions of a great and glorious reign, the most prominent in boys'
minds. In this story I have tried to supply the deficiency. Fortunately
in the Saxon Chronicles and in the life of King Alfred written by his
friend and counsellor Asser, we have a trustworthy account of the
events and battles which first laid Wessex prostrate beneath the foot
of the Danes, and finally freed England for many years from the
invaders. These histories I have faithfully followed. The account of
the siege of Paris is taken from a very full and detailed history of
that event by the Abbe D'Abbon, who was a witness of the scenes he
described.

Yours sincerely,
  G. A. HENTY



CHAPTER I: THE FUGITIVES


A low hut built of turf roughly thatched with rushes and standing on
the highest spot of some slightly raised ground. It was surrounded by a
tangled growth of bushes and low trees, through which a narrow and
winding path gave admission to the narrow space on which the hut stood.
The ground sloped rapidly. Twenty yards from the house the trees
ceased, and a rank vegetation of reeds and rushes took the place of the
bushes, and the ground became soft and swampy. A little further pools
of stagnant water appeared among the rushes, and the path abruptly
stopped at the edge of a stagnant swamp, though the passage could be
followed by the eye for some distance among the tall rushes. The hut,
in fact, stood on a hummock in the midst of a wide swamp where the
water sometimes deepened into lakes connected by sluggish streams.

On the open spaces of water herons stalked near the margin, and great
flocks of wild-fowl dotted the surface. Other signs of life there were
none, although a sharp eye might have detected light threads of smoke
curling up here and there from spots where the ground rose somewhat
above the general level. These slight elevations, however, were not
visible to the eye, for the herbage here grew shorter than on the lower
and wetter ground, and the land apparently stretched away for a vast
distance in a dead flat--a rush-covered swamp, broken only here and
there by patches of bushes and low trees.

The little hut was situated in the very heart of the fen country, now
drained and cultivated, but in the year 870 untouched by the hand of
man, the haunt of wild-fowl and human fugitives. At the door of the hut
stood a lad some fourteen years old. His only garment was a short
sleeveless tunic girded in at the waist, his arms and legs were bare;
his head was uncovered, and his hair fell in masses on his shoulders.
In his hand he held a short spear, and leaning against the wall of the
hut close at hand was a bow and quiver of arrows. The lad looked at the
sun, which was sinking towards the horizon.

"Father is late," he said. "I trust that no harm has come to him and
Egbert. He said he would return to-day without fail; he said three or
four days, and this is the fourth. It is dull work here alone. You
think so, Wolf, don't you, old fellow? And it is worse for you than it
is for me, pent up on this hummock of ground with scarce room to
stretch your limbs."

A great wolf-hound, who was lying with his head between his paws by the
embers of a fire in the centre of the hut, raised his head on being
addressed, and uttered a low howl indicative of his agreement with his
master's opinion and his disgust at his present place of abode.

"Never mind, old fellow," the boy continued, "we sha'n't be here long,
I hope, and then you shall go with me in the woods again and hunt the
wolves to your heart's content." The great hound gave a lazy wag of his
tail. "And now, Wolf, I must go. You lie here and guard the hut while I
am away. Not that you are likely to have any strangers to call in my
absence."

The dog rose and stretched himself, and followed his master down the
path until it terminated at the edge of the water. Here he gave a low
whimper as the lad stepped in and waded through the water; then turning
he walked back to the hut and threw himself down at the door. The boy
proceeded for some thirty or forty yards through the water, then paused
and pushed aside the wall of rushes which bordered the passage, and
pulled out a boat which was floating among them.

It was constructed of osier rods neatly woven together into a sort of
basket-work, and covered with an untanned hide with the hairy side in.
It was nearly oval in shape, and resembled a great bowl some three feet
and a half wide and a foot longer. A broad paddle with a long handle
lay in it, and the boy, getting into it and standing erect in the
middle paddled down the strip of water which a hundred yards further
opened out into a broad half a mile long and four or five hundred yards
wide. Beyond moving slowly away as the coracle approached them, the
water-fowl paid but little heed to its appearance.

The boy paddled to the end of the broad, whence a passage, through
which flowed a stream so sluggish that its current could scarce be
detected, led into the next sheet of water. Across the entrance to this
passage floated some bundles of light rushes. These the boy drew out
one by one. Attached to each was a piece of cord which, being pulled
upon, brought to the surface a large cage, constructed somewhat on the
plan of a modern eel or lobster pot. They were baited by pieces of dead
fish, and from them the boy extracted half a score of eels and as many
fish of different kinds.

"Not a bad haul," he said as he lowered the cages to the bottom again.
"Now let us see what we have got in our pen."

He paddled a short way along the broad to a point where a little lane
of water ran up through the rushes. This narrowed rapidly and the lad
got out from his boat into the water, as the coracle could proceed no
further between the lines of rushes. The water was knee-deep and the
bottom soft and oozy. At the end of the creek it narrowed until the
rushes were but a foot apart. They were bent over here, as it would
seem to a superficial observer naturally; but a close examination would
show that those facing each other were tied together where they crossed
at a distance of a couple of feet above the water, forming a sort of
tunnel. Two feet farther on this ceased, and the rushes were succeeded
by lines of strong osier withies, an inch or two apart, arched over and
fastened together. At this point was a sort of hanging door formed of
rushes backed with osiers, and so arranged that at the slightest push
from without the door lifted and enabled a wild-fowl to pass under, but
dropping behind it prevented its exit. The osier tunnel widened out to
a sort of inverted basket three feet in diameter.

On the surface of the creek floated some grain which had been scattered
there the evening before as a bait. The lad left the creek before he
got to the narrower part, and, making a small circuit in the swamp,
came down upon the pen.

"Good!" he said, "I am in luck to-day; here are three fine ducks."

Bending the yielding osiers aside, he drew out the ducks one by one,
wrung their necks, and passing their heads through his girdle, made his
way again to the coracle. Then he scattered another handful or two of
grain on the water, sparingly near the mouth of the creek, but more
thickly at the entrance to the trap, and then paddled back again by the
way he had come.

Almost noiselessly as he dipped the paddle in the water, the hound's
quick ear had caught the sound, and he was standing at the edge of the
swamp, wagging his tail in dignified welcome as his master stepped on
to dry land.

"There, Wolf, what do you think of that? A good score of eels and fish
and three fine wild ducks. That means bones for you with your meal
to-night--not to satisfy your hunger, you know, for they would not be
of much use in that way, but to give a flavour to your supper. Now let
us make the fire up and pluck the birds, for I warrant me that father
and Egbert, if they return this evening, will be sharp-set. There are
the cakes to bake too, so you see there is work for the next hour or
two."

The sun had set now, and the flames, dancing up as the boy threw an
armful of dry wood on the fire, gave the hut a more cheerful
appearance. For some time the lad busied himself with preparation for
supper. The three ducks were plucked in readiness for putting over the
fire should they be required; cakes of coarse rye-flour were made and
placed in the red ashes of the fire; and then the lad threw himself
down by the side of the dog.

"No, Wolf, it is no use your looking at those ducks. I am not going to
roast them if no one comes; I have got half a one left from dinner."
After sitting quiet for half an hour the dog suddenly raised himself
into a sitting position, with ears erect and muzzle pointed towards the
door; then he gave a low whine, and his tail began to beat the ground
rapidly.

"What! do you hear them, old fellow?" the boy said, leaping to his
feet. "I wish my ears were as sharp as yours are, Wolf; there would be
no fear then of being caught asleep. Come on, old boy, let us go and
meet them."

It was some minutes after he reached the edge of the swamp before the
boy could hear the sounds which the quick ears of the hound had
detected. Then he heard a faint splashing noise, and a minute or two
later two figures were seen wading through the water.

"Welcome back, father," the lad cried. "I was beginning to be anxious
about you, for here we are at the end of the fourth day."

"I did not name any hour, Edmund," the boy's father said, as he stepped
from the water, "but I own that I did not reckon upon being so late;
but in truth Egbert and I missed our way in the windings of these
swamps, and should not have been back to-night had we not luckily
fallen upon a man fishing, who was able to put us right. You have got
some supper, I hope, for Egbert and I are as hungry as wolves, for we
have had nothing since we started before sunrise."

"I have plenty to eat, father; but you will have to wait till it is
cooked, for it was no use putting it over the fire until I knew that
you would return; but there is a good fire, and you will not have to
wait long. And how has it fared with you, and what is the news?"

"The news is bad, Edmund. The Danes are ever receiving reinforcements
from Mercia, and scarce a day passes but fresh bands arrive at
Thetford, and I fear that ere long East Anglia, like Northumbria, will
fall into their clutches. Nay, unless we soon make head against them
they will come to occupy all the island, just as did our forefathers."

"That were shame indeed," Edmund exclaimed. "We know that the people
conquered by our ancestors were unwarlike and cowardly; but it would be
shame indeed were we Saxons so to be overcome by the Danes, seeing
moreover that we have the help of God, being Christians, while the
Danes are pagans and idolaters."

"Nevertheless, my son, for the last five years these heathen have been
masters of Northumbria, have wasted the whole country, and have
plundered and destroyed the churches and monasteries. At present they
have but made a beginning here in East Anglia; but if they continue to
flock in they will soon overrun the whole country, instead of having,
as at present, a mere foothold near the rivers except for those who
have come down to Thetford. We have been among the first sufferers,
seeing that our lands lie round Thetford, and hitherto I have hoped
that there would be a general rising against these invaders; but the
king is indolent and unwarlike, and I see that he will not arouse
himself and call his ealdormen and thanes together for a united effort
until it is too late. Already from the north the Danes are flocking
down into Mercia, and although the advent of the West Saxons to the aid
of the King of Mercia forced them to retreat for a while, I doubt not
that they will soon pour down again."

"'Tis a pity, father, that the Saxons are not all under one leading;
then we might surely defend England against the Danes. If the people
did but rise and fall upon each band of Northmen as they arrived they
would get no footing among us."

"Yes," the father replied, "it is the unhappy divisions between the
Saxon kingdoms which have enabled the Danes to get so firm a footing in
the land. Our only hope now lies in the West Saxons. Until lately they
were at feud with Mercia; but the royal families are now related by
marriage, seeing that the King of Mercia is wedded to a West Saxon
princess, and that Alfred, the West Saxon king's brother and heir to
the throne, has lately espoused one of the royal blood of Mercia. The
fact that they marched at the call of the King of Mercia and drove the
Danes from Nottingham shows that the West Saxon princes are alive to
the common danger of the country, and if they are but joined heartily
by our people of East Anglia and the Mercians, they may yet succeed in
checking the progress of these heathen. And now, Edmund, as we see no
hope of any general effort to drive the Danes off our coasts, 'tis
useless for us to lurk here longer. I propose to-morrow, then, to
journey north into Lincolnshire, to the Abbey of Croyland, where, as
you know, my brother Theodore is the abbot; there we can rest in peace
for a time, and watch the progress of events. If we hear that the
people of these parts are aroused from their lethargy, we will come
back and fight for our home and lands; if not, I will no longer stay in
East Anglia, which I see is destined to fall piecemeal into the hands
of the Danes; but we will journey down to Somerset, and I will pray
King Ethelbert to assign me lands there, and to take me as his thane."

While they had been thus talking Egbert had been broiling the eels and
wild ducks over the fire. He was a freeman, and a distant relation of
Edmund's father, Eldred, who was an ealdorman in West Norfolk, his
lands lying beyond Thetford, and upon whom, therefore, the first brunt
of the Danish invasion from Mercia had fallen. He had made a stout
resistance, and assembling his people had given battle to the invaders.
These, however, were too strong and numerous, and his force having been
scattered and dispersed, he had sought refuge with Egbert and his son
in the fen country. Here he had remained for two months in hopes that
some general effort would be made to drive back the Danes; but being
now convinced that at present the Angles were too disunited to join in
a common effort, he determined to retire for a while from the scene.

"I suppose, father," Edmund said, "you will leave your treasures buried
here?"

"Yes," his father replied; "we have no means of transporting them, and
we can at ally time return and fetch them. We must dig up the big chest
and take such garments as we may need, and the personal ornaments of
our rank; but the rest, with the gold and silver vessels, can remain
here till we need them."

Gold and silver vessels seem little in accordance with the primitive
mode of life prevailing in the ninth century. The Saxon civilization
was indeed a mixed one. Their mode of life was primitive, their
dwellings, with the exception of the religious houses and the abodes of
a few of the great nobles, simple in the extreme; but they possessed
vessels of gold and silver, armlets, necklaces, and ornaments of the
same metals, rich and brightly coloured dresses, and elaborate bed
furniture while their tables and household utensils were of the
roughest kind, and their floors strewn with rushes. When they invaded
and conquered England they found existing the civilization introduced
by the Romans, which was far in advance of their own; much of this they
adopted. The introduction of Christianity further advanced them in the
scale.

The prelates and monks from Rome brought with them a high degree of
civilization, and this to no small extent the Saxons imitated and
borrowed. The church was held in much honour, great wealth and
possessions were bestowed upon it, and the bishops and abbots possessed
large temporal as well as spiritual power, and bore a prominent part in
the councils of the kingdoms. But even in the handsome and well-built
monasteries, with their stately services and handsome vestments,
learning was at the lowest ebb--so low, indeed, that when Prince Alfred
desired to learn Latin he could find no one in his father's dominions
capable of teaching him, and his studies were for a long time hindered
for want of an instructor, and at the time he ascended the throne he
was probably the only Englishman outside a monastery who was able to
read and write fluently.

"Tell me, father," Edmund said after the meal was concluded, "about the
West Saxons, since it is to them, as it seems, that we must look for
the protection of England against the Danes. This Prince Alfred, of
whom I before heard you speak in terms of high praise, is the brother,
is he not, of the king? In that case how is it that he does not reign
in Kent, which I thought, though joined to the West Saxon kingdom, was
always ruled over by the eldest son of the king."

"Such has been the rule, Edmund; but seeing the troubled times when
Ethelbert came to the throne, it was thought better to unite the two
kingdoms under one crown with the understanding that at Ethelbert's
death Alfred should succeed him. Their father, Ethelwulf, was a weak
king, and should have been born a churchman rather than a prince. He
nominally reigned over Wessex, Kent, and Mercia, but the last paid him
but a slight allegiance. Alfred was his favourite son, and he sent him,
when quite a child, to Rome for a visit. In 855 he himself, with a
magnificent retinue, and accompanied by Alfred, visited Rome,
travelling through the land of the Franks, and it was there, doubtless,
that Alfred acquired that love of learning, and many of those ideas,
far in advance of his people, which distinguish him. His mother,
Osburgha, died before he and his father started on the pilgrimage. The
king was received with much honour by the pope, to whom he presented a
gold crown of four pounds weight, ten dishes of the purest gold, a
sword richly set in gold, two gold images, some silver-gilt urns,
stoles bordered with gold and purple, white silken robes embroidered
with figures, and other costly articles of clothing for the celebration
of the service of the church, together with rich presents in gold and
silver to the churches, bishops, clergy, and other dwellers in Rome.
They say that the people of Rome marvelled much at these magnificent
gifts from a king of a country which they had considered as barbarous.
On his way back he married Judith, daughter of the King of the Franks;
a foolish marriage, for the king was far advanced in years and Judith
was but a girl.

"Ethelbald, Ethelwulf's eldest son, had acted as regent in his father's
absence, and so angered was he at this marriage that he raised his
standard of revolt against his father. At her marriage Judith had been
crowned queen, and this was contrary to the customs of the West Saxons,
therefore Ethelbald was supported by the people of that country; on his
father's return to England, however, father and son met, and a division
of the kingdom was agreed upon.

"Ethelbald received Wessex, the principal part of the kingdom, and
Ethelwulf took Kent, which he had already ruled over in the time of his
father Egbert. Ethelwulf died a few months afterwards, leaving Kent to
Ethelbert, his second surviving son. The following year, to the horror
and indignation of the people of the country, Ethelbald married his
stepmother Judith, but two years afterwards died, and Ethelbert, King
of Kent, again united Wessex to his own dominions, which consisted of
Kent, Surrey, and Sussex. Ethelbert reigned but a short time, and at
his death Ethelred, his next brother, ascended the throne. Last year
Alfred, the youngest brother, married Elswitha, the daughter of
Ethelred Mucil, Earl of the Gaini, in Lincolnshire, whose mother was
one of the royal family of Mercia.

"It was but a short time after the marriage that the Danes poured into
Mercia from the north. Messengers were sent to ask the assistance of
the West Saxons. These at once obeyed the summons, and, joining the
Mercians, marched against the Danes, who shut themselves up in the
strong city of Nottingham, and were there for some time besieged. The
place was strong, the winter at hand, and the time of the soldiers'
service nearly expired. A treaty was accordingly made by which the
Danes were allowed to depart unharmed to the north side of the Humber,
and the West Saxons returned to their kingdom.

"Such is the situation at present, but we may be sure that the Danes
will not long remain quiet, but will soon gather for another invasion;
ere long, too, we may expect another of their great fleets to arrive
somewhere off these coasts, and every Saxon who can bear arms had need
take the field to fight for our country and faith against these heathen
invaders. Hitherto, Edmund, as you know, I have deeply mourned the
death of your mother, and of your sisters who died in infancy; but now
I feel that it is for the best, for a terrible time is before us. We
men can take refuge in swamp and forest, but it would have been hard
for delicate women; and those men are best off who stand alone and are
able to give every thought and energy to the defence of their country.
'Tis well that you are now approaching an age when the Saxon youth are
wont to take their place in the ranks of battle. I have spared no pains
with your training in arms, and though assuredly you lack strength yet
to cope in hand-to-hand conflict with these fierce Danes, you may yet
take your part in battle, with me on one side of you and Egbert on the
other. I have thought over many things of late, and it seems to me that
we Saxons have done harm in holding the people of this country as
serfs."

"Why, father," Edmund exclaimed in astonishment, "surely you would not
have all men free and equal."

"The idea seems strange to you, no doubt, Edmund, and it appears only
natural that some men should be born to rule and others to labour, but
this might be so even without serfdom, since, as you know, the poorer
freemen labour just as do the serfs, only they receive a somewhat
larger guerdon for their toil; but had the two races mixed more closely
together, had serfdom been abolished and all men been free and capable
of bearing arms, we should have been able to show a far better front to
the Danes, seeing that the serfs are as three to one to the freemen."

"But the serfs are cowardly and spiritless," Edmund said; "they are not
of a fighting race, and fell almost without resistance before our
ancestors when they landed here."

"Their race is no doubt inferior to our own, Edmund," his father said,
"seeing that they are neither so tall nor so strong as we Saxons, but
of old they were not deficient in bravery, for they fought as stoutly
against the Romans as did our own hardy ancestors. After having been
for hundreds of years subject to the Roman yoke, and having no occasion
to use arms, they lost their manly virtues, and when the Romans left
them were an easy prey for the first comer. Our fathers could not
foresee that the time would come when they too in turn would be
invaded. Had they done so, methinks they would not have set up so broad
a line of separation between themselves and the Britons, but would have
admitted the latter to the rights of citizenship, in which case
intermarriage would have taken place freely, and the whole people would
have become amalgamated. The Britons, accustomed to our free
institutions, and taking part in the wars between the various Saxon
kingdoms, would have recovered their warlike virtues, and it would be
as one people that we should resist the Danes. As it is, the serfs, who
form by far the largest part of the population, are apathetic and
cowardly; they view the struggle with indifference, for what signifies
to them whether Dane or Saxon conquer; they have no interest in the
struggle, nothing to lose or to gain, it is but a change of masters."

Edmund was silent.  The very possibility of a state of things in which
there should be no serfs, and when all men should be free and equal,
had never occurred to him; but he had a deep respect for his father,
who bore indeed the reputation of being one of the wisest and most
clear-headed of the nobles of East Anglia, and it seemed to him that
this strange and novel doctrine contained much truth in it. Still the
idea was as strange to him as it would have been to the son of a
southern planter in America half a century ago. The existence of slaves
seemed as much a matter of course as that of horses or dogs, and
although he had been accustomed to see from time to time freedom
bestowed upon some favourite serf as a special reward for services, the
thought of a general liberation of the slaves was strange and almost
bewildering, and he lay awake puzzling over the problem long after his
father and kinsman had fallen asleep.



CHAPTER II: THE BATTLE OF KESTEVEN


The following morning early the little party started. The great chest
was dug up from its place of concealment, and they resumed their
ordinary dresses. The ealdorman attired himself in a white tunic with a
broad purple band round the lower edge, with a short cloak of green
cloth. This was fastened with a gold brooch at the neck; a necklet of
the same metal and several gold bracelets completed his costume, except
that he wore a flat cap and sandals. Edmund had a green tunic and cloak
of deep red colour; while Egbert was dressed in yellow with a green
cloak--the Saxons being extremely fond of bright colours.

All wore daggers, whose sheaths were incrusted in silver, in their
belts, and the ealdorman and his kinsman carried short broad-bladed
swords, while Edmund had his boar-spear. Eldred placed in the pouch
which hung at his side a bag containing a number of silver cubes cut
from a long bar and roughly stamped. The chest was then buried again in
its place of concealment among the bushes near the hut, Edmund placed
his bows and arrows in the boat--not that in which Edmund had fished,
but the much larger and heavier craft which Eldred and Egbert had
used--and then the party, with the hound, took their places in it. The
ealdorman and Egbert were provided with long poles, and with these they
sent the little boat rapidly through the water.

After poling their way for some eight hours they reached the town of
Norwich, to which the Danes had not yet penetrated; here, procuring
what articles they needed, they proceeded on their journey to Croyland,
making a great circuit to avoid the Danes at Thetford. The country was
for the most part covered with thick forests, where the wild boar and
deer roamed undisturbed by man, and where many wolves still lurked,
although the number in the country had been greatly diminished by the
energetic measures which King Egbert had taken for the destruction of
these beasts. Their halting-places were for the most part at religious
houses, which then served the purpose of inns for travellers, being
freely opened to those whom necessity or pleasure might cause to
journey. Everywhere they found the monks in a state of alarm at the
progress of the Danes, who, wherever they went, destroyed the churches
and religious houses, and slew the monks.

Eldred was everywhere received with marked honour; being known as a
wise and valiant noble, his opinions on the chances of the situation
were eagerly listened to, and he found the monks at all their
halting-places prepared, if need be, to take up arms and fight the
pagan invaders, as those of Mercia and Wessex had done in the preceding
autumn. The travellers, on arriving at Croyland, were warmly welcomed.

"I heard, brother," the abbot said, "that you had bravely fought
against the Danes near Thetford, and have been sorely anxious since the
news came of the dispersal of your force."

"I have been in hiding," Eldred said, "hoping that a general effort
would be made against the invaders. My own power was broken, since all
my lands are in their hands. The people of East Anglia foolishly seem
to suppose that, so long as the Danes remain quiet, the time has not
come for action. They will repent their lethargy some day, for, as the
Danes gather in strength, they will burst out over the surrounding
country as a dammed-up river breaks its banks. No, brother, I regard
East Anglia as lost so far as depends upon itself; its only hope is in
the men of Kent and Wessex, whom we must now look upon as our
champions, and who may yet stem the tide of invasion and drive back the
Danes. This abbey of yours stands in a perilous position, being not far
removed from the Humber, where so many of the Danes find entrance to
England."

"It is not without danger, Eldred, but the men of the fens are
numerous, hardy and brave, and will offer a tough resistance to any who
may venture to march hitherward, and if, as I hope, you will stay with
us, and will undertake their command, we may yet for a long time keep
the Danes from our doors."

For some weeks the time passed quietly. Edmund spent most of his time
in hunting, being generally accompanied by Egbert. The Saxon was an
exceedingly tall and powerful man, slow and scanty of speech, who had
earned for himself the title of Egbert the Silent. He was devoted to
his kinsmen and regarded himself as special guardian of Edmund. He had
instructed him in the use of arms, and always accompanied him when he
went out to hunt the boar, standing ever by his side to aid him to
receive the rush of the wounded and furious beasts; and more than once,
when Edmund had been borne down by their onslaughts, and would have
been severely wounded, if not killed, a sweeping blow of Egbert's sword
had rid him of his assailant.

Sometimes Edmund made excursions in the fens, where with nets and
snares he caught the fish which swarmed in the sluggish waters; or,
having covered his boat with a leafy bower until it resembled a
floating bush, drifted close to the flocks of wild-fowl, and with his
bow and arrows obtained many a plump wild duck. Smaller birds were
caught in snares or traps, or with bird-lime smeared on twigs. Eldred
seldom joined his son in his hunting excursions, as he was busied with
his brother the abbot in concerting the measures of defence and in
organizing a band of messengers, who, on the first warning of danger,
could be despatched throughout the fens to call in the fisher
population to the defence of the abbey.

It was on the 18th of September, 870, that a messenger arrived at the
abbey and craved instant speech with the prior. The latter, who was
closeted with his brother, ordered the man to be admitted.

"I come," he said, "from Algar the ealdorman. He bids me tell you that
a great Danish host has landed from the Humber at Lindsay. The rich
monastery of Bardenay has been pillaged and burned. Algar is assembling
all the inhabitants of the marsh lands to give them battle, and he
prays you to send what help you can spare, for assuredly they will
march hither should he be defeated."

"Return to the ealdorman," the abbot said; "tell him that every lay
brother and monk who can bear arms shall march hence to join him under
the command of lay brother Toley, whose deeds of arms against the Danes
in Mercia are well known to him. My brother here, Eldred, will head all
the inhabitants of the marshes of this neighbourhood. With these and
the brothers of the abbey, in all, as I reckon, nigh four hundred men,
he will to-morrow march to join Algar."

Messengers were at once sent off through the surrounding country
bidding every man assemble on the morrow morning at Croyland, and soon
after daybreak they began to arrive. Some were armed with swords, some
with long sickles, used in cutting rushes, tied to poles, some had
fastened long pieces of iron to oars to serve as pikes. They were a
rough and somewhat ragged throng, but Eldred saw with satisfaction that
they were a hard and sturdy set of men, accustomed to fatigue and
likely to stand firm in the hour of battle.

Most of them carried shields made of platted osiers covered with skin.
The armoury of the abbey was well supplied, and swords and axes were
distributed among the worst armed of the fenmen. Then, with but little
order or regularity, but with firm and cheerful countenances, as men
determined to win or die, the band moved off under Eldred's command,
followed by the contingent of the abbey, eighty strong, under lay
brother Toley.

A sturdy band were these monks, well fed and vigorous. They knew that
they had no mercy to expect from the Danes, and, regarding them as
pagans and enemies of their religion as well as of their country, could
be trusted to do their utmost. Late that evening they joined Algar at
the place they had appointed, and found that a large number of the
people of the marshes had gathered round his banner.

The Danes had not moved as yet from Bardenay, and Algar determined to
wait for another day or two before advancing, in order to give time to
others farther from the scene of action to arrive.

The next day came the contingents from several other priories and
abbeys, and the sight of the considerable force gathered together gave
heart and confidence to all. Algar, Eldred, and the other leaders,
Morcar, Osgot, and Harding, moved about among the host, encouraging
them with cheering words, warning them to be in no way intimidated by
the fierce appearance of the Danes, but to hold steadfast and firm in
the ranks, and to yield no foot of ground to the onslaught of the
enemy. Many priests had accompanied the contingents from the religious
houses, and these added their exhortations to those of the leaders,
telling the men that God would assuredly fight on their side against
the heathen, and bidding each man remember that defeat meant the
destruction of their churches and altars, the overthrow of their whole
religion, and the restored worship of the pagan gods.

Edmund went about among the gathering taking great interest in the wild
scene, for these marsh men differed much in their appearance from the
settled inhabitants of his father's lands. The scenes in the camp were
indeed varied in their character. Here and there were harpers with
groups of listeners gathered round, as they sung the exploits of their
fathers, and animated their hearers to fresh fire and energy by
relating legends of the cruelty of the merciless Danes. Other groups
there were surrounding the priests, who were appealing to their
religious feelings as well as to their patriotism.

Men sat about sharpening their weapons, fixing on more firmly the
handles of their shields, adjusting arrows to bowstrings, and preparing
in other ways for the coming fight. From some of the fires, round which
the marsh men were sitting, came snatches of boisterous song, while
here and there, apart from the crowd, priests were hearing confessions,
and shriving penitents.

The next morning early, one of the scouts, who had been sent to observe
the movements of the Danes, reported that these were issuing from their
camp, and advancing into the country.

Algar marshalled his host, each part under its leaders, and moved to
meet them. Near Kesteven the armies came in sight of each other, and
after advancing until but a short distance apart both halted to marshal
their ranks anew. Eldred, with the men of the marshes near Croyland and
the contingent from the abbey, had their post in the central division,
which was commanded by Algar himself, Edmund took post by his father,
and Egbert stood beside him.

Edmund had never before seen the Danes, and he could not but admit that
their appearance was enough to shake the stoutest heart. All carried
great shields covering them from head to foot. These were composed of
wood, bark, or leather painted or embossed, and in the cases of the
chiefs plated with gold and silver. So large were these that in naval
encounters, if the fear of falling into the enemy's hands forced them
to throw themselves into the sea, they could float on their shields;
and after death in battle a soldier was carried to his grave on his
buckler. As they stood facing the Saxons they locked their shields
together so as to form a barrier well-nigh impregnable against the
arrows.

All wore helmets, the common men of leather, the leaders of iron or
copper, while many in addition wore coats of mail. Each carried a
sword, a battle-axe, and a bow and arrows. Some of the swords were
short and curled like a scimitar; others were long and straight, and
were wielded with both hands. They wore their hair long and hanging
down their shoulders, and for the most part shaved their cheeks and
chins, but wore their moustaches very long.

They were, for the most, tall, lithe, and sinewy men, but physically in
no way superior to the Saxons, from whom they differed very widely in
complexion, the Saxons being fair while the Danes were very dark, as
much so as modern gypsies; indeed, the Saxon historians speak of them
as the black pagans. Upon the other hand many of the Northmen, being
Scandinavians, were as fair as the Saxons themselves.

The Danes began the battle, those in front shouting fiercely, and
striking their swords on their shields with a clashing noise, while the
ranks behind shot a shower of arrows among the Saxons. These at once
replied. The combat was not continued long at a distance, for the Danes
with a mighty shout rushed upon the Saxons. These stood their ground
firmly and a desperate conflict ensued. The Saxon chiefs vied with each
other in acts of bravery, and singling out the leaders of the Danes
engaged with them in hand-to-hand conflict.

Algar had placed his swordsmen in the front line, those armed with
spears in the second; and as the swordsmen battled with the Danes the
spearmen, when they saw a shield uplifted to guard the head, thrust
under with their weapons and slew many. Edmund, seeing that with his
sword he should have but little chance against these fierce soldiers,
fell a little behind his father and kinsman, and as these were engaged
with the enemy he from time to time, when he saw an opportunity, rushed
in and delivered a thrust with his spear at an unguarded point. The
Saxon shouts rose louder and louder as the Danes in vain endeavoured to
break through their line. The monks fought stoutly, and many a fierce
Norseman fell before their blows.

The Danes, who had not expected so firm a resistance, began to
hesitate, and Algar giving the word, the Saxons took the offensive, and
the line pressed forward step by step. The archers poured their arrows
in a storm among the Danish ranks. These fell back before the
onslaught. Already three of their kings and many of their principal
leaders had fallen, and at last, finding themselves unable to withstand
the impetuous onslaught of the Saxons, they turned and fled in
confusion towards their camp. The Saxons with exulting shouts pursued
them, and great numbers were slaughtered. The Danes had, however, as
was their custom, fortified the camp before advancing, and Algar drew
off his troops, deeming that it would be better to defer the attack on
this position until the following day.

There was high feasting in the Saxon camp that evening, but this was
brought to an abrupt conclusion by the arrival of a scout, who reported
that a great Danish army marching from the Humber was approaching the
camp of the compatriots. The news was but too true. The kings Guthorn,
Bergsecg, Oskytal, Halfdene, and Amund, and the Jarls Frene, Hingwar,
Hubba, and the two Sidrocs, with all their followers, had marched down
from Yorkshire to join the invaders who had just landed.

The news of this immense reinforcement spread consternation among the
Angles. In vain their leaders went about among them and exhorted them
to courage, promising them another victory as decisive as that they had
won that day. Their entreaties were in vain, for when the morning
dawned it was found that three-fourths of their number had left the
camp during the night, and had made off to the marshes and fastnesses.

A council of the chiefs was held. The chances of conflict appeared
hopeless, so vastly were they out-numbered by the Danes. Algar,
however, declared that he would die rather than retreat.

"If we fly now," he said, "all East Anglia will fall into the hands of
the heathen. Even should we fight and fall, the example of what a
handful of brave men can do against the invaders will surely animate
the Angles to further resistance; while if we conquer, so great a blow
will be dealt to the renown of these Danes that all England will rise
against them."

On hearing these words all the chiefs came to the determination to win
or die as they stood. Eldred took Edmund aside after this determination
had been arrived at.

"My son," he said, "I allowed you yesterday to stand by my side in
battle, and well and worthily did you bear yourself, but to-day you
must withdraw. The fight is well-nigh hopeless, and I believe that all
who take part in it are doomed to perish. I would not that my house
should altogether disappear, and shall die more cheerfully in the hope
that some day you will avenge me upon these heathen. Therefore, Edmund,
I bid you take station at a distance behind the battle, so that when
you see the day goes against us you may escape in time. I shall urge
our faithful Egbert to endeavour, when he sees that all is lost, to
make his way from the fight and rejoin you, and to journey with you to
Wessex and there present you to the king. For myself, if the battle is
lost I shall die rather than fly. Such is the resolution of Algar and
our other brave chiefs, and Eldred the ealdorman must not be the only
one of the leaders to run from the fray."

Edmund was deeply touched at his father's words, but the parental rule
was so strict in those days that it did not even enter his mind to
protest against Eldred's decision.

As the morning went on the Danes were engaged in the funeral ceremonies
of their dead kings, while the Saxons, quiet and resolute, received the
holy sacrament and prepared for the fight. Algar chose a position on
rising ground. He himself with Eldred commanded the centre, Toley and
Morcar led the right wing, Osgot and Harding the left.

Each of these wings contained about five hundred men. Algar's centre,
which was a little withdrawn from its wings, contained about 200 of his
best warriors, and was designed as a reserve, with which, if need be,
he could move to the assistance of either of the wings which might be
sorely pressed and in danger. The Saxons formed in a solid mass with
their bucklers linked together. The Danish array which issued out from
their camp was vastly superior in numbers, and was commanded by four
kings and eight jarls or earls, while two kings and four earls remained
in charge of the camp, and of the great crowd of prisoners, for the
most part women and children, whom they had brought with them.

With the Danes who had come down from Yorkshire were a large body of
horsemen, who charged furiously down upon the Saxons; but these
maintained so firm an array with their lances and spears projecting
outward that the Danes failed to break through them, and after making
repeated efforts and suffering heavy loss they drew back. Then the
Danish archers and slingers poured in a storm of missiles, but these
effected but little harm, as the Saxons stooped a little behind their
closely packed line of bucklers, which were stout enough to keep out
the shower of arrows. All day the struggle continued. Again and again
the Danes strove to break the solid Saxon array, and with sword and
battle-axe attempted to hew down the hedge of spears, but in vain. At
last their leaders, convinced that they could not overcome the
obstinacy of the resistance, ordered their followers to feign a retreat.

As the Danes turned to fly the Saxons set up a triumphant shout, and
breaking up their solid phalanx rushed after them in complete disorder.
In vain Algar, Osgot, Toley, Eldred, and the other leaders shouted to
them to stand firm. Weary of their long inactivity, and convinced that
the Danes were routed, the Saxons pursued them across the plain.
Suddenly the Danish horse, who after failing to break through the ranks
had remained apart at a short distance from the conflict, dashed down
upon the disordered Saxons, while the flying infantry turning round
also fell upon them with exulting shouts.

Taken wholly by surprise, confused and disordered, the Saxons could
offer no effectual opposition to the charge. The Danish horse rode
among them hewing and slaying, and the swords and battle-axes of the
footmen completed the work. In a few minutes of all the Saxon band
which had for so many hours successfully resisted the onslaught of the
Danes, not one survived save a few fleet-footed young men who, throwing
away their arms, succeeded in making their escape, and a little group,
consisting of Algar, Toley, Eldred, and the other leaders who had
gathered together when their men broke their ranks and had taken up
their position on a knoll of ground rising above the plain. Here for a
long time they resisted the efforts of the whole of the Danes,
surrounding themselves with a heap of slain; but at length one by one
they succumbed to the Danish onslaught, each fighting valiantly to the
last.

From his position at a distance Edmund watched the last desperate
struggle. With streaming eyes and a heart torn by anxiety for his
father he could see the Danish foe swarming round the little band who
defended the crest. These were lost from his sight, and only the
flashing of swords showed where the struggle was still going on in the
centre of the confused mass. Edmund had been on his knees for some
time, but he now rose.

"Come, old boy," he said to the hound, who lay beside him watching the
distant conflict and occasionally uttering deep angry growls. "I must
obey my father's last command; let us away."

He took one more glance at the distant conflict before turning. It was
plain that it was nearly finished. The swords had well-nigh ceased to
rise and fall when he saw a sudden movement in the throng of Danes and
suddenly a man burst out from them and started at headlong speed
towards him, pursued by a number of Danes. Even at that distance Edmund
thought that he recognized the tall figure of his kinsman, but he had
no time to assure himself of this, and he at once, accompanied by the
hound, set off at the top of his speed from the field of battle. He had
fully a quarter of a mile start, and being active and hardy and
accustomed to exercise from his childhood, he had no fear that the
Danes would overtake him. Still he ran his hardest.

Looking over his shoulder from time to time he saw that at first the
Danes who were pursuing the fugitive were gaining upon him also, but
after a time he again increased the distance, while, being unencumbered
with shield or heavy weapons, the fugitive kept the advantage he had at
first gained. Three miles from the battle-field Edmund reached the edge
of a wide-spreading wood. Looking round as he entered its shelter he
saw that the flying Saxon was still about a quarter of a mile behind
him, and that the Danes, despairing of over-taking him, had ceased
their pursuit. Edmund therefore checked his footsteps and awaited the
arrival of the fugitive, who he now felt certain was his kinsman.

In a few minutes Egbert came up, having slackened his speed
considerably when he saw that he was no longer pursued. He was bleeding
from several wounds, and now that the necessity for exertion had passed
he walked but feebly along. Without a word he flung himself on the
ground by Edmund and buried his face in his arms, and the lad could see
by the shaking of his broad shoulders that he was weeping bitterly. The
great hound walked up to the prostrate figure and gave vent to a long
and piteous howl, and then lying down by Egbert's side placed his head
on his shoulder.



CHAPTER III: THE MASSACRE AT CROYLAND


Edmund wept sorely for some time, for he knew that his kinsman's
agitation could be only caused by the death of his father. At last he
approached Egbert.

"My brave kinsman," he said, "I need ask you no questions, for I know
but too well that my dear father has fallen; but rouse yourself, I pray
you; let me bandage your wounds, which bleed fast, for you will want
all your strength, and we must needs pursue our way well into the
forest, for with to-morrow's dawn the Danes will scatter over the whole
country."

"Yes," Egbert said, turning round and sitting up, "I must not in my
grief forget my mission, and in truth I am faint with loss of blood. It
was well the Danes stopped when they did, for I felt my strength
failing me, and could have held out but little further. Yes, Edmund,"
he continued, as the lad, tearing strips from his garments, proceeded
to bandage his wounds, "your father is dead. Nobly, indeed, did he
fight; nobly did he die, with a circle of dead Danes around him. He,
Algar, Toley, and myself were the last four to resist. Back to back we
stood, and many were the Danes who fell before our blows. Toley fell
first and then Algar. The Danes closed closer around us. Still we
fought on, till your father was beaten to his knee, and then he cried
to me, 'Fly, Egbert, to my son.' Then I flung myself upon the Danes
like a wild boar upon the dogs, and with the suddenness of my rush and
the heavy blows of my battle-axe cut a way for myself through them. It
was well-nigh a miracle, and I could scarce believe it when I was free.
I flung away my shield and helmet as soon as I had well begun to run,
for I felt the blood gushing out from a dozen wounds, and knew that I
should want all my strength. I soon caught sight of you running ahead
of me. Had I found we were gaining upon you I should have turned off
and made another way to lead the Danes aside, but I soon saw that you
were holding your own, and so followed straight on. My knees trembled,
and I felt my strength was well-nigh gone, when, looking round, I found
the Danes had desisted from their pursuit. I grieve, Edmund, that I
should have left the battle alive when all the others have died
bravely, for, save a few fleet-footed youths, I believe that not a
single Saxon has escaped the fight; but your father had laid his
commands upon me, and I was forced to obey, though God knows I would
rather have died with the heroes on that field."

"'Tis well for me that you did not, my good Egbert," Edmund said,
drying his eyes, "for what should I have done in this troubled land
without one protector?"

"It was the thought of that," Egbert said, "that seemed to give me
strength as I dashed at the Danes. And now, methinks, I am strong
enough to walk again. Let us make our way far into the forest, then we
must rest for the night. A few hours' sleep will make a fresh man of
me, and to-morrow morning we will go to Croyland and see what the good
abbot your uncle proposes to do, then will we to the hut where we dwelt
before coming hither. We will dig up the chest and take out such
valuables as we can carry, and then make for Wessex. After this day's
work I have no longer any hope that East Anglia will successfully
oppose the Danes. And yet the Angles fought well, and for every one of
them who has fallen in these two days' fighting at least four Danes
must have perished. Have you food, Edmund, for in truth after such a
day's work I would not lie down supperless?"

"I have in my pouch here, Egbert, some cakes, which I cooked this
morning, and a capon which one of the monks of Croyland gave me. I was
tempted to throw it away as I ran."

"I am right glad, Edmund, that the temptation was not too strong for
you. If we can find a spring we shall do well."

It was now getting dark, but after an hour's walk through the forest
they came upon a running stream. They lit a fire by its side, and
sitting down ate the supper, of which both were in much need. Wolf
shared the repast, and then the three lay down to sleep. Egbert,
overcome by the immense exertions he had made during the fight, was
soon asleep; but Edmund, who had done his best to keep a brave face
before his kinsman, wept for hours over the loss of his gallant father.

On the following morning Egbert and Edmund started for Croyland. The
news of the defeat at Kesteven had already reached the abbey, and
terror and consternation reigned there. Edmund went at once to his
uncle and informed him of the circumstance of the death of his father
and the annihilation of the Saxon army.

"Your news, Edmund, is even worse than the rumours which had reached
me, and deeply do I grieve for the loss of my brave brother and of the
many valiant men who died with him. This evening or to-morrow the
spoilers will be here, and doubtless will do to Croyland as they have
done to all the other abbeys and monasteries which have fallen into
their hands. Before they come you and Egbert must be far away. Have you
bethought you whither you will betake yourselves?"

"We are going to the king of the West Saxons," Edmund replied. "Such
was my father's intention, and I fear that all is now lost in East
Anglia."

"'Tis your best course, and may God's blessing and protection rest upon
you!"

"But what are you going to do, uncle? Surely you will not remain here
until the Danes arrive, for though they may spare other men they have
no mercy on priests and monks?"

"I shall assuredly remain here, Edmund, at my post, and as my brother
Eldred and Earl Algar and their brave companions died at their posts in
the field of battle, so I am prepared to die here where God has placed
me. I shall retain here with me only a few of the most aged and infirm
monks, too old to fly or to support the hardships of the life of a
hunted fugitive in the fens; together with some of the children who
have fled here, and who, too, could not support such a life. It may be
that when the fierce Danes arrive and find nought but children and aged
men even their savage breasts may be moved to pity; but if not, God's
will be done. The younger brethren will seek refuge in the fens, and
will carry with them the sacred relics of the monastery. The most holy
body of St. Guthlac with his scourge and psalmistry, together with the
most valuable jewels and muniments, the charters of the foundation of
the abbey, given by King Ethelbald, and the confirmation thereof by
other kings, with some of the most precious gifts presented to the
abbey."

Edmund and Egbert set to work to assist the weeping monks in making
preparations for their departure. A boat was laden with the relics of
the saints, the muniments of the king, and the most precious vessels.
The table of the great altar covered with plates of gold, which King
Wichtlof had presented, with ten gold chalices, and many other vessels,
was thrown into the well of the convent.

In the distance the smoke of several villages could now be seen rising
over the plain, and it was clear that the Danes were approaching. The
ten priests and twenty monks who were to leave now knelt, and received
the solemn benediction of the abbot, then, with Edmund and Egbert, they
took their places in the boat and rowed away to the wood of Ancarig,
which lay not far from the abbey.

The abbot Theodore and the aged monks and priests now returned to the
church, and, putting on their vestments, commenced the services of the
day; the abbot himself celebrated high mass, assisted by brother Elfget
the deacon, brother Savin the sub-deacon, and the brothers Egelred and
Wyelric, youths who acted as taper-bearers. When the mass was finished,
just as the abbot and his assistants had partaken of the holy
communion, the Danes burst into the church. The abbot was slain upon
the holy altar by the hand of the Danish king Oskytal, and the other
priests and monks were beheaded by the executioner.

The old men and children in the choir were seized and tortured to
disclose where the treasures of the abbey were concealed, and were also
put to death with the prior and sub-prior. Turgar, an acolyte of ten
years of age; a remarkably beautiful boy, stood by the side of the
sub-prior as he was murdered and fearlessly confronted the Danes, and
bade them put him to death with the holy father. The young Earl Sidroc,
however, struck with the bearing of the child, and being moved with
compassion, stripped him of his robe and cowl, and threw over him a
long Danish tunic without sleeves, and ordering him to keep close by
him, made his way out of the monastery, the boy being the only one who
was saved from the general massacre.

The Danes, furious at being able to find none of the treasures of the
monastery, broke open all the shrines and levelled the marble tombs,
including those of St. Guthlac, the holy virgin Ethelbritha, and many
others, but found in these none of the treasure searched for. They
piled the bodies of the saints in a heap, and burned them, together
with the church and all the buildings of the monastery; then, with vast
herds of cattle and other plunder, they moved away from Croyland, and
attacked the monastery of Medeshamsted. Here the monks made a brave
resistance. The Danes brought up machines and attacked the monastery on
all sides, and effected a breach in the walls. Their first assault,
however, was repelled, and Fulba, the brother of Earl Hulba, was
desperately wounded by a stone.

Hulba was so infuriated at this that when, at the second assault, the
monastery was captured, he slew with his own hand everyone of the
monks, while all the country people who had taken refuge within the
walls were slaughtered by his companions, not one escaping. The altars
were levelled to the ground, the monuments broken in pieces. The great
library of parchments and charters was burnt. The holy relics were
trodden under foot, and the church itself, with all the monastic
buildings, burnt to the ground. Four days later, the Danes, having
devastated the whole country round and collected an enormous booty,
marched away against Huntingdon.

Edmund and Egbert remained but a few hours with the monks who had
escaped from the sack of Croyland; for, as soon as they saw the flames
mounting up above the church, they knew that the Danes had accomplished
their usual work of massacre, and there being no use in their making
further stay, they started upon their journey. They travelled by easy
stages, for time was of no value to them. For the most part their way
lay among forests, and when once they had passed south of Thetford they
had no fear of meeting with the Danes. Sometimes they slept at
farm-houses or villages, being everywhere hospitably received, the more
so when it was known that Edmund was the son of the brave ealdorman
Eldred; but the news which they brought of the disastrous battle of
Kesteven, and the southward march of the great Danish army, filled
everyone with consternation.

The maids and matrons wept with terror at the thought of the coming of
these terrible heathen, and although the men everywhere spoke of
resistance to the last, the prospect seemed so hopeless that even the
bravest were filled with grief and despair. Many spoke of leaving their
homes and retiring with their wives and families, their serfs and herds
to the country of the West Saxons, where alone there appeared any hope
of a successful resistance being made. Wherever they went Edmund and
Egbert brought by their news lamentation and woe to the households they
entered, and at last Edmund said:

"Egbert, let us enter no more houses until we reach the end of our
journey; wherever we go we are messengers of evil, and turn houses of
feasting into abodes of grief. Every night we have the same sad story
to tell, and have to witness the weeping and wailing of women. A
thousand times better were it to sleep among the woods, at any rate
until we are among the West Saxons, where our news may cause
indignation and rage at least, but where it will arouse a brave resolve
to resist to the last instead of the hopelessness of despair."

Egbert thoroughly agreed with the lad, and henceforth they entered no
houses save to buy bread and mead. Of meat they had plenty, for as they
passed through the forests Wolf was always upon the alert, and several
times found a wild boar in his lair, and kept him at bay until Edmund
and Egbert ran up and with spears and swords slew him. This supplied
them amply with meat, and gave them indeed far more than they could
eat, but they exchanged portions of the flesh for bread in the
villages. At last they came down upon the Thames near London, and
crossing the river journeyed west. They were now in the kingdom of the
West Saxons, the most warlike and valiant of the peoples of England,
and who had gradually extended their sway over the whole of the
country. The union was indeed but little more than nominal, as the
other kings retained their thrones, paying only a tribute to the West
Saxon monarchs.

As Egbert had predicted, their tale of the battle of Kesteven here
aroused no feeling save that of wrath and a desire for vengeance upon
the Danes. Swords were grasped, and all swore by the saints of what
should happen to the invaders should they set foot in Wessex. The
travellers felt their spirits rise at the martial and determined aspect
of the people.

"It is a sad pity," Egbert said to Edmund one day, "that these West
Saxons had not had time to unite England firmly together before the
Danes set foot on the island. It is our divisions which have rendered
their task so far easy. Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia have one
by one been invaded, and their kings have had to fight single-handed
against them, whereas had one strong king reigned over the whole
country, so that all our force could have been exerted against the
invader wherever he might land, the Danes would never have won a foot
of our soil. The sad day of Kesteven showed at least that we are able
to fight the Danes man for man. The first day we beat them, though they
were in superior numbers, the second we withstood them all day,
although they were ten to one against us, and they would never have
triumphed even then had our men listened to their leaders and kept
their ranks. I do not believe that even the West Saxons could have
fought more bravely than did our men on that day; but they are better
organized, their king is energetic and determined, and when the Danes
invade Wessex they will find themselves opposed by the whole people
instead of merely a hastily raised assemblage gathered in the
neighbourhood."

They presently approached Reading, where there was a royal fortress, in
which King Ethelred and his brother Alfred were residing.

"It is truly a fine city," Edmund said as he approached it; "its walls
are strong and high, and the royal palace, which rises above them, is
indeed a stately building."

They crossed the river and entered the gates of the town. There was
great bustle and traffic in the streets, cynings, or nobles, passed
along accompanied by parties of thanes, serfs laden with fuel or
provisions made their way in from the surrounding country, while
freemen, with their shields flung across their shoulders and their
swords by their sides, stalked with an independent air down the streets.

The travellers approached the royal residence. The gates were open, and
none hindered their entrance, for all who had business were free to
enter the royal presence and to lay their complaints or petitions
before the king.

Entering they found themselves in a large hall. The lower end of this
was occupied by many people, who conversed together in little groups or
awaited the summons of the king. Across the upper end of the room was a
raised dais, and in the centre of this was a wide chair capable of
holding three persons. The back and sides were high and richly carved.
A table supported by four carved and gilded legs stood before it. Two
persons were seated in the chair.

One was a man of three or four and twenty, the other was his junior by
some two years. Both wore light crowns of gold somewhat different in
their fashion. Before the younger was a parchment, an inkhorn, and
pens. King Ethelred was a man of a pleasant face, but marked by care
and by long vigils and rigorous fastings. Alfred was a singularly
handsome young prince, with an earnest and intellectual face. Both had
their faces shaven smooth. Ethelred wore his hair parted in the middle,
and falling low on each side of the face, but Alfred's was closely cut.
On the table near the younger brother stood a silver harp.

Edmund looked with great curiosity and interest on the young prince,
who was famous throughout England for his great learning, his wisdom,
and sweetness of temper. Although the youngest of the king's brothers,
he had always been regarded as the future King of England, and had his
father survived until he reached the age of manhood, he would probably
have succeeded directly to the throne. The law of primogeniture was by
no means strictly observed among the Saxons, a younger brother of
marked ability or of distinguished prowess in war being often chosen by
a father to succeed him in place of his elder brothers.

Alfred had been his father's favourite son. He had when a child been
consecrated by the pope as future King of England; and his two journeys
to Rome, and his residence at the court of the Frankish king had, with
his own great learning and study, given him a high prestige and
reputation among his people as one learned in the ways of the world.
Although but a prince, his authority in the kingdom nearly equalled
that of his brother, and it was he rather than Ethelred whom men
regarded as the prop and stay of the Saxons in the perils which were
now threatening them.

One after another, persons advanced to the table and laid their
complaints before the king; in cases of dispute both parties were
present and were often accompanied by witnesses. Ethelred and Alfred
listened attentively to all that was said on both sides, and then gave
their judgment. An hour passed, and then seeing that no one else
approached the table, Egbert, taking Edmund by the hand, led him
forward and knelt before the royal table.

"Whom have we here?" the king said. "This youth is by his attire one of
noble race, but I know not his face."

"We have come, sir king," Egbert said, "as fugitives and suppliants to
you. This is Edmund, the son of Ealdorman Eldred, a valiant cyning of
East Anglia, who, after fighting bravely against the Danes near
Thetford, joined Earl Algar, and died by his side on the fatal field of
Kesteven. He had himself purposed to come hither to you and to ask you
to accept him as your thane, and on the morn of the battle he charged
me if he fell to bring hither his son to you; and we pray you to
accept, in token of our homage to you, these vessels."

And here he placed two handsome goblets of silver gilt upon the table.

"I pray you rise," the king said. "I have assuredly heard of the brave
Eldred, and will gladly receive his son as my thane. I had not heard of
Eldred's death, though two days since the rumour of a heavy defeat of
the East Angles at Kesteven, and the sacrilegious destruction of the
holy houses of Bardenay, Croyland, and Medeshamsted reached our ears.
Were you present at the battle?"

"I was, sir king," Egbert said, "and fought beside Earl Algar and my
kinsman the Ealdorman Eldred until both were slain by the Danes, and I
with difficulty cut my way through them and escaped to carry out my
kinsman's orders regarding his son."

"You are a stout champion yourself," the king said, regarding with
admiration Egbert's huge proportions; "but tell us the story of this
battle, of which at present but vague rumours have reached us." Egbert
related the incidents of the battle of Kesteven. "It was bravely
fought," the king said when he had concluded; "right well and bravely,
and better fortune should have attended such valour. Truly the brave
Algar has shown that we Saxons have not lost the bravery which
distinguished our ancestors, and that, man for man, we are equal to
these heathen Danes."

"But methinks," Prince Alfred said, "that the brave Algar and his
valiant companions did wrong to throw away their lives when all was
lost. So long as there is the remotest chance of victory it is the duty
of a leader to set an example of valour to his followers, but when all
is lost he should think of his country. What though the brave thanes
slew each a score of Danes before they died, their death has left their
countrymen without a leader, and by that one battle the Danes have made
themselves masters of the north of East Anglia. Better far had they,
when the day was lost, retreated, to gather the people together when a
better opportunity presented itself, and again to make head against the
invaders. It is heathen rather than Christian warfare thus to throw
away their lives rather than to retreat and wait for God's time to come
again. To stake all on one throw, which if lost loses a whole people,
seems to me the act of a gamester. I trust that, should the time ever
come, as it is too much to be feared it will ere long, that the Danes
invade my brother's kingdom of Wessex, I shall not be found wanting in
courage; but assuredly when defeated in battle I would not throw away
my life, for that belongs to our people rather than to myself, but
would retire to some refuge until I could again gather the Saxons
around me and attack the invaders. I like the face of the young
ealdorman, and doubt not that he will prove a valiant warrior like his
father. My brother will doubtless assign him lands for his maintenance
and yours; but if he will let me I will attach him to my person, and
will be at once a master and a friend to him. Wouldst thou like this,
young Edmund?"

The lad, greatly pleased at the young prince's kindness of speech and
manner, replied enthusiastically that he would follow him to the death
if he would accept him as his faithful thane.

"Had the times been more peaceful, Edmund," Alfred said, "I would fain
have imparted to you some of the little knowledge that I have gained,
for I see an intelligence in your face which tells me that you would
have proved an apt and eager pupil; but, alas, in the days that are
coming it is the sword rather than the book which will prevail, and the
cares of state, and the defence of the country, will shortly engross
all my time and leave me but little leisure for the studies I love so
well."

"There are the lands," the king said, "of Eabald, Ealdorman of
Sherborne, in Dorset. He died but last week and has left no children.
These lands I will grant to Edmund in return for liege and true
service." The lad knelt before the king, and, kissing his hand, swore
to be his true and faithful thane, and to spend land, goods, and life
in his service.

"And now," the king said, "since the audience is over, and none other
comes before us with petitions, we will retire to our private
apartments, and there my brother Alfred will present you to the fair
Elswitha, his wife."

The room into which Egbert and Edmund followed the king and his brother
was spacious and lofty. The walls were covered with hangings of red
cloth, and a thick brown baize covered the floor. The ceiling was
painted a dark brown with much gilding. Round the sides of the room
stood several dressers of carved oak, upon which stood gold and silver
cups.

On a table were several illuminated vellums. At Croyland Edmund had
seen a civilization far in advance of that to which he had been
accustomed in his father's abode; but he saw here a degree of luxury
and splendour which surprised him. Alfred had, during his two visits to
Rome, learned to appreciate the high degree of civilization which
reigned there, and many of the articles of furniture and other objects
which met Edmund's eye he had brought with him on his return with his
father from that city.

Across the upper end of the room was a long table laid with a white
cloth. Elswitha was sitting in a large gilded chair by the great fire
which was blazing on the hearth.

Prince Alfred presented Edmund and Egbert to her. Elswitha was well
acquainted with the Ealdorman Eldred, as his lands lay on the very
border of her native Mercia, and she received the lad and his kinsman
with great kindness. In a short time they took their places at table.
First the attendance brought in bowls containing broth, which they
presented, kneeling, to each of those at table. The broth was drunk
from the bowl itself; then a silver goblet was placed by each diner,
and was filled with wine. Fish was next served. Plates were placed
before each; but instead of their cutting food with their own daggers,
as Edmund had been accustomed to see in his father's house, knives were
handed round. After the fish came venison, followed by wild boar,
chickens, and other meats. After these confections, composed chiefly of
honey, were placed on the table. The king and Prince Alfred pledged
their guests when they drank. No forks were used, the meat as cut being
taken up by pieces of bread to the mouth. During the meal a harper
played and sung.

Edmund observed the decorum with which his royal hosts fed, and the
care which they took to avoid dipping their fingers into their saucers
or their plates. He was also struck with the small amount of wine which
they took; for the Saxons in general were large feeders, and drank
heavily at their meals.

When the dinner was over a page brought round a basin of warm water, in
which lavender had been crushed, and each dipped his fingers in this
and then dried them on the cloth. Then at Prince Alfred's request
Egbert again related in full the details of the two days' desperate
struggle at Kesteven, giving the most minute particulars of the Danes'
method of fighting. Egbert and Edmund then retired to the royal
guest-house adjoining the palace, where apartments were assigned to
them.

After remaining for a week at Reading they took leave of the king and
started for the lands which he had assigned to Edmund. They were
accompanied by an officer of the royal household, who was to inform the
freemen and serfs of the estate that by the king's pleasure Edmund had
been appointed ealdorman of the lands. They found on arrival that the
house had been newly built, and was large and comfortable. The thanes
of the district speedily came in to pay their respects to their new
ealdorman, and although surprised to find him so young, they were
pleased with his bearing and manner, and knowing that he came of good
fighting blood doubted not that in time he would make a valiant leader.
All who came were hospitably entertained, and for many days there was
high feasting. So far removed was this part of England from the
district which the Danes had invaded, that at present but slight alarm
had been caused by them; but Edmund and his kinsman lost no time in
impressing upon them the greatness of the coming danger.

"You may be sure," he said, "that ere long we shall see their galleys
on the coast. When they have eaten up Mercia and Anglia they will
assuredly come hither, and we shall have to fight for our lives, and
unless we are prepared it will go hard with us."

After he had been at his new residence for a month Edmund sent out
messengers to all the thanes in his district requesting them to
assemble at a council, and then formally laid the matter before them.

"It is, above all things," he said, "necessary that we should have some
place where we can place the women and children in case of invasion and
where we can ourselves retire in extreme necessity. Therefore I propose
that we shall build a fort of sufficient size to contain all the
inhabitants of the district, with many flocks and herds. My cousin
Egbert has ridden far over the country, and recommends that the Roman
fortification at Moorcaster shall be utilized. It is large in extent,
and has a double circle of earthen banks. These differ from those which
we are wont to build, since we Saxons always fill up the ground so as
to be flat with the top of the earthen banks, while the Romans left
theirs hollow. However, the space is so large that it would take a vast
labour to fill it up, therefore I propose that we should merely thicken
the banks, and should, in Saxon custom, build a wall with turrets upon
them. The sloping banks alone would be but a small protection against
the onslaught of the Danes, but stone walls are another matter, and
could only be carried after a long siege. If you fall in with my views
you will each of you send half your serfs to carry out the work, and I
will do the same, and will, moreover, pay fifty freemen who may do the
squaring of the stones and the proper laying of them."

The proposal led to a long discussion, as some thought that there was
no occasion as yet to take such a measure; but the thanes finally
agreed to carry out Edmund's proposal.



CHAPTER IV: THE INVASION OF WESSEX


Edmund and Egbert devoted most of their time to the building of the new
fort, living very simply, and expended the whole of the revenues of the
lands on the payment of the freemen and masons engaged upon the work.
The Roman fort was a parallelogram, the sides being about 200 yards
long, and the ends half that length. It was surrounded by two earthen
banks with wide ditches. These were deepened considerably, and the
slopes were cut down more sharply. The inner bank was widened until it
was 15 feet across the top.

On this the wall was built. It was faced on both sides with square
stones, the space between filled up with rubble and cement, the total
thickness being 4 feet. The height of the wall was 8 feet, and at
intervals of 30 yards apart towers were raised 10 feet above it, one of
these being placed at either side of the entrance. Here the bank was
cut away, and solid buttresses of masonry supported the high gates. The
opening in the outer bank was not opposite to the gate in the inner,
being fifty yards away, so that any who entered by it would have for
that distance to follow the ditch between the two banks, exposed to the
missiles of those on the wall before arriving at the inner gate.

Five hundred men laboured incessantly at the work. The stone for the
walls was fortunately found close at hand, but, notwithstanding this,
the work took nearly six months to execute; deep wells were sunk in the
centre of the fort, and by this means an ample supply of water was
secured, however large might be the number within it.

A very short time after the commencement of the work the news arrived
that King Edmund of East Anglia had gathered his forces together and
had met the Danes in a great battle near Thetford on Sunday the 20th of
November, and had been totally defeated by them, Edmund himself having
been taken prisoner. The captive king, after having been for a long
time cruelly tortured by the Danes, was shot to death with arrows. It
was not long after this that news came that the whole of East Anglia
had fallen into the hands of the Danes.

Early in the month of February, 871, just as the walls of his fort had
begun to rise, a messenger arrived from the king bidding Edmund
assemble all the men in his earlship and march at once to join him near
Devizes, as the news had come that a great Danish fleet had sailed up
the Thames and had already captured the royal town of Reading.

Messengers were sent out in all directions, and early the next morning,
400 men having assembled, Edmund and his kinsman marched away with them
towards Devizes. Upon their arrival at that town they found the king
and his brother with 8000 men, and the following day the army moved
east towards Reading.

They had not marched many miles before a messenger arrived saying that
two of the Danish jarls with a great following had gone out to plunder
the country, that they had been encountered by Aethelwulf, Earl of
Berkshire, with his men at Englefield, and a fierce battle had taken
place. The Saxons had gained the victory, and great numbers of the
Danes had been slain, Sidroc, one of their jarls, being among the
fallen.

Three days later the royal army arrived in sight of Reading, being
joined on their march by Aethelwulf and his men. The Danes had thrown
up a great rampart between the Thames and the Kennet, and many were
still at work on this fortification. These were speedily slain by the
Saxons, but their success was a short one. The main body of the
invaders swarmed out from the city and a desperate engagement took
place.

The Saxons fought valiantly, led by the king and Prince Alfred; but
being wholly undisciplined and unaccustomed to war they were unable to
withstand the onslaught of the Danes, who fought in better order,
keeping together in ranks: after four hours' hard fighting the Saxons
were compelled to fall back.

They rallied again a few miles from Reading. Ethelred and Alfred went
among them bidding them be of good cheer, for that another time, when
they fought in better order, they would gain the victory; and that
their loss had not been greater than the Danes, only that unhappily the
valiant Ealdorman Aethelwulf had been slain. Fresh messengers were sent
throughout the country bidding all the men of Wessex to rally round
their king, and on the fourth morning after the defeat Ethelred found
himself at the head of larger forces than had fought with him in the
last battle.

The Danes had moved out from Reading and had taken post at Ashdown, and
as the Saxon army approached they were seen to be divided into two
bodies, one of which was commanded by their two kings and the other by
two jarls. The Saxons therefore made a similar division of their army,
the king commanding one division and Prince Alfred the other.

Edmund with the men of Sherborne was in the division of Alfred. The
Danes advanced to the attack and fell with fury upon them. It had been
arranged that this division should not advance to the attack until that
commanded by the king was also put in motion. For some time Alfred and
his men supported the assaults of the Danes, and then, being hardly
pressed, the prince sent a messenger to his brother to urge that a
movement should be made. The Saxons were impatient at standing on the
defensive, and Alfred saw that he must either allow them to charge the
enemy or must retreat.

Presently the messenger returned saying that the king was in his tent
hearing mass, and that he had given orders that no man should move or
any should disturb him until mass was concluded. Alfred hesitated no
longer; he formed his men into a solid body, and then, raising his
battle cry, rushed upon the Danes. The battle was a furious one. The
Danes were upon higher ground, their standard being planted by the side
of a single thorn-tree which grew on the slopes of the hill. Towards
this Alfred with his men fought their way.

The lesson of the previous battle had not been lost, the Saxons kept
together in a solid body which made its way with irresistible weight
through the ranks of the Danes. Still the latter closed in on all
sides, and the fight was doubtful until the king, having finished his
devotions, led his division into the battle. For a long time a
desperate strife continued and great numbers on both sides were killed;
but the Saxons, animated at once by love of their country and hatred of
the invaders and by humiliation at their previous defeat, fought with
such fury that the Danes began to give way. Then the Saxons pressed
them still more hotly, and the invaders presently lost heart and fled
in confusion, pursued in all directions by the exulting Saxons.

The Danish king Bergsecg and five jarls, the two Sidrocs, Osbearn,
Frene, and Hareld, were slain, and many thousands of their followers.
Great spoil of arms and armour fell into the hands of the victors.

Edmund had fought bravely in the battle at the head of his men. Egbert
had kept beside him, and twice, when the lad had been smitten to his
knees by the enemy, covered him with his shield and beat off the foe.

"You are over-young for such a fight as this, Edmund," he said when the
Danes had taken to flight. "You will need another four or five years
over your head before you can stand in battle against these fierce
Northmen. They break down your guard by sheer weight; but you bore
yourself gallantly, and I doubt not will yet be as famous a warrior as
was your brave father."

Edmund did not join in the pursuit, being too much bruised and
exhausted to do so; but Egbert with the men of Sherborne followed the
flying Danes until nightfall.

"You have done well, my young ealdorman," Prince Alfred said to the lad
after the battle. "I have been wishing much that you could be with me
during the past month, but I heard that you were building a strong fort
and deemed it better to let you continue your work undisturbed. When it
is finished I trust that I shall have you often near me; but I fear
that for a time we shall have but little space for peaceful pursuits,
for the Danes are coming, as I hear, in great troops westward, and we
shall have many battles to fight ere we clear the land of the them."

In those days a defeat, however severe, had not the same decisive
effect as it has in modern warfare. There were no cannons to lose, no
great stores to fall into the hands of the victors. The army was simply
dispersed, and its component parts reassembled in the course of a day
or two, ready, when reinforcements arrived, to renew the fight. Thus,
decisive as was the victory of Ashdown, Prince Alfred saw that many
such victories must be won, and a prolonged and exhausting struggle
carried on before the tide of invasion would be finally hurled back
from Wessex. The next few days were spent in making a fair distribution
of the spoil and arms among the conquerors. Some of the thanes then
returned home with their people; but the remainder, on the king's
entreaty, agreed to march with him against the Danes, who after the
battle had fallen back to Basing, where they had been joined by others
coming from the coast. The royal army advanced against them, and
fourteen days after the battle of Ashdown the struggle was renewed. The
fight lasted for many hours, but towards nightfall the Saxons were
compelled to retreat, moving off the field, however, in good order, so
that no spoil fell into the hands of the Danes.

This check was a great disappointment to the Saxons, who after their
late victory had hoped that they should speedily clear the kingdom of
the Danes. These, indeed, taught prudence by the manner in which the
West Saxons had fought, for a while refrained from plundering
excursions. Two months later the Saxons were again called to arms.
Somerled, a Danish chieftain, had again advanced to Reading, and had
captured and burned the town. The king marched against him, and the two
armies met at Merton. Here another desperate battle took place.

During the first part of the day the Saxons were victorious over both
the divisions of the Danish army, but in the afternoon the latter
received some reinforcements and renewed the fight. The Saxons,
believing that the victory had been won, had fallen into disorder and
were finally driven from the field. Great numbers were slain on both
sides. Bishop Edmund and many Saxon nobles were killed, and King
Ethelred so severely wounded that he expired a few days later, April
23rd, 871, having reigned for five years. He was buried at Wimbourne
Minster, and Prince Alfred ascended the throne.

Ethelred was much regretted by his people, but the accession of Alfred
increased their hopes of battling successfully against the Danes.
Although wise and brave, King Ethelred had been scarcely the monarch
for a warlike people in troubled times. Religious exercises occupied
too large a share of his thoughts. His rule was kindly rather than
strong, and his authority was but weak over his nobles. From Prince
Alfred the Saxons hoped better things. From his boyhood he had been
regarded with special interest and affection by the people, as his
father had led them to regard him as their future king.

The fact that he had been personally consecrated by the pope appeared
to invest him with a special authority. His immense superiority in
learning over all his people greatly impressed them. Though gentle he
was firm and resolute, prompt in action, daring in the field. Thus,
then, although the people regretted King Ethelred, there was a general
feeling of hope and joy when Alfred took his place on the throne. He
had succeeded to the crown but a month when the Danes again advanced in
great numbers. The want of success which had attended them in the last
two battles had damped the spirit of the people, and it was with a very
small force only that Alfred was able to advance against them.

The armies met near Wilton, where the Danes in vastly superior numbers
were posted on a hill. King Alfred led his forces forward and fell upon
the Danes, and so bravely did the Saxons fight that for some time the
day went favourably for them. Gradually the Danes were driven from
their post of vantage, and after some hours' fighting turned to fly;
but, as at Merton and Kesteven, the impetuosity of the Saxons proved
their ruin. Breaking their compact ranks they scattered in pursuit of
the Danes, and these, seeing how small was the number of their
pursuers, rallied and turned upon them, and the Saxons were driven from
the field which they had so bravely won.

"Unless my brave Saxons learn order and discipline," the king said to
Edmund and some of his nobles who gathered round him on the evening
after the defeat, "our cause is assuredly lost. We have proved now in
each battle that we are superior man to man to the Danes, but we throw
away the fruits of victory by our impetuosity. The great Caesar, who
wrote an account of his battles which I have read in Latin, described
the order and discipline with which the Roman troops fought. They were
always in heavy masses, and even after a battle the heavy-armed
soldiers kept their ranks and did not scatter in pursuit of the enemy,
leaving this task to the more lightly armed troops.

"Would that we had three or four years before us to teach our men
discipline and order, but alas! there is no time for this. The Danes
have fallen in great numbers in every fight, but they are ever
receiving reinforcements and come on in fresh waves of invasion; while
the Saxons, finding that all their efforts and valour seem to avail
nothing, are beginning fast to lose heart. See how small a number
assembled round my standard yesterday, and yet the war is but
beginning. Truly the look-out is bad for England."

The king made strenuous efforts again to raise an army, but the people
did not respond to his call. In addition to the battles which have been
spoken of several others had been fought in different parts of Wessex
by the ealdormen and their followers against bodies of invading Danes.
In the space of one year the Saxons had engaged in eight pitched
battles and in many skirmishes. Great numbers had been slain on both
sides, but the Danes ever received fresh accessions of strength, and
seemed to grow stronger and more numerous after every battle, while the
Saxons were dwindling rapidly. Wide tracts of country had been
devastated, the men slaughtered, and the women and children taken
captives, and the people, utterly dispirited and depressed, no longer
listened to the voices of their leaders, and refused again to peril
their lives in a strife which seemed hopeless. Alfred therefore called
his ealdormen together and proposed to them, that since the people
would no longer fight, the sole means that remained to escape
destruction was to offer to buy off the Danes.

The proposal was agreed to, for although none of them had any hope that
the Danes would long keep any treaty they might make, yet even a little
respite might give heart and spirit to the Saxons again. Accordingly
negotiations were entered into with the Danes, and these, in
consideration of a large money payment, agreed to retire from Wessex.
The money was paid, the Danes retired from Reading, which they had used
as their headquarters, and marched to London. King Burhred, the feeble
King of Mercia, could do nothing to oppose them, and he too agreed to
pay them a large annual tribute.

From the end of 872 till the autumn of 875 the country was
comparatively quiet. Alfred ruled it wisely, and tried to repair the
terrible damages the war had made. Edmund looked after his earldom, and
grew into a powerful young man of nineteen years old.

King Alfred had not deceived himself for a moment as to the future.
"The Danes," he said, "are still in England. East Anglia and
Northumbria swarm with them. Had this army, after being bought off by
us and my brother of Mercia, sailed across the seas and landed in
France there would have been some hope for us, but their restless
nature will not allow them to stay long in the parts which they have
conquered.

"In Anglia King Guthrum has divided the land among his jarls, and there
they seem disposed to settle down; but elsewhere they care not for the
land, preferring to leave it in the hands of its former owners to till,
and after to wring from the cultivators the fruits of the harvest;
then, as the country becomes thoroughly impoverished, they must move
elsewhere. Mercia they can overrun whensoever they choose, and after
that there is nothing for them to do but to sweep down again upon
Wessex, and with all the rest of England at their feet it is hopeless
to think that we alone can withstand their united power."

"Then what, think you, must be the end of this?" Edmund asked.

"'Tis difficult to see the end," Alfred replied. "It would seem that
our only hope of release from them is that when they have utterly eaten
up and ravaged England they may turn their thoughts elsewhere. Already
they are harrying the northern coasts of France, but there are richer
prizes on the Mediterranean shores, and it may be that when England is
no longer worth plundering they may sail away to Spain and Italy. We
have acted foolishly in the way we have fought them. When they first
began to arrive upon our coasts we should have laboured hard to build
great fleets, so that we could go forth and meet them on the seas.

"Some, indeed, might have escaped our watch and landed, but the fleets
could have cut off reinforcements coming to them, and thus those who
reached our shores could have been overwhelmed. Even now, I think that
something might be done that way, and I purpose to build a fleet which
may, when they again invade us, take its station near the mouth of the
Thames and fall upon the vessels bringing stores and reinforcements.
This would give much encouragement to the people, whose hopelessness
and desperation are caused principally by the fact that it seems to be
of no use killing the enemy, since so many are ready constantly to take
their places."

"I will gladly undertake to build one ship," Edmund said. "The fort is
now finished, and with the revenues of the land I could at once
commence a ship; and if the Danes give us time, when she is finished I
would build another. I will the more gladly do it, since it seems to me
that if the Danes entirely overrun our country we must take to the sea
and so in turn become plunderers. With this view I will have the ship
built large and strong, so that she may keep the sea in all weathers
and be my home if I am driven out of England. There must be plenty of
ports in France, and many a quiet nook and inlet round England, where
one can put in to refit when necessary, and we could pick up many a
prize of Danish ships returning laden with booty. With such a ship I
could carry a strong crew, and with my trusty Egbert and the best of my
fighting men we should be able to hold our own, even if attacked by two
or three of the Danish galleys."

"The idea is a good one, Edmund," the king said, "and I would that I
myself could carry it into effect. It were a thousand times better to
live a free life on the sea, even if certain at last to be overpowered
by a Danish fleet, than to lurk a hunted fugitive in the woods; but I
cannot do it. So long as I live I must remain among my people, ready to
snatch any chance that may offer of striking a blow against the
invader. But for you it is different."

"I should not, of course, do it," Edmund said, "until all is lost here,
and mean to defend my fort to an extremity; still should it be that the
Danes conquer all our lands, it were well to have such a refuge."

Edmund talked the matter over with Egbert, who warmly entered into the
plan. "So long as I have life I will fight against the Danes, and in a
ship at least we can fight manfully till the end. We must not build her
on the sea-coast, or before the time when we need her she may be
destroyed by the Danes. We will build her on the Parrot. The water is
deep enough far up from the sea to float her when empty, and if we
choose some spot where the river runs among woods we might hide her so
that she may to the last escape the attention of the Danes.

"We must get some men crafty in ship-building from one of the ports,
sending down a body of our own serfs to do the rough work. We will go
to Exeter first and there choose us the craftsman most skilled in
building ships, and will take council with him as to the best form and
size. She must be good to sail and yet able to row fast with a strong
crew, and she must have room to house a goodly number of rowing and
fighting men. You, Edmund, might, before we start, consult King Alfred.
He must have seen at Rome and other ports on the Mediterranean the
ships in use there, which are doubtless far in advance of our own. For
we know from the Holy Bible that a thousand years ago St. Paul made
long voyages in ships, and doubtless they have learned much since those
days."

Edmund thought the idea a good one, and asked the king to make him a
drawing of the vessels in use in the Mediterranean. This King Alfred
readily did, and Egbert and Edmund then journeyed to Exeter, where
finding out the man most noted for his skill in building ships, they
told him the object they had in view, and showed him the drawings the
king had made. There were two of them, the one a long galley rowed with
double banks of oars, the other a heavy trading ship.

"This would be useless to you," the shipwright said, laying the second
drawing aside. "It would not be fast enough either to overtake or to
fly. The other galley would, methinks, suit you well. I have seen a
drawing of such a ship before. It is a war galley such as is used by
the Genoese in their fights against the African pirates. They are fast
and roomy, and have plenty of accommodation for the crews. One of them
well manned and handled should be a match for six at least of the
Danish galleys, which are much lower in the water and smaller in all
ways. But it will cost a good deal of money to build such a ship."

"I will devote all the revenues of my land to it until it is finished,"
Edmund said. "I will place a hundred serfs at your service, and will
leave it to you to hire as many craftsmen as may be needed. I intend to
build her in a quiet place in a deep wood on the river Parrot, so that
she may escape the eyes of the Danes."

"I shall require seasoned timber," the shipwright urged.

"That will I buy," Edmund replied, "as you shall direct, and can have
it brought up the river to the spot."

"Being so large and heavy," the shipwright said, "she will be difficult
to launch. Methinks it were best to dig a hole or dock at some little
distance from the river; then when she is finished a way can be cut to
the river wide enough for her to pass out. When the water is turned in
it will float her up level to the surface, and as she will not draw
more than two feet of water the cut need not be more than three feet
deep."

"That will be the best plan by far," Edmund agreed, "for you can make
the hole so deep that you can build her entirely below the level of the
ground. Then we can, if needs be, fill up the hole altogether with
bushes, and cover her up, so that she would not be seen by a Danish
galley rowing up the river, or even by any of the enemy who might enter
the wood, unless they made special search for her; and there she could
lie until I chose to embark."

The shipwright at once set to work to draw out his plans, and a week
later sent to Edmund a messenger with an account of the quantity and
size of wood he should require. This was purchased at once. Edmund and
Egbert with their serfs journeyed to the spot they had chosen, and were
met there by the shipwright, who brought with him twenty craftsmen from
Exeter. The wood was brought up the river, and while the craftsmen
began to cut it up into fitting sizes, the serfs applied themselves to
dig the deep dock in which the vessel was to be built.



CHAPTER V: A DISCIPLINED BAND


The construction of the ship went on steadily. King Alfred, who was
himself building several war vessels of ordinary size, took great
interest in Edmund's craft and paid several visits to it while it was
in progress.

"It will be a fine ship," he said one day as the vessel was approaching
completion, "and much larger than any in these seas. It reminds me,
Edmund, not indeed in size or shape, but in its purpose, of the ark
which Noah built before the deluge which covered the whole earth. He
built it, as you know, to escape with his family from destruction. You,
too, are building against the time when the deluge of Danish invasion
will sweep over this land, and I trust that your success will equal
that of the patriarch."

"I shall be better off than Noah was," Edmund said, "for he had nothing
to do, save to shut up his windows and wait till the floods abated,
while I shall go out and seek my enemies on the sea."

The respite purchased by the king from the Danes was but a short one.
In the autumn of 875 their bands were again swarming around the borders
of Wessex, and constant irruptions took place. Edmund received a
summons to gather his tenants, but he found that these no longer
replied willingly to the call. Several of his chief men met him and
represented to him the general feeling which prevailed.

"The men say," their spokesman explained, "that it is useless to fight
against the Danes. In 872 there were ten pitched battles, and vast
numbers of the Danes were slain, and vast numbers also of Saxons. The
Danes are already far more numerous than before, for fresh hordes
continue to arrive on the shores, and more than fill up the places of
those who are killed; but the places of the Saxons are empty, and our
fighting force is far smaller than it was last year. If we again go out
and again fight many battles, even if we are victorious, which we can
hardly hope to be, the same thing will happen. Many thousands will be
slain, and the following year we shall in vain try to put an army in
the field which can match that of the Danes, who will again have filled
up their ranks, and be as numerous as ever. So long as we continue to
fight, so long the Danes will slay, burn, and destroy wheresoever they
march, until there will remain of us but a few fugitives hidden in the
woods. We should be far better off did we cease to resist, and the
Danes become our masters, as they have become the masters of
Northumbria, Mercia, and Anglia.

"There, it is true, they have plundered the churches and thanes' houses
and have stolen all that is worth carrying away; but when they have
taken all that there is to take they leave the people alone, and
unmolested, to till the ground and to gain their livelihood. They do
not slay for the pleasure of slaying, and grievous as is the condition
of the Angles they and their wives and children are free from massacre
and are allowed to gain their livings. The West Saxons have showed that
they are no cowards; they have defeated the Northmen over and over
again when far outnumbering them. It is no dishonour to yield now when
all the rest of England has yielded, and when further fighting will
only bring ruin upon ourselves, our wives, and children."

Edmund could find no reply to this argument. He knew that even the king
despaired of ultimately resisting the Danish invasion, and after
listening to all that the thanes had to say he retired with Egbert
apart.

"What say you, Egbert? There is reason in the arguments that they use.
You and I have neither wives nor children, and we risk only our own
lives; but I can well understand that those who have so much to lose
are chary of further effort. What say you?"

"I do not think it will be fair to press them further," Egbert
answered; "but methinks that we might raise a band consisting of all
the youths and unmarried men in the earldom. These we might train
carefully and keep always together, seeing that the lands will still be
cultivated and all able to pay their assessment, and may even add to
it, since you exempt them from service. Such a band we could train and
practise until we could rely upon them to defeat a far larger force of
the enemy, and they would be available for our crew when we take to the
ship."

"I think the idea is a very good one, Egbert; we will propose it to the
thanes." The proposition was accordingly made that all married men
should be exempt from service, but that the youths above the age of
sixteen and the unmarried men should be formed into a band and kept
permanently under arms. Landowners who lost the services of sons or
freemen working for them should pay the same assessment only as before,
but those who did not contribute men to the levy should pay an
additional assessment. Edmund said he would pay the men composing the
band the same wages they would earn in the field, and would undertake
all their expenses. "So long as the king continues the struggle," he
said, "it is our duty to aid him, nor can we escape from the dangers
and perils of invasion. Should the Danes come near us all must perforce
fight, but so long as they continue at a distance things can go on here
as if we had peace in the land."

The proposal was, after some discussion, agreed to, and the news caused
gladness and contentment throughout the earldom. The younger men who
had been included in the levy were quite satisfied with the
arrangement. The spirit of the West Saxons was still high, and those
without wives and families who would suffer by their absence or be
ruined by their death were eager to continue the contest. The proposal
that they should be paid as when at work was considered perfectly
satisfactory.

The men of Sherborne had under their young leader gained great credit
by their steadiness and valour in the battles four years before, and
they looked forward to fresh victories over the invader. The result was
that ninety young men assembled for service. Edmund had sent off a
messenger to the king saying that the people were utterly weary of war
and refused to take up arms, but that he was gathering a band of young
men with whom he would ere long join him; but he prayed for a short
delay in order that he might get them into a condition to be useful on
the day of battle.

After consultation with Egbert, Edmund drew up a series of orders
somewhat resembling those of modern drill. King Alfred had once, in
speaking to him, described the manner in which the Thebans, a people of
Northern Greece, had fought, placing their troops in the form of a
wedge. The formation he now taught his men. From morning to night they
were practised at rallying from pursuit or flight, or changing from a
line into the form of a wedge. Each man had his appointed place both in
the line and wedge. Those who formed the outside line of this formation
were armed with large shields which covered them from chin to foot, and
with short spears; those in the inner lines carried no shields, but
bore spears of increasing length, so that four lines of spears
projected from the wedge to nearly the same distance. Inside the four
lines were twenty men armed with shields, bows, and arrows. The sides
of the wedge were of equal length, so that they could march either way.

Egbert's place was at the apex of the wedge intended generally for
attack. He carried no spear, nor did those at the other corners, as
they would be covered by those beside and behind them; he was armed
with a huge battle-axe. The other leaders were also chosen for great
personal strength. Edmund's place was on horseback in the middle of the
wedge, whence he could overlook the whole and direct their movements.

In three weeks the men could perform their simple movements to
perfection, and at a sound from Edmund's horn would run in as when
scattered in pursuit or flight, or could form from line into the wedge,
without the least confusion, every man occupying his assigned place.

The men were delighted with their new exercises, and felt confident
that the weight of the solid mass thickly bristling with spears would
break through the Danish line without difficulty, or could draw off
from the field in perfect order and safety in case of a defeat, however
numerous their foes. The two front lines were to thrust with their
pikes, the others keeping their long spears immovable to form a solid
hedge. Each man carried a short heavy sword to use in case, by any
fatality, the wedge should get broken up.

When assured that his band were perfect in their new exercise Edmund
marched and joined the king. He found on his arrival that the summons
to arms had been everywhere disregarded. Many men had indeed come in,
but these were in no way sufficient to form a force which would enable
him to take the field against the Danes.

Edmund therefore solicited and obtained permission to march with his
band to endeavour to check the plundering bands of Danes, who were
already committing devastations throughout the country.

"Be not rash, Edmund," the monarch said, "you have but a handful of
men, and I should grieve indeed did aught of harm befall you. If you
can fall upon small parties of plunderers and destroy them you will do
good service, not only by compelling them to keep together but by
raising the spirits of the Saxons; but avoid conflict with parties
likely to defeat you."

"You shall hear of us soon, I promise you," Edmund replied, "and I
trust that the news will be good."

The little party set out towards the border, and before long met
numbers of fugitives, weeping women carrying children, old men and
boys, making their way from the neighbourhood of the Danes. The men had
for the most part driven their herds into the woods, where they were
prepared to defend them as best they could against roving parties. They
learned that Haffa, a Danish jarl, with about 600 followers, was
plundering and ravaging the country about twelve miles away. The force
was a formidable one, but after consultation with Egbert, Edmund
determined to advance, deeming that he might find the Danes scattered
and cut off some of their parties.

As they neared the country of which the Danes were in possession the
smoke of burning villages and homesteads was seen rising heavily in the
air. Edmund halted for the night in a wood about a mile distant from a
blazing farm, and the band lay down for some hours.

Before daybreak three or four of the swiftest-footed of the men were
sent out to reconnoitre. They learned, from badly wounded men whom they
found lying near the burning farms, that the Danes had been plundering
in parties of twenty or thirty, but that the main body under Haffa lay
five miles away at the village of Bristowe.

A consultation was held, and it was agreed that the party should remain
hidden in the wood during the day, and that upon the following night
they should fall upon the Danes, trusting to the surprise to inflict
much damage upon them, and to be able to draw off before the enemy
could recover sufficiently to rally and attack them.

Accordingly about nine o'clock in the evening they started, and
marching rapidly approached Bristowe an hour and a half later. They
could see great fires blazing, and round them the Danes were carousing
after their forays of the day. Great numbers of cattle were penned up
near the village.

Edmund and Egbert having halted their men stole forward until close to
the village in order to learn the nature of the ground and the position
of the Danes. Upon their return they waited until the fires burned low
and the sound of shouting and singing decreased. It was useless to wait
longer, for they knew that many of the Danes would, according to their
custom, keep up their revelry all night. Crawling along the ground the
band made for the great pen where were herded the cattle which the
Danes had driven in from the surrounding country, and over which
several guards had been placed. Before starting Egbert assigned to each
man the special duties which he was to fulfil.

The Saxons crept up quite close to the Danish guards unobserved. To
each of these three or four bowmen had been told off, and they, on
nearing the sentries lay prone on the ground with bows bent and arrows
fixed until a whistle from Edmund gave the signal. Then the arrows were
loosed, and the distance being so short the Danish sentries were all
slain. Then a party of men removed the side of the pen facing the
village; the rest mingled with the cattle, and soon with the points of
their spears goaded them into flight. In a mass the herd thundered down
upon the village, the Saxons keeping closely behind them and adding to
their terror by goading the hindermost.

The Danes, astonished at the sudden thunder of hoofs bearing down upon
them, leaped to their feet and endeavoured to turn the course of the
herd, which they deemed to have accidentally broken loose, by loud
shouts and by rattling their swords against their shields. The oxen,
however, were too terrified by those in their rear to check their
course, and charged impetuously down upon the Danes.

Numbers of these were hurled to the ground and trampled under foot, and
the wildest confusion reigned in the camp. This was increased when, as
the herds swept along, a number of active men with spear and sword fell
suddenly upon them. Scores were cut down or run through before they
could prepare for defence, or recover from their surprise at the novel
method of attack.

At last, as the thunder of the herd died away in the distance, and they
became aware of the comparative fewness of their foes, they began to
rally and make head against their assailants. No sooner was this the
case than the note of a horn was heard, and as if by magic their
assailants instantly darted away into the night, leaving the
superstitious Danes in some doubt whether the whole attack upon them
had not been of a supernatural nature.

Long before they recovered themselves, and were ready for pursuit, the
Saxons were far away, no less than 200 of the Danes having been slain
or trampled to death, while of Edmund's band not one had received so
much as a wound.

The Saxons regained the wood in the highest state of exultation at
their success, and more confident than before in themselves and their
leader.

"I am convinced," Edmund said, "that this is the true way to fight the
Danes, to harry and attack them by night assaults until they dare not
break up into parties, and become so worn out by constant alarms that
they will be glad to leave a country where plunder and booty are only
to be earned at so great a cost."

Knowing that Haffa's band would for some time be thoroughly on the
alert Edmund moved his party to another portion of the country, where
he inflicted a blow, almost as heavy as he had dealt Haffa, upon
Sigbert, another of the Danish jarls. Three or four more very
successful night attacks were made, and then the Danes, by this time
thoroughly alarmed, obtained from some Saxon country people whom they
took prisoners news as to the strength of Edmund's band.

Furious at the heavy losses which had been inflicted upon them by so
small a number, they determined to unite in crushing them. By threats
of instant death, and by the offers of a high reward, they succeeded in
persuading two Saxon prisoners to act as spies, and one day these
brought in to Haffa the news that the band had that morning, after
striking a successful blow at the Danes ten miles away, entered at
daybreak a wood but three miles from his camp.

The Northman, disdaining to ask for assistance from one of the other
bands against so small a foe, moved out at once with 300 of his men
towards the wood. The Saxons had posted guards, who on the approach of
the Danes roused Edmund with the news that the enemy were close at
hand. The Saxons were soon on their feet.

"Now, my friends," Edmund said to them, "here is the time for trying
what benefit we have got from our exercise. We cannot well draw off,
for the Danes are as fleet-footed as we; therefore let us fight and
conquer them."

The men formed up cheerfully, and the little body moved out from the
wood to meet the Danes. The latter gave a shout of triumph as they saw
them. The Saxon force, from its compact formation, appeared even
smaller than it was, and the Norsemen advanced in haste, each eager to
be the first to fall upon an enemy whom they regarded as an easy prey.
As they arrived upon the spot, however, and saw the thick hedge of
spears which bristled round the little body of Saxons, the first comers
checked their speed and waited till Haffa himself came up, accompanied
by his principal warriors.

Without a moment's hesitation the jarl flung himself upon the Saxons.
In vain, however, he tried to reach them with his long sword. As he
neared them the front line of the Saxons dropped on one knee, and as
the Danes with their shields dashed against the spears and strove to
cut through them, the kneeling men were able with their pikes to thrust
at the unguarded portions of the bodies below their shields, and many
fell grievously wounded. After trying for some time in vain, Haffa,
finding that individual effort did not suffice to break through the
Saxon spears, formed his men up in line four deep, and advanced in a
solid body so as to overwhelm them.

The Saxons now rose to their feet. The spears, instead of being pointed
outwards, were inclined towards the front, and the wedge advanced
against the Danes. The Saxon war cry rose loud as they neared the
Danish line, and then, still maintaining their close formation, they
charged upon it. The assault was irresistible. The whole weight was
thrown upon a point, and preceded, as it was, by the densely-packed
spears, it burst through the Danish line as if the latter had been
composed of osier twigs, bearing down all in its way.

With shouts of surprise the Danes broke up their line and closed in a
thick mass round the Saxons, those behind pressing forward and impeding
the motions of the warriors actually engaged. The Saxons no longer kept
stationary. In obedience to Edmund's orders the triangle advanced,
sometimes with one angle in front, sometimes with another, but
whichever way it moved sweeping away the Danes opposed to it, while the
archers from the centre shot fast and strong into the mass of the enemy.

Haffa himself, trying to oppose the advance of the wedge, was slain by
a blow of Egbert's axe, and after half an hour's fierce fighting, the
Danes, having lost upwards of fifty of their best men, and finding all
their efforts to produce an impression upon the Saxons vain, desisted
from the attack and fled.

At once the wedge broke up, and the Saxons followed in hot pursuit,
cutting down their flying enemies. Obedient, however, to Edmund's
repeated shouts they kept fairly together, and when the Danes, thinking
them broken and disordered, turned to fall upon them, a single note of
the horn brought them instantly together again, and the astonished
Danes saw the phalanx which had proved so fatal to them prepared to
receive their attack. This they did not attempt to deliver, but took to
flight, the Saxons, as before, pursuing, and twice as many of the Danes
were slain in the retreat as in the first attack.

The pursuit was continued for many miles, and then, fearing that he
might come across some fresh body of the enemy, Edmund called off his
men. Great was the triumph of the Saxons. A few of them had suffered
from wounds more or less serious, but not one had fallen. They had
defeated a body of Danes four times their own force, and had killed
nearly half of them, and they felt confident that the tactics which
they had adopted would enable them in future to defeat any scattered
bodies of Danes they might meet.

For a week after the battle they rested, spending their time in further
improving themselves in their drill, practicing especially the
alterations of the position of the spears requisite when changing from
a defensive attitude, with the pikes at right angles to each face, to
that of an attack, when the spears of both faces of the advancing wedge
were all directed forward. A messenger arrived from the king, to whom
Edmund had sent the news of his various successes, and Alfred sent his
warmest congratulations and thanks for the great results which had been
gained with so small a force, the king confessing that he was unable to
understand how with such disproportionate numbers Edmund could so
totally have routed the force of so distinguished a leader as Haffa.

For some weeks Edmund continued the work of checking the depredations
of the Danes, and so successful was he that the freebooters became
seized with a superstitious awe of his band. The rapidity of its
maneuvering, the manner in which men, at one moment scattered, were in
another formed in a serried mass, against which all their efforts broke
as waves against a rock, seemed to them to be something superhuman. In
that part of Wessex, therefore, the invaders gradually withdrew their
forces across the frontier; but in other parts of the country, the tide
of invasion being unchecked, large tracts of country had been
devastated, and the West Saxons could nowhere make head against them.
One day a messenger reached Edmund telling him that a large Danish army
was approaching Sherborne, and urging him to return instantly to the
defence of his earldom.

With rapid marches he proceeded thither, and on arriving at his house
he found that the Danes were but a few miles away, and that the whole
country was in a state of panic. He at once sent off messengers in all
directions, bidding the people hasten with their wives and families,
their herds and valuables, to the fort. His return to some extent
restored confidence. The news of the victories he had gained over the
Danes had reached Sherborne, and the confidence of their power to
defeat the invaders which his followers expressed as they scattered to
their respective farms again raised the courage of the people.

All through the night bands of fugitives poured into the fort, and by
morning the whole of the people for many miles round were assembled
there. Egbert and Edmund busied themselves in assigning to each his
duty and station. All the men capable of bearing arms were told off to
posts on the walls. The old men and young boys were to draw water and
look after the cattle; the women to cook and attend to the wounded. The
men of his own band were not placed upon the walls, but were held in
readiness as a reserve to move to any point which might be threatened,
and to take part in sorties against the enemy.

Soon smoke was seen rising up in many directions, showing that the
enemy were at their accustomed work. Cries broke from the women, and
exclamations of rage from the men, as they recognized by the direction
of the smoke that their own homesteads and villages were in the hands
of the spoilers. About mid-day a party of mounted Danes rode up towards
the fort and made a circuit of it. When they had satisfied themselves
as to the formidable nature of its defences they rode off again, and
for the rest of the day none of the enemy approached the fort.



CHAPTER VI: THE SAXON FORT


A strict watch was kept all night, and several scouts were sent out.
These on their return reported that the Danes were feasting, having
slain many cattle and broached the casks of mead which they found in
the cellars of Edmund's house. This they had not burned nor the houses
around it, intending, as the scouts supposed, to make it their
headquarters while they attacked the fort.

Edmund and Egbert agreed that it would be well to show the Danes at
once that they had an active and enterprising foe to deal with; they
therefore awakened their band, who were sleeping on skins close to the
gate, and with them started out.

It was still two hours before dawn when they approached the house. Save
a few men on watch, the great Danish host, which the messengers
calculated to amount to ten thousand men, were asleep. Cautiously
making their way so as to avoid stumbling over the Danes, who lay
scattered in groups round the house, the Saxons crept forward quietly
until close to the entrance, when a sleepy watchman started up.

"Who are ye?"

The answer was a blow from Egbert's battle-axe. Then the leaders with
twenty of their men rushed into the house, while the rest remained on
guard at the entrance.

The combat was short but furious, and the clashing of arms and shouts
of the Danes roused those sleeping near, and the men who escaped from
the house spread the alarm. The fight lasted but three or four minutes,
for the Danes, scattered through the house, and in many cases still
stupid from the effects of the previous night's debauch, were unable to
gather and make any collective resistance. The two jarls fought in a
manner worthy of their renown, but the Saxon spears proved more than a
match for their swords, and they died fighting bravely till the last.
Between Saxon and Dane there was no thought of quarter; none asked for
mercy on either side, for none would be granted. The sea rovers never
spared an armed man who fell into their hands, and the Saxons were
infuriated by the sufferings which the invaders had inflicted upon
them, and had no more pity upon their foes than if they had been wild
animals. Besides the jarls some thirty of their minor leaders were in
the house, and but five or six of them escaped. It was well for the
Danes that the detachment which lay there was not their principal body,
which was still a few miles in the rear, for had it been so two of
their kings and six jarls, all men of famed valour, would have been
slain. The instant the work was done the Saxons rejoined those
assembled at the entrance.

Already the Danes were thronging up, but at present in confusion and
disorder, coming rather to see what was the matter than to fight, and
hardly believing that the Saxons could have had the audacity to attack
them. In an instant the Saxons fell into their usual formation, and
overturning and cutting down those who happened to be in their path,
burst through the straggling Danes, and at a trot proceeded across the
country.

It was still quite dark, and it was some time before the Danes became
thoroughly aware of what had happened; then missing the voices of their
leaders, some of them rushed into the house, and the news that the two
jarls and their companions had been slain roused them to fury. At once
they set off in pursuit of the Saxons in a tumultuous throng; but the
band had already a considerable start, and had the advantage of knowing
every foot of the country, of which the Danes were ignorant. When once
fairly through the enemy, Edmund had given the word and the formation
had broken up, so that each man could run freely and without jostling
his comrades. Thus they were enabled to proceed at a rapid pace, and
reached the fort just as day was breaking, without having been
discovered or overtaken by the Danes.

The news of this successful exploit raised the spirits of the garrison
of the fort. The Danes swarmed nearly up to the walls, but seeing how
formidable was the position, and being without leaders, they fell back
without making an attack, some of the more impetuous having fallen from
the arrows of the bowmen.

About mid-day a solid mass of the enemy were seen approaching, and the
banners with the Black Raven on a blood-red field showed that it
contained leaders of importance, and was, in fact, the main body of the
Danes. It was an imposing sight as it marched towards the fort, with
the fluttering banners, the sun shining upon the brass helmets and
shields of the chiefs, and the spear-heads and swords of the footmen.
Here and there parties of horsemen galloped about the plain.

"Their number has not been exaggerated," Egbert said to Edmund, "there
must be ten thousand of them. There are full twice as many as attacked
us on the field of Kesteven."

The sight of the great array struck terror into the minds of a great
part of the defenders of the fort; but the confident bearing of their
young ealdorman and the thought of the strength of their walls
reassured them. The Danes halted at a distance of about a quarter of a
mile from the walls, and three or four of their chiefs rode forward.
These by the splendour of their helmets, shields, and trappings were
clearly men of great importance. They halted just out of bowshot
distance, and one of them, raising his voice, shouted:

"Dogs of Saxons, had you laid down your arms, and made submission to
me, I would have spared you; but for the deed which you did last night,
and the slaying of my brave jarls, I swear that I will have revenge
upon you, and, by the god Wodin, I vow that not one within your walls,
man, woman, or child, shall be spared. This is the oath of King Uffa."

"It were well, King Uffa," Edmund shouted back, "to take no rash oaths;
before you talk of slaying you have got to capture, and you will need
all the aid of your false gods before you take this fort. As to mercy,
we should as soon ask it of wolves. We have God and our good swords to
protect us, and we fear not your host were it three times as strong as
it is."

The Saxons raised a great shout, and the Danish king rode back to his
troops. The lesson which had been given them of the enterprise of the
Saxons was not lost, for the Danes at once began to form a camp,
raising an earthen bank which they crowned with stakes and bushes as a
defence against sudden attacks. This work occupied them two days, and
during this time no blow was struck on either side, as the Danes posted
a strong body of men each night to prevent the Saxons from sallying
out. On the third day the work was finished, and the Danish kings with
their jarls made a circuit round the walls, evidently to select the
place for attack.

The time had passed quietly in the fort. In one corner the priests had
erected an altar, and here mass was said three times a day. The priests
went among the soldiers exhorting them to resist to the last,
confessing them, and giving them absolution.

The pains which the Danes had taken in the preparation of their camp
was a proof of their determination to capture the fort, however long
the operation might be. It showed, too, that they recognized the
difficulty of the task, for had they believed that the capture could be
easily effected they would at once upon their arrival have advanced to
the attack.

"To-morrow morning early," Egbert said, "I expect that they will
assault us. In the first place probably they will endeavour to carry
the fort by a general attack; if they fail in this they will set to
construct engines with which to batter the wall."

At daybreak the following morning the Danes issued from their camp.
Having formed up in regular order, they advanced towards the castle.
They divided into four bands; three of these wheeled round to opposite
sides of the fort, the fourth, which was as large as the other three
together, advanced towards the entrance. The Saxons all took the posts
previously assigned to them on the walls. Edmund strengthened the force
on the side where the gate was by posting there in addition the whole
of his band. Altogether there were nearly 350 fighting men within the
walls, of whom the greater part had fought against the Danes in the
battles of the previous year. The attack commenced simultaneously on
all sides by a discharge of arrows by the archers of both parties. The
Saxons, sheltered behind the parapet on the walls, suffered but
slightly; but their missiles did considerable execution among the
masses of the Danes. These, however, did not pause to continue the
conflict at a distance, but uttering their battle-cry rushed forward.

Edmund and Egbert had but little fear of the attack on the other faces
of the fort proving successful; the chief assault was against the gate,
and it was here that the real danger existed.

The main body of the Danes covered themselves with their shields and
rushed forward with the greatest determination, pouring through the gap
in the outer bank in a solid mass, and then turned along the fosse
towards the inner gate. Closely packed together, with their shields
above their heads forming a sort of testudo or roof which protected
them against the Saxons' arrows, they pressed forward in spite of the
shower of missiles with which the Saxons on the walls assailed them.
Arrows, darts, and great stones were showered down upon them, the
latter breaking down the shields, and affording the archers an
opportunity of pouring in their arrows.

Numbers fell, but the column swept along until it gained the gate. Here
those in front began an attack upon the massive beams with their axes,
and when they had somewhat weakened it, battered it with heavy beams of
timber until it was completely splintered. While this was going on the
Saxons had continued to shoot without intermission, and the Danish dead
were heaped thickly around the gate. The Danish archers, assisted by
their comrades, had scrambled up on to the outer bank and kept up a
heavy fire on the defenders of the wall. The Saxons sheltered their
heads and shoulders which were above the parapet with their shields;
and between these, as through loopholes, their archers shot at the
Danes.

Edmund and Egbert had debated much on the previous days whether they
would pile stones behind the gate, but had finally agreed not to do so.
They argued that although for a time the stones would impede the
progress of the Danes, these would, if they shattered the door, sooner
or later pull down the stones or climb over them; and it was better to
have a smooth and level place for defence inside. They had, however,
raised a bank of earth ten feet high in a semicircle at a distance of
twenty yards within the gate.

When it was seen that the gates were yielding Edmund had called down
his own band from the walls and formed them in a half-circle ten yards
from the gate. They were four deep, as in their usual formation, with
the four lines of spears projecting towards the gate. The mound behind
them he lined with archers.

At last the gates fell, and with an exulting shout the Danes poured in.
As they did so the archers on the mound loosed their arrows, and the
head of the Danish column melted like snow before the blast of a
furnace. Still they poured in and flung themselves upon the spearmen,
but they strove in vain to pierce the hedge of steel. Desperately they
threw themselves upon the pike-heads and died there bravely, but they
were powerless to break a passage.

The archers on the mound still shot fast among them, while those on the
wall, turning round, smote them in the back, where, unprotected by
their shields, they offered a sure and fatal mark. Soon the narrow
semicircle inside the gate became heaped high with dead, impeding the
efforts of those still pressing in. Several of the bravest of the
Danish leaders had fallen. The crowd in the fosse, unaware of the
obstacle which prevented the advance of the head of the column and
harassed by the missiles from above, grew impatient, and after half an
hour of desperate efforts, and having lost upwards of three hundred of
his best men, the Danish king, furious with rage and disappointment,
called off his men.

On the other three sides the attack equally failed. The Danes suffered
heavily while climbing the steep side of the inner mound. They brought
with them faggots, which they cast down at the foot of the wall, but
this was built so near the edge of the slope that they were unable to
pile sufficient faggots to give them the height required for a
successful assault upon it. Many climbed up on their comrades'
shoulders, and so tried to scale the wall, but they were thrust down by
the Saxon spears as they raised themselves to its level, and in no
place succeeded in gaining a footing. Over two hundred fell in the
three minor attacks.

There were great rejoicings among the Saxons, on whose side but
twenty-three had been killed. A solemn mass was held, at which all save
a few look-outs on the walls attended, and thanks returned to God for
the repulse of the pagans; then the garrison full of confidence awaited
the next attack of the enemy.

Stones were piled up in the gateway to prevent any sudden surprise
being effected there. The Danes in their retreat had carried off their
dead, and the next morning the Saxons saw that they were busy with the
ceremonies of their burial. At some little distance from their camp the
dead were placed in a sitting position, in long rows back to back with
their weapons by their sides, and earth was piled over them until a
great mound fifty yards long and ten feet high was raised.

Three jarls and one of their kings were buried separately. They were
placed together in a sitting position, with their helmets on their
heads, their shields on their arms, and their swords by their sides.
Their four war-horses were killed and laid beside them; twenty slaves
were slaughtered and placed lying round them, for their spirits to
attend them in the Walhalla of the gods. Golden drinking-vessels and
other ornaments were placed by them, and then a mound forty feet in
diameter and twenty feet high was piled over the whole.

The whole force were occupied all day with this work. The next day
numbers of trees were felled and brought to the camp, and for the next
two days the Danes were occupied in the manufacture of war-engines for
battering down the walls. Edmund and Egbert utilized the time in
instructing the soldiers who did not form part of the regular band, in
the formation of the quadruple line of defence which the Danes had
found it so impossible to break through, so that if more than one
breach was effected, a resistance similar to that made at the gate
could be offered at all points. The skins of the oxen killed for the
use of the garrison were carefully laid aside, the inside being thickly
rubbed with grease.

The Danish preparations were at length completed, the war-engines were
brought up and began to hurl great stones against the wall at three
points. The Saxons kept up a constant fire of arrows at those employed
at working them, but the Danes, though losing many men, threw up
breastworks to protect them.

The Saxons manufactured many broad ladders, and in the middle of the
night, lowering these over the walls, they descended noiselessly, and
three strong bodies fell upon the Danes guarding the engines. These
fought stoutly, but were driven back, the engines were destroyed, and
the Saxons retired to their walls again and drew up their ladders
before the main body of Danes could arrive from the camp. This caused a
delay of some days in the siege, but fresh engines having been
constructed, the assault on the walls was recommenced, this time the
whole Danish army moving out and sleeping at night close to them.

After three days' battering, breaches of from thirty to fifty feet wide
were effected in the walls. The Saxons had not been idle. Behind each
of the threatened points they raised banks of earth ten feet high, and
cut away the bank perpendicularly behind the shattered wall, so that
the assailants as they poured in at the gaps would have to leap ten
feet down.

Each night the masses of wall which fell inside were cleared away, and
when the breach was complete, and it was evident that the assault would
take place the next morning, the hides which had been prepared were
laid with the hairy side down, on the ground below. Through them they
drove firmly into the ground numbers of pikes with the heads sticking
up one or two feet, and pointed stakes hardened in the fire. Then
satisfied that all had been done the Saxons lay down to rest.

In the morning the Danes advanced to the assault. This time they were
but little annoyed in their advance by the archers. These were posted
on the walls at each side of the gaps to shoot down at the backs of the
Danes after they had entered. On the inner semicircular mounds the
Saxon force gathered four deep.

With loud shouts the Danes rushed forward, climbed the outer mounds,
and reached the breaches. Here the leaders paused on seeing the gulf
below them, but pressed by those behind they could not hesitate long,
but leapt down from the breach on to the slippery hides below.

Not one who did so lived. It was impossible to keep their feet as they
alighted, and as they fell they were impaled by the pikes and stakes.
Pressed by those behind, however, fresh men leapt down, falling in
their turn, until at length the hides and stakes were covered, and
those leaping down found a foothold on the bodies of the fallen. Then
they crowded on and strove to climb the inner bank and attack the
Saxons. Now the archers on the walls opened fire upon them, and,
pierced through and through with the arrows which struck them on the
back, the Danes fell in great numbers. Edmund commanded at one of the
breaches, Egbert at another, and Oswald, an old and experienced
warrior, at the third.

At each point the scene was similar. The Danes struggled up the mounds
only to fail to break through the hedge of spears which crowned them,
fast numbers dying in the attempt, while as many more fell pierced with
arrows. For an hour the Danes continued their desperate efforts, and
not until fifteen hundred had been slain did they draw off to their
camp, finding it impossible to break through the Saxon defences.

Loud rose the shouts of the triumphant Saxons as the Danes retired, and
it needed all the efforts of their leaders to prevent them from pouring
out in pursuit; but the events of the preceding year had taught the
Saxon leaders how often their impetuosity after success had proved
fatal to the Saxons, and that once in the plain the Danes would turn
upon them and crush them by their still greatly superior numbers.
Therefore no one was allowed to sally out, and the discomfited Danes
retired unmolested.

The next morning to their joy the Saxons saw that the invaders had
broken up their camp, and had marched away in the night. Scouts were
sent out in various directions, and the Saxons employed themselves in
stripping and burying the Danes who had fallen within the fort, only a
few of the most distinguished having been carried off. The scouts
returned with news that the Danes had made no halt, but had departed
entirely from that part of the country. Finding that for the present
they were free of the invaders, the Saxons left the fort and scattered
again, to rebuild as best they might their devastated homes.

But if in the neighbourhood of Sherborne the Danes had been severely
repulsed, in other parts of the kingdom they continued to make great
progress, and the feeling of despair among the Saxons increased. Great
numbers left their homes, and taking with them all their portable
possessions, made their way to the sea-coast, and there embarked for
France, where they hoped to be able to live peaceably and quietly.

Edmund placed no hindrance in the way of such of his people who chose
this course, for the prospect appeared well-nigh hopeless. The majority
of the Saxons were utterly broken in spirit, and a complete conquest of
the kingdom by the Danes seemed inevitable. In the spring, however, of
877 King Alfred again issued an urgent summons. A great horde of Danes
had landed at Exeter and taken possession of that town, and he
determined to endeavour to crush them. He sent to Edmund begging him to
proceed at once to Poole, where the king's fleet was ready for sea, and
to embark in it with what force he could raise, and to sail and
blockade the entrance to the river Exe, and so prevent the Danes from
reinforcing their countrymen, while he with his forces laid siege to
Exeter.

Edmund would have taken his own vessel, but some time would have been
lost, and the king's ships were short of hands. He was not sorry,
indeed, that his men should have some practise at sea, and taking his
own band, in which the vacancies which had been caused in the defence
of the fort had been filled up, he proceeded to Poole. Here he embarked
his men in one of the ships, and the fleet, comprising twenty vessels,
put to sea.

The management of the vessels and their sails was in the hands of
experienced sailors, and Edmund's men had no duties to perform except
to fight the enemy when they met them.

The news of the siege of Exeter reached the Danes at Wareham, which was
their head-quarters, and 120 vessels filled with their troops sailed
for the relief of Exeter.

The weather was unpropitious, heavy fogs lay on the water, dissipated
occasionally by fierce outbursts of wind. The Saxon fleet kept the sea.
It was well that for a time the Danish fleet did not appear in sight,
for the Saxons, save the sailors, were unaccustomed to the water, and
many suffered greatly from the rough motion; and had the Danes appeared
for the first week after the fleet put to sea a combat must have been
avoided, as the troops were in no condition to fight.

Presently, however, they recovered from their malady and became eager
to meet the enemy; Edmund bade his men take part in the working of the
ship in order to accustom themselves to the duties of seamen. The fleet
did not keep the sea all the time, returning often to the straits
between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, where they lay in shelter,
a look-out being kept from the top of the hills, whence a wide sweep of
sea could be seen, and where piles of wood were collected by which a
signal fire could warn the fleet to put to sea should the enemy's
vessels come in sight.

A full month passed and the Saxons began to fear that the Danes might
have eluded them, having perhaps been blown out to sea and having made
the land again far to the west. One morning, however, smoke was seen to
rise from the beacon fire. The crews who were on shore instantly
hurried on board. From the hills the Danish fleet was made out far to
the west and was seen to be approaching the land from seaward, having
been driven far out of its course by the winds.

The weather was wild and threatening and the sailors predicted a great
storm. Nevertheless the fleet put to sea and with reefed sails ran to
the west. Their vessels were larger than the Danish galleys and could
better keep the sea in a storm. Many miles were passed before, from the
decks, the Danish flotilla could be seen. Presently, however, a great
number of their galleys were discerned rowing in towards Swanage Bay.

In spite of the increasing fury of the wind the Saxons spread more sail
and succeeded in intercepting the Danes. A desperate fight began, but
the Danes in their low, long vessels had all they could do to keep
afloat on the waves. Many were run down by the Saxons. The showers of
arrows from their lofty poops confused the rowers and slew many.
Sweeping along close to them they often broke off the oars and disabled
them. Sometimes two or three of the Danish galleys would try to close
with a Saxon ship, but the sea was too rough for the boats to remain
alongside while the men tried to climb up the high sides, and the
Saxons with their spears thrust down those who strove to do so.
Confusion and terror soon reigned among the Danes, and fearing to try
to escape by sea in such a storm made for the shore, hotly pursued by
the Saxons.

But the shore was even more inhospitable than their foes. Great rocks
bordered the coast, and upon these the galleys were dashed into
fragments. The people on shore, who had gathered at the sight of the
approaching fleets, fell upon such of the Danes as succeeded in gaining
the coast, and everyone who landed was instantly slain. Thus, partly
from the effects of the Saxon fleet but still more from that of the
storm, the whole of the Danish fleet of one hundred and twenty vessels
was destroyed, not a single ship escaping the general destruction.



CHAPTER VII: THE DRAGON


The Danes at Exeter, being now cut off from all hope of relief, asked
for terms, and the king granted them their lives on condition of their
promising to leave Wessex and not to return. This promise they swore by
their most solemn oaths to observe, and marching northward passed out
of Wessex and settled near Gloucester. Some of the Saxons thought that
the king had been wrong in granting such easy terms, but he pointed out
to the ealdormen who remonstrated with him that there were many other
and larger bands of Danes in Mercia and Anglia, and that had he
massacred the band at Exeter--and this he could not have done without
the loss of many men, as assuredly the Danes would have fought
desperately for their lives--the news of their slaughter would have
brought upon him fresh invasions from all sides.

By this time all resistance to the Danes in Mercia had ceased. Again
and again King Burhred had bought them off, but this only brought fresh
hordes down upon him, and at last, finding the struggle hopeless, he
had gone as a pilgrim to Rome, where he had died. The Danes acted in
Mercia as they had done in Northumbria. They did not care, themselves,
to settle down for any length of time, and therefore appointed a weak
Saxon thane, Ceolwulf, as the King of Mercia. He ruled cruelly and
extorted large revenues from the land-owners, and robbed the
monasteries, which had escaped destruction, of their treasures.

The Danes suffered him to pursue this course until he had amassed great
wealth, when they swooped down upon him, robbed him of all he
possessed, and took away the nominal kingship he had held. As there was
now but little fresh scope for plundering in England many of the Danes
both in Anglia and Mercia settled down in the cities and on the lands
which they had taken from the Saxons.

The Danes who had gone from Exeter were now joined by another band
which had landed in South Wales. The latter, finding but small plunder
was to be obtained among the mountains of that country, moved to
Gloucester, and joining the band there proposed a fresh invasion of
Wessex. The Danes, in spite of the oaths they had sworn to Alfred, and
the hostages they had left in his hands, agreed to the proposal; and
early in the spring of 878 the bands, swollen by reinforcements from
Mercia, marched into Wiltshire and captured the royal castle of
Chippenham on the Avon. From this point they spread over the country
and destroyed everything with fire and sword. A general panic seized
the inhabitants. The better class, with the bishops, priests, and
monks, made for the sea-coasts and thence crossed to France, taking
with them all their portable goods, with the relics, precious stones,
and ornaments of the churches and monasteries.

Another party of Danes in twenty-three ships had landed in Devonshire.
Here the ealdorman Adda had constructed a castle similar to that which
Edmund had built. It was fortified by nature on three sides and had a
strong rampart of earth on another. The Danes tried to starve out the
defenders of the fort; but the Saxons held out for a long time,
although sorely pressed by want of water. At last they sallied out one
morning at daybreak and fell upon the Danes and utterly defeated them,
only a few stragglers regaining their ships.

A thousand Danes are said to have been slain at Kynwith; but this was
an isolated success; in all other parts of the kingdom panic appeared
to have taken possession of the West Saxons. Those who could not leave
the country retired to the woods, and thence, when the Danes had passed
by, leaving ruin and desolation behind them, they sallied out and again
began to till the ground as best they could. Thus for a time the West
Saxons, formerly so valiant and determined, sank to the condition of
serfs; for when all resistance ceased the Danes were well pleased to
see the ground tilled, as otherwise they would speedily have run short
of stores.

At the commencement of the invasion Edmund had marched out with his
band and had inflicted heavy blows upon parties of plunderers; but he
soon perceived that the struggle was hopeless. He therefore returned to
Sherborne, and collecting such goods as he required and a good store of
provisions he marched to the place where the ship had been hidden. No
wandering band of Danes had passed that way, and the bushes with which
she had been covered were undisturbed. These were soon removed and a
passage three feet deep, and wide enough for the ship to pass through,
was dug from the deep hole in which she was lying to the river.

When the last barrier was cut the water poured in, and the Saxons had
the satisfaction of seeing the vessel rise gradually until the water in
the dock was level with that in the river. Then she was taken out into
the stream, the stores and fittings placed aboard, and she was poled
down to the mouth of the river. Egbert had gone before and had already
engaged fifteen sturdy sailors to go with them. The Danes had not yet
reached the sea-coast from the interior, and there was therefore no
difficulty in obtaining the various equipments necessary. In a week her
masts were up and her sails in position.

The Dragon, as she was called, excited great admiration at the port,
all saying that she was the finest and largest ship that had ever been
seen there. While her fitting out had been going on she was hove up on
shore and received several coats of paint. Edmund was loath to start on
his voyage without again seeing the king, but no one knew where Alfred
now was, he, on finding the struggle hopeless, having retired to the
fastnesses of Somerset to await the time when the Saxons should be
driven by oppression again to take up arms.

At last all was ready, and the Dragon put out to sea. She was provided
with oars as well as sails, but these were only to be used when in
pursuit, or when flying from a superior enemy. As soon as she had been
long enough at sea to enable the band again to recover from the effects
of sickness the oars were got out and the men practised in their use.

As in the models from which she had been built, she rowed two banks of
oars, the one worked by men upon deck, the others through small
port-holes. The latter could only be used when the weather was fine;
when the sea was high they were closed up and fastened. The lower-deck
oars were each rowed by one man, while the upper bank, which were
longer and heavier, had each two men to work it.

Before starting Edmund had increased the strength of his band to ninety
men, that number being required for the oars, of which the Dragon had
fifteen on each bank on each side. At first there was terrible
splashing and confusion, but in time the men learned to row in order,
and in three weeks after putting to sea the oars worked well in time
together, and the Dragon, with her ninety rowers, moved through the
water at a great rate of speed.

During this time she had never been far from land keeping but a short
distance from the port from which she had sailed, as Edmund did not
wish to fall in with the Danes until his crew were able to maneuver her
with the best effect. When, at last, satisfied that all knew their duty
he returned to port, took in a fresh supply of provisions, and then
sailed away again in search of the enemy. He coasted along the shore of
Hampshire and Sussex without seeing a foe, and then sailing round Kent
entered the mouth of the Thames. The Dragon kept on her way until she
reached the point where the river begins to narrow, and there the sails
were furled and the anchor thrown overboard to wait for Danish galleys
coming down the river.

On the third day after they had anchored they perceived four black
specks in the distance, and these the sailors soon declared to be
Danish craft. They were rowing rapidly, having ten oars on either side,
and at their mast-heads floated the Danish Raven. The anchor was got
up, and as the Danes approached, the Golden Dragon, the standard of
Wessex, was run up to the mast-head, the sails were hoisted, the oars
got out, and the vessel advanced to meet the approaching Danes.

These for a moment stopped rowing in astonishment at seeing so large a
ship bearing the Saxon flag. Then they at once began to scatter in
different directions; but the Dragon, impelled both by the wind and her
sixty oars, rapidly overtook them. When close alongside the galley
nearest to them the men on the upper deck, at an order from Edmund, ran
in their oars, and seizing their bows poured a volley of arrows into
the galley, killing most of the rowers. Then the Dragon was steered
alongside, and the Saxons, sword in hand, leaped down into the galley.
Most of the Danes were cut down at once; the rest plunged into the
water and swam for their lives. Leaving the deserted galley behind, the
Dragon continued the pursuit of the others, and overtook and captured
another as easily as she had done the first.

The other two boats reached the shore before they were overtaken, and
those on board leaping out fled. The Saxons took possession of the
deserted galleys. They found them, as they expected, stored full of
plunder of all kinds--rich wearing apparel, drinking goblets, massive
vessels of gold and silver which had been torn from some desecrated
altar, rich ornaments and jewels and other articles. These were at once
removed to the Dragon. Fire was applied to the boats, and they were
soon a mass of flames. Then the Dragon directed her course to the two
galleys she had first captured. These were also rifled of their
contents and burned. The Saxons were delighted at the success which had
attended their first adventure.

"We shall have rougher work next time," Egbert said. "The Danes who
escaped will carry news to London, and we shall be having a whole fleet
down to attack us in a few days."

"If they are in anything like reasonable numbers we will fight them; if
not, we can run. We have seen to-day how much faster we are than the
Danish boats; and though I shall be in favour of fighting if we have a
fair chance of success, it would be folly to risk the success of our
enterprise by contending against overwhelming numbers at the outset,
seeing that we shall be able to pick up so many prizes round the coast."

"We can beat a score of them," Egbert grumbled. "I am in favour of
fighting the Danes whenever we see them."

"When there is a hope of success, Egbert, yes; but you know even the
finest bull can be pulled down by a pack of dogs. The Dragon is a
splendid ship, and does credit alike to King Alfred's first advice, to
the plans of the Italian shipbuilders, and to the workmanship and
design of the shipwright of Exeter, and I hope she will long remain to
be a scourge to the Danes at sea as they have been a scourge to the
Saxons on shore; and it is because I hope she is going to do such good
service to England that I would be careful of her. You must remember,
too, that many of the Danish galleys are far larger than those we had
to do with to-day. We are not going to gobble them all up as a pike
swallows minnows."

The Dragon had now anchored again, and four days elapsed before any
Danish galleys were seen. At the end of that time six large Danish
war-ships were perceived in the distance. Edmund and Egbert from the
top of the lofty poop watched them coming.

"They row thirty oars each side," Egbert said, "and are crowded with
men. What say you, Edmund, shall we stop and fight them, or shall the
Dragon spread her wings?"

"We have the advantage of height," Edmund said, "and from our bow and
stern castles can shoot down into them; but if they lie alongside and
board us their numbers will give them an immense advantage. I should
think that we might run down one or two of them. The Dragon is much
more strongly built than these galleys of the Danes, and if when they
close round us we have the oars lashed on both sides as when we are
rowing, it will be next to impossible for them to get alongside except
at the stern and bow, which are far too high for them to climb."

"Very well," Egbert said, "if you are ready to fight, you may be sure I
am."

The anchor was got up and the oars manned, and the Dragon quietly
advanced towards the Danish boats. The men were instructed to row
slowly, and it was not until within a hundred yards of the leading
galley that the order was given to row hard.

The men strained at the tough oars, and the Dragon leapt ahead to meet
the foe. Her bow was pointed as if she would have passed close by the
side of the Danish galley, which was crowded with men. When close to
her, however, the helmsman pushed the tiller across and the Dragon
swept straight down upon her. A shout of dismay rose from the Danes, a
hasty volley of arrows and darts was hurled at the Dragon, and the
helmsman strove to avoid the collision, but in vain. The Dragon struck
her on the beam, the frail craft broke up like an egg-shell under the
blow, and sank almost instantly under the bows of the Dragon.

Without heeding the men struggling thickly in the water, the Dragon
continued her course. Warned by the fate of the first boat, the next
endeavoured to avoid her path. Her commander shouted orders. The rowers
on one side backed while those on the other pulled, but she was not
quite quick enough. The Dragon struck her a few feet from the stern,
cutting her in two.

The other galleys now closed in alongside. The Saxons hastily fastened
their oars as they had been rowing and then betook themselves to their
posts, those with spears and swords to the sides to prevent the enemy
from climbing up, the archers to the lofty castles at either end. The
Danes had the greatest difficulty in getting alongside, the oars
keeping the galleys at a distance. For some time the combat was
conducted entirely by the archers on both sides, the Danes suffering
much the most heavily, as the Saxons were protected by the bulwarks,
while from their lofty positions they were enabled to fire down into
the galleys.

At last one of the Danish vessels rowed straight at the broadside of
the Dragon, and breaking her way through the oars her bow reached the
side. Then the Danes strove to leap on board, but the Saxons pursued
the tactics which had succeeded so well on land, and forming in a close
mass where the Danish vessel touched the Dragon, opposed a thick hedge
of spears to those who strove to board her.

The Danes fought desperately. Several notable leaders, hearing that a
great Saxon ship had appeared on the Thames, had come down to capture
her, and leading their followers, strove desperately to cut their way
to the deck of the Dragon. Taking advantage of the strife, the other
galleys repeated the maneuver which had succeeded, and each in turn ran
their stem through the Saxon oars, and reached the side of the Dragon.
In this position, however, they had the immense disadvantage that only
a few men at once could strive to board, while the Saxons were able to
oppose all their strength at these four points.

For a time the Saxons repulsed every effort, but as the lashings of the
oars gave way under the pressure of the Danish ships, these drifted
alongside, and they were thus able to attack along the whole length of
the bulwarks between the castles. The Saxons were now hard put to it,
but their superior height still enabled them to keep the Danes in check.

All this time the five vessels had been drifting down the river
together. Presently, when the conflict was hottest, the chief of the
sailors made his way to Edmund.

"If we get up the sails we may be able to draw out from the galleys."

"Do so," Edmund said, "and at once, for we are hardly pressed; they are
four to one against us."

The sailors at once sprang to the halliards, and soon the great sail
rose on the mast. Almost instantly the Dragon began to glide away from
the galleys. The Danes with ropes endeavoured to lash themselves to her
sides, but these were severed as fast as thrown, and in two or three
minutes the Dragon had drawn herself clear of them. The Danes betook
themselves to their oars, but many of these had been broken between the
vessels, and rowing their utmost they could only just keep up with the
Dragon, for the wind was blowing freely. Fully half the oars of the
Dragon were broken, but the rest were soon manned, and she then rapidly
drew away from her pursuers.

"I am not going to run further," Edmund said. "Now that we have once
shaken them off, let us turn and meet them again."

As the vessel's head was brought up into the wind the Danes ceased
rowing. The fate which had befallen their two galleys at the
commencement of the fight was still before them. They had lost great
numbers of men in the attempt to board from the Saxon pikes and arrows,
and their desire to renew the fight vanished when they saw that the
Saxons were equally ready. Therefore, as the Dragon approached them,
they sheered off on either side of her and rowed for the mouth of the
Medway.

The Saxons did not pursue. They had lost eight men killed, and
seventeen wounded by the Danish arrows, and were well content to be
quit of their opponents, upon whom they had inflicted a severe blow, as
each of the galleys sunk had contained fully a hundred and fifty men,
and great numbers of the Danes on board the other ships had fallen.

They now left the Thames and sailed to Sandwich. The town had been
shortly before burned by the Danes, but these had left, and some of the
inhabitants had returned. Here the Dragon waited for a week, by the end
of which time the traces of the conflict had been obliterated, and new
oars made. Edmund found no difficulty in filling up the vacancies
caused in the fight, as many of the young Saxons were burning to avenge
the sufferings which the Danes had inflicted, and could have obtained
several times the number he required had there been room for them. He
was therefore enabled to pick out sturdy fellows accustomed to the sea.
When the Dragon again set sail her head was laid to the northward, as
Edmund intended to cruise off East Anglia, from whose shores fleets
were constantly crossing and recrossing to Denmark.

They picked up several prizes at the mouths of the eastern rivers,
scarcely having to strike a blow, so surprised were the Danes at the
appearances of the great Saxon galley. Whenever the Danes surrendered
without resistance Edmund gave them quarter and landed them in small
boats on the shore; their ships, after being emptied of the booty they
contained, were burned. When off Yarmouth, where they had captured four
Danish vessels sailing out unsuspicious of danger, the wind veered
round to the north-east and began to blow very strongly.

The long line of sandbanks off the coast broke somewhat the violence of
the sea, and the Dragon rode all night to her anchors; but in the
morning the wind continued to rise. The sea became more and more
violent, and the anchors began to drag. Edmund and Egbert, after a
consultation, agreed that their only chance of saving the vessel was to
enter the river. The tide was running in, but the sea was so heavy on
the bar of the river that the efforts of the crew at the oars barely
sufficed to keep her on her course. At length, however, she made her
way safely between the posts which marked the entrance, and rowing up
until they passed a turn, and were sheltered from the force of the
gale, they again anchored.

The oars were all lashed out firmly to keep any boats from approaching
her sides. Bales of goods with which her hold was filled were brought
on deck, and piled high along the bulwarks so as to afford a shelter
from missiles. Even as they entered the harbour numbers of Danes had
assembled at the point; for the capture and destruction of their ships
had of course been seen, and the crews set ashore had spread the news
that the strange vessel was a Saxon. The Norfolk bank being somewhat
higher than the Suffolk, the boat was anchored rather nearer to the
latter, as it was from the town of Yarmouth that an attack was
anticipated.

As soon as the anchors were let go the Danes began to fire their
arrows; but so powerful was the gale that the greater part of them were
swept far away. As the day went on the numbers of Danes on the bank
increased largely, and vast numbers of arrows were discharged at the
Dragon. The crew kept under shelter, and although she was often struck
no damage was done.

In the afternoon a fleet of galleys was seen coming down the river. The
Danes possessed a large number of these boats at Yarmouth, and in these
they navigated the inland waters far into the interior. The wind had
shifted until it was blowing nearly due east, and Edmund and Egbert had
agreed upon the best course to be pursued. In case of attack they could
hardly hope finally to beat off the assault of a large fleet of
galleys, and would besides be exposed to attack by boats laden with
combustibles. Therefore as soon as the galleys were seen approaching
the oars were unlashed, the great sail hoisted, and at her best speed
the Dragon advanced up the river to meet her foes. The Danes gave a
shout of alarm as the vessel advanced to meet them with the water
surging in a white wave from her bows, and the greater part of them
hurried towards one bank or the other to escape the shock. Some, slower
in movement or stouter in heart, awaited the attack, while from all a
storm of missiles was poured upon the advancing boat.

Heedless of these she continued her way. Her sharp bow crashed right
through the side of the Danish boats, and having destroyed seven of
them on her way she passed through the flotilla and continued her
course. The dragon waved triumphantly from her mast as she passed under
the walls of Yarmouth. These were crowded with Danes, who vainly
showered arrows and javelins as she flew past, with the fleets of
galleys rowing in her wake. A few minutes and she was out on the broad
sheet of water beyond. The Danish galleys paused at the entrance. In so
wild a storm they would have had difficulty in keeping their boats
straight, while the great galley with her sails and oars would be able
to maneuver freely, and could strike and run them down one by one.

"What is that pile of buildings on the rising knoll of ground some
three miles away?" Edmund asked.

"It is Bamborough Castle," Egbert replied, "a Roman stronghold of
immense strength."

"Let us run up thither," Edmund said. "If, as is likely enough, it is
unoccupied, we will land there and take possession. Are the walls
complete?"

"Assuredly they are," Egbert said. "They are of marvellous strength,
such as we cannot build in our days. They run in a great semicircle
from the edge of the water round the crest of the knoll and down again
to the water. There is but one gateway in the wall on the land side,
and this we can block up. We need not fear an attack from the land, for
between the river and the castle there are wide swamps; so that unless
they row up and attack us from the water we are safe."

"I think that they will not do that," Edmund said, "after the taste
which the Dragon has given them of her quality. At any rate I think we
are safe till the storm abates."

By this time, running rapidly before the wind, the Dragon was
approaching the great Roman fort, whose massive walls struck Edmund
with astonishment. No one was to be seen moving about in the space
inclosed by them. The sail was lowered and the vessel brought to the
bank. The anchors were taken ashore and she was soon solidly moored.
Then the crew leapt on to the land and ascended the bank to the great
level inclosure.

The walls were, as Egbert had said, intact--and indeed, except on the
side facing the river, remained almost unbroken to the present day. An
hour's labour sufficed to block the gateway, where a pair of massive
doors were in position, for the place had been defended by the Saxons
against the Danes at their first landing on the coast. A few men were
placed as sentries on the walls, and, feeling now perfectly safe from
any attack on the land side, Edmund and his followers returned on board
the Dragon for the night.



CHAPTER VIII: THE CRUISE OF THE DRAGON


The night passed without alarm. The gale continued to blow with fury,
and until it abated Edmund had little fear that the Danes would venture
upon an attack. They had indeed no reason for haste. The Saxon vessel
was in their waters, and could not return so long as the storm
continued to blow from the east. The next day parties of Danes were
seen making their way across the swampy country from the direction of
Yarmouth.

As soon, however, as these approached near enough to see the Saxons in
readiness on the walls of the castle they retired at once, knowing that
the place could be captured by nothing short of a prolonged and
desperate siege. On the fourth day the storm abated, and the Saxons
prepared to make their way seaward again. The wind still blew, but
lightly, from the same quarter, and the sails would therefore be of no
use. With their great oar-power they were confident that, once through
the Danish flotilla, they could defy pursuit.

Accordingly they again embarked, and loosing their moorings rowed down
towards Yarmouth. They had chosen a time when the tide was running in;
for although this would hinder their progress it would equally impede
their pursuers, while it would enable them to check their vessel in
time did they find any unforeseen obstacle in their way. They entered
the river and rowed along quietly until they neared the walls of the
town. Here the river was at its narrowest, and they saw the Danish
galleys gathered thickly in the stream.

Edmund and Egbert were on the forecastle, and presently gave the signal
for the men to cease rowing.

"It is just as I expected," Egbert said; "they have formed a boom
across the river of trunks of trees and beams lashed together. We
cannot make our way down until that obstacle is removed. What say you
Edmund?"

"I agree with you," Edmund replied.

"We had best keep along close to the right bank until within a short
distance of the boom; then we must land the greater part of our men.
These must march along the bank in their phalanx; the others must keep
the boat moving close alongside, and from the forecastle they will be
able to fire down upon the Danes and aid those on shore to drive them
back and make their way to the end of the boom. They have but to cut
the lashings there and the whole will swing round. But now we see the
nature of the obstacle, and what is to be done, it were best to wait
until the tide turns. In the first place, fewer men will be needed on
board the ship, as she will advance by herself abreast of the men on
shore. In the second place, when the lashing is cut the boom will then
swing down the stream, will cause confusion among the boats behind it,
and will open a clear space for us to make our way down."

Edmund agreed, a light anchor was dropped, and the Dragon rode quietly
in the stream. Great animation was evident among the Danes, large
numbers crossed the river, and a strong force gathered at either end of
the boom and in boats close behind it, to prevent the Saxons from
attempting to cut the lashings. There was little uneasiness on board
the Dragon, the Saxons were confident now of the power of their close
formation to force its way through any number of the enemy, and they
would gain such assistance from the fire from the lofty forecastle that
they doubted not that they should be able to drive back the Danes and
destroy the boom. In an hour the tide no longer rose. They waited till
it ran down with full force, then the anchor was hauled up, and the
Dragon rowed to the bank.

Sixty of the fighting men headed by Egbert leapt on shore. Edmund with
the remainder took his place on the forecastle. The oars next to the
bank were drawn in, and some of those on the outward side manned by the
sailors. Then in its usual order the phalanx moved slowly forward while
the ship floated along beside them close to the bank. The Danes with
loud shouts advanced to meet them, and the arrows soon began to fly
thickly. Covered by the long shields of the front rank the Saxons moved
forward steadily, while, as the Danes approached, the archers on the
forecastle opened a destructive fire upon them.

The confidence of the Saxons was justified, for the combat was never in
doubt. Although the Northmen fought bravely they were unable to
withstand the steady advance of the wedge of spears, and very many fell
beneath the rain of arrows from above. Steadily the wedge made its way
until it reached the end of the boom. A few blows with their axes
sufficed to cut the cables which fastened it in its place. As soon as
this was done Edmund gave a shout, and the Saxons at once sprang on
board the ship, which before the Danes could follow them was steered
out into the stream.

As Egbert had foreseen, the boom as it swung round swept before it a
number of the Danish boats, and imprisoned them between it and the
shore. The oars were soon run out, and while the men on the forecastle
continued their fire at the Danish boats, the others seizing the oars
swept the Dragon along the stream. The Danes strove desperately to
arrest her progress. Some tried to run alongside and board, others
dashed in among the oars and impeded the work of the rowers, while from
the walls of the town showers of missiles were poured down upon her.
But the tide was gaining every moment in strength, and partly drifting,
partly rowing, the Dragon, like a bull attacked by a pack of dogs, made
her way down the river. Every effort of the Danes to board was
defeated, and many of their boats sunk, and at last she made her way
into the open sea. There her sails were hoisted, and she soon left her
pursuers behind. Once at sea her course was again turned north, and
picking up some prizes on the way she took up her station off the mouth
of the Humber.

Several ships were captured as they sailed out from the river. After
the spoil on board was taken out, these, instead of being burnt, as had
always been the case before, were allowed to proceed on their way,
since had they been destroyed the crews must either have been slain or
landed. The first course was repugnant to Edmund, the second could not
be adopted, because they would have carried the news to the Danes, that
the Dragon was off the river and no more ships would have put to sea;
and indeed, so large was the number of Danish vessels always up the
Humber that a fleet could easily have been equipped and sent out,
before which the Dragon must have taken flight.

One day a large sailing ship was seen coming out. The Dragon remained
with lowered sail until she had passed; then started in pursuit, and
speedily came up with the Danish vessel. Edmund summoned her to
surrender, and was answered by a Norseman of great stature and noble
appearance, who from the poop hurled a javelin, which would have
pierced Edmund had he not leapt quickly aside. A few other darts were
thrown and then the Dragon ran alongside the enemy and boarded her.

The opposition of the Northmen was speedily beaten down, but their
leader desperately defended the ladder leading to the poop. He was
struck by two arrows, and fell on one knee, and Edmund was about to
climb the ladder when the door of the cabin in the poop opened, and a
Norse maiden some sixteen years old sprang out. Seeing her father
wounded at the top of the ladder and the Saxons preparing to ascend it,
while others turned their bows against the wounded Northman, she sprang
forward and throwing herself upon her knees before Edmund besought him
to spare her father's life. Edmund raised his hand and the bows were
lowered.

"I have no wish to slay your father, maiden," he said gently; "we slay
only those who resist, and resistance on the part of a single man, and
he wounded, against a whole ship's crew is madness. We are no
sea-wolves who slay for the pleasure of slaying, but are Saxons, who
fight for our country against the oppressions and rapine of your
people. Little right have they to mercy seeing they show none; but our
religion enjoins us to have pity even upon our enemies. You had best
ascend to your father and see to his wounds, none will harm you or him."

The girl with an exclamation of thanks sprang up the ladder. Edmund
superintended the searching of the ship. She contained a great store of
valuables, which were speedily transferred to the Dragon. When this had
been done Edmund ascended to the poop. The jarl was sitting in a great
chair placed there. Edmund had already learnt from the crew that he was
Jarl Siegbert, a noted leader of the Northmen. His daughter had drawn
out the arrows and bandaged the wounds.

"Jarl Siegbert," Edmund said as he approached him, "you have been a
bitter enemy of the Saxons, and small mercy have you shown to those who
have fallen into your hands, but learn now that we Christian Saxons
take no vengeance on a defenceless foe. You are free to pursue your
voyage with your daughter and your ship to Norway. Your stores we have
made free with, seeing that they are all plunder taken from the Saxons,
and we do but reclaim our own."

"And who are you, young sir?" the jarl asked.

"I am one of King Alfred's ealdormen of Wessex, Edmund by name."

"I have heard of you," the Dane said, "as one who has taught the Saxons
new tactics, fighting in a close body which has more than once pierced
our lines and caused our overthrow; but you are a mere lad."

"I am young," Edmund replied, "and had it not been for the invasions
and oppressions of your countrymen, might have still accounted myself
as scarce a man; but you have made warriors of every West Saxon capable
of bearing a sword. Remember, jarl, that your life has been in Saxon
hands, and that they have spared it, so come not hither to our shores
again."

"I purpose not doing so," the Northman replied. "I have seen enough of
stricken fields, and was returning to my own country to hang up my
sword, content with the fame I have gained, until Woden called me to
join his warriors and feast in his halls. Since we may not meet there,
young Saxon--for they say that you Christians look to a place where
arms will be laid aside and the sound of feasting be unheard--I will
say farewell. For myself, I thank you not for my life, for I would
rather have died as I have lived with my sword in my hand; but for my
daughter's sake I thank you, for she is but young to be left
unprotected in the world."

A few minutes later, the Danish vessel continued on her way, and the
Dragon again took her station on the look-out. She was now deep in the
water, and after picking up one or two more small prizes, Edmund and
Egbert determined to return home.

It was probable that the Danes would soon take the alarm and despatch a
fleet to attack them. Laden down as the Dragon was, her speed under
oars was materially affected, and it was advisable to stow away their
booty before proceeding with further adventures. Her head was turned
south, and she coasted down the eastern shores of England without
adventure. Several Danish vessels were seen arriving at or quitting the
coast, but the Dragon continued her course without heeding them, and
rounding the Forelands, sailed along the south coast and made her way
up the Parrot.

Upon inquiry they learnt that no event of any importance had taken
place during their absence. The Danes were complete masters of the
country. King Alfred was in hiding, none knew where. The greater
portion of the Danes were at their camp at Chippenham, but parties
roamed here and there through the land.

Dressed as countrymen, Edmund and Egbert made their way to Exeter, and
there arranged with some traders for the purchase of the less valuable
portion of the Dragons cargo. This consisted of rich clothing, silks
and other stuffs, wine, vestments, and altar hangings from churches,
arms and armour, hides and skins. The prices obtained were far below
the real value of the articles, for money was scarce, and none could
say when the Danes might again swoop down and clear out the contents of
the warehouses. Nevertheless the sum obtained was a large one for those
days, and this did not include the value of the gold and silver
goblets, salvers, vases, and utensils used in the celebration of
religious services.

Of these, spoiled from the houses of the wealthy, and the churches and
monasteries, they had obtained a considerable number. These were buried
in the wood near the lonely spot at which the Dragon was moored, the
rest of the cargo was sent in wagons--the more valuable portions hidden
under the hides and skins--to Exeter. The amount which had been
obtained from the cargo was divided as agreed before starting:
twenty-five shares were set apart for the king, twenty-five shares were
divided between the two leaders, and each soldier and sailor had one
share. All were well satisfied with the success of the adventure, and
with the damage which they had inflicted upon the Danes.

A fortnight's leave was given, for the men to visit their homes, and
the money which they had gained in their trip was of great use to their
friends in enabling them to repair the damages effected by the Danes.
Not a man was absent at the appointed time, and the Dragon again made
her way down to the sea.

It was midwinter now, and they cruised along the southern coast of
England without perceiving a single hostile sail. They lay for a week
off the mouth of the Thames, and then saw four large Danish vessels
making their way down the river. They were all vessels of the largest
size, strongly built, and full of men, and the Saxons judged them to be
too strong to be attacked in company. The Northmen, on seeing the
golden dragon flying at the mast-head of the Saxon ship, at once made
towards her, keeping in a close body; but the Dragon with sails and
oars easily left them behind, and the Danes giving up the pursuit
continued on their way.

The Dragon fell into their wake and followed at a distance, hoping that
one might prove slower than the others, or that they might in the night
get separated. At nightfall, however, the Danes lit cressets of tar and
hemp, which enabled them not only to keep close together, but sent out
a wide circle of light, so that they could perceive the Dragon should
she venture to approach.

For two days and nights the Dragon followed patiently.

"The weather is about to change," Egbert said on the third morning.
"Methinks that there is a storm brewing, and if this be so the Northmen
may well get separated, and we may pick up one away from her fellows."

Darker and darker grew the sky, and the wind soon blew in furious
gusts, raising a sea so heavy that the Saxons were obliged to lay in
their oars. By nightfall it was blowing a furious gale. In the
gathering darkness and the flying scud the ships of the Danes were lost
sight of; but this was of little consequence now, for the attention of
the Saxons was directed to their own safety.

For the next three days their position was one of the greatest danger.
With only a rag of sail set they ran before the gale from the
south-west. Every wave as it overtook them threatened the destruction
of the ship; but the Dragon, light and buoyant, and ably handled, rode
safely over the waves. On the fourth morning the wind was still blowing
fiercely, although its force had in some degree moderated. As the
daylight dawned Edmund and Egbert, who had hardly left the poop since
the storm began, looked anxiously ahead.

"Surely, Edmund, I see a dark mass ahead?" Egbert exclaimed.

For a minute or two Edmund gazed silently ahead.

"It is so, Egbert," he said; "it is a rocky coast. Do you not see a
white fringe below where the waves strike against it?"

As the light became clearer the imminence of their peril grew more
distinct. A lofty iron-bound coast rose in front of them, and extended
as far as the eye could reach on either hand. The seas broke with
terrible force against its base, sending its spray far up on the cliffs.

"Could we bring her about?" Edmund asked the chief of the sailors.

"It would be useless," the man said. "She could not make her way in the
teeth of this gale."

"That I see," Edmund said; "but at present we are rushing on to
destruction. If we bring her to the wind we may run some distance along
the coast before we are driven ashore, and may perceive some spot
towards which we may direct her with a chance of making land ere she
goes to pieces."

The sail was still further lessened and the ship's head brought round
parallel with the coast.

The Dragon laboured tremendously as the sea struck her full on the
beam, and every wave flooded her low waist. Each sea which struck her
lifted her bodily to leeward, and for every foot she sailed forward she
was driven one towards the coast. This was now but three miles distant,
and another hour would ensure her destruction; for none there hoped
that the anchors, even should they find bottom, could hold her for an
instant in the teeth of the gale. Every eye was directed towards the
shore, but no break could be seen in the wall of rock which rose almost
perpendicularly from the water.

"I fear it is hopeless," Edmund said to Egbert; "the strongest swimmer
would be dashed to pieces in an instant against those rocks."

"He would indeed," Egbert replied. "I wish now that we had boldly
engaged the four Danish ships. Far better would it have been for us to
have died fighting for England on her decks than to have perished here."

The time passed slowly. Every minute the Dragon was swept nearer and
nearer towards the rocks.

"She will just make that headland," the master sailor said, "and that
is all. Once round it we had best turn her head to the rocks. If the
cliffs rise as here sheer from the water, the moment she strikes will
be the last for all of us; but if the rocks are, as in some places,
piled high at the foot of the cliffs, a few may possibly manage to leap
from her forecastle as she strikes and to clamber up."

Scarce a word was spoken on board the Dragon as she came abreast of the
headland. It was but a few hundred yards away. The roar of the seas as
they struck its base sounded high above the din of the storm. Great
sheets of foam were thrown up to a vast height, and the turmoil of the
water from the reflux of the waves was so great that the Dragon was
tossed upon it like a cock-boat, and each man had to grasp at shroud or
bulwark to retain his footing.

Suddenly a cheer burst from end to end of the ship. Beyond the headland
a great gap was visible a quarter of a mile wide, as if the cliffs had
been rent in sunder by some tremendous convulsion, and a fiord was seen
stretching away in the bosom of the hills as far as the eye could
reach. The Dragon's head was turned, and soon she was flying before the
wind up the inlet. A mile farther and the fiord widened to a lake some
two miles across between steep hills clothed from foot to summit with
trees.

Its course was winding and they were soon sheltered from the gale and
were gliding quietly over comparatively tranquil water. Ten miles up
the anchor was let go in a sheltered inlet, and Edmund summoned the
whole crew to return thanks to God for their marvellous escape.

The Dragon had suffered severely in her conflict with the elements, her
large sails had been split or blown away, the bulwarks at her waist had
been shattered, and considerable damage done to her gear and fittings.
Four-and-twenty hours were allowed to the men for rest after their
labours, and then all hands were set to work to refit.

The next morning Edmund said to his kinsman:

"I will take two of the men and go ashore to hunt; there should be wild
boar and deer in these forests, and all would be glad of some fresh
meat."

"Be careful, Edmund; remember you are in the country of our enemies,
for without doubt this land to which we have been blown is Norway; and
although we can see no signs of habitations there may well be villages
somewhere among these hills."

"I will be careful," Edmund said, laughing; "and if I do not return in
two days do you set sail without me. I should like to discover the
abode of some Northern jarl; it would indeed be a grand retaliation to
give them a taste of the sufferings they have inflicted upon us."

"That would be good work," Egbert said; "nevertheless I own that at
present I am anxious to be at sea again."

"Two days will be sufficient to refit," Edmund said, "and then we will
spread our wings. Good-bye, Egbert, I will be back by sunset, and I
hope with a deer or two."

Selecting a couple of followers, both skilled with the bow, and all
being armed with spears, Edmund leapt ashore, for the water was deep up
to the rocks, and the Dragon had been moored alongside for the
convenience of taking on board the wood for the repairs.

Although those on board the Dragon guessed it not, many eyes were
watching them. A small fishing village lay at the edge of the fiord a
mile or two beyond the inlet in which the ship was moored. Hidden as
they were among the trees the huts had not been noticed by the Saxons,
but the strange ship had been seen by some of those in the village, and
the fishermen at once pronounced that whencesoever she might have come
she was assuredly no Northman's ship. Messengers had immediately been
sent to the villages among the hills. These were widely scattered, and
it was not until the day after the ship's arrival that a force was
collected which was deemed sufficient to attack it. Already, as Edmund
leapt ashore, the Norsemen were making their way quietly through the
forest towards the Dragon.

Edmund had advanced but a few hundred yards up the hillside when a
large party of Norsemen suddenly sprang upon him. Two Saxon arrows flew
true to their marks, then the Danes rushed upon them. So far no words
had been spoken, but Edmund placed to his lips the whistle with which
he gave orders on board the ship and blew a long shrill note, and then
shouted at the top of his voice:

"The Danes! the Danes! push off!"

The instant afterwards he was attacked. He and his men fought bravely,
but in a few seconds the latter were cut down and Edmund was levelled
to the ground by a tremendous blow from a club.

A minute later the din of battle rose by the water's side; Edmund's
whistle and shout had been heard, and the Saxons on shore sprang on
board and seized their spears and bows just as the Danes poured down
through the trees. For a time the Saxons defended the ship against the
desperate attempts of the Danes to gain footing on her; but seeing the
number of its assailants, and being certain that Edmund was killed or
captured, Egbert ordered the ropes to be cut, and the Dragon was thrust
away from the rocks. The oars were then got out and she rowed out of
bow-shot from the shore. Then Egbert held a consultation with the
leading men among the Saxons.

All on board were filled with grief at the loss of their young leader,
but they felt that nothing could be done for him, and it would be but
courting danger to remain longer in the fiord. Since so large a force
had been collected in the forest news might have been sent to the
ports, and at any moment they might see a fleet of the Northmen's
galleys barring their retreat; therefore with bitter grief and
lamentation the Dragon's sails were hoisted and she made her way to sea.

"My only consolation is," Egbert said, "that if the brave lad is not
killed at once he may yet find his way back to England. He is ready of
wit and full of invention that, if any can possibly extricate
themselves from such a strait, it is assuredly he; but I fear that he
fell in the first onslaught. Brave lad, even in the moment of his own
peril he thought first of us. Had it not been for his timely warning we
should have been taken unawares, and many must have been killed even if
the Dragon herself escaped capture."

The storm had entirely abated, and the waters sparkled brightly in the
cold January sun as the Dragon sailed out between the two headlands
into the sea. Very different were the feelings of the crew to those
which had animated them when, two days before, they had passed through
the channel; then every heart beat with joy and thankfulness; now the
deepest depression and grief reigned on board.

Edmund was adored by his followers. His kindness as their ealdorman,
his skill and bravery as a leader, his cheerfulness and brightness
under every danger and peril had immensely endeared him to their
hearts, and each man felt that he had sustained an irretrievable loss,
and that with their chief the spirit which had animated the Dragon and
directed their enterprises was gone.

Egbert was a valiant warrior, and was an admirable second to an
enterprising leader; but he was altogether without initiative, and,
except when excited by danger, was dull and silent. Although all
esteemed him and honoured him for his strength and bravery, they felt
that he would be a poor substitute indeed for the leader they had lost.



CHAPTER IX: A PRISONER


When Edmund recovered his senses he found that he was being carried
along on a rough litter through the forest. It was some little time
before he realized his position and recalled the circumstances of the
attack. After the Dragon had moved safely out into the fiord, its
assailants had returned to the spot where they had attacked the three
Saxons who had landed. Two of them were without life, but they found
that the third, who, from his habiliments was evidently of higher rank,
and whom they judged, although still but a youth, to be the commander
of the Saxon party, had only been stunned by the blow of the club which
had felled him.

It was at once resolved to carry him to the jarl of the district, who
would assuredly wish to learn from him the meaning of the coming of the
strange ship. That the Dragon was a Saxon vessel the Northmen were
sure. Many of them had been on expeditions across the seas, and knew
the Saxons both from their dress and manner of wearing their hair, but
the ship was unlike anything they had seen before, and it seemed above
all things strange that when, as they understood, England had been
completely conquered, Saxon warships should be entering a northern
fiord.

For many hours Edmund was carried through the forest. He wondered to
himself whether he would be slain on his arrival or kept as a slave,
for the Norse and Saxon tongues were so similar that he was perfectly
able to understand the language of his captors. A party of twelve men
accompanied him, four of whom bore the litter, and were relieved at
intervals by the others. After some hours the feeling of giddiness and
weakness passed off, and on the men stopping to change bearers he
expressed his readiness to walk.

Hitherto he had lain with his eyes closed, as he thought it better to
remain as he was until he felt perfectly able to keep up with his
captors in a journey which might, for aught he knew, be a long one. The
Northmen expressed their satisfaction at finding that their burden need
no longer be carried, and throwing aside the boughs which had formed
the litter, proceeded with him on their way. They asked him many
questions concerning the Dragon. Most of these he answered readily
enough, but he evaded those as to the place where she had been built,
or the port from which she had sailed. It was not until late in the
afternoon that they arrived at the abode of the Jarl Bijorn.

It was a rough abode constructed of timber, thatched with rushes, for
as yet the Northmen were scarcely a settled people, the tribes for the
most part wandering in the forests hunting when not engaged in those
warlike expeditions which they loved above all other things. Only the
leaders dwelt in anything like permanent abodes, the rest raising huts
of boughs at such places as they might make any stay at.

One of Edmund's conductors had gone on ahead, and as the party
approached the building Bijorn came out from his house to meet them. He
was, like almost all Northmen, a man of great stature and immense
strength. Some fifty years had passed over his head, but he was still
in the prime of his life; for the Northmen, owing to their life of
constant activity, the development of their muscles from childhood, and
their existence passed in the open air, retained their strength and
vigour to a great age.

So assiduous was their training, and so rapidly did their figures
develop in consequence, that at the age of fifteen a young Northman
received arms and was regarded as a man, although he did not marry
until many years afterwards, early wedlock being strongly discouraged
among them. By Bijorn's side stood his son, who, though but twenty-two
years old, rivalled him in stature and in muscular development,
although lacking the great width of shoulder of the jarl.

As Edmund approached, a war-horse of the jarl fastened up to a post
close to the entrance of the house neighed loudly. Bijorn looked
surprised. The neighing of a horse among the Northmen was regarded as
the happiest of auguries, and in their sacred groves horses were tied
up, as the neighing of these animals was considered an infallible proof
that a propitious answer would be given by the gods to the prayer of
any petitioner who sought their aid.

"By Thor!" Bijorn exclaimed, "my good war-horse welcomes the stranger.
As I said to you anon, Sweyn, I had intended to offer him as a
sacrifice to Odin; but as the gods have thus declared him welcome here
I must needs change my intentions. Who are you, young Saxon?" he asked
as Edmund was brought before him, "and whence do you come? And how is
it that a war-ship of your people is found upon our coasts?"

"I am Edmund," the young man said steadily, "an ealdorman of King
Alfred of the West Saxons. The ship which was seen on your coast is
mine; I built it to attack the Northmen who harry our coasts. I am here
because, when in chase of four of your ships, a storm arose and blew us
hither."

"You speak boldly," the jarl said, "for one in the hands of his foes.
How old are you?"

"I am twenty-two," Edmund replied.

"The same age as you, Sweyn. Stand side by side and let me compare you.
Ay," he went on, "he lacks nigh three inches of your height, but he is
more than that bigger across the shoulders--a stalwart young champion,
indeed, and does brave credit to his rearing. These West Saxons have
shown themselves worthy foemen, and handled us roughly last year, as
this will testify," and he pointed to the scar of a sword-cut across
his face. "Doubtless this is the son of that Saxon earl who more than
once last summer inflicted heavy losses upon us. Is that so, young
Saxon?"

"I am the Ealdorman Edmund himself," the young man replied quietly. "My
successes were won not by my own strength or courage, but by the valour
of those under me, who, fighting in a novel manner, gained advantage
over your Northmen."

"By Thor!" Bijorn exclaimed, "and this is the youth who attacked us at
night and drove off the cattle we had taken and slew many of our
followers, Sweyn! Truly he would be a rare sacrifice to offer to Odin;
but the god has himself welcomed him here."

"It may be that he welcomed him as a sacrifice, father," Sweyn
suggested.

"Ah! that may be so," the jarl replied. "We must consult the omens to
find out the true meaning of my charger's neighing. Nevertheless in
either case I shall be content, for if he be not welcomed as a
sacrifice he is welcome as bringing good fortune; and in truth he will
make a noble cup-bearer to me. It is not every jarl who is waited upon
by a Saxon ealdorman. But till the omens have spoken let him be set
aside and carefully watched. In a day or two we will journey to Odin's
temple and there consult the auguries."

Three days passed, during which Edmund was well fed and treated. At the
end of that time he was ordered to accompany the jarl on a journey. Two
days' travelling brought them to a temple of Odin. It was a rough
structure of unhewn stones situated in a wood. Bijorn and his son
entered, while Edmund remained without under a guard. Presently the
jarl and his son came out with a priest. The latter carried a white bag
in his hand with twelve small pieces of wood. On half of these four
small nicks were cut, on the others five nicks. All were placed in the
bag, which was then shaken.

"Now," the priest said, "you will see the will of Odin; the first three
sticks drawn out will declare it. If two of the three bear an even
number of nicks, the neigh of your horse signifies that Odin accepted
the sacrifice; if two of them bear unequal numbers, then it meant that
his coming was propitious to you."

The bag was again shaken. Edmund looked on calmly, for Saxons and
Northmen alike disdained to show the slightest fear of death; even the
colour did not fade from his cheek as he watched the trial upon which
his life depended.

The first stick drawn out bore five marks; the priest showed it to the
jarl, and without a word dropped it in the bag again. This was again
shaken and another stick drawn out; this bore but four notches; the
chances were even. The silence was unbroken until the third twig was
drawn.

"Odin has spoken," the priest said. "The neigh of the horse indicated
that the coming of this Saxon was propitious to your house."

The jarl gave an exclamation of satisfaction, while Sweyn's brow
darkened. Bijorn had indeed set his heart upon retaining this famous
young Saxon leader as his slave and cup-bearer, and it was probable
that in his interview with the priest before the drawing his
inclinations had been clearly shown, for a slight difference between
the thickness of the sticks might well have existed and served as an
index to the priest in drawing them.

Bijorn, in his gratification at the answer of the god, bestowed a
handsome present upon the priest, and then rode back to his abode well
content with his journey. Edmund was at once installed in his new
duties. Hitherto he had not entered the house nor seen the females of
the family. Ulfra, the jarl's wife, was a woman of commanding stature
and appearance. Like most of the northern women she had accompanied her
husband in his many wanderings, and shared his dangers and privations.
The wives of the Norsemen occupied a far more exalted position in the
households of their lords than did those of the people of southern
Europe; they were not only mistresses of the house, but were treated
with respect as well as with affection; they were not, as in the south,
regarded as puppets for the amusements of an idle hour, but were the
companions and advisers of their husbands, occupying a position at
least as free and respected as at the present day.

There were two daughters, who both bade fair to resemble their mother
in stature and dignity of demeanour, for both were models of female
strength and activity. Edmund's duties were light. In the morning he
gathered firewood for the household; at the meals he handed the dishes,
and taking his station behind the jarl's chair, refilled his goblet
with mead as often as it was empty. Usually a large party sat down to
supper, for an expedition to France was talked of in the spring, and
the jarls and warriors often met to discuss the place of starting, the
arrangements for the voyage, and the numbers which each leader would
place in the field. The feasts were kept up to a late hour, and, as was
the invariable custom of the Northmen, the arrangements decided upon
overnight were rediscussed at a morning meeting; for they held that
while over the wine-cup each man would speak the truth frankly and
honestly, the colder counsels and greater prudence which the morning
brought were needed before any matter could be finally settled.

A month thus passed, and Bijorn, his family and followers then moved
south, as there was to be a great conference near the southern point of
the country, at which a large number of the chiefs from Denmark were to
be present.

Edmund observed that for some reason Sweyn was looking forward
anxiously to this meeting, and his sisters more than once joked him
about his anxiety.

"Pooh! pooh!" the jarl said one day in answer to such an observation.
"Sweyn is but a lad yet. I know what you are driving at, and that Sweyn
is smitten with the charms of my old companion's daughter, the pretty
Freda; I noted it when we were in camp together; but it will be fully
another ten years yet before Sweyn can think of marrying. He has got to
win for himself the name of a great warrior before a jarl's daughter of
proper spirit would so much as think of him. When he has the spoils of
France to lay at her feet it will be time enough."

Sweyn made no reply, but Edmund saw that he was far from pleased at his
father's words, and a look of surly determination on his face showed
the young Saxon that he would go his own way in the matter if it lay in
his power.

After ten days' travelling the party arrived at the rendezvous. Here
drawn up on the shore were a vast number of galleys of all sizes, for
the greater part of those who had assembled had journeyed by sea. Great
numbers of huts of boughs and many tents constructed of sails had been
erected. Edmund and the other slaves, these being either Saxon or
Franks captured in war, soon erected bowers for the jarl and his family.

Edmund had been looking forward to the meeting with much anxiety, for
he had judged that some mode of escape might there open to him. Among
the Saxon slaves were several young men of strength and vigour, and
Edmund had confided to them his project of stealing a boat and sailing
away in it, and they, knowing that he had experience in navigation, had
readily consented to join him in making an effort for freedom.

The jarl and his family were warmly welcomed by many of their
companions in arms, and the day after their arrival Bijorn told Edmund
to accompany him to a banquet at which he and his family were to be
present. At four in the afternoon they set out and presently arrived at
a large tent. Edmund waited without until the attendants carried in the
dishes, when he entered with them and prepared to take his place behind
his master's seat. From a few words which had passed between Sweyn and
his sisters Edmund doubted not that the companion with whom Bijorn was
going to dine was the father of the maiden about whom they had joked
him. He was not surprised when on entering he saw Sweyn talking
earnestly with a damsel somewhat apart from the rest.

The entrance of the viands was the signal for all to take their places
at the table. There were in all sixteen in number, and as nearly half
were women the meeting was evidently of a family character, as upon
occasions of importance or when serious discussions were to take place
men alone sat down. As Edmund advanced to take his place, his eye fell
upon the jarl who seated himself at the head of the table, and as he
did so he gave a slight start of surprise, for he at once recognized in
him the Northman Siegbert, whose ship he had stopped at the mouth of
the Humber. From him his eye glanced at the girl by whose side Sweyn
was on the point of seating himself, and recognized in her the maiden
who had besought her father's life. The dinner commenced and proceeded
for some little time, when Edmund saw the girl looking fixedly at him.

"Who is that who is standing behind your father's chair?" she asked
Sweyn.

"A Saxon slave," he answered. "His vessel was well-nigh wrecked on our
coast. Our people captured him and slew some of his followers, and the
ship speedily took to flight."

"Father," the girl said in a clear voice, which at once attracted the
attention of all, "unless my eyes deceive me the young Saxon standing
behind Jarl Bijorn is he whose ship captured us as we left England, and
who suffered no harm to be done to us."

The Northman turned in his chair.

"It is he, Freda, surely enough, though how he comes to be a slave here
to my comrade Bijorn I know not. Bijorn, my friend, I owe this youth a
deep debt of gratitude; he had my life and the life and honour of Freda
in his hands, and he spared both, and, slave though he may be of yours
at present, yet I hail him as my friend. Tell me how came he in your
hands? He is Edmund, the valiant young Saxon who smote us more than
once so heavily down in Wessex."

"I know it," Bijorn replied, "and will tell you how he came into my
hands, and in truth he was captured by accident and not by any valour
of my arm." The jarl then related the circumstances under which Edmund
had been captured, and the narrow escape he had had of being offered as
a sacrifice to Odin. And Siegbert then told his guests at length the
incidents of his capture by the Dragon.

"He let me go free and without a ransom," he concluded, "and that part
of my obligation I should be glad to repay, though for his gentleness
to Freda I must still remain his debtor. What say you, Bijorn, will you
sell him to me? Name your price in horses, arms, and armour, and
whatever it be I will pay it to you."

"In truth, Siegbert," Bijorn said, "I like not to part with the lad;
but since you are so urgent, and seeing that you cannot otherwise
discharge the obligation under which, as you say, he has laid you, I
cannot refuse your prayer. As to the price, we will arrange that anon."

"Then it is settled," Siegbert said. "You are a free man, Ealdorman
Edmund," and he held out his hand to the youth. "Now seat yourself at
the table with my guests; there are none here but may feel honoured at
dining with one of King Alfred's bravest thanes."

The transformation in Edmund's position was sudden indeed; a moment
since he was a slave, and although he had determined upon making an
effort for freedom, he had known that the chances of escape were small,
as swift galleys would have been sent off in pursuit, and it was
probable that he would have been speedily overtaken and brought back.
Now he was free, and would doubtless be allowed to return home with the
first party who sailed thither.

Siegbert at once tried to make Edmund feel at home, addressing much of
his conversation to him. Bijorn, too, spoke in a friendly manner with
him, but Sweyn was silent and sullen; he was clearly ill-pleased at
this change of fortune which had turned his father's slave into a
fellow-guest and equal. His annoyance was greatly heightened by the
fact that it was Freda who had recognized the young Saxon, and the
pleasure which her face evinced when her father proposed to purchase
him from Bijorn angered him still more. In his heart he cursed the
horse whose welcoming neigh had in the first instance saved Edmund's
life, and the trial by augury which had confirmed the first omen. After
the banquet was over Siegbert requested Edmund to relate his various
adventures.

The telling of tales of daring was one of the favourite amusements of
the Danes; Siegbert and his friends quaffed great bumpers of mead; and
the ladies sat apart listening while Edmund told his story.

"You have a brave record, indeed," Siegbert said when he had finished,
"for one so young; and fond as are our youths of adventure there is not
one of them of your age who has accomplished a tithe of what you have
done. Why, Freda, if this youth were but one of us he would have the
hearts of all the Norse maidens at his feet. In the eyes of a Danish
girl, as of a Dane, valour is the highest of recommendations."

"I don't know, father," Freda said, colouring at being thus addressed,
"that we should be as bold as that, although assuredly it is but right
that a maiden should esteem valour highly. It is to her husband she has
to look for protection, and she shares in the honour and spoil which he
gains by his valiant deeds, so you have always taught me."

"And rightly too, girl. Next to being a great hero, the greatest honour
is to be the wife of one. I pledge you, Ealdorman Edmund, and should be
right proud were you a son of mine. You have told your story modestly,
for many of the battles and adventures of which you have spoken are
known to me by report, and fame has given you a larger share in the
successes than you claim for yourself. 'Tis a pity you were not born a
Northman, for there is little for you to do in Saxon England now."

"I do not despair yet," Edmund replied. "Things have gone badly with
us, but the last blow is not struck yet. You will hear of King Alfred
in the spring, unless I am mistaken."

"But they say your King Alfred is half a monk, and that he loves
reading books more than handling the sword, though, to do him justice,
he has shown himself a brave warrior, and has given us far more trouble
than all the other Saxon kings together."

"King Alfred fights bravely," Edmund said, "because he is fighting for
his country and people; but it is true that he loves not war nor
strife. He reads much and thinks more, and should he ever come to his
kingdom again he will assuredly be one of the wisest and best monarchs
who has ever sat on a throne. He has talked to me much of the things
which he has at heart, and I know he intends to draw up wise laws for
the ruling of his people."

"We love not greatly being ruled, we Northmen," Bijorn said, "but for
each to go his own way as he wills, provided only he inflicts no ill
upon his neighbour. We come and we go each as it pleases him. Our
fleets traverse the sea and bring home plunder and booty. What need we
of laws?"

"At present you have no great need of laws," Edmund replied, "seeing
that you lead a wandering life; but when the time shall come--and it
must come to you as it has come to other nations--when you will settle
down as a rich and peaceful community, then laws will become necessary."

"Well," Bijorn said, "right glad am I that I live before such times
have come. So far as I can see the settling down you speak of, and the
abandonment of the ancient gods has done no great good either to you
Saxons or to the Franks. Both of you were in the old time valiant
people, while now you are unable to withstand our arms. You gather
goods, and we carry them off; you build cities, and we destroy them;
you cultivate the land, and we sweep off the crops. It seems to me that
we have the best of it."

"It seems so at present," Edmund said, "but it will not last. Already
in Northumbria and in East Anglia the Danes, seeing that there is no
more plunder to be had, are settling down and adopting the customs of
the Saxons, and so will it be in Mercia and Wessex if you keep your
hold of them, and so will it be in other places. The change is but
beginning, but it seems to me certain to come; so I have heard King
Alfred say."

"And does he think," Sweyn said scoffingly, speaking almost for the
first time, "that we shall abandon the worship of our gods and take to
that of your Christ?"

"He thinks so and hopes so," Edmund replied quietly. "So long as men's
lives are spent wholly in war they may worship gods like yours, but
when once settled in peaceful pursuits they will assuredly recognize
the beauty and holiness of the life of Christ. Pardon me," he said,
turning to Siegbert, "if it seems to you that I, being still young,
speak with over-boldness, but I am telling you what King Alfred says,
and all men recognize his wisdom and goodness."

"I know not of your religion myself," Siegbert replied, "but I will own
willingly that though its teachings may be peaceful, it makes not
cowards of those who believe in it. I have seen over and over again old
men and young men die on the altars of their churches as fearlessly and
calmly as a Viking should do when his time comes. No Northman fears
death, for he knows that a joyous time awaits him; but I am bound to
say that your Christians meet death to the full as calmly. Well, each
his own way, I say, and for aught I know there may be a Christian
heaven as well as the Halls of Odin, and all may be rewarded in their
own way for their deeds."

Bijorn and his party now rose to take leave. "I will come across to
your tent in the morning," Siegbert said, "and we can then discuss what
payment I shall make you for this young Saxon. I fear not that you will
prove over hard to your old comrade."

After Bijorn had departed Siegbert assigned to Edmund a place in his
tent as an honoured guest. Slaves brought in bundles of rushes for the
beds. Freda retired to a small tent which had been erected for her
adjoining the larger one, and the jarl and Edmund lay down on their
piles of rushes at the upper end of the tent. Siegbert's companions and
followers stretched themselves along the sides, the slaves lay down
without, and in a few minutes silence reigned in the tent.



CHAPTER X: THE COMBAT


"I was thinking much of what you said last night," Freda said at
breakfast. "How is it that you, whose religion is as you say a peaceful
one, can yet have performed so many deeds of valour and bloodshed?"

"I am fighting for my home, my country, and my religion," Edmund said.
"Christianity does not forbid men to defend themselves; for, did it do
so, a band of pagans might ravage all the Christian countries in the
world. I fight not because I love it. I hate bloodshed, and would
rather die than plunder and slay peaceful and unoffending people. You
have been in England and have seen the misery which war has caused
there. Such misery assuredly I would inflict on none. I fight only to
defend myself and my country men and women. Did your people leave our
land I would gladly never draw sword again."

"But what would you do with yourself?" Freda asked in tones of
surprise. "How would you pass your time if there were no fighting?"

"I should have plenty to do," Edmund said smiling; "I have my people to
look after. I have to see to their welfare; to help those who need it;
to settle disputes; to rebuild the churches and houses which have been
destroyed. There would be no difficulty in spending my time."

"But how could a man show himself to be a hero," the Danish girl asked,
"if there were no fighting?"

"There would be no occasion for heroes," Edmund said, "at least of
heroes in the sense you mean--that is, of men famous principally for
the number they have slain, and the destruction and misery they have
caused. Our religion teaches us that mere courage is not the highest
virtue. It is one possessed as much by animals as by men. Higher
virtues than this are kindness, charity, unselfishness, and a desire to
benefit our fellow-creatures. These virtues make a man a truer hero
than the bravest Viking who ever sailed the seas. Even you, Freda,
worshipper of Odin as you are, must see that it is a higher and a
better life to do good to your fellow-creatures than to do evil."

"It sounds so," the girl said hesitatingly; "but the idea is so new to
me that I must think it over before I can come to any conclusion."

Freda then went about her occupations, and Edmund, knowing that
Siegbert would not return for some time, as he was going with Bijorn to
a council which was to be held early in the day, strolled down to look
at the galleys ranged along on the beach. These varied greatly in form
and character. Some of the sailing ships were large and clumsy, but the
galleys for rowing were lightly and gracefully built. They were low in
the water, rising to a lofty bow, which sometimes turned over like the
neck of a swan, at other times terminated in a sharp iron prow, formed
for running down a hostile boat. Some of them were of great length,
with seats for twenty rowers on either side, while all were provided
with sails as well as oars. When the hour for dinner approached he
returned to Siegbert's tent. The jarl had not yet come back from the
council. When he did so Edmund perceived at once that he was flushed
and angry.

"What has disturbed you, father?" Freda asked, as on hearing his voice
she entered the tent. "Has aught gone wrong at the council?"

"Yes," the jarl replied, "much has gone wrong. Bijorn and I had not
concluded our bargain when we went to the council. We had, indeed, no
difficulty about the terms, but we had not clasped hands over them, as
I was going back to his tent after the council was over. At the council
the expedition against France was discussed, and it was proposed that
we should consult the gods as to the chances of the adventure. Then the
Jarl Eric rose and proposed that it should be done in the usual way by
a conflict between a Dane and a captive. This was of course agreed to.

"He then said that he understood that there was in the camp a young
Saxon of distinguished valour, and that he proposed that Sweyn, the son
of Bijorn, should fight with him. Sweyn had expressed to him his
willingness to do so should the council agree. I rose at once and said
that the Saxon was no longer a captive, since I had ransomed him
because he had once done me a service; but upon being pressed I was
forced to admit that the bargain had not been concluded. I must acquit
Bijorn of any share in the matter, for it came upon him as much by
surprise as it did upon me. It seems that it is all Sweyn's doing. He
must have taken the step as having a private grudge against you. Have
you had any quarrel with him?"

"No," Edmund replied. "He has ever shown himself haughty and
domineering, but we have come to no quarrel."

"At any rate he wants to kill you," Siegbert said. "I did my best to
prevent it, pointing out that the combat ought to take place between a
Frank and a Dane. However, the Northmen are always glad to see a good
fight, and having satisfied themselves that in point of age and
strength you were not unfairly matched, they decided that the conflict
should take place. He is taller, and I think somewhat stronger than
you, and has proved himself a valiant fighter, and I would give much if
the combat could be avoided."

"I fear him not," Edmund said quietly, "though I would fain that this
could be avoided. Had I met Sweyn upon a battle-field in England I
would have slain him as a natural enemy; but to fight him in cold
blood, either as a matter of augury or to furnish amusement for the
assembly, likes me not. However, I must of course defend myself, and if
harm comes to him it is no blame of mine."

"You will have no easy victory, I can tell you," Siegbert said, "for
none among our young Danes bears a higher reputation."

"But after the combat is over how shall I stand?" Edmund asked; "for if
I defeat or slay Sweyn I shall still be his father's slave."

"That will you not," Siegbert replied. "In these cases the captive if
victorious is always restored to liberty; but at any rate you shall
fight as a free man, for when I have finished my dinner I will go to
Bijorn and conclude our bargain. Do not look so cast down, Freda; a
Northman's daughter must not turn pale at the thought of a conflict.
Sweyn is the son of my old friend, and was, before he took to arms,
your playfellow, and since then has, methought, been anxious to gain
your favour, though all too young yet for thinking of taking a wife;
but never mind, there are as good as he to be found; and if our young
Saxon here proves his conqueror other suitors will come, never fear."

Freda was silent, but her face flushed painfully, and Edmund saw the
tears falling down her cheeks as she bent over her plate.

After the meal was over Siegbert again went out, and Edmund,
approaching Freda, said, "Do not fret, Freda; if it should be that I
find my skill in arms greater than that of Sweyn, I promise you that
for your sake I will not wound him mortally."

"I care not," the girl said passionately; "spare him not for my sake,
for I hate him, and were there no other Norseman in the world I would
never be wife of his."

So saying she left the tent. Edmund now regretted the chance which had
assigned him to Siegbert, for he would rather have taken his chance of
escape by sea than have awaited the conflict with Sweyn. But he could
not carry his plan of escape into effect now, for it would seem as if
he had fled the conflict. That this would be a desperate one he did not
doubt. The course which Sweyn had taken showed a bitter feeling of
hatred against him, and even were it not so the young Northman would,
fighting in the presence of the leaders of his nation, assuredly do his
best to conquer. But Edmund had already tried his strength with older
and more powerful men than his adversary and had little fear of results.

The news of the approaching conflict caused considerable excitement in
the Danish camp, and Edmund's figure was narrowly scrutinized as he
wandered through it. All who had been engaged in the war in Wessex had
heard of Edmund, and there was no slight curiosity, when the news went
abroad that the Saxon leader was a captive in the camp, to see what he
was like.

At first when it was bruited abroad that Sweyn, the son of Jarl Bijorn,
was to fight this noted Saxon champion the idea was that the enterprise
was a rash one, strong and valiant as Sweyn was known to be for a young
man; but when it was seen that Edmund was no older than he, and to the
eye less strong and powerful, they felt confident in the power of their
champion to overcome him.

Siegbert spared no pains to see that his guest had an even equal
chance. He procured for him a strong and well-made helmet which fitted
him comfortably, and gave him the choice out of a large number of
shields and swords. Edmund selected a weapon which answered nearly in
weight and balance that which he was accustomed to wield. There was
feasting again that night in Siegbert's tent; but he did not allow
Edmund to join in it, insisting after the meal was over that he should
retire to a small hut hard by.

"You will want your head and your nerves in good order to-morrow," he
said. "Feasting is good in its way, and the night before battle I
always drink deeply, but for a single combat it were best to be
prudent." As Edmund left the tent Freda, who had not appeared at
dinner, came up to him.

"I have been crying all day," she said simply. "I know not why, for I
have often seen my father go out to battle without a tear. I think you
must have upset me with your talk this morning. I hope that you will
win, because it was wrong and unfair of Sweyn to force this battle upon
you; and I hate him for it! I shall pray Odin to give you victory. You
don't believe in him, I know; still my prayers can do you no harm."

"Thank you," Edmund said. "I shall pray to One greater and better than
Odin. But weep not any longer, for I trust neither of us will be
killed. I shall do my best to guard myself, and shall try not to slay
him; for this fight is not for my nation or for my religion, but
concerns myself only."

The following morning the Northmen assembled. The jarls and other
leading men formed the inner line of a circle some thirty yards in
diameter, the others stood without; Jarl Eric entered the ring with
Sweyn, while Edmund, accompanied by Siegbert, entered at the other side
of the circle.

"I protest," Siegbert cried in a loud voice, "against this conflict
taking place. Edmund the Saxon is no captive here, but a free man, and
my guest; moreover, being a Saxon, the issue of this fight between him
and a Northman can serve no purpose as an augury as to the success of
our expedition against the Franks. Therefore do I protest against the
conflict."

There was again a consultation between the leaders, for a murmur of
approbation had run round the ranks of the spectators, who it was
evident were impressed in favour of the young Saxon, and considered
that the jarl's words were just and reasonable. Eric spoke for a minute
with Sweyn.

"I feel," he said in a loud voice, "that what Jarl Siegbert says is
reasonable, that no augury can be drawn from the fight, and that, since
Edmund is no longer a captive, and a friend of Siegbert's, he cannot be
forced into fighting in order that we may have an augury. But the
Saxon, though so young, has won a reputation even among us, the enemies
of his race; and my friend Sweyn, who has shown himself one of the
bravest of our young men, considers that he has cause of quarrel with
him, and challenges him to fight--not necessarily to the death, or till
one is slain, but till the jarls here assembled do pronounce one or the
other to be the victor. This is a fair challenge--first, there is a
private quarrel; next, there is emulation between these young men, who
may fairly claim to be the champions of the youth of the two races.
Such a challenge the Saxon will hardly refuse."

In accordance with the customs of the day it would have been impossible
for Edmund to have refused such a challenge without disgrace, and he
did not for a moment think of doing so.

"I am ready to fight Sweyn," he said. "I have no great cause of quarrel
with him; but if he conceives that he has grounds of quarrel with me,
that is enough. As to championship of the Saxons, we have no champions;
we fight not for personal honour or glory, but for our homes, our
countries, and our religion, each doing his best according to the
strength God has given him, and without thought of pride on the one
hand or envy on the other because the strength or courage of one may be
somewhat greater than that of another. Still, as a Saxon standing here
as the only representative of my nation in an assembly of Northmen, I
cannot refuse such a challenge, for to do so would be to infer that we
Saxons are less brave than you. Therefore I am ready for the combat."

The Northmen clashed their weapons against their shields in token of
their approval of the young Saxon's words, and the young champions
prepared for the combat. They were naked to the waist save for shield
and helmet; below the waist each wore a short and tightly-fitting
garment covered with plates of brass; the legs were naked, and each
wore a pair of light sandals; their weapons were long straight swords.
The weapon Edmund had chosen was considerably lighter than that of his
opponent, but was of toughest steel, on which were engraved in rough
characters, "Prayers to Woden for victory."

The difference in height between the combatants was considerable.
Edmund stood five feet ten, but looked shorter from the squareness and
width of his shoulders. Sweyn was nearly four inches taller, and he too
was very strongly built. His muscles indeed stood out in stronger
development than did those of Edmund, and if pure strength was to win
the day few of those who looked on doubted that the Dane would be the
victor.

The combat was a long one. For some time Edmund contented himself with
standing upon the defensive and guarding the tremendous blows which
Sweyn rained upon him. In spite of the efforts of the Northman, he
could neither beat down the Saxon's guard nor force him to fall back a
single step.

Again and again the rattle of the spectators' arms clashed an approval
of Edmund's steady resistance to his opponent's assaults. The Norsemen
delighted beyond all things in a well-fought encounter. Each man,
himself a warrior, was able to appreciate the value of the strokes and
parries. The betting at the commencement had run high upon Sweyn, and
horses, armour, arms, and slaves had been freely wagered upon his
success; but as the fight went on the odds veered round, and the
demeanour of the combatants had as much to do with this as the skill
and strength shown by Edmund in his defence. The Dane was flushed and
furious; his temper gave way under the failure of his assaults. The
Saxon, on the contrary, fought as calmly and coolly as if practicing
with blunted weapons; his eyes never left those of his adversary, a
half smile played on his lips, and although drops of perspiration from
his forehead showed how great were his exertions, his breathing hardly
quickened.

Twice Sweyn drew back for breath, and Edmund each time, instead of
pressing him, dropped the point of his sword and waited for him to
renew the combat. At present he had scarce struck a blow, and while his
own shield was riven in several places and his helmet dinted, those of
Sweyn were unmarked.

At the third assault Sweyn came up determined to end the conflict, and
renewed the attack with greater fury than before. Three times his sword
descended with tremendous force, but each time it met the blade of the
Saxon; the fourth time his arm was raised, then there was a flash and a
sudden shout from the crowd.

With a mighty blow Edmund had smitten full on his opponent's uplifted
arm, and, striking it just above the elbow, the sword clove through
flesh and bone, and the severed limb, still grasping the sword, fell to
the ground.

A loud shout of approval burst from the Danes. Although the conqueror
was their enemy they appreciated so highly the virtues of coolness and
courage that their applause was no less hearty than if the victor had
been a countryman. Sweyn had fallen almost the instant the blow had
been struck. The ring was at once broken up, and his friends ran to
him. The Norsemen were adepts at the treatment of wounds, and
everything had been prepared in case of emergencies.

A bandage was instantly tied tightly round the upper part of the arm to
stop the rush of blood, and the stump was then dipped into boiling
pitch, and Sweyn, who had become almost instantly insensible from the
loss of blood, was carried to his father's tent. According to custom
handsome presents of swords and armour were made to Edmund by those who
had won by his success.

It would have been considered churlish to refuse them, and Edmund had
no thought of doing so, for he needed money, and these things in those
days were equivalent to wealth.

"You have done well and gallantly indeed, my young friend," Siegbert
said as, followed by several slaves bearing Edmund's presents, they
returned to the tent. "I am glad you did not slay him, for I think not
that he will die. Such a blow given in battle would assuredly have been
fatal, but here the means of stanching the blood were at hand, and I
trust for Bijorn's sake that he will recover; but whether or no he
brought it on himself."

On reaching the tent Freda ran out radiant.

"I hear that you have conquered," she said, "and I am glad indeed; it
serves him right, for all say that he forced the fight upon you."

"I did not know that your sympathies were so strongly against Sweyn,"
Siegbert said in a somewhat reproachful tone. "He has always been your
devoted follower."

"He has always been my tyrant, father, for he has always insisted on my
doing his pleasure; but if he had been ten times my follower, and had
been a valiant warrior instead of a youth, and I a maiden of twenty
instead of a girl of fifteen, I should still be glad that he was
conquered, because without any reason for quarrel he has sought to slay
this Saxon youth who did us such great service, and to whom as he knew
we were so indebted."

Siegbert smiled. "Hitherto I have wondered, daughter mine, at the
reason which induced Sweyn to challenge Edmund, but now methinks I
understand it. Sweyn has, as his father has told me, youth as he is,
set his heart on winning your hand when you shall reach the age of
womanhood, and it is just because Edmund has done you and me service
that he hates him. You are young, child, for your bright eyes to have
caused bloodshed; if you go on like this there will be no end to the
trouble I shall have on your account before I get you fairly wedded."

Freda coloured hotly.

"That is nonsense, father; another five years will be soon enough to
begin to think of such things. At any rate," she said with a laugh, "I
am rid of Sweyn, for he can hardly expect me ever to love a one-armed
man."

"There have been brave warriors," Seigbert said, "with but one arm."

"It makes no difference," Freda laughed; "if he had fifty arms I should
never love him."

Edmund now entreated Siegbert to repay himself from the presents he had
received for the goods he had the evening before given to Bijorn as the
price of his liberty, but this the jarl would not hear of. Edmund then
begged him to buy with them, of Bijorn, the four Saxon slaves with whom
he had agreed to attempt an escape, and to expend the rest of the
presents in freeing as many other Saxon prisoners as he could.

This Siegbert did, and by the evening Edmund had the satisfaction of
finding around him twelve Saxons whose freedom he had purchased. He
remained as the guest of Siegbert until the expedition sailed in the
last week of March. Then with the twelve Saxons he embarked in
Siegbert's ship, which, instead of keeping with the others, sailed for
the mouth of the Thames. The wind was favourable and the passage quick,
and three days after sailing Edmund and his companions were disembarked
on the coast of Kent. His adieus with Siegbert were hearty and earnest.

"I would you had been a Northman," the jarl said, "for I love you as a
son, and methinks that when the time comes, had you been so inclined,
you might have really stood in that relation to me, for I guess that my
little Freda would not have said no had you asked her hand; but now our
paths are to part. I shall never war again with the Saxons, for indeed
there is but scant booty to be gained there, while you are not likely
again to be cast upon our shores; but should the fates ever throw us
together again, remember that you have a friend for life in Jarl
Siegbert."

Freda, who had accompanied her father as usual, wept bitterly at the
parting, which, however, she did not deem to be as final as it appeared
to her father; for the evening before, as she was standing on the poop
with Edmund, he had said to her, "You will not forget me, Freda; we are
both very young yet; but some day, when the wars are over, and England
no longer requires my sword, I will seek you again."

"Is that a promise, Edmund?"

"Yes, Freda, a solemn promise."

"I will wait for you," she said simply, "if it were till the end of my
life."

The youth and girl ratified the promise by a kiss, and Freda, as
through her tears she watched the boat which conveyed Edmund and his
companions to shore, felt sure that some day she should see her Saxon
hero again.

On landing, Edmund soon learned that the Danes were everywhere masters,
and that since the autumn nothing had been heard of the king, who was
supposed to be somewhere in hiding.

In every village through which they passed they found evidence of the
mastership of the Danes. Many of the houses were burnt or destroyed,
the people were all dressed in the poorest garb, and their sad faces
and listless mien told of the despair which everywhere prevailed. In
every church the altars had been thrown down, the holy emblems and
images destroyed, the monks and priests had fled across the sea or had
been slain.

The Danish gods, Thor and Woden, had become the divinities of the land,
and the Saxons, in whom Christianity had but recently supplanted the
superstitions of paganism, were fast returning to the worship of the
pagan gods. Edmund and his companions were shocked at the change. On
reaching home they found that the ravages of the Danes had here been
particularly severe, doubtless in revenge for the heavy loss which had
been sustained by them in their attack upon Edmund's fortification. His
own abode had been completely levelled to the ground, and the villages
and farm-houses for the most part wholly destroyed. His people were
lying in rude shelters which they had raised, but their condition was
very much better than that of the people in general.

The news of Edmund's return spread like wildfire, and excited the most
extreme joy among his people, who had long given him up for lost. He
found to his delight that the Dragon had returned safely, and that she
was laid up in her old hiding-place. The great amount of spoil with
which she was loaded had enabled her crew largely to assist their
friends, and it was this which had already raised the condition of the
people above that of their neighbours. Houses were being gradually
rebuilt, animals had been brought from districts which had been less
ravaged by the Danes, and something approaching comfort was being
rapidly restored.

Upon the day after Edmund's return Egbert arrived. Feeling sure of
Edmund's death he had taken no steps towards rebuilding the house, but
was living a wild life in the woods, when the news reached him that
Edmund had reappeared. His own large share of the booty with that of
Edmund he had buried, with the portion set aside for the king, in the
wood near the spot where the Dragon was laid up.

They had passed up the Parrot at night unobserved by the Danes, and
after taking the masts out of the Dragon, and dismantling her, they had
laid her up in the hole near the river where she was built. There was
little fear of her discovery there, for the Danes were for the most
part gathered in winter quarters at the great camp near Chippenham.

Egbert's delight at the reappearance of Edmund was unbounded, for he
loved him as a son, and it was a long time before their joy at the
meeting was sufficiently calmed down to enable them to tell each other
the events which had happened since they parted three months before.
Egbert's narrative was indeed brief. He had remained two or three days
off the coast of Norway in the lingering hope that Edmund might in some
way have escaped death, and might yet come off and join him. At the end
of a week this hope had faded, and he sailed for England. Being winter,
but few Danish galleys were at sea, and he had encountered none from
the time he set sail until he arrived off the coast at the mouth of the
Parrot.

He had entered the river at night so as to be unseen by any in the
village at its mouth, and had, after the Dragon was laid up, passed his
time in the forest. Edmund's narration was much more lengthy, and
Egbert was surprised indeed to find that his kinsman owed his freedom
to the jarl whose vessel they had captured at the mouth of the Humber.



CHAPTER XI: THE ISLE OF ATHELNEY


Edmund spent a month on his lands, moving about among his vassals and
dwelling in their abodes. He inspired them by his words with fresh
spirit and confidence, telling them that this state of things could not
last, and that he was going to join the king, who doubtless would soon
call them to take part in a fresh effort to drive out their cruel
oppressors. Edmund found that although none knew with certainty the
hiding-place of King Alfred, it was generally reported that he had
taken refuge in the low lands of Somersetshire, and Athelney was
specially named as the place which he had made his abode.

"It is a good omen," Edmund said, "for Athelney lies close to the
Parrot, where my good ship the Dragon is laid away."

After visiting all the villages in his earldom Edmund started with
Egbert and four young men, whom he might use as messengers, for the
reported hiding-place of the king. First they visited the Dragon, and
found her lying undisturbed; then they followed the river down till
they reached the great swamps which extended for a considerable
distance near its mouth. After much wandering they came upon the hut of
a fisherman. The man on hearing the footsteps came to his door with a
bent bow. When he saw that the new-comers were Saxons he lowered the
arrow which was already fitted to the string.

"Can you tell us," Edmund said, "which is the way to Athelney? We know
that it is an island amidst these morasses, but we are strangers to the
locality and cannot find it."

"And you might search for weeks," the man said, "without finding it, so
thickly is it surrounded by deep swamps and woods. But what want ye
there?"

"Men say," Edmund replied, "that King Alfred is hidden there. We are
faithful followers of his. I am Ealdorman Edmund of Sherborne, and have
good news for the king."

"If ye are indeed the Ealdorman of Sherborne, of whose bravery I have
heard much, I will right willingly lead you to Athelney if you will,
but no king will you find there. There are a few fugitives from the
Danes scattered here and there in these marshes, but none, so far as I
know, of any rank or station. However, I will lead you thither should
you still wish to go."

Edmund expressed his desire to visit the island even if the king were
not there. The man at once drew out a small boat from a hiding-place
near his hut. It would hold four at most. Edmund and Egbert stepped in
with one of their followers, charging the others to remain at the hut
until they received further instructions. The fisherman with a long
pole took his place in the bow of the boat and pushed off. For some
hours they made their way through the labyrinth of sluggish and narrow
channels of the morass. It was a gloomy journey. The leafless trees
frequently met overhead; the long rushes in the wetter parts of the
swamp rustled as the cold breezes swept across them, and a slight
coating of snow which had fallen the previous night added to the dreary
aspect of the scene. At last they came upon sharply rising ground.

"This is Athelney," the fisherman said, "a good hiding-place truly;
for, as you see, it rises high over the surrounding country, which is
always swampy from the waters of the Parrot and Theme, and at high
tides the salt water of the sea fills all these waterways, and the
trees rise from a broad sheet of sea. No Dane has ever yet set foot
among these marshes; and were there but provisions to keep them alive,
a safe refuge might be found on this island for hundreds of fugitives.
Will you be returning to-night?"

"That I cannot tell you," Edmund replied; "but at any rate I will hire
you and your boat to remain at my service for a week, and will pay you
a far higher price than you can obtain by your fishing."

The fisherman readily agreed, and Edmund and his companions made their
way into the heart of the island. It was of some extent, and rose above
the tree-tops of the surrounding country. Presently they came to a
cottage. A man came out.

"What do you seek?" he asked.

"You have fugitives in refuge here," Edmund said. "Know you if among
them is our good King Alfred?" The man looked astonished.

"A pretty place to seek for a king!" he replied. "There are a few
Saxons in hiding here. Some live by fishing, some chop wood; but for
the most part they are an idle and thriftless lot, and methinks have
fled hither rather to escape from honest work or to avoid the penalties
of crimes than for any other reason."

"How may we find them?" Edmund asked.

"They are scattered over the island. There are eight or ten dwellers
here like myself, and several of them have one or more of these fellows
with them; others have built huts for themselves and shift as they can;
but it is a hard shift, I reckon, and beech-nuts and acorns, eked out
with an occasional fish caught in the streams, is all they have to live
upon. I wonder that they do not go back to honest work among their
kinsfolk."

"Ah!" Edmund said, "you do not know here how cruel are the ravages of
the Danes; our homes are broken up and our villages destroyed, and
every forest in the land is peopled with fugitive Saxons. Did you know
that you would speak less harshly of those here. At any rate the man I
seek is young and fair-looking, and would, I should think"--and he
smiled as he remembered Alfred's studious habits--"be one of the most
shiftless of those here."

"There is such a one," the man replied, "and several times friends of
his have been hither to see him. He dwells at my next neighbour's, who
is often driven well-nigh out of her mind--for she is a dame with a
shrewish tongue and sharp temper--by his inattention. She only asks of
him that he will cut wood and keep an eye over her pigs, which wander
in the forest, in return for his food; and yet, simple as are his
duties, he is for ever forgetting them. I warrant me, the dame would
not so long have put up with him had he not been so fair and helpless.
However bad-tempered a woman may be, she has always a tender corner in
her heart for this sort of fellow. There, you can take this path
through the trees and follow it on; it will take you straight to her
cottage."

The description given by the man tallied so accurately with that of the
king that Edmund felt confident that he was on the right track. The
fact, too, that from time to time men had come to see this person added
to the probability of his being the king. Presently they came upon the
hut. A number of pigs were feeding under the trees around it; the door
was open, and the shrill tones of a woman's voice raised in anger could
be heard as they approached.

"You are an idle loon, and I will no longer put up with your ways, and
you may seek another mistress. You are worse than useless here. I do
but ask you to watch these cakes while I go over to speak with my
neighbour, and inquire how she and the child born yestereven are
getting on, and you go to sleep by the fire and suffer the case to burn.

"You were not asleep, you say? then so much the worse. Where were your
eyes, then?  And where was your nose? Why, I smelt the cakes a hundred
yards away, and you sitting over them, and as you say awake, neither
saw them burning nor smelt them! You are enough to break an honest
woman's heart with your mooning ways. You are ready enough to eat when
the meal-time comes, but are too lazy even to watch the food as it
cooks. I tell you I will have no more of you. I have put up with you
till I am verily ashamed of my own patience; but this is too much, and
you must go your way, for I will have no more of you."

At this moment Edmund and Egbert appeared at the door of the hut. As he
had expected from the nature of the colloquy Edmund saw King Alfred
standing contrite and ashamed before the angry dame.

"My beloved sovereign!" he cried, running in and falling on his knees.

"My trusted Edmund," Alfred exclaimed cordially, "right glad am I to
see you, and you too, my valiant Egbert; truly I feared that the good
ship Dragon had long since fallen into the hands of our enemy."

"The Dragon lies not many miles hence, your majesty, in the hole in
which she was built, by the river Parrot; she has done bravely and has
brought home a rich store of booty, a large share of which has been
hidden away for your majesty, and can be brought here in a few hours
should you wish it."

"Verily I am glad to hear it, Edmund, for I have long been penniless;
and I have great need of something at least to pay this good woman for
all the trouble she has been at with me, and for her food which my
carelessness has destroyed, as you may have heard but now."

Edmund and Egbert joined in the king's merry laugh. The dame looked a
picture of consternation and fell upon her knees.

"Pardon me, your majesty," she cried; "to think that I have ventured to
abuse our good King Alfred, and have even in mine anger lifted my hand
against him!"

"And with right good-will too," the king said laughing. "Never fear,
good dame, your tongue has been rough but your heart has been kindly,
or never would you have borne so long with so shiftless a serving-man.
But leave us now, I pray ye, for I have much to say to my good friends
here. And now, Edmund, what news do you bring? I do not ask after the
doings of the Dragon, for that no doubt is a long story which you shall
tell me later, but how fares it with my kingdom? I have been in
correspondence with several of my thanes, who have from time to time
sent me news of what passes without. From what they say I deem that the
time for action is at last nigh at hand. The people are everywhere
desperate at the oppression and exactions of the Danes, and are ready
to risk everything to free themselves from so terrible a yoke. I fled
here and gave up the strife because the Saxons deemed anything better
than further resistance. Now that they have found out their error it is
time to be stirring again."

"That is so," Edmund said; "Egbert and I have found the people
desperate at their slavery, and ready to risk all did a leader but
appear. My own people will all take up arms the instant they receive my
summons; they have before now proved their valour, and in my crew of
the Dragon you have a body which will, I warrant me, pierce through any
Danish line."

"This tallies with what I have heard," Alfred said, "and in the spring
I will again raise my banner; but in the meantime I will fortify this
place. There are but two or three spots where boats can penetrate
through the morasses; were strong stockades and banks erected at each
landing-place we might hold the island in case of defeat against any
number of the enemy."

"That shall be done," Edmund said, "and quickly. I have a messenger
here with me, and others waiting outside the swamp, and can send and
bring my crew of the Dragon here at once."

"Let that be one man's mission," the king said; "the others I will send
off with messages to the thanes of Somerset, who are only awaiting my
summons to take up arms. I will bid them send hither strong working
parties, but to make no show in arms until Easter, at which time I will
again spread the Golden Dragon to the winds. The treasure you speak of
will be right welcome, for all are so impoverished by the Danes that
they live but from hand to mouth, and we must at least buy provisions
to maintain the parties working here. Arms, too, must be made, for
although many have hidden their weapons, the Danes have seized vast
quantities, having issued an order that any Saxon found with arms shall
be at once put to death. Money will be needed to set all the smithies
to work at the manufacture of pikes and swords. Hides must be bought
for the manufacture of shields. It will be best to send orders to the
ealdormen and thanes to send hither privately the smiths, armourers,
and shield-makers in the villages and towns. They cannot work with the
Danes ever about, but must set up smithies here. They must bring their
tools and such iron as they can carry; what more is required we must
buy at the large towns and bring privately in carts to the edge of the
morass. The utmost silence and secrecy must be observed, that the Danes
may obtain no news of our preparations until we are ready to burst out
upon them."

A fortnight later Athelney presented a changed appearance. A thousand
men were gathered there. Trees had been cut down, a strong fort erected
on the highest ground, and formidable works constructed at three points
where alone a landing could be effected. The smoke rose from a score of
great mounds, where charcoal-burners were converting timber into fuel
for the forges. Fifty smiths and armourers were working vigorously at
forges in the open air, roofs thatched with rushes and supported by
poles being erected over them to keep the rain and snow from the fires.
A score of boats were threading the mazes of the marshes bringing men
and cattle to the island. All was bustle and activity, every face shone
with renewed hope. King Alfred himself and his thanes moved to and fro
among the workers encouraging them at their labours.

Messengers came and went in numbers, and from all parts of Wessex King
Alfred received news of the joy which his people felt at the tidings
that he was again about to raise his standard, and of the readiness of
all to obey his summons. So well was the secret kept that no rumour of
the storm about to burst upon them reached the Danes. The people,
rejoicing and eager as they were, suffered no evidence of their
feelings to be apparent to their cruel masters, who, believing the
Saxons to be finally crushed, were lulled into a false security. The
king's treasure had been brought from its hiding-place to Athelney, and
Edmund and Egbert had also handed over their own share of the booty to
the king. The golden cups and goblets he had refused to take, but had
gladly accepted the silver.

Edmund and Egbert had left Athelney for a few days on a mission. The
king had described to them minutely where he had hidden the sacred
standard with the Golden Dragon. It was in the hut of a charcoal-burner
in the heart of the forests of Wiltshire. Upon reaching the hut, and
showing to the man the king's signet-ring, which when leaving the
standard he had told him would be the signal that any who might come
for it were sent by him, the man produced the standard from the thatch
of his cottage, in which it was deeply buried, and hearing that it was
again to be unfurled called his two stalwart sons from their work and
at once set out with Edmund and Egbert to join the army.

Easter came and went, but the preparations were not yet completed. A
vast supply of arms was needed, and while the smiths laboured at their
work Edmund and Egbert drilled the fighting men who had assembled, in
the tactics which had on a small scale proved so effective. The wedge
shape was retained, and Edmund's own band claimed the honour of forming
the apex, but it had now swollen until it contained a thousand men, and
as it moved in a solid body, with its thick edge of spears outward, the
king felt confident that it would be able to break through the
strongest line of the Danes.

From morning till night Edmund and Egbert, assisted by the thanes of
Somerset who had gathered there, drilled the men and taught them to
rally rapidly from scattered order into solid formation. Unaccustomed
to regular tactics the ease and rapidity with which these movements
came to be carried out at the notes of Edmund's bugle seemed to all to
be little less than miraculous, and they awaited with confidence and
eagerness their meeting with the Danes on the field.

At the end of April messengers were sent out bidding the Saxons hold
themselves in readiness, and on the 6th of May Alfred moved with his
force from Athelney to Egbertesstan (now called Brixton), lying to the
east of the forest of Selwood, which lay between Devonshire and
Somerset. The Golden Dragon had been unfurled.   On the fort in
Athelney, and after crossing the marshes to the mainland it was carried
in the centre of the phalanx.

On the 12th they reached the appointed place, where they found a great
multitude of Saxons already gathered. They had poured in from
Devonshire, Somerset, and Wiltshire, from Dorset and Hants. In spite of
the vigorous edicts of the Danes against arms a great proportion of
them bore weapons, which had been buried in the earth, or concealed in
hollow trees or other hiding-places until the time for action should
again arrive.

As they saw the king approaching at the head of his band, with the
Golden Dragon fluttering in the breeze, a great shout of joy arose from
the multitude, and they crowded round the monarch with shouts of
welcome at his reappearance among them, and with vows to die rather
than again to yield to the tyranny of the Northmen. The rest of the day
was spent in distributing the newly fashioned arms to those who needed
them, and in arranging the men in bands under their own thanes, or, in
their absence, such leaders as the king appointed.

Upon the following morning the army started, marching in a
north-easterly direction against the great camp of the Danes at
Chippenham. That night they rested at Okeley, and then marched on until
in the afternoon they came within sight of the Danes gathered at
Ethandune, a place supposed to be identical with Edington near Westbury.

As the time for Alfred's reappearance approached the agitation and
movement on the part of the people had attracted the attention of the
Danes, and the news of his summons to the Saxons to meet him at
Egbertesstan having come to their ears, they gathered hastily from all
parts under Guthorn their king, who was by far the most powerful viking
who had yet appeared in England, and who ruled East Anglia as well as
Wessex. Confident of victory the great Danish army beheld the approach
of the Saxons. Long accustomed to success, and superior in numbers,
they regarded with something like contempt the approach of their foes.

In the centre Alfred placed the trained phalanx which had accompanied
him from Athelney, in the centre of which waved the Golden Dragon, by
whose side he placed himself. Its command he left in the hands of
Edmund, he himself directing the general movements of the force. On his
right were the men of Somerset and Hants; on the left those of Wilts,
Dorset, and Devon.

His orders were that the advance was to be made with regularity; that
the whole line were to fight for a while on the defensive, resisting
the onslaught of the Danes until he gave the word for the central
phalanx to advance and burst through the lines of the enemy, and that
when these had been thrown into confusion by this attack the flanks
were to charge forward and complete the rout. This plan was carried
out. The Danes advanced with their usual impetuosity, and for hours
tried to break through the lines of the Saxon spears. Both sides fought
valiantly, the Danes inspired by their pride in their personal prowess
and their contempt for the Saxons; the Saxons by their hatred for their
oppressors, and their determination to die rather than again submit to
their bondage. At length, after the battle had raged some hours, and
both parties were becoming wearied from their exertions, the king gave
Edmund the order.

Hitherto his men had fought in line with the rest; but at the sound of
his bugle they quitted their places, and, ere the Danes could
understand the meaning of this sudden movement, had formed themselves
into their wedge, raised a mighty shout, and advanced against the
enemy. The onslaught was irresistible. The great wedge, with its thick
fringe of spears, burst its way straight through the Danish centre
carrying all before it. Then at another note of Edmund's bugle it broke
up into two bodies, which moved solidly to the right and left,
crumpling up the Danish lines.

Alfred now gave the order for a general advance, and the Saxon ranks,
with a shout of triumph, flung themselves upon the disordered Danes.
Their success was instant and complete. Confounded at the sudden break
up of their line, bewildered by these new and formidable tactics,
attacked in front and in flank, the Danes broke and fled. The Saxons
pursued them hotly, Edmund keeping his men well together in case the
Danes should rally. Their rout, however, was too complete; vast numbers
were slain, and the remnant of their army did not pause until they
found themselves within the shelter of their camp at Chippenham.

No quarter was given by the Saxons to those who fell into their hands,
and pressing upon the heels of the flying Danes the victorious army of
King Alfred sat down before Chippenham. Every hour brought fresh
reinforcements to the king's standard. Many were already on their way
when the battle was fought; and as the news of the victory spread
rapidly every man of the West Saxons capable of bearing arms made for
Chippenham, feeling that now or never must a complete victory over the
Danes be obtained.

No assault was made upon the Danish camp. Confident in his now vastly
superior numbers, and in the enthusiasm which reigned in his army,
Alfred was unwilling to waste a single life in an attack upon the
entrenchments, which must ere long surrender from famine. There was no
risk of reinforcements arriving to relieve the Danes. Guthorn had led
to the battle the whole fighting force of the Danes in Wessex and East
Anglia. This was far smaller than it would have been a year earlier;
but the Northmen, having once completed their work of pillage, soon
turned to fresh fields of adventure. Those whose disposition led them
to prefer a quiet life had settled upon the land from which they had
dispossessed the Saxons; but the principal bands of rovers, finding
that England was exhausted and that no more plunder could be had, had
either gone back to enjoy at home the booty they had gained, or had
sailed to harry the shores of France, Spain, and Italy.

Thus the position of the Danes in Chippenham was desperate, and at the
end of fourteen days, by which time they were reduced to an extremity
by hunger, they sent messengers into the royal camp offering their
submission. They promised if spared to quit the kingdom with all speed,
and to observe this contract more faithfully than those which they had
hitherto made and broken. They offered the king as many hostages as he
might wish to take for the fulfilment of their promises. The haggard
and emaciated condition of those who came out to treat moved Alfred to
pity.

So weakened were they by famine that they could scarce drag themselves
along. It would have been easy for the Saxons to have slain them to the
last man; and the majority of the Saxons, smarting under the memory of
the cruel oppression which they had suffered, the destruction of home
and property, and the slaughter of friends and relations, would fain
have exterminated their foes. King Alfred, however, thought otherwise.

Guthorn and the Danes had effected a firm settlement in East Anglia,
and lived at amity with the Saxons there. They had, it is true, wrested
from them the greatest portion of their lands. Still peace and order
were now established. The Saxons were allowed liberty and equal rights.
Intermarriages were taking place, and the two peoples were becoming
welded into one. Alfred then considered that it would be well to have
the king of this country as an ally; he and his settled people would
soon be as hostile to further incursions of the Northmen as were the
Saxons themselves, and their interests and those of Wessex would be
identical.

Did he, on the other hand, carry out a general massacre of the Danes
now in his power he might have brought upon England a fresh invasion of
Northmen, who, next to plunder, loved revenge, and who might come over
in great hosts to avenge the slaughter of their countrymen. Moved,
then, by motives of policy as well as by compassion, he granted the
terms they asked, and hostages having been sent in from the camp he
ordered provisions to be supplied to the Danes.

The same night a messenger of rank came in from Guthorn saying that he
intended to embrace Christianity. The news filled Alfred and the Saxons
with joy. The king, a sincere and devoted Christian, had fought as much
for his religion as for his kingdom, and his joy at the prospect of
Guthorn's conversion, which would as a matter of course be followed by
that of his subjects, was deep and sincere.

To the Saxons generally the temporal consequence of the conversion had
no doubt greater weight than the spiritual. The conversion of Guthorn
and the Danes would be a pledge far more binding than any oaths of
alliance between the two kingdoms. Guthorn and his followers would be
viewed with hostility by their countrymen, whose hatred of Christianity
was intense, and East Anglia would, therefore, naturally seek the close
alliance and assistance of its Christian neighbour.

Great were the rejoicings in the Saxon camp that night. Seldom, indeed,
has a victory had so great and decisive an effect upon the future of a
nation as that of Ethandune. Had the Saxons been crushed, the
domination of the Danes in England would have been finally settled.
Christianity would have been stamped out, and with it civilization, and
the island would have made a backward step into paganism and barbarism
which might have delayed her progress for centuries.

The victory established the freedom of Wessex, converted East Anglia
into a settled and Christian country, and enabled King Alfred to frame
the wise laws and statutes and to establish on a firm basis the
institutions which raised Saxon England vastly in the scale of
civilization, and have in no small degree affected the whole course of
life of the English people.



CHAPTER XII: FOUR YEARS OF PEACE


Seven weeks afterwards Guthorn, accompanied by thirty of his noblest
warriors, entered Alfred's camp, which was pitched at Aller, a place
not far from Athelney. An altar was erected and a solemn service
performed, and Guthorn and his companions were all baptized, Alfred
himself becoming sponsor for Guthorn, whose name was changed to
Athelstan. The Danes remained for twelve days in the Saxon camp. For
the first eight they wore, in accordance with the custom of the times,
the chrismal, a white linen cloth put on the head when the rite of
baptism was performed; on the eighth day the solemn ceremony known as
the chrism, the loosing or removal of the cloths, took place at
Wedmore. This was performed by the Ealdorman Ethelnoth.

During these twelve days many conferences were held between Alfred and
Athelstan as to the future of the two kingdoms. While the Danes were
still in the camp a witenagemot or Saxon parliament was held at
Wedmore. At this Athelstan and many of the nobles and inhabitants of
East Anglia were present, and the boundary of the two kingdoms was
settled. It was to commence at the mouth of the Thames, to run along
the river Lea to its source, and at Bedford turn to the right along the
Ouse as far as Watling Street. According to this arrangement a
considerable portion of the kingdom of Mercia fell to Alfred's share.

The treaty comprehended various rules for the conduct of commerce, and
courts were instituted for the trial of disputes and crimes. The Danes
did not at once leave Mercia, but for a considerable time lay in camp
at Cirencester; but all who refused to become Christians were ordered
to depart beyond the seas, and the Danes gradually withdrew within
their boundary.

Guthorn's conversion, although no doubt brought about at the moment by
his admiration of the clemency of Alfred, had probably been for some
time projected by him. Mingling as his people did in East Anglia with
the Christian Saxons there, he must have had opportunities for learning
the nature of their tenets, and of contrasting its mild and beneficent
teaching with the savage worship of the pagan gods. By far the greater
proportion of his people followed their king's example; but the wilder
spirits quitted the country, and under their renowned leader Hasting
sailed to harry the shores of France. The departure of the more
turbulent portion of his followers rendered it more easy for the Danish
king to carry his plans into effect.

After the holding of the witan Edmund and Egbert at once left the army
with their followers, and for some months the young ealdorman devoted
himself to the work of restoring the shattered homes of his people,
aiding them with loans from the plunder he had gained on the seas,
Alfred having at once repaid him the sums which he had lent at
Athelney. As so many of his followers had also brought home money after
their voyage, the work of rebuilding and restoration went on rapidly,
and in a few months the marks left of the ravages by the Danes had been
well-nigh effaced.

Flocks and herds again grazed in the pastures, herds of swine roamed in
the woods, the fields were cultivated, and the houses rebuilt. In no
part of Wessex was prosperity so speedily re-established as in the
district round Sherborne governed by Edmund. The Dragon was thoroughly
overhauled and repaired, for none could say how soon fresh fleets of
the Northmen might make their appearance upon the southern shores of
England. It was not long, indeed, before the Northmen reappeared, a
great fleet sailing up the Thames at the beginning of the winter. It
ascended as high as Fulham, where a great camp was formed. Seeing that
the Saxons and East Anglians would unite against them did they advance
further, the Danes remained quietly in their encampment during the
winter, and in the spring again took ship and sailed for France.

For the next two years England enjoyed comparative quiet, the Danes
turning their attention to France and Holland, sailing up the Maas,
Scheldt, Somme, and Seine. Spreading from these rivers they carried
fire and sword over a great extent of country. The Franks resisted
bravely, and in two pitched battles defeated their invaders with great
loss. The struggle going on across the Channel was watched with great
interest by the Saxons, who at first hoped to see the Danes completely
crushed by the Franks.

The ease, however, with which the Northmen moved from point to point in
their ships gave them such immense advantage that their defeats at
Hasle and Saucourt in no way checked their depredations. Appearing
suddenly off the coast, or penetrating into the interior by a river,
their hordes would land, ravage the country, slay all who opposed them,
and carry off the women and children captives, and would then take to
their ships again before the leaders of the Franks could assemble an
army.

Alfred spent this time of repose in restoring as far as possible the
loss and damage which his kingdom had suffered. Many wise laws were
passed, churches were rebuilt, and order restored; great numbers of the
monks and wealthier people who had fled to France in the days of the
Danish supremacy now returned to England, which was for the time freer
from danger than the land in which they had sought refuge; and many
Franks from the districts exposed to the Danish ravages came over and
settled in England.

Gradually the greater part of England acknowledged the rule of Alfred.
The kingdom of Kent was again united to that of Wessex; while Mercia,
which extended across the centre of England from Anglia to Wales, was
governed for Alfred by Ethelred the Ealdorman, who was the head of the
powerful family of the Hwiccas, and had received the hand of Alfred's
daughter Ethelfleda. He ruled Mercia according to its own laws and
customs, which differed materially from those of the West Saxons, and
which prevented a more perfect union of the two kingdoms until William
the Conqueror welded the whole country into a single whole. But
Ethelred acknowledged the supremacy of Alfred, consulted him upon all
occasions of importance, and issued all his edicts and orders in the
king's name. He was ably assisted by Werfrith, the Bishop of Worcester.
The energy and activity of these leaders enabled Mercia to keep abreast
of Wessex in the onward progress which Alfred laboured so indefatigably
to promote.

Edmund, when not occupied with the affairs of his earldom, spent much
of his time with the king, who saw in him a spirit of intelligence and
activity which resembled his own. Edmund was, however, of a less
studious disposition than his royal master; and though he so far
improved his education as to be able to read and write well, Alfred
could not persuade him to undertake the study of Latin, being, as he
said, well content to master some of the learning of that people by
means of the king's translations.

At the end of another two years of peace Edmund was again called upon
to take up arms. Although the Danes attempted no fresh invasion some of
their ships hung around the English coast, capturing vessels,
interfering with trade, and committing other acts of piracy.

Great complaints were made by the inhabitants of the seaports to
Alfred. The king at once begged Edmund to fit out the Dragon, and
collecting a few other smaller ships he took his place on Edmund's ship
and sailed in search of the Danes. After some search they came upon the
four large ships of the Northmen which had been a scourge to the coast.

The Saxons at once engaged them, and a desperate fight took place. The
Dragon was laid alongside the largest of the Danish vessels; and the
king, with Edmund and Egbert by his side, leapt on to the deck of the
Danish vessel, followed by the crew of the Dragon. The Danish ship was
crowded with men who fought desperately, but the discipline even more
than the courage of Edmund's crew secured for them the victory. For a
time each fought for himself; and although inspired by the presence of
the king they were able to gain no advantage, being much out-numbered
by the Northmen.

Edmund, seeing this, sounded on his horn the signal with which in
battle he ordered the men to form their wedge. The signal was instantly
obeyed. The Saxons were all fighting with boarding-pikes against the
Northmen's swords and axes, for they had become used to these weapons
and preferred them to any other.

The instant Edmund's horn was heard, each man desisted from fighting
and rushed to their leader, around whom they instantly formed in their
accustomed order. The Danes, astonished at the sudden cessation of the
battle, and understanding nothing of the meaning of the signal or of
the swift movement of the Saxons, for a minute lowered their weapons in
surprise.

Before they again rushed forward the formation was complete, and in a
close body with levelled spears the Saxons advanced, Egbert as usual
leading the way, with Edmund and the king in the centre.

In vain the Danes strove to resist the onset; in spite of their
superior numbers they were driven back step by step until crowded in a
close mass at one end.

Still the Saxon line of spears pressed on. Many of the Danes leapt into
the sea, others were pushed over or run through, and in a few minutes
not a Northman remained alive in the captured vessel.

In the meantime the battle was raging in other parts. Two of the small
vessels were engaged with one of the Danes at close quarters, while the
other ships hung around the remaining Danish vessels and kept up
volleys of arrows and javelins upon them.

The Dragon at once went to the assistance of the two Saxon ships, whose
crews were almost overpowered by the Northmen. Laying the ship
alongside, Edmund boarded the Danes. The Northmen rushed back from the
decks of the Saxon ship to defend their own vessel; and the Saxons,
regaining courage, at once rallied and followed them. The combat was
short but desperate. Attacked on three sides, the Danes were speedily
overcome and were slaughtered to a man.

An attack was next made upon the two remaining vessels. These resisted
for some time, but they were overwhelmed by the missiles from the Saxon
flotilla; and the greater portion of their crews being killed or
wounded, their commanders prayed for mercy, which was granted them by
Alfred; and with the four captured vessels the fleet returned to
England.

On reaching port Alfred begged Edmund to continue for a while with the
Dragon, to cruise along the coasts and to stop the depredations of the
Danes; and for some weeks the Dragon kept the seas. She met with
considerable success, capturing many Danish galleys. Some of these
contained rich spoil, which had been gathered in France, for cruising
in the seas off Dover Edmund intercepted many of the Danish vessels on
their homeward way from raids up the Seine, Garonne, and other French
rivers.

One day in the excitement of a long pursuit of a Danish galley, which
finally succeeded in making her escape, Edmund had paid less attention
than usual to the weather, and, on giving up the chase as hopeless,
perceived that the sky had become greatly overcast, while the wind was
rising rapidly.

"We are in for a storm from the north, Egbert," he said, "and we must
make for the mouth of the Thames for shelter."

The sails were lowered, and the Dragon's head turned west. Before two
hours had passed the sea had risen so greatly that it was no longer
possible to row.

"What had we best do?" Edmund asked the chief of the sailors. "Think
you that we can make Dover and shelter under the cliffs there?"

"I fear that we cannot do so," the sailor replied, "for there are
terrible sands and shallows off the Kentish coast between the mouth of
the Thames and Dover, and the wind blows so strongly that we can do
nought but run before it."

"Then let us do so," Edmund replied; "anything is better than being
tossed at the mercy of the waves."

A sail was hoisted, and the Dragon flew along before the wind. The
storm increased in fury, and for some hours the vessel ran before it.
She was but a short distance from the French coast, and as the wind
veered round more to the west her danger became great.

"I fear we shall be cast ashore," Edmund said to the sailor.

"Fortunately," the man answered, "we are but a mile or two from the
mouth of the Seine, and there we can run in and take shelter."

It was an anxious time until they reached the mouth of the river, for
they were continually drifting nearer and nearer to the coast. However,
they cleared the point in safety, and, turning her head, ran up the
river and soon anchored under the walls of Havre. As she came to an
anchor armed men were seen crowding the walls.

"They take us for Danes," Egbert said. "We had best hoist the Dragon,
and they will then know that we are a Saxon ship."

Soon after the flag was hoisted the gates of the town were seen to
open, and an officer and some men issued out. These launched a boat and
rowed out to the ship. The officer mounted to the deck. He was
evidently in considerable fear, but as he saw the Saxons standing about
unarmed he was reassured. "Is this really a Saxon ship," he asked, "as
its flag testifies?"

"It is so," Edmund replied; "it is my vessel, and I am an ealdorman of
King Alfred. We have been chasing the Danish pirates, but this storm
having arisen, we were blown down the French coast and forced to seek
shelter here."

"The governor bids you welcome," the officer said, "and bade me invite
you to land."

"That will I gladly; the more so since my ship has suffered some damage
in the gale, her bulwarks having been partly shattered; and it will
need a stay of a few days here to repair her for sea. Will you tell the
governor that in a short time I will land with my kinsman Egbert and
accept his hospitality?"

An hour later Edmund and Egbert landed and were at once conducted to
the governor, who welcomed them cordially.

They found there many whom they had known at the court of King Alfred.
The wealthier men, the bishops and thanes, had for the most part
journeyed to Paris or to other towns in the interior to escape the
dreaded Northmen; but there were many detained at Havre from want of
funds to journey farther.

"It is a sad pity," the governor said as they talked over the troubled
state of Western Europe, "that your English king and our Frankish
monarch did not make common cause against these sea robbers. They are
the enemies of mankind. Not only do they ravage all our coasts, but
they have entered the Mediterranean, and have plundered and ravaged the
coasts of Provence and Italy, laying towns under ransom, burning and
destroying."

"I would that I could meet some of their ships on their way back from
Italy," Edmund said. "I warrant that we should obtain a rare booty,
with gems of art such as would delight King Alfred, but are thrown away
on these barbarians; but I agree with you that 'tis shameful that the
coasts of all Europe should be overrun with these pirates."

"Yes," the governor replied, "if every country in Christendom would
unite against their common foe, and send a quota of ships and men, we
would drive the Black Raven from the seas, and might even land on the
Danish shores and give them a taste of the suffering they have
inflicted elsewhere. As it is, all seem paralysed. Local efforts are
made to resist them; but their numbers are too great to be thus
withstood. I wonder that the pope does not call Christendom to arms
against these pagan robbers, who not only destroy towns and villages,
but level to the ground the holy shrines, and slay the ministers of God
on the altars."



CHAPTER XIII: THE SIEGE OF PARIS


On the following morning Edmund, who had returned to his ship to sleep,
was aroused by loud shouts on deck. Hurrying from his cabin he saw a
vast fleet of ships approaching the mouth of the river. They were of
all sizes--from great sailing ships to rowing galleys. It needed but a
glance at them to assure him that they were the dreaded ships of the
Northmen, for the Black Raven floated at many of the mast-heads.

From the town the sounds of horns and great shoutings could be heard,
showing that there too the approaching fleet had just been discerned as
the morning fog lifted from the sea. Edmund held a hurried consultation
with his kinsman. It was now too late to gain the sea, for the Danish
ships had already reached the mouth of the river. To attempt to escape
by fighting would be madness, and they hesitated only whether to run
the ship ashore, and, leaving her there, enter the town and share in
its defence, or to proceed up the river with all speed to Rouen, or
even to Paris.

The latter course was decided upon, for the Danish ships would contain
so vast a number of men that there was little hope that Havre could
resist their attack, nor was it likely that Rouen, which, on the
previous year had been captured and sacked, would even attempt another
resistance, which would only bring massacre and ruin upon its
inhabitants. Paris alone, the capital of the Frankish kings, seemed to
offer a refuge. The deliberation was a short one, and by the time the
men had taken their places at the oars their leaders had decided upon
their course.

The anchor ropes were cut, for not a moment was to be lost, the leading
ships of the Danes being already less than half a mile distant. The
tide was flowing, and the Dragon swept rapidly up the river. Some of
the Danish galleys followed for a while, but seeing that the Dragon had
the speed of them, they abandoned the pursuit, and at a more easy
stroke the rowers continued their work until they reached Rouen. Here
the tide failed them, and they moored against the bank under the walls.

Edmund and Egbert went on shore. They found the city in a state of wild
confusion. Saying that they had important news, and must see the
governor, they were led to the council-chamber, where the leading men
of the town were assembled. After stating who he and his companion
were, Edmund announced the arrival of a great Danish fleet at the mouth
of the river.

"Your news, sir, is terrible for our poor country," the governor said,
"but to us it scarce brings any additional horror, although it will
probably decide the question which we are engaged in discussing. We
have news here that a great Danish army which landed at Abbeville is
marching hitherward, and we are met to discuss whether the town should
resist to the last or should open its gates at their approach. This
news you bring of the arrival of a fresh army of these sea robbers at
Havre renders our case desperate. So fierce is their attack that we
could hardly hope successfully to resist the approaching army, but
against it and this fleet you tell us of resistance could only bring
about our utter destruction. That, at least, is my opinion, the other
members of the council must speak for themselves."

The other members, who were the principal merchants and traders of the
town, were unanimously of the same opinion.

"Better," they said, "to give up all our worldly goods to the Northmen
than to be slaughtered pitilessly with our wives and families."

"Such being your decision," Edmund said, "my kinsman and myself will
proceed up the river to Paris; hitherto, as we hear, the Northmen have
not ventured to attack that city, and should they do so, it will
doubtless resist to the last."

Accordingly the two Saxons returned at once to the Dragon, and as soon
as the tide turned unmoored and proceeded up the river. Three days
after leaving Rouen they arrived in sight of Paris. The capital of the
Franks was but a small city, and was built entirely upon the island
situated just at the confluence of the Seine and Marne. It was
surrounded by a strong and lofty wall.

On the approach of a vessel differing entirely from anything they had
before seen the citizens flocked to the walls. The Golden Dragon
floating at the mast-head showed them that the vessel did not belong to
the Danes, and some of the more experienced in these matters said at
once that she must be a Saxon ship. The Count Eudes, who had been left
by the king in command of Paris, himself came to the walls just as the
Dragon came abreast of them. Edmund ordered the rowers to pause at
their work.

"Who are you?" the Count Eudes shouted. "Whence do you come and with
what intent?"

"My name is Edmund. I am an ealdorman of King Alfred of the Saxons.
When at sea fighting the Northmen a tempest blew me down your coast,
and I took refuge in the port of Havre. Four days since at daybreak a
vast fleet of Northmen entered the river. We rowed up to Rouen hoping
to be able to find safe shelter there; but the citizens being aware
that a great army of the sea robbers was marching against their town,
and being further intimidated by the news I brought them, decided upon
surrendering without resistance. Therefore we have continued our
journey hither, being assured that here at least the Danish wolves
would not have their way unopposed. We have fought them long in our
native land, and wish for nothing better than to aid in the efforts of
the Franks against our common enemy."

"You are welcome, sir earl," the Count Eudes said, "though the news you
bring us is bad indeed. We have heard how valiantly the thanes of King
Alfred have fought against the invaders, and shall be glad indeed of
your assistance should the Northmen, as I fear, come hither."

So saying the count ordered the gates to be opened, and the Dragon
having been moored alongside, Edmund and Egbert with their crew entered
the town, where the leaders were received with great honour by the
count. He begged them to become guests at the castle, where quarters
were also assigned to the crew. A banquet was at once prepared, at
which many of the principal citizens were present.

As soon as the demands of hunger were satisfied the count made further
inquiries as to the size of the fleet which had entered the Seine, and
as to the army reported to be marching against Rouen.

"I doubt not," he said, when the Saxons had given him all the
particulars in their power, "that it is the armament of Siegfroi who
has already wrought such destruction. More than once he has appeared
before our walls, and has pillaged and ravaged the whole of the north
of France. The last time he was here he threatened to return with a
force which would suffice to raze Paris to the ground, and doubtless he
is coming to endeavour to carry out his threat; but he will not find
the task an easy one, we shall resist him to the last; and right glad
am I that I shall have the assistance of two of the Saxon thanes who
have so often inflicted heavy defeats upon these wolves of the sea.
Your vessel is a strange one, and differs from those that I have
hitherto seen, either Dane or Saxon. She is a sailing ship, and yet
appears to row very fast."

"She is built," Edmund said, "partly upon the design of King Alfred
himself, which were made from paintings he possessed of the war galleys
of Italy, which country he visited in his youth. They were carried out
by a clever shipwright of Exeter; and, indeed, the ship sails as well
as she rows, and, as the Danes have discovered to their cost, is able
to fight as well as she can sail and row. Had we been fairly out to sea
before the Danish fleet made its appearance we could have given a good
account of ourselves, but we were caught in a trap."

"I fear that if the Northmen surround the city your ship will be
destroyed."

"I was thinking of that," Edmund said, "and I pray you to let me have
some men who know the river higher up. There must assuredly be low
shores often overflowed where there are wide swamps covered with wood
and thickets, which the enemy would not enter, seeing that no booty
could be obtained there. The ship was built in such a spot, and we
could cut a narrow gap from the river and float her well in among the
trees so as to be hidden from the sight of any passing up the river in
galleys, closing up the cut again so that none might suspect its
existence."

"That could be done easily enough," the count said; "there are plenty
of spots which would be suitable, for the banks are for the most part
low and the ground around swampy and wooded. To-morrow I will tell off
a strong body of men to accompany you in your ship, and aid your crew
in their work."

Twenty miles up the Seine a suitable spot was found, and the crew of
the Dragon, with the hundred men whom the Count Eudes had lent for the
purpose, at once set about their work. They had but little trouble, for
a spot was chosen where a sluggish stream, some fifteen feet wide,
drained the water from a wide-spreading swamp into the river. The
channel needed widening but a little to allow of the Dragon entering,
and the water was quite deep enough to permit her being taken some
three hundred yards back from the river.

The trees and underwood were thick, and Edmund was assured that even
when winter, which was now approaching, stripped the last leaf from the
trees, the Dragon could not be seen from the river. Her masts were
lowered, and bundles of brushwood were hung along her side so as to
prevent the gleam of black paint being discerned through the trees.

The entrance to the stream was filled up to a width of three or four
feet, and the new work turfed with coarse grass similar to that which
grew beside it. Bushes were planted close to the water's edge, and
stakes were driven down in the narrow channel to within a few inches of
the surface of the water.

Certain now that no Danish boats would be likely to turn aside from the
river to enter this channel into the swamp, the party embarked in some
boats which had been towed up by the Dragon and returned down the river
to Paris.

The afternoon before starting all the valuable booty which had been
captured from the Danes was landed and placed in security in the
castle, and upon his return to Paris Edmund disposed of this at good
prices to the traders of the city.

A fortnight after they had returned to Paris the news was brought in
that a vast fleet of Northmen was ascending the river. The next morning
it was close at hand, and the citizens mounting the walls beheld with
consternation the approaching armament. So numerous were the ships that
they completely covered the river. The fleet consisted of seven hundred
sailing ships, and a vastly greater number of rowing galleys and boats.
These vessels were crowded with men, and their fierce aspect, their
glittering arms, and their lofty stature, spread terror in the hearts
of the citizens.

"This is truly a tremendous host!" the Count Eudes said to Edmund, who
stood beside him on the walls.

"It is indeed," Edmund replied. "Numerous as are the fleets which have
poured down upon the shores of England, methinks that none approached
this in strength. It is clear that the Northmen have united their
forces for a great effort against this city; but having at home
successfully defended fortifications, which were not to be named in
comparison with those of Paris, against them, I see no reason to doubt
that we shall be able to beat them off here."

The Danes landed on the opposite bank and formed a vast camp there, and
the following morning three of their number in a small boat rowed
across the river and said that their king Siegfroi desired to speak
with Goslin, archbishop of Paris, who stood in the position of civil
governor. They were told that the archbishop would receive the king in
his palace.

An hour later a stately figure in glittering armour was seen to take
his place in a long galley, which, rowed by twenty men, quickly shot
across the stream. Siegfroi landed, and, accompanied by four of his
leading warriors, entered the gates, which were opened at his approach.
The chief of the Northmen was a warrior of lofty stature. On his head
he wore a helmet of gold, on whose crest was a raven with extended
wings wrought in the same metal. His hair fell loosely on his neck; his
face was clean shaved in Danish fashion, save for a long moustache. He
wore a breastplate of golden scales, and carried a shield of the
toughest bull's-hide studded with gold nails.

He was unarmed, save a long dagger which he wore in his belt. He and
his followers, who were all men of immense stature, walked with a proud
and assured air between the lines of citizens who clustered thickly on
each side of the street, and who gazed in silence at these dreaded
figures. They were escorted by the chamberlain of the archbishop, and
on arriving at his palace were conducted into the chamber where Goslin,
Count Eudes, and several of the leading persons of Paris awaited them.

Siegfroi bent his head before the prelate.

"Goslin," he said, "I beg you to have compassion upon yourself and your
flock if you do not wish to perish. We beseech you to turn a favourable
ear to our words. Grant only that we shall march through the city. We
will touch nothing in the town, and we undertake to preserve all your
property, both yours and that of Eudes."

The archbishop replied at once:

"This city has been confided to us by the Emperor Charles, who is,
after God, the king and master of the powers of the earth. Holding
under his rule almost all the world, he confided it to us, with the
assurance that we should suffer no harm to come to the kingdom, but
should keep it for him safe and sure. If it had happened that the
defence of these walls had been committed to your hands, as it has been
committed to mine, what would you have done had such a demand been made
upon you? Would you have granted the demand?"

"If I had granted it," Siegfroi replied, "may my head fall under the
axe and serve as food for dogs. Nevertheless, if you do not grant our
demands, by day we will overwhelm your city with our darts, and with
poisoned arrows by night. You shall suffer all the horrors of hunger,
and year after year we will return and make a ruin of your city."

Without another word he turned, and followed by his companions, strode
through the streets of Paris, and taking his place in the boat returned
to his camp.

At daybreak the next morning the Norsemen were seen crowding into their
ships. The trumpets sounded loudly, and the citizens seized their arms
and hastened to the walls. The Norsemen crossed the river, and directed
their attack against a tower which stood at the head of the bridge
connecting the city and island with the farther bank. Those who landed
were provided with picks, crowbars, and other implements for effecting
a breach, and their approach was protected by a cloud of arrows and
javelins from the fleet which covered the surface of the river.

The French leaders soon assembled at the threatened point. Chief among
these were Eudes, his brother Robert, the Count Ragenaire, and the Abbe
Ebble, a nephew of the archbishop. The Franks bore themselves bravely,
and in spite of the rain of arrows defended the walls against the
desperate attacks of the Northmen.

The fortifications in those days were very far from having attained the
strength and solidity which a few generations later were bestowed upon
them. The stones of which they were constructed were comparatively
small, and fastened together by mortar, consequently they could ill
resist even an assault by manual weapons. Covered by their shields the
Northmen worked untiringly at the foundations, and piece by piece the
walls crumbled to the ground. Every effort, however, to enter at the
breaches so made was repulsed, and Siegfroi kept back his warriors,
determined to delay the grand assault until the next day. By nightfall
the tower was in ruins, scarce a portion of the walls remaining erect.
Many of the besieged had been killed. The archbishop was wounded with
an arrow. Frederic, a young soldier who led the troops of the church
was killed.

The besiegers had suffered much more severely, great numbers having
been killed by the stones and missiles hurled down by the defenders
while engaged in the demolition of the walls. At nightfall the Danes
carried off their wounded and recrossed the river, confident that next
day they would succeed in their assault. As soon as darkness had set in
Count Eudes collected the citizens, and these, bearing beams and
planks, crossed the bridge to the tower, and set to work. Outside the
circle of ruins holes were dug and the beams securely fixed. Planks
were nailed to these, and earth heaped up behind them.

All night the work continued, and by morning a fortification much
higher than the original tower had been erected all round the ruin. The
Danes again crossed the river in their ships, and the assault was
renewed. Javelins and great stones were hurled at the fortification,
and clouds of arrows from the shipping fell within them. Covered with
portable roofs constructed of planks the Danes strove to destroy the
wall. The besieged poured upon them a blazing mixture of oil, wax, and
pitch. Numbers of the Danes were burned to death, while others,
maddened by the pain, threw themselves into the river.

Over and over again Siegfroi led his warriors to the attack, but the
defenders, headed by Eudes and the brave Abbe Ebble, each time repelled
them. The abbe particularly distinguished himself, and he is reported
to have slain seven Danes at once with one javelin, a blow which may be
considered as bordering on the miraculous. But the number of the
defenders of the tower was small indeed to that of the enemy, and the
loss which they inflicted upon the Danes, great as it was, was as
nothing in so vast a host.

The flames of the machines, lighted by the pitch and oil, communicated
to the planks of the fortification, and soon these too were on fire. As
they burned, the earth behind them gave way, and a breach was formed.
Encouraged by this result the Danes brought up faggots, and in several
places lighted great fires against the fortifications. The defenders
began to lose all hope, when a tremendous storm of rain suddenly burst
over Paris quenching the fire.

The besieged gained heart, reinforcements crossed from the town, and
the Danes again withdrew to their ships, having lost in the day's
fighting three hundred men. After this repulse the Northmen desisted
for a time from their attack. They formed a strong fortified camp near
the church of St. Germain, and then spread over the country slaying and
burning, sparing none, man, woman, or child. From the walls of Paris
the smoke could be seen rising over the whole country, and every heart
was moved with rage and sorrow.

Edmund and his party had taken no part in the defence of the tower. Its
loss would not have involved that of the town, and Eudes requested him
to keep his band in reserve in order that they might remain intact
until the Danes should make a breach in the walls of the city itself,
when the sudden reinforcement of a party of such well-trained warriors
might decide the result.

While a portion of the Danish host were engaged upon the work of
devastation, a large number were employed upon the construction of
three great towers. These were built on wheels, and were each large
enough to hold sixty men. They far overtopped the walls, and the
citizens viewed with alarm the time when an assault should be delivered
under the protection of these formidable machines. Eighteen ships of
equal size were moored by the bank six deep. Great planks were laid
across them, and a sloping platform having been formed, the towers were
by the efforts of thousands of men moved up and placed on the ships.

"If we do not destroy those towers, Egbert," Edmund said one day as he
saw them slowly moving into their position on board the ships, "all is
lost, for from their summits the Northmen with their bows and javelins
will be able to clear the walls, while those below effect a breach at
their leisure."

"That is true enough, Edmund, but I do not see any way to destroy them.
Unfortunately we have no boats, or we might fill some of them with
combustibles, and tow them down until near enough for the stream to
carry them upon those vessels; but even then the chance were small
indeed, for the Danes would swarm out in their boats and manage to tow
or push them so that they would not touch the ships."

"I should think, Egbert, that if we could get some skins or planks we
and our band might, when it is quite dark, sally out and take to the
water at the lower end of the island and float down quietly for a mile
or two, and then gain the further bank; then we might march along
quietly until we reach those ships. The Danes know that we have no
boats, and will not fear an attack. We must not do it until an hour or
two before morning, when, after spending the early hours of the night
as usual in feasting and drinking, they will sleep heavily. Just before
we are ready to begin a small party can unmoor two or three of the
boats by the bank and push them out, one to the outside of each tier of
six vessels, so that we may have a means of retreat across the river.
When that is done we will make a rush on board the ships, cut down any
Danes we may find there, and set fire to all the vessels. We must hold
the gangways to the shore until the flames get well alight, and then
take to the boats and return."

"I think the plan is a good one, Edmund, and may well be carried out
without great loss. There are plenty of empty wine skins at present in
Paris. I will at once set about collecting a hundred of them. We will
fasten to each a stout cord so as to form a loop to go over the head
and shoulders, then we had best attach them all together by one long
cord, by which means we shall float in a body."

"Fortunately the night is very dark and I think that we shall succeed.
Say nothing about it, Egbert, and tell the men to keep silent. The good
people of Paris shall know nothing of the matter until they see the
flames dancing round the towers which they hold in so much dread."

The Saxons received with satisfaction the news of the intended
expedition. They had been disappointed at being kept back from taking
any part in the fighting during the two days' attack upon the tower,
and longed for an opportunity to inflict a blow upon their hated enemy
the Danes. The wine skins were fitted up with ropes as Egbert had
suggested, and soon after nightfall the party, armed with spear and
sword, and carrying each his float, sallied out from the gates, as
Edmund was by this time so well known among the citizens that the gate
was opened without demur on his order.

They crept along the foot of the wall until they reached the lower
extremity of the island. Across the river innumerable fires blazed
high, and the songs and shouts of the Danes rose loud in the air.
Numbers of figures could be seen moving about or standing near the
fires, the tents of the chiefs were visible some distance back, but the
number of these as well as of the fires was much less than it had been
on the first arrival of the Northmen, owing to the numbers who had gone
to the camp round St. Germain.

The night was very dark and a light rain was falling. Before taking to
the water Edmund bade his men strip off the greater portion of their
clothes and fasten them in a bundle on their heads, as it would be some
time after they landed before they could advance upon the camp, and the
cold and dripping garments would tend to lessen their spirits and
courage.

When all was ready they stepped into the water, and keeping in a body,
drifted down the stream. The wine skins floated them well above the
water, the stream was running strong, and the lights of the Danish
fires were soon left behind.

In half an hour Edmund and Egbert deemed that they were now far beyond
a point where they might chance upon any Danish stragglers. The word
was therefore given, and all made for the bank. The stream had already
drifted them in that direction, and they soon reached the shore. Here
the skins which had proved so useful were left behind, and putting on
their dry clothes, they felt comparatively comfortable. Edmund ordered
them to lay down their spears and swords by their sides, and to swing
their arms violently. This they continued to do until they were nearly
breathless, by which time the blood was coursing warmly in their veins.

They were now in December, and the water was extremely cold, and Egbert
congratulated Edmund upon having made the men strip, for had they been
compelled to remain in their wet garments while waiting for the Danish
fires to die down, they would scarce have been in a fit state to fight
when the moment for so doing had arrived.

Three hours elapsed before the glare of the distant fires began to
subside, another half hour passed, and then the band were formed up and
moved along on the bank of the river.



CHAPTER XIV: THE REPULSE OF THE NORSEMEN


When within half a mile of the Danish camp Edmund and Egbert left the
band and advanced alone. They were pretty confident that they should
find but few of the Danes near the bank of the river, for the arrows
from the walls of Paris carried some distance beyond it, and the
Northmen consequently encamped some hundred yards away. They had to
pick their way carefully, for the ships were moored along the bank,
their ropes being fastened to great stakes driven into the ground.

There were lights on board the vessels, many of the crews remaining on
board. They made their way along until they reached the spot they aimed
at. Here lay the three sets of vessels, each six deep; their masts had
been removed, and the great towers rose high into the darkness above
the platforms extending over their decks.

The planks forming the gangways up which the towers had been moved had
been taken away, save one which gave access to each tier, and Edmund
doubted not that it was intended that they should the next morning move
across the river in tow of the numerous row-boats. The two Saxons did
not attempt to go on board, as they had now found out all they wanted,
and might mar all by disturbing some sleeper upon the platform. They
accordingly returned to the spot where the band were awaiting them.

"I propose, Egbert," Edmund said, "that as we go along we cut the
mooring-ropes of all the vessels. We must do it quietly so as not to
excite any alarm, and they will know nothing of it until they find
themselves drifting down the river in a mass. Then there will be great
jostling and carrying away of bowsprits and bulwarks, and the confusion
and shouting which will arise will tend to confuse the Danes and to
distract their attention from us."

Egbert agreed to the proposal, and as soon as they reached the first
ships the Saxons began their work, sawing with their knives and daggers
through the ropes. The vessels lay four or five deep and there were
many cables to cut, but the keen knives of the Saxons made short work
of these. Before beginning their work they had spread along the bank,
leaving only two men abreast of each ship, so that in the course of two
or three minutes the cables for the length of forty ships were severed,
and these and their consorts beyond them began to drift out into the
stream.

The Saxons ran quickly on ahead and repeated the work until the whole
of the vessels below those forming the platform for the towers were
adrift in the stream; but by this time those in the ships at the lower
end of the tiers had taken the alarm, and shouts of wonder and anger
rose on the air. The nine Saxons told off for the purpose leaped into
three small boats and rowed out into the stream, while the rest of the
band, divided into three parties, dashed across the planks on to the
platforms. The Danes here had already been alarmed by the uproar from
the vessels adrift, and although unable to see what was passing judged
that something was wrong, and had called to their comrades sleeping in
the holds to come up.

Some of these bearing torches came up on deck just as the Saxons,
pouring across the planks which connected the ships with the shore,
fell upon them. Taken utterly by surprise, the Danes could offer no
effective resistance. The Saxons, charging with levelled spears, drove
those above headlong into the water; then, having made themselves
masters of the platforms, they dashed below and despatched the Danes
they found there. The torches were now applied to the contents of the
holds. These were for the most part crammed with the booty which the
Norsemen had gained at Havre, Rouen, and other places, and the flames
speedily shot up. By this time the Danes in the camp, alarmed by the
shouting from the drifting ships and the sounds of conflict from the
towers, came flocking down in haste. The planks had already been thrown
overboard. The Danes strove by pulling at the ropes to haul the vessels
nearer to land. Some ran towards their ships, others jumped into boats,
and pushing out to the platforms strove to get on board them; but by
this time the flames were rising high through the hatchways. According
to previous agreement Edmund and the leaders of the other two parties,
seeing that the flames had now firm hold, cut the ropes which fastened
them to the bank, and as soon as the stream began to swing them out
leaped into the boats and rowed for the opposite shore.

The uproar was now tremendous; and shouts of rage rose from the
Northmen, who were amazed and puzzled by the appearance of the Saxons,
whose attire differed but slightly from their own; and the general
belief among them was that this sudden alarm was the result of
treachery among themselves. There was no time to waste in conjecture;
the three groups of ships were now masses of flame, in the midst of
which the lofty towers rose high. The shouts of the sailors in the
vessels crowded together in helpless confusion in the stream below rose
higher and higher as the blazing vessels drifted down and threatened to
overtake them.

Some tried to hoist their sails; others got out long oars and strove to
sweep their vessels towards the shore, but they were huddled too
closely in the stream; the yards and rigging of many having become
interlocked with each other. The Northmen leaped into the rowing boats
by the bank above where the tower-ships had been moored, and rowing
down endeavoured to tow them to the bank; but they were now in a blaze
from end to end, the heat was so great that it was difficult to
approach them, and all endeavours to fasten ropes to them were
frustrated, as these were instantly consumed. The Northmen, finding
their efforts unavailing, then turned their attention to trying to tow
the ships below to the banks.

In some cases they were successful. A few of the vessels also at the
lower end of the mass succeeded in getting up their sails and drawing
out from their fellows, for the wind was blowing down stream. This,
however, proved the destruction of the rest of the ships, for the great
towers rising amid the lofty pillars of flames acted as sails and bore
the fire-ships down upon the helpless crowd of vessels.

Soon they reached those nearest to them, and the flames, borne forward
by the wind, sprang from vessel to vessel. There was no longer any hope
of saving a single ship; and the crews, climbing hastily across from
one to the other till they reached those nearest to the shore, leaped
overboard. Although now more than half a mile below the city the flames
lit up the walls with a bright glare, and the shouts of the exulting
Franks rose loud and continuous.

The sudden shouting which had broken out among the Danes had alarmed
the watchmen, who, ignorant of the cause, called the citizens to arms,
and these on reaching the walls had stood astonished at the spectacle.
The flames were already rising from the three groups of ships which
they had regarded with so much anxiety on the previous evening, and by
the light they could see the river below covered with a mass of
drifting vessels. Then they saw the tower-ships float away from the
bank, and the figures on their decks leap into three small boats, which
at once rowed with all speed across the river.

That they were friends who had wrought this destruction was certain,
and Count Eudes threw open the gate, and with the Abbe Ebble ran down
to meet them. They were astonished when Edmund with his Saxons leaped
to land.

"What miracle is this?" the count exclaimed.

"A simple matter, Sir Count," Edmund answered. "My kinsman and I,
seeing that the townspeople were troubled by yonder towers, determined
to destroy them. We have succeeded in doing so, and with them I trust
fully half of the Danish fleet will perish."

"You are the saviour of our town, my brave young Saxon," Count Eudes
cried, embracing him. "If Paris is saved it will be thanks to the
valiant deed that you have accomplished this night. But let us to the
walls again, where we may the better see whether the Danes can remove
their ships from those great furnaces which are bearing down upon them."

The sight from the walls, when the fire-ships reached the fleet and the
flames spread, was grand in the extreme, for in half an hour nigh three
hundred vessels were in flames. For some time the three towers rose
like pillars of fire above the burning mass; then one by one they fell
with a crash, which could be plainly heard, although they were now near
a mile away.

Paris was wild with joy at the destruction of the towers which had
menaced it, and the conflagration of nigh half the Danish fleet, laden
with the spoil of northern France. Edmund and his Saxons were conducted
in triumph by a shouting crowd to the palace of the archbishop, where
Goslin, in the name of the city, returned them the heartiest thanks for
the services which they had rendered. The wealthy citizens vied with
each other in bestowing costly presents upon them, bonfires were
lighted in the streets, and till morning the town gave itself up to
revelry and rejoicing.

A month elapsed before the Danes recovered from the blow which had been
dealt them and resumed the assault. Part of this time had been spent in
manufacturing great shields of bull's hide. These were strongly
constructed, and were each capable of covering six men. On the 29th of
January their preparations were complete, and at daybreak the warders
on the wall saw them pouring down into their ships and galleys. As the
fleet crossed the river its aspect was singular. The decks were covered
by the black shields, above which appeared a forest of spears,
sparkling in the morning sunlight. As they reached the shore the
Northmen sprang to land, while from the decks of the vessels a storm of
missiles flew towards the walls. Vast numbers of catapults, which they
had manufactured since their last attack, hurled masses of stone, heavy
javelins, and leaden bullets, while thousands of arrows darkened the
air.

The bells of the church sounded the alarm, which called every citizen
capable of bearing arms to the walls. The archbishop took his place at
the spot most threatened by the enemy, with his nephew, the valiant
abbe, by his side. The Counts Eudes, Robert, Ragenaire, Utton, and
Herilang stood foremost among the defenders.

The Saxons, as before, were held in reserve, but to Edmund and Egbert
had been assigned, at their urgent request, the command of the defence
of the tower. It was against this point that the Danes again made their
most desperate effort. Their main body advanced against it, and smaller
parties attacked the city at other points, while the rowing galleys,
divided into two bodies, strove to destroy the bridge, and so isolate
the defenders of the post.

Around the tower the combat was desperate. The assailants were
well-nigh hidden under their great bucklers. Their shouts, and the
constant clashing of arms which they maintained, made a terrific
uproar; a storm of missiles from the fleet poured upon the tower, while
from the crevices between the shields the bowmen shot incessantly at
the defenders. The very number of the Danes hindered their attack, for
the tower was so small that comparatively few could approach at once.

It had been greatly strengthened since the last assault, and through
the loopholes in the walls the archers did their best to answer the
storm of missiles poured into the fort. Edmund and Egbert went among
them, begging them not to fire at random, but to choose moments when
the movements of the assailants opened a space in the roof of shields
which covered them.

Whenever this took place a dozen arrows fell true to the mark. Some of
those bearing the shield would be struck, and these falling, a gap
would be caused through which the arrows of the defenders flew thickly,
causing death and confusion until the shield could be raised in its
place again. Boiling liquids were poured over those who approached the
walls, and huge stones crushed the shields and their bearers.

Eudes and his men valiantly defended the wall, and the Danes in vain
strove to scale it. All day long the battle continued, but at nightfall
the tower still remained in the hands of the defenders, the deep ditch
which they had dug round it having prevented the Danes from working at
the wall, as they had done in the previous assault.

When darkness came on the Danes did not retire, but lay down in the
positions they occupied, under their shields. In the morning many ships
were seen crossing the river again, and the defenders saw to their
surprise numbers of captives who had been collected from the
surrounding country, troops of oxen, ship-loads of branches of trees,
trusses of hay and corn, and faggots of vines landed. Their surprise
became horror when they saw the captives and the cattle alike
slaughtered as they landed. Their bodies were brought forward under
cover of the shields and thrown into the moat, in which, too, were cast
the hay, straw, faggots, and trees.

At the sight of the massacre the archbishop prayed to the Virgin to
give him strength, and drawing a bow to its full strength, let fly an
arrow, which, great as was the distance, flew true to its mark and
struck the executioner full in the face. This apparent miracle of the
Virgin in their favour re-animated the spirit of the defenders; and a
solemn service was instantly held in the church in her honour, and
prayers were offered to her to save Lutece, which was the original name
of Paris, and was still cherished by its inhabitants.

The Danes were occupied all day at their work of filling up the moat.
The besieged were not idle, but laboured at the construction of several
mangonels capable of casting huge blocks of stone. In the morning the
Danes planted their battering-rams, one on each side of the tower, and
recommenced the assault. The new machines of the defenders did great
havoc in their ranks, their heavy stones crashing through the roof of
bucklers and crushing those who held them, and for a time the Norsemen
desisted from the attack.

They now filled three of their largest vessels with combustibles, and
placing them on the windward side of the bridge, set them alight. The
people of Paris beheld with afright these fire-ships bearing down upon
the bridge, and old and young burst into tears and cries at the view of
the approaching destruction, and, led by the archbishop, all joined in
a prayer to St. Germain, the patron saint of Paris, to protect the
city. The exulting Danes replied to the cries of those on the walls
with triumphant shouts. Thanks, as the Franks believed, to the
interposition of St. Germain, the fireships struck against the pile of
stones from which the beams supporting the bridge in the centre were
raised. Eudes and his companions leaped down from the bridge and with
hatchets hewed holes in the sides of the ships at the water-line, and
they sank without having effected any damage to the bridge.

It was now the turn of the Franks to raise triumphant shouts, while the
Danes, disheartened, fell back from the attack, and at night recrossed
the river, leaving two of their battering-rams as tokens of the triumph
of the besieged. Paris had now a respite while the Danes again spread
over the surrounding country, many of them ascending the river in their
ships and wasting the country as far as Burgundy.

The monastery of St. Germain and the church in which the body of the
saint was buried still remained untouched. The bands of Northmen who
had invaded England had never hesitated to plunder and destroy the
churches and shrines of the Christians, but hitherto some thought of
superstition had kept the followers of Siegfroi from assailing the
monastery of St. Germain.

One soldier, bolder than the rest, now approached the church and with
his spear broke some of the windows. The Abbe D'Abbon, an eye-witness
and minute historian of the siege of Paris, states that the impious
Dane was at once struck dead. The same fate befell one of his comrades,
who mounted to the platform at the top of the church and in descending
fell off and was killed. A third who entered the church and looked
round lost his sight for ever. A fourth entering it fell dead; and a
fifth, who, more bold than all, tried to break into the tomb of the
saint, was killed by a stone which fell upon him.

One night after a continuance of heavy rain the Seine, being greatly
swollen, swept away the centre of the bridge connecting the tower with
the town. At daybreak the Northmen, seeing what had taken place,
hastened across the river and attacked the tower. The garrison was but
a small one, no more than twenty men having slept there. For a time
these repulsed every effort of the Danes, but gradually their numbers
were lessened until at last fourteen only remained. Their names have
come down to us. Besides Edmund and Egbert there were Hermanfroi,
Herivee, Herilard, Odoacre, Herric, Arnold, Sohie, Gerbert, Elvidon,
Havderad, Ermard, and Gossuin. These resisted so valiantly that the
Danes, after losing large numbers in the vain attempt to storm the
walls, brought up a wagonful of grain; this they rolled forward to the
gate of the tower and set it on fire.

The flames rapidly spread from the gates to the walls, which were all
of wood, and soon the whole were a sheet of flames. The little band of
defenders retreated on to the end of the bridge, and there, when the
flames had sufficiently abated to allow them to pass, the Northmen
attacked them. Edmund and Egbert were both good swimmers, but this was
an accomplishment which but few of the Franks possessed, and none of
the remnant of the garrison were able to swim. For a long time the
little band repulsed all the efforts of the Danes, but were gradually
driven back foot by foot until they reached the edge of the chasm. Here
they made a last desperate stand, but were at length cut down or driven
over by sheer weight of numbers. Egbert and Edmund had disencumbered
themselves of all their defensive armour, and at the last moment,
throwing off their helmets and relinquishing their spears, they plunged
into the stream, diving deeply to avoid the arrows of the Northmen.

The fact of the river being in flood, which had caused the destruction
of the tower, now proved the cause of their safety. Had the water been
clear, the Danes on the bridge above could have marked their progress
and poured a storm of arrows upon them as they came to the surface; but
its yellow and turbid waters concealed them from sight, and each time
they rose to the surface for air they were enabled to take a rapid
breath and dive again before their enemies could direct and launch
their arrows at them.

As they drifted far down the stream, they reached the land beyond
bowshot of the Danes, and they soon entered the town amid the loud
acclamations of the citizens. The Danes now for the most part drew off
from the neighbourhood, and the Abbe Ebble led out a sortie, which
reached the Danish camp, and driving back those whom they found within
it, set it on fire and effected their retreat to Paris without loss, in
spite of the efforts of the enemy, who rapidly assembled at the sight
of the flames.

The Danes had brought in from the surrounding country such vast
quantities of cattle, sheep, and goats, that their camps would not
suffice to hold them, and they turned the church of St. Germain into a
stable and crowded it with these animals. The saint, as the Abbe
D'Abbon relates, indignant at this desecration, sent a terrible plague
among the cattle, and when the Danes in the morning entered the church
it contained nothing but carcasses in the last state of decomposition.

The valiant defence of Paris had given time for the rest of France to
arm, and the Danes scattered over the country now met with a stout
resistance. The Northmen were defeated in their efforts to capture Le
Mans, Chartres, and other towns, and were defeated in several battles
near Chartres by Godefroi and Odon.

In March Henri advanced with a strong force to the relief of Paris, and
arriving at night attacked the camp of the Danes, slew great numbers,
and captured a vast booty; and then, having supplied Paris with a
considerable amount of provisions, retired with his band before the
Danes had time to assemble in sufficient strength to oppose him.
Shortly afterwards the Danes expressed the desire of Siegfroi to hold
parley with the Count Eudes. Siegfroi and a number of his warriors
landed, and Eudes left the city and advanced to meet them. No sooner
had he reached them than he was attacked by the Northmen, but drawing
his sword he defended himself with immense bravery until the garrison
ran down to his succour, and the Danes were driven back to their ship
with loss of nearly half of their party.

The Danes now left the church of St. Germain L'Auxerrois and surrounded
the monastery of St. Germain des Pres, but the monks there paid him
sixty pounds of pure silver to leave them in peace. Siegfroi now wished
to abandon the siege which had already cost him so dear, but the
Northmen, furious at their losses, determined upon another assault.

"Very well," the king said; "have your way then. Attack Paris on all
sides, hew down its towers, and make breaches in its walls; for once I
will remain a spectator."

The Danes crossed the river and landed on the island, but owing to the
absence of large numbers on other expeditions, and the heavy losses
which they had suffered, their numbers were no longer so overwhelming,
and Count Eudes led out his forces to oppose them outside the walls.
This time Edmund headed his band of Saxons, who until now had only
taken part as archers in the defence.

The combat was a furious one. In spite of the valour of Eudes and Ebble
the Danes pressed hard upon the Franks, and were driving them back
towards the gates when Edmund led his Saxons, in the close phalanx in
which they had so often met the Danes in the field, to the front. With
irresistible force the wedge burst its way through the ranks of the
Danes, bearing all before it with its wedge of spears. Into the gap
thus formed Eudes and Ebble with their bravest men threw themselves,
and the Danes, severed in two, were driven back towards their ships.
But for some hours the rain had been falling heavily and the river was
rapidly rising and had already overflowed a portion of the island. Thus
the Danes had great difficulty in getting on board their ships again,
and great numbers were killed in doing so.

There was no longer any resistance to Siegfroi's wishes. A parley was
held with the city, and a further sum being added to that contributed
by the monks of St. Germain des Pres the Danes drew off from the town.

At this time the long confinement of so many men within the walls had
caused a pestilence to break out in Paris. The Archbishop Goslin, the
Bishop Everard of Sens, the Prince Hugues, and many others died. The
16th of April was the day on which the Parisians were accustomed to go
in solemn procession to the church of St. Germain. The Northmen,
knowing this, in mockery filled a wagon with grain and organized a mock
procession. The bullocks who drew the chariot suddenly became lame;
numbers of other bullocks were attached, but although goaded by spears
their united efforts were unable to drag the wagon an inch, and the
Danes were obliged at last to abandon their intention.

The same day St. Germain is reported to have further shown his power.
One of the Northmen, condemned for some offence to be executed, fled to
the church for refuge, and was there slain by his countrymen; but all
who took part in the deed at once fell dead. The Northmen, struck by
these miracles, placed a certain number as guard over the church to
prevent any from touching aught that it contained. One of these men, a
Dane of great stature, spread his bed in the church and slept there;
but to the astonishment of his comrades he was found in the morning to
have shrunk to the size of a new-born infant, at which stature he
remained for the rest of his life.

A miracle of an opposite kind was at the same time performed in the
town. A valiant warrior had from the effects of fever fallen into an
extreme weakness, and was devoured with grief at the thought that he
should no longer be able to take share in the defence of the town. To
him St. Germain appeared at night and told him that his prayers had
been heard, and that his strength should be restored to him. On
awakening in the morning he found that he was as vigorous and as robust
as ever.

Another day when the soldiers were carrying the banner of the saint
round the walls of the town, followed by the citizens chanting hymns,
one of the bearers of the holy relics, named Gozbert, was struck by a
stone from a catapult. The man who had fired it fell dead, while
Gozbert continued his promenade in no way injured by the blow. The Abbe
D'Abbon vouches for these miracles on the part of St. Germain in
defence of his faithful city.



CHAPTER XV: FRIENDS IN TROUBLE


Although for a time the Northmen abstained from grand assaults,
continued skirmishes took place. Sometimes parties landed beneath the
walls, and strove to carry off the cattle which the besieged turned out
to gather a little fresh food there. Sometimes the citizens, led by
Eudes or Ebble, would take boat and cross, and endeavour to cut off
small parties of the enemy. They had now sufficient boats at their
disposal for expeditions of this kind; for, in their last defeat, the
Danes had in their haste left several boats behind them. Of one of the
largest of these Edmund took possession, and going out in her at night,
several times succeeded in capturing Danish vessels, sometimes while
they were rowing along the river unsuspicious that any foes were near,
sometimes by boarding them as they lay alongside the bank.

As the vessels so captured were too large to be dragged ashore, and
could have been easily recaptured by the Danes, they were, after being
emptied of their contents, always burned. The plague continued its
ravages, and the city became straitened for provisions. Count Eudes
therefore determined to go to King Charles to urge him to hurry to the
succour of the town. Almost all the chiefs of the defence had fallen
victims to the pest, or had been killed in battle with the Danes, and
the count at his departure committed the defence of the city to the
Abbe Ebble and Edmund. He then crossed the stream at night, and made
his way successfully through the Danes.

The abbe and Edmund vied with each other in keeping up the spirits of
the garrison with successful little forays with the Danes, frequently
crossing the river to the one bank or the other, sometimes with parties
of only five or six men, and falling upon similar bodies of the enemy.
Several times they pounced upon small herds of the enemy's cattle, and
driving them into the river, directed them in their boats across the
stream.

In the commencement of July Eudes appeared on the slopes on Mont Martre
with three battalions of soldiers. The enemy, who were for the most
part on the other side of the Seine, crossed the river. A desperate
battle ensued. A portion of the garrison crossed in boats to the
assistance of their friends, Edmund leading over his band of Saxons.
With these he fell upon the rear of the Danes engaged in fighting with
the force under the count, and the Northmen, attacked on both sides,
gave way and took to flight. They were hotly pursued by the Franks.

The reinforcements entered Paris triumphantly by the bridge, which had
long since been repaired. But the siege was not yet over. When the news
of the victory of Eudes spread, the Danes again drew together from all
parts, and crossing the river, attacked the city on every side. The
onslaught was more furious than any which had preceded it. The Danes
had provided themselves with large numbers of mangonels and catapults.
Every man capable of bearing arms was upon the walls; but so furious
was the attack, so vast the number of the assailants, so prodigious
were the clouds of missiles which they rained upon the walls, that the
besieged almost lost heart.

The relics of St. Genevieve were taken round the walls. In several
places the Danes had formed breaches in the walls, and although the
besieged still struggled, hope had well-nigh left them, and abject
terror reigned in the city. Women ran about the streets screaming, and
crying that the end was at hand. The church bells tolled dismally, and
the shouts of the exultant Danes rose higher and higher. Again a
general cry rose to St. Germain to come to the aid of the town. Just at
this moment Edmund and Egbert, who had till now held the Saxons in
reserve, feeling that a desperate effort must be made, formed up their
band, and advancing to the principal breach, passed through the ranks
of the disheartened Franks, and with levelled pikes charged headlong
down into the crowd of Danes. The latter, already exhausted by their
efforts, were at once borne back before the serried pikes of their
fresh assailants. In vain their chiefs at that point tried to rally
them; nothing could withstand the impetus of the Saxon attack.

Astonished at seeing the tide of battle swept away from the breach, the
French believed that St. Germain had wrought a miracle in their favour,
and taking heart poured out in the rear of the Saxons. The news of the
miracle spread rapidly. Through the breaches, and from every gate, they
poured out suddenly upon the Danes, who, struck with consternation at
this sudden onslaught by a foe whom they had already regarded as
beaten, hesitated, and soon took to flight. Vast numbers were cut down
before they could reach their vessels. A great portion fled towards the
bridge and endeavoured to cross there; but their numbers impeded them,
and the Saxons and Franks, falling upon their rear, effected a terrible
slaughter.

Two days after the battle a force of six hundred Franks arrived from
the Emperor Charles. The Danes sought to oppose their entrance to the
city, but were defeated with a loss of three thousand men. The siege
was now virtually over, and in a short time the emperor himself with a
great army arrived. It was now November, and after some negotiations
the Danes agreed upon the receipt of seven hundred pounds of silver to
retire to Burgundy and to leave the country at the beginning of March.

Having wasted Burgundy, however, they again returned to Paris.
Consternation seized the capital when the fleet of the Northmen was
seen approaching. A treaty was, however, made, for the wind had fallen
just when the Danish fleet, which had but lately arrived and was
descending the river, was abreast of Paris. As soon as the wind became
favourable the Northmen broke the truce, slew a number of Franks who
had mingled among them, and passed up the Marne.

In the meantime Emperor Charles had died and Count Eudes had been
chosen his successor. When the Danes again advanced against Paris he
speedily sent reinforcements. The town had already repulsed an attack.
Eudes himself on St. John's Day was advancing with 1000 men-at-arms
when he was attacked by 10,000 mounted Danes and 9000 footmen. The
combat was desperate but the Franks were victorious. Eudes, however,
had other difficulties. Burgundy and Aquitaine revolted, and in order
to secure peace to the kingdom he made a treaty with the Danes, giving
over to them the province of Normandy.

Edmund and Egbert had no part in the second siege of Paris. As soon as
the place was relieved by the Emperor Charles they prepared to depart.
Taking boats they ascended the river, and to their joy found the Dragon
safe in the hiding place where she had been lying for nearly a year.
She was brought out into the stream and floated down to Paris, where by
the order of Count Eudes she was thoroughly repaired and redecorated.

The Franks, convinced that next only to the assistance of St. Germain
they owed the safety of their city to the valour of the Saxons, loaded
them with presents; and these, with the gifts which they had previously
received after the destruction of the three towers, and the sums for
which the booty captured from the Danes had been sold, made up a great
treasure.

Upon the day before they had arranged to sail a Danish boat was seen
rowing down the stream. It approached the Dragon and the helmsman asked:

"Is this ship the Dragon? and has it for a captain Edmund the Saxon?"

"I am Edmund," he replied, "and this is the Dragon. What would you with
me?"

"I am sent by the Jarl Siegbert, who lies wounded near, to beg that you
will come to him immediately, as he is in a sore strait and needs your
assistance."

"I will come at once," Edmund said. "Put one of your men on board to
show me where he is, for I shall be there before you."

Edmund's horn sounded the signal, and messengers were sent to the town
to order the crew at once to repair on board the Dragon. Edmund landed
and took leave of the Frankish leaders. The provisions and stores were
hastily carried on board, and then, amidst the enthusiastic cheers of
the inhabitants, who thronged the walls and shore, the oars were got
out and the Dragon proceeded at the top of her speed up the river.

On the way Edmund questioned the Dane, and found that Siegbert had been
wounded in the last assault upon Paris. He had not been present at the
first part of the siege, having but recently arrived from Norway. His
daughter Freda had accompanied him. "Yes," she was still unmarried,
although many valiant Northmen had sought her hand, chief among them
the brave leader Sweyn "of the left hand;" but there had been a fray on
the previous night in Siegbert's camp, and it was said--but for that he
could not vouch--that Freda had been carried off.

The news filled Edmund with anxiety. Ever since the day he left her on
her father's galley his thoughts had turned often to the Danish maiden,
and the resolution to carry out his promise and some day seek her again
had never for a moment wavered. He had seen many fair young Saxons, and
could have chosen a bride where he would among these, for few Saxons
girls would have turned a deaf ear to the wooing of one who was at once
of high rank, a prime favourite with the king, and regarded by his
countrymen as one of the bravest of the Saxon champions; but the
dark-haired Freda, who united the fearlessness and independence of a
woman with the frankness and gaiety of a child, had won his heart.

It was true she was a Dane and a pagan; but her father was his friend,
and would, he felt sure, offer no objections on the ground of the
enmity of the races. Since Guthorn and his people had embraced
Christianity, the enmity between the races, in England at least, was
rapidly declining. As to her religion, Edmund doubted not that she
would, under his guidance and teaching, soon cast away the
blood-stained gods of the Northmen and accept Christianity.

In the five years of strife and warfare which had elapsed since he saw
her Edmund had often pictured their next meeting. He had not doubted
that she would remain true to him. Few as were the words which had been
spoken, he knew that when she said, "I will wait for you even till I
die," she had meant it, and that she was not one to change. He had even
been purposing, on his return to England, to ask King Alfred to arrange
through Guthorn for a safe pass for him to go to Norway. To hear, then,
that she had been carried off from her father's side was a terrible
blow, and in his anxiety to arrive at Siegbert's tent Edmund urged the
rowers to their fullest exertions.

It was three hours after leaving Paris when the Dane pointed to a
village at a short distance from the river and told him that Siegbert
was lying there. The Dragon was steered to shore, and Edmund leaping
out followed the Dane with rapid footsteps to the village. The wounded
jarl was lying upon a heap of straw.

"Is it really you, Edmund?" he exclaimed as the young Saxon entered.
"Glad am I indeed that my messenger did not arrive too late. I heard of
you when we first landed--how the Danes, when they sailed up the Seine,
had seen a Saxon galley of strange shape which had rowed rapidly up the
river; how the galley herself had never again been seen; but how a
young Saxon with his band had performed wonders in the defence of
Paris, and had burned well-nigh half the Danish fleet.

"They said that the leader was named Edmund, for they had heard the
name shouted in battle; and especially when he, with one other alone,
escaped from the burning tower and swam the river. So I was sure that
it was you. Then, a week back, my men told me of a strange ship which
had passed down the river to Paris, and I doubted not that it was your
Dragon, which had been hidden somewhere during the siege. I thought
then of sending to tell you that I was lying here wounded; but Freda,
who had always been talking of you, suddenly turned coy and said that
you might have forgotten us, and if you wanted us you would come to us
in Norway."

"But where is Freda?" Edmund, who had been listening impatiently,
exclaimed. "One of your men told me that she had been carried off. Is
it true?"

"Alas! it is true," Siegbert replied; "and that is why I sent for you.
I have never been good friends with Bijorn since the wounding of his
son, but after a time the matter blew over. Sweyn, who though but with
one arm, and that the left, has grown into a valiant warrior, is now,
Bijorn being dead, one of our boldest vikings. A year since he became a
declared suitor for Freda's hand. In this, indeed, he is not alone,
seeing that she has grown up one of our fairest maidens, and many are
the valorous deeds that have been done to win a smile from her; but she
has refused all suitors, Sweyn with the others. He took his refusal in
bad part, and even ventured to vow she should be his whether she willed
it or not. Of course I took the matter up and forbade all further
intimacy, and we had not met again till the other day before Paris. We
had high words there, but I thought no more of it. A few days
afterwards I was struck by a crossbow bolt in the leg. It smashed my
knee, and I shall never be able to use my leg again. I well-nigh died
of fever and vexation, but Freda nursed me through it. She had me
carried on a litter here to be away from the noise and revelry of the
camp. Last night there was a sudden outcry. Some of my men who sprang
to arms were smitten down, and the assailants burst in here and tore
Freda, shrieking, away. Their leader was Sweyn of the left hand. As I
lay tossing here, mad with the misfortune which ties me to my couch, I
thought of you. I said, 'If any can follow and recapture Freda it is
Edmund.' The Danes had for the most part moved away, and there were few
would care to risk a quarrel with Sweyn in a matter which concerned
them not closely; but I felt that I could rely upon you, and that you
would spare no pains to rescue my child."

"That will I not!" Edmund exclaimed; "but tell me first what you think
are his plans. Which way has he gone, and what force has he with him?"

"The band he commands are six shiploads, each numbering fifty men. What
his plans may be I know not, but many of the Danes, I know, purposed,
when the war was finished here, to move east through Burgundy. Some
intended to build boats on the banks of the Rhine and sail down on that
river, others intended to journey further and to descend by the Elbe. I
know not which course Sweyn may adopt. The country between this and the
Rhine swarms with Danes. I do not suppose that Sweyn will join any
other party. Having Freda with him, he will prefer keeping apart; but
in any case it would not be safe for you to journey with your band, who
would assuredly become embroiled with the first party of Danes they
met; and even if they be as brave as yourself they would be defeated by
such superior numbers."

"You do not think that Sweyn will venture to use violence to force
Freda to become his wife?"

"I think he will hardly venture upon that," Siegbert said, "however
violent and headstrong he may be. To carry off a maiden for a wife is
accounted no very evil deed, for the maiden is generally not unwilling;
but to force her by violence to become his wife would be a deed so
contrary to our usages that it would bring upon him the anger of the
whole nation. Knowing Sweyn's disposition, I believe that were there no
other way, he would not hesitate even at this, but might take ship and
carry her to some distant land; but he would not do this until all
other means fail. He will strive to tire her out, and so bring her in
her despair to consent to wed him."

Edmund was silent for three or four minutes; then he said: "I must
consult my kinsman Egbert. I will return and tell you what I purpose
doing."

On leaving the cottage Edmund found Egbert walking up and down outside
awaiting the result of the interview. He had been present when the Dane
had told of Freda's abduction, and knew how sore a blow it was to the
young ealdorman, for Edmund had made no secret to him of his intention
some day to wed the Danish jarl's daughter. Edmund in a few words
related to him the substance of Siegbert's narrative, and ended by
saying: "Now, Egbert, what is best to be done?"

"'Tis of no use asking me, Edmund; you know well enough that it is you
that always decide and I agree. I have a hand to strike, but no head to
plan. Tell me only what you wish, and you may be sure that I will do my
best to execute it."

"Of course we must follow," Edmund said; "of that there is no question.
The only doubt is as to the force we must take. What Siegbert said is
true. The Danish bands are so numerous to the east that we should be
sure to fall in with some of them, and fight as we might, should be
destroyed; and yet with a smaller number how could we hope to rescue
Freda from Sweyn's hands?"

Edmund walked up and down for some time.

"I think," he went on at last, "the best plan will be to take a party
of but four at most. I must choose those who will be able to pass best
as Danes. With so small a number I may traverse the country unobserved.
I will take with me two of Siegbert's men, who, when we get nigh to
Sweyn's band, may join with him and tell me how things are going, and
how Sweyn treats his captive. If I find he is pushing matters to an
extreme I must make some desperate effort to carry her off; but if, as
is more probable, he trusts to time to break her resolution, I shall
follow at a short distance."

"Shall I go with you, Edmund?"

"I think it will be better not, Egbert. Your beard would mark you as a
Saxon at once."

"But that I can cut off," Egbert said. "It would be a sacrifice truly,
but I would do it without hesitation."

"Thanks, dear kinsman, but I think it would be of more purpose for you
to remain in command of the Dragon. She may meet many foes, and it were
best that you were there to fight and direct her. I pray you at once to
descend the Seine and sailing round the north coast of France, place
the Dragon at the mouth of the Rhine. Do not interfere with any Danish
ships that you may see pass out, but keep at a distance. Should Sweyn
descend the Rhine I will, if possible, send a messenger down before
him, so do you look out for small boats; and if you see one in which
the rower hoists a white flag at the end of his oar, you will know he
is my messenger. If I find Sweyn goes on towards the Elbe I will also
send you word, and you will then move the Dragon to the mouth of that
river.

"Lastly, if you receive no message, but if you mark that in a Danish
vessel when passing you a white cloth is waved from one of the windows
of the cabins in the poop, that will be a signal to you that the vessel
is Sweyn's, and that Freda is a captive on board. In that case you will
of course at once attack it. Let us ask Siegbert. He has sailed up both
the Rhine and the Elbe, and can tell us of some quiet port near the
mouth of each river where you may lay the Dragon somewhat out of sight
of passers-by, while you can yet note all ships that go down the river.
My messengers will then know where to find you." Having settled this
point they returned to Siegbert, and Edmund told him what he thought of
doing.

"I can advise no better," Siegbert said. "Assuredly you cannot prevail
by force. At present I have only ten of my followers with me; the rest,
after I was wounded, and it was plain that a long time must elapse
before I could again lead them in the field, asked me to let them
follow some other chief, and as they could not be idle here I
consented. I have ten men with me, but these would be but a small
reinforcement. As you say, your Saxons would be instantly known, and
the Northmen have suffered so at their hands during the siege that the
first party you met would set upon you."

"I will take two only of your men," Edmund said. "Choose me two who are
not known by sight to Sweyn. I wish one to be a subtle fellow, who will
act as a spy for me; the other I should choose of commanding stature;
and the air of a leader. He will go with my party, and should we come
upon Danes he will assume the place of leader, and can answer any
questions. There is far too much difference between the Saxon and
Danish tongue for me and my men to pass as Danes if we have many words
to say. I shall take four of my men, all full grown, strong, and good
fighters. They have but little hair upon their chins at present, and
they can shave that off. Now, jarl, I want five Danish dresses, for
your costume differs somewhat from ours. Have you horses? If not, I
must send back to Paris to buy some."

"I have plenty to mount you and your party."

"Good," Edmund said; "I will go down to my ship and pick my men."

In half an hour the party were ready to start. Egbert had received from
Siegbert particulars of villages at the mouths of the Rhine and Elbe,
and he promised Edmund that a watch should be kept night and day at the
mouth of the Rhine until a messenger arrived. Edmund had already
ascertained that Sweyn had left a fortnight before with his following,
and had marched towards Champagne. There probably he had halted his
main body, returning only with a party of horsemen to carry off Freda.

"I would I could go with you," Siegbert groaned as Edmund said adieu to
him. "I would ride straight into his camp and challenge him to mortal
combat, but as it is I am helpless."

"Never fear, good Siegbert," Edmund said cheerfully; "when your leg is
cured travel straight homeward, and there, I trust, before very long to
place Freda safe and unharmed in your arms. If I come not you will know
that I have perished."

A minute later, after a few parting words with Egbert, Edmund mounted
his horse, and followed by his six companions, rode off at full speed.
He knew that it would be useless making any inquiries about Sweyn and
his party. But few of the inhabitants of the country were to be seen
about, for the Danes had burned every house within very many miles of
Paris, and the peasants would assuredly not have paid any special
attention to a party of Danes, for whenever they saw the dreaded
marauders even at a distance they forsook their homes and fled to the
forests. The party therefore rode eastward until nightfall, then
picketed their horses, and having lit a fire, made their supper from
the store of provisions they had brought with them, and then lay down
to sleep for the night.

At daybreak they again started and continued their journey until it was
necessary to halt to give their horses a rest. They had passed several
parties of Danes, for these in great numbers, after the siege of Paris
had been given up, were journeying towards Burgundy. There was but
slight greeting as they passed; but on one occasion a horseman rode out
from one of the bands and entered into conversation with the two Danes
who rode at the head of the party. They told them that they were
followers of the Jarl Siegbert, and were riding to join the rest of his
band, who were with the company of Jarl Eric, as Siegbert would be long
before he would be able to move, and had therefore kept only a few of
his followers with him.

"Eric is a long way ahead," the Dane said; "he must be full as far as
Nancy by this time. Those who left first," he grumbled, "will have the
pick of the country. We were fools to linger so long before Paris."
Then turning his horse, he rode back to his comrades, and the party
continued their way.

They avoided all towns and large Danish encampments on the way, but
made inquiries from all small parties they met after the party of
Sweyn. They learned without difficulty the place where he had been
encamped a few days before, but on their arriving in the neighbourhood
they found that the place was deserted, nor could any tell them the
direction in which the Northmen had travelled.



CHAPTER XVI: FREDA


For some days Edmund and his party scoured the country round,
journeying now in one direction, now in another, but without hearing
ought of Sweyn's party. Certainly they had not gone along the track
which the main body of the Danes had followed; but the question was
whether they had turned rather to the south in order to cross the
mountain ranges between them and the Rhine, or had turned north and
journeyed through the great forest of Ardennes, and so to some of the
other rivers which run down into the North Sea.

The latter was in some respects the most likely course to have been
chosen. By taking it Sweyn would avoid altogether the track which the
majority of his countrymen were taking, and this would naturally be his
object. Siegbert had many powerful friends, and the carrying off of the
jarl's daughter from the side of her wounded father would be regarded
as a grave offence; and Sweyn might well wish to keep clear of his
countrymen until he had forced Freda to become his wife. Even then it
would not be safe for him for a long time to return to his country.
Striking through the Ardennes he would come down upon the Scheldt, the
Moselle, the Maas, or other rivers flowing into the North Sea direct,
or into the Rhine.

Edmund knew nothing of these streams; but the Danes with him said there
were several rivers so situated, for they had sailed up them. Where
they took their rise they knew not, but it would probably be in or
beyond the forest of Ardennes.

"Then in that way we will search," Edmund said. "If they come upon a
river they will doubtless set to work to build galleys to carry them to
the sea, for with only three hundred men Sweyn will not venture to
march by land through a country which has but lately suffered heavily
at the hands of the Danes. It will take him a month or six weeks to cut
down trees and build his ships; therefore we may hope to find him
before he is ready to embark. First we will push through the forest to
the other side; there we will question the inhabitants concerning the
position of the nearest rivers; then we will divide into parties and go
on the search, appointing a place of rendezvous where we may rejoin
each other. It can hardly be that we shall fail to find them if they
have taken that way."

Before entering the forest they obtained a considerable store of
provisions; for they had no idea of its extent, and had no time to
spend in hunting game. The forest of Ardennes was at that time of
immense size, extending from Verdun and Metz on the south, to Liege and
Aix on the north.

Men of the present day would have found it impossible to find their way
through, but would speedily have been lost in its trackless recesses;
but the Saxons and Danes were accustomed to travel in forests, and knew
the signs as well as did the Red-skins and hunters of the American
forests. Therefore they felt no hesitation in entering the forest
without a guide.

The danger which might beset them was of a different kind. Immense
numbers of the inhabitants of France, Champagne, and Burgundy had taken
refuge in the forests, driving their flocks and herds before them. Here
they lived a wild life, hoping that the emperor would ere long clear
the country of the invaders. No mercy could be expected if Edmund and
his party fell in with a number of these fugitives. They would have no
time to tell their story, but would be attacked at once as a party of
plundering Danes.

Knowing that the horses would be an encumbrance to them in the forest,
they were sold to the last party of Northmen they encountered before
entering it, and they pursued their way on foot. The greatest caution
was observed; every sound was marked, and at the call of a human voice,
the low of cattle, or the bleating of sheep, they turned their course
so as to avoid encounter with the inhabitants of the forest. They lit
no fires at night, and scarce a word was spoken on the march. Several
times they had to take refuge in thickets when they heard the sound of
approaching voices, and it needed all their knowledge of woodcraft to
maintain their direction steadily towards the north. At last, after six
days' journey, they issued out into the open country beyond the forest
and soon arrived at a cottage.

The peasant was struck with terror and astonishment at the appearance
of seven Danes; and he could with difficulty be made to understand that
their object was neither plunder nor murder, but that they wished only
information from him of the situation and direction of the various
rivers of the country. After learning from him all that he knew Edmund
arrived at the conclusion that Sweyn would probably attempt to descend
either by a branch of the Moselle, and so to the Rhine on the right, or
by one of the Maas on the left of the place at which they had emerged
from the forest.

Edmund decided to strike the Maas, and to follow its course up into the
forest, taking with him one of the Danes and two of his Saxons, and to
send the others to search the banks of the tributary of the Moselle.
Before starting he sent the peasant to the nearest village to purchase
garments of the country for the whole party. He had already told the
man that they were not Danes but Saxons, the bitter enemies of the
Northmen, and that he had been aiding in the defence of Paris against
them.

The peasant did not doubt what Edmund told him, for the conduct of his
visitors was so opposed to all that he had heard of the doings of the
Danes that he well believed they could not belong to that nation. He
was away some hours, and returned with the required dresses. Having put
these on, and laying aside their helmets and shields, the two parties
started, the Danes alone carrying with them their former garments. The
next day Edmund arrived at the river, and at once followed its course
upwards, for Sweyn and his party would be building their ships in the
forest.

They had not proceeded many miles before they heard the sound of axes.
Edmund gave an exclamation of delight. It was almost certain that he
had hit upon Sweyn's track, for it was unlikely that any of the
inhabitants of the country would have gone so far into the forest for
timber. They now moved with the greatest caution, and as they
approached the place whence the sound proceeded Edmund halted the two
Saxons and bade them conceal themselves. The Dane resumed his own
garments and put on his helmet and shield; and then, taking advantage
of every clump of undergrowth, and moving with the greatest caution, he
and Edmund made their way forward. Presently they came within sight of
an animated scene.

A large number of trees had been felled by the banks of the river and
three hundred Northmen were busily at work. The frames of two great
galleys had already been set up, and they were now engaged in chopping
out planks for their sides. Two huts were erected in the middle of the
clearing. One was large, and Sweyn's banner floated from a spear before
it. The other which stood close by was much smaller, and Edmund doubted
not that this was appropriated to Freda.

Nothing more could be done now--their object was so far attained; and
retiring they joined the two Saxons and made their way along the river
bank till they reached the edge of the forest. One of the Saxons was
now sent off to the peasant's hut, where he was to remain until the
return of the other party, and was then to bring them on to the spot
which Edmund had chosen for his encampment. This was in the heart of a
large clump of underwood extending down to the river.

The brushwood was so thick that it was entered with difficulty, and no
passer-by would dream that a party was hidden within it. Near the
stream Edmund and his companions with their swords soon cleared away a
circle, and with the boughs constructed an arbour. A thin screen of
bushes separated them from the river, but they could see the water, and
none could pass up or down unperceived.

The Saxon was charged to bring with him on his return a considerable
supply of provisions, for it would have been dangerous to wander in the
woods in pursuit of game. The Northmen had, Edmund noticed, some cattle
with them; but they would be sure to be hunting in the woods, as they
would wish to save the cattle for provision on their voyage. It was
nightfall before the hut was completed; and as they had journeyed far
for many days Edmund determined to postpone an attempt to discover what
was passing in Sweyn's camp until the following evening.

The day passed quietly, and towards evening Edmund and the Dane started
for Sweyn's camp. When they approached it they saw many fires burning,
and the shouting and singing of the Norsemen rang through the forest.
They waited until the fires burnt down somewhat and they could see many
of the Danes stretching themselves down by them. Then Edmund's
companion proceeded to the camp.

Anxious as Edmund was himself to learn what was doing, he restrained
his impatience, for it was safer that the Northman should go alone. In
the dull light of the dying fires his features would be unnoticed, and
his tongue would not betray him if spoken to. Siegbert had commended
him as a crafty and ready fellow, and Edmund felt that he would be able
to gather more information than he could do himself. From his place of
concealment he kept his eyes fixed on the Northman's figure. Presently
he saw him enter the clearing, and sauntering slowly across it throw
himself down near a fire by which a party of Danes were still sitting
talking.

One by one these lay down, and when the last had done so the Northman
rose quietly and stole out again into the forest. When he rejoined
Edmund the latter set forward with him, and not a word was spoken until
they were some distance from the camp; then Edmund stopped.

"What have you learned?" he asked.

"All that there is to learn, I think," the Northman replied. "The lady
Freda is, as you supposed, a captive in the little hut. Two men only
keep watch over it by day, but at night six lie around it, two being
always on foot. They speak in admiration of her courage and spirit. She
has sworn to Sweyn that she will slay herself if he attempts to use
violence to force her to marriage with him, and they doubt not that she
will keep her word. However, they believe that she will grow tired out
at last when she finds that there is no hope whatever of a rescue. The
ships are being built for a long sea voyage, for Sweyn is going to lead
them to join the Viking Hasting in the Mediterranean, and has promised
his men the plunder of countries ten times richer than France or
England. With so long an expedition in view, they may well think that
the Lady Freda's resolution will soon give way, and that she may come
to see that the position of the wife of a bold viking is a thousand
times preferable to that of a captive. Many of the men loudly express
their wonder why she would refuse the love of so valiant a warrior as
Sweyn."

The news was at once good and bad. Edmund did not fear Freda's
resolution giving way for a long time, but the news that Sweyn intended
to carry her upon so distant an expedition troubled him. It was of
course possible that he might intercept them with the Dragon at the
mouth of the Maas, but it was uncertain whether the ship would arrive
at the mouth of the Rhine in time to be brought round before the
Northmen descended. The length of her voyage would depend entirely on
the wind. Were this favourable when she reached the mouth of the Seine,
a week would carry her to her destination. Should it be unfavourable
there was no saying how long the voyage would last.

The risk was so great that Edmund determined to make an effort to rouse
the country against the Danes, and to fall upon them in their
encampment; but the task would he knew be a hard one, for the dread of
the Danes was so great that only in large towns was any resistance to
them ever offered. However he determined to try, for if the Northmen
succeeded in getting to the sea the pursuit would indeed be a long one,
and many weeks and even months might elapse before he could again come
up to them.

On the following day the rest of the party arrived, and leaving the
forest Edmund proceeded with them through the country, visiting every
village, and endeavouring to rouse the people to attack the Danes, but
the news that the dreaded marauders were so near excited terror only.
The assurances of Edmund that there was much rich plunder in their camp
which would become the property of those who destroyed them, excited
but a feeble interest. The only point in the narrative which excited
their contentment was the news that the Danes were building ships and
were going to make their way down to the sea.

"In Heaven's name let them go!" was the cry; "who would interfere with
the flight of a savage beast? If they are going down the river they
will scarcely land to scatter and plunder the country, and he would be
mad indeed who would seek them when they are disposed to let us alone."

Finding his efforts vain in the country near the forest Edmund went
down the river to the town of Liege, which stood on its banks. When it
became known that a band of Northmen was on the upper river, and was
likely to pass down, the alarm spread quickly through the town, and a
council of the principal inhabitants was summoned. Before these Edmund
told his story, and suggested that the fighting men of the town should
march up the river and fall upon the Danes in their camp.

"It is but two days' march--the Northmen will be unsuspicious of
danger, and taken by surprise may be easily defeated." The proposition,
however, was received with absolute derision.

"You must be mad to propose such a thing, young Saxon, if Saxon indeed
you are, but for aught we know you may be a Northman sent by them to
draw us into an ambush. No; we will prepare for their coming. We will
man our walls and stand on the defensive, and if there be, as you say,
but three hundred of them, we can defend ourselves successfully; and we
may hope that, seeing our strength, and that we are prepared for their
coming, the Northmen will pass by without molesting us; but as for
moving outside our walls, it would be worse than folly even to think of
such a thing."

After this rebuff Edmund concluded that he could hope for no assistance
from the inhabitants of the country, but must depend upon himself and
the Dragon alone. He at once despatched two of his men, a Dane and a
Saxon, with orders to journey as rapidly as possible to the rendezvous,
where the Dragon was to be found at the mouth of the Rhine, and to beg
Egbert to move round with all speed to the Maas.

Having done this, he purchased a small and very fast rowing-skiff at
Liege, and taking his place in this with his four remaining followers,
he rowed up the river. It took them three days before they reached the
edge of the forest. On reaching their former hiding-place, they landed.
The bushes were carefully drawn aside, and the boat hauled up until
completely screened from sight of the river, and Edmund and the Dane at
once started for the encampment of the Northmen.

They had been ten days absent, and in that time great progress had been
made with the galleys. They looked indeed completely finished as they
stood high and lofty on the river bank. The planks were all in their
places; the long rows of benches for the rowers were fastened in; the
poop and forecastle were finished and decked. A number of long straight
poles lay alongside ready to be fashioned into oars; and Edmund thought
that in another two or three days the galleys would be ready for
launching. They were long and low in the waist, and were evidently
built for great speed. Edmund did not think that they were intended to
sail, except perhaps occasionally when the wind was favourable, as an
aid to the rowers. Each would carry a hundred and fifty men, and there
were thirty seats, so that sixty would row at once.

"They are fine galleys," the Dane whispered. "Sweyn has a good eye for
a boat."

"Yes," Edmund said, "they look as if they will be very fast. With oars
alone they would leave the Dragon behind, but with sails and oars we
should overhaul them in a wind. I wish it had been otherwise, for if,
when they reach the mouth of the river, there is no wind, they may give
the Dragon the slip. Ah!" he exclaimed, "there is Freda."

As he spoke a tall maiden came out from the small hut. The distance was
too great for Edmund to distinguish her features, but he doubted not
from the style of her garments that it was Siegbert's daughter. There
were other women moving about the camp, for the Danes were generally
accompanied by their wives on their expeditions; but there was
something in the carriage and mien of the figure at the door of the hut
which distinguished it from the rest. She did not move far away, but
stood watching the men at work on the ships and the scene around.
Presently a tall figure strode down from the vessels towards her.

"There is Sweyn!" Edmund exclaimed, seeing that the warrior possessed
but one arm.

"Ah! you know him by sight then?" The Dane said.

"I should do so," Edmund answered grimly, "seeing that it was I who
smote off that right arm of his. I regret now that I did not strike at
his head instead."

The Dane looked with admiration and surprise at his leader. He had
heard of the fight between the Saxon champion and Sweyn, which had cost
the latter his right arm, but until now he had been ignorant of
Edmund's identity with Sweyn's conqueror.

Freda did not seek to avoid her captor, but remained standing quietly
until he approached. For some time they conversed; then she turned and
left him and re-entered her hut. Sweyn stood looking after her, and
then with an angry stamp of the foot returned to the galleys.

"I would give much to be able to warn her that I am present and will
follow her until I rescue her from Sweyn," Edmund said. "Once at sea
and on her way south she may well despair of escape, and may consent,
from sheer hopelessness, to become his wife. Were it not that her hut
is so strongly guarded at night I would try to approach it, but as this
cannot be done I must take my chance in the day. To-morrow I will dress
myself in your garments and will hide in the wood as near as I can to
the hut; then if she come out to take the air I will walk boldly out
and speak with her. I see no other way of doing it."

On the following morning, attired in the Dane's clothes and helmet,
Edmund took his place near the edge of the wood. It was not until late
in the afternoon that Freda made her appearance. The moment was
propitious; almost all the men were at work on the ships and their
oars. The women were cooking the evening meal, and there was no one
near Freda, with the exception of the two armed Danes who sat on the
trunk of a fallen tree on guard, a short distance away. Edmund issued
boldly from the wood, and, waiting till Freda's steps, as she passed
backwards and forwards, took her to the farthest point from the guards,
he approached her.

"Freda," he said, "do not start or betray surprise, for you are
watched."

At the sound of his voice the girl had paused in her steps, and
exclaimed in a low voice, "Edmund!" and then, obeying his words, stood
motionless.

"I am near you, dear, and will watch over you. I have not strength to
carry you away; but my ship will be at the mouth of the river as you
pass out. Hang a white cloth from the window of your cabin in the poop
as a signal. If we fail to rescue you there we will follow you
wheresoever you may go, even to Italy, where I hear you are bound. So
keep up a brave heart. I have seen your father, and he has sent me to
save you. See, the guards are approaching, I must go."

Edmund then made for the forest. "Stop there!" the guards cried. "Who
are you, and whence do you come?"

Edmund made no answer, but, quickening his steps, passed among the
trees, and was soon beyond pursuit. This, indeed, the Danes did not
attempt. They had been surprised at seeing, as they supposed, one of
their party addressing Freda, for Sweyn's orders that none should speak
with her were precise. He had given this command because he feared,
that by the promise of rich rewards she might tempt some of his
followers to aid her escape. They had, therefore, risen to interrupt
the conversation, but it was not until they approached that it struck
them that the Northman's face was unfamiliar to them, and that he was
not one of their party, but Edmund had entered the wood before they
recovered from their surprise. Their shouts to him to stop brought
Sweyn to the spot.

"What is it?" he asked.

"A strange Northman has come out of the wood, and spoken to the lady
Freda."

Sweyn turned to his captive. She stood pale and trembling, for the
shock of the surprise had been a severe one.

"Who is this whom you have spoken to?" he asked. Freda did not answer.

"I insist upon knowing," Sweyn exclaimed angrily.

Freda recovered herself with an effort, and, raising her head, said,
"Your insistence has small effect with me, as you know, Jarl Sweyn; but
as there is no reason for concealment I will tell you. He is a
messenger whom my dear father has sent to me to tell me that some day
he hopes to rescue me from your hands."

Sweyn laughed loudly.

"He might have saved himself the trouble," he said. "Your good father
lies wounded near Paris, and by the time he is able to set out to your
rescue we shall be with Hasting on the sunny waters of Italy, and long
ere that you will, I hope, have abandoned your obstinate disposition,
and consented to be my wife."

Freda did not answer at once. Now that there was a hope of rescue,
however distant, she thought it might be as well to give Sweyn some
faint hope that in time she might yield to his wishes. Then she said:

"I have told you often, jarl, that I will never be your wife, and I do
not think that I shall ever change my mind. It may be that the sunny
skies you speak of may work a wonderful change in me, but that remains
to be seen." Sweyn retired well satisfied. Her words were less defiant
than any she had hitherto addressed to him. As to the message of her
father, who could know nothing of his intention to sail to the
Mediterranean, he thought no further of it.

Three days later the galleys were launched, and after a day spent in
putting everything in its place they started on their way down the
river. They rowed many miles, and at night moored by the bank. After
darkness had fallen a small boat rowed at full speed past them. It paid
no attention to the summons to stop, enforced though it was by several
arrows, but continued its way down the river, and was soon lost in the
darkness. Sweyn was much displeased. As they rowed down they had
carefully destroyed every boat they found on the river, in order that
the news of their coming might not precede them.

"The boat must have been hauled up and hidden," he said; "we might as
well have stopped and landed at some of the villages and replenished
our larder. Now we shall find the small places all deserted, and the
cattle driven away from the river. It is an unfortunate mischance."

As the Northmen anticipated they found the villages they passed the
next day entirely deserted by their inhabitants, and not a head of
cattle was to be seen grazing near the banks. In the afternoon they
came to Liege. The gates were shut, and the walls bristled with spears.
The galleys passed without a stay. Sweyn had other objects in view. Any
booty that might be obtained without severe fighting he would have been
glad enough to gather in; but with a long sea-voyage before him he
cared not to burden his galleys, and his principal desire was to obtain
a sufficient supply of provisions for the voyage. For several days the
galleys proceeded down the river. The villages were all deserted, and
the towns prepared for defence.

When he arrived within a day's journey of the sea he was forced to
halt. Half the crews were left in charge of the ships, and with the
others he led a foray far inland, and after some sharp fighting with
the natives succeeded in driving down a number of cattle to the ships
and in bringing in a store of flour.

Edmund had kept ahead of the galleys, stopping at every town and
village and warning the people of the approach of the marauders. He
reached the mouth of the river two days before them, but to his deep
disappointment saw that the Dragon had not arrived at the rendezvous.
On the following afternoon, however, a distant sail was seen, and as it
approached Edmund and his followers gave a shout of joy as they
recognized the Dragon, which was using her oars as well as sails and
was approaching at full speed. Edmund leaped into the boat and rowed to
meet them, and a shout of welcome arose from the Dragon as the crew
recognized their commander.

"Are we in time?" Egbert shouted.

"Just in time," Edmund replied. "They will be here to-morrow." Edmund
was soon on board, and was astonished at seeing Siegbert standing by
the side of his kinsman.

"What is the news of Freda?" the jarl asked eagerly.

"She is well and keeps up a brave heart," Edmund replied. "She has
sworn to kill herself if Sweyn attempts to make her his wife by
violence. I have spoken to her and told her that rescue will come. But
how is it that you are here?"

"After you had left us your good kinsman Egbert suggested to me that I
should take passage in the Dragon. In the first place I should the
sooner see my daughter; and in the next, it would be perilous work,
after the Danish army had left, for a small party of us to traverse
France."

"I would I had thought of it," Edmund said; "but my mind was so
disturbed with the thought of Freda's peril that it had no room for
other matters. And how fares it with you?"

"Bravely," the Northman replied. "As soon as I sniffed the salt air of
the sea my strength seemed to return to me. My wound is well-nigh
healed; but the joint has stiffened, and my leg will be stiff for the
rest of my life. But that matters little. And now tell me all your
adventures. We have heard from the messenger you sent how shrewdly you
hunted out Sweyn's hiding-place."



CHAPTER XVII: A LONG CHASE


The following morning the weather was still and dull. Not a breath of
wind ruffled the surface of the river.

"This is unfortunate," Edmund said to his companion. "Sweyn's galleys
will row faster than we can go with oars alone, and though they may not
know the Dragon they will be sure that she is not one of their own
ships. We must hope that they may attack us."

The day passed on without a sight of the galleys, but late in the
afternoon they were seen in the distance. The Dragon was moored near
the middle of the rivet. Her oars were stowed away, and the crews
ordered to keep below the bulwarks, in hopes that the Danes, seeing but
few men about and taking her for an easy prize, might attack her. When
they approached within half a mile the Danish galleys suddenly ceased
rowing.

"What is that strange-looking vessel?" Sweyn asked the Northmen
standing round him.

"I know her," one of them said, "for I have twice seen her before to my
cost. The first time she chased us hotly at the mouth of the Thames,
destroying several of the vessels with which we were sailing in convoy.
The next time was in the battle where King Alfred defeated us last
year, nearly in the same water. She is a Saxon ship, wondrous fast and
well-handled. She did more damage in the battle than any four of her
consorts."

"Were it not that I have other game in view," Sweyn said, "we would
fight her, for we are two to one and strongly manned, and the Saxon can
scarce carry more men than one of our galleys; but she is not likely to
be worth the lives she would cost us to capture her; therefore we will
e'en let her alone, which will be easy enough, for see that bank of
sea-fog rolling up the river; another ten minutes and we shall not see
across the deck. Give orders to the other galley to lay in oars till
the fog comes, then to make for the left bank of the river and to drift
with the tide close inshore. Let none speak a word, and silence be kept
until they hear my horn. I will follow the right bank till we reach the
mouth."

Freda was standing near and heard these orders with a sinking heart.
She had no doubt that Edmund was on board the Saxon ship, and she had
looked forward with confidence to be delivered from her captor; but now
it seemed that owing to the evil change of the weather the hope was to
be frustrated.

Edmund and the Saxons had viewed with consternation the approach of the
sea-fog. The instant it enveloped the ship the oars were got out and
they rowed in the direction of the Danish vessels, which they hoped
would drop anchor when the fog reached them. Not a word was spoken on
board the Dragon. Edmund, Egbert, and Siegbert stood on the forecastle
intently listening for any sound which would betray the position of the
Danes, but not a sound was to be heard. They had, they calculated,
already reached the spot where the Dane should have been anchored when
from the left, but far away astern, a loud call in a woman's voice was
heard.

"That must be Freda!" Edmund exclaimed. "Turn the ship; they have
passed us in the fog."

The Dragon's head was turned and she was rowed rapidly in the direction
of the voice. No further sound was heard. Presently there was a sudden
shock which threw everyone on to the deck. The Dragon had run high on
the low muddy bank of the river. The tide was falling; and although for
a few minutes the crew tried desperately to push her off they soon
found that their efforts were in vain, and it was not until the tide
again rose high nine hours later that the Dragon floated. Until morning
broke nothing could be done, and even when it did so matters were not
mended, for the fog was still dense.

The disappointment of Edmund and Siegbert at the escape of the Danes
was extreme. Their plans had been so well laid that when it was found
that the Dragon had arrived in time no doubts were entertained of the
success of the enterprise, and to be foiled just when Freda seemed
within reach was a terrible disappointment.

"My only consolation is," Edmund said as he paced the deck impatiently
side by side with Egbert, "that this fog which delays us will also
hinder the Danes."

"That may be so or it may not," Egbert answered. "It is evident that
some on board the Danish ships must have recognized us, and that they
were anxious to escape rather than fight. They draw so little water
that they would not be afraid of the sandbanks off the mouth of the
river, seeing that even if they strike them they can jump out, lighten
the boats, and push them off; and once well out at sea it is probable
that they may get clearer weather, for Siegbert tells me that the fog
often lies thick at the mouths of these rivers when it is clear enough
in the open sea."

When the tide again began to run out Edmund determined at all risks to
proceed to sea. The moorings were cast off from the shore and the
Dragon suffered to drift down. Men with poles took their stations in
her bows and sounded continually, while at her stern two anchors were
prepared in readiness to drop at a moment's notice. Several times the
water shoaled so much that Edmund was on the point of giving orders to
drop the anchors, but each time it deepened again.

So they continued drifting until they calculated that the tide must be
nearly on the turn, and they then dropped anchor. It was much lighter
now than it had been in the river, but was still so misty that they
could not see more than a hundred yards or so round the vessel. No
change took place until night, and then Edmund, who had been too
excited and anxious to sleep on the previous night, lay down to rest,
ordering that he should be woke if any change took place in the
weather. As the sun rose next morning the fog gradually lifted, and
they were able to see where they were. Their head pointed west; far
away on their left could be seen a low line of coast. Not a sail was in
sight, and indeed sails would have been useless, for the water was
still unruffled by a breath of wind. The anchors were at once got up
and the oars manned, and the ship's head turned towards shore.

Two hours' rowing took them within a short distance of land, and
keeping about a mile out they rowed to the west. The men, knowing how
anxious was their leader to overtake the Danish galleys, rowed their
hardest, relieving each other by turns, so that half the oars were
constantly going. Without intermission they rowed until night set in,
and then cast anchor. When the wind came--it was not until the third
day--it was ahead, and instead of helping the Dragon it greatly impeded
its progress.

So far they had seen nothing of the galleys, and had the mortification
of knowing that in spite of all their efforts these were probably
gaining ground upon them every day. Even without wind the galleys would
row faster than the Dragon, and being so fully manned would be able to
keep all their oars going; but against the wind their advantage would
be increased greatly, for lying low in the water they would offer but
little resistance to it, and would be able to make way at a brisk pace,
while the Dragon could scarce move against it.

The Saxon ship was off Calais when the breeze sprang up, and as it
increased and their progress became slower and slower Edmund held a
consultation with his companions and it was determined to run across
the channel and lie in the mouth of the Thames till the wind turned. So
long as it continued to blow they would lag farther and farther behind
the chase, who might, moreover enter any of the rivers in search of
shelter or provisions, and so escape their pursuers altogether.
Siegbert had never been up the Mediterranean, but he had talked with
many Danes who had been. These had told him that the best course was to
sail west to the extremity of England, then to steer due south until
they came upon the north coast of Spain. They would follow this to its
western extremity; and then run south, following the land till they
came to a channel some ten miles wide, which formed the entrance to the
Mediterranean.

They decided, therefore, to follow this course in hopes of interrupting
the galleys there; they would thus avoid the dangerous navigation of
the west coast of France, where there were known to be many islands and
rocks, around which the tides ran with great fury. For a fortnight the
Dragon lay windbound; then came two days of calm; and then, to their
delight, the pennon on the top of the mast blew out from the east.

They were lying in the mouth of the Colne, and would therefore have no
difficulty in making the Foreland; and with her sail set and her oars
out the Dragon dashed away from her moorings. Swiftly they ran round
the south-easterly point of England and then flew before the breeze
along the southern coast. On the third day they were off Land's End and
hauled her head to the south. The east wind held, the Bay of Biscay was
calm, and after a rapid voyage they sighted the high lands of Spain
ahead. Then they sheered to the west till they rounded its extremity
and then sailed down the coast of Spain. They put into a river for
provisions, and the natives assembled in great numbers on the banks
with the evident intention of opposing a landing; but upon Egbert
shouting that they were not Danes but Saxons, and were ready to barter
for the provisions they required, the natives allowed them to approach.
There was no wrangling for terms. Cattle were purchased, and the
water-tanks filled up, and a few hours after entering the river the
Dragon was again under way. Rounding the southern point they followed
the land. After a day's sailing they perceived land on their right, and
gave a shout of joy at the thought that they had arrived at the
entrance of the straits. At nightfall they dropped anchor.

"What are you looking at, Siegbert?" Edmund asked, seeing the jarl
looking thoughtfully at the anchor-chain as the ship swung round.

"I am thinking," the jarl said, "that we must have made some error. Do
you not see that she rides, just as we were sailing, with her head to
the north-east? That shows that the current is against us."

"Assuredly it does," Edmund said; "but the current is a very slack one,
for the ropes are not tight."

"But that agrees not," Siegbert said, "with what I have been told. In
the first place, this channel points to the northeast, whereas, as I
have heard, the straits into the Mediterranean run due east. In the
next place, those who have been through have told me that there are no
tides as in the northern seas, but that the current runs ever like a
river to the east."

"If that be so," Edmund said, "we must have mistaken our way, for here
what current there is runs to the west. To-morrow morning, instead of
proceeding farther, we will cross to the opposite side, and will follow
that down until we strike upon the right channel."

In the morning sail was again made, and crossing what was really the
Bay of Cadiz they sailed on till they arrived at the mouth of the
straits. There was no doubt now that they were right. The width of the
channel, its direction, and the steady current through it, all
corresponded with what Siegbert had heard, and proceeding a mile along
it they cast anchor.

They soon opened communications with the natives, who, although
speaking a tongue unknown to them, soon comprehended by their gestures
and the holding up of articles of barter that their intentions were
friendly. Trade was established, and there was now nothing to do but to
await the coming of the galleys.

"I would," Edmund said, as, when evening was closing, he looked across
the straits at the low hills on the opposite side, "that this passage
was narrower. Sweyn will, doubtless, have men on board his ship who
have sailed in these seas before, and will not need to grope his way
along as we have done. If he enters the straits at night we shall see
nothing of him, and the current runs so fast that he would sweep
speedily by. It is possible, indeed, that he has already passed. If he
continued to row down the shores of France all the time we were lying
wind-bound he would have had so long a start when the east wind began
to blow, that, although the galleys carry but little sail, they might
well have been here some days before us. Sweyn would be anxious to join
Hasting as soon as he could. The men would be thirsting for booty, and
would make but short halt anywhere. I will stay but a week. If in that
time they come not we will enter this southern sea and seek the fleet
of Hasting. When we find that we shall find Sweyn; but I fear that the
search will be a long one, for these people speak not our tongue, and
we shall have hard work in gaining tidings of the whereabouts of the
Northmen's fleet."

Day and night a vigilant watch was kept up from the mast-head of the
Dragon, but without success. Each day they became more and more
convinced that Sweyn must be ahead of them, and on the morning of the
seventh they lifted their anchor and proceeded through the straits.
Many had been the consultations between Edmund and his friends, and it
had been determined at last to sail direct for Rome. Siegbert knew that
by sailing somewhat to the north of east, after issuing from the
passage, they would in time arrive at Italy.

At Rome there was a monastery of Saxon monks, and through them they
would be able to obtain full information as to the doings and
whereabouts of the squadron of Hasting. Scarcely were they through the
straits than the wind, veering to the south-east, prevented them from
making the course they had fixed upon, but they were able to coast
along by the shore of Spain. They put into several small ports as they
cruised up, but could obtain no intelligence of the Danes, being unable
to converse except by signs.

When they reached Marseilles they were pleased to meet with Franks,
with whom they could converse, and hired a pilot acquainted with the
coasts of the Mediterranean. They learned that Hasting and his fleet
had harried the coasts of Provence and Italy; that the Genoese galleys
had had several engagements with them, but had been worsted.

The Danish fleet was now off the coast of Sicily, and the Northmen were
ravaging that rich and fertile island. They were reported to have even
threatened to ascend the Tiber and to burn Rome. Having obtained the
services of a man who spoke both the Italian and Frankish tongues,
Edmund started again. He first went to Genoa, as he thought that the
people there might be despatching another fleet against the Northmen in
which case he would have joined himself to them. On his arrival there
he was well entertained by the Genoese when they learned, through the
interpreter, who they were, and that they had come from England as
enemies of the Danes.

Edmund and his Saxons were much surprised at the splendour of Genoa,
which immensely surpassed anything they had hitherto seen in the
magnificence of its buildings, the dress and appearance of its
inhabitants, the variety of the goods displayed by the traders, and the
wealth and luxury which distinguished it. It was indeed their first
sight of civilization, and Edmund felt how vastly behind was Northern
Europe, and understood for the first time Alfred's extreme eagerness to
raise the condition of his people. On the other hand, the Genoese were
surprised at the dress and appearance of the Saxons.

The crew of the Dragon were picked men, and their strength and stature,
the width of their shoulders, and the muscles of their arms, and, above
all, their fair hair and blue eyes, greatly astonished the Genoese.
Edmund and his companions might have remained in Genoa and received
entertainment and hospitality from its people for a long time; but
after a stay of a day or two, and having obtained the various stores
necessary for their voyage, Edmund determined to proceed. Three of the
young Genoese nobles, fired by the story which they heard of the
adventures which the Dragon had gone through, and desirous of taking
part in any action which she might fight against the Danes, begged
leave to accompany them.

Edmund gladly acceded to the request, as their presence would be of
great utility in other ports at which the Dragon might touch. At Genoa
Edmund procured garments for his men similar to those worn by the
Italian soldiers and sailors, and here he sold to the gold and
silversmiths a large number of articles of value which they had
captured from the Danes, or with which the Count Eudes and the people
of Paris had presented them.

The Dragon differed but little in appearance from the galleys of the
Genoese, and Edmund determined when he approached the shores where the
Northmen were plundering to pass as a Genoese ship, for should the news
come to Sweyn's ears that a Saxon galley was in the Mediterranean it
might put him on his guard, as he would believe that she was specially
in pursuit of his own vessel.

On arriving at the mouth of the Tiber the Dragon ascended the river and
anchored under the walls of the imperial city. The Genoese nobles had
many friends and relations there, and Edmund, Egbert, and Siegbert were
at once installed as guests in a stately palace.

The pope, upon hearing that the strange galley which had anchored in
the river was a Saxon, sent an invitation to its commander to visit
him, and Edmund and his kinsman were taken by their Italian friends to
his presence. The pope received them most graciously, and after
inquiring after King Alfred and the state of things in England, asked
how it was that a Saxon ship had made so long a voyage.

Edmund explained that he was in search of a Danish damsel who had once
shown him great kindness, and who had been carried off from her father
by one of the vikings of Hasting's fleet. When he said that they had
taken part in the defence of Paris the holy father told him that he now
recognized his name, for that a full account of the siege had been sent
to him by one of the monks there, and that he had spoken much of the
valour of a Saxon captain and the crew of his galley, to whom indeed
their successful resistance to the Northmen was in no slight degree due.

"Would I could aid you, my son, in your enterprise against these
northern pirates. The depredations which they are committing on the
shores of Italy are terrible indeed, and we are powerless to resist
them; they have even threatened to ascend the Tiber and attack Rome,
and though I trust that we might resist their attacks, yet rather than
such misfortune as a siege should fall upon my people I have paid a
large sum of money to the leader of the Northmen to abstain from coming
hither; but I know that the greed of these pirates does but increase
with their gains, and that ere long we may see their pagan banner
floated before our walls. A few galleys I could man and place under
your orders, but in truth the people of this town are not skilled in
naval fighting. I have already endeavoured to unite the states of
Genoa, Pisa, and Venice against them, for it is only by common effort
that we can hope to overwhelm these wolves of the sea."

Edmund expressed his thanks to the pope for his offer, but said that he
would rather proceed with the Dragon alone.

"She is to the full as swift as the Northmen's vessels," he said; "and
although I would right gladly join any great fleet which might be
assembled for an attack upon them, I would rather proceed alone than
with a few other ships. Not being strong enough to attack their whole
armament I must depend upon stratagem to capture the galley of which I
am specially in pursuit, and will with your permission set out as soon
as I have transformed my ship so that she will pass muster as a galley
of Genoa or Venice."

The holy father gave orders that every assistance should be afforded to
Edmund to carry out his designs, and the next morning a large number of
artisans and workmen took possession of the Dragon. She was painted
from stem to stern with bright colours. Carved wood-work was added to
her forecastle and poop, and a great deal of gilding overlaid upon her.
The shape of her bow was altered, and so transformed was she that none
would have known her for the vessel which had entered the Tiber, and
she would have passed without observation as a galley of Genoa.

A number of prisoners accustomed to row in the state galleys were
placed on board to work the oars, thus leaving the whole of the crew
available for fighting purposes, and a state officer was put in command
of these galley-slaves. The ship was well stored with provisions, and
after a farewell interview with the pope, Edmund and his companions
returned on board ship, and the Dragon took her way down the river.

The fleet of the Northmen was at Palermo, and keeping under the land,
the Saxon ship sailed down the coast of Calabria, and at night crossed
near the mouth of the straits to the shore of Sicily. They entered a
quiet bay, and Edmund dressed as a Dane, with the two Northmen who had
accompanied him from Paris, landed and journeyed on foot to Palermo.

Everywhere they came upon scenes similar to those with which they were
familiar in France. Villages burned and destroyed, houses deserted,
orchards and crops wasted, and a country destitute of inhabitants, all
having fled to the mountains to escape the invader. They did not meet
with a single person upon their journey. When they approached Palermo
they waited until nightfall, and then boldly entered the town. Here the
most intense state of misery prevailed. Many of the inhabitants had
fled before the arrival of the Danes, but those who remained were kept
in a state of cruel subjection by their conquerors, who brutally
oppressed and ill-used them, making free with all their possessions and
treating them as slaves.

The Danes entered into conversation with some of their countrymen, and
professing to have that evening but newly arrived from home, learned
much of the disposition of the fleet of the Northmen. They pretended
that they were desirous of joining the galleys under the command of
Sweyn, and were told that these had arrived three weeks before, and
were now absent with some others on the southern side of the island.

Having obtained this information, Edmund and his companions started
without delay to rejoin the Dragon. Upon reaching her she at once put
to sea. Palermo was passed in the night, and the vessel held her way
down the western coast of Sicily. She was now under sail alone, and
each night lay up at anchor in order that she might not pass the Danish
galleys unobserved. On the third day after passing Palermo, several
galleys were seen riding off a small port. The wind was very light, and
after a consultation with his friends Edmund determined to simulate
flight so as to tempt the Danes to pursue, for with so light a breeze
their smaller galleys would row faster than the Dragon; besides, it was
possible that Sweyn might be on shore.

It was early morning when the Danish galleys were seen, and apparently
the crews were still asleep, for no movement on board was visible, and
the Dragon sailed back round a projecting point of land and then cast
anchor. It was so important to learn whether Sweyn was with Freda on
board his ship, or whether, as was likely, he had established himself
on shore, that it was decided it would be better to send the two Danes
to reconnoitre before determining what plan should be adopted.



CHAPTER XVIII: FREDA DISCOVERED


The spies upon their return reported that Sweyn had taken up his abode
in the mansion of the Count of Ugoli, who was the lord of that part of
the country. Most of the Danes lived on shore in the houses of the
townspeople. Many of these had been slain, and the rest were treated as
slaves. The lady Freda was also on shore, and it was thought that she
would ere long become the bride of the Viking.

"Think you that there will be any possibility of surprising the house
and carrying her off?"

"I think not," the Dane said, "for Sweyn's men are on the alert, and
keep good guard, for the people of this part of the island, being
maddened by their exactions and cruelty, have banded themselves
together; and although they cannot withstand the strong parties which
go out in search of plunder they cut off stragglers, and have made
several attacks on small parties. It is thought that they may even
venture an attack upon the place at night, therefore sentries are set,
and a portion of the force remains always under arms in readiness to
sally out in case of alarm."

"I would fain go myself," Edmund said, "and see how matters stand, and
try to communicate with Freda. It may be that her long resistance has
tired her out, and that she is at the point of consenting to become
Sweyn's bride."

"I think not that," Siegbert replied. "When Freda has once made up her
mind she is not given to change."

"I doubt not her resolution," Edmund said; "but none can blame her if,
after all these months, she has begun to despair of rescue; nay, it is
even probable that, having Sweyn, who is assuredly a brave and
enterprising Viking, always near her, she may have come to love him."

"No, Edmund," Siegbert replied. "I am sure you need have no fear that
she has softened towards Sweyn. But how do you think of proceeding if
you land?"

"I will take with me this Dane, and if one of the Genoese nobles will
go with me I will take him, and also the man we brought from
Marseilles, who acts as an interpreter between us and the Italians."

"But why hamper yourself with two men, who would be even more likely to
be detected by the Danes than would you yourself?"

"I shall leave them in the outskirts of the place," Edmund replied. "I
would fain see if I can enter into any negotiations with the natives.
Perhaps we may arrange that they shall attack the place on the land
side, while the Dragon falls upon the galleys, and in any case we may
need an interpreter with the people."

One of the young Genoese, upon being asked whether he would take part
in the adventure, at once consented, and the four men, attiring
themselves as Danes, speedily landed in the Dragon's boat. The bay in
which the ship was lying was some ten miles along the shore from the
town. The spies had made their way along the sea-coast by night, but as
it was morning when Edmund landed, he thought that it would be safer to
make a detour so as to arrive near the landward side of the town and so
enter it after dark.

They had not proceeded far when they came upon the ruins of a village.
It had been destroyed by fire, and the freshness of the charred beams
showed that it had been done but a short time before, probably not many
days. Marks of blood could be seen in the roadway, but no bodies were
visible, and Edmund supposed that, after the Danes had retired, the
survivors must have returned and buried their dead. They had not
proceeded far when the Dane pointed out to Edmund a half-naked lad who
was running with the swiftness of a deer over a slope of some little
distance.

"He is going too fast for us to catch him," Edmund said carelessly;
"and as, even if we did so, he could give us no information of any use,
for you may be sure he has not ventured near the town, we may well let
him go on in his way."

For three or four miles further they pursued their course. The country,
which was exceedingly fertile, and covered with corn-fields and
vineyards, appeared entirely deserted. Here and there a wide blackened
tract showed where, from carelessness or malice, a brand had been
thrown into the standing corn.

"The Danes are ever the same," Edmund said. "Well may they be called
the sea-wolves. It would be bad enough did they only plunder and kill
those who oppose them; but they destroy from the pure love of
destroying, and slay for the pleasure of slaying. Why are these robbers
permitted to be the scourge of Europe?"

"Why indeed?" the Genoese repeated when the interpreter had translated
Edmund's exclamation to him. "'Tis shame and disgrace that Christendom
does not unite against them. They are no more invincible now than they
were when Caesar overran their country and brought them into
subjection. What the Romans could do then would be easy for the
Christian powers to do now if they would but make common cause against
these marauders--nay, Italy alone should be able at any rate to sweep
the Mediterranean free of their pirate galleys; but Venice and Genoa
and Pisa are consumed by their own petty jealousies and quarrels, while
all our sea-coasts are ravaged by these wolves of the ocean."

"Ah! what is that?" he exclaimed, breaking off, as an arrow struck
smartly against his helmet.

They were at the moment passing through a small wood which bordered the
road on both sides. The first arrow seemed but a signal, for in an
instant a score of others flew among the party. It was well that they
carried with them the long Danish shields, which nearly covered their
whole body. As it was, several slight wounds were inflicted, and the
interpreter fell dead with an arrow in his forehead.

Immediately following the flight of arrows a crowd of peasants armed
with staves, axes, and pikes dashed out from the wood on both sides and
fell upon them, uttering shouts of "Death to the marauders!" "Kill the
sea-wolves!"

So great was the din, that, although the Genoese shouted loudly that
they were not Danes but friends, his words were unheard in the din; and
attacked fiercely on all sides, the three men were forced to defend
themselves for their lives. Standing back to back in the form of a
triangle, they defended themselves valiantly against the desperate
attacks of their assailants.

Several of these were cut down, but so furious was the attack of the
maddened peasants that the defenders were borne down by the weight of
numbers, and one by one beaten to the ground. Then the peasants rained
blows upon them as if they had been obnoxious wild beasts, and in spite
of their armour would speedily have slain them had not the Genoese,
with a great effort, pulled from his breast a cross, which was
suspended there by a silken cord, and held it up, shouting, "We are
Christians, we are Italians, and no Danes."

So surprised were the peasants at the sight that they recoiled from
their victims. The Dane was already insensible. Edmund had just
strength to draw his dagger and hold up the cross hilt and repeat the
words, "We are Christians." It was the sight of the cross rather than
the words which had arrested the attacks of the peasants. Indeed, the
words of the Genoese were scarce understood by them, so widely did
their own patois differ from the language of polished Italy.

The fact, however, that these Danes were Christians seemed so
extraordinary to them that they desisted from their attack. The Danes,
they knew, were pagans and bitterly hostile to Christianity, the
monasteries and priests being special objects of their hostility. The
suggestion of one of the peasants, that the cross had no doubt been
taken from the body of some man murdered by the Danes, revived the
passion of the rest and nearly cost the prisoners their lives; but an
older man who seemed to have a certain authority over the others said
that the matter must be inquired into, especially as the man who had
the cross, and who continued to address them in Italian, clearly spoke
some language approaching their own. He would have questioned him
further, but the Genoese was now rapidly losing consciousness from the
pain of his wounds and the loss of blood.

The three prisoners were therefore bound, and being placed on rough
litters constructed of boughs, were carried off by the peasants. The
strength and excellence of Edmund's armour had enabled him to withstand
the blows better than his companions, and he retained his consciousness
of what was passing. For three hours their journey continued. At the
end of that time they entered a wood high up on the hillside. There was
a great clamour of voices round, and he judged that his conductors had
met another party and that they were at the end of their journey.

The litters were now laid down and Edmund struggled to his feet. Before
him stood a tall and handsome man in the attire of a person of the
upper class. The old peasant was explaining to him the manner of their
capture of the prisoners, and the reason why they had spared their
lives.

"How is it," the noble asked when he had finished, turning to Edmund,
"that you who are Danes and pagans, plunderers and murderers, claim to
be Christians?"

Edmund did not understand the entire address, but he had already picked
up a little Italian, which was not difficult for him from his
acquaintance with French.

"We are not Danes," he said; "we are their enemies, I am a Saxon earl,
and this my friend is a noble of Genoa."

"A Saxon!" the Italian exclaimed in surprise; "one of the people of
King Alfred, and this a Genoese noble! How is it that you are
masquerading here as Danes?"

"I speak but a few words of Italian," Edmund said, "but my friend will
tell you the whole story when he recovers. I pray you to order aid to
be given to him at once."

Although still at a loss to understand how it had come about, the Count
of Ugoli--for it was that noble himself--saw that his prisoner's
statement must be a true one. In their native patois he hastily told
the peasants that there must be some mistake, and that although their
prisoners seemed to be Danes they were really Christians and friends.
He bade them then instantly to strip off their armour, to bind up their
wounds, and to use all their efforts to restore them to life.

At his bidding one of the peasants brought a wine-skin, and filling a
large cup with the liquid, offered it to Edmund. The latter drained it
at a draught, for he was devoured by a terrible thirst. After this he
felt revived, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing his comrades
recovering under the ministrations of the peasants, who chafed their
hands, applied cool poultices of bruised leaves to their bruises, and
poured wine down their throats.

In half an hour the Genoese was sufficiently recovered to be able to
sit up and to give a full account of their presence there, and of their
object in assuming the disguise of Danes. He then told the count that
Edmund intended to reconnoitre the place alone, and that he hoped he
and his people would attack the town, while the Saxons in their galley
made an assault from the sea. The count replied that the peasantry
could not be induced to take such a step.

"I will, however, aid your friend," he said, "by a feigned attack
to-morrow evening when he is there. This may help him to escape, and if
the Danes sally out next day in pursuit there will be the fewer for him
to cope with."

When Edmund awoke the next morning he found himself able to walk and
move without difficulty and with but little pain, thanks to the care of
the peasants, and in the afternoon, being furnished by the count with a
guide, he started for the town.

When he arrived within a short distance he dismissed his guide and lay
down in some bushes till nightfall, then he rose and made his way into
the town, passing unobserved between the watch-fires made by the
parties of Danes encamped in its outskirts to protect it against
surprise. Once in the town, he walked boldly on, having no fear of
recognition or question.

Sounds of carousing came through the open casements, but few people
were in its streets. He made his way down to the sea-shore, which he
followed until he came to a large and stately mansion standing in
beautifully laid out gardens at the end of the town. Several tents were
erected in the garden; and although the night was not cold great fires
had been lighted, around which the Danes were carousing.

Avoiding these Edmund walked up to the open windows. The first room he
looked into was deserted, but in the next, which was a large apartment,
a number of Danes were seated at table. At its head sat Sweyn with
Freda on his right hand. Around were a number of his leading men, the
captains of the galleys and their wives. The meal was over, and the
winecup was passing round. A number of attendants moved about the room,
and many of the warriors who had supped elsewhere stood around the
table, joining in the conversation and taking their share of the wine.

Edmund saw at once that he could not hope for a more favourable
opportunity, and he accordingly entered the mansion, and, passing
through the open door, joined the party within, keeping himself in rear
of those standing round the table, so that the light from the lamps
placed there should not fall upon his face.

Just as he had taken his place, Sweyn called out: "Let us have a song.
Odoacre the minstrel, do you sing to us the song of the Raven."

A minstrel bearing a small harp advanced into the centre of the
horse-shoe table, and after striking a chord, began to sing, or rather
to chant one of the favourite songs of the sea-rovers.

A shout of applause rose from the Danes as the minstrel ceased, and
holding their goblets high above their heads, they drank to the Raven.

While the singing was going on Edmund quietly made his way round to one
of the open windows. It was the hour at which the count had promised to
make his attack, and he listened eagerly for any sound which might tell
that the peasants had begun their work. Other songs followed the first,
and Edmund began to be afraid that the courage of the peasants had
failed at the last moment.

Suddenly he saw lights appear at five or six points in the distance,
and, putting his head out, he thought he could hear distant cries and
shouts. The lights grew brighter, and soon broad tongues of flame shot
up. Shouts at once arose from the guards without. Some of the revellers
hearing these went to the windows to see what was happening, and gave a
cry of alarm. "Sweyn, we must be attacked; fires are rising in the
outskirts of the town."

"These cowards would never venture to disturb us," Sweyn said
scornfully; "of all the foes we have ever met none were so feeble and
timid as these Italians."

"But see, Sweyn, the flames are rising from eight points; this cannot
be accident."

Sweyn rose from his seat and went to the window.

"No, by Wodin," he exclaimed, "there is mischief here; let us arm
ourselves, and do you," he said, turning to a young man, "run swiftly
to the outposts, and learn what is the meaning of this."

Scarcely, however, had he spoken when a man ran breathlessly into the
hall.

"Haste to the front, jarl," he said to Sweyn, "we are attacked. Some of
the enemy creeping in between our fires set fire to the houses in the
outskirts, and as we leapt to our feet in astonishment at the sudden
outbreak, they fell upon us. Many of my comrades were killed with the
first discharge of arrows, then they rushed on in such numbers that
many more were slain, and the rest driven in. How it fares with the
other posts I know not, but methinks they were all attacked at the same
moment. I waited not to see, for my captain bade me speed here with the
news."

"Sound the horn of assembly," Sweyn said. "Do you, Oderic, take twenty
of the guard without, and at once conduct the ladies here to the boats
and get them on board the galleys. Let all others hasten to the scene
of attack. But I can hardly even now believe that this coward herd
intend to attack us in earnest."

In the confusion which reigned as the warriors were seizing their
shields and arms, Edmund approached Freda, who had with the rest risen
from her seat.

"The Dragon is at hand," he whispered; "in a few hours we will attack
Sweyn's galley; barricade yourself in your cabin until the fight is
over."

Freda gave a little start as Edmund's first words reached her ear. Then
she stood still and silent. She felt her hand taken and pressed, and
glancing round, met Edmund's eye for a moment just as he turned and
joined the Danes who were leaving the hall. A minute later Oderic
entered with the guard, and at once escorted the women down to the
boats, and rowed them off to the galleys.

Sweyn and the main body of the Danes rushed impetuously to the
outskirts of the town. The fighting was already at an end, the peasants
having withdrawn after their first success. Two or three of the parties
round the watch-fires had been annihilated before they could offer any
effectual resistance, others had beaten off the attack, and had fallen
back in good order to the houses, losing, however, many men on the way
from the arrows which their assailants shot among them.

Sweyn and the Norsemen were furious at the loss they had suffered; but
as pursuit would have been useless, there was nothing to be done for
the present, and after posting strong guards in case the attack should
be renewed, the Danish leaders returned to the banqueting hall, where,
over renewed draughts of wine, a council was held.

Most of those present were in favour of sending out a strong expedition
on the following day to avenge the attack; but Sweyn argued that it
might be that the natives had assembled from all parts of the island,
and that this sudden attack, the like of which had not been attempted
before, was perhaps made only to draw them out into an ambush or to
attack the town in their absence. Therefore he urged it was better to
delay making an expedition for a short time, when they would find the
enemy unprepared.

After some discussion Sweyn's arguments prevailed, and it was
determined to postpone the expedition for a few days.



CHAPTER XIX: UNITED


No sooner did Edmund find himself outside the mansion than he separated
himself from the Danes, and following the sea-shore, set out on his
return to the Dragon. The tide was out, and although the night was dark
he had no difficulty in finding his way along the shore, keeping close
to the margin of the waves. When he approached the headland he was
forced to take to the land, as the waves beat against the foot of the
rock. Guided by the stars he made his way across the cape and came down
on to the shore of the bay.

A light was burning on the poop of the Dragon, and his hail was at once
answered. A few minutes later a boat touched the shore beside him, and
he was soon on board the ship, and at once held council with Egbert and
Siegbert, to whom he related all that had happened. He learned from
them that his two wounded comrades had been brought down to the beach
that evening by the country people, and had told them how narrow an
escape they had had of death at the hands of the enraged peasants.

After a discussion of all the different plans upon which they might
act, it was determined that the attempt to rescue Freda should be made
at once, as they considered it certain that Sweyn with a large portion
of his band would set out at daybreak to take vengeance upon the
natives.

The plan decided upon was that they should proceed along the shore, and
that if the Danish galleys, being undermanned, did not put out in
pursuit, they should sail in and attack them. The Danes were indeed
greatly superior in force, for they had counted the ships, the smallest
of which would carry a hundred men. Still in the absence of a portion
of their crews, and from the effects of surprise, they thought that
success was possible.

The next morning sail was hoisted, and the Dragon made her way along
the coast. The hour was later than that at which she had shown herself
on the previous day. She sailed on until within two miles of the town,
and then suddenly turned her head seaward, as if she had only then
perceived the Danish vessels. The instant she did so a great bustle was
observed among them. Many boats were seen pushing off from shore
crowded with men, oars were got out, and sails loosed.

"From the number of men who are crowding on board," Egbert said, "I
believe that Sweyn cannot have started in pursuit of the natives; in
that case we shall have a hard fight of it."

"So much the better," Siegbert exclaimed. "I should consider our task
was half accomplished if we rescued Freda without punishing Sweyn. Let
them come," he said, shaking his battle-axe at the galleys. "Though my
leg is stiff my arms are not, as Sweyn shall learn if I meet him."

The Dragon's oars were now put out and the galley-slaves began to row,
the Saxons concealing themselves behind the bulwarks. In a few minutes
the whole of the Danish galleys were unmoored and started in the
pursuit of the supposed Italian vessel. The breeze was light, but
somewhat helped the Dragon. Four of the Northmen vessels were large
ships with sails, and these speedily fell behind, but the others with
their oars gained slowly on the Dragon.

Edmund saw with satisfaction that the two galleys of Sweyn, which he at
once recognized, were somewhat faster than their consorts, and the
slaves were made to row as hard as they could in order to prolong the
chase as much as possible, by which means Sweyn's galleys would be the
further separated from the others.

After the pursuit had been continued for some miles Sweyn's galleys
were but a few hundred yards in the rear, and were nearly a quarter of
a mile ahead of those of their comrades, which had gained but little
upon the Dragon since the chase began. Edmund ordered the men to cease
rowing, as if despairing of escape. The Genoese took their station on
the poop, and as Sweyn's galley came rushing up they shouted to it that
they would surrender if promised their lives. The Northmen answered
with a shout of triumph and derision, and dashed alongside.

Sweyn's own galley was slightly in advance of the others. Edmund
ordered the oars to be pulled in as the Northmen came up, so as to
allow them to come alongside. Not a word was spoken on board the Dragon
till the Danes, leaving their oars, swarmed up the side headed by Sweyn
himself. Then Edmund gave a shout, the Saxons leaped to their feet, and
raising their battle-cry fell upon the astonished Danes.

Those who had climbed up were instantly cut down or hurled back into
their own galley, and the Saxons leaping down, a tremendous fight
ensued. Edmund with Siegbert and half his crew boarded the Dane close
to the poop, and so cut the Northmen off from that part of the vessel,
while Egbert with the rest boarded farther forward. The Danes would
have been speedily overpowered had not the second galley arrived upon
the spot; and these, seeing the combat which was raging, at once leaped
upon Sweyn's galley. With this accession of force, although numbers of
the Danes had fallen in the first attack, they still outnumbered the
Saxons.

Sweyn, heading his men, made a desperate effort to drive back Edmund's
party. His men, however, fought less bravely than usual. Their
astonishment at finding the ship which they had regarded as an easy
prize manned by Saxons was overwhelming, and the sight of Siegbert,
whom many of them knew, in the front rank of their enemies added to
their confusion.

Sweyn himself, as he recognized Edmund, at once made at him, and,
wielding a heavy axe in his left hand, strove to cut him down; and
Edmund, strong and skilful as he was, had great difficulty in parrying
the blows which the Northman rained upon him. The combat, however, was
decided by Siegbert, who hurled his javelin at Sweyn, the weapon
passing completely through his body.

Sweyn fell on the deck with a crash.

The Northmen, dispirited at the fall of their leader, hesitated, and as
the Saxons sprang upon them turned and fled into the other galley. The
door of the poop opened and Freda flew into her father's arms.

"Quick, Siegbert, to the Dragon!"  Edmund cried, and shouted orders to
his men. "There is not a moment to be lost. The other galleys are just
upon us!"

The Saxons rushed back to the Dragon; the oars were thrust out again,
and the vessel got under weigh just as the other Danish galleys arrived
on the spot. While some of the Saxons poured volleys of arrows and
javelins into the Northmen, the others at Edmund's order leaped down
and double-banked the oars. The increase of power was soon manifest,
and the Dragon began to draw away from the Danes. Gradually their
galleys fell back out of bow-shot, and after continuing the chase for
some little time longer they abandoned it as hopeless and lay upon
their oars to rest.

A shout of triumph rose from the Saxons, and then Edmund, who had
hitherto been fully occupied with the command of the vessel, turned to
Freda, who was still standing by her father.

"I have been a long time in fulfilling my promise, Freda," he said;
"but as your father will tell you I have done my best. Thank God, who
has given me success at last!"

"I never doubted that you would come, Edmund," she said, "and the
knowledge has enabled me to stand firm against both the entreaties and
threats of Sweyn. How can I thank you for all you have done for me?"

"I have spoken to your father, Freda; and he has promised me your hand
if you, indeed, are willing to bestow it. I promised to come for you if
you would wait, nearly five years ago, and I have never thought of any
other woman."

"I have waited for you, Edmund," she said simply, "and would never have
wed another had you not come. You are my hero, and methinks I have
loved you ever since the day when you boarded our ship off the mouth of
the Humber."

"Take her, Edmund," Siegbert said; "you have nobly won her, and there
is no one to whom I could be so well content to intrust her. I now join
your hands in token of betrothal."

The crew of the Dragon, who had been watching the scene, raised a shout
of gladness as they saw Siegbert place Freda's hand in that of Edmund.
They had guessed that their lord must have an affection for this Danish
maiden in whose pursuit they had come so far, and were delighted at the
happy issue of the expedition.

"I trust, Freda," Edmund said to her after a while, "that you have
thought of the talk we had about religion, and that you will forsake
the barbarous gods of your people and become a Christian, as so many of
your people have done in England, and that you will be wedded to me not
in the rude way of the Danes, but in a Christian church."

"I have thought much of it," she said, "and have come to think that
your God of peace must be better than the gods of war; but I would fain
know more of Him before I desert the religion of my fathers."

"That shall you," Edmund said. "With your father's permission I will
place you for a short time in a convent in Rome, and one of the Saxon
monks shall teach you the tenets of our faith. It will be but for a
short time, dear; and while you are there we will try and capture some
of Hasting's galleys, filled with plunder, for my men have come far,
and I would fain that they returned with an ample booty."

Freda and Siegbert agreed to the plan, and the latter said, "I too will
tarry in Rome while you are away, Edmund. I could fight against Sweyn,
for it was in a private quarrel, but I cannot war against my
countrymen. I too will talk with your Saxon monks, and hear about this
new religion of yours, for I think that as I have no others to love or
care for I shall return to England with you, and, if you will have me,
take up my abode in your English home so as to be near you and my
daughter."

The Dragon returned to Rome. There Edmund procured lodgings for
Siegbert and Freda, and the Saxon monks gladly arranged to visit them
and instruct them in the doctrines of Christianity. The Dragon sailed
again for the coast of Sicily and was absent a month, during which time
she captured a number of Danish galleys, most of which were laden with
rich booty. Then she returned to Rome. A few days later a solemn
service was held, at which Freda and Siegbert were baptized as
Christians, and after this was done a marriage service was held, and
Edmund and Freda married with the rites of the Christian Church. The
pope himself was present at the services and bestowed his blessing upon
the newly married couple, the novelty of the occasion drawing a vast
crowd of spectators.

A few days later the Dragon again put to sea, and after a speedy voyage
with favourable weather arrived in England without further adventure.
Edmund's arrival at home was the occasion of great rejoicings. The news
of the share which the Dragon and her crew had taken in the defence of
Paris had reached England, but none knew what had become of her from
that time, and when months had passed without tidings of her being
received it was generally supposed that she must have been lost.

Her return laden with rich booty excited the greatest enthusiasm, and
the king himself journeyed to Sherborne to welcome Edmund on his
arrival there.

"So this is the reason," he said smiling, when Edmund presented Freda
to him, "why you were ever so insensible to the attractions to our
Saxon maidens! Truly the reason is a fair one and fully excuses you,
and right glad am I to welcome your bonnie bride to our shores."

Alfred remained three days at Sherborne and then left Edmund to
administer the affairs of his earldom, for which a substitute had been
provided in his absence. The large plunder which the Dragon had brought
home had enriched all who had sailed in her, and greatly added to the
prosperity which prevailed in Edmund's district.

He found that in his absence Alfred had introduced many changes. The
administration of justice was no longer in the hands of the ealdormen,
judges having been appointed who journeyed through the land and
administered justice. Edmund highly approved of the change, for
although in most cases the ealdormen had acted to the best of their
powers they had a great deal of other business to do; besides, their
decisions necessarily aggrieved one party or the other and sometimes
caused feuds and bad feelings, and were always liable to be suspected
of being tinged with partiality; whereas the judges being strangers in
the district would give their decisions without bias or favour.

Freda had, as was the custom, taken a new name in baptism, but at
Edmund's request her name had only been changed to the Christian one of
Elfrida, and Edmund to the end of his life continued to call her by her
old name. She speedily became as popular in the earldom as was her
husband.

Siegbert, who had been christened Harold, took kindly to his new life.
Between him and Egbert a great friendship had sprung up, and Edmund
built for their joint use a house close to his own.

In 884 Alfred heard that the Danes of East Anglia were in
correspondence with their countrymen at home and in France, and that
there was danger that the peace of England would be disturbed. The
thanes were therefore bidden to prepare for another struggle, to gather
sufficient arms in readiness for all the able-bodied men in their
district, and to call out their contingents from time to time to
practise in the use of arms.

The ealdormen whose seats of government bordered on the sea were
ordered to construct ships of war, so that any Danish armament might be
met at sea. Edmund was appointed to command this fleet, and was
instructed to visit the various ports to superintend the construction
of the ships, and when they were completed to exercise their crews in
naval maneuvers.

The winter of 884 was spent by Edmund in the performance of these
duties. The Dragon was again fitted out, and in her he cruised from
port to port. Freda, who was passionately fond of the sea, accompanied
him, as did Siegbert and Egbert. It was not until May in 885 that the
threatened invasion took place. Then the news came to the king that the
Danes had landed in large numbers near Rochester and had laid siege to
the town. The king instantly summoned his fighting array, and in a few
days moved at the head of a large army towards Kent. Rochester was
defending itself valiantly. The Danes erected a great tower opposite to
the principal gate, and overwhelming the defenders on the walls with
their missiles endeavoured to force their way in by battering down the
gate.

The inhabitants, however, piled great masses of stone behind it, and
even when the gate was battered in the Danes, with all their efforts,
were unable to force an entrance. The Saxon army advanced with such
celerity that the Danes had received no news of their coming until they
were close at hand. Then one of their foraging parties arrived with the
intelligence that a great Saxon army was upon them. The Danes were
seized with a sudden panic, and fled precipitately to their ships,
leaving behind them the horses they had brought from France, their
stores, and all the prisoners and spoil they had gathered in their
incursions in the neighbourhood of Rochester. Seeing how well the
Saxons were prepared for resistance the greater portion of the Danes
crossed to France, but sixteen of their vessels entered the Stour and
joined their allies of East Anglia.

Alfred ordered his fleet to assemble in the Medway, and in a fortnight
the vessels from all the southern ports arrived. They were filled with
fighting men, and sailed to attack the Danes in the Stour, after which
the force was to land and to inflict a severe punishment upon East
Anglia. On hearing of the gathering of the Saxon fleet Athelstan sent
across to France and begged the Danes to come to his assistance, but
none of their vessels had arrived when the Saxon fleet reached the
mouth of the Stour.

The fighting force on board the Danish ships had been largely
reinforced by their countrymen of East Anglia, and in a close body they
rowed out to give battle to the Saxons. A desperate fight ensued, but
after a struggle, which continued for many hours, the Danes were
completely defeated, the whole of their vessels were captured, and all
on board put to the sword.

On the following day the army landed and ravaged the surrounding
country and returned to the ships with much booty. As they sailed out
of the river they saw a vast fleet of the enemy approaching. Athelstan
had assembled his ships from all the ports of East Anglia, and had been
joined by a large reinforcement of his countrymen from France. The
Saxons were greatly outnumbered, but a portion of the fleet fought with
great bravery. Some of the ships, however, being manned with
newly-collected crews unaccustomed to naval war, lost heart, and made
but a poor resistance.

Alfred was on board the Dragon, which sank several of the Danish
galleys, and with some of her consorts continued the fight until
nightfall, beating off every attempt of the Danes to board them. Seeing
that several of the ships had been captured, that others had taken to
flight, and that there was no longer a hope of victory, Alfred gave the
signal, and the Dragon and her remaining consorts fought their way
through the Danish fleet and made their escape.

The valour which the Saxons had shown in these two sea-fights, and the
strength of the army with which Alfred had so speedily marched to the
relief of Rochester, greatly impressed the enemy, and although Rollo
came across from Normandy to the assistance of Athelstan, the Danes
concluded that it was better to leave the Saxons to themselves.

Alfred in the following spring again assembled his army and laid siege
to London, which was still in the possession of the Danes. Athelstan
did not venture to march to its assistance, and the town, which had
long been in the Northmen's hands, was captured. The greater portion of
the city was burned in the siege. Alfred ordered it to be rebuilt,
invited its former inhabitants to return, and offered privileges to all
who would take up their abode there. The walls were rebuilt, and the
city placed in a position of defence. Alfred then handed it over to
Ethelred, the ealdorman of Mercia.

Peace was now made with Athelstan, and for some years remained
unbroken. In 893 a Danish fleet of 250 ships sailed across from
Boulogne and landed in the Weald of Kent, which was then covered with a
great forest, and there wintered, while the viking Hasting with eighty
ships sailed up the Thames and built a strong fort at Milton.

Alfred stationed his army in a strong position half-way between the
forest and the Danish camp at Milton, so that he could attack either
army when they moved out of their stronghold. The Danes for many months
remained in the forest, issuing out occasionally to plunder in the open
country of Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, but they met with a stout
resistance from the Saxons who had remained in the towns and country.

After Easter, having collected a considerable amount of spoil, and
finding the resistance ever increasing, the Danes moved northwards from
their forest, intending to march into Essex. The king's forces at once
set off to intercept them, and overtook them at Farnham, where the
Northmen were completely defeated. All their booty was recaptured, with
their horses and stores. Those who escaped fled across the Thames and
took refuge on an island in the Colne. The Saxons besieged them there;
but when the Danes were about to surrender from want of provisions the
news arrived that the Northmen of Northumbria and East Anglia, with 240
ships, had landed suddenly in Devonshire, and had laid siege to Exeter.

The siege of the island was at once raised, and King Alfred marched
against the new arrivals, and advancing with great speed fell upon them
and defeated them. Then hastily returning he came to London and, joined
by a strong force from Mercia, marched against Milton, where Hasting
had been joined by the great number of the Danes who had formed the
army in the Weald. Hasting himself was away, but his army marched out
to meet the Saxons.

A great battle was fought, but the Danes could not resist the ardour of
their assailants. Their army was routed and their fortress stormed. All
the booty within it fell into the hands of the victors, together with
the wives and families of the Danes, among whom were the wife and two
sons of Hasting. The Danish fleet also was captured, and was burned or
taken to London. Another great fleet of the East Angles and
Northumbrians sailed up the Thames, and landing, the Northmen marched
across to the Severn, but were defeated and destroyed by Ethelred of
Mercia.

Exeter was again invested by a Danish fleet, and again saved by Alfred.
The Danes, as they retired along the south coast, landed near
Chichester, where they suffered a heavy defeat from the South Saxons.

In the following year a fresh fleet sailed up the Thames and thence up
the Lea, where they constructed a fortress twenty miles above London.

Alfred caused two fortresses to be erected on the Lea below them, with
vast balks of timber entirely obstructing the river. The Danes, finding
their retreat cut off, abandoned their ships and marched across England
to Cwatbridge on the Severn. Their fleet fell into the hands of the
Londoners, who burned and broke up all the smaller ships and carried
the rest down to London. The Danes were so disconcerted by the many and
severe defeats which had befallen them that they now abandoned the idea
of again conquering England, and taking ship, sailed for France.

Four years later, in 901, King Alfred died, having reigned twenty-nine
years and six months. During his reign England had made immense
advances in civilization, and in spite of the devastation wrought by
the Danish occupation of Wessex during the early years of his reign,
and the efforts required afterwards to oppose them, the wealth and
prosperity of the country vastly increased during his reign. Abbeys and
monasteries had multiplied, public buildings been erected, towns
rebuilt and beautified, and learning had made great advances. The laws
of the country had been codified and regulated, the administration of
justice placed on a firm basis. The kingly authority had greatly
increased, and the great ealdormen were no longer semi-independent
nobles, but officers of the crown. Serfdom, although not entirely
abolished, had been mitigated and regulated. Arts and manufactures had
made great progress.

Edmund and Freda survived King Alfred many years, and their district
continued to be one of the most prosperous and well-ruled in the
kingdom. Their descendants continued to hold the office of ealdorman
until the invasion by William the Conqueror, and the holder of the
office at that time fell, with numbers of his followers, at the battle
of Hastings. For very many years after that event the prow of the
Dragon was kept in the great hall of Sherborne as a memorial of the
valiant deeds performed against the Danes by Ealdorman Edmund.





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